Saturday, August 23, 2014

Chris Simon Autograph card

It's been four years since the last time I featured Chris Simon, so I figured I'd check in on a player I once admired and see where he was at.

After the 2007-08 season that saw him suit up with the New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild but will mostly be remembered as the one that saw him start the season finishing a 25-game suspension and receiving a 30-game one during it, Simon took his talents to the KHL, which is pretty much where I was at in the last post.

It turns out he played pretty well in his first three seasons with the Chekhov Vityaz, going 8-20-28 with 263 penalty minutes (!!!) in 40 games in his first season in Russia, then 13-12-25 and 110 in 30 games in 2009-10, and 16-12-28 and 111 in 43 games in 2010-11; he even played in the All-Star Game those last two seasons.

It went downhill from there, though, as he merely scored 4 goals and gathered 3 assists for 7 points with 71 penalty minutes in 55 games over the next two and a half seasons. He then retired, at the respectable age of 41.

I liked him the most on my favourite team, the Québec Nordiques / Colorado Avalanche, with which he won the Stanley Cup in 1996; he would also have been an ideal fit with the Philadelphia Flyers - who had originally drafted him 25th overall in 1990 - with his size, grit, hockey sense, strength, shooting accuracy and mean streak, but ended up having his best season with the Washington Capitals when he scored 29 goals with 49 points in 1999-2000.

It's fitting, then, that this 2013-14 Enforcers II card (#A-CS in the Autograph insert sub-set), signed in black sharpie, by In The Game show him with the Caps:

It may have been nice to commemorate his 250-PIM 1995-96 season with the Avs considering this is what this set wants to focus on, though; however, the black eye works very well, as does the referee right in the back, and I always liked his flowing long hair - I had the same style at the time.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Another J.S. Giguère Jersey Card

So Jean-Sébastien Giguère made his retirement official yesterday at a press conference held at a team function of the LHJMQ's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, the Junior team he's a part-owner of. I'd featured him last week, going at length about his career, and how our minor-league paths were similar, with each of us alternating teams and cities until it was time to join forces, which I declined to do.

Though he'll mostly be remembered as a member of the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim / Anaheim Ducks franchise (with two Stanley Cup Finals, a Cup and a Conn Smythe to show for it), he had a more-then-decent end with the Colorado Avalanche, going 31-21-8 with 4 shutouts, a 2.51 GAA and .914 save percentage in 72 games - and one of those three seasons was for a team that finished in last place. Not too shabby.

I'm also a big fan of his career playoff statistics: in addition to his hardware, he went 33-17, had a 2.08 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 52 games. That puts him up there with some of the greatest of all time, and though I consider him a notch below that, those are still pretty solid stats that reflect how good he was when it truly mattered.

Speaking of ''greatest of all time'', the reason I'm posting about Giggy so soon is this, when Teemu Selanne took his final lap after his last regular-season NHL game, he took Giguère along with him - and no one in the arena felt it was undeserved:

That's class and friendship, but also a testament to just how good Giguère was, which fans from the East Coast in the pre-Center Ice days might not have realized.

And because Giguère retires as a member of the Avs, I chose to feature him once more in the team's white (away) uniform, with two matching jersey swatches, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Artifacts set (card #113 in the collection, numbered 102/125):

Artifacts is almost always one of the two nicest sets in any given year; its design is subdued yet efficient, full of information yet uncluttered, airy yet complete; and the pictures are always great.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Joe Thronton Jersey Card

Yes, I shall continue the streak of jersey cards because one of the two bits of news I'd expected all summer that hadn't come yet finally has: the San Jose Sharks have stripped Joe Thornton of his captaincy. (For the record, the other one involves Cam Ward moving to a team in black and gold).

