Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sebastian Aho Jersey Card

It's now official: the Carolina Hurricanes have matched the Montréal Canadiens' offer sheet, ensuring Sebastian Aho's rights remain in Carolina for up to five more years, at an average of $8.45M per.

It is widely believed that the front-loaded deal was a no-brainer for the Canes to match because the compensation (a first-rounder, a second-rounder and a third-rounder next season) was almost inevitably going to land the team lesser players and that the team valued the cost certainty of securing their young superstar's services until the youngest possible age at which he would be able to become an unrestricted free agent (the major caveat for them in the deal, the other one being that Aho will be making $21M of the total $42.27M in less than a year, because most of it is structured as signing bonuses).

Had the Habs offered between $1000 more and an extra million and a half per, the compensation would have been two first-rounders, a second and a third - which may have given the Canes more of a reason to reflect on that.

Aho himself was a second-round pick (35th overall) from a strong 2015 draft class that has already produced these NHL players: Connor McDavid (the best player in the sport, 1st), Jack Eichel (the Buffalo Sabres' cornerstone, for better or worse, 2nd), Dylan Strome (3rd), Mitch Marner (this summer's prized RFA, 4th), Noah Hanifin (5th), Pavel Zacha (6th), Ivan Provorov (7th), Zach Weresnki (8th), Timo Meier (9th), Mikko Rantanen (10th, one-third of the best line in hockey last year), Lawson Crouse (11th), Jake DeBrusk (14th), Mathew Barzal (16th), Kyle Connor (17th),  Thomas Chabot (18th and already Erik Karlsson's replacement with the Ottawa Senators),  Evgeny Svechnikov (19th), Joel Eriksson Ek (20th), Colin White (21st), Ilya Samsonov (22nd, star KHL goalie), Brock Boeser (23rd), Travis Konecny (24th), promising defenseman Noah Juulsen (26th), Anthony Beauvillier (28th), Christian Fischer (32nd), Brandon Carlo (37th), Daniel Sprong (46th), Roope Hintz (49th), Jordan Greenaway (50th), Rasmus Andersson (53rd), Vince Dunn (56th), Anthony Cirelli (72nd), goaltending prospect Samuel Montembeault (77th), Austin Wagner (99th), Denis Malgin (148th), Christian Wolanin (107th), Dominik Simon (137th), Christian Jaros (139th), and Markus Nutivaara (189th).

I like Aho's progression, from a 49-point rookie to a 65-point sophomore to a 30-goal, 83-point third-year player at 21 years of age, showing he just got better as he garnered more attention from the opposing team's best checkers. I'd rather have an $8.5M Aho than a $10M+ Marner on my cap for sure.

Here he is wearing the Canes' plain red uniform, on card #GJ-SA from Upper Deck's 2018-19 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set (sorry for the poor picture, I do not currently have a working scanner):
It features a white game-used jersey swatch.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Brian Elliott Swatch Card

This is a weird post-season for me, forcing me to cheer for teams I usually very much dislike (the Boston Bruins) or just don't care about (the St. Louis Blues) to win against teams I hate (the Carolina Hurricanes and San Jose Sharks).

The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and lost in the Final in 2013, so they've already cemented their place as a top team in the decade, and the Blues made the Final in their first three seasons in the league yet had to see fellow 1967 expansion brothers the Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins savor multiple wins - and the Minnesota North Stars reach a couple of Finals themselves before winning the Cup in 1999 as the relocated Dallas Stars. And nothing guarantees St. Louis would win against Boston, the third-best team in the league in the regular season.

The Blues seems to have finally found a goalie who can thrive in their system after many years of regular-season success but year after year of post-season failures in the person of Jordan Binnington. Now, goalies are hard to predict, and it remains to be seen if he can keep it up in the long run, but so far he's posted the third-best playoff performance this year (after still-standing Tuukka Rask and the now-eliminated Ben Bishop), and it doesn't seem like he'll wear down as long as he keeps playing.

These days, I have a thought for Brian Elliott, who manned the net admirably and honestly for six seasons in the Gateway City, posting some of the best goals-against averages of the millennium in the process:
from HockeyDB
Granted, he was Jaroslav Halak's backup and was sheltered by playing fewer games and against lesser opponents, but those are fine NHL numbers regardless of how you look at them.

