(Part 2 of the series of appreciation for Avs players who have moved on).
He was the final piece. The previous season, GM Pierre Lacroix had swooped in from nowhere to pluck Ray Bourque from the Bruins; all rumors at that point had indicated an east coast destination for Ray - Philadelphia being the expected sweepstakes winner. Instead he came to Colorado, but the Avs fell a bit short, falling to the Stars in the Conference Finals in 7 games.
So, in hindsight, it probably shouldn't have been a surprise that Blake - rumored all season to be on the way out in LA due to failed extension negotiations - would also find his way to Denver. On February 21, 2001, Lacroix landed Blake and forward Steven Reinprecht from the Kings for Aaron Miller, Adam Deadmarsh, Jarred Aulin and a future pick. That proved to be the final push over the hill; Blake notched 6 goals and 13 assists in 23 postseason games, and add strength to a solid, veteran blueline corps (Bourque, Adam Foote, Greg DeVries, Jon Klemm...and, ok, Martin Skoula). Everyone was excited for Bourque, of course, but Blake was also overdue, having reached the finals only once before (with the Kings, who were defeated by Marty McSorley's stick in 5).
That summer, Ray Bourque retired. Rob Blake - along with Foote - was now the leader on defense. Despite a reputation as being a bit brittle, Blake averaged 77 games a year over the next 4 seasons in Denver, while logging massive ice time. Blake played in all situations, and was always on the ice at critical times. Truth be told, I think Blake would be a better player if he logged a few less minutes a game, but, at least last year, the Avs just didn't have someone who could do the things he did. His shot, if not as accurate today, is still one of the hardest in the league. He no longer hits quite as much as he did in his early years, but he still will lay that butt into you if you don't watch where you are going.
There was talk that he'd be back with Colorado this year, but I think most people knew that couldn't happen. He still commands big money - money that the Avs just couldn't find room for without jettisoning other players. And so, Blake takes his $6 million a season and goes back to the city that has booed him mercilessly every time he's touched the puck in their rink, returning to the Kings to likely finish up his career.
It's tough to see #4 go. But I can guarantee one thing: on October 23rd, when Blake returns to Denver, he'll be hearing a hell of a lot more cheers than boos.