Friday, November 20, 2020

Evgeni Malkin Jersey Card

The next time we'll see live hockey being played is pretty much up in the air at the moment, with all Europeans leagues now shut down, the Juniors leagues on hiatus and the AHL and NHL still tentative about their own returns to play and whether they'll play full or shortened seasons.

I thought this was as good a time as any to open up about my own collecting life in the meantime.

A few months ago, I watched my internet buddy Sal Barry break open a couple of boxes of Upper Deck's 2019-20 Ice cards with Puck Junk mate Tim Parish where Tim pulled a Nick Suzuki card, saying it was chipped and offering it up for trade.

I mistakenly thought it was a jersey card, so I offered a ten-year-old Evgeni Malkin Panini jersey card for it, which was accepted. A week and ahalf later, the Suzuki card was on my desk, looking great despite not being a swatch card at all; I plan on getting it signed by the man himself eventually, though.

The only problem is, the Malkin (and additional autographed Eric Tangradi cards I had added as a bonus for the Pittsburgh Penguins fan I was trading with) never got to their destination.

It doesn't happen often, but it does sometimes.

I worked out a deal that I'd get him a new Malkin to repalce it, so I found a similar one, with a gold swatch instead of a blue one, which I bought on Ebay. Except... it never got to me, which meant I could never send it to Tim. It took nearly a month for the seller to pay me back.

So I bought him another - more expensive - one to replace that one, which replaced another one. Who knew that, technically, Nick Suzuki would be worth three Evgeni Malkins?

And so I present you with Malkin #3, card #24 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 Premier collection and Jersey sub-set:
It shows #71 wearing the Pens' current home (and classic) black jersey from my youth, with a yellow swatch that could be from either the home or away uniforms.

It will be making its way to Mr. Parish's home tomorrow morning. I didn't have it long enough for it to become "my precious", but "Geno" is in fact one of only two Penguins I actively follow and really admire, with Kris Letang. I'm gld I got to hold it in my hands once.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Cody Ceci Autographed Card

Fresh from having bought their way out Jack Johnson's contract, the Pittsburgh Penguins signed an equally defensively-minded rearguard, Cody Ceci, to a one-year deal worth $1.25M, a more than $3M paycut for the former Ottawa Senators first-round draft pick.

At his best, the 26-year-old defenseman is a second-pair defender who can be counted on for 5 to 10 goals and 20 to 25 points in a given season, who plays decently well against the bottom of a lineup in his own zone, using his 6'2" frame and 210 pounds to clear the net and knock the puck around without amassing too many penalty minutes.

Other times, he can be seen as a liability in all three zones, as Toronto Maple Leafs fans will likely attest.

There is ample time for redemption, but the Pens are likely the worst possible team for him to try to find it, because their best defendeman, Kris Letang, also plays on the right side, is often injured, and will turn 34 sometime this season, with a lot of mileage on his body. John Marino is his heir apparent, which Pittsburgh management probably hopes relegates Ceci to his recent comfort zone as a depth insurance policy.

At this point, I will not hold my breath to see him develop into the next Jay Bouwmeester, but if he can fulfill the shut-down role this season and keep putting up good penalty-kill numbers, maybe he can evolve into a Ron Hainsey-veteran type who will never be out of work and will always earn his paycheque, which is a lot better than his detractors make him out to be.

Here he is wearing the Sens' red (home) uniform on the Rainbow Foil variant of card #7 from the 2016-17 O-Pee-Chee set by Upper Deck:
He sigend it in blue sharpie during the 2016-17 season. It looks very blue in the scan, but the card is silver to the naked eye, and actually makes the Senators' uniform look pretty good.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Brendan Gallagher Jersey Card