However, his play hasn't been as effective for the past three seasons and he was surpassed by this year's other star rookie goalie with the Flyers, Carter Hart. Then again, at $2.75M per season, Elliott was pretty much playing on a backup's salary anyway.

His contract is due this summer, and I think he still has another two-year deal in him, likely with a team that needs to play their top goalie less and doesn't have a young gun ready to challenge for the position. I can think of three such teams in the Atlantic: the Montréal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings, as well as the Edmonton Oilers out West.

Here he is wearing the Blues' white (away) uniform, on card #GG-ET from Panini's 2012-13 Titanium set and Game-Worn Gear subset:
The jersey swatch, however, is burgundy - from his 12 games with the Colorado Avalanche at the tail end of the 2010-11 season.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Paul Ranheim Autograph Card

It's now official: the Boston Bruins have swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, in a show of force unseen since the days of the Adams Division and the lowly Hartford Whalers.

Which brings me to Paul Ranheim, who has played for the Whalers and the Canes, spending parts of seven seasons in the organization before spending some time with the Philadelphia Flyers and Phoenix Coyotes.

His best season, statistically, though, was his rookie year with the Calgary Flames, in 1989-90, scoring 26 goals with 28 assists for 94 points - all career highs. As a matter of fact, all three of his 20-goal seasons came in Calgary, and he never went over 10 in any of his other NHL seasons. He never hit the 40-point plateau with any other team either, with a 30-point season (10 goals, 20 assists) with the Whalers in 1995-96 standing as the other outlier year in a career spent as a checking forward.

Here he is wearing the Whalers' dark (away) mid-1990s uniform on the signed insert version of card #87 from Upper Deck's 1995-96 Be A Player set:
I must admit I felt some nice nostalgia when the Canes sported their retro Whalers uniforms this season, especially since they did so against the Bruins.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Sean Burke Autographed Card

I think I'll be saying this until I retire, but the Edmonton Oilers missed the boat when they chose Ken Holland as their next GM last week, choosing another proven salary cap era mismanager instead of new blood like Sean Burke.

Learning the ropes as an exec with the Phoenix Coyotes, Arizona Coyotes and Montréal Canadiens, Burke also plied his trade as GM of Team Canada at several World Championships and the 2018 Olympics - the one where he scoured the globe trying to put together the best possible team of non-NHLers to try to stop the KHL-playing Russians from winning gold.

The five-time IIHF medalist as a player managed to build a roster that won bronze (better than Finland, Sweden, the United States, Slovakia and the Czech Republic), so one can objectively say he did a fairly decent job.

Former goalies are showing they have an eye for talent and management, as the likes of Burke, Ron Hextall (rebuilding the Philadelphia Flyers post-Paul Holmgren), Holland (three Stanley Cups in the pre-cap era) and, to a lesser extent, Patrick Roy (Memorial Cup) and Garth Snow (rebuilding the New York Islanders post-Mike Milbury) have all shown to be able to build decent rosters pretty much from scratch.

I know if I owned a team in, say, Seattle, I'd take a serious look at him to build my team.

As many of you know, Burke was impactful to me as a young goalie in the late 1980s. His exploits with the Canadian National Team and the New Jersey Devils set an example that many Canadian goalies wanted to follow. Sure, Roy was the reason I donned the pads in the first place, but the fact that even in Montréal he was seen as an unattainable God-like figure meant a guy like Burke - who participated in CHL/Team Canada clinics and moved around a lot by changing teams often - was more present, in a way.

And he showed that one didn't have to be a record-setting Conn Smythe winner to be an All-Star and a Hart and Vezina candidate. These days, my favourite goalies are Jaroslav Halak, Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Marc-André Fleury, but in the 1980s and 1990s, it was Roy, Burke and, a peg below, Stéphane Fiset. No one else came close.

Here is the 6'4" Burke in the uniform that, to me, best represents the first third of his nearly 20-year career, the Devils' red-and-green classic, on card #66 from Upper Deck's 1990-91 Series 1 set:
He signed it in blue sharpie in one of his few trips to Montréal in the past couple of years.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Seth Jones Jersey Card

I boldly predicted the Columbus Blue Jackets would beat and eliminate the Tampa Bay Lightning late last night, and Seth Jones' powerplay game winner continued his clutch play for his team as the first of four steps in in that direction.

