Sunday, November 23, 2014

Julien Demers Autograph Card

As the San Jose Sharks sent defenseman Jason Demers to the Dallas Stars for Brenden Dillon on Friday, I got to thinking about another defenseman the Sharks had in the pipeline with almost the same name, Julien Demers.

Both were drafted by the Sharks in 2008, 40 spots apart: Julien 146th, and Jason 186th. Julien, however, never played in the NHL despite a promising career in Juniors with the Ottawa 67's, whereas most people who follow hockey are aware of Jason's ability and, perhaps, failings, as the Sharks' blue-line scapegoat.

They are not related. Julien played in two OHL All-Star Games, and captained the 67's in his final year in Juniors, in 2009-10, on a team that also included forward Tyler Toffoli, defensemen Tyler Cuma and Cody Ceci, and Petr Mrazek between the pipes. He was particularly dominant in 2008-09, with 42 points and 60 penalty minutes in 61 games, and an even more impressive 11 assists in 7 playoff games.

I thought he might develop into a good, physical defensive defenseman, a 5th or 6th d-man who would excel shorthanded and might be able to lend a hand on the powerplay once in a while with decent passes, but after playing Juniors, he went by way of the University Of Ottawa, and didn't play in North American professional leagues.

This custom card by Ottawa-area collector BG for his 2010-11 Hot Prospects set / Future Watch sub-set, signed in blue sharpie, might be the last I'll hear of this former prospect:

He's seen wearing what may have been the finest Sharks uniform - apart from the jersey number on the right of the chest, the colour combination and design really is the best thing they've ever had.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Devan Dubnyk Autograph Card

I had written Devan Dubnyk last March, sending him 4 cards (including two customs), and haven't heard back yet, but I still wanted to write about him and his terrific start to the 2014-15 season with the Arizona Coyotes, what with a 4-0-1 record in six games, a 2.25 GAA and .925 save percentage, slowly but surely stealing starts away from Mike Smith. He even dominated his former Edmonton Oilers this week, in a 33-save, 2-1 win.

People who don't know much past the obvious about goaltending will point to his ''lack of consistency'' as the main knock against him, but that isn't accurate at all. Before last season, his save percentages in Edmonton (apart from his rookie season) were .916 (in 35 games), .914 (47 games) and .920 (38 games). These statistics point to him being among the elite of backups, or a starter who needs a game off per 7-10 days to remain effective, capping him at perhaps 55 games per year (the way 85% of goalies should play anyway).

But it's not really inconsistent, is it, to hover between stopping 91.4% and 92% of pucks headed your way. That's actually pretty consistent, and borderline excellent. The thing with Dubnyk, in my opinion, is he has relied on his size (6'5'' or 6'6'' depending on the source, 210 pounds) and rebound control to excel in lower levels, and his actual technique doesn't rank among the 30 best in the world, and neither does his glove hand, nor his stick control.

So when a goal that he wouldn't have let in at lower levels does get past him in the NHL, he might get discouraged and let it affect him for the next few minutes, until he can redeem himself with a big save; looking for the big save, however, usually leads to losing focus and forcing the play... and ultimately to another bad goal. And that's where the public perception of ''but he played GREAT the last two games'' comes in, and the critics pounce, particularly in Canadian markets where the press is aggressive. And a bad game or two at the NHL level, where everyone has dominated at some level before, for a goalie, can mean a week or two of riding the pine instead of standing between metal posts.

Keep in mind we're talking about a guy with Spengler Cup gold and World Juniors gold, and a perfect 6-0 record for Team Canada at the World Championships where, playing against some of the best in the world, he holds a 1.27 GAA and .935 save percentage.

In a salary cap world, what would you say if I gave you this choice of two Olympian goalies:
GOALIE AA: $6.5M per year, 2.49 GAA, .917% for 65+ games
      + token goalie at $1M, 2.35 GAA, .910% for 25 games
or
GOALIE A1: $4M per year, 2.50 GAA, .917% for 55 games
   + Dubnyk, $800K per year, 2.35 GAA, .917% for 35 games
Personally, I'd go with the cheaper tandem who stop a consistent amount of pucks, and take the nearly $3M I'd save and put it on an elite defender or improve my second-line from a 15-goal to a 30-goal scorer. Particularly since the goalie I have in mind is a proven playoff performer.

I didn't believe Dubnyk would make his way onto the Montréal Canadiens' roster when they acquired him last season, and I think Arizona might actually be a perfect fit for him.

