Lost in the shuffle of a busy offseason in Toronto is the status of Jason Blake. The drafting of Schenn, Sundin saga and the signings of Finger and Hagman have for better or worse received most of the attention of the media. The soon to be 35 year old American had a terrible year in 07/08 on a number of levels. We all know of the cancer scare he received and Jason has done a commendable job in the community after getting the news last September. However, that does not give him a free pass on the terrible season he had on the ice. Jason played in all 82 games but scored a miserable 15 goals compared to the 40 of a year earlier. Jason had a reluctance to pass the puck, take shots from bad angles and as reported by Howard Berger, possible negative effect in the locker room. He is signed for another 4 more years with a cap hit of 4mil per season which means hell be paid 4mil until he is 38 years old. None of this is what current Leaf GM Cliff Fletcher really wants in a rebuilding team. That being said, lets look at all the options Cliff has with Blake.
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Buyout: This is really not an option for the Leafs. A buyout would mean a cap hit of 1.333mil for the next 8 seasons. Ask Jason's former Islander teammate Garth Snow about what its going to be like paying that kind of money for 8 seasons. Quite simply, this is not an option for at least another 2 years because right now the Leafs can afford to eat his salary.
Demotion to the Marlies: I wouldnt put it past the Leafs to do this down the line but as of right now, this option also seems to make little sense. The reality is despite Blake's shortcomings he is still a serviceable NHL scorer for the time being. Demoting him to the farm would make for terrible press and a reluctance in future free agents to sign in Toronto. Demoting an nhl contract is acceptable if the player's performance is at the ahl level. Jason isn't at that level......yet.
Trade: Believe me, Cliff is exhausting all resources trying to find a trade parter but right now Blake's value is extremely low. With 4 years left on his deal its unlikely any team is desperate enough to trade for him in the offseason. It remains possible a team needing to get to the cap floor might take a chance on him (LA, ATL) but any trade would probably net no return or worse a similar player/contract in return. I think if you can move Jason out for a C level prospect or a late pick, you might have to accept for fear of never being about to unload the contract.
Hold onto him for now: I believe this not only to be the best and most logical option but what is going to happen. Jason deserves another chance to prove himself. Best case scenario, Blake scores somewhere around 20-25 goals and a desperate playoff team takes a chance on him near the trade deadline. Trust me, if Blake can prove himself as a decent 2nd line scorer again despite his defensive shortcomings, teams will want him. Remember that a couple seasons ago Atlanta GM Don Waddell was so desperate to make the playoffs for the 1st time in Atlanta that he dealt a future top pairing defenseman in Coburn for an overpaid veteran defenseman with 2 more years on his contract. That defenseman was Alexei Zhitnik and he was recently bought out of the last year of his contract. Say Columbus is sitting in the 7th-10th spot in February, I can really see them taking a guy like Blake if he has somewhat of a bounce back year. Now I'm not suggesting they'd get a player of Coburn's quality back but maybe a 2nd round pick or B level prospect. The bottom line is that Jason's value really has nowhere to go but up. If it remains this low and he has another terrible year some of the options stated earlier will need to be examined. Put it this way, if Jason Blake is wearing Blue and White in 2 seasons, I'd be shocked...unless its Marlies Blue and White. Expect Blake to come to camp with a chip on his shoulder and Leaf fans can only hope he plays better and increases his trade value.
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