Friday, July 31, 2015

Randy Cunneyworth Autograph Card

After the Buffalo Sabres hired Randy Cunneyworth as a scout a couple of years ago, it was rumoured he might eventually be tapped to take on its head coaching position should the Ron Rolston/Ted Nolan experiment fail.

Those rumours were only half-founded, as he was instead chosen as the head coach of their AHL affiliate Rochester Americans this week. He had already coached the team for eight years in the past (from 2000-01 until 2007-08) and captained it as a player.

His coaching resume also includes a division title with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs in 2010-11, and one of the worst seasons in Montréal Canadiens history in 2001-12, one many see as a means to just eject him from the organization altogether as a scapegoat. Hey, at least it allowed the Habs to draft Alex Galchenyuk third overall that summer.

In an NHL career that started in 1980-81 and ended in 1998-99, Cunneyworth played a total of 866 regular-season games (189 goals, 225 assists, 414 points) and merely 45 more in the playoffs, playing for cellar dwellers such as the Sabres (twice), the 1980s Pittsburgh Penguins, less than 30 games with the Winnipeg Jets, the Hartford Whalers, the 1993-94 Chicago Blackhawks, and the mid-1990s Ottawa Senators. In 16 NHL seasons, he played for 15 different head coaches.

He served as the Sens' captain from 1995 until 1998, between Gord Dineen and Alexei Yashin, which is a fitting way to feature him as #7 in my Sens Numbers Project with the signed inset version of card #175 from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player set:
It shows him in the beautiful, original black (away) Sens uniform (with my favourite logo of theirs), as the captain, and is signed on-card inn thin black sharpie.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mathew Dumba Jersey Card

Mathew Dumba did a really classy thing yesterday: he contacted Derek Boogaard's family to ask if it was ok to use their son's former #24 jersey, meaning he'll forgo the star-worthy 55 in favour of a more classic number. Boogaard may have been an enforcer, but he resonated deeply with fans and teammates.

A year ago, Dumba was about to enter his actual rookie year as a 20-year-old defenseman, and Minnesota Wild fans were expecting to see his hard hits, hard shot and offensive prowess on full display, but the team decided to work him in slowly, giving him third-pair minutes (he averaged less than 16 per game in 58 games) and asking him to develop a sound, mistake-free defensive game before trying to light up the league.

He had nearly as many points in the NHL level (16 in 58 games) as he did in the AHL (14 in 20 games), but his average with the Iowa Wild was closer to what he'd shown he could provide in the minor leagues.

Then again, it's not every year than an Aaron Ekblad comes in and dominates as a rookie on the back end, and even those who do later take a few years of constant criticism while polishing their game, like Tyler Myers. I think the Wild will play it smart with him and let him develop on his own timeline, as the Montréal Canadiens have done with P.K. Subban and now Nathan Beaulieu.

One thing's for sure, as he gathers confidence and learns to properly gauge the speed at which plays occur, he will lay some bruising hits in his own zone and scare the other team's defenders in the offensive zone with his shot.

He has the tools to dominate for a decade, it's up to him to use them properly, and to the Wild to develop them.

In the meantime, here he is from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set (card #SSM-05 in the Game-Used Jersey sub-set, the Black Version variant), wearing the WHL All-Stars' white (home) uniforms as they faced off against a group of talented Russian Juniors stars in the Subway Super Series, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Brandon Sutter Autograph Card

I last featured Brandon Sutter two years ago when he'd been traded from the Carolina Hurricanes to the Pittsburgh Penguins; today, the Pens sent him to the Vancouver Canucks for center Nick Bonino and Adam Clendening.

Clendening's a decent defensive prospect from the Chicago Blackhawks' system who had very good statistics in the AHL and just needs to translate that into the NHL, while I still think Bonino has the potential to be a consistent 20-goal scorer in the NHL; still, the best player here is Sutter, who actually not only already is a consistent 20-goal man, but did so on the Pens' third line while Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby monopolized all the best wingers for themselves.

You could argue that by signing free agent Eric Fehr on the same day, though, the Pens ended up even, while the Canucks gave more than I would have but may have cemented their 2C spot for years if they can sign Sutter and not lose him as a UFA by the end of the year.

We're talking about a guy who often gets Selke and Lady Byng votes at the end of the year and has won gold with Team Canada at the World Juniors (2008). At age 26, he's still a guy you can add to your nucleus and will add leadership and help steer the kids in the right direction. He's a Sutter, after all, and has even worn the alternate captain's ''A'' as a young guy with the Canes, as can be attested in card #BSU from Panini's 2011-12 Titanium set (part of the Private Signings sub-set):
The gold foil border's a nice touch, as is the Hurricanes' black (third) jersey. It's signed on-card in thin blue sharpie and just generally has a nice vibe to it.

