Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dany Heatley & Jason Spezza Jersey Card

Pardon my absence this week, as I had way too much work and was dealing with a pretty bad case of the mumps flu.

I thought about writing a few posts, was hoping perhaps a return from last season's of this year's mailings would come in to get my spirits up, but it didn't happen. I could even have gone to the game tonight, pitting the Ottawa Senators against the Montréal Canadiens, but I'm still a bit too groggy to want to step out into the winter if I can avoid it, so I'll watch it from the comfort of my home instead. And probably nap during the second period.

Still, I figured I could talk about the Sens a bit, through this card featuring their former star sniper Dany Heatley and former captain and star playmaker Jason Spezza, from Upper Deck's 2006-07 SP Game-Used Edition set (card #AF2-SH of the Authentic Fabrics / Dual Jersey sub-set, numbered 77/100), showing both of them wearing the Sens' red uniform, Heatley with a matching red swatch, and Spezza with a black one:

Heatley was a bona fide NHL star for a while, twice scoring 50 goals, scoring 41 two other times and 39 twice as well, being voted in 5 All-Star Games and playing in four, being named the MVP in one. However, the fact that he has demanded trades from the Atlanta Thrashers (in an understandable move, considering) and the Sens (childishly, after being demoted to the second powerplay unit), then proceeded to see his goals totals plummet (26, 24, 11, 12) with the Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks - finishing last season with just 28 total points in 76 games - screams ''entitlement'' and ''pouty behaviour''. He tried to revive his career with the Anaheim Ducks this season, but injuries have prevented him from doing so. Perhaps it's time for him to realize that at age 33, his body has accomplished what it had set out to, and not let his legacy be tainted by additional sub-par years.

His accomplishments even extend further than the NHL: his play for Team Canada has garnered him Olympic gold (2010), World Cup gold (2004), World Championship gold (2003 and 2004), World Championship silver (2005, 2008, and 2009) and World Juniors bronze (2000 and 2001), two World Championship MVP nods (2004 and 2008), and the record for most career goals and points on Canada's men's teams. While I think a Hockey Hall Of Fame berth is out of the question, he does have a case for the IIHF one.

Spezza, on the other hand, remains a potent offensive force in the NHL. Originally slated to be the Dallas Stars' second-line center this year, injuries and Ales Hemsky's slow start forced the team to play him as a winger on the first line, and he was in the league's top-20 for assists and points for most of the year (he remains 18th in assists as of this writing but has fallen considerably for total points in the last two weeks). He and Tyler Seguin are probably the two lone bright spots on the Stars thus far, though.

Spezza was the best man at Heatley's wedding. And now they're both playing down South.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Martin Erat Jersey Card

I hope the Nashville Predators don't win the Stanley Cup this year, because it might incite weird debates, such as ''do we send former Washington Capitals GM George McPhee a ring? Or perhaps Martin Erat?''

You might recall the Caps acquired Erat at the trade deadline two seasons ago for what they were hoping was a long playoff run, and it cost them highly-touted prospect Filip Forsberg - currently the favourite in the running for the Calder Trophy, the rookie leader in points and the NHL leader in +/-.

Erat's career started to dwindle in Nashville, and he asked for a trade, making his value plummet - though David Poile still managed to acquire quite an asset in return; Erat then didn't do so well in Washington either, and asked for another trade, which happened at last year's trade deadline.

He is currently with the lowly Arizona Coyotes, with 12 points in 30 games, good for 7th on the team.

He is a three-time 20-goal scorer (with a high of 23 in 2007-08), and five-time 50-point maker (with a high of 58 in 2011-12), with three more years at 49 points, which is to say he's been a steady contributor for the better part of a decade, though in the NHL, many first-liners get their 50 points, so it could have been more of a matter of the Preds not having anyone better to play ahead of him. Honestly, I wouldn't know, living in the East and following mostly the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings out West, I didn't catch too many of Nashville's games these past few years; I would have thought he'd be in the same category as a Radim Vrbata, but Vrbata's proving to be solid this year in a brand new context.