Brendan Gallagher is the Montréal Canadiens' heart and soul. Sure, he also happens to be their leading goal scorer - with a team-leading 22 tallies in 59 games in 2019-20 (tied with Tomas Tatar, who posted that total in 68 games), and the lone 30-goal scorer the previous two seasons, 5 more than Max Domi (and 8 more than Tatar) in 2018-19 and a whopping 11 more than Paul Byron in 2017-18 - but he's also the guy sho sparks the offense on listless nights by planting himself in the opposing goalie's crease no matter the adversary joining him there. He has even taken to replacing his displeasure at missed calls with a smirk or a laugh in the face of pain or even a brutal injury, or in the case of a broken jaw suffered at the hands of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen in the 2020 playoffs, yapping like his life depended on it: Then again, Gally is used to dealing with Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who has tried numerous times to sever his head by guillotining his throat: And yet, his penalty minute tally had gone downward as his point production has increased, as his PIM count was far superior to his point totals in three of his first five NHL seasons, while the complete opposite has been true for the past three.

With this in mind, Habs GM Marc Bergevin offered the diminutive winger a six-year contract extension that nearly doubles his cap hit this off-season, prompting the reflection as to whether the best asset management was signig him from ages 29 through 35 as a first-line winger when the wear-and-tear will start showing more and more on his small frame rather than banking on his current status as a producer and leader on a playoff bubble team to add premium talent elsewhere in the lineup or prospects and high draft picks in a trade to a contender where he would play in the middle six.

I'm in the camp that would rather see him retire with the team he was drafted by, but the contract cements my thinking that he should have been wearing the "C" on his chest two captains ago, earning it ahead of Max Pacioretty and thus negating the need to hand it over to Shea Weber afterwards. You hear a lot about the Canadiens being Carey Price's team, or Weber's, but the truth of the matter is Price has been a middling goaltender for the past four seasons, which has pretty much corresponded with Weber's presence as the top guy on D, a job he has kind of lost to Jeff Petry for the past two seasons.

For all those reasons and because he's the team's sparkplug, its default sniper and its chief grinder, and because when he falls to injury the team drops in the standings like a 1980s Mike Tyson opponent, the Habs are Gallagher's team. So goes #11, so goes Montréal.

It's fitting that Upper Deck chose this photo for card #GJ-BG in their 2016-17 Series 1 collection and UD Game Jersey subset:
It shows him wearing the team's classic bleu-blanc-rouge (now-home) uniform, but the team's logo is hidden by his position, and instead his Warrior gloves are front and center. The fact that this card contains a white game-worn jersey swatch just further leads the eye to the center of the card to push the message further forward.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Taylor Hall Jersey Card

The most coveted forward in this off-season's free agency, Taylor Hall, will go through the process again next year, as he's agreed to a one-year deal worth $8M with the Buffalo Sabres.

You may recall him saying he was looking to win and that a large paycheque was not the top thing on his shopping list, that he was looking for stability...

While this move makes his previous comments seem a tad hypocritical, bear in mind that most contending teams are tight against the cap this year with a flat cap looming over GMs' heads for the next couple of seasons - and few of them were looking to make trades to make room to add salary, save perhaps for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who already have arguably three better forwards on their roster and instead need to find a way to keep pucks out of their own net at this point.

So instead, Hall is betting on himself, hoping he gets to line up with Jack Eichel, that neither of them gets injured, and that they can pad each other's statistics enough for Hall to force himself to an even greater payday next summer. If all the stars align, the Sabres can win it all in 2020-21, but that's going to take a near-miracle. Hall's semi-realistic hope is to crack the 100-point mark with Eichel to parlay his way onto a stacked team like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Vegas Golden Knights, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets, Colorado Avalanche or Vancouver Canucks.

I, for one, expect the market to remain essentially the same next time around, however, with GMs going for safe, reasonable bets.

Here is Hall wearing the New Jersey Devils' red (home) uniform, on card #24 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Premier set, which I got in a trade last summer for a card of his wearing the Edmonton Oilers' blue uniform:
It features a matching game-used piece of "memorabilia" (as per the back, the front specifies it's a jersey). The actual card has the foil at the bottom in pure silver, the scan rendered it beige.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Paul Stastny Swatch Card

So. Many. Questions.

