Sunday, October 15, 2017

Box Break: 2017-18 Artifacts Blaster Box

I went to Walmart today to buy a blaster box of 2017-18 Artifacts hockey cards by Upper Deck, which I had seen the last time I was there but opted not to buy, unsure whether it was worth it to pay $30 plus tax ($35) for 40 cards.

After mulling it over for more than a week, I went for it.

It seems like UD's running out of ideas with their designs, as these white-background cards are similar to SP sets from a decade ago, simple and uncluttered, sure, but not as impressive as the Artifacts sets of that time:
The backs (right) still show up to five seasons of NHL stats and the picture on the front (left) fades to white at the bottom - perfect for autograph seekers such as myself. Of note that the back has a cropped version of the same picture that can be found up front.

Out of 40 cards, the only "insert" I pulled was this ruby version of Colin White's rookie card:
It's numbered 20/399 and features a nice close-up of the young prospect.

On the plus side, the cards remain as thick as they've always been, and despite their apparent lack of originality, are still pleasing to the eye. The box I bought contained 8 packs of 5 cards apiece (again, for some $30) but this link gets you a retail box of 24 five-card packs for $65, with jersey cards coming in at a 1:24 clip, so likely better odds and pulls than I got here.

I still like the thick, premium feel of these cards, and they still look better than most sets. I guess I was hoping for better (or more) "hits", but I was glad to fall onto 11 cards of players from Canadian teams, which I usually find easier to get signed. And the cards are still extremely sign-able with the design that gives the pictures room to breathe.

I wish you better pulls. I still rate this one a 8/10.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

5-Pack Break: 2017-18 Upper Deck Tim Hortons

Another Autumn, another food-based hockey set, namely Upper Deck's 2017-18 Tim Hortons series:
At $2 a pop for 3 cards (or one pack at $1 per beverage purchase), it's still a tad on the expensive side, but they look great, so much so that the Tim Horton one looks like it's extremely low-resolution in comparison to the Connor McDavid:
Each pack contains two base cards and one insert; my base card list reads as follows thus far:

1. Tim Horton
2. Duncan Keith
11. Anze Kopitar 
25. William Nylander
38. Nikolaj Ehlers
49. Bo Horvat
64. Mikael Granlund 
84. Steven Stamkos
97. Connor McDavid
98. David Pastrnak

Among the inserts that are back from previous years is the Game Day Action sub-set, of which I pulled a Max Pacioretty commemorating his first career four-goal game:
The young players have an altered sub-set now titled Clear Cut Phenoms, of which I pulled Patrik Laine, which I have already seen sell online at around $20 a pop:
Among new sub-sets is Stat Makers, which has golden foil, as seen on this Sean Monahan card (the silver in the scan actually looks gold in real life):
And, in celebration of the NHL's Centennial, the checklist cards this year feature players who were chosen among the league's Top 100; Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby fit the bill:
All told, they still look pretty cool.

Completing the set will probably almost prove impossible again, and many of the players featured are stars too "big" to sign autographs for adults like myself, but the cards do look really cool.

I'll rate this one a solid 8.5/10.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Hedo Turkoglu Swatch Card

Hedo Turkoglu played in the NBA for 15 years, 8 of them with the Orlando Magic, so it's fitting that when I opened a multi-sport repack box with "guaranteed hits", that would be the team I would pull a card of his with:
That's card #72 from Panini's 2011-12 Past & Present set and Gamers sub-set, featuring a two-colour swatch. I find it ironic that basketball jerseys are small and sleeveless while hockey jerseys are big enough to conceal equipment and keep warm, yet basketball jersey swatches sometimes take nearly the entire card and hockey jerseys are a square inch in size.

Turkoglu was born in Istanbul in 1979 and retired from basketball in 2015, earning the NBA's Most Improved Player title in 2007-08 and helping the Magic reach the Finals in 2009 along the way.

He also played for the Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers. Apparently, his time in Toronto was pretty hectic. Heh.

