CALGARY -- Whenever the host Calgary Flames score a goal in the cosy Cowtown confines of the Pengrowth Saddledome, several torches dangling from the rafters ignite to signify the occasion.
Of course, those pale in comparison to the smoke coming out of the ears of a steamed Jason Blake as he made his way to the Maple Leafs bus after yesterday's morning skate.
Blake was livid after being made a healthy scratch for the second time this season, ripping off his gear and firing off a number of expletives before marching out of the arena.
He bit his tongue the first time in Boston a few weeks ago. No more.
"It's just extremely frustrating," Blake said, noting the Boston incident was the first time he had been made a healthy scratch in nine years. "I'm even more caught off guard this time, and I don't know what's going on."
Here's what is going on, Mr. Blake.
Coach Ron Wilson has urged you to drive harder to the net. After your inaugural banishment to the press box, you showed signs of doing it. But recently you have reverted back to your old ways, staying on the periphery, taking bad-angle shots and, judging by the fact you have scored just twice in 14 games, hitting the goalie in the logo more often than not.
Asked about his decision to sit the veteran winger, coach Ron Wilson replied: "Why not him? I've got to pick somebody who's not dressing and Calgary plays a big, physical, robust game. We have to be ready for that. Anybody that doesn't play is going to be upset, so that's all there is to it."
Ryan Hollweg was inserted into the lineup in Blake's place, an attempt to add some muscle.
To date, the Blake situation has not dissolved into a sideshow. At least not yet.
And take this to the bank: The Leafs will not allow L'affair Blake to digress into a distraction. They like the direction the team is headed. They are optimistic the way kids such as Luke Schenn and Mikhail Grabovski have developed. And they'll be damned if that progress is sidetracked by a disgruntled veteran, should it come to that.
The dilemma, of course, is the whopping Blake contract they are shackled with. The veteran forward is in just the second-year of a five-year, $20-million US contract, a deal that will end when Blake is 38.
Blake does not have one of those irritating no-trade clauses in his pact like the famed Muskoka Five sported last season. But as one Eastern Conference general manager said last night: "That ridiculous salary makes it a no-trade contract. So does his age. And so does his reputation."
If the saga continues to decay, don't be surprised if the Leafs ship Blake down to the minors. According to sources, it's a concept that theoretically has been kicked around behind closed doors.
Of course, there still is a lot of hockey to be played by Blake before that happens. But under one of those "what if?" scenarios, a move to the Marlies is a realistic option.
If the Leafs opt to buy out Blake next summer, they would be on the hook for $1.333 million per year for the following six years against the salary cap.
Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher declined to comment on those aforementioned options, saying he did not deal in hypothetical situations.
Meanwhile Blake's agent, Neil Sheehy, said yesterday his client remains dedicated to Toronto.
"He's proud to be a Leaf," Sheehy said. "He really wants to contribute."
If Wilson sticks to his early-season form, Blake will get ample opportunity to redeem himself. But the longer his slump lasts, the closer he might be to joining the likes of Mark Bell and Boyd Devereaux with the Marlies.