Despite today marking the beginning of free agency between NHL seasons, the biggest move of the day was not a signing but a trade, one that ahd the Vegas Golden Knights sending Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets for Swedish defenceman Carl Dahlstrom and a fourth-round pick in 2022. Dahlstrom is a 25-year-old who has spent the past five years in North America, first splitting time between the NHL and AHL in the Chicago Blackhawks organization and spending all of 2019-20 with the Jets, totalling 64 NHL appearances in the process; Stastny is a 35-year-old who pretty much just had his worst statistical year ever but still delivers top-six possession numbers worthy of his $6.5M cap hit (and definitely his $5.5M actual salary), which is expiring after next season.

The Jets know Stastny, he was their second-line centre prior to signing with Vegas when they made a serious run at the Stanley Cup after the trade deadline in the 2017-18 season. He was slotted with Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers, who are still around - for now, as there were many rumours of Laine being shopped around for... a second-line centre of Stastny's caliber - and it's a safe assumption that's where he'd be headed next season as well, although his experience in Vegas last year switching lines every other game will come in handy should he get shuffled around the lineup again this season. It is good to note that he drove play anywhere between 56% (with Alex Tuch and Cody Glass), 60% (with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith) and 62% (on his regular line with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty), so there is little risk in having him play anywhere despite his 2019-20 offensive output looking disappointing at first glance.

So it's clear I see this as as win for the Jets.

But I do not like the deal for the Golden Knights, the team I had been rooting for since the expansion draft. I agree with Brian Burke when he says moves like this, coupled with the abrupt firing of Coach Of The Year Gerard Gallant to replace him with a person he dislikes, to the way they treated Marc-André Fleury - the face of the franchise since it started - when acquiring Robin Lehner (pretending he would be the backup then just handing him the net instead of letting Fleury lose it himself), to the additional trades that will be required to make room under the cap for a possible Alex Pietrangelo signing when they already have a Norris-level player in his exact place in Shea Theodore, it really does feel like the human factor seems negligible there and they're very excited with their "shiny new toys" until they see another one and just jump on it and totally discard the old one that is doing just fine in its exact spot. Unless they win a Cup in the next year or two, the lack of loyalty, stability and security will become a huge factor in failing to attract free agents to Sin City. That, or if anyone of Pacioretty, Stone, Marchessault or Smith get the same treatment as Stastny, Theodore and Fleury.

There's a world of difference between how the Knights are handling their business and how the 2010 Blackhawks had to let go seven players on expensive contracts kicking in or even how the Tampa Bay Lightning will likely have to remove one current middle-six forward before next season so they can re-sign two of their RFAs; Vegas is acting like a teenager playing NHL21 on their XBox, with complete disregard to what actually consititutes a team.

In simpler times, Stastny played for the Colorado Avalanche, the franchise for whom his Hall Of Fame father Peter Stastny and uncles Marian and Anton starred before it moved to Denver - back then known as the Québec Nordiques - and he looked pretty good in the dark blue of their alternate uniform:
That's card #32 from Panini's 2011-12 Titanium set and Game-Worn Gear sub-set, featuring a matching game-worn swatch.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Olli Maatta Jersey Card

Once a top prospect selected 22nd overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins and a two-time Stanley Cup winner while with the organization, 26-year-old Olli Maatta has now been traded twice in two off-seasons, the latest sending him from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Los Angeles Kings.

Injuries seem to have slowed his offensive progress, and the player who was once counted on for 30+ points should now be expected to produce between 15 and 25, but his very good defensive play should keep him in a middle-pair role for the duration of his current deal, which lasts for two more seasons. He was, after all, the Hawks' best player in the post-season, finishing with a +7 (with 3 goals, 3 assists and 6 points in 9 games) despite the team only making it to the first round.