It'll be a long and hard-fought series, but the Bolts - who this year tied the NHL record with 62 regular-season wins - have never faced an adversary like this. Don't get me wrong, they've played against great teams - last year's Stanley Cup-winning Washington Capitals, for one, and the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2014-15 Final - but this team is a different beast altogether.

You've got no less than five key players (star winger Artemi Panarin, star center Matt Duchene, skilled winger Ryan Dzingel, defenseman Adam McQuaid, and the only active two-time Vezina-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky) performing to earn their career-defining contracts on July 1st; a top-quality defense that nearly matches Tampa's, with Jones as the centerpiece, accompanied by McQuaid, 2012 second-overall pick Ryan Murray, All-Star Zach Werenski, Team Canada alumnus David Savard, and as depth pieces, former second-rounders Adam Clendening and Scott Harrington; also a forward corps that includes legitimate first-liners Pierre-Luc Dubois and (captain) Nick Foligno, heart-and-soul checker Brandon Dubinsky, 40-goal man Cam Atkinson, rising star Oliver Bjorkstrand, tough rookie Alexandre Texier, and a bunch of solid soldiers; and last but not least, head coach John Tortorella.

There is simply no other coach like Torts. Oh, there are far better tacticians, but no better motivator when he actually has enough time to get to know his players. It's not just manipulation on his part (like, say, Guy Boucher), nor tough-for-toughness'-sake like Claude Julien or Ken Hitchcock; no, Torts has his players' trust that he will defend them if he senses a will to sacrifice towards the team's goals, and he rewards effort. And he makes speeches like these:
That's after the first period, which saw Tampa build a 3-0 lead. Full disclosure: I stopped watching the game live at that point.

Again, he's a different beast.

And when Jones plays like the guy who finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting last season, the Jackets know any game's within hand.

Here he is wearing the magnificent Blue Jackets' alternate uniform, on card #GJ-SJ from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a white game-worn jersey swatch. I found this card so pretty that I paid $5 for it on Ebay (plus shipping).

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Jason Pominville Jersey Card

He was a second-round draft pick in 2001, selected 55th overall following a 113-point season (in 71 games) with the LHJMQ's Shawinigan Cataractes; he followed that with 121 points in just 66 games with the Cataractes. Because he holds a dual citizenship (Canadian and American), he was often passed over for the Canadian teams, including during his three years of eligibility at the World Juniors (Team USA usually favors players from the College ranks to fill their rosters).

Still, he spent three full seasons in the AHL with the Rochester Americans before earning a full-time gig in the NHL, including the franchise's best season ever, a 112-point performance in 2004-05 on a team that also featured Chris Taylor (79 points in 79 games), Thomas Vanek (42 goals in 74 games), Derek Roy (61 points in 67), Paul Gaustad (43 points in 192 penalty minutes), Daniel Paillé, Chris Thorburn, Jeff Jillson, Jason Botterill, and Ryan Miller in nets.

He was also with the Buffalo Sabres during that magical 2006-07 season (113 points and a second straight Conference Final), alongside Daniel Brière (95 points in 81 games), Vanek (43 goals and 84 points in 82 games), Chris Drury (37 goals in 77), Roy (63 points in 75), Maxim Afinegenov (61 points in 56), and Jochen Hecht (56 points) up front, Brian Campbell (48 points), Dmitri Kalinin, Teppo Numminen and Jaroslav Spacek out back, and Miller and Martin Biron between the pipes.

He also captained the Sabres in 2008 and 2011-13, and is so far ranked 10th in team history in goal scoring.

I am, of course, talking about Jason Pominville, at age 36 who just played out a five-year deal that was paying him on average $5.6M per and may once again be forced to leave the city he calls home as it tries to get out of a funk that has seen its hockey team miss the playoffs for eight straight seasons.

None of which is Pominville's fault, mind you, as he finished fourth on the team with 16 goals and seventh with his 30 points despite averaging just 12:30 ice time per game; he was fourth (16 goals) and fifth (34 points) last year, and scored a goal in what may be his final home game on Thursday, and had another assist in the last game of the season in Detroit a few hours ago.

He's a good veteran to have around, a true leader, a player who has always put the team ahead of himself, who was never jealous of other players getting more ice time and never complained about who he was playing with.

