Saturday, September 9, 2017

2016-17 Parkhurst Hockey Box Break

First off, let's start by saying there were a few things wrong with the release of Upper Deck's 2016-17 Parkhurst collection, starting with the fact that they were supposed to be sold exclusively at Canadian Walmart stores in December of 2016, but because there were issues with an Ontarian distributor, they found their way into American Walmart stores instead for the longest time.

I bought an Ottawa Senators team pack - containing 10 of the 11 cards of Sens players in the set - during the playoffs last year before I saw a box anywhere. That changed yesterday when I went to a Walmart Supercenter, shopping for a play set for my cat and saw them; I put down the Marvel Daredevil figurines I had laid my hands on and took this box instead, for a cool $29.92 (plus taxes, which amounts to $34.50).

What I got was 120 cards - so, 40 cents each - but there were so many inserts and variants that I was left with a satisfaction I hadn't felt since... well, since Panini produced Score sets for the NHL, which reminded me of my youth.

The cards are thin and fragile, and super glossy; they'll be a pain to sign for players, and they'll be easy to crease, as they seem to be half as thick as regular cards (Series 1, O-Pee-Chee, MVP, etc.). However, they look good, the design feels right, and there's just enough variety that I was happy even though I didn't pull an autograph or a jersey card.

Here's a breakdown of what I got:

89 regular-issue cards with a green border, with the back showing statistics from the past four seasons, which is enough to see how players are trending:
There were, however, seven doubles: Matt Beleskey, Jake Allen, Colin Greening, Jamie McGinn, Roman Polak, Jonathan Toews, and Kyle Okposo.

The variants come in either the "red" or "black" variety, which look like this (notice how the alternate border extends to the back of the card as well):
Adam Lowry, Boone Jenner and Ben Hutton are the only three players whose regular-issue cards ended up being variants for me, but I did get a few Rookies that were of the "red" variety (Pontus Aberg, Charlie Lindgren, and Thomas Chabot) to go with my 18 other "Rookie" cards: Mitch Marner, Lindgren, Lawson Crouse, Chase De Leo (twice), Alan Quine (twice), Oliver Kylington, Brandon Carlo, Pavel Zacha, Gustav Forsling, Matthew Tkachuk, Ivan Provorov, Frédérik Gauthier, Travis Konecky, Stephen Johns, Kasperi Kapanen and Oliver Bjorkstrand:
I also landed one "Rookie Parade" card of Connor Brown:
There was one "Checklist" I could have done without, despite it featuring Auston Matthews:
I also fell upon three "NHL Centennial Salute" cards, including these two of Mark Messier and Jonathan Quick, as well as one of Glenn Hall:
And the goalie nerd in me was happy to pull two foil "Protectors Of The Net" cards, Carey Price and Pekka Rinne:
Again, despite landing no "real hits", I was left with a giddy and satisfying feeling after opening this box, the likes of which I hadn't felt in maybe five years of when opening boxes - and this is for a box of a product that is a season old.

This is a solid 8.5/10 for me.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sam Bennett Jersey Card

There are varying opinions of Sam Bennett's new deal online, with some saying he got fleeced by Calgary Flames management by signing a two-year deal with a cap hit of $1.95M.

Here's my reasoning for why it's a better deal for him:

First off, he's showing good faith and pretty much admitting he had a sub-par 2016-17 season (13 goals, 13 assists, 26 points and 75 penalty minutes in 81 games, ten points down from the 18-18-36 he posted in 77 games from the previous season) and is willing to make amends. That scores high in my book.

The team's now left with $5.2M on the cap, which should be more than enough to sign someone like Jaromir Jagr who would immediately add talent in the top-9, and frees up a bit of money for an in-season trade in case someone under-performs or gets injured. Both of these would likely help Bennett produce at a higher clip than last year.

Sure, there are comparables like Nick Bjugstad, who signed for a $4.1M cap hit ahead of the 2015-16 season at the age of 23; but what the Flames are looking for in Bennett is a progression like Nick Bonino's - who played on the third line for three different teams before the Nashville Predators signed him this summer to center the second - except in accelerated form, which is fair to ask of a fourth-overall draft pick (2014).

He has two years to post a 40-to-50-point season and hover around 20 goals, like a second Mikael Backlund; if and when he does, he'll be making second-line money ($5M to 6.5M), which will be worth it for both the team and the player.

Here he is sporting his usual #93 on card #FT-SB from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Ice collection and Fresh Threads sub-set:
It shows the gold medalist (Team Canada, 2013 U18 World Juniors) wearing the Flames' white (away) uniform and features a matching jersey swatch from a rookie photo shoot.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Alexander Khokhlachev Jersey Card

Continuing with this month's theme, here's a Boston Bruins-related post, after I predicted they'd finish sixth in the Atlantic Division this season. Today, I thought I'd focus on a highly-touted prospect who came to the OHL's Windsor Spitfires from Russia to get acquainted with the smaller ice size, was drafted in the second round by Boston (40th overall in 2011), showed some promise in the AHL with the Providence Bruins but lost patience with the team when he felt head coach Claude Julien didn't give him a fair chance and went back to the KHL.; that's right, we're taking a look at Alexander Khokhlachev!