In L.A., Maatta will be part of a defense corps that is mostly in their mid-20s, with Ben Hutton (26), Kurtis MacDermid (25), Matt Roy (24), Joakim Ryan (26) and Sean Walker supporting star defender Drew Doughty (30) and young gun Mikey Anderson (20).

Internationally, he has suited up for Team Finland at the World U18s (2011), three World Juniors (2011-13), the Olympics (2014) and the World Cup (2016), with Olympic gold to show for it, as he was dominant in posting 5 points in 6 games, including the nail in the coffin goal taht secured the medal against Team USA.

Here he is wearing the Pens' 2000s white (away) uniform, on card #GJ-OM from Upper Deck's 20106-17 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a "Vegas gold" game-worn jersey swatch.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Michael Grabner Autographed Card

The NHL is a thankless and ungrateful work environment.

Sure, most players end up getting their largest payday essentially for their work in the past, which seems contrary to that point, but apart from a select few (generally top-ten draft picks) who get countless chances, most players deal with a "what have you done for me lately?" mentality from organizations that lead to quick trades or buyouts after their big contract.

Today's proof of that comes in the form of Michael Grabner, who was bought out from the final season of his three-year deal with the Arizona Coyotes. Grabner may never post another 50-point season like he did with the New York Islanders in 2010-11 - except perhaps if he signs with the current Barry Trotz-coached Isles - but even his last two injury-filled seasons with the Yotes did not take away his blazing speed and defensive acumen, so he's still a very good penalty killer who is a sure bet for at least one breakaway per game. Heck, even in a sub-par, 9-goal, 7-assist, 16-point year in 2018-19 (in which he only suited up for 41 games), he still managed 6 of those goals on the PK to lead the league in shorthanded tallies. As a matter of fact, since he entered the league in 2009-10, only Brad Marchand has more shorthanded goals than Grabner (27 to 22), and The Rat has done so in 151 more games.

To think that Arizona bought him out of his $3.75M salary and $3.35M cap hit despite this and his three post-season goals this year has me thinking the team is going to go through yet another rebuild instead of trying to win meaningful hockey games in 2020-21.

He, on the other hand, should find a good half dozen suitors for his services, although he may have to take a one-year deal this year to fit under the salary cap and earn another three-year deal next off-season. If the Montréal Canadiens didn't already have Paul Byron who fits his exact description, I'd make it a bigger point that he has already worn their colours with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs, as can be attested from card #419 from In The Game's 2005-06 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during his time with the New York Rangers (2016-18). He has also briefly played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks, who had selected him 14th overall at the 2006 draft. He represents Austria internationally, including the 2009 Olympic Qualifiers (5 goals in 3 games) and 2014 Olympics, where he scored a hat trick against Team Finland. His 5 total goals tied Team USA's Phil Kessel for the tournament lead in Sochi.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Victor Hedman Dual Jersey Card

There is bound to be a dichotomy between the best at anything for a period and the best on a shorter term, or most deserving of a nod. Victor Hedman, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in an impressive Stanley Cup run with the Tampa Bay Lightning is currently the best defenseman in the NHL, but I'm totally fine with handing this year's Norris Trophy for best performance by a defenseman to the Washington Capitals' John Carlson who produced an insane 75 points in 69 games this year, well ahead of anyone else at his position while almost never playing with Alex Ovechkin. It was his second straight 70-point season, and it deserves some recognition.

Does Carlson have flaws? Of course: all over the defensive zone. Does Hedman? Not really. And that's why Hedman won the Norris in 2017-18 and has been a finalist for the past four years. He's so dominant you get used to it, but not quite as head and shoulders above his peers as Nicklas Lidstrom used to be - which justified his winning the award every year - which is why other worthy seasons were also rewarded with the award.

His performance in these playoffs was just as impressive as those of the last defenseman who won the award, Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks, and it's a safe bet both players will end up in the Hall Of Fame some day.

