Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Curtis Glencross Swatch Card

To me, in his seventh season with the Calgary Flames, Curtis Glencross was part of the fabric of that team, but maybe the 6'1'', 200-pound alternate captain was too much a part of the team's recent and unsuccessful past, he who will become an unrestricted free agent this summer and seemed poised for a big raise that Calgary's current administration didn't see themselves giving him- and they sent him to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline for a second- and third-round pick in June.

I say sure, he gets injured a lot (he's only played over 70 games twice in the NHL), but he gets points in over 50% of his games, sometimes even over 60%, so while the totals around 15-25 (goals) and 40-50 (points) are ideal middle-six numbers, his points-per-game averages ranks him in definite top-six territory, so in that regards, yes, I see him earning between $4M and $5M per season starting this summer.

More than just known as a hockey player, I've also seen his name associated with the Special Olympics a lot; he seems like a great guy to have in a locker room.

Here he is wearing the Flames' white (away) uniform, with his usual 'A' on the chest, from Panini's 2013-14 Crown Royale set (card #L-CG of the Lords Of The NHL sub-set), featuring a small black game-worn swatch:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Michael Sgarbossa Autograph Card

Not all trades are blockbusters, and yesterday's deal between the Colorado Avalanche sending Michael Sgarbossa over to the Anaheim Ducks for stay-at-home minor-league defenseman Mat Clark didn't make many of the Trade Deadline recap shows, but the undrafted center from small-town Ontario has been pretty consistent at the AHL level, producing at half a point per game on terrible Lake Erie Monsters teams where no one in the top-20 in scoring is in the plusses.

Don't get me wrong, Sgarbossa will need to round out his play without the puck if he aims to stick in the NHL, and perhaps add some grit or will into his game, because his offensive skills - while not bad - aren't nearly enough for him to have a permanent spot on an NHL second line.

He had a spectacular 44-point (in 57 games) rookie campaign in the AHL that led him to an All-Star Game in 2012-13, but was limited to 20 points in 49 games last year (though he had 5 in his first 8 games) and 23 in 40 this season, both a sign of a regression and a testament to just how bad his surroundings were.

Here he is, wearing the Avs' burgundy (home) uniform with the awful piping, from Panini's 2013-14 Contenders set (paper-thin card #206 of the Rookie Ticket and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets), signed on-card in blue sharpie:

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cory Conacher Swatch Card

Well, the NHL trade deadline has come and passed, and plenty of ''untradeable'' players switched teams, namely Nathan Horton, David Clarkson, and frequent traveler Cory Conacher. I wrote about Conacher back in November (career and history) and December (saying he hopefully finds his game back in the AHL), and he has done just that, with 5 goals, 17 assists and 22 points in 28 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, although he just came back from an injury.

Nevertheless, the Vancouver Canucks liked what they saw in him and decided he was worth trading away former Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Dustin Jeffrey - who himself had 41 points in 49 games with the Utica Comets - to acquire.

This now marks Conacher's fifth organization (and possibly seventh and eighth teams if he suits up for the Canucks) in three seasons, but while it shows many teams giving up on him, it also shows a bunch willing to give him a chance, thinking his game is close enough to where they want it to be to think they might be the team that makes him click. And while I think the Canucks have more of a sure-shot with their other trade deadline acquisition in Sven Baertschi, I also haven't given up entirely on Conacher either. And as a fellow diabetic, I wish him nothing but the best.

And so, fo the third time this season, here he is wearing the Ottawa Senators' colours and logo:

It's from Panini's 2013-14 Playbook set (card #B-CON of the Breakout sub-set and part of last season's Dual Rookie Class), showing him wearing the Sens' red (away) uniform, with a matching decent-sized ''event-worn'' jersey swatch. It's numbered 22/199.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Henri Richard Autographed Card

Guess whose birthday it almost is today? Henri Richard, the ''Pocket Rocket'' Hall Of Famer was born on February 29th, 1936, so while he's lived for 79 years so far, his actual birth date fell on a Leap Year and has only come 19 times.