Suiting up for the Czech Republic, he has medals of each kind: gold at the World Juniors (2001), silver (2006) and bronze (2012) at the World Championships, and bronze at the Olympics (2006).

Here's a card of the speedy winger wearing the Predators' awful all-yellow then-home uniform, from Upper Deck's 2002-03 Series 1 set (card #HP-ME of the New NHL Hot Spots / Game Used Jersey sub-set) featuring a blue swatch (likely from the away uniform):

Judging from his position and the fact that his helmet isn't strapped on, the picture is probably from a pre-game skate.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Jean-Gabriel Pageau Autograph Card

At first glance, when the Ottawa Senators drafted hometown boy Jean-Gabriel Pageau 96th overall in 2011, it may have looked like a risky pick, but seeing the way he dominated his opposition in Juniors (the Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier was among the victims of Pageau's brilliant two-way play), it was a gamble worth making.

Unfortunately for Pageau and the Sens, head coach Paul MacLean, seeing his sound play, elected to groom him little by little, by playing third- and fourth-line minutes rather than place him in an offensive role from the get-go (not unlike the Flyers with Couturier), so his NHL statistics so far (4 goals, 6 points in 32 regular-season games) don't seem all that impressive, but his 4 goals and 6 points in 10 playoff games sure do. As a matter of fact, he and Daniel Alfredsson are the only two Sens ever to have recorded a hat trick in the post-season.

GM Bryan Murray has said all year that Pageau deserved to make the team from training camp, but as the only forward eligible to be sent to the AHL's Binghamton Senators without having to clear waivers, he was on the outside looking in almost regardless of his play.

It's safe to say, though, that after posting a 20-goal and 44-point season in 46 AHL games last year and 18 points (second among forwards) in 25 games this year, he's earned his call-up in the wake of injuries to Chris Neil and Zach Smith.

With news that the Sens fired MacLean last week and replaced him with Dave Cameron, there was a sense that the 5'9'' speedster who turned 222 less than a month ago seemed to fit better on the younger, faster team that will try to make it back in the playoff picture with structured play and strong efforts - two thigs Pageau has in spades, in addition to his upside in the attacking zone.

It's fitting, then, that I share #44 off my Sens Numbers Project with this card of Pageau's, who has tremendous potential, when I already had one of Jason Spezza with the same number:

It's card #179 from the Authentic Rookie sub-set of Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition collection, showing him in the Senators' white (away) uniform, with a blue-sharpied, on-sticker autograph, with his jersey number tagged at the end.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cory Conacher Jersey Card

I wrote about Cory Conacher having been a healthy scratch for the New York Islanders last month... well, he's now cleared waivers and is off the the AHL to play for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Sure it's a fall from grace of sorts, for someone who'd been an early front-runner for the Calder Trophy in his rookie season (though by the end he fell to 6th in voting), but at this point, the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres and Islanders have all lost patience with him at the NHL level, so perhaps lighting up the AHL will be his way back to The Show, but to say his point production has taken a significant drop would be an understatement: after a rookie year in which he posted 11 goals and 29 points in 47 games, he fell to 7 goals and 26 points in 79 games last year, and had a measly 1 goal and 2 assists (3 points) in 15 games with the Isles this year, despite some playing time with John Tavares.

Conacher's just about two years removed from an 80-point season with the Norfolk Admirals, though, so perhaps that's just what the doctor ordered. Or maybe his skill level falls in the cracks between ''too good for the AHL'' and ''not quite NHL material''.

In any case, here's a Rookie Materials card of him with the Sens, #RM-CO of Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 set:

It depicts him with the Senators' red (home) uniform, but has a swatch from a rookie photo shoot that is white, that could come from either that same uniform, or their white (away) one, or even that of the Tampa Bay Lightning, with whom he started his career before being sent to Ottawa.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dwayne Roloson Autograph Card

Dwayne Roloson accomplished many things in his NHL career: he was a top-ten finalist for the Vezina Trophy twice, almost single-handedly (with the help of a very strong Chris Pronger) brought the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2005-06 where he would have been a likely candidate for the Conn Smythe had his team won - or had he not gotten injured in the first game.

