Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Meghan Agosta Autographed Card

In many regards, Meghan Agosta is very representative of "minor professional" Canadian team sports, by which I mean professional-level leagues with little financial means and few teams where high-talent athletes compete for a recognized championship, like the CFL or - in this case - the former CWHL.

She started off decently by winning gold with Team Canada at the 2007 World Championships, posting four points in five games, although those statistics are a tad deceiving: she had two assists against Switzerland and Germany to pad up her stats line, on a team where Hailey Wickenheiser had 14 points, Danielle Goyette had 11 and Sarah Vaillancourt, 6.

Still, she made her mark and climbed her way up the depth chart to the point where she became part of the elite herself, making her mark at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics - on home soil - as her third Olympic hat trick became a record; she kept that level of play up to be named to the Media All-Star Team, as well as the tournament's MVP and Best Forward.

In 2011-12, while with the Montréal Stars, she broke Jayna Hefford's single-season scoring record (69 points) by a wide margin, eventually ending up with 80 points, on the strength of 41 goals and 39 assists... in just 27 games. The Stars were stacked that year, with ten point-per-games players in their ranks. They won the league championship, of course.

Still just 32, the Vancouver policewoman probably has another Olympic run in her, in my opinion, as well as a few seasons of part-time play if the women's leagues can get their house in order and actually find a way to play.

She also enters my Team Canada Numbers Project as the wearer of jersey #2 with card #38 from In The Game's 2007-08 O Canada set and National Women's Team sub-set, showing her wearing Canada's red (away) turn-of-the-millennium uniform:
She signed it in blue sharpie while playing for the Stars, probably in 2013.

To date, she has three Olympic gold medals (2006, 2010 and 2014), one Olympic silver (2018), two World Championship gold medals (2007 and 2012) and six silver WC medals (2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2017). An Ontario native, she grew up rooting for the Detroit Red Wings.

My Team Canada Numbers Project

Well, I have Numbers Projects for so many teams now (my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project my Sens Numbers Project, my Canucks Numbers Project, my Nordiques Numbers Project, my Flames Numbers Project and my Expos Numbers Project), I figured why not make one for Team Canada as well?

It'll be easier in some regards with all the national teams at all the levels (including but not limited to the World Juniors, the World Championships, the Spengler Cup, the Canada/World Cup, the Summit Series, and the Mens and Womens Olympic teams), but I'm again at a loss for #99 (Wayne Gretzky) and likely will be for my entire life.

The plan is to stick to hockey, but who knows, maybe I'll get to add some from other sports as well; it might be my only shot at a #99.
So far, I have featured 31 players representing a total of 24 jersey numbers.

Here they are:

1: Braden Holtby: check!
2: Meghan Agosta: check!
3: Eric Brewer: check!
4: Thomas Hickey and Chris Phillips: check!
5: Bryan Allen and Samuel Morin: check!
10: Brayden Schenn and Charles Hudon (also wore #16): check!
11: Zachary Boychuk: check!
12: Julien Gauthier: check!
13: Caroline Ouellette: check (and check again)!
14: Thomas Hickey (also wore #4): check!
16: Kerby Rychel, Jayne Hefford and Charles Hudon (also wore #10): check!
17: Marcus Foligno: jersey card check!
19: Alexandre Daigle: check!
20: Guillaume Latendresse, Jason Ward and Louis Leblanc: check!
22: Frédérik Gauthier: check!
23: Jason Botterill, Rob Niedermayer and Daniel Audette: check!
24: Patrice Brisebois and Logan Couture: check!
28: Nathan Beaulieu: check!
29: Marie-Philip Poulin: check!
30: Dustin Tokarski: jersey card check!
31: Geneviève Lacasse and Olivier Roy: check!
32: Charline Labonté: check!
37: Patrice Bergeron: jersey card check!
51: Ryan Getzlaf: jersey card check!
97: Joe Thornton: jersey card check!

Captains: Poulin, Hickey

Monday, August 19, 2019

Alex Galchenyuk Jersey Card

25 years old and on his third NHL team in three seasons, such is the life of Alex Galchenyuk.