Ironically, today marked the second time in three years Jim Rutherford has traded and praised him, as he was also the one who sent him to Pittsburgh in the first place when he was GM in Carolina.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ryan Murray Swatch Card

It was exactly a year ago that I first featured Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray and, well, the second-overall pick of the 2012 draft has yet to shake the injury bug; then again, so do the rest of the Jackets, who lost 508-man-games to injury in 2014-15.

Murray himself only played 12 games last year, and was even injured when teammate Ryan Johansen fell on him. As far as hard luck goes, that's pretty bad. It's even got GM Jarmo Kekalainen worried about his missing out on very important development years.

The irony of the ''most NHL-ready player'' from the 2012 draft being limited to 78 games since because of three injury-plagued seasons and a lockout just means we'll have to wait an extra year for him to reach his prime, in my opinion, which will probably be three or four years from now. Of course, that'll probably mean at least one ugly contract dispute with Columbus, but it's not like they're not used to it by now.

To speed things up, the Jackets made a wealth of changes this summer (and since last year's trade deadline, really) and are mostly seen as one of the most improved teams in the NHL... on paper. Notable additions include Brandon Saad and Greg Campbell, but their defense will remain their biggest question mark, at least until Murray claims the mantle as the go-to guy.

Here he is sporting the Blue Jackets' dark blue (home) uniform with a matching ''event-worn material'' swatch, from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set (card #RR-RMR of the Rookie Roll Call and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets):
We'll see this year if 2014-15 was simply a fluke occurrence or the sign of a cursed franchise - and of its prized blue-chip blueliner.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Boyd Devereaux Autograph Card

Boyd Devereaux was the Edmonton Oilers' first-round pick (6th overall) in 1996 ahead of Ruslan Salei (9th), Marco Sturm (21st), Daniel Brière (24th), Matt Cullen (35th), Steve Bégin (40th), Zdeno Chara (56th), Tom Poti (59th), Mark Parrish (79th), Toni Lydman (89th), Michal Rozsival (105th), Andreas Dackell (136th), Pavel Kubina (179th), Willie Mitchell (199th), Tomas Kaberle (204th), and Sami Salo (239th).

All things considered, he was definitely worth selecting in the first round (as would have been those I mentioned, though not in the same order), and he must have made the Oilers proud after scoring the game-winning goals in both the semi-finals (against Russia) and Finals (against Team USA) at the 1997 World Juniors, to lead Team Canada to gold. He was going to be clutch, and the Oilers were going to need that.

Also, keep in mind every Edmonton first-round selection between Jason Arnott (1993, 7th overall) and Ales Hemsky (2001, 13th overall):
1994: Jason Bonsignore (4th overall)
1994: Ryan Smyth (6th)
1995: Steve Kelly (6th)
1996: Devereaux (6th)
1996: Matthieu Descoteaux (19th)
1997: Michel Riesen (14th)
1998: Michael Henrich (13th)
1999: Jani Rita (13th)
2000: Alexei Mikhnov (17th)
Not exactly generational talents, save for Smyth, who was captain material. Which also makes Devereaux stand out as an NHL-caliber player, playing in 627 regular-season games (67 goals, 112 assists, 179 points) and winning the Stanley Cup in 2002 with the Detroit Red Wings. It probably would have been much more had his first AHL game not garnered him a concussion, and had he not suffered another one on a Dallas Drake hit that left him in convulsions.

And, to top it all off, after two seasons spent shuttling between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Marlies in 2007-08 and 2008-09, he moved to the Swiss League's famed HC Lugano, which is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary; unfortunately for both the team and himself, as the season was paused and the team participated in the Spengler Cup, he was on the wrong side of a check that left him with fractured vertebrae. His career was over.

But he's always had an interest in artistic endeavors, having started his record label Elevation Records while still in the NHL, and now operating a video production company called Waking Sound Productions. Full disclosure: Elevation released a record by Thisquietarmy, who have ties to my UnPop Montréal festival via the Montreal Nintendo Orkestar/Symbiose family.

That being said, of course I was going to feature Devereaux as an Oiler, and he also counts as #19 in my Oilers Numbers Project with this card showing him in the team's late-1990s blue (away) uniform, with the ''oil driller'' shoulder patch:
It's the signed insert version of card #237 from Pinnacle Brands' 1997-98 Be A Player set, signed on-card in thin black sharpie.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Daniel Audette Autographed Card

The Montréal Canadiens announed yesterday they'd signed their 2014 fifth-round pick (147th overall) Daniel Audette to a three-year entry-level deal after a fine showing at this month's rookie development camp.

The striking image of his father, Donald Audette - same face, both standing at 5'8'', Donald playing most of his career at 180 pounds and Daniel now hovering around 175 - the younger Audette is currently a center rather than a winger.