He retired three years ago at over 42 years old, and has since signed on with the Anaheim Ducks as their goaltending consultant, and he backed up Jason LaBarbera last month in an emergency situation, where I was kind of rooting for him to play at least a minute in so he could stand as the third-oldest NHL goalie to suit up in a game, after Johnny Bower and Maurice Roberts. As it stands, he was already the last player to retire that had been born in the 1960s.

He led the league in save percentage in 2003-04 while playing with the Minnesota Wild, stopping 93.3% of pucks - a year after finishing second with a .926 save percentage, which is why it's fitting to feature him with the Wild's white (then-home) uniform:

It's card #DR of Upper Deck's 2005-06 Be A Player set (the Signatures sub-set), signed on a sticker in thin black sharpie.

Despite playing on some sub-par teams (late-90s Calgary Flames, turn-of-the-millennium Buffalo Sabres, 2009-10 New York Islanders, 2010-11 Tampa Bay Lightning), Roloson finished his career with decent statistics: a 227-257-82 record in 606 games, 29 shutouts and a 2.72 GAA and .908 save percentage - and over 15,000 total saves. His playoff statistics are even better, with a 2.54 GAA and .918 save percentage.

Suiting up for Team Canada, he has a trifecta of World Championship medals: gold (2007), silver (2009), and bronze (1995).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rob Niedermayer: Two Jersey Cards

One thing that's cool about follow-up sets is when they put the effort to make a player collectable by showing him wearing different uniforms on the cards, such as these two cards of Rob Niedermayer from Upper Deck:

The card on top, showing him wearing the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim's white (then-home) jersey with a matching swatch is from the 2005-06 Series 1 set (card #J-RN), while the bottom one, showing him in the Mighty Ducks' purple and teal (away) uniform with a teal swatch is from the follow-up 2005-06 Series 2 collection (card #J2-NI). The cards themselves kept the same design and colour scheme, but to show the alternate captain wearing both uniforms, I thought, was a nice touch.

One can safely say that Rob was more of a grinder than his brother Scott Niedermayer, who was a superstar and Hall Of Famer, yet Rob ended up being the type of team player you want to make a deep run. He started on that trend by winning gold with Team Canada at the World Juniors (1993), and helped his Florida Panthers to a Stanley Cup Finals in 1996 (where they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche), in his third NHL season.

After a short stint with the Calgary Flames, he was sent to the Mighty Ducks and made it to the Finals in his very first season there as well, this time losing to his brother's New Jersey Devils. He spent 6 seasons in Anaheim, where he did win the Cup - with brother Scott in tow - in 2007, three years after the siblings won gold together at the 2004 World Championships. The shut-down line Rob formed with Samuel Pahlsson and Travis Moen was essential to the Ducks beating the Ottawa Senators that year- as well as the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks in previous rounds.

After his time with the then-Anaheim Ducks, Rob spent a season in New Jersey, and another with the Buffalo Sabres, before heading to Switzerland for a final 14 games in 2011-12, with the storied HC Lugano, a seven-time league champion team established in 1941.

Never flashy, he passed the 40-point mark just twice in his career, with 61 (off a career-high 26 goals) in 1995-96, and 51 in 1998-99 (off second-best goals total, 18) - both times with the Panthers. He's the type of player I could see making a fine assistant coach in the AHL or NHL, or head coach in Juniors.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Daniel McGillis Autograph Card

Dan McGillis played in the NHL for 9 seasons, with his longest tenure coming with the Philadelphia Flyers, with whom he played for parts of six seasons. Initially a Detroit Red Wings draftee (238th overall in 1992), McGillis opted to go the U.S. College route and actually remained with the Northeastern University Huskies for four full seasons, after which the Edmonton Oilers traded for his rights by sending rugged winger Kirk Maltby to Detroit.