I hereby check him off my list as #40 in my Oilers Numbers Project, with this card from Panini's 2013-14 Crown Royale set, #SO-DDU of the Sovereign Sigs sub-set, showing a nice close-up of his mask:

It's signed on-sticker, in thin blue sharpie, with his uniform number (40) below it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Jordan Sigalet Jersey Card

In a post about Andrew Raycroft last week, I mentioned the unevenness of the Boston Bruins' goaltending position since the departures of Andy Moog and Réjean Lemelin in the early 1990s, mentioning they had really good ones that did pan out, some that should have but didn't, and kids they'd burnt out before they got started. I omitted one because I knew he would be the next one up: Jordan Sigalet, whom the Bs drafted out of high school, 209th overall (in the 7th round) in 2001, and who would be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a couple of years later, when playing in the NCAA for the Bowling Green (State University) Falcons.

He played with the disease kept secret for a year and a half, but upon going public with it, he garnered widespread support from adversaries and teammates alike; other schools' teams sent signed jerseys, and he was the first goaltender to be named captain at Bowling Green.

He played with the AHL's Providence Bruins for three seasons, posting a .905 save percentage and 2.49 GAA in 81 games - 46 of them wins - earning a call-up with Boston, who had him on the ice for the last minute of a 6-3 win in 2005-06.

It may have been his only NHL appearance, but after having been told he'd have to retire altogether in the near future, it was more than a kid's dream come true, it was beating impossible odds. Josh Harding knows what that's like, now, but Sigalet had no role models to speak of when he was coming up - all he had was his NHL-caliber technique, a decent glove hand, and the strength to battle through anything that would come his way.

After his playing career ended with a stint in Austria with the Vienna Capitals, Sigalet became the goaltending coach of the WHL's Everett Silvertips for two years, then for the AHL's Abbotsford Heat, and after Clint Malarchuk's departure, now holds that position with the Calgary Flames, where he can count on the support of assistant coach Jacques Cloutier, who also held the position back with the Colorado Avalanche's Stanley Cup-winning days.

I don't know if he ever knew he'd make it back to the Big Show, but he has. And the Flames' goalies are playing remarkably well this season.

Here is card #HM-SI from Fleer's 2005-06 Hot Prospects set, from the Hot Materials sub-set, manufactured by Upper Deck, featuring a black swatch from a jersey worn in a photoshoot:
Upper Deck loves to hype their inserts with lines like ''we hope you're happy to hold this part of hockey history in your hands'' and such, but in this case, that's really as close as it gets to having been a part of Sigalet's NHL career.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jonathan Rheault Autograph Card

One thing I won't miss for the next while of Upper Deck's monopoly in NHL hockey cards is companies' endless quest for the ''best'' and ''most unique'' rookies possible, often resulting in cards of players who wouldn't have donned cardboard some 20 years ago - or at the very least who wouldn't be included in highly-collectible and expensive sub-sets, such as this 2013-14 Contenders card (#156 of the Rookie Ticket autographed sub-set) by Panini, signed on-card in blue sharpie:

Don't get me wrong: Jonathan Rheault - for having been drafted 145th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009 and never having signed with them, instead earning his way from success in the AHL with the Abbotsford Heat to an NHL contract with the Florida Panthers, and playing 5 games with them in 2012-13 - deserves all our respect, even if he was held off the score sheet at the top level. He still made it there, and didn't even register a number in the minus column.

But did that warrant inclusion in the much-hyped Dual Rookie Class category with Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Galchenyuk and Nail Yakupov? I'm not sure.

Here's what I do know: he's shown wearing the nicest-looking jersey the Panthers have ever worn, their current red (home) uniform. Had he been three inches taller, the 5'10'', 200-pound speedster would probably still be in the NHL instead of playing in Germany with the Mannheim Adler, because he can pass, doesn't shy way from traffic, and is responsible defensively. He had been a consistent goal scorer in minor leagues, but I could see him net maybe 10 goals per year on a third line in the NHL, 7 or 8 in fourth-line duties, earning penalty-killing minutes; he'd probably get between 20 and 30 points a lot of the time, and either be a minimum-wage player for 7 or 8 years, or a millionaire for 5.

An American who played for the Providence College Friars, he scored 56 goals and totaled 105 points in 142 games spread over 4 seasons in the NCAA's best division, and he had to dominate in the ECHL to earn his way up from the start.

That's the type of resilience and inner strength that brought Alexandre Burrows to NHL stardom. I'm not saying Rheault has that kind of game in him, but if I was in the bottom-10 of the standings and possibly in salary spending as well, he's one guy I'd look at for a bottom-six role, or 13th forward.