Playing in the LHJMQ (fresh off a 29-goal, 74-point season with the Sherbrooke Phoenix as alternate captain for the second year in a row), he can get away from staying in the periphery and using his terrific puckhandling and playmaking skills in Juniors, but he'll have to adapt some part of his game if he's to succeed first in the AHL, and even more so at the NHL level. There is, after all, a reason why a point-per-game producer from a 30-goalscorer's bloodline was only drafted in the fifth round. He also has a bit of a temper, which leads to many penalties; he'll need to find a balance between earning respect and not losing patience any time someone challenges him or his lineage.

Maybe he'll find his inner Brendan Gallagher, or perhaps he'll be moved to the wing - or both But he is, for sure, an exciting development project for the Habs. Team Canada certainly thinks he's good enough to excel so far, having named him to a U-18 and three U-17 teams, and he has 9 points in his last 17 games wearing either the maple leaf or the fleur de lys.

Speaking of which, Upper Deck featured him in their 2014 Team Canada Juniors/Women set, as can be attested by card #22, which he signed in blue sharpie:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Anze Kopitar Jersey Card

Let's be honest - if I ever want to get through featuring all of my Anze Kopitar jersey cards, I have to get started.

Whether you look at it from his draft year or at present time, Kopitar is a hockey phenomenon. He was arguably the second-best center chosen in the 2005 draft (behind Sidney Crosby, though I might build a team around him more than Crosby myself), a strong draft that also included Bobby Ryan (2nd), Jack Johnson (3rd), Carey Price (5th), Marc Staal (12th), Jakub Kindl (19th), Tuukka Rask (21st), T.J. Oshie (24th), James Neal (33rd), Marc-Édouard Vlasic (35th), Paul Stastny (44th), Kris Letang (62nd), Jonathan Quick (72nd), Keith Yandle (105th), Vladimir Sobotka (106th), and Patric Hornqvist (230th).

But he's also a 6'3'', 225-pound center who plays with speed, scores at the same pace as Jonathan Toews in the postseason, has two Stanley Cups while leading the league in playoff scoring both times, and consistently is a top-5 vote-getter for the Lady Byng and Frank J. Selke trophies, as well as a usual suspect when it comes to the Hart.

Some fear this past year might be an indication that he's slowing down, but I think it was just the entire Los Angeles Kings team that collectively had a sub-par season to live through to realize they need to turn the machine on before March comes along and not just put the effort in come playoff time.

He's entering his final contract year on a deal that paid him just under $7M per season over seven years, and it's widely expected his next one will be huge; some are anticipating a contract similar to that of Toews and Patrick Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks ($84M over eight years, each), while others speculate that he and Steven Stamkos will be the first $12M men in hockey.

For some reason, Kopitar seems like more of a team player to me; he's seen the Hawks team get decimated by the salary cap for the second time in three Cup wins, and probably prefers to leave the Kings with more leeway to keep their better players and contend for a few more championships. Particularly with the rise of the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars (should they ever improve their goaltending on the consistency front) in the West. I think he could ''settle'' for a deal within the $9-9.5M range with a full no-movement clause and a job for his brother in the Kings organization.

He would be my choice to captain Team World (what an awful idea) at the upcoming 2016 World Cup, and will probably play in his fourth All-Star Game this year.

Here he is rocking the Kings' former/possibly future black and purple (home) uniform with matching game-worn purple jersey swatch, from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Series 1 set (card #GJ-KA of the UD Game Jersey sub-set):

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Nicklas Grossmann Autograph Card

Nicklas Grossmann was much-maligned with the Philadelphia Flyers, particularly last season. ''Fans'' were putting it on in online forums, and even when he wasn't making mistakes nor taking penalties, he just had some asking ''is he a disaster waiting to happen? When will the floor fallfrom under him?''

He's a former winger turned into a defenseman, and has now just had two consecutive 14-point seasons (including 5 goals in 2014-15), and he just finished with a +8 on the worst defense in the league and an anemic offense as well. But his ''possession statistics'' didn't match up to the rest of the team's, so ''analytics fans'' were angry.

He's not a first-pairing defenseman, that's a given. Ideally, on a contending team, he could be a 15-minute-per-game guy, and  17-minuter, bottom-pairing guy on an average team. You need those types of players to make up a team. But Flyers fans needed a scapegoat, and found him and Andrew MacDonald.

So this summer, GM Ron Hextall ''made a miracle happen'' according to some by trading Grossmann and Chris Pronger's contract to the Phoenix Coyotes for Sam Gagner.

Here's a card of Grossmann's before the spelling of his last name was corrected in North America (it ends with two Ns):
It shows him wearing the Flyers' current/retro white (away) uniform and is from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Artifacts set (card #A-NG of the Autofacts sub-set); it's part of two cards of the same set I found in an old box that I had totally forgotten I had.