Monday, October 2, 2017

My Sens Numbers Project: An Introduction

Has it really come to this, a gimmick worth repeating many times over, after my initial Habs Numbers Project and my Oilers Numbers Project?

Actually, it's more that I realized I had a lot of this one down already: so far, I have featured 37/70 numbers used in previous posts:

1: Damian Rhodes: check!
2: Lance Pitlick and Jared Cowen: heck!
3: Zdeno Chara: jersey card check!
4: Chris Phillips: check (and once more)!
5: Christoph Schubert: check!
6: Wade Redden: check!
7: Randy Cunneyworth: check!
9: Milan Michalek: check!
10: Brandon Bochenski: check!
11: Daniel Alfredsson: check!
12: Mike Fisher: check (and once more)!
14: Andrej Meszaros and Colin Greening: check!
16: Brian McGrattan, Bobby Butler, Clarke MacArthur, and Mark Stone: check!
19: Jason Spezza: check! (also wore #44 and #39)
21: Dennis Vial: check!
22: Shaun Van Allen: check!
24: Stéphane Da Costa: check!
25: Bruce Gardiner: check!
27: Janne Laukkanen: check!
30: Brian Elliott: check!
31: Peter Sidorkiewicz: check! (also Alex Auld)
33: Jakob Silfverberg and Pascal Leclaire: check!
38: Erik Condra: check! (also wore #22)
39: Matt Carkner: check!
40: Robin Lehner: check! (also Jeff Glass and Patrick Lalime)
41: Craig Anderson: check!
43: Roman Wick: check!
44: Jason Spezza: check! (also wore #19) (also, Jean-Gabriel Pageau)
46: Patrick Wiercioch: check!
47: André Benoit: check!
53: Ilya Zubov: check!
57: Derek Grant: check!
59: David Dziurzynski: check!
61: Mark Stone: check!
62: Eric Gryba: check!
65: Erik Karlsson: jersey card check!
74: Mark Borowiecki: check!
89: Cory Conacher: check!

Captains: Cunneyworth, Alfredsson.

I'll reiterate that I'm looking for collectibles - ideally signed cards, but also signed pictures or, at the very least, jersey cards of players from every possible Sens jersey number that has been worn.

Here are examples of things I'll be featuring soon - or am looking to add to the list:

13: Peter Regin, Vinny Prospal or Ted Drury I remember
15: I would prefer Shawn McEachern, but Dany Heatley or Zack Smith would do
17: Jody Hull, Filip Kuba and David Legwand are the most famous
18: Marian Hossa will be in the HoF some day, but current wearer Jim O'Brien works too
20: Antoine Vermette or Marek Svatos are players I followed
23: Kaspars Daugavins' current number
26: André Roy, Vaclav Varada and Ryan Shannon have worn it
28: neither Zenon Konopka nor Matt Kassian replied to my TTMs
29: I could totally go for Martin Gerber and his black mask here
32: only Rob Ray and Daniel Berthiaume have ever worn this number
34: only Darren Rumble and Shane Hnidy have worn this one
35: only 5 goalies have worn this one, including Auld, Tom Barrasso and Mike Bales
36: only Josh Hennessy wore it for more than a few games
37: only Dean McAmmond wore it for more than one calendar year
42: Julien Vauclair would be cool for a goalie nerd like myself
45: only worn by Denis Hamel or Alexandre Picard
48: Jared Cowen wore it briefly
49: Michel Picard or Francis Lessard
51: Derek Smith
52: Colin Greening had it for a short spell
55: Sergei Gonchar never replied to my TTM, but Brian Lee also works
56: Lance Pitlick
58: Cody Bass, briefly
60: Mark Stone (who also wore 61)
68: Mike Hoffman
71: Nick Foligno
73: Guillaume Latendresse or Jarkko Ruutu
76: Radek Bonk
77: Joe Corvo
78: Pavol Demitra
82: Martin Straka
83: Ales Hemsky, very briefly
90: Alex Chiasson
91: Alexandre Daigle
93: Mike Zibanejad
94: Stan Neckar
97: Matt Gilroy