But the Pocket Rocket was always one for abnormal numbers: his 11 Stanley Cups in 20 years playing for the Montréal Canadiens is an average not likely to be repeated any time soon; he broke into the NHL at age 19 in 1955-56, playing on a line with his older brother and legendary Hall Of Famer in his own right Maurice 'Rocket' Richard (the first man to score 50 goals in a season and 500 in an NHL career) and Dickie Moore, another HOFer himself. All three have their jersey numbers retired by the Habs, as well.

The year of his fifth birthday, he won his first Cup; four years later, on his sixth birthday, he won his fifth. His brother wore jersey #9, Henri played in nine All-Star Games.

He managed to captain the Habs for four seasons, following reigns by other HOFers such as Émile 'Butch' Bouchard, the Rocket, Doug Harvey and Jean Béliveau. And while he was often compared to his sibling, his actual playing style was less of the rugged, tough, I'll-show-you variety and more along the lines of Dave Keon and Stan Mikita, or David Desharnais and Johnny Gaudreau nowadays: small, speedy, shifty and slick. Another difference between the brothers is that Maurice was a goal scorer while Henri was a better passer, twice leading the league in assists. And as bizarre as that sounds, Henri reached the 1000-point mark while Maurice did not (his regular season totals end at 965, while he posted another 126 in 133 playoff games).

I have met Henri Richard many times in my life. I was often in environments which facilitated meeting former players, particularly those like him who do so much for the community and associate themselves with events for youth teams. My mom also reminded me of a funny/sad moment when I saw her last Christmas, about when my grandfather died in the early 1990s when I was a pre-teen; he'd been a journalist and newspaper editor in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and Mr. Richard came to the funeral - as many other former Habs did. And as he left us after wishing his condolences, apparently I turned to my mom wondering if I should have asked for his autograph, and she told me I'd have plenty of other opportunities later where the circumstances would lend themselves more to it.

And I did. She says she still has a box with things I had signed from my childhood, stored somewhere in her house, I'll have to look for that some day, but for now, here's a 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects card (#3 of the Hockey Hero sub-set) from In The Game, signed in thin blue sharpie at a team event two summers ago:

His uniform number (16) is tagged at the end, and his youthful head shot is a nice change from the previous cards of him I'd featured, more from the twilight of his terrific career.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Emerson Etem Swatch Card

I am half-psychic, I guess. I was talking to friends in the past couple of weeks, saying I really thought another trade was forthcoming between the Montréal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks after the one that sent Louis Leblanc to California and the mutual-problems trade of Rene Bourque for Bryan Allen. I just didn't think it would involve Jiri Sekac for Devante Smith-Pelly (though I'm glad it did) - I had instead imagined the Habs parting ways with blue-chip prospect and tiny guy Sven Andrighetto for Emerson Etem.

Etem, like Smith-Pelly, has proved he could be a point-per-game producer in the AHL and has had one successful postseason with the Ducks: DSP had 5 goals in 12 playoff games with the Ducks in 2013-14, while Etem had 5 points in 7 games with the club in 2012-13. They're both rugged power forwards who play right wing (though Etem shoots left) and who should reach their peak in three years or so, and it's believed Etem (a late first-round pick) has a higher upside than Smith-Pelly, a mid-second-rounder, but only time will tell. With the proper nurturing and environment, it could become as moot a debate as when the Dallas Stars had to choose between Jamie Benn (who became their captain) and James Neal (who has a 40-goal season on his resume).

And Etem's already made his presence felt in the Ducks' current run to keep their playoff position by dominating last night's game against the Los Angeles Kings, and Sekac's assist on his goal gave him his first point on his new team.