But back to the team in teal, and what some observers are calling ''a (very public) nervous breakdown'':
The strangest part in all of this? Stripping Thornton's ''C'' came nearly five years to the day of losing his alternate captaincy back in 2009, when the Sharks also took away Patrick Marleau's ''C''. That shakeup came after a massive playoff disappointment (sound familiar?) in which the Sharks won 53 regular season games before getting bounced in the opening round by Anaheim. That led (head coach) Todd McLellan to overhaul his entire leadership group (sound familiar?) and go into training camp with no captains or alternates (sound familiar?).
This, after GM Doug Wilson promised to clean house and rebuild, then opted not to (or at least just let some second-tier veterans go). Someone's stepping on someone else's toes; someone's going to lose their job over a decision they went along with but didn't make themselves.

Thornton is 35. Can he be The Guy, The Franchise, the difference maker? No, and he never was, and perhaps it shouldn't have been expected of him.

Is he an elite player? Yes, he's still one of the best passers in the league, and still gets close to a point per game.

He hasn't won in the NHL, but when used as a spare part by a team that could afford it (Team Canada), he has won gold at the Olympics (2010) and the World Cup (2004). Like Dave Andreychuk, he might end up winning the Cup in his last season as a third-liner on an actual contender rallying around him for that final victory lap.

Or maybe he's like Eric Lindros: really good, just not what people expected, and just that notch under what it takes to be the guy who carries a team (and/or be in the Hall). For the record #2: I think Joe Thornton is a much better more accomplished player than Lindros, because he jumped at the chance to be merely a role player (Canada 2010 versus Canada 2006, i.e. ''Mega-Fail'') for the greater good and his team.

Speaking of Canada, here he is wearing his country's white (''home'') uniform, and judging by the ads on the helmet and jersey, either from the Spengler Cup or the World Championships, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition, card #TC-JT of the Team Canada Fabrics sub-set, with a game-worn matching white swatch:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Henrik Sedin Jersey Card

Believe it or not, I was really hesitating as to whether or not I would feature Henrik Sedin the day after doing so for his twin Daniel. I'd been pretty good these past few weeks (months?) at alternating between autographs and jersey cards and wanted the switch to keep going, but I figured they were drafted consecutively (Daniel second, Henrik third) by the Vancouver Canucks in 1999, so I might as well go back-to-back myself.

If Daniel's the goal scorer, Henrik's the passer, with six consecutive 60-assist seasons with the one before that at 57 and the one after - the locked-out season - 34 in just 48 games. Like his brother, Henrik was on two end-of-season All-Star selections, and has an Art Ross and two NHL trophies in total - where Daniel also got the Lester B. Pearson, though, Henrik got the Hart; both are MVP trophies of sorts, so they remain pretty evenly matched.

Henrik also gets some Lady Byng votes, but is never in the top-10 in voting like Daniel is; he does get Selke votes because he's a center, though he's usually in the top-30 votes, which is far from being an actual contender for it.

Henrik's biggest season in terms of points also trumps Daniel's, 112 to 104, and though they've played together for most of their lives, those seasons were consecutive, due to an injury to Daniel in 2009-10.

His medal count with Team Sweden is also identical to his brother's: Olympic gold (2006) and silver (2014), World Championship gold (2013) and bronze (1999, 2001), U-18 gold (1998) and U-17 silver (1997). He's a little less productive than Daniel in international games, with 69 points in 81 games. He made the IIHF All-Star team at the 2013 Worlds.

For all the talk about the Sedins not being playoff performers, in the Canucks' last five post-season appearances, Henrik has 54 points in 56 games, including 22 in 25 when they lost to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010-11.

Which bring us to this card from Panini's 2010-11 Pinnacle set, card #96 of the City Lights Materials sub-set (numbered #496/499), featuring a blue jersey swatch matching the (awful) home uniform pictured both on the front and back of the card:

Notice the totally random, not-hockey-related story on the back of the card...

I had written Henrik in September 2010; I have since moved three times, and I don't count on any of those four cards to make their way back to me, ever.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Daniel Sedin Jersey Card

Daniel Sedin and twin brother Henrik have been the face of the Vancouver Canucks since coming back from the 2004-05 lock-out. Since then, he has been a consistent point producer (70+ each year, more than a point per game on average), usually hitting the 30-goal mark.