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mike Modano Jersey Card

The Dallas Stars overhauled everything they could this off-season: they let backup goalie Antti Niemi go and replaced him with two-time Vezina Trophy nominee Ben Bishop; they let oft-injured right winger Ales Hemsky test free agency (and, ultimately, sign with the Montréal Canadiens) and signed the Habs' best player, Alexander Radulov instead; they went and took Marc Methot - one of the best defensive defensemen in the game - off the Vegas Golden Knights' hands; they did not renew head coach Lindy Ruff's contract, instead picking up Ken Hitchcock, who was behind the bench for the franchise's lone Stanley Cup in 1999, with Ruff on the losing side of that, too; the only "not-win" they have on their summer report card is signing slow-footed Martin Hanzal essentially to replace Cody Eakin. Hanzal almost single-handedly cost the Minnesota Wild first place after a trade deadline deal last year, and didn't do much when they were eliminated in the playoffs either.

All those moves lead me to believe they might take a while to assimilate Hitchcock's system and gel, but that by entering the playoffs as a Wild Card team, they could do like the Nashville Predators last year and make their way to the Stanley Cup Final, perhaps even beating the Tampa Bay Lightning while they're there.

I like this team a lot more than I did the Cup-winning 1999 edition, who had players I didn't like too much at the time (Ed Belfour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Brett Hull, captain and bruising defenseman Derian Hatcher, Pat Verbeek, Mike Keane), but a few guys I did respect a lot (Mike Modano, Brian Skrudland, Jere Lehtinen, Darryl Sydor, Dave Reid, Craig Ludwig, Benoît Hogue), and one guy I loved (Guy Carbonneau). I did prefer the Stars winning over Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres, though.

This time around, there are so many players I like. Sure, the new guys Methot, Radulov and Bishop are awesome, but so is Cup-deserving veteran Jason Spezza, captain Jamie Benn, star center Tyler Seguin, bruiser Antoine Roussel, and defensemen John Klingberg, Dan Hamhuis, and Julius Honka.

If they want to, they can ask Modano for guidance at any time, because he works for the team as its alternate governor as well as in advisory role.

Despite playing out his final season with his hometown Detroit Red Wings, he'll always be the Original Dallas Star to me, which is why I'm such a big fan of card #M-26 from In The Game's 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s set and Game-Used Jersey sub-set:
It depicts him wearing the team's original (in every sens of the word) star-shaped jersey and features a fairly big white game-worn jersey swatch.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Ilya Zubov Autographed Card

Was last year's Game 7 Conference Finals finish a fluke, or are these Ottawa Senators the real deal? Oh, they're real - I even think they'll finish second in the Atlantic Division, ahead of the young Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the best defenseman in the game in Erik Karlsson and support from the likes of Dion Phaneuf, Cody Ceci, Fredrik Claesson, Chris Wideman and rookies Thomas Chabot, Colin White and Andreas Englund, as well as three potential 30-goal scorers on the wing (Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan) and two proven 60-point 1A centers (Kyle Turris and Derick Brassard), plus a fine tandem in nets consisting of Craig Anderson and Mike Condon, Ottawa has one of the most well-balanced teams in the league.

There was a time when the Sens were looking at a young Russian center to one day replace Jason Spezza on the top line, a fourth-round (98th overall) pick at the 2005 draft called Ilya Zubov. Standing at 6' and just a little over 200 pounds, with tremendous speed and stick-handling skills, and the ability to make plays in tight spots, the Sens were convinced he had what it takes to become the next Ryan Getzlaf.

Unfortunately, he does not like playing in traffic, and the North American ice brings about more physical play than the European game, so he was never really able to make the transition right. The third time he was demoted to the AHL's Binghamton Senators to start a season, he requested a trade; the organization instead agreed to let him go back to the KHL, where he has been playing ever since.