There are three ideal scenarios for the Stanley Cup Finals in this point in time for a hockey fan like myself:
1. the Habs could win the Cup
2. the Nashville Predators facing the Washington Capitals (Barry Trotz, Joel Ward and goalie coach Mitch Korn facing their opposing team, Mike Ribeiro doing the same, the best goalie in the world this year Pekka Rinne with a shot at the Cup, Peter Laviolette in a position to win as a first-year coach for the third time)
3. the New York Islanders and my favourite goalie (Jaroslav Halak) versus the reigning champs Kings (with Thomas Hickey facing the team who had given up on him, and the best playoff goalie of the current era in Jonathan Quick)
But as a fan of the game itself, I'll have fun watching all four rounds no matter what, and the Ducks once again promise to be worth sleeping 4 hours less every other night, thanks to the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Emerson Etem. (Unless the Habs snag him now that I've brought it to their attention).

Which brings me to this card, featuring a head shot of Etem wearing the Ducks' black (then-alternate, now-home) uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Crown Royale set (card #HT-EE of the Heirs To The Throne sub-set, featuring a matching event-worn ''material'' swatch:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Teddy Purcell: 4 Autographed Cards

Yes, I was one of those who thought the Edmonton Oilers would turn things around this season, in part because of their adding Teddy Purcell from the Tampa Bay Lightning. I actually thought they'd lose the Wild Card race to the Colorado Avalanche by a point or two. You win a few, you lose a few - and as a life-long Oilers follower, trust me, I know what that's like.

They have been a .500 team since Todd Nelson took over the head coaching position, though, so that part may have been true had he started out earlier. Purcell, for his part, made his way to Edmonton in the three-team trade that sent Sam Gagner to the Arizona Coyotes last summer.

Undrafted, the 6'2'', now-200-pound power forward from Newfoundland played in the USHL and at the University of Maine before signing on with the Los Angeles Kings organization and starring for their AHL affiliate Manchester Monarchs, earning an All-Star Game nod in his first year and becoming the first rookie to ever score a hat trick in the AHL All-Star Game. He also won top rookie honors that year (the Dudley "Red" Garrett Memorial Award).

The Kings needed veterans for a playoff run, though, so he was sent to Tampa with a third-round pick for dependable third-line center Jeff Halpern at the 2010 trade deadline. He really took off with the Lightning under head coach Guy Boucher, who appreciated ''the relentless attitude in his game'', which led to 18 points over an 11-game scoring streak in the 2011-12 regular season, but also a 17-point postseason in 2010-11 (in 18 games) helping the Lightning keep the pace with the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals; he tallied 5 goals in that series: the game-winner in Game 1, and two two-goal efforts in the other two games his team won (Games 4 and 6).

He followed that terrific postseason (which itself followed a 17-goal and 51-point regular season) by scoring 24, along with 41 assists for 65 points in 2011-12, and an 11-goal and 36-point effort in the 48-game lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. It's safe to say that on a decent team, surrounded by decent teammates, he's a 20-goal, 60-point man in the NHL, which means he could have a peak season where he scores 30 and combines for 70-plus points. And the Oilers have the kind of players that should enable that to happen; he's currently on a line with Derek Roy and Nail Yakupov, and if they find the right chemistry (and it looks like they might have), maybe they could remain a unit next season as well, which could enable him to reach those numbers.

I sent Purcell a fan letter and the following four cards showing him with Tampa's different uniforms on January 27th, 2015, care of the Oilers, and got them all back, signed in blue sharpie with his jersey number (16) tagged at the end, on February 26th, 2015 - a mere 30 days later.

First, here are the first Reebok Edge uniforms, which I didn't like because of the jersey number on the chest and the weird colour patterns under the arms:

They are both from Panini's 2011-12 Score set; the card on the left shows the white (away) uniform, and is card #414 in the collection, while the one on the right shows the black (home) uniform, and is #8 of the Playoff Heroes sub-set.

And here are the current - and much better - uniforms, though the pants are a bit cheesy and I could do without the TAMPA BAY lettering on top of the logo on the white one:

The card on the left, where he's wearing the white (away) uniform, is from Panini's 2012-13 Score set (card #421 in the collection), while the one on the right, with the blue (home) uniform, is from Panini's 2013-14 Score set (card #464).

