Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Jason Blake Takes Masterton Lead

Jason Blake of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been diagnosed with cancer. He has a rare but highly treatable form of the disease called chronic myelogenous leukemia. Most likely, by taking a chemotherapy pill each morning, this cancer can be controlled and go into remission. There is no immediate plan for Blake to miss games, but he may wind up sitting out a few games (especially back-to-back ones) down the stretch if the strain gets to be too much.

Cancer is a very serious disease, but this case is not nearly as bad as Saku Koivu or Mario Lemieux's cases. Nevertheless, when an NHL player has cancer, he seems to be almost guaranteed to win the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication to hockey as Phil Kessel did last year, when he missed about a month due to testicular cancer.

While cancer is serious, missing a month of a season for various ailments is rather commonplace in the NHL. I think a better choice for last year's Masterton would have been Owen Nolan who missed more than two years recovering from knee surgery that would have forced most players into retirement. If he has a solid season again, he is again a good pick. There are two other serious illness cases that could be serious Masterton candidates if they recover. Teppo Numminen of Buffalo had open heart surgery (and not for the first time) and Fernando Pisani of Edmonton has ulcerative colitis. In both cases, their careers are indefinitely on hold. Should they return, I think they are much better candidates than Jason Blake (who may not miss a game at all).

As for the Toronto Maple Leafs, this is a serious blow. As Mats Sundin is getting older, his days of being the Leafs top scorer may be over. They need to have other people ready to take his place. Jason Blake was one of the players they hoped might do this, but it is unlikely he will match his career bests (from last season) while suffering from cancer. Toronto has relatively few potential offensive stars ready to lead the club.

Here is the TSN story on Blake's illness.

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