The type of guy you keep at a hometown discount, but that you respect enough not to undersell; I'd sign him on a series of one-year deals at $3M apiece until he decides to retire with a no-trade clause so he can decide if and where the team sends him if they're in danger of missing the playoffs at the trade deadline, so he can have a shot at a championship.

Here he is wearing the Sabres' white "Buffaslug" jersey from last decade:
It's card #AF-JP from Upper Deck's 2009-10 SP Game-Used Edition set and Authentic Fabrics sub-set; it features a beautiful dark blue jersey swatch.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Nicolas Deslauriers Autograph Card

When the Montréal Canadiens traded for Nicolas Deslauriers, they expected to receive a hometown boy who would hover between the fourth line and the AHL - which is essentially what they got.

They were also lucky enough to get a career-high 10 goals from him in 2017-18 (in just 58 games), as well as a points-collecting pace (14 points) that was unseen in his three-plus seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, and a steady array of fighting majors and tough guy penalties that was expected from the 6'1", 220-pounder.

This year, after starting out on injured reserve following a tough preseason fight against the New Jersey Devils' Brandon Baddock, he came back to a changed team, one that was surprisingly fighting for a playoff spot instead of draft lottery placement as many pundits had predicted.

That meant he no longer had leeway to make defensive mistakes under head coach Claude Julien, but also that Julien would likely scratch him altogether from time to time to instead dress two centers on the fourth line. Julien's one of those old-school unforgiving coaches who thinks he'll outsmart the opposing coach using baseball relief pitching tactics instead of the best possible lineup.

So, in 2018-19, Deslauriers only dressed in 48 games, all told, with 2 goals and 3 assists (5 points) and 22 penalty minutes to show for it, after going 10-4-15 with 55 PIMs last year. Oddly enough, when his mind was at ease, he was a +7 playing on a bottom-feeder last year yet is -12 playing for a team that'll finish in ninth-place in the Eastern Conference this year.

I'll try to get him to sign stuff in a Habs uniform next year, but for now, let's contemplate what he looked like wearing the Sabres' white (away) uniform, on the signed insert version of card #275 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 SP Authentic set and Future Watch sub-set:
It features a blue-sharpied on-card autograph. It's numbered #483/999.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Ryan Strome Autographed Card

When historians sit down to write the story of the 2018-19 hockey season, a few story lines will stand out:

- It's the year the Columbus Blue Jackets went all-in.
- It's the year Shea Weber started noticeably regressing.
- It's the year Roberto Luongo's injuries became a bigger story than his on-ice performances.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning's regular-season domination.
- Nikita Kucherov joined the "best player" conversation.
- The CWHL announced it was ceasing its operations, just a week after the Calgary Inferno beat the Montréal Canadiennes in the Clarkson Cup Final.
- The Chicago Blackhawks' offense finally retained (Alex DeBrincat) and acquired (Dylan Strome) offensive talent instead of trading it away (Teuvo Teravainen).
- The Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers redefined "rock bottom".

That last point is where I want to look to shed yet another light on how bad GM Peter Chiarelli's tenure was, via oft-maligned former 5th overall (2011, New York Islanders) draft pick Ryan Strome.

After four seasons of Juniors hockey, Strome finished the 2012-13 season in the AHL (7 points in 10 games), and spent the following year bouncing up and down between the Isles and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers before posting a 50-point season on Long Island in 2014-15.

After two sub-par seasons in the 30-point range, Chiarelli acquired his services in exchange for Jordan Eberle, a move that was supposed to be lateral in terms of offensive production (it was thought that playing alongside either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would re-launch Strome), at half of Eberle's salary for a few couple of seasons, as Strome is younger.

Unfortunately, Strome was only able to put up 36 points in 100 games over a season and change in Edmonton, prompting them to send him packing to the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan Spooner, a player they would put on waivers just a few months later.

In Manhattan, Strome has put up 31 points in 60 games, a 42-point pro-rated production on an entire season, which is an improvement, particularly considering the Rangers are in full "rebuild" mode, although there is concern that his luck may run out at some point, as his underlying numbers are unsustainable.

The Rangers are in fairly good hands for their rebuild, with young veterans Mika Zibanejad (25 years old) and Chris Kreider (27) leading a pack comprised of Pavel Buchnevich (23), Jimmy Vesey (25), Brady Skjei (24), Vladislav Namestnikov (25), Filip Chytil (18), Brendan Lemieux (22), Fredrik Claesson (25) and goalie Alexandar Georgiev (22). Add a lucky middle-of-the-pack first-rounder or two, or a top-three pick in the next couple of years and you've got yourself a team that's fighting for the playoffs again.

Where does Strome fit in there? Well, he may not, unless he keeps producing. His brother Dylan's turning his career around in Chicago, though, so everything's still possible.

Here is Ryan playing for the OHL's Niagara IceDogs:
It's card #69 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set, which he signed in blue sharpie last December.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Wayne Simmonds Jersey Card

First things first: I understand why the Nashville Predators sent Ryan Hartman and a conditional fourth-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Wayne Simmonds' services at the trade deadline: he's a team-first leader who will sacrifice everything he has for even the slightest chance his team moves the puck forward, let alone scores a goal or wins a game; he's a two-time 30-goal scorer and two-time 60-point-getter who rarely got first-line time, so he's proven able to provide offense no matter where he was slotted in the line-up; he's a heart-and-soul gritty forward and the Preds might need more sandpaper than acrobatics and skill to get past the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets in the upcoming playoffs.

But I also understand why the Flyers had to let him go: this marks the third consecutive season his goals and points totals have gone down; he's clearly battered and bruised at 30 years old - despite missing only seven games last season, he dealt with five major injuries, including a torn groin, lost teeth, a broken ankle and a torn ligament in his hand - and even this year he looks like he needs to rest up and heal; he was also on an expiring contract that pays him enough for what he's delivering at the moment but had him massively underpaid for most of his deal, and it looked unlikely considering his trend downwards that his next deal would be win-win.

Like Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara, Simmonds has done enough to warrant wearing the captain's "C" for a team that will be using him less and less in his waning years - that's how good and deserving he's been, and that's how respected he is. But while most teams could use his leadership, very few teams actually need a captain at this point. As a matter of fact, most playoff-contending teams already have a few players worthy of the "C" waiting in the wings, most of them on the right side of 30.

And he hasn't exactly turned the NHL upside down since the trade, either, what with a single goal and one assist for 2 points in 14 games in Music City so far, on a team that boasts elite talent like Ryan Johansen, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis.

If I were a GM, would I have traded Hartman for his services (notwithstanding the fact that Hartman cost the Preds a good prospect and a first-rounder)? Absolutely. Would I re-sign him for more than one year with the way his last two seasons have gone? Nope.

So my guess is Nashville is betting he can help as a secondary piece - perhaps even a third-tier depth piece - on their way to another deep run. He can't do any harm, that's for sure. But I don't see them attempting to keep him after that, even if he goes on a 20-goal tear in the playoffs.

Here he is sporting (one of) the Flyers' Stadium Series black garbs (with matching game-worn jersey swatch), on card #PF-WS from Upper Deck's 2017-18 SP Game-Used Edition set and Stadium Series Fabrics sub-set:
Simmonds did not register a point in the February 25, 2017 game, but did nab a two-minute minor penalty for slashing at 18:00 of the third period, effectively keeping him in the sin bin until the end of the game. The host team Pittsburgh Penguins won the contest 4-2.

His final game with the Flyers was during this year's Stadium Series game, a 4-3 win against the same Penguins.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Jarret Stoll Autographed Card

Jarret Stoll never actually retired from the NHL, but when he failed to secure a contract atfter a tryout with the Columbus Blue Jackets ahead of the 2016-17 season and then signed with the Los Angeles Kings as a scout, the writing was not only on the wall but written in spray-paint.

Of course, he did win two Stanley Cups with the Kings, centering their checking line. While in L.A., he received some Selke Trophy votes in three different seasons, and had in his final year with the Edmonton Oilers as well.

Here is my favourite card of his, which happens to be during his days in Edmonton:
It's #20 from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Ovation set, and he signed it in (fading) blue sharpie after a Kings game in 2014-15. Ovation cards were like Ice and Artifact - a tad expensive for almost no "pulls" and just a few common cards, but so beautiful and classy. The silver foil on this card is really marvelous, and the cardboard has a three-dimensional feel thanks to the relief, which simulated used ice. It's too bad they went the way of the dodo.

He was inducted in the Kootenay Ice Hall Of Fame on March 1st (he was actually the first inductee).