Monday, August 31, 2015

Niklas Kronwall Jersey Card

How do you replace Nicklas Lidstrom, the greatest defenseman of the past 20 years and one of the best of all time?

If you're Niklas Kronwall, you just keep doing what you do. You come in in 2003-04 alternating on the third paid as a #7 defenseman that's full of promise, then spend a year in the AHL with the Grand Rapid Griffins and win the Eddie Shore Award as best defenseman, then come back to the Detroit Red Wings and try to keep improving