Monday, October 14, 2019

11-Pack Break: 2019-20 Upper Deck Tim Hortons

It was a long weekend, and I had many chances to visit Tim Hortons stores to score packs of Upper Deck's 2019-20 Tim Hortons hockey cards. For a full review, click here.

In these eleven packs, I landed the following insert cards:

One Steven Stamkos "Red" parallel:
One Jonathan Toews Highly Decorated card:
Three Game Day Action cards, of Toews, Stamkos and Nathan MacKinnon:
Two Gold Etchings cards, of Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby (both are available for trade):
Two Clear Cut Phenoms cards, of Patrik Laine and David Pastrnak (also available for trade):
And two Franchise Duos 3-D-type cards of the Calgary Flames (Johnny Gaudreau/Sean Monahan) and Edmonton Oilers (Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl):
$36 in and I'm at roughly one-third of the set (only one double, though), which means I'm now up to these so far:

Base Set:

5: Mark Giordano
10: Jordan Binnington 
13: Johnny Gaudreau
15: Ryan Getzlaf
17: Victor Hedman
20: Sebastian Aho
25: Nico Hischier
28: Claude Giroux
29: Nathan MacKinnon
33: Sam Reinhart
34: Auston Matthews 
37: Patrice Bergeron 
39: Aleksander Barkov
41: Jake Guentzel
43: Anthony Mantha
48: Connor Hellebuyck
52: Chris Kreider
53: Bo Horvat
55: Mark Scheifele
56: Devan Dubnyk
58: Kris Letang 
60: Drew Doughty
63: Brad Marchand
64: Eric Staal
69: Cam Atkinson
73: Mark Stone
77: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
84: Evgeny Kuznetsov 
85: Leon Draisaitl
88: Patrick Kane
93: Mika Zibanejad
97: Connor McDavid
102: Jeff Skinner
104 Kyle Palmieri
112: Marc-André Fleury x2
115: Mathew Barzal
119: Anze Kopitar

Game Day Action:

HGD-8: Jonathan Toews
HGD-12: Alex Ovechkin
HGD-13: Steven Stamkos
HGD-14: Nathan MacKinnon

"Red" Parallel:

DC-16: Patrice Bergeron
DC-17: Brent Burns
DC-30: Clayton Keller
DC-33: Steven Stamkos

Gold Etchings:

GE-4: Patrick Kane
GE-7: Patrik Laine
GE-10: Sidney Crosby

Franchise Duos:

D-6: Johnny Gaudreau/Sean Monahan
D-7: Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl

Clear Cut Phenoms:
CC-5: David Pastrnak
CC-8: Patrik Laine 

Highly Decorated:
HD-7: Jonathan Toews
HD-12: Joe Thronton

Special Events:
SE-2: Tuuka Rask: China Games
SE-5: Patrice Bergeron:  Winter Classic

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Erik Gudbranson Signed Cloth Card

All summer long, NHL bloggers and pundits were blaming the Pittsburgh Penguins' salary cap woes on Erik Gudbranson's contract, attacking his salary and every team that's ever given him north of $3M per season, but the truth of the matter is that so far, he's been the most solid defender on their blue line - still playing below 50% in "possession" stats, but far better than the rest of his teammates, including one I predicted a Norris Trophy to, Kris Letang.

I'll give the point to those who say a third-overall pick position may have been high for a defensively-minded, robust leader - all things that range between "intangible" and "not worth their weight in statistics" by proponents of pretend-analytics hockey, but there is such a thing as locker room chemistry, and having someone like Gudbranson on your team is better than not having him, for starters, and even more so when he proves to be more dependable than what you've already got.

And so I'll never regret trading a couple of Titanium/Game-Worn Gear cards for this great-looking Phenoms signed cloth card showing him wearing the best Florida Panthers logo - the third from the turn of the millennium:
It's #233 (and numbered 178/299) in Panini's 2011-12 Limited set.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Vladislav Namestnikov: Two Autographed Cards

In a move that was rumoured all summer long, the New York Rangers have finally traded 26-year-old centre Vladislav Namestnikov to the Ottawa Senators, for 25-year old AHL defenseman Nick Ebert and a fourth-round draft pick in 2121.

I'll tell you right now, the Sens improved, not just because Namestnikov is a former first-rounder (27th overall in 2011), but because he can still produce, even on teams that don't want him: he had 20 goals and 44 points in 62 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2017-18 and 31 points in 78 games on a terrible Rangers team last year, so between an AHLer plus a seventh and 30-45 points, you take the points.