The third overall pick of the 2012 draft has one 30-goal season under his belt and will surely be looking for more now that he was traded, essentially, for Phil Kessel, as the Arizona Coyotes needed to add scoring and the Pittsburgh Penguins needed to get rid of a long-term contract with a high cap hit.

Now, Galchenyuk finds himself with a once-in-a-lifetime chance, the possibility of getting some ice time with Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin to pad up his stats sheet before hitting free agency next summer. Another 30-goal season would go a long way into securing a long-term, high-paying deal.

A terrible season would likely relegate him to middle-six opportunities at best, possibly on one-year offers, perhaps less than he'd make playing in Europe. To put it simply: he's at a crossroads, and he needs to pick himself up and turn into a star, even if only for one year.

Here he is when the sky was the limit for him, wearing the Montréal Canadiens' classic bleu-blanc-rouge sweater, on card #GJ-AG from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a small white game-worn jersey swatch, likely from the team's away uniform.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Ariana & The Rose Signed Merch

Maybe you've seen Ariana DiLorenzo acting, talking about fashion or performing at Pride Parades with her synth-pop act Ariana & The Rose - or maybe you have not.

If you haven't, know that I've been sold on the group on the first two EPs Head vs Heart (2014) and Retrograde (2017), but it is my honest opinion that their brand of some of the smartest pop out there goes beyond the stratosphere on Constellations Phase 1, which was just released in July.

Like, holy fuck.

Today's pop scene is shock-full of emotional teens with tattoos across their faces, or wearing clothes that are so baggy they can fit in it with all their insecurities and the other feelings of anguish and angst that fill their songs.

Ariana doesn't need the artifices, because she's the real deal - and it doesn't come truer than on Constellations Phase 1.

I was lucky enough that she sent me signed memorabilia along with this release, in a terrific, hand-printed silky wrapping paper:
It included a postcard of my astrological zodiac sign:
With this amazing personalized message on the back:
There was also a poster-sized version of the album art:
In case you can't tell, it's also signed, in silver sharpie, top-right; here's a close-up:
I've been in music for over 20 years (I started out pretty young...), and care packages this thoughtfully put together are rare in this day and age, usually reserved for top-dollar contributors to Patreon-type sponsorship/benefactor sites.

That Ariana would go through this much trouble for me shows how much she values those who value her craft.

And, honestly, she's worth it. Check out the video for You Were Never My Boyfriend, directed by Scarlet Moreno:

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Robin Lehner Autographed Card

Man, Robin Lehner just can't get any respect.

After years of posting decent numbers with the Ottawa Senators (a career 2.88 GAA and .914 save % in 86 games, including twice posting NHL save percentages over .935), the Buffalo Sabres took a chance on him, making him their starter for three even better seasons (2.77 GAA and .916 save % in 129 starts, including two seasons with a save percentage at .920 or better), but they let him go the minute he had a sub-par season and instead opted to go with two unproven entities between the pipes only to miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season.

We now know the cause of Lehner's down year: struggles with mental health and addiction (alcohol and pills). Instead of falling prey to his demons and letting everyone around him down, he sought help and overcame his demons, ending up a finalist for the Vezina trophy and sharing the Jennings with teammate Thomas Greiss, helping the New York Islanders to a division title and ther second round of the playoffs.

And his acceptance speech was powerful:
I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean mentally weak. I took that first step, got help and that was life changing to me. It’s something that we’ve gotta keep pushing for and we’ve gotta end the stigma.
Still, the Isles wouldn't offer him the deal he wanted, instead signing veteran Semyon Varlamov to a four-year deal, forcing Lehner to sign a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.

But even the NHL's engraver messed up his trophy's plaque, identifying him as a member of the New York... Rangers:
He can never catch a break.

Here's hoping he finds better luck in Chicago, where he'll be sporting this mask:
Here he is wearing the Sens' throwback black "O" uniform on card #281 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie last Spring, in late March, after a game against the Montréal Canadiens.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Edward Pasquale Autographed Card

Edward Pasquale has posted very good statistics at every level, yet at best remained an NHL third-stringer, which is likely why he signed on with the KHL's Barys Nur-Sultan this summer, a move I hinted at back in 2014.