I tell you, he's one of the pieces I'd see on all the teams I watch and root for (in order: Oilers, Montréal Canadiens, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa Senators). Here's how I would build a team as an NHL GM: two stud defensemen, two top centers who can pass, a sniper winger, a top-10 or top-15 goalie, then Purcell - before another first-line winger, which is a spot he can fill at times if need be, but I'd prefer having him on my second line, just because if you can stop the one-two punch from my first line, the second one (starring Purcell) will wear you out, particularly in a 7-game series.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Shaun Van Allen Autograph Card

It's time to check off another card from my Sens Numbers Project, this time with #22, Shaun Van Allen. The 105th player chosen at the 1987 NHL draft, Van Allen spent the majority of his career playing for teams I follow: the Edmonton Oilers (1990-93), the Montréal Canadiens (2001-02) and the Ottawa Senators (1996-2000 and 2002-04). He also spent a few years with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the Dallas Stars.

When he was in the Oilers' system, he won the AHL's award as its points leader (the John B. Sollenberger Trophy) as well as a Calder Cup with the Cape Breton Oilers. However, in the NHL, he was more like a decently-producing checking-line centerman. His two best seasons for points came in his first full season (1993-94, 33 points with the Mighty Ducks) and his second-to-last one (32 points with the Sens), which was also his best for goals (12).

He was raised in Climax, Saskatchewan, where the back of the town's welcome sign (''Welcome To Climax'') reads ''Come Again!''; it is also the end of the line for what used to be known as the ''Honeymoon Route'', starting at Havre, Montana (''have her''), going to Turner (''turn her''), and ending in Climax.

Nowadays, he's an assistant coach with the Carleton University Ravens, and remains loyal to the team and its head coach despite having received offers to further his career elsewhere. He and his family have decided to remain in the Ottawa area, having spent two stints in the quiet capital region.

Here he is wearing the Sens' turn-of-the-millennium red (away) uniform, from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set (a signed insert version of card #245, autographed in black sharpie with his jersey number, 22, tagged at the end):

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mark Giordano Swatch Card

I was a guest on a friend's podcast earlier today, talking about the Calgary Flames' current position in the standings, where they are in 8th place in the Western Conference, holding onto one of the final playoff spots - of the Wild Card variety. They have 23 games remaining on their schedule, with a grueling 7-game road trip starting tonight against the New York Rangers, and six teams vying for their spot.

My contention was that the Flames - big on effort and long-term talent but not quite ''there yet'' nor as deep as the other Western teams - could very well make the playoffs but would likely be subject to a first-round sweep at the hands of a stronger, better team, one with a huge one-two punch at center and whose goalie would out-perform Jonas Hiller. The only position where the Flames would have an advantage - depending on the opponent - would be through their #1 defenseman, Mark Giordano.

This is the year where his name is finally on the same level as the other defensemen who made the All-Star Game and are usually in the conversation for the Norris Trophy - Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Kris Letang, and P.K. Subban. He's currently leading the league's defensemen in points, is in the top-20 for +/-, and 10th in average ice time. He's the captain and sole star on a Calgary team that has surprised everyone in the league.

He has suited up for Team Canada twice, winning the Spengler Cup in 2007, and finishing 7th at the 2010 World Championships. He followed a different career path than most, though more and more players end up being exceptions in this day and age; he went undrafted out of Juniors, despite pacing the OHL in points at his position, and spent three seasons in the Flames' system before bolting to Russia with the famed Moscow Dynamo in 2007-08, where he honed his already-impressive skating and puck-handling abilities.

From the next season onwards, he became a fixture on Calgary's blue line, improving each year and adding more and more responsibilities with each passing season, to become part of the elite last year, and a Norris front-runner this season. I actually thought of naming him as my prediction for the Norris back in October, but I went with the ''safer'' choice in Weber instead.

Here he is wearing the Flames' throwback red (then-away) uniform, from Panini's 2011-12 Titanium set (card #51 of the Game-Worn Gear sub-set), featuring a matching red swatch:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Jared Cowen: 2 Autographed Custom BG Cards

A few years ago, a very friendly trader/collector from Calgary with an extensive Wayne Gretzky collection, KC, sent me a hockey puck signed by Jared Cowen (I don't remember why, probably through one of our many trades), before taking some time out from blogging/posting; unfortunately, I never received it, but I don't doubt for a second that he sent it.

