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BLAKE RETURNS TO KINGS DEFENSEMAN SIGNS TWO-YEAR CONTRACT.

Byline: RICH HAMMOND Staff Writer

In the five-plus years since his messy departure from the Kings, Rob Blake has remained the object of intense scorn among a large segment of fans here. Will the booing now be replaced by cheering?

On the first day of the NHL's unrestricted free- agent signing period, the Kings made one of the biggest moves Saturday when they signed Blake to a two-year, $12-million contract. Blake, a 36-year-old defenseman and a perennial All-Star, was one of the top free agents on the market this summer.

``He represents a player, with the position he plays and the way he plays it, that is not easy to find,'' Kings president and general manager Dean Lombardi said. ``He totally understands what being a winner is about. The important thing is to get quality hockey players and quality people who are winners.''

In Blake, the Kings bring back a former team captain, the top-scoring defenseman in team history and one of the most popular Kings of the 1990s, but also one who has been a polarizing figure in recent years.

``I hope things can be put behind us and we can move forward,'' Blake said of his frosty relationship with Kings fans, which resulted from failed contract negotiations and his eventual trade to Colorado in 2001.

The Kings also signed forward Scott Thornton, 35, who had 10 goals and 11 assists in 71 games with San Jose last season, to a two-year, $3-million contract and officially cut ties with defenseman Joe Corvo, who signed a four-year, $10.5-million deal with Ottawa, and Mark Parrish, who signed with Minnesota.

In recent days, the Kings have been rumored as a possible destination for Chris Pronger, who is seeking a trade from Edmonton, but now they have Blake, another former Norris Trophy winner.

Lombardi said the signing of Blake would not preclude the Kings, who last week dumped Pavol Demitra's $4.5-million salary and remain well under the $42-million salary-cap ceiling, from making another major move, but he also said the Kings would spend judiciously.

``This franchise is committed to winning, but cap space has value and we will only use it for the right player,'' Lombardi said. ``We have other options, but if they don't work out we'll move on to the next thing. ... We're not going home thinking our work is done.''

The Blake deal happened quickly. Blake, who represented himself in contract talks, told Denver reporters on June 22 that he expected to resign with the Avalanche.

But talks broke down, partially because Blake is also due a $2.3-million signing bonus that will count against Colorado's cap figure this season. Blake, who has maintained a home in Manhattan Beach, said he turned his attention to the Kings after he realized that a deal with the Avalanche wouldn't be possible.

``I enjoyed my time here in L.A.,'' said Blake, who won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001. ``Coming back here, with my wife and family being here and all that, it was something that I wanted to do.''

Blake broke into the league with the Kings in 1990, helped them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993 and won the Norris Trophy in 1998, but his relationship with the team went sour in the 2000-01 season.

With free agency impending in the summer of 2001, Blake broke off contract talks and temporarily renounced his team captaincy. In February 2001, the Kings traded Blake and Steven Reinprecht to Colorado for Aaron Miller, Adam Deadmarsh, Jared Aulin and a first-round draft pick.

Since then, Blake's every touch of the puck has been booed at Staples Center, but he has remained a top-level defenseman.

rich.hammond@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3611

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 2, 2006
Words:626
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