In Tampa, he was forced out by the quick ascension of Brayden Point, and the Rangers were hoping to make a second-line centre out of him, but acquiring Ryan Strome who miraculously started producing with the Blueshirts left him once again out in the cold.

And while he still has that offensive ability, he just isn't a shut-down player who can man a third line that is strictly defensive. It's a skill he is developing, but he's not there yet. But the Rangers kept insisting on it: in their two wins this year, they played him an average of 13:53 per, with 100% of his starts being in the defensive zone. Not "more than half", not "three-quarters"... 100%.

On the Senators, it's likely he will form a line with Artem Anisimov with the pair switching from centre to wing depending on situation and each pushing the other to remain relevant in an ever-younger league.

I hope he makes a good go of it.

We already know he looks good in black, as can be attested from card #444 in Upper Deck's 2016-17 O-Pee-Chee collection:
It will be weird to no longer see him in blue, though, as so far I mostly think of him as a member of the Lightning, as per card #415 from Upper Deck's 2016-17 Series 2 set:
He signed them in blue sharpie in January 2018, back when he was still with Tampa Bay. He tagged his jersey number (90) at the end.

Internationally, he has two bronze medals with Team Russia, from the 2009 World Junior "A" Challenge and the 2017 World Championships; he also has two fourth-place finishes, at the 2010 World Juniors and the 2016 World Cup.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

8-Pack Break: 2019-20 Upper Deck Tim Hortons

It's that time again, where Sidney Crosby adorns each pack of Upper Deck's 2019-20 Tim Hortons cards and collectors try to land one of the 87 signed cards of his while dishing out $2 for each pack of three cards - two base cards and one insert.

This year again, they're all-foil and beautiful, with the backs of cars showing statistics from the past five seasons to get a clear picture of what makes the selected players "stars":
The picture on the back is a cropped version of the one on the front, but that's not something I mind in this set, it works well.

Eight packs means I got eight inserts, and I thought I could feature them in ascending order, saving the best for last. It starts off with "meh" season review-type cards, of which I landed one from the so-called China Games (the first two games of the regular season between the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames) featuring Tuuka Rask, and a Winter Classic card featuring the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron:
Of note, the French translation are mediocre at best; the Winter Classic card is O-Pee-Chee-level bad, where instead of saying the French equivalent of "Bruins defeat Blackhawks at Notre Dame", they wrongly use a verb that reads similarly to the French words for "loss" ("défaite") and instead come off as saying "The (yes, they added an article here) Bruins undo the (another new article) Blackhawks at Notre Dame". I mean, there were only six fucking words, guys.

There are also cards depicting past award winners called "Highly Decorated", of which I landed Joe Thornton, the only player ever to win an Art Ross Trophy in a year split between two teams (although the picture is more recent, from the Old Man Jumbo era):
A staple of the Tim Hortons sets is the Game Day Action sub-set, such as this one featuring the one and only Alex Ovechkin, this year with a nice, clear place to have players sign... if Ovie did such things:
the foil looks black/dark, but it's actually silver to the naked eye
I also landed three"red" parallels this time around, of Bergeron, Brent Burns and Clayton Keller:
They look great.

As does this Gold Etchings card of Patrik Laine:
I feel like this uniform comes out too often in 2019-20 cards so far (urgh wordmarks), but I'm one of those who feels Laine will be a perennial 40-goal scorer with a couple of seasons in the 50-goal range, possibly even a high of 60. His shot and skill level really is that good, he just needs to mature a bit and play a more complete game with maximum effort regardless of who he lines up with.

These cards' price tag still makes me balk for the poor collation (although I didn't get any doubles this time around) and the fact that it's supposed to be a mass-market product with a "for kids" part that shouldn't be forgotten, but they look and feel really cool, and I'm always glad I have them, year in and year out.

It's another solid 7.5/10 for me this year, particularly since the base features 120 players, which is higher than a few years ago.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Mike Hoffman: Two Autographed Cards

For years, I kept telling people Mike Hoffman was a 30-goal player and that the Ottawa Senators had a potential contending team with a captain like game-breaker Erik Karlsson, a potential Selke candidate and point-per-game player in Mark Stone, 1A and 1B centres like Derrick Brassard and Kyle Turris, and tough shut-down defensemen like Marc Methot, Cody Ceci and Mark Borowiecki, a dependable starting goalie like Craig Anderson, and fine two-way players with offensive upside like Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ryan Dzingel.

Even more so when Guy Boucher became coach. And they did reach a Conference Final, taking the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to double-vertime in Game 7. And then came the meltdown, then the tear-down.