His rookie season went pretty well, as he registered 6 goals and 22 points in 73 games (and 5 more assists in 12 playoff games), garnering some Calder Trophy votes in the process.  He got to be so valuable that the Flyers were willing to part with powerplay quarterback Janne Niinimaa to acquire his services - a deal that happened at the trade deadline in his second season.

He was solid with the Flyers, with some PP and PK time, facing the best opposition, and twice exceeding the 40-point mark, with a high of 49 (on 14 goals) in 2000-01, earning some Norris and end-of-season All-Star Team consideration.

The make-up of the Flyers' blue-line changed by 2002-03, however, and with Éric Desjardins still playing some All-Star-caliber hockey, and with the rise of Kim Johnsson and Eric Weinrich's steady play, McGillis was deemed expendable - and trade bait. The Flyers sent him to the San Jose Sharks, with whom he played for 37 games (with 3 goals and 16 total points), who themselves flipped him to the Boston Bruins before season's end, where his lone assist in 10 regular-season games wasn't all that impressive, but his 3 goals in 5 playoff games were.

Enough to warrant the New Jersey Devils to sign him to a two-year contract contract... only to bury it in the AHL to fit under the salary cap. That marked the end of his tenure in the NHL - despite accumulating 66 points on 17 goals in 108 AHL games - and after a failed tryout with the Vancouver Canucks, he played three more seasons in Germany with the Mannheim Eagles (or Adler, as they say), and retired after the 2009-10 season.

Being bilingual (he's fluent in French) and from Hawkesbury, Ontario, he would have been a natural to suit up for either the Ottawa Senators or Montréal Canadiens, but that never happened.

Records usually show him wearing #23 with the Oilers, but this card instead sees him fulfilling #33 of my Oilers Numbers Project:

It's from Pinnacle Brands' 1997-98 Be A Player set (card #131 in the collection), signed in black sharpie with the same number he is shown wearing (33) tagged at the end; he's shown wearing the Oilers' white (home) mid-1990s uniform (with Oil driller shoulder patch).

He had a solid career, even suiting up for Team Canada at the 2020 World Championships, and I'm more than happy to have found this card of his pre-Flyers days inserted in one of the packs I bought at random a few years ago.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jacob Trouba Jersey Card

A cool thing about the midway point of a season in terms of card releases is to see rookies wearing a brand-new uniform, as was the case when I unwrapped this 2013-14 Series 2 Jacob Trouba Rookie Materials card from Upper Deck last season:

It shows him wearing the Winnipeg Jets' current white (away) uniform, with a black (or dark blue) swatch from a photo shoot, well placed below the action shot, in a very lively design.

Trouba was selected 9th overall in 2012, and at the time I didn't know who he was, because he'd mainly played with the U.S. Development Team, though the team had won two U-18 World Championship gold medals.

I saw a lot of him the following year, as Team USA won gold at the World Juniors and he was named the tournament's top defender, before also suiting up for the national team at the World Championships in the Spring, where he participated in winning bronze.

You never want to get carried away with young defensemen, but it seems like 2012 was a particularly stellar year for the position at the draft, with Ryan Murray leading the charge at second overall, followed by Griffin Reinhart (4th), Morgan Rielly (5th), Hampus Lindholm (6th), Mathew Dumba (7th), Derrick Pouliot (8th), Slater Koekkoek (10th), Cody Ceci (15th), Olli Maata (22nd), Mike Matheson (23rd), Dalton Thrower (51st), and Shayne Gostisbehere (78th) all within the first three rounds.

Trouba, a tall, skinny, quick skater who can throw some hits but might need to add 20 more pounds to his frame to survive a decade of the contacts he initiates, had 10 goals, 19 assists, 29 points and was a +4 on a very poor Jets team in his rookie season last year, in just 65 games. This year, he has 12 points and is a +6 through 29 games, showing no signs of slumping. Granted, three of those points came in just one game against the Edmonton Oilers last week, but he still put them up on the board.

He, Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byflugien, and Zach Bogosian make for a very interesting top-4 on defense, definitely one of the strongest such units in the Eastern Conference.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Andrew Ladd Autograph Card

I wasn't always sold on Andrew Ladd. I didn't follow his career in the minors and in Juniors, and hadn't heard of him until the Carolina Hurricanes selected him 4th overall in 2004, one spot ahead of now-teammate Blake Wheeler, but also Ladislav Smid (9th), Cory Schneider (26th), Mike Green (28th), Johan Fransson (34th), David Booth (53rd), Alexei Emelin (84th), Alexander Edler (91st), Johan Franzen (97th), Dustin Boyd (98th), Pekka Rinne (258th) and Mark Streit (262th).

He did contribute to Team Canada's gold-winning team the following season, though, posting 7 points in 6 games on a team that included Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook and goalie Jeff Glass.

He won the Stanley Cup with the Canes in his rookie season in 2005-06, but as a Montréal Canadiens (first-round loss and an eye injury to Saku Koivu) and Edmonton Oilers (losing in the Finals, in part because of an injury to Dwayne Roloson) fan, I tend to want to forget that ever happened. So his 5 points in 17 playoff games didn't faze me so much.

In his third NHL season, Ladd was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, and through two straight deep playoff runs (including another Cup win), I came to really appreciate what this young player could bring to a team. He didn't ''finish'' as much as I would have liked with 99 points off 37 goals in 184 regular-season games with the Hawks (plus another 10 points in 36 playoff games) for a player of his size and determination, on such a stacked team, but he helped balance the line-up, and he did create chances offensively and could hold his own on the defensive side as well. He was built to perform in the playoffs.

The Hawks were forced to shed salary to comply with the cap, and thus many of their supporting cast were traded, mostly to the Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers. Ladd joined former Hawks Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel on the team that would become the Winnipeg Jets after relocating. He was made captain almost right away, on the strength of his two Cup wins.

It wasn't an easy run, from the final year in Atlanta to the first three in Winnipeg, but the Jets are hanging on this season, currently sitting in 4th place of the Central division behind powerhouses Chicago, the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. It sure didn't look so bright earlier in the season, but decent goaltending and adept coaching by Paul Maurice made the seemingly depth-deprived Jets contenders for a playoff spot, with the help of Ladd's leadership.

The 6'3'', 205-pound left winger has become a reliable point producer with the Jets, good for over 20 goals and 50 points, with a breakout season in 2012-13, where he had 18 goals and 46 points in 48 games, earning Lady Byng and Selke consideration for the second time of his career. At just 28 years old, he might even be good for a couple of 30-goal and 70-point seasons, but as I mentioned before, the numbers don't tell his whole story anyway. If I were a general manager, I'd look to have him play on the second line, with another tough, tall, physical, dependable, defensively-responsible perpetual winner - a Mike Richards-type, if you will.

I had written the Jets' captain last April, sending 4 cards his way, and haven't heard back yet. Luckily, I fell on this one through a store owner who was conducting a case opening this summer:

It's card #AU-AL of the Auto Biography sub-set of Panini's 2013-14 Playbook collection, numbered 3/99, signed on-card in blue sharpie, with his jersey number (16) right in the middle of his signature. It shows him wearing the Jets' dark blue (home) uniform.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Scott Gomez Jersey Card

If you thought Scott Gomez' days in the NHL were over because the Florida Panthers didn't re-sign him this summer after making him a healthy scratch for most of last season, the New Jersey Devils would like to remind you that loyalty still exists, and that they had a glaring need at center with all their injuries. And that there was a way to make their average roster age a bit higher. By offering Gomez a two-way deal. And promptly put him on the first line with Jaromir Jagr (who got injured).

I had written Gomez in March of 2012, sending 3 cards his way and never hearing back, and since he's the only Montréal Canadiens player to wear #91 in a regular-season game, I kind of had to revert to this jersey card for my Habs Numbers Project:

It's card #GJ2-SG of the UD Game Jersey sub-set of Upper Deck's 2009-10 Series 2 collection, showing him wearing the Canadiens' red (home) uniform #91, with a black swatch, probably from his days with the Devils.