It was at that time that I started following Cowen's career more closely, as I'd only been aware of the giant defenseman through his suiting up for Team Canada at various minor-league competitions, such as his gold- and bronze-winning turns on the U-17 teams in 2008, and his silver medals at the 2010 and 2011 World Juniors, the latter as an alternate captain.

The Ottawa Senators' 9th-overall first round pick in 2009, Cowen now towers at 6'5'' and 230 pounds, which - in my opinion - is the main reason why he was suspended for a hit to the head of the Florida Panthers' Jussi Jokinen; he would have had to get down on his knees to hit him in the chest, the type of move that cost the Cats' Dmitri Kulikov a few games recently himself.

There's something to be said about all these giants getting drafted on defense and how they are sometimes at a disadvantage when it comes to hitting now that the NHL is cracking down on hits to the head to save face for decades of not doing enough to protect players from concussion-related issues. However, with his skill set - good foot speed, a good first pass, the ability to complete checks and extremely sound positioning, particularly at such a young age - he was a no-brainer to be chosen at his rank.

If he could only improve his stick-handling and decision-making with the puck when skating towards opponents (rather than, say, getting rid of the puck along the boards), he could actually develop into more than the #4-D he already is.

He's a nice building block for the Sens, having captained the WHL's Spokane Chiefs and having won the Calder Cup with the Binghamton Senators.

I picked up these two custom cards from Ottawa-area collector BG on Ebay a few years ago, from his 2010-11 Hot Prospects set (and Future Watch sub-set), both signed in blue sharpie and showing him having just been drafted:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Éric Desjardins Autograph Card

I saw the news items about Éric Desjardins being inducted into the Philadelphia Flyers Hall Of Fame - but it didn't compute until I had already written this post on Janne Laukkanen last night.

Desjardins is a bizarre case for Montréal Canadiens fans, because even though he was a big part of the team (alternate captain, a key member of the 1993 Stanley Cup-winning team with a hat trick in the Finals against the Los Angeles Kings, a member of Team Canada at the 1991 Canada Cup), he himself identifies more with the Flyers, which is normal considering he spent 11 years there, with some success, twice finishing in the top-5 in Norris Trophy votes, and twice on the NHL's Second All-Star Team, captaining the team for nearly a hundred games.

And yet, while they should, many Flyers fans and bloggers don't remember just how great he was. We're talking about their #1 defenseman, a powerplay quarterback with a hard, low shot perfect for deflection and rebounds, and a near-perfect penalty killer. With the Flyers, he made the Canadian team twice more - at the 1996 World Cup and 1998 Olympics. He even won the team's ''best defenseman award'' a record 7 times - the only other multiple winner is Mark Howe, who merely earned it 4 times.

He played in three All-Star Games - once representing the Habs (1992), and twice the Flyers (1996 and 2000). He was also an impact player when the playoffs came around, as can be attested from the following statistics when he made deep runs:
1992-93: 4 goals, 10 assists, 14 points in 20 games
1994-95: 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points in 15 games
1996-97: 2 goals, 8 assists, 10 points in 19 games
1999-00: 2 goals, 10 assists, 12 points in 18 games
He has also posted over 40 points six different times, with a high of 55 in 1999-2000. He was part of one of the two trades that shaped the Flyers for a decade - the first one being the Eric Lindros trade - coming from the Habs along with the preeminent powerforward of his era (John LeClair) and sniper Gilbert Dionne for Mark Recchi and the pick that became Martin Hohenberger.

And while I do have a card of his with the Habs that was signed in person, I thought it'd be fair to showcase him solely with the Flyers for today, showing him in their white (home) uniform from my youth, from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set (card #253, the 'Gold' variant of the signed insert series, with an on-card black sharpie autograph and his jersey number, 37, tagged at the end):

For most of his tenure in Philadelphia, he was an alternate captain, so I'm happy this card shows that.