Unlike many who criticize him, Grossmann has two World Championship medals, bronze (2009) and silver (2011), acquired while playing with Team Sweden.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Two Steve Rogers Autographed Cards

Of course, I wasn't just going to tease an Expos Numbers Project and let it remain idle; no, as the first post-announcement post, I decided to feature one of the three greatest Montréal Expos pitchers of all time, Steve Rogers.
Sure, Dennis Martinez had a perfect game, and Pedro Martinez won a Cy Young, but they were just as good in at least one other MLB city, whereas Rogers only played in Montréal, and only had a contending team in front of him in 1981 and 1982, which coincided with some of his best years, though the five-time All-Star (1974, 1978, 1979, 1982 and 1983) was by far one of the few bright spots of those 70s teams.

Statistically, he may have deserved the Cy Young in 1982 when he went 19-8 with a league-leading 2.40 ERA and 4 shutouts. He led the National League with 5 shutouts in both 1979 and 1983, and in complete games with 14 in 1980.

In 393 career starts, he has completed an astounding 129, 37 of them shutouts.

Former manager Dick Williams wasn't too fond of Rogers, often falsely claiming he couldn't handle the pressure of big games, but his playoff statistics speak otherwise, with a 3-1 record overall, but mostly 2 decisive wins over the Philadelphia Phillies and their ace Steve Carlton in 1981, a one-run win and a 3-0 shutout to lead the Expos to the League Championship, in which his 4-1 win as a starter was another proof of his undeniable mastery of the mound; his lone loss, handing out a home run in relief on just two days' rest, remains a heartbreaker in the city's annals as one of the worst coaching decisions of all time, regardless of the sport.

And although I already have Michael Barrett penciled in for #45 of my Expos Numbers Project, Rogers will also take his rightful place in it with these two cards, the first of which, from Topps' 1983 Topps set (#320 in the collection), shows him in the team's red Spring Training garbs:
The second one shows him in the team's classic blue (away) uniform, from Donruss' 1985 Donruss set (with card #219):
Both cards were signed in person in blue sharpie, the Topps one in a charity event in 2013 (''Pitch And Catch Rally''), while the second was at Felipe Alou's induction in the Canadian Baseball Hall Of Fame last month.

When he became eligible for the Hall Of Fame in 1991, he didn't garner a single vote - not one! - and his candidacy was therefore revoked for subsequent years. That's despite a better career ERA than Nolan Ryan, and pitching more innings per season than Sandy Koufax. And completing roughly a third of his games.

I think he'd be in were it not for injuries; two to five extra years, even average ones, would have gotten him in on his fifth or sixth try.

My Expos Numbers Project: An Introduction

Why limit a good and fun concept to just hockey when I have enough signed baseball cards to seriously consider adding a Montréal Expos Numbers Project to all my hockey ones (my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project my Sens Numbers Project, my Canucks Numbers Project, and my Nordiques Numbers Project).

It'll be harder to finalize because baseball has more players in uniform (factoring in spring training and the 40-man roster after the trade deadline), but I start with the advantage that the team no longer exists, and no new number will be worn.

The first Canadian (and first non-U.S.) team to join Major League Baseball (in 1969), the team had its two best seasons when strikes disrupted play: the 1981 division win, and the magical 1994 season where they were leading the majors with a month left of play when the playoffs were cancelled as players walked out, which rang the beginning of the end for the team, who started its first official fire sale.

There'd been prior instances of the team trading highly-paid veterans for youth when they were being priced out of the team's budget (Gary Carter), but post-1994, it actually became official team policy to always trade players when they hit their prime and were about to earn serious dough. From the first wave (Delino DeShields, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker, John Wetteland) to the second (Pedro Martinez, Jose Vidro, Vladimir Guerrero) to seasons where it was a single player to when the Evil Twins came from New York with empty promises and ran the team to the ground so they could profit from its sale and trade up, to the Florida Marlins.
So, here I am attempting to collect autographed/memorabilia stuff from players representing every number worn by a member of the Expos. So far, I have featured 15; here they are:

12: Wilfredo Cordero: check!
13: Jeff Fassero: check!
15: Curtis Pride (also wore #16): 
16: Tom Foley: check!
20: Scott Fitzgerald: check!
24: Darrin Fletcher: check!
25: David Segui: check!
29: Tim Wallach: check!
30: my favourite ball player of all time, Tim Raines: check!
32: Dennis Martinez: check!
33: Carlos Perez: check!
34: Gil Heredia (also wore #52): check!
44: Tim Burke and Ken Hill: check!
45: Michael Barrett also wore #5) and the great Steve Rogers: check!
46: Kevin Gross: check!