He technically fell two goals short of Paul Coffey's 12 in a single postseason, but I was glad no one broke any production records this year since the statistics were skewed by the play-in round counting as postseason games this year, which is an aberration. I understand the league didn't want to influence the regular-season points (Leon Draisaitl versus Connor McDavid) and goals (Ovechkin versus David Pastrnak) standings, but that's no reason to forgo playoff history, although Wayne Gretzky was correct in saying that the greats from the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s were at a disadvantage when the elimination round started al being best-of-sevens instead of best-of-fives.

Speaking of all-time greats, none other than Scotty Bowman - whom the Toronto Sun aptly described as having "coached Doug Harvey and Lidstrom, Coffey, Larry Robinson and Serge Savard, and happened to be on the bench in St. Louis when Bobby Orr flew through the air after his famous 1970 Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal" had this to say about Hedman:
He is in his own place right now. He’s a big guy that does just about everything right. He’s so mobile for his size. He plays, what, 26 minutes a game? And you get the impression he could play a lot more. He reminds me of Larry (Robinson) that way. For a big man, he can really skate.
That's how I'd compare him as well. He's not as mean as Chris Pronger, but he hits as hard as Robinson; he's not as smooth and perfect as Lidstrom, but he almost looks as smooth as Scott Niedermayer out there at times.

Here he is wearing the Bolts' former third jersey on card #FA-VH from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Artifacts set and Frozen Artifacts sub-set:
It features two white game-worn jersey swatches that likely come from the team's away uniform.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Bobby Ryan Autographed Card

Just three weeks after winning the Masterton Trophy over Philadelphia Flyers cancer survivor Oskar Lindblom and mentioning that very possibility with the press afterwards, Bobby Ryan was bought out by the Ottawa Senators earlier today.

I had featured him when he scored a hat trick in his first game back from rehab, and even then tried to find a balance in all the truths, talent and tragedy of his life story.

The fact that the team did this so soon after the Masterton win means it's something they had already set their minds to, that they'd weighed the Cinderella story against his age, cap hit, production and leadership capabilities and still went for it, despite the possibility that with his mind in the right place, he might become a 25- or 30-goal scorer again, that his experience could help steer the team's young players in the right direction, that the team could have used his cap hit to reach the cap floor.

There were more positives in letting him go than keeping him.

As a regular Sens observer for the past 15 years and a hockey fan for most of the past 42, I am not certain I would agree with that; unless there is information we were not provided, had I been GM, I may have gambled on giving him an extra year and bought him out of his final $7.5M season next off-season.

I'm also the kind of guy who'd want to bring former captain Jason Spezza back for his final season so he can retire in the "right" uniform, so maybe I'm just too much of a romantic.

There no denying he looked right wearing Ottawa's black "O" uniform, though, as seen on card #604 from the 2013-14 O-Pee-Chee set manufactured by Upper Deck:

He signed it in thick black sharpie during the 2018-19 season, if I remember correctly.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Jamie Benn Swatch Card

I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that while he isn't scoring as much as he used to and that Joe Pavelski has also assumed a large part of the Dallas Stars' leadership up-front, captain Jamie Benn is once again looking like a leader in these playoffs.

His last two regular seasons had been a disappointment to say the least - 27 goals, 26 assists and 53 points in 78 games in 2018-19 and 19 goals, 20 assists and 30 points in 69 games in 2019-20 - but he elevated his gaem in both postseasons, and this year in particular, with two three-game goal streaks this season, against noteworthy adversaries like the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights, in key games, no less.

I'm not sure GM Jim Nill sees it as "worth the $9.5M cap hit" per se, but he's probably extremely happy to have him around, that's for sure. Here is the power forward in simpler times, wearing the Stars' black/dark green football-style uniform with the wordmark chest piece and number on the front of the jersey, on the swatch insert version of card #14 from Panini's 2010-11 Certified set and Certified Potential sub-set:
It features a matching game-worn jersey swatch and is numbered #88/99.