In the meantime, he has 16 points in 18 games so far in Germany.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Scott Laughton Jersey Card

Philadelphia Flyers fans were ecstatic when the team announced they had called up Scott Laughton to fill in for injured captain Claude Giroux tonight against the New York Rangers - although that was before Giroux decided to play, so I'm not sure how that turned out, other than the Blueshirts having won 2-0, and Laughton playing less than 10 minutes after getting called on a tripping penalty.

Laughton was slated to play on a fast and offense-minded third line in between Vincent Lecavalier and Pierre-Édouard Bellemare. It was his first NHL game in two years, as he already had 5 games under his belt from 2012-13 when he was still junior-aged; he spent all of last season in the OHL, and had 11 points (5 goals) in 13 games with the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms so far this year, as the Flyers expected when they chose him with the 20th overall pick in the 2012 draft.

His 40 goals and 87 points in 54 games in Juniors with the Oshawa Generals last year with 72 penalty minutes were a clear sign that if he adds 15-20 pounds to his 6'1'', 180-pound frame, he will become the type of player the Broad Street Bullies have always loved to have: speedy, smart, gritty and talented. I see him developing as a Mike Richards-type of player, perhaps a little less talented offensively - a second-line center on an average team, a third-line center on a Stanley Cup contender.

I knew when I pulled this card from a pack of Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition some six months ago that if I didn't pull any more of his cards or got any signed by him that it would at least make for good trade bait, as he may the most prized prospect the Flyers have had since since Giroux; it's card #RF-SL of the Rookie Fabrics sub-set:

It shows him wearing the Flyers' current/retro white (away) uniform that's somewhat rare on cards, with a black swatch from the sleeves of a jersey worn in a photoshoot.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Doug Weight Autograph Card

I'm a romantic at heart, and I often transpose my idealism to areas of my life where it may seem like a long-lost value, such as sports. As such, when I have tremendous respect for an athlete who gives his all for his team over an extended stretch (more than a decade), I generally want them to retire as members of that team, with perhaps 2 or 4 of those per decade.

Doug Weight was one such player when he was with the Edmonton Oilers. Though he was drafted 34th overall in 1990 by the New York Rangers (who have strong ties with the Oilers, for one, and only used him for parts of two seasons), Weight played for 8 and a half seasons in Edmonton, and was their leader for a large part of those years, registering 577 points in 588 games as an Oiler, including a 25-goal, 79-assist and 104-point season in 1995-96.

He captained them for a few years, too, but was let go because as a pending free agent, it was believed he would be out of the team's price range, and they decided to at least get something in return, as they sent him to the St. Louis Blues essentially for Marty Reasoner and Jochen Hecht. He played in St. Louis for three and a half years in his first stint with the Blues.

As he was about to reach free agency once again, he was sent to the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2005-06 trade deadline, going on to win the Stanley Cup with them, against the Oilers, in a thrilling 7-game series. Weight himself was injured in Game 5, the result of being sandwiched between Raffi Torres and Chris Pronger.

After the Finals, Weight re-signed with the Blues, with his family still living in St. Louis, so when he was awarded his day with the Cup, he spent it there rather than in his native Michigan or in Carolina.

He finished his career with stints with the Anaheim Ducks and New York Islanders, whom he also captained and who now employ him as both assistant coach and assistant general manager.

He ended his playing career with 278 goals, 755 assists and 1033 points (good for 5th all-time for American-born players) in 1238 regular-season games, and an additional 23 goals, 49 assists and 72 points in 97 playoff games. He has a King Clancy Trophy to his name for his leadership and humanitarian contribution, and once finished 6th in Hart voting. He played in 4 All-Star Games throughout his career.

He also suited up for Team USA on numerous occasions, having won the initial 1996 World Cup, and silver at the 2002 Olympics. He was also impressive at the World Juniors in 1991, leading the tournament in scoring on the strength of 5 goals, 14 assists and 19 points in just 7 games.

And so I couldn't have been happier when I pulled this from a pack of 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s from In The Game (#A-DW in the set of Autograph inserts, signed on-card in thin black sharpie), featuring a nice headshot of him with the Oilers' mid-1990s blue away uniform:

It also checks off #39 in my Oilers Numbers Project.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Steve Ott Jersey Card

Full disclosure: I traded 5 cards for this one, not because that's how big a Steve Ott fan I am, but because I want as many cards as possible of alternate uniforms, and I'm a huge fan of the Dallas Stars' so-called ''uterus'' jersey:
What a sight! Red, black and green works very well in this context, and if it wasn't for the bull's horns peering downward / forward, they might still be wearing it today instead of having it be a relic on a 2005-06 Series 1 card from Upper Deck (#J-SO1 of the UD Game Jersey sub-set), with a swatch from their black-and-green uniform.