Only three players remain from that list: Anderson, who is in the twilight of his career; Pageau, a young leader who will help guide the likes of Colin White, Thomas Chabot , and Brady Tkachuk; and Borowiecki, who has more value in Ottawa than elsewhere.

But Hoffman? He led the Florida Panthers with 36 goals last year while playing on the team's would-be second line, one more than captain Aleksander Barkov. He's leading it again this year, with 4 goals in 2 games after tonight's hat trick. He also posted the franchise record 17-game point streak last season.

He is currently on the last of a four-year contract that carries a cap hit of $5.1875M and, despite Florida's non-existent tax rate, may be playing himself out of the team's price range in the future.

Here he is wearing the Sens' red (home) uniform on card #236 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 O-Pee-Chee set with the "NHL All-Star" mention:
And here he is sporting the Sens' best uniform, the black alternates from 2011-17 on card #389 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 2 collection:
He signed both in thin blue sharpie last January after scoring a goal in a game against the Montréal Canadiens.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Cale Fleury Autographed Card

Cale Fleury's ascension has been quite impressive: from Hayden Fleury's little brother to third-round draft pick to Kootenay Ice captain to rookie first-pair AHLer to, now, full-time NHL-er with a professional jersey number.

Yet it hasn't really been surprising, with Laval Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard saying that if he keeps "doing the little things that make a professional on and off the ice", there was a good chance he wouldn't be seeing the 20-year-old rearguard for long.

It was also clear from the beginning of rookie camp that he and Nick Suzuki were going to get every chance to make the opening nights roster, which they did, with the younger Fleury facing his older brother.

I'll be following his progress all year, but let's all keep in mind a few facts: he was never a point-per-game defenseman in Juniors, so he's not likely to be Shea Weber's replacement to eventually quarterback the powerplay; defensemen reach their prime around the age of 25 - the reason for that is they're playing in the best league in the world, at the hardest skating position, playing against some of the fastest and most talented forwards of all time who all likely have more experience than they do, so they'll need to learn from a few mistakes a few times before the experience sets in and they can deploy their own talent fully while being the most dependable they'll be in their own zone.

Here he is sporting the Ice's white (home) uniform with the alternate captain's "A" on card #44 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 CHL Hockey set:
He signed it in black sharpie at the Montréal Canadiens' rookie camp in Brossard in July and August.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Dustin Tokarski Swatch Card

It's that time of year where we think of goalies that are not currently playing in the NHL and wonder where they've been...

Today's subject is Dustin Tokarski, who can be so hot he looks like Tim Thomas or so cold that he looks like Scott Darling; there is seemingly no middle ground in his case; one need only look at his stats from last season alone in the AHL to see the disparity:
from HockeyDB
His statistics were the best on the Charlotte Checkers - the best team in the league - for whom he played 7 games, so roughly 10% of the season. In 21 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack, his numbers were dangerously close to starting a conversation about a demotion to the ECHL.

At 30 years of age, his window for NHL call-ups is getting smaller, but goalies get injured more and more often now, so he'll at least get to suit up in games, if not actually play in any. This season, he's signed on to play with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the Pittsburgh Penguins' affiliate, meaning he has Matt Murray, Tristan Jarry and last year's NHL backup, 28-year-old Casey DeSmith, ahead of him on the depth chart. It's a harder path than that of the, say, Carolina Hurricanes.

I'll always remember his fierce battle with Henrik Lundqvist in the 2014 Easter Conference Final, as he single-handedly forced the New York Rangers to play two more games than they had to, seemingly by sheer will.

Here he is wearing the Bolts' worst-ever white (then-away) uniform on card #60 from Panini's 2011-12 Pinnacle set and Threads sub-set:
It features a black game-worn jersey swatch that is probably from the darker home uniform.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Jean-Yves Leroux Autograph Card

You read a similar story just a few days ago: Montrealer gets drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the mid-to-late 90s, forced to retire in his prime due to back pain. Except today, it isn't about Éric Dazé, the 1993 fourth-round pick (90th overall) who became one of the best shooters of his era; no, it's Jean-Yves Leroux, a second-round pick in 1994 (40th overall) whom the Hawks thought may become a power forward (he stood at 6'2" and 210 pounds on his draft day) who became a point-per-game player in Juniors but would be thought of more as a tough bottom-six player and part-time pugilist upon reaching the NHL.

He had an assist and five penalty minutes in his first game with the Hawks (the final game of the 1996-97 season) and would finish with 16 goals, 22 assists and 38 points in 220 games spread over five seasons with Chicago before the team let him go after failing a physical exam - he had injured his back doing squats in his summer training.

While it hurt at the time, he now credits the Hawks for making him a professional and a team player, and for giving him the opportunity to live his lifelong NHL dream. Furthermore, they suited him up during the 1996 preseason with fellow Quebecers Christian Laflamme, Enrico Ciccone, Dazé, and Denis Savard for a game at the then-Molson Centre when they truly didn't have to, allowing 20% of the line-up to play an away game in front of their friends and families.

Upon retiring, Leroux moved to Québec City and enrolled in classes to obtain a construction worker's license, then started a construction company and now co-owns and operates a full-blown housing development company.

Unable to help himself, he also signed on to play in the province's semi-pro league, the LHSPQ, mostly-known for having three times the number of fights than goals per game; he stayed on when the league became the LNAH - a more serious lower-level pro league on par with today's ECHL. He retired from paid hockey for good after the 2009-10 season and now just plays in a beer league with other former NHLers.

Here he is wearing #23 on the Blackhawks' black (away) uniform on the signed insert version of card #45 from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player set:
It features a black sharpied on-card autograph with his number tagged at the end.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Johnny Gaudreau Jersey Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Calgary Flames would finish second in the Pacific Division in 2019-20).

Back when he was nicknamed "Johnny Hockey", Johnny Gaudreau was already a force among players in his age range, winning the USHL championship with the Dubuque Fighting Saints and being named the league's Rookie of the Year, which led to his bring drafted 104th overall by the Calgary Flames.

He then did even better with the Boston College Eagles, leading all rookie with 44 points in 44 games and helping his team win the National Championship, scoring a highlight-reel goal in the final game and earning MVP honours while he was at it, a title he also won when BC won the Beantown Tournament (for the third year in a row).

He improved on those totals by posting 51 points in 35 games in his sophomore season, but his team failed to win NCAA titles, although it did win another Beantown Tournament. Gaudreau himself got a Player Of The Year award and added a World Juniors gold medal to his resume over the Holiday period, however, as Team USA beat Team Sweden in Ufa, Russia.

His third season at BC came with another Player Of The Year award, with 80 points in 40 games, earning the coveted Hobey Baker Award.

Upon making the move to the NHL,m he scored in his first game on his first shot, and played in the All-Star Game while he was at it, recording two assists. He finished third in Calder Trophy voting, behind Aaron Ekblad and Mark Stone.

His career trajectory has been upwards almost without fault, with seasons of 64, 78, 61, 84, and 99 points; that 61-point outlier includes 10 games missed dur to finger surgery and four months of playing through pain resulting from one too many slashes to the hands, a situation decried by Calgary brass at the time, who felt - with reason - like too many adversaries were given too many liberties in hindering their star player's talent.

The only thing missing in his case is to keep on producing in the playoffs, as his Flames were too easily in 2016-17 (4 games) and 2018-19 (5 games), during which he only totalled 3 points.

Here he is sporting the Flames' red (home) uniform, on card #GJ-JG from Upper Deck's 2018-19 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a yellow game-worn jersey swatch, a colour that is not dominant in any of Calgary's three uniforms, so it's a tad rare. I got it in a trade earlier this summer, giving away five jersey cards for it.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Dustin Byfuglien Swatch Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Winnipeg Jets would finish fifth in the Central Division in 2019-20).

It's looking more an more like Dustin Byfuglien is at the very least pulling a Mike Fisher and taking a break until the trade deadline, if not full-on retiring. After the losses of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot, losing Byfuglien would possibly be the final blow into the Winnipeg Jets' unlikely implosion.

They still have a very dependable goalie who is just entering his prime and one of the best offenses in the league, but losing two-thirds of a blue line is an impossible hurdle to overcome without a magic trick or a major trade up one's sleeve.

And Byfuglien is no ordinary defenseman; he's one of a handful of game-changers/game-breakers at his position in the entire league (with Brent Burns, Victor Hedman, P.K. Subban and Erik Karlsson) who can take control of a game by himself with crushing hits, end-to-end rushes, an opportune goal - many times all at once.

There's a reason why the Chicago Blackhawks used to have him play forward on powerplays and when they needed to come from behind: he has the ability to be unstoppable.

He's also a very valuable leader on that Jets team, one with the Stanley Cup-winning experience the team needs to go further in the postseason.

He technically has a contract that is still valid until the end of next season, so if he rediscovers a flame for the game, it's likely Winnipeg will take him back right away, despite having been forced to suspend him for administrative reasons (so his salary doesn't count against the salary cap).

Here he is wearing the Jets' white (away) uniform, on card #GG-DBY from Panini's 2013-14 Titanium set and Game-Worn Gear sub-set:
It features a beautiful dark blue jersey swatch that could be from the home or away uniform.