Rob Blake Shouldn't Be Re-Signed by Sharks, Retirement or Not

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IJune 7, 2010

CHICAGO - MAY 21:  Rob Blake #4 of the San Jose Sharks slaps the puck while taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 21, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When the San Jose Sharks decided to take the captaincy away from five-year captain Patrick Marleau last offseason, almost the entire fanbase was in agreement as to who should handle the role.

Of course, it’s a no brainer; Dan Boyle was the ONLY option that made sense for captain.

But Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, GM Doug Wilson, and the rest of the club's front office landed on the then 39-year-old defenseman Rob Blake to take on the responsibility.

Now, there is no arguing the pedigree and off-ice leadership of one Rob Blake. And since the future hall of fame defenseman has all the qualities a team could want in a leader, most fans didn't make too big of a deal about his being named captain when the move was first announced.

While almost none of the fanbase was expecting or pulling for the second year Shark to be named captain, it was hard for any of them to argue against someone with such an impressive track record.

However, with the season concluded, it can be said that while naming Blake captain wasn't a terrible decision, it was clearly a move that lacked flare.

When you look around the rest of the NHL, the captain is usually a player who can still dominate a game. Whether that is Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards, Scott Niedermayer, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, or Rick Nash, the captain is most often a game changer as well as a leader in the locker room.

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At his age, Blake is no longer a game changer and barely a top-four defenseman anymore. Though he did turn his season around with nine points and a plus-nine plus/minus rating in his final nine games of the regular season, Blake's time is up.

Even if he decides he wants to return for a 20th NHL season, it would benefit the Sharks if he played his games elsewhere. With the overwhelming majority of star NHL forwards more than 10 years his junior, including a handful who are exactly half his age (20 years his junior), it has been tough for the elder statesman of the Sharks to keep up.

Now fellow "old" defensemen like a Lidstrom and Niedermayer are still playing elite level hockey and playing in the Olympics because they have always been smooth skaters.

Blake, on the other hand, has never been known for his speed, and it is clearer now more than ever that when it matters most Blake just doesn't bring on-ice value.

In order for the Sharks to win the Cup over the next handful of campaigns, you can bet on them having to beat the Blackhawks. And make no mistake about it: Blake cannot keep up with the likes of a Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, or Jonathan Toews.

These types of players skated circles around the veteran defenseman during this year's Western Conference final. Add another year of development of these young stars and another year of age onto Blake's tires and the absurdity of watching Kane easily dangle around No. 4 will only get more embarrassing.

Sooner or later players need to realize when father time has caught up to them, and the sooner the better for Blake, because his effectiveness is declining year after year.

This is no Brett Favre situation. Blake is not performing at the same high level as he did 10 years ago, not by a long shot.

Plus, as we all know, the NHL is a business.

The Sharks have themselves an excellent top-four replacement in Jason Demers who is bound to make huge strides next season after an impressive rookie year this past season. So even if the Sharks did bring Blake back, it would undoubtedly have to be as a third-pair defenseman and would it really make sense to have a third-pair defender as captain?

They could re-sign Blake and give the captain honor to someone new but it would look quite odd to change the captaincy two years in a row while keeping each of the previous captains on the roster.

Furthermore, besides Demers, the Sharks have defensemen in their system such as Derek Joslin and Nick Petrecki who could definitely benefit from extended playing time on that third-pair next season.

Giving the younger defensemen the playing time Blake would command makes all the sense in the world in order to compete for the Cup in 2012, and more importantly, 2011.

While the NHL is getting younger and faster, Blake is getting older and slower. And in reality, it all boils down to one question: Can Blake still offer a skill set strong enough to definitively bring more value to the team than the younger replacements?

Since nobody can answer that question with a resounding "yes," it must be time to move on.

There is just not a single part of Blake's game that makes you think "yes, we need him for that reason."

For example, the rest of San Jose's top-four defensemen from this season have at least one major strong point to their game.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic's trademark is his incredible stick positioning. He is by far San Jose's best defenseman in terms of getting sticks in passing lanes and shooting lanes and his ability to safely play the puck past the fore check and out of the zone.

Douglas Murray's trademark is his ability to knock anyone off the puck with his tremendous strength. No matter whether he or his opponent has the leverage, it is almost always the opponent that hits the deck in a collision.

And finally, Dan Boyle is best known for his uncanny ability to make plays in the offensive zone. Not to mention he is nearly just as good as Vlasic in his own zone.

But Blake? His bomb of a point shot has lost its zip, and while he took 50 fewer penalty minutes in his second season as a Shark, too many of them were of an idiotic and unnecessary variety.

By re-signing Blake, the Sharks would be stating that neither Joslin nor Petrecki could do as good of a job and that would be a critical mistake in judgment.

The young guys are ready, and the time is now for them to be given their chance to show what they can do.

Not only would they bring more on-ice ability for the Sharks defense, but also that $3.5 million that Blake earned last season can go to helping re-sign the more critical free agents.

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