He is currently in his third stint with Ufa Salavat Yulayev, producing at nearly a point-per-game pace (1 goal, 9 assists and 10 points in 12 games). He also played parts of five seasons with powerhouse CSKA Moscow (playing alongside the likes of Alexei Yashin and Alexander Radulov), a year and a half with Vladivostok Admiral, and two seasons with Omsk Avangard (with Vladimir Sobotka, Martin Erat, Nikita Nikitin and Alexander Perezhogin).

Here he is sporting the Sens' red (home) uniform on card #50 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Rookie Class boxed set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
He's wearing #53, which is perfect for inclusion in my Sens Numbers Project.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pavel Bure Jersey Card

I just posted my prediction for the upcoming Florida Panthers season, admitting I may have been overly optimistic by placing them 5th instead of 7th in the Atlantic Division, but it is what it is - I mean, I decided on my standings on September 1st, so there's really no going back now.

I could have gone many ways in featuring the Panthers on this blog today, but I decided to go with Hall Of Famer Pavel Bure, who led the NHL in scoring twice while in Florida, with 58- and 59-goal seasons in 1999-2000 and 2000-01, in the heart of the clutch-and-grab Dead Puck Era. He had also led the league in his second-consecutive 60-goal season with the Vancouver Canucks in 1993-94, bringing the team to one win of the Stanley Cup on the strength of 16 goals and 31 points in 24 postseason games.

Upon leaving Vancouver after a contract dispute, he played only four more playoff games - all of them in 1999-2000, his second season with the team. He wouldn't see playoff action in two injury-riddle years with the New York Rangers (2001-03) either, but still managed to score 31 goals and amass 19 assists for 50 points in 51 games on Broadway.

His NHL career was among the most spectacular of all-time:

He also starred and won a lot internationally, first with the Soviet Union, with World Juniors gold (1989) and silver (1990, 1991), World U-17s gold (1988), European Juniors Championship gold (1989) and bronze (1988), World Championship gold (1990) and bronze (1991), and Goodwill Games gold (1990), and also with Team Russia, earning Olympic silver (1998) and bronze (2002) medals.

Here he is sporting the alternate captain's "A" on the Panthers' best-looking red (then-away) uniform, on card #SCS-PB from Topps' 2001-02 Stadium Club set and Stadium Club Souvenirs sub-set:
It features a yellow game-worn jersey swatch that was likely from a stripe on the arms. I traded three Chicago Blackhawks autograph cards from the same brand to obtain this one in 2010 or 2011.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Jim Paek Autographed Card

It could have been a great story that wrapped things up perfectly but, alas, the NHL will not be sending its players to the Olympics this year in Pyeongchang, South Korea. As is customary, the host country will have a team - unfortunately, it will share a division with Team Canada, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, but it's still a feat to have climbed the ranks from 33rd in the world seven years ago to 18th at the moment.

The key to that rise has been naming former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, two-time Stanley Cup winner Jim Paek as head coach, plucking him from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins; the Seoul-born, Etobicoke-raised Paek then picked up another dual-citizen former NHLer, Korean-American Richard Park, as assistant coach, and the duo worked on developping the overall skill set of the 2500 registered hockey players in the country, enlisting the help of Canadian and American expats playing in Asia, particularly those such as Brock Radunske, a former third-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers (79th overall, 2002) who has been a tremendous player for the Asia League's Anyang Halla for ten years and is described by Paek as a "blond-haired, blue eyed Kitchener native".

Although Radunske's currently having a tough season, he's pretty much a lock to make South Korea's Olympic team:
From EliteProspects
Wouldn't it have been a great occasion, though, to showcase the world's best players in a year where the Pens are back-to-back champions, in a country whose national coach was himself a back-to-back champion with the same team?

I don't think Pittsburgh can three-peat (granted, I didn't have them as favourites in either of the last two seasons either), but I do see them winning the Metropolitan Division this year.

Here is a card I got Paek to sign (in blue sharpie) at a card show in Florida in the early 2000s:
It's #192 from Upper Deck's 1993-94 Series 1 set.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dirk Graham Autographed Card

The Chicago Blackhawks are not adverse to making summertime roster changes, and perhaps this summer's moves will require a bit of an adjustment period before bearing all their fruits - not enough for them to miss the playoffs, mind you, but enough to face another tough first-round match-up against the Nashville Predators.

Throughout the years, the Hawks have had some excellent captains, many of whom are Hall of Famers: Dick Irvin (1926–1929), Johnny Gottselig (1935–1940), Doug Bentley (1942-44, 1949–1950), Jack Stewart (1950–1952), Bill Gadsby (1952–1954), Pierre Pilote (1961–1968), Stan Mikita (1976–1977), Keith Magnuson (1976-1979), Darryl Sutter (1982–1987), Denis Savard (1988–1989), Chris Chelios (1995–1999), Tony Amonte (2000–2002) and Jonathan Toews (2008–present).

You may have noticed how I skipped the guy who was in between superstars Savard and Chelios, actually taking over from Savard as he was injured, one of many times head coach "Iron" Mike Keenan made his disdain for his star center public. That replacement captain would be Dirk Graham, a tough, defensively-minded center who taught many of the kids on the team (Jeremy Roenick, Joe Murphy) the merits of playing hard and with a measure of integrity, leading the 1992 edition of the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to Mario Lemieux's and Jaromir Jagr's Pittsburgh Penguins.

Graham didn't talk much, but he led by example, surpassing the 20-goal mark seven times (with a high of 33 in 1988-89), and the 50-point mark four times in 12 NHL seasons, all while attempting to check the other team's best players, which led to his finishing in the minuses five times as well.

In every season where he had a negative +/- differential, he averaged more than a penalty minute per game, going over the 100 mark three times, with a high of 142 in 1986-87 in his last full season with the Minnesota North Stars.

When he inherited the "C", he was considered the first captain of African descent in NHL history, because one of his parents was of mixed race; when Jarome Iginla became captain of the Calgary Flames, Iginla was retconned into the position because one of his parents was Black. In my opinion, Graham came first, he should get the title; Iginla should be content with being the best captain of his generation, and there will be a "full-Black" captain eventually, rendering these race sub-categories even more irrelevant.

My main gripe with Graham is his 1991 Selke Trophy win. He was not among the better defensive players of his time by any means; he got Selke votes in just five of his NHL seasons, twice finishing 7th, once 19th, and once 29th. This is not the type of polite nod that screams "dominant player".

At that time, the best defensive player in the world was without a doubt Guy Carbonneau. He received votes in every season from 1983-84 until 1993-94 and again in his final season, 1999-2000; from 1983-84 until 1988-89, he was on the same line as Bob Gainey, pretty much the guy for whom the award was created, so you'd think that would have played against him, yet in each of those seasons, Carbonneau finished well ahead of Gainey.

As a matter of fact, "Carbo" won it three times, finished second twice and third another time in a seven-year span in which the only anomaly was a fourth-place finish... in 1990-91. That year, both Carbonneau and Graham produced 0.56 points per game, with Carbonneau scoring more goals. The Hawks were a powerhouse, with six players at +20 or better - including two in the league top-5 (Roenick at +38, Steve Larmer at +37) - while Graham was eighth on the team; in comparison, only one Hab was over +10 (Brian Skrudland, +12), as the team struggled to find consistency in the backup role, trying out the likes of André Racicot (7-9-2, 3.20 GAA and .891 save percentage in 21 games), Frédéric Chabot (0-0-1, 3.33 GAA and .867 save percentage in 3 games), and Jean-Claude Bergeron (7-6-2, 3.76 GAA and .862 save percentage in 18 games).

And yet the Canadiens finished with a 39-30-11 record, with Carbonneau facing the likes of Dale Hawerchuk and Pierre Turgeon (Buffalo Sabres), Cam Neely, Ray Bourque and Craig Janney (Boston Bruins), Pat Verbeek, Ron Francis and Kevin Dineen (Hartford Whalers), Lemieux, Jagr, Mark Recchi, Kevin Stevens, Paul Coffey, Joe Mullen and John Cullen (Pittsburgh), Brian Leetch, Mike Gartner and Ray Sheppard (New York Rangers), Pat Lafontaine (New York Islanders), Dale Hunter, Mike Ridley, Dino Ciccarelli and Kevin Hatcher (Washington Capitals), Kirk Muller, Brendan Shanahan, Peter Stastny and Claude Lemieux (New Jersey Devils), and Rick Tocchet, Pelle Eklund and Murray Craven (Philadelphia Flyers) every night.

Also, Graham was invited to play on Team Canada at the 1991 Canada Cup by Hawks head coach Keenan, who mostly chose players he knew extremely well, from then-Hawks Larmer, Graham and Ed Belfour to Tocchet of his former team (Philadelphia) and a grand total of 13 players from the Clarence Campbell (now known as "Western") Conference out of 22 NHLers. The best goalie in the world (Patrick Roy), the best defensive forward of his era (Carbonneau), the youngest captain at the time (Joe Sakic, fresh off two consecutive 100-point seasons), one of the best defensemen of all time (Bourque), former Hawks legend Savard, and the most talented player of all time (Mario Lemieux, allbeit with a bad back) were all conspicuously absent from the line-up, but OHLer Eric Lindros made the cut, as did the likes of Shayne Corson, Russ Courtnall, and stay-at-home defenseman Mark Tinordi.

It was a joke of a line-up, and Graham's Selke is another taint on the aberration that was the 1990-91 season in terms of fair play and common sense.

Which isn't to say he wasn't very good at what he did. I just don't think he was ever the best at it, even for a single season.

Here he is sporting the Blackhawks' white (then-home) uniform, on card #261 from Score's 1991-92 Pinnacle set:
He signed it in (dying) black sharpie at a card show around 2005-2006.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Darryl Sittler Jersey Card

After taking a moment earlier today to predicting they'd finish third in the Atlantic this coming season, I thought I could honor the Toronto Maple Leafs by featuring Darryl Sittler, one of the five greatest players in team history, in a conversation with Dave Keon, Syd Apps, Charlie Conacher, Johnny Bower and Tim Horton, ahead of the likes of his best friend Lanny McDonald, Frank Mahovlich, Turk Broda, Doug Gilmour, King Clancy, Red Kelly, and hundreds more.

Ironically, Keon, Sittler and McDonald all had issues with then-owner Harold Ballard and were essentially run out of town, thrown under the bus, and/or made to suffer by the organization at one point or another.

Sittler, who replaced Keon as captain after Ballard not only decided not to re-sign him but also pretty much forbade any other NHL team to offer him a contract as a free agent (setting up a "compensation fee" so high for the then-35-year-old that it would essentially strip that team of any of its talent), set his sights on a few NHL records, starting by becoming the first Leaf to ever accumulate 100 points in a single season, then scoring the most goals in a single playoff game (5), scoring the game-winner for Team Canada in the first Canada Cup (now known as the "World Cup"), and, of course, the record for most points in a single game (10 points, from 6 goals and 4 assists).

As captain and player representative to management, Sittler was responsible for having coach Roger Neilsen re-hired after a Ballard outburst left him without a job; GM Punch Imlach had issues with the amount of power Sittler had built up in the locker room and inquired with other teams about his trade value, but Sittler had a no-trade clause, which his agent Alan Eagleson said he would waive for half a million dollars. Imlach instead traded his best friend and linemate McDonald to the Colorado Rockies, resulting in Sittler taking scissors and cutting the "C" off of the front of his jersey. Which just furthered his influence among his peers, while Ballard compared the move to "burning the Canadian flag". Canadians consider him a folk hero, as proven by this country song.

Here he is the way he should always be remembered, wearing Leaf blue, with the "C" very visible for all to see, on card #GJ-SI from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Series 1 set and Game Jersey sub-set:
Keon may have won the Stanley Cup, Mahovlich may be the team's highest-scoring winger; Gilmour and Mats Sundin may have instilled hope and inspired a generation of Leaf fans during their respective reigns as captains, but only Sittler combined both talent and leadership to that high a level at the same time. He's the Top Leaf in my book.