Ott - the 25th pick of the 2000 NHL Draft, ahead of Justin Williams (28th), Niklas Kronwall (29th), Ilya Bryzgalov (44th), Jarret Stoll (46th), Antoine Vermette (55th), Paul Martin (62nd), Lubomir Visnovsky (118th), Travis Moen (155th), Henrik Lundqvist (205th), Matthew Lombardi (215th), and Paul Gaustad (220th) - has evolved into the type of player everyone wants on their team.

It wasn't always that way, of course, because when he started out, he was all about annoying opponents (he learned to tell guys off in pretty much each language spoken in the NHL) and delivering questionable hits to injure them, often leading to suspensions. He accumulated 279 penalty minutes with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs in 2004-05, though that was far from the team record held by Dennis Bonvie (522 in 1996-97).

He has seven seasons with more than 100 PIMs in the NHL - most of them over 150, all of them from his time in Dallas. He had two 90-PIM seasons with the Buffalo Sabres (granted, one was during the 48-game, locked-out 2012-13 season, and he only played 59 games the next year), but though he displayed a knack for grandiose hits, he stayed on the right side of the fine line he's asked to tread.

As a reward for his new-found respect for opponents, the Sabres named him an alternate captain in 2012-13, then bestowed him with the actual captaincy (shared with Thomas Vanek) in 2013-14, though both would be traded before the season was over. I had predicted those moves in an earlier post.

And so he and Ryan Miller were sent to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline, though only Ott was retained last summer, signing a two-year extension. He brings the Blues a solid two-way game, leadership, toughness, and the ability to shut down the opposition's second line on a nightly basis while giving his own team's top two lines some well-deserved rest.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Seth Martin Autograph Card

Ask anyone who has played with him, against him, or even just watched him play: Seth Martin was among the best of all time. Vladislav Tretiak credits him as ''hid idol'' and the one whose style he emulated; Hall Of Famer Glenn Hall, who just played one season with him with the St. Louis Blues marvels at his skills, and even asked his teammate to build him a mask; Ken Dryden says ''everyone knew about Martin'', though he kind of had to, because the two questions the Russians had for Team Canada during the 1972 Summit Series were ''Why is Seth Martin not on the team?'', and ''Is Dryden as good as Martin?'', which might be hard to fathom for folks born after 1980.

Martin played amateur hockey with the Trail Smoke Eaters, and helped them reach the actual IIHF World Championships four times, winning gold once and bronze twice, and three times being named best goalie and to the All-Star team. Back then, professionals weren't allowed at the Worlds nor the Olympics, so Canada was represented by the best amateur club that year, usually the same one that won the Allan Cup (best Senior-level team in Canada). Except the Russians were considered amateurs, so they had an unfair advantage.

The Smoke Eaters also represented Canada at the 1964 Olympics, finishing 4th. During those five times representing his country abroad, Martin made a huge impression on Europeans, the Russians and Czechs especially.

He made it to the NHL with the Blues, in their inaugural 1967-1968 season that finished in their being swept by the Montréal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals. After the season, at 35 years of age, a backup with perhaps few good years left ahead of him, he was faced with the dilemma of re-signing or moving back to British Columbia, and playing amateur hockey while going back to his career as a firefighter.

It came down to dollars and sense, in the pre-millionnaire days: the NHL pension kicked in at 210 games played, and he'd played 30; he needed six more seasons at the same level just to qualify. He already had 12 years invested in his fireman pension, and would end up with triple that.

Thirthy games isn't enough to qualify for the Hockey Hall Of Fame in Toronto (a.k.a. the NHL Hall Of Fame, a.k.a. The Old Boys' Club), but his success on the international stage did get him elected to the IIHF Hall in 1997. Journalists from Trail also say he was a terrific person.

He died two months ago. He had colon cancer, but it was a heart attack that got the best of him while he was in intensive care. He was 81 years old.

Since then, this card has meant even more to me:

It's card #A-SM from In The Game's 2011-12 Between The Pipes set (the 10th Anniversary of the brand), from the Authentic GoalieGraphs and International Pioneers sub-sets. ITG are generally very good at making their on-sticker autographs fit with the design of their cards, and this one here is no exception; they could, however, have used a picture of his from any other season he played than his lone NHL one, considering they are celebrating his ''international'' feats. Here is a crop from the classic, original picture:
Still a great card of a great goalie, signed clearly in black sharpie.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Two Andrew Raycroft Authentic Fabrics Jersey Cards

After the Boston Bruins got demolished by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, many thought Tuuka Rask would get a chance to redeem himself the next day against the Montréal Canadiens, but because they've certainly got his number, he had to sit out the 5-1 correction the Habs gave the Teddy Bears.

