Monday, January 26, 2015

Brian Elliott Swatch Card

Despite having featured him last September, I feel Brian Elliott deserved an extra spot this weekend for showing up for duty at the All-Star Game despite getting the call when he was already on vacation, first as a news item, then his wife's Twitter post to see just where it was they were leaving from:

The whole week, we were hearing left and right about players bowing out to take the week off, exaggerating their injuries to avoid the hassle of interacting with fans and sponsors all weekend, in Columbus of all places (not exactly the hot spot for partying with the boys or the wife to go shopping in, if we're going to stick with the hockey clichés), so it was great to see a feel-good vibe coming from some of these guys, particularly Elliott, in his second appearance, and also Carey Price, who despite being a fixture at the event, took it to heart as well, wearing full suits to speak with the press when his peers were in exercise garbs.

Alexander Ovechkin was also having a blast, as were the representatives of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks (even Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews). I won't pretend to have watched the event, but I read enough about it to have a pretty good idea what went on the whole weekend.

I remember I used to love the All-Star Games in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as a kid, with Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Brett Hull and the rest. Apparently, some of these current guys too, and their sharing their enthusiasm is a key component in making these events successful. Mind you, the seasons are longer than ever, and with Olympics and World Cups thrown in here and there, we just keep asking more and more of the elite among them, so it's nice to see those who are happy to be there having a blast.

So, once again, kudos, Mr. Elliott, for putting work before leisure time - and to your wife for coming along and leaving the gorgeous beach and weather to come back to winter time in North America with you.

In tribute, here is a bonus post this weekend, from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified collection, card #TC-BE of the Red ''regular'' Jersey sub-set, featuring a game-worn dark blue swatch from a St. Louis Blues uniform:

It probably doesn't come from the white (away) uniform he's pictured in, though; it's more likely to be from the blue (home) uniform.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ryan Johansen Jersey Card

After holding out in training camp in a game of chicken against the Columbus Blue Jackets, I was almost planning on rooting against Ryan Johansen this year, but he came to reason with his contract demands and then proceeded with what he does best: play hockey. Very well.

At 22 years old, he has 17 goals and 43 points in 45 games so far with the injury-depleted Jackets this year, after leading the team in points last season. He even made the All-Star Game this year, and proceeded to steal the show at the Breakaway Skills Competition.

As it stands now, he's got a good enough hockey sense to be used on the penalty kill (an impressive feat at that young an age), and his speed, passing ability and good shot make him a very good first-line center on a decent team, but once he grows more comfortable and experienced with his 6'3'', 220-pound frame and starts knocking people over, he might even become dominant.

Perhaps not on the level of Evgeni Malkin, who's been there from his first season and might have a decade of it left in him, but probably on a level comparable to that of Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau, and Eric Staal - a very good run.

He already has a silver medal with Team Canada from the World Juniors (2011), but my guess is he'll play in the Olympics before long (provided the NHL keeps sending its players), the World Cup, and maybe a few World Championships in the years where the Jackets fail to reach the playoffs in what is already a very difficult division in the NHL.

I landed on this card last year, showing him in the Jackets' white (away) uniform, with matching dual jersey swatches, each with stitching:

It's card #TS-RJ of Upper Deck's 2013-14 Artifacts set, part of the Treasured Swatches sub-set.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pat Falloon Autographed Card

I skipped three days because I was overworked and rarely home, and I wanted to make it up with something extra special - so I went to my vault of in-person signed cards of minor leaguers and found... one guy who didn't actually play in the minors until he retired from the NHL: Pat Falloon.

It's fitting to feature Falloon the same week his former line mate with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs, Ray Whitney, announced his own retirement, if only because of the contrast in their stories.

Out of the two, Falloon was considered the true ''blue chip'', can't-fail prospect, having won the Memorial Cup MVP award and getting drafted second overall by the San Jose Sharks in 1991 (the same year as Eric Lindros, Scott Niedermayer, Alexei Kovalev and Peter Forsberg). Whitney was chosen 23rd overall by the Sharks, largely as a favor for Falloon.