Khokhlachev has become a master at the offensive side of the game. He is a slick puck carrier who can both protect the puck well with his low center of gravity (5'10", 180 pounds) and make moves to distance his checkers, and has a creative offensive sense that ranks in the top 10% in the world; on one hand, he can make nearly-impossible passes and, on the other, he can find the open ice to be in a position to receive passes himself like the best of the elite players, and he has a tremendous release as well.

He's willing to sacrifice his body to make a play - as long as said play is in the offensive zone. That's where his issues lie; he has concentrated so much on making his o-zone play top-notch that he forgot to learn the basics of playing defensively. His backwards skating is deficient, his man-to-man coverage is null unless he hits the body and his zone coverage is akin to that of a pylon.

Young, creative, smallish, bad defensively. And he wonders why Julien wouldn't give him a chance?

There are players like him who have had fine NHL careers; Thomas Vanek comes to mind, except Khokhlachev may be even better with the puck... and worse defensively. (Vanek could play defensively, he just doesn't want to).

In two yeas in Providence, he has led the team in points both times, appearing in one AHL All-Star Game. Signing in the KHL, he first went to powerhouse St. Petersburg SKA, where he had little ice time behind the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Vadim Shipachyov, Nikita Gusev, Evgeny Dadonov, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin's buddy Sergei Plotnikov, meaning he also didn't get to play with the likes of Slava Voynov, Anton Belov and Igor Yakovlev on the back end; his production was thus limited to 10 points (5 goals and 5 assists) in 25 games. He did win the Gagarin Cup with the rest of the team, though.

He was then traded to his original KHL team, Moscow Spartak, (where his father is the general manager) a few weeks ago, and he is showing extremely well there, with 5 points in 8 games so far and generally leading the play alongside Ben Maxwell.

Here he is sporting the Bs' black (home) uniform, on the "gold" variant of the "Jersey" insert version of card #132 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 SP Game-Used Edition:
It features a matching jersey swatch from a rookie photo shoot and is numbered 214/499.

He has silver (2012) and bronze (2013) medals suiting up for Team Russia at the World Juniors; it remains to be seen if he'll make the Olympic squad this year, but I figure he'd be a good sleeper pick on it.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Dave Andreychuk Autographed Card

In keeping with this month's theme of double-posting with my other blog, after predicting they'd finish 7th in the Atlantic Division in 2017-18, here is my Buffalo Sabres-related post, featuring none other than Dave Andreychuk, who was inducted in the Hockey Hall Of Fame last June.

Some of his career numbers warrant inclusion in the Hall, such as his 640 career goals, 274 of which came on the powerplay - an NHL record. But those 274 PP goals came over 23 seasons, which amounts to little more than 10 per; likewise, he has 1338 career points, but they're spread over 1639 games, most of the production coming in the offensively-minded 1980s.

To put it in perspective, he ranks tied for 29th for career points, but 7th in games played - that's a huge discrepancy. He has reached the 50-goal mark only once (with 53, 1993-94, whilst a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs).

In three of his four highest-scoring seasons, his points totals (99 in 1992-93, split between the Sabres and Leafs; 87 in 1985-86; and 82 in 1989-90) ranked outside the top-20 (and, in the case of 1989-90 as with most of his other seasons, outside the top-30). He failed to reach the point-per-game mark in each of his final 11 seasons, ranging from 1994-95 until 2005-06, usually by half a point per game.

And that's saying nothing about the fact that his greatest talent was using his 6'3", 220-pound frame to screen the goalie, get hit in the back and score garbage deflection or triple-rebound goals. Cool. That, and serving as the inspiration for the Tampa Bay Lightning to try to "win him a Stanley Cup" in 2004, because having the most clutch goalie that year (Nikolai Khabibulin), the record-holder for most overtime game-winners (Brad Richards), a Team Canada World Cup MVP (Vincent Lecavalier) and a two-time Art Ross winner (Martin St-Louis) clearly wasn't enough...

Case in point, during that run, Andreychuk had a single goal and 14 total points in 25 games. His entire playoff output is somewhat underwhelming (for a Hall Of Famer, of course, because it's fine for a very good player) at 43 goals, 53 assists and 97 points in 162 postseason games.

If I had to rank him on the Sabres' all-time list, as a forward, I'd put him behind Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and René Robert, for sure. If you add defensemen to the all-time list of best Buffalo skaters, that puts Phil Housley and Craig Ramsey ahead of him as well. If you factor goalies in, Dominik Hasek probably makes the top-5.