We're talking about an OHL All-Star, a Calder Cup (2017) and Hap Holmes Award (2019) winner in the AHL, and now a goalie who's won 67% of his NHL starts - all against Original Six teams, as he's won against the Detroit Red Wings, lost to the Montréal Canadiens and won the Tampa Bay Lightning's final game of this past season against the Boston Bruins, the win that tied the NHL record for most regular-season wins in a single season with 63. Thus, even in the NHL, he's played important games.

But there was no more room left with the Bolts, after the team re-signed starter Andrei Vasilevskiy to an eight-year, $76M deal, signed excellent backup Curtis McElhinney, and traded for AHLer Mike Condon... all while still having 2018-19 backup Louis Domingue on the books. Something had to give.

In my opinion, a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs could have used his services to relieve Frederik Andersen once a week.

Here he is sporting the OHL's Saginaw Spirit's beautiful white (home) uniform, on card #93 from In The Game's 2009-10 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed it in blue sharpie after the game he lost to the Habs last April, nearly five years to the day after I received my first signed cards of his by mail. I wish him the best in Kazakhstan.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Cody Ceci Autographed Card

It's been an interesting summer for Cody Ceci, to say the least.

For the Ottawa native whose entire career thus far had been with the Ottawa Senators, it started off with a trade to heated rivals Toronto Maple Leafs, a Canada Day mini-blockbuster that saw the Sens acquire defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, 20-goal scoring forward Connor Brown, and minor-leaguer Michael Carcon in exchange for blueliners Ceci and Ben Harpur as well as minor-league forward Aaron Luchuk and the Columbus Blue Jackets' third-round pick in the 2020 draft.

Then came the signing of his contract with the Leafs, a $4.5M, one-year deal that had the fan base all riled up, and he is now being sued by a woman who claims to have suffered burns at the hands of Ceci's wife. But Canada doesn't operate like the U.S. in those matters, so this will likely end in the defenseman's favour.

While Ceci's play has been decried of late - especially last year, when he was essentially asked to fill Erik Karlsson's shoes as the Sens' "best" right-handed defender - he still compares to guys who have the same first-round draft pick pedigree, like Olli Maatta:
via The Hockey Writers
He also did pretty well the year the Sens made it to the Conference Finals:
The Leafs just have to make sure they put him in a position to succeed, even if that means putting him on the second pair with Jake Muzzin, despite his high cap hit.

Here he is on the "Retro" variant of card #180 from the 2015-16 O-Pee-Chee set by Upper Deck:
It shows him wearing the Senators' beautiful throwback black uniform. This should be their permanent home jersey, in my opinion. He signed the card in blue sharpie, with his number (5) tagged at the end, possibly during the 2016-17 season.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Alex Chiasson Jersey Card

Five years ago, I predicted Alex Chiasson would be a consistent 20-goal scorer in his prime who might even hit the 30-goal mark once.

It took longer than I expected, but he hit that mark last season, although many attribute it to playing with the Edmonton Oilers alongside Connor McDavid, even though McDavid's most frequent linemate was 50-goal scorer Leon Draisaitl - not Chiasson.

The Oilers will likely have a better group of wingers this year, as James Neal, Swiss two-way star Gaetan Haas, former blue-chip prospect Mikael Granlund, grinder Josh Archibald, and rookie Tyler Benson look to earn spots alongside McDavid, Draisaitl and/or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to get the team out of the league's basement; at least a couple of them are convinced he can do a better job of putting the puck in the opposition's net than Chiasson and Zack Kassian, and at least one of them is likely correct. And that's not factoring in Jesse Puljujarvi and/or the return he may provide if traded.

Still, I remain convinced the 20-goal plateau is within Chiasson's reach for three more seasons as he plays out his prime, whether that's on the first or second line.