Whitney retired after 23 NHL seasons, 1064 points in 1330 regular-season games (plus 53 more points in 108 playoff games), one Stanley Cup (2006), two All-Star Games (2000 and 2003) and a spot on the 2012 end-of-season Second All-Star Team. Oh, and 25 points in 30 games for Team Canada at four World Championships.

Falloon had 322 points in 575 games, and 18 more points in 66 playoff games, the highlight of which was a participation in one Stanley Cup Finals with the Philadelphia Flyers. His highest-scoring season was his rookie year, when he accumulated 59 points, 25 of them goals.

After a 12-goal, 26-assist and 38-point 43-game season with HC Davos in Switzerland in 2000-01, Falloon moved back to his family's farm in Foxwarren, Manitoba, and played for the local Foxwarren Falcons in the NCHL, winning team championships and scoring races and all, until 2006-07. He even competed for the Allen Cup, given to Canada's best non-professional team.

I first met him after a game against my hometown Montréal Canadiens at the Forum, in 1992 or 1993, and while he signed a similar card for me at the time, this one was not it - I can tell because it's signed in blue sharpie, which I didn't get until much later that decade:

It's from Pro Set's 1991-92 Series 2 collection (card #558, his rookie card for the brand), showing him in the Sharks' original and super-popular teal (away) uniform.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Jeff Beukeboom Autograph Card

Last weekend, I wrote about perhaps my favourite alternate jersey in sports, the New York Rangers' Statue Of Liberty third jersey from the end of the 1990s. In 1998-99, however, they got greedy and went for a White Liberty uniform, which didn't work nearly as well:

That's Jeff Beukeboom, who I featured as a member of the Edmonton Oilers earlier this fall, hinting that I'd talk about his career with the Rangers later. Now is the time. The card is from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set, a signed insert of card #242 in the set, with a thin black-sharpied autograph.

Mostly partnered with Brian Leetch, Beukeboom was the defensive anchor that allowed Leetch to act as a rover - or fourth forward if you will - because it was understood that #23 would be able to hold off the opposition through his physical presence and stable positioning, and either stop plays by himself or stall them enough for Leetch to have enough time to skate back with his tremendous speed.

They complemented each other so well, most teams went out of their way to try to copy the ''one up front, one out back'' philosophy after over a decade of mostly-similar pairings of defenders who would either attack or defend - not necessarily both at the same time.

His physical play led to his having a few concussions - both directly (out of the contacts he initiated), and indirectly, notably from a sucker-punch by then-Los Angeles Kings forward Matt Johnson in 1998-99, which left him so fragile that the next hit he received, although benign by comparison to what he had withstood in his career, would not only force him to retire, but with lingering post-concussion symptoms that lasted for more than two years.

He has four Stanley Cups to his name, three with the Oilers and the 1994 one in New York. He has been an assistant coach in the OHL and AHL in the past decade.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chad Jackson Jersey Card

Here's a card in honor of the New England Patriots' trouncing of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, from Fleer's 2006 Flair Showcase set (card #SHS-CJ of the Showcase Stitches sub-set) by Upper Deck, featuring a white swatch from an event-worn uniform:

When I got it in a re-pack of cards from multiple sports a couple of years ago, I had to do a double-take, because I thought it was a Chad ''Ochocinco'' Johnson card at first... Alas, it featured Chad Jackson, a wide receiver from Alabama who held the Florida Gators' record for most receptions in a single season as a junior and whom the Patriots drafted in the second round in 2006 (36th overall).

Hamstring injuries and a deep team led to his being scratched for many games with the Pats, including Super Bowl XLII. In 2008, it was believed he'd made the 53-man roster, but he was cut the day after the team submitted its list.

The same thing happened the following year with the Denver Broncos, only this time it was two days later.

He was off the NFL grid in 2009, but signed with the Buffalo Bills in 2010, only to be released prior to playing a single game, and the same thing happened with the Oakland Raiders in 2011, a year where he played for the Omaha Nighthawks in the UFL before retiring at age 25.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Nail Yakupov Jersey Card

Nail Yakupov hasn't had it easy thus far in his NHL career. The pressure of being a first-overall pick in a Canadian hockey market on a lousy team were all losing predicaments, and I'm not certain even Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin could have saved the Edmonton Oilers at that point.

