Blue and white and blue all over

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

Jason Blake starts and stops in mid-sentence, catching himself before saying the wrong thing, stopping himself before saying what is really on his mind.

"I'm not going to sit here and blow off steam because if I did, we would be here for an hour," the Maple Leafs winger said yesterday. "It has nothing to do with my (health). I feel 100 times better than I did last year.

"It has nothing to with adjusting to a new team. I've adjusted ... It's certain things ..."

He stops himself.

"I'm not going to say what it is."

He stops himself a second time.

"Where would I start?"

Again, a long pause.

"I can't say what ... I'm not going to ... It is what it is."

This much can be said: The frustration level between Blake and the Maple Leafs is at full peak. At this stage, no one is quite sure what to make of the other and neither side is happy.

Blake expected more from the Leafs, approaching the quarter pole of the National Hockey League season. And in turn, the Leafs expected more from him. Now each looks at the other hoping today will be better than yesterday, tomorrow better than the day before.

This isn't about a player taking medication daily for the shocking cancer he was diagnosed with in early October. This isn't about health or strength or stamina of speed or shots on goal or anything diminishing other than returns.

"I don't even think about the health. It's a non-factor," he said. "I'm reminded of it once a day. That's when I take my medication. Then I forget about it."

This isn't about health. It is about maximizing assets. The Leafs have yet to find a way to take full advantage of Blake's speed and offensive guile, while they have yet to find a way to minimize his occasional defensive breakdown.

The $20-million solution was to find a speedy winger to play with Mats Sundin, at least for the short term. But the solution would make sense if Sundin was more of a prototypical centre. The traditional centre is more playmaker than goal scorer.

Sundin historically has created more offence for himself.

Blake won't say he isn't crazy about playing with Sundin, but he will say he liked the fit with Kyle Wellwood.

"It's frustrating," Blake said, about being a goal-scorer and having just two at this time. "You have to get the puck ... You have to get the puck in certain situations ... Shots on goal don't mean anything. You want to get good shots.

"I'm the type of guy who uses my speed and needs the puck on my stick more times than not."

He is the kind of guy who would fit in perfectly with the puck-moving Ottawa Senators, who spanked the Leafs rather handily Tuesday night.

"(Head coach Paul Maurice) had every right to be angry," Blake said. "We are nowhere near where Ottawa is and I think everybody realizes that. In order to beat a team like that, you have to compete harder than them.

"They do everything so well. They move the puck. When you move the puck, fast, quick, that's what happens."

Last year, Blake scored 40 goals on a vastly improved New York Islanders team. It was, in a way, a dream season, for the little winger.

When asked how it was the Islanders had so much success, Blake showed how much trouble he is having adjusting to life as a Leaf.

PLAYED LIKE SENS

"No. 1, they have an unbelievable coach," Blake said. "Ted Nolan's the best. No. 2, we played like the Senators, that way. We weren't as talented, we weren't as big, we weren't as strong but we moved the puck. We tried to hit the open guy. No. 3, we had Brendan Witt, one of the most underrated defenceman in the league."

And No. 4?

"The best goalie. The best upcoming goaltender in the league. (Rick) DiPietro will win the Vezina in the next three years."

But not with Jason Blake wearing their colours. He is blue and white and seemingly blue about it. It's early in his first season. There is time to finish the sentences, fill in the blanks, find a way to make this work.


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