Therefore, I'd put Andreychuk in the same category as other Sabres greats who had a more limited time with the team, perhaps ahead of the likes of Alex Mogilny, Dale Hawerchuk, Pat Lafontaine, Danny Gare, Derek Roy, Pierre Turgeon, André Savard, defensive defenseman Lindy Ruff, and sniper Donald Audette.

Again, not bad company, but not all of them are in the Hall, and his category falls short of the all-time elite (Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque, Wayne Gretzky), particularly when only counting some of those players' time in Buffalo (Lafontaine, Hawerchuk, Turgeon).

All told, he's had a memorable and noteworthy career, and I felt it was fitting to feature him with the Sabres first, with card #17 from Pro Set's 1991-92 Parkhurst Series 1 set, showing him wearing Buffalo's classic blue (then-away) uniform from my youth, with the alternate captain's "A" fully visible, fighting for territory with the Philadelphia Flyers' Kerry Huffman, in front of Ron Hextall's net:
Ironically, both of those players were part of the package the Flyers sent to the Québec Nordiques for Eric Lindros, another debatable recent Hall inductee.

Andreychuk signed this one in thick, old-school black sharpie.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Patrik Elias Autographed Card

Greetings!

What I'll be trying to do this September is feature one player per NHL team on this blog while conducting a preview for that team on my "General/Opinion/Personal" blog, culminating in my predictions for final ranking, Stanley Cup winner and finalist, and all major individual trophy winners.

I thought I'd start out with the New Jersey Devils today (preview here), with a nod to Patrik Elias, who was forced to retire due to knee problems at age 41 earlier this spring; the team has announced they will retire his #26 in February.

He finishes his career with 408 goals, 617 assists and 1025 points in 1240 regular-season games on a tremendously defensive-minded Devils team who played the trap better than anyone else before or since. He captained the team for one year and won two Stanley Cups in 19 seasons with the organization. His playoff numbers aren't too shabby either, with 45 goals, 80 assists and 125 points in 162 games - including 20 points in 23 games and 23 in 25 in consecutive postseasons in 1999-2000 and 2000-01.

He was at close to a point-per-game pace (or better) for 12 of 14 seasons between 1998-99 and 2013-14, with a peak of 40 goals, 56 assists and 96 points in 2000-01.

He also won bronze medals with the Czech Team at the 1994 European World Juniors, the 1998 and 2011 World Championships, and the 2006 Olympics.

I personally think he falls short of a Hall Of Fame nod, but I do agree the Devils need to retire his number, because he was the best long-tenured forward in team history. Some teams are meant to have lower standards than others for such ceremonies... and New Jersey certainly doesn't have as rich a history as, say, the Montréal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings or Boston Bruins.

I've been sitting on this card for precisely this day:
It's #144 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Collector's Choice set. He signed it in blue sharpie, and it shows his wearing the Devils' red (now-home) uniform.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Colin Greening Autograph Card

At one point just an add-on in the trade that sent Dion Phaneuf from the Ottawa Senators to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Colin Greening had good possession numbers for the Leafs in 2015-16, but spent the entire 2016-17 season with the AHL Toronto Marlies.

On July 1st, he signed a one-year extension at $750,000 as a depth insurance policy. At first glance, a guy who has posted a 0.5 point-per-game average in the NHL (37 points in his rookie season with the Sens; 15 points in 30 games in that half-season in Toronto) producing just 10 goals and 24 points in 69 AHL games seems like a bit of a let-down, but we all need to keep in mind the team's leading scorer was Kerby Rychel, who had 19 goals, 33 assists and 53 points in 73 games. On a team that finished 42-29-5, good for second in its division, a single point out of first place.

Here he is on card #SS-CG from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set and Signature Sensations sub-set, back when it was believed the 6'2", 212-pound left winger would become a middle-six regular:
It features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph with his uniform number (14) tagged at the end.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Dan Cloutier Autograph Card

About a year ago, Dan Cloutier was named the Vancouver Canucks' full-time goaltending coach, replacing Roland Melanson, who moves to a development role. He had previously served as a consultant, working mainly with the team's prospects.

Cloutier's best seasons in the NHL came in Vancouver, after stints with the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, and before following head coach Marc Crawford to the Los Angeles Kings.

Like many Québec-born goalies of the 1990s, he modeled his style on Patrick Roy's butterfly technique, albeit in a more compact manner that made him seem shorter when both, in fact, stand at 6'1". His father being a logger had him move to Sault-Ste-Marie at a young age, and it was with the Soo Greyhounds that he started out his OHL career, as can be attested by this signed insert card from Signature Rookies' 1994-95 Tet Rad series:
It's numbered 1995/7000 and signed on-card in blue sharpie.

He also played for the Guelph Storm, a team his older brother Sylvain had previously captained. Fun fact: Sylvain retired in 2014, four years after Dan.

Also of note, the Canucks hired Travis Green to coach the team this summer; he and Cloutier have a bit of a history:

Monday, August 28, 2017

Yvon Labre Autographed Card

Some of the worst NHL teams of all time were expansion teams, and none were worse than the 1974-75 Washington Capitals. They won just a single game on the road that year, en route to a 8-67-5 record.

On that team, some players even struggled to make the team those first few years, leaving the impression that they weren't much themselves. Among those was a slow defensive defenseman by the name of Yvon Labre, who scored a grand total of 14 career goals. That, of course, is forgetting he won a Best Defenseman award in Metro Junior B and not knowing his combativeness.

By 1976, he was the team's captain, a title he held for two seasons until star player and future NHL head coach Guy Charron took over. Playing in the same division as the Philadelphia Flyers and stacked teams such as the Montréal Canadiens, New York Rangers and New York Islanders (depending on the season), the Caps needed someone who wouldn't be afraid to take to the ice and view it as trenches in a war - especially at the Spectrum. Labre was there, always ready for a fight. He didn't win many of them, but he kept going at it.

To everyone's surprise - including Labre himself - the Capitals retired his #7 in 1981 after he retired due to a knee injury. That was a classy move. Weird, but classy. Perhaps the fact that he scored the team's first home goal (against Hall of Famer Rogatien Vachon) played into it as well.

Post-retirement, Labre remained in the organization, serving many roles ranging from assistant coach, colour commentator, scout to director of community relations for the Capitals, a role he was prepared for from his playing days, as he was very involved in the community.

Here he is sporting the Caps' classic white (home) uniform, on card #61 from O-Pee-Chee's 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in black ball-point pen - my autograph weapon of choice when I was a kid - at a game where he followed the Capitals at the Montréal Forum. I'm thinking it was the game that ended in a 0-0 tie where Pete Peeters and Patrick Roy both got the shutout although the Habs clearly scored but were denied the goal by the referee.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Graham Black Jersey Card

We're still technically still in the midst of free agency season, but the huge July 1st fun and anticipation has long died off, despite the fact that "name" players such as Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan and Thomas Vanek are still available.

One player who shouldn't be in this position but seemingly failed to make an impression on his new team after a trade is 24-year-old Graham Black, who went from being a New Jersey Devils prospect after they drafted him 135th overall in 2015 to the Florida Panthers last summer (with Paul Thompson, for Marc Savard's contract and a 2018 second-rounder).

Black was a decent two-way center who posted near point-per-game statistics with the WHL's Swift Current Broncos until he exploded for 97 points as a 20-to-21-year-old in 2013-14, but he could never replicate that production in three injury-riddled seasons in the AHL, be it with the Albany Devils (14 goals, 9 assists and 23 points in 98 games) or the Springfield Thunderbirds (4-4-8 in 33 games).

Still, I'm told he's good in the face-off circle and shadows opponents' top lines very well. Here he is repesenting the WHL in the 2012 Subway Super Series, on card #SSM-29 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set and the "Black" Game-Used Jersey sub-set:
It features a huge red game-used swatch.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Chris Longo Autographed Card

Chris Longo won Rookie Of The Year honors in the OHL in 1989-90, leading to his selection in the NHL draft by the Washington Capitals (third round 51st overall in 1990).

He would never play in the NHL but spent 11 seasons in pro hockey, with stints in the AHL (Baltimore Skipjacks, Portland Pirates, Springfield Falcons, Cleveland Barons), ECHL (Jackson Bandits and Toledo Storm), IHL (Cleveland Lumberjacks) and in Italy (Asiago HC, a common destination for former NHLers, as players such as Stéphane Quintal, Ken Linseman, Blaine Stoughton, Mario Brunetta, Greg Hawgood, Doug Wickenheiser, John Tucker, Frank Pietrangelo, Mike Torchia, Christian Proulx, Michel Mongeau, Martin Gendron, Éric Houde, Matthieu Descoteaux, Mathieu Dandenault, Rico Fata, David Cooper, Fernando Pisani, Ralph Intranuovo, Adam Henrich, Drew Fata, Chris DiDomenico, Tyler Plante, and Alexander Galchenyuk - Alex's father - have also suited up for the team).

Nowadays, he is a Development Coach with the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs, a position he previously also held with his alma mater, the Peterborough Petes. He also works for a hockey school in the summer.

Here he is sporting the Pirates' white (home) 1990s uniform on card #89 from Classic's 1993-94 Pro Hockey Prospects set:
He signed it in blue sharpie for me a couple of summers ago, when I was still teaching goaltending in the Ottawa region and could trek down to other schools on Sundays.