And yet he was tied for most points in his rookie season with the eventual Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau.

But it's been a downward slide from there, statistically, and he's now with his third head coach in three NHL seasons (fourth if you count GM Craig MacTavish stepping behind the bench for a few games between Dallas Eakins' departure and Todd Nelson's actual arrival a few weeks ago).

He has exactly two and a half seasons of experience (well, considering his rookie campaign was a lockout-shortened season, maybe two full seasons would be more accurate), and yet Oilers fans have been clamoring for him to be traded for over a year. And some Montréal Canadiens fans would like to see him reunited with his OHL partner with the Sarnia Sting, Alex Galchenyuk, but I don't see it happening. Though I do have a strange feeling that Lars Eller will finish the season in Edmonton...

The question hockey fans should ask themselves before criticizing him is: Who is Nail Yakupov, as a hockey player?

His favourite player growing up was Pavel Bure, a flashy offensive player who passed the 50-goal mark five times, but was a minus-2 in his 59-goal season with the Florida Panthers in 2000-01. Yakupov isn't as fast as Bure, but he has the same type of flair for the net and good moves (as can be attested by his shootout goal against Roberto Luongo last night).

But like Bure (and Ovechkin in his early days), Yakupov has yet to learn the benefits of playing a sound defensive game to increase the likelihood of having more offensive chances. Keep in mind, he's barely 21 years old and won't turn 22 until next season (late October); some rookies don't make it to the NHL until well into their 20s, and he already has over 150 games of NHL experience.

Even if he turns out to be a Thomas Vanek-type of player who barely enters the defensive zone, there are ways to integrate the way he'd play the game in a system that would adapt, provided he's let loose to score his 40 goals and set up those of the linemates assigned to cover for him without the puck - the Oilers don't have the Daniel Brière/Jason Pomminville/Zach Parise-type of player to make that work, though, for one, and at just 21, it's also a tad too early to give up on teaching him the fundamentals of defensive responsibility.

I'm just saying there are ways around his deficiencies if, by the time he's 25 or 26, he still hasn't rounded up his game.

Either way, the Oilers need to acknowledge that he, like Bure, is (potentially) a goal-scoring machine. He had his first hat trick in his first season, one at the U18 World Championships (in a winning cause agaisnt Team Canada), and has a 100% shootout rate.

He's not as complete as Galchenyuk in terms of two-way play and setting up teammates as well as completing their plays, but with a top-level setup man, chances are he'd be on the positive end in terms of goal differentials more often than not - something that hasn't happened too often in Edmonton, relegated to the Oilers' third line or even cut as a healthy scratch. I'm not saying I'm against ''tough love'', but if it doesn't work, perhaps it's time to try spending more face-to-face time actually teaching and demonstrating before another bout of watching the game from the press box.

So far, he just hasn't been put in a position to succeed. Then again, the Oilers can't pair him with his ideal partners, because they don't have them, but if he could play with a terrific setup man who plays a two-way game (a Patrice Bergeron type) and a brute who can protect his fragile frame and get the puck from the tough areas (say, a Milan Lucic type), he'd be an All-Star by now.

We'll see what happens. In the meantime, here he is wearing #64 (6+4=10, Bure's number and the one he's currently sporting) from his rookie season, with the Oilers' classic white uniform (though the swatch included is dark blue, like the Reebok Edge pajama-type uniforms from two lockouts ago):

It's card #RM-NY from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SPx set (part of the Rookie Materials sub-set, the swatch coming from a jersey he wore in a photo shoot).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mike Keane Autograph Card

The Montréal Canadiens are in the midst of a four-game road trip, and all three games so far (Wednesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Thursday against the Ottawa Senators, and tonight against the New York Islanders) featured their opponents wearing their alternate uniforms which, for all except the Isles', are definite improvements over their regular garbs.

Which brings me to this card of former Habs captain Mike Keane, seen wearing the New York Rangers' blue ''Liberty'' uniform - perhaps the best alternate jersey in all sports (the Edmonton Oilers had a great one too):

It's card #101 from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player set, the black sharpie signed insert version of the set.

