Belak’s Long and Winding Road
It’s been quite a bumpy path so far for Wade Belak. Originally drafted 12th overall in the 1994 Entry Draft by the then Quebec Nordiques he was seen as the eventual partner for Adam Foote on a burly take no prisoners blueline. He was then moved to Calgary in the trade for Theoron Fleury four seasons later and again seen as a major component of a young blueline. Again, it didn’t happen for him, and as more Flame rearguard prospects came of age, he ended up on waivers.
It was from there that Pat Quinn plucked him last season, amid cries from the media to trade for Rob Blake. Needless to say, the similarities between Belak and Blake gave birth to a good many jokes about the Leaf GM’s literacy level. That said, the journey for the strapping westerner still wasn’t over even though he has yet to don a different jersey. No, rather than another city, the last leg is a rather short one geographically from the blueline to the center red line. That said, it is probably the most difficult part of his travels.
To be sure, he can still play defense, and he has been called on to fill in there on occasion this season. More and more though, the Leafs, as they did for the Detroit game, are leaving him up front, and calling up a rearguard from The Rock rather than sending him back to the defense. No, Belak’s future lies not on blueline but on the fourth line. Skating with Alyn McCauley and Gary Valk, the trio has been dominant when on the ice. While they don’t often finish their chances, they generate chaos in the opponent’s zone in abundance, and that is what you want your fourth line to do. His time up front has seen Wade improve his all-around game enough that he is not a liability when he takes to the ice up front and he fills well on the point for a pinching defenseman having been one himself. Naturally, it would be nice to see him develop better puck skills, but as long as the fourth line keeps wreaking havoc and playing solid positional hockey, the one time Flames reject is doing his job.