Of course, last year was particularly bad, but in general, the 2011 Art Ross and Ted Lindsay winner - and Hart finalist - and two-time All-Star Team nod recipient can be counted on to provide a fair chunk of the Canucks' goals, and also usually ends in the top-10 in Lady Byng voting.

Internationally, he has 72 points in 75 games for Team Sweden, with Olympic gold (2006) and silver (2014), World Championship gold (2013) and bronze (1999, 2001), U-18 gold (1998) and U-17 silver (1997).

Some of his advanced statistics look pretty good, too, if you're into that sort of thing (I'm not).

From the year after his award-winning, 41-goal and 104-point season comes this card from the 2011-12 Ultimate Collection set (#UJ-DS of the Ultimate Jerseys sub-set, numbered 53/100) by Upper Deck, featuring a dual-swatch card (they are green, while the picture shows him in the Canucks' white - away - uniform, which has very little of it):

Daniel now sports the alternate captain's 'A' more often than not, while Henrik has been the team's captain since the title was relinquished by Roberto Luongo.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Jarrod Skalde Autographed Card

I wrote about Jarrod Skalde's career path just about a year ago, mentioning I had some in-person autographs of him I could feature later. The time has come, but unfortunately, so far in my unpacking, I have just found one:

It's from Upper Deck's 1991-92 Series 1 set (card #446, part of the Star Rookie sub-set), signed in thick black sharpie, which is what I carried with me to games as a teen (after a brief stint with pens). I got it in person, but since I have two or three of him and they weren't all had at the same time, it could have been from any NHL, IHL or AHL stint prior to 1996, when I took a break from all things puck-related (mostly at the NHL level, but also to a lesser extent at all levels).

He was a point-per-game player in the minors, and for a while also was in the NHL, until bouncing around from team to team every year and never being given a real chance with top-line minutes. He may have been a tad skinny at 170 pounds to start his career, and 180 at the height of it, but he had hands and some vision; paired with the right guy(s), he could have made a decent contributor.

He made some news this summer when he was named the new head coach of the Norfolk Admirals, the AHL farm team of the Anaheim Ducks, replacing Trent Yawney, who made the jump up to assistant in Anaheim.

I really like the focus he shows on the card, possibly during a pre-game warm-up; he's wearing the New Jersey Devils' white (then-home) 1980s-1990s uniform.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Simon Gagné Jersey Card

No one was happier than me to learn that Simon Gagné had received a try-out offer with the Boston Bruins next month. You can't lose a scoring touch that had two 40-goal and two other 30-goal seasons, two All-Star Games, and five Team Canada participations (including two gold medals and a World Cup).

Sure, his speed's no longer what it was, and after spending last season practicing with the LHJMQ's Québec Remparts, reflexes may take a few weeks to get back up to par - and there are health issues that come with past concussions; but you can't negate 799 regular-season NHL games' worth of experience, a Stanley Cup, 37 playoff goals, and 597 total points.

In Boston, he'll suit up for a perennial contender, likely play on the third line, and get some vital powerplay minutes with fellow Québec City phenom Patrice Bergeron. Add a bargain-basement price tag and it's not just a win-win, but a no-brainer.

I unwrapped this card of his earlier this season, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition (card #AF-SG of the Authentic Fabrics sub-set), featuring a black swatch and showing him wearing the Philadelphia Flyers' orange retro/home uniform:

At first glance, because the jersey he's wearing is mostly orange, it might look like a Frankencard (where the swatch is from a different uniform than the one shown or - worse - from a different team altogether), and it very well could be; but if you look at the sleeves, they're black. They could be a match.

However, all the teams Gagné's played for played in black: the Flyers, the Tampa Bay Lightning pre-current all-blue, and the Los Angeles Kings. Even his new team, the Bruins. This could be from any of them (except Boston), yet it's well done because there's no way to know for sure. Well played, UD.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Taylor Fedun Autograph Card

I was a tad disappointed when the Edmonton Oilers didn't tend Taylor Fedun a qualifying offer this summer, sending him off to free agency, as I'm a fan of players playing for their hometown teams - they help the team's staff instill what the franchise is about to newcomers from a fan's perspective, and generally hate not making the playoffs and having to face questions as to why all summer long.

Ultimately, Fedun didn't last long on the market, as the San Jose Sharks signed him on the second day of free agency.

He had impressed the Oilers enough to invite him to their rookie camp as an undrafted prospect in 2011, and he played his way onto an entry-level contract in pre-season games. However, he was tripped by the Minnesota Wild's Eric Nystrom as both were racing for an icing and broke his femur, leading directly to the rule change still effective today, but made him miss the entirety of the 2011-12 season.

He then spent most of the next two seasons with the Oilers' AHL affiliate Oklahoma City Barons, with seasons of 27 and 37 points from the point. He did play 4 games with Edmonton, scoring two goals; he scored his first one in his first game, on home ice.

I didn't see him play in the AHL, so I don't know if his injury impeded his movements, slowed him down, or if he's healed; however, you'd think the Sharks, who just got rid of Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart, were confident he could step up to at least a #4-6 roster spot to sign him that early on.

I don't know what number Fedun will wear in San Jose, but this card of him wearing #91 fits really well in my Oilers Numbers Project; it's from Panini's beautiful-once-you-get-used-to-it 2013-14 Prizm set, and is card #347 in the collection, part of its Dual Rookie Class:

Yes, it's completely made up of crazy foil, and I love the effect of the signature/sticker area, giving it a stained glass effect. In person, the blue-sharpied autograph is much darker, and the stained glass effect less obvious.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mike Fisher Autographed 5x7 Picture

Mike Fisher is one of my favourite NHL players, and as is the case with most of the ones I have an affection for, that stands for both on and off the ice.

On it, he was regarded as the ideal #2 center backing Jason Spezza with the Ottawa Senators for the better part of a decade, and as he has now moved into his mid-thirties, has continued to put up his 50 points per season despite playing on the less offense-minded Nashville Predators.

Off the ice, Carrie Underwood's husband still spends most of his days supporting countless charities, including still being involved with Roger's House, a residential house/hospice for families of children with life-limiting diseases that has all the amenities of a full-fledged hospital but the comfort of one's home; it was set up by the Sens following the passing of their former coach Roger Nielsen, the first NHL head coach to use modern technology (and video!) as a tool to teach and coach players.

It was during one of the Roger's House fundraisers in the middle of the '00 decade that I met Mr. Fisher while donating; he was signing 5x7 pictures in black sharpie, of his red (home) Sens uniform:

He plays every game - even in the pre-season - like it's a Game 7; it seems he takes his responsibilities as a role model just as seriously. It's really impressive and inspiring.

He suffered a ''freak accident'' while training this summer, and it should keep him off the ice until November. I'm confident he'll make the Preds a much better team upon his return.

Edit: I'd made the mistake of trading it away a few years ago; I corrected that buying it back this Spring; I know it's the same one from the top-right corner being dented from the car ride home from Ottawa to Montréal.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Jean-Sébastien Giguère Jersey Card

I'd been holding onto this scanned picture since May, assuming that Jean-Sébastien Giguère would officially announce his retirement from the NHL early in the summer, and it has turned out not to be the case, though some reports hinted at that; however, when Patrick Roy was in town for a charity golf tournament recently, he mentioned he didn't know what Giguère's plans were, but that the Colorado Avalanche were proceeding next season with Semyon Varlamov and Reto Berra in nets.

But I have plenty of other JS Giguère cards to feature (including a game-used glove one), so when the word officially comes, I'll have another go at it.

I've followed in his footsteps for years. He was a year older than I was, but we played in many of the same tournaments in Pee-wee, Bantam and Midget; he played his Midget AAA with Laval-Laurentides-Lanaudière while I played for Montréal-Bourassa Collège-Français, but the year after my Grade 11, Collège-Français switched its affiliation to Major Junior, and he played for them as they operated out of the Verdun Auditorium, then was traded to the Halifax Mooseheads; upon graduating, I went to play my Junior hockey with the Laval Titan, who took on the Collège-Français affiliation - we'd switcharooed. This was 1995-96.

I wasn't the biggest fan of the culture of violence that Laval represented, and as third-string goalie, I was mostly sparingly used as an additional enforcer the team could use. I'm not even on HockeyDB, though I suited up for 5 games and had over 80 penalty minutes, probably because I played in less than a total minute - I'd played a lot more in pre-season and spring training.

In any event, for the season and a half I spent in Laval, I wasn't seeing many shots, and my reflexes weren't getting the workload they needed, so I asked for permission to play with the unofficial team from my College, Brébeuf, if it didn't interfere with Titan games. Some time in November 1996, my 5-0 record with a 1.00 GAA was shattered in an 11-2 pounding at the hands of another school's official team. I didn't know it then, but that was to be my final formal-setting game.

A week or two later, Laval traded my rights to... Halifax. Halifax had Giguère, the best non-professional goalie in Canada. What it didn't have was a Cégep - pre-university colleges that only exist in Québec. I didn't have a Grade 12 education so I couldn't jump directly to university, and my time at Brébeuf (a Cégep) didn't count. I had to balance it all out, and the way it looked to me was this: if I went, I would never play, as I'd be behind the best in the country, and probably behind the other guy they already had backing him up; I wouldn't be able to get an education right away; and my music career - which I had going for me in Montréal in parallel to school, hockey and girls - would be on hiatus as well. I chose to decline reporting to the team and, effectively, retire.

Near the Holidays, the Hartford Whalers, who had drafted Giguère 13th overall at the 1995 draft, got in a bit of a bind when Sean Burke - one of my favourite goalies growing up! - fell to injury; they recalled Giggy from Juniors rather than have their backup Jason Muzzati - or guys they had in the AHL or ECHL - play; that net in Halifax may very well have been mine for a whole month to show what I could do.

But I have no regrets.

The 8 games Giguère played for the Whalers that year would be all he'd give that organization, as they traded him to the Calgary Flames (with Andrew Cassels, for Gary Roberts and Trevor Kidd), but he mostly spent his time with their AHL affiliate, winning the best goals-against trophy.

It was a trade to the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim that would forever define his career. He played parts of 9 seasons with the franchise, winning the Conn Smythe trophy in a losing cause in 2003, and the Stanley Cup in 2007. He was an All-Star, was often voted among the top-10 in Vezina-worthy goalies, was in the running for the Hart once, and even got a (first-place) vote in the Lady Byng race (a rare occurence for a goalie) in 2007-08. He won over 30 games with them 4 times, and is still the team leader in wins.

He ended his career with backup stints in Toronto (a year and a half), and two seasons with the Avs. Even last season, he was still among the best in the league at positionning - which can be traced to still being tied to genius goaltending coach François Allaire - but was a few milliseconds away from the sharpness of his past reflexes. Roy even called him out in the Montréal media last season.

Then again, Giguère had called out some of his own teammates the year before, saying:
Some guys are more worried about their [Las] Vegas trip at the end of the season than playing the games, than playing every minute of the games.
True words from a veteran leader, but also the type of words that come back to haunt you later, like, say, when a new head coach needs to put his young leaders on the same page and needs a common focal point for all.

And so it's fitting to show him wearing the Avs' white (away) uniform, with a matching swatch with some stitching (it's probably from the fight-strap at the back of the jersey), from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set (card #GJ-JG of the Game Jersey sub-set), complete with deceased UD CEO Richard McWilliam's guarantee of authenticity:

I'll analyze his impact on the game - and on his teams - in a later post, but he truly was a game-changing player. I wish him the best, retirement or not.