What a perfect design, keeping the Rangers' classic dark blue as a base and red as its counterpoint, with white to highlight, and the Statue Of Liberty's head as a logo instead of the classic simple RANGERS (or NEW YORK) letters going down the front of the jersey, with the team's logo/shield on the shoulders. It was both modern and classic, also perfect descriptions of their star player at the time, Wayne Gretzky.

Keane has one less Stanley Cup than The Great One, but won it with three different teams: the Canadiens (1993), the Colorado Avalanche (1996, with former Habs and Cup winners Patrick Roy and Claude Lemieux) and the Dallas Stars (1999, with former Habs and Cup winners Guy Carbonneau, Brian Skrudland, and Craig Ludwig).

The Winnipeg native spent the twilight of his career captaining the AHL's Manitoba Moose (his #12 jersey is the only number the franchise ever retired) and now works for the Winnipeg Jets, as their player development assistant. He's a local hero there, almost on the same level as former superstar and Jets captain Thomas Steen.

While he was playing Juniors with the Moose Jaw Warriors, he played on a line with Theoren Fleury and Kelly Buchberger; all three eventually became NHL captains. I'm bound to have another signed card of his from his days with the Habs, in addition to the one I featured last August. Stay tuned, I guess!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Brayden Schenn Swatch Card

You can't say things have gone particularly well for the Philadelphia Flyers this season, but that was to be expected when Kimmo Timonen was lost for the season with blood clot issues; the team was already depth-deprived on the back end (a situation that will get better in the next few years with three solid prospects coming up, but this year and the next will prove difficult, with sub-par talent past Mark Streit and Braydon Coburn, who themselves are no longer quite at their peak).

So the team was going to have to score a lot of goals to win a lot of games - and they just haven't. Many have pointed to certain players (Vincent Lecavalier more often than not, though I still believe he can be useful when cast in the right part), but Jeremy Roenick seems to think the Flyers should trade away their promising young forwards Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn, because they aren't ''consistent''.

A lot of people seem to be expecting more of Schenn in particular, the fifth-overall pick of the 2009 draft - ahead of the likes of Oliver Ekman-Larsson (6th), Nazem Kadri (7th), Nick Leddy (16th), Simon Després (30th), Kyle Clifford (35th), Jakob Silfverberg (39th), Jeremy Morin (45th), Robin Lehner (46th), Brandon Pirri (59th), Tomas Tatar (60th), Tyson Barrie (64th), David Savard (94th), Craig Smith (98th), Marcus Foligno (104th), Sami Vatanen (106th), Mike Hoffman (130th), Gabriel Dumont (139th), and Darcy Kuemper (161st). And they're quick to point out that it's been nearly five years.

Except consistency isn't an issue: he has 10 goals and 27 points in 45 games so far this season, pretty much the exact amount (8 goals and 26 points in 47 games) as in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, and practically the same pace as last season's 41 points (though on 20 goals) in 82 games.

Also, the kid's barely 23 years old - he was born in August, allowing him to be drafted among a class of players much older than he is. 40 points a year not playing on a first line two or three years before hitting their prime (generally ages 25 to 32 for forwards) is pretty impressive to me.

Also, he's barely a minus-2 this season - on the injury-and-depth-deprived Flyers. 29 other teams would want his services should the Flyers decide to pass, even the Los Angeles Kings, who traded him to Philadelphia in the first place (along with Wayne Simmonds, for Mike Richards and Rob Bordson).

He might not have the hardest or most accurate shot, nor the best vision and passing ability, but he skates well and fast, his acceleration is impressive, and he'll plow his way through with force to get the puck where he wants it to, be it on someone's else's stick or behind the opposition's goalie. The more experience, confidence and bulk he gains in the next couple of years, the truer that last sentence will become. I'm not saying he's the next Ryan Getzlaf, but if you can't afford the actual guy (or, considering he's already taken and signed to a long-term contract), getting Schenn won't hurt your feelings so much.