That brought memories of this great video of one of my favourite goalies growing up, Andy Moog:



And it got me thinking both about the Bruins' fluid - to say the least - goaltending situation over the last 30 years, how they've had flash-in-the-pan, one-year-and-out successes, two Vezina winners, a few #1s who'd had success elsewhere and yet failed in Boston, and a slew of young guys they just burned along the way.

And I will feature some from each category in the near future, starting with 2003-04 Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft.

In 57 games in 2003-04, Raycroft posted a 29-18-9 record with a 2.05 GAA and a terrific .926 save percentage. He won Rookie Of The Year honors ahead of the Habs' Michael Ryder, who was the leading scorer among rookies with 25 goals and 63 points in 81 games. Raycroft also finished 5th in Vezina voting that year (Miikka Kiprusoff, who had a 24-10-4 record, 1.69 GAA and .933 save % deserved it, but it went to Martin Brodeur; Roberto Luongo finished third with a 2.43 GAA and .931 save % on a lowly Florida Panthers team that for all his heroics, he could only bring to a 25-33-14 record).

The following season was the NHL lockout, so Raycroft couldn't build on his first year, and instead signed in Sweden (where he didn't play) then in Finland, appearing in just 11 games. When NHL play resumed, like many NHL goalies, he was rusty and slumped through the first few month, allowing Tim Thomas to take over the starting role, and even falling behind Hannu Toivonen at some point.

In the summer of 2006, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for... Rask. It has been said the Bs would have taken Justin Pogge in return, but the Leafs chose to send Rask instead, because Pogge was taller (at that point), a year further in his development, and was a Team Canada alumni at the World Juniors.

Raycroft's time in Toronto was marred by fan and journalist criticism, and while he was no Curtis Joseph or Ed Belfour, he did manage to tie Belfour's team record of 37 wins in a single season (granted, Belfour achieved this prior to shootouts taking away the possibility of a tie, and in fewer games; he did however, have a much stronger team in front of him, comprised of half a dozen potential or since-inducted Hall Of Famers, so in my opinion, both achievements are equal).

Following that, he finished his NHL career as a backup with the Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks, and Dallas Stars, before playing a season each in Italy and Sweden. He announced his retirement following a shootout win last April.

I bought a lot of Upper Deck's 2005-06 SP Game-Used Edition packs and boxes back in the day, and I have two of these jersey cards featuring Raycroft wearing the Bruins' black (away) uniform, which is #AF-AR in the set, from the Authentic Fabrics sub-set:

I like that I have both a black and a white swatch to show for my impulse-buying nearly a decade ago; it'd be nice to have a yellow one, too, to complete the set at least, considering I was never a huge fan of his, being a Habs supporter and all.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jordan Schroeder Autograph Card

The Minnesota Wild hired a lot of home-grown players who hadn't panned out with the teams that drafted them this summer, and Jordan Schroeder is the latest to have been called up, what with getting credited with 11 points in his first 12 games with the AHL's struggling Iowa Wild.

A first round pick of the Vancouver Canucks - 22nd overall in 2009, ahead of Simon Després (30th), Ryan O'Reilly (33rd), Alex Chiasson (38th), Jakob Silfverberg (39th), Jeremy Morin (45th), Robin Lehner (46th), Brandon Pirri (59th), Tomas Tatar (60th), David Savard (94th), Gabriel Bourque (132nd), and Gabriel Dumont (139th) - Schroeder spent the end of last season in John Tortorella's doghouse; one would think after both the coach and GM were fired, players would get a chance to redeem themselves, but he was let go instead.

The Wild pounced on the former University of Minnesota Gophers star in mid-July, signing him to a two-year, two-way contract. Like them, I jumped on this 2013-14 SP Authentic card (#280 of the Autographed batch of Future Watch sub-set cards) by Upper Deck:

It is signed on-card in thin blue sharpie, with his jersey number tagged at the end (45), and is numbered 771/999. It shows him wearing the Canucks' current white (away) uniform; I traded for it (and a couple of LHJMQ and OHL jersey cards, including this one of Anthony Duclair) by giving away a few WHL and LHJMQ jersey cards.

Schroeder is a very smart and determined small-stature player (5'8'' and 175 pounds) who feels and thinks the game as well as any third liner in the NHL, but who plays best with second-liners. His vision allows him to set his wingers up for beautiful, almost-easy goals that take the defense by surprise.

Sure, he has yet to translate his skill-set to the NHL level thus far (6 goals, 9 assists and 15 points in 57 games), but perhaps playing in a system where blocking shots isn't a priority over scoring goals will be good for his development.