Here he is sporting the Dallas Stars' white (away) uniform on card #URJ-AC from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Ultimate Collection set and Ultimate Rookie Jersey sub-set:
It features two black swatches from an event-worn (rookie photo shoot) jersey. The swatch on the left has a white line going through it, looking a little like chalk or wear-and-tear.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Kevin Klein Jersey Card

In case you missed it, former NHLer Kevin Klein announced his retirement in March, after two seasons as the alternate captain of the Zurich ZSC Lions of the Swiss league, which itself followed a retirement from the NHL's New York Rangers, a move that was decried at the time as being cap circumvention, as he was due $2.9M in the final year of his contract, which would have counted as "dead money" against the cap due to his supposed back spasms but would have stopped him from playing elsewhere, whereas by retiring, his entire cap hit was off the Rangers' books and he was free to pursue a career in Europe.

He did pretty well in Switzerland, too, with 22- and 24-point seasons (in 45 and 47 games, respectively) from the blue line. In his first year in Zurich, the team won the Swiss championship, but failed to make the playoffs in 2018-19.

Injuries were a constant in Klein's career; he has never suited up for a full 82 games, finishing with 81 twice (both times with the Nashville Predators), then 77, then 69. He had his best seasons in New York, however, hitting the 26-point mark twice in a row, in 2014-15 and 2015-16; his next best season was a 21-point output in 2011-12.

In his prime, he was fine playing 18 to 20 minutes on a second or third defensive pairing.

Here he is wearing the Rangers' beautiful white 2014 Stadium Series uniform on card #SS-KK from SP Authentic's 2014-15 SP Game-Used Edition, by Upper Deck:
It features a fairly big matching white game-worn jersey swatch.

The Rangers have iconic jerseys, and I like the care that goes into making original yet classic-feeling new ones for the outdoor cash grabs games, be they Winter Classics or Stadium Series.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Anton Stralman Autographed Card

One of the more puzzling moves this summer was the Florida Panthers signing defenseman Anton Stralman - to a three-year deal averaging $5.5M per, no less - when there were clear signs he has been regressing.

After all, the 33-yar-old missed 35 games in 2018-19 due to injury, and you would need to add his points total of the past two years (6 goals, 29 assists, 35 points in 127 games) to equate his final prime season (9 goals 25 assists and 34 points in 73 games in 2015-16). His possession metrics were also under 50% for only the second time in his twelve-year career, despite playing on one of the best teams of all time, the record-breaking Tampa Bay Lightning (63 regular-season wins). His plus/minus was also fifth on the team at +12, way behind his replacement, 21-year-old Erik Cernak (+25), and even farther from team leader Ryan McDonagh (+38).

A better contract would have had him at $4M a year for no more than two years, which would have better represented what he can do and how long he can do it for on the cap, allowing GM Dale Tallon more flexibility in tweaking the roster if needed, managing fan expectations, and making new head coach Joel Quenneville's job easier, too, by not having reporters raise uncomfortable questions when he's parked on the third pairing or even in the stands.

There is no way that current-day Stralman can aspire to dethrone any of the Panthers' top three defensemen (Mike Matheson, Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle) in total ice time, although turnover machine Yandle could benefit from seeing his five-on-five minutes diminish; then again, Yandle is the only one in that group who is a lefty. Matheson, Ekblad and Stralman all shoot right-handed. Ruh-roh.

There is also the "force of habit" factor... 2019-20 will be the first time Stralman will be playing in red. Whether it's for Team Sweden, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers or the Bolts, he's always just worn blue.

Speaking of which, he's a card from his days in Manhattan, wearing the Rangers' white (now-away) uniform on card #291 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during the 2015 playoffs when the Bolts defeated the Montréal Canadiens.

All that being said, regardless of his cap hit and how troublesome it will be in Year Three, he is probably an upgrade over what they had on the third pairing. Sergei Bobrovsky is a definite upgrade over an aging, injured and now retired Roberto Luongo. Quenneville is one of the three best coaches in the NHL - another upgrade. The Cats already boasted a solid attack and core. After missing the postseason in six of the last eight seasons (with both playoff berths being division-winning teams), they are a good bet to enter the Spring Dance in April.