All those reasons explain why I haven't yet traded this beautiful die-cast 2011-12 Crown Royale card by Panini (#18 in the Heirs To The Throne sub-set) despite not having any other ''special'' card of his in my collection (from what I recall):

It features him wearing the Flyers' current/retro orange (home) uniform, with a white game-worn swatch.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bruce Gardiner Autograph Card

The Ottawa Senators were The Law tonight against the Montréal Canadiens, totally dominating the game at the Canadian Tire Center, both in terms of goals, shots, and physical play; had it not been for Dustin Tokarski stealing the show in net for the Habs, the Sens would probably have doubled the 4-1 score (last one an empty-netter).

Ironically, checking-line center Bruce Gardiner played for the Sens in the 1990s and, upon retiring from hockey in 2005, became a police officer; he was charged with harassment and voyeurism in 2009, but the charges were dropped after he agreed to never have contact with the victim again (and saving his job in the process).

Though initially drafted by the St. Louis Blues (131st overall in the sixth round of the 1991 draft), the team opted not to re-sign him after a tryout with their AHL farm team the Peoria Rivermen in 1993-94, following a successful 4-year stint with the Colgate University Raiders, so he signed with Ottawa. After two years with the AHL's Prince Edward Island Senators, he finally made the big team, serving as a capable shut-down center who could contribute at times with an opportune goal. He was never in the minuses with the Sens, but once they traded him to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1999-2000, he was never in the plusses again, including in his short stints with the Columbus Blue Jackets (scoring the franchise's very first goal) and New Jersey Devils.

He had his best point-per-game ratio with the Devils, with 3 points in 7 games, but spent most of the year he was in their organization (2001-02) with the Albany River Rats in the AHL, posting 5 goals and 23 points in 45 games in the capital of New York State, before spending a couple of seasons abroad, first in Russia then in Finland.

He finished his NHL career with 34 goals, 54 assists, 88 points and 263 penalty minutes in 312 regular-season games, and 1-4-5 (and 8 PIMS) in 45 playoff games - more than enough to have him represent #25 in my Sens Numbers Project:

It's the signed insert version (in black sharpie) of card #51 from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player set, showing him in the beautiful Senators' mid-1990s uniform, with their ''original'' expansion-era logo (the sideways legionnaire as opposed to the contemporary straight-facing one), with a white stripe on the arms (the original 1992 jersey had just red and black on the sleeves).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Devan Dubnyk Dual Jersey Card

I know I talked about Devan Dubnyk a couple of months ago, but the Arizona Coyotes have just traded him to the goaltender-depleted Minnesota Wild for a third-round pick.

The Wild desperately needed goaltending help. Josh Harding was playing like a Vezina Trophy candidate last season despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but he has not played since Dec. 31, 2013 because of complications with the treatment of the disease and a broken foot sustained during training camp.

Darcy Kuemper has a .902 save percentage) and Niklas Backstrom is at .887; they are 35th and 40th, respectively, out of 42 qualified goaltenders this season.
So, sure, Dubnyk might solve some of the Wild's woes short-term, but he remains a pending free agent at the end of the season, so not only is this just a stop-gap measure and borderline panic move on the part of GM Chuck Fletcher, but possibly his last hope of saving head coach Mike Yeo's job by the end of the week (and his own by the end of the season).

And while I stand by some of my message-board posts pinning 80% of the Wild's problems on their goaltending and its subsequent taking the wind out of the rest of the players' game, the team's been playing terrible defensive zone coverage of late, leaving gaping 2-on-1s and 3-on-1s too often. That will need to be addressed so that Dubnyk can perform (or at least attempt to perform) the miracle of turning this team's fortunes around.

In any event, unlike the asking price for other goalies Fletcher may have gone for, a third-round pick isn't so costly, though it's one for this year, a supposedly deep draft.

On the other hand, Coyotes GM Don Maloney also got rid of a potential problem, as Dubnyk was outplaying starter (and highly-paid) Mike Smith - and by a wide margin at that. By getting rid of the low-cost free-agent-to-be, he avoids a goaltending controversy... and enters the First Draft Pick derby almost unofficially.

But I'm happy I get to feature another card of Dubnyk's wearing the Edmonton Oilers' beautiful classic white (now-away) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Black Diamond set (#EDM-DD of the Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set), featuring orange and blue game-worn swatches: