Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mark Barberio Autograph Card

It looks like Montrealer Mark Barberio will draw out of the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight against the New York Rangers, as Matt Carle is expected to return to action.

Barberio, despite finishing with a -1 and having made a mistake on a Rick Nash goal (which makes him the 387th to do so, considering Nash's regular-season and playoff totals), was by no means responsible for that goal (Cédric Paquette was in position to repair the error), and certainly not for the Bolts losing that game, which the Rangers won 5-1.

An offensive defenseman in the same vein as Nathan Beaulieu, Barberio dominated in the LHJMQ with the Moncton Wildcats, and did the same at the AHL level, winning the Eddie Shore Award as the league's best defenseman one year, making the end-of-season Second All-Star Team the next, both times reaching the Calder Cup Finals (and winning it the first time).

Like Beaulieu, he just needs to translate that play to the NHL, which is hard to do without top-4 minutes. He's done everything that was asked of him, and I'd say he's improved his defensive play by at least 200% in the past two years, and in that regard he might benefit from the teachings of a Victor Hedman.

Even the analytics ''support'' his case:
Just 5.90% of Tampa Bay's shots at 5v5 became goals when Barberio was on the ice, even though the team shot over 9% on the year, an enormous difference. Barberio's presence on the ice didn't come with a significant dip in scoring chances, either; the team had 30.45 chances per 60 minutes with Barberio on, about the same amount as with both Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. So Barberio helped move things in the right direction, helped get the team in position to score, and yet, for some reason, score they did not.
Couple that fact with below average goaltending behind him (Tampa Bay goalies stopped 91.74% of 5v5 shots with Barberio on compared to 91.98% overall) and you have a recipe for Mark Barberio's season; quietly effective but seemingly invisible due to lack of scoring, and scapegoated at times due to the play in net behind him. Every guy on Tampa Bay's blue line makes mistakes with the puck; Barberio's just ended up in the net more often than not through no fault of his own.
Although, honestly, a lot of that is a crock of bull. If you're going as far as to analyze how many shots per second occur when one player's on the ice, ''puck luck'' should not factor in, and numbers like ''Tampa has a worse shooting percentage when he's on the ice'' should be looked into more closely to see if that's because the rest of the players are fourth-liners or if he really does factor in the number.

He should be developed as if he were a first-unit defender, to at least be shaped into a second-unit defenseman (and, let's be honest, Hedman's on the left side of Tampa's defense for another decade as the #1 guy). But second-unit time requires he play with first- or second-liners in front of him, not checkers and ''role players'' who can't finish his plays.

He's proven all he needed to at the AHL level, and he's good enough to be on any team's regular six-man unit, save perhaps the Rangers'. The question is just whether it'll be on Tampa's.

And so, here he is rocking the Lightning's blue (home) jersey, from Panini's 2013-14 Rookie Update set, and Prizm sub-set:

It's card #389, with a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph, part of the Dual Rookie Class and of the ''Cracked Ice'' variety that Panini inserted in Rookie Update boxes that encompassed the ''missing'' cards from all of its other lower-end and mid-range products (Prizm being particularly devoid of rookies), in addition to a stand-alone base set. Boxes of 50 cards sold (and still sell) for roughly $75, which is a decent deal.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Éric Dazé Autograph Card

On the eve of a game that could be the turning point in the series pitting the Anaheim Ducks against the Chicago Blackhawks (and because as I was cleaning house I came onto a box full of early-alphabet cards), I figured I'd feature one of the few bright spots in a not-so-great turn-of-the-millennium Hawks team, Éric Dazé, with this card (#179 in the series) from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player collection, showing him in the team's classic red (then-away) uniform, signed on-card in black sharpie:

Dazé was a fourth-round pick in 1993 because while his scoring talent was undeniable, many scouts were less than thrilled that he wasn't overly physical despite his 6'6'' frame and 220-some pounds; few could deny his shot was world-class and he could pass well, too, and while he wasn't the fastest man on the ice, he could keep up with linemates Tony Amonte and Alexei Zhamnov for a while.

In a way, considering the back injuries that plagued the latter half of his career and still has him in pain to this day, ten years after his final NHL appearance despite numerous surgeries, it's better that he didn't play like a wrecking ball or we might not have had a chance to even witness what he did bring to the table.

He played more than 60 games only six times in his career - spent entirely with the Hawks - and hit the 30-goal mark four times, with a high of 38 in 2001-02, the year he not only played in the All-Star Game but was also chosen as its MVP.

He also had two seasons in which he played more than 50 but less than 60 games - and he hit the 20-goal mark both times anyway, which he did in every season in which he played more than 20 games. And this was in the clutch-and-grab Dead Puck Era, mind you. He was also the runner-up in Calder Trophy voting in 1995-96, and finished his career with 226 goals in 601 games.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Mike Richter Jersey Card

Well, the New York Rangers have tied their series at two wins apiece against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 5-1 win that saw Rick Nash score twice, Martin Saint-Louis score once and Henrik Lundqvist stop 38 of 39 shots fired against him.

Strong goaltending being a factor in a Rangers playoff win led me to this card of Mike Richter's, from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Masterpieces set, the ''Authentic Memorabilia'' insert version of card #CC-MR of the Canvas Clippings sub-set, showing him in the Rangers' classic blue (then-away) jersey but incorporating a white swatch:

I'd featured a card from this set before, one that Rogatien Vachon signed for me by mail a couple of years ago, but these really are fine cards, with terrific texture and nice, matte finish that both signs well on and complements the jersey swatches when applicable. It's tasteful, too.

I wasn't always a fan of Richter's though. I thought he was a tad over-rated, having never won NHL hardware (save for the 1994 Stanley Cup), finishing among the Vezina finalists only once (third place in 1990-91), playing in three All-Star Games and leading the league in sub-par categories such as wins (42 in 1993-94), games played (72 in 1997-98), goals allowed in (184 in 1997-98), ties (15 in 1997-98), and losses (31 in 1999-2000).

But you've got to give credit where credit's due, and his play at the inaugural 1996 World Cup was a big reason why Team USA beat Team Canada and win top honors, getting named Tournament MVP (and best goalie) in the process, though it is important to note that Canada opted not to even invite the best goalie in the world - Patrick Roy - to play on its team. You reap what you sow.

And he was a big part of the Americans' losing bid at the 2002 Olympics, losing the final game to earn a silver medal while Canada captured gold on U.S. soil.

He finished his NHL career having played for just one team, and a nice round number of 666 regular-season games for the Original Six franchise, winning 301 of them in the pre-shootout era.

All told, he was pretty good, definitely All-Star material, but it's also fitting the he isn't in the Hall Of Fame, because he did fall a bit short of that.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nick Foligno Jersey Card

It seems most of my recent posts were subconsciously leading me to this one... the Columbus Blue Jackets announced yesterday that Nick Foligno would be their new captain. The title had been vacant since Rick Nash (2008-12) was traded to the New York Rangers three years ago; the other four previous captains were Adam Foote (2005-08), Luke Richardson (2003-05), Ray Whitney (2002-03) and Lyle Odelein (2000-02).

Foligno, like his brother Marcus Foligno (obviously), is the son of former Buffalo Sabres great and captain Mike, who coached both sons with the OHL's Sudbury Wolves. Nick was a first-round draft pick, though, so he was always sort of expected to be an impact player, whereas Marcus was selected 104th overall, probably thought of more as a role player (and he's a fine one at that).

But Nick has suited up for Team USA three times - at the 2003-04 U-17 Worlds, and at the 2009 and 2010 World Championships, wearing the alternate captain's ''A'' the second time. He also played in the last All-Star Game and was named the captain of one of the two teams (partly because the game was held in Columbus), and finished with a (roughly) point-per-game average for the first time in his NHL career with 31 goals, 42 assists and 73 points in 79 games.

He signed a six-year contract extension that kicks in next year, valued at $33M and averaging $5.5M per on the cap; whether or not he replicates this year's numbers (I think he mostly will, 4 times out of 6, he's that talented and has hit his stride, but teams will concentrate on stopping him with their best checkers more), he'll be worth it as the cap increases and 5.5 starts looking like a second-liner's wage.

In the meantime, here's a look at a classic example of a (beautiful) Frankencard:

It's the dual-jersey insert version of card #72 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Artifacts set (numbered 89/125) showing him in the Jackets' terrific alternate uniform, which features two red jersey swatches from his days with the Ottawa Senators. Still, I don't mind the clash/contrast in colours, probably because Artifacts is always a great-looking set with a simple, classy design.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Two (Similar) Autographed Luke Richardson Cards

You might have heard something about Mike Babcock opting to go to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the next 8 seasons... maybe. Buffalo Sabres fans are pretty angry and/or disappointed, and Detroit Red Wings fans are mostly just happy that the drama's over.

Which leaves one less option for the Sabres, with Todd McLellan having chosen the Edmonton Oilers yesterday. One AHL head coach who has NHL experience behind the bench as an assistant and 21 years as a player does have ties with Sabres GM Tim Murray, as both worked together in the Ottawa Senators organization who, like Buffalo, is rich in young talent. And the man responsible for making all the Sens' kids into adults who are ready to step in right away is none other than Luke Richardson, the former bruising defender who has accumulated over 2000 penalty minutes while suiting up for the Leafs, Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers (with whom he reached the Stanley Cup Finals), Columbus Blue Jackets (which he captained), Tampa Bay Lightning and Sens.

I think it's a no-brainer, because he's great with youngsters and can get them NHL-ready, is a terrific teacher, doesn't shy away from tough play, and wouldn't have to move far to get from Binghamton (the Sens' AHL affiliate) to Buffalo, a ride that takes roughly three hours. His family wouldn't feel too out of place.

I have met Richardson a few times in my life, and got him to sign cards for me on a couple of occasions. One of these is from my teens years (early 1990s), while the other was signed while he played for the Sens, in 2007:

They both show him wearing the Leafs' 1990s blue (away) uniform, battling for the puck with the Minnesota North Stars' Brian Bellows, and are from Upper Deck's 1990-91 Series 1 set (it's card #362 in the collection), signed in blue sharpie.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Matt Duchene Jersey Card

With his Olympic gold medal in Sochi, and now the gold medal from the World Championships in Prague over the weekend, Matt Duchene is now one Stanley Cup away from joining Sidney Crosby in the Triple Gold Club...

He is also a gold medal winner from the 2012 Spengler Cup, the 2008 U-18 championship and 2008 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (Junior U-18) as well as the 2008 U-17 World Hockey Challenge. Not bad, eh?

I was impressed by his performance at the Worlds this year, seeing as he was the third-line center (behind tournament MVP Jason Spezza and captain Crosby), still scoring 4 goals and 12 points in 10 games, getting his points but melting in the team-first mentality along with his Colorado Avalanche teammates Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O'Reilly and Tyson Barrie.

I'd featured Duchene twice before, once with the Avs' white (away) jersey, and once in the pretty blue (alternate) one, so here he is in the burgundy (home) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set (card #GJ-MD of the UD Game Jersey sub-set:

Like the other two, it incorporates a burgundy game-worn jersey swatch - but this time it really matches the picture.

As was the case with many of the Avalanche's young stars, Duchene had an off year statistically, with merely 55 points in 70 games - although his 21 goals were in the vicinity of what can be expected of him, he's just usually stronger on the assists front.

Pundits have tried explaining the situation with ''pretend-fancy stats'', but I, for one, don't buy it: the Avs aren't a team that shoots blindly at the other net 40 times per game; they possess the puck and make plays through deft passes, not an over-abundance of shots. It's an anomaly in today's ''pray for a deflection'' NHL, but it's the closest thing to hockey one can play in 2015. The Avs just lacked a #3 and #4 defenseman to move the puck forward and may have missed André Benoit's contribution on that front - and the competition within the division improved greatly.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Samuel Morin Jersey Card

The Philadelphia Flyers were pretty high on Samuel Morin when they made him the 11th overall pick in 2013, ahead of Max Domi (12th), Curtis Lazar (17th), Mirco Mueller (18th), Anthony Mantha (20th), Émile Poirier (22nd), Zachary Fucale (36th), William Carrier (57th), Eric Comrie (59th), Anthony Duclair (80th), Sven Andrighetto (86th), and Jordan Subban (115th).

It's hard not to be high on a kid who already stood at 6'6'' and 200 pounds as a 17-year-old (now 6'7'' and 220), and had a lot of frame left to fill yet already had a booming shot, perfect, hard passes and got into using his frame to provide hits more and more as time passed.

This year, in his fourth season in the ''Q'' with the Rimouski Océanic, at 19 years old, he looked like Chris Pronger out there; don't get me wrong, he won't ever be a Pronger - he doesn't have the mean streak, for one - but as one of the veteran players on a team that finished first in the regular season and just won the league's Finals in double-overtime of Game 7, he was heads and shoulders above the rest, and not just because of the size Mother Nature imparted upon him. He's got skill. And he was solid for Team Canada at the World Juniors.

Another Flyers top prospect, Shayne Gostisbehere (a.k.a. ''The Ghost'') also can't wait to be paired with him on a regular basis, and GM Ron Hextall is happy with his progress so far, after almost starting the year with the big club.

I read left and right about journalists who are often wrong saying the Flyers have no defense to speak of (somewhat true at present time) and nobody in the system coming up (a complete fallacy, as can be attested by Ghost and Morin alone), which could very well mean Philadelphia is a lot closer to a complete turnaround than anyone expects. Particularly with a new head coach.

Now, defensemen take longer to develop than forwards, particularly those who have monster size. But Hextall will take his time and be patient with Morin, knowing full well it's better to wait a couple of seasons and have him be excellent for 12 years than have four so-so development years at the NHL level for 4 pretty good and 5 excellent seasons. Hopefully.

Here's Morin wearing the Océanic's blue (away) uniform:

It's card #M-22 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set (part of the Game-Used Jersey sub-set, the ''Black Version'' variant), featuring a game-worn white jersey swatch with a huge stitch and overlap spanning the whole swatch. I got it in a trade last year with three other cards, this being the third I have featured so far (Scott Harrington is coming eventually).

Sunday, May 17, 2015

David Cooper Autographed Card

Ok, fine, it may be a bit of a stretch to link Team USA's defeat at the hands of Team Russia at the World Championships to this card of David Cooper using his hard slap shot with the Rochester Americans (get it?), but I'm taking it anyway (and I'm saving Mike Richter for later):

It's card #210 from Classic's 1993-94 Pro Hockey Prospects set (with the Blue Chip Prospect seal in red foil), which he signed for me in person in blue sharpie in the mid-1990s; during that time, I was playing Bantam and/or Midget and/or Juniors, played in the Ottawa region in the summer (there weren't high-level, i.e. AAA leagues, in Montréal in the summer), and was a goaltending teacher's assistant at various hockey schools in Montréal and the Outaouais region. Cooper hails from there, so chances are our paths crossed at one of these schools (I didn't just bring random cards to games I was playing in, but usually had a heads-up when pros were to be coming to the schools). That blue Americans uniform is one of my favourites in the AHL.

Drafted 11th overall in 1992 by the Buffalo Sabres - ahead of Sergei Krivovrasov (12th), Sergei Gonchar (14th), Jason Smith (18th), Martin Straka (19th), Peter Ferraro (24th), Jim Carey (32nd), Valeri Bure (33rd), Michael Peca (40th), Andrei Nikolishin (47th), Mattias Norstrom (48th), Manny Fernandez (52nd), Craig Rivet (68th), Robert Svehla (78th), Matthew Barnaby (83rd), Jere Lehtinen (88th), Marcus Ragnarsson (99th), Adrian Aucoin (117th), Joël Bouchard (129th), Ian Laprerrière (158th), Nikolai Khabibulin (204th), Anson Carter (220th), and Dan McGillis (238th) - Cooper was seen as a sure-shot NHL regular, having posting nearly point-per-game averages in his final two OHL seasons as a defenseman.

He played for parts of four seasons with the Americans, but knew his time within the Sabres organization was up when they sent him to play for the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays to close out the 1993-94 season, after which he signed on with the Toronto Maple Leafs, with whom he would suit up for 30 games over three seasons at the NHL level, before getting traded to the Calgary Flames organization, who sent him to their AHL affiliate St. John Flames for all of 1998-99, producing 18 goals and 42 points in 65 regular-season games and another 5 points in 7 playoff games, showing he was ready to take his game to a higher level.

Finding no employment in the NHL, he set his sights to Europe, where he played for the following decade, in Germany (1999-2000, 2001-02, 2003-04), Russia (2002-03), Italy (2004-05, 2007-08) and Denmark (2005-07), save for one more try with the Leafs organization (2000-01), mostly spent in the AHL.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Marcus Foligno Team Canada Jersey Card

Marcus Foligno is becoming a reliable, hard-working checking winger who can at times chip in with timely goals. Casual fans might not have noticed him these past couple of years because ''timely'' was hard to associate with the Buffalo Sabres, but in 2013-14, out of his 7 goals, 6 were at even strength, 1 was shorthanded, and a whopping 3 (nearly half) were game-winners.

While he was a point-per-game player in the AHL with the Rochester Americans in 2012-13, he didn't really have a history of doing so even in Juniors, where he only achieved the feat in his fourth and final season (2010-11), the second year after his hometown Sabres made him the 104th pick at the 2009 draft.

He'll still barely be 24 when the next season gets underway, so he hasn't hit his peak nor exactly found his groove yet, but I foresee a reliable, 10-goal, 25-to-30-point man down the line.

His father, Mike Foligno, was a Sabres great when I was a kid, surpassing the 50-point mark 5 times with 5 seasons over 25 goals, including a peak of 41 in 1985-86; he ended up posting over 700 points in over 1000 NHL games while also suiting up for the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, and playing his final 39 games with the Florida Panthers.

As a local kid, Marcus gets a lot of attention in Buffalo, often appearing in team promos, and because he's good-looking, a (probably) mock Twitter page has him hitting on lady-fans and calling out/laughing at fellow players in the style of Roberto Luongo's page, but a tad ''jockier''.

Of course, my main reason for featuring this card today is because it features him playing for Team Canada at the 2001 World Juniors (held in Buffalo), wearing his father's #17 (he wears #82 with the Sabres):

It's card #TC-MF from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition series, showing him in Canada's red (''visitors'') uniform, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Alexei Kovalev Autograph Card

In a repeat performance, Team Russia will face Team USA in the World Championship semifinal in Prague on Saturday after beating Sweden, which was arguably missing the best goalie in the world (Henrik Lundqvist, whose New York Rangers are still in the NHL playoffs).

It is believed the Russians will have Alex Ovechkin for the game, which will be a boost, and reminds me of when another Russian Alex was viewed as All-World and could have a tremendous impact on games, Alex Kovalev.

Easily the best forward to play for the Montréal Canadiens in the past 25 years whenever he decided to ''turn it on'', ''Kovy'' was named the All-Star Game MVP in front of the home crowd at the Bell Centre as he dominated a game that featured Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Carey Price and the rest of the league's star players.

As I wrote nearly a year ago:
Did he have a tendency to take two or three nights off per week? Short answer: yes. In fact, though, the more honest answer would be this: never in important games, never in the playoffs, never when sporting a letter (be it the captain's 'C' or the alternate's 'A') on his chest, and never in front of an adoring hometown crowd cheering him on. And never when he could take center stage.
If there was a spotlight, he wanted it shined on him, no matter who else was there. The only time it didn't happen was during his rookie season, on a Stanley Cup-winning Rangers team, where Mark Messier stole the show; any other time, even playing alongside Mario Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr, Kovalev looked like the best player on the ice... (exactly) half the time.

Here he is deking and going through a Finnish goalie to score a goal while playing for the Soviet Union (notice the CCCP letters on his jersey, which no longer existed when the card set, Upper Deck's 1995-96 Be A Player collection, from which this is card #S182 - the S stands for ''signed insert version'' - featuring an on-card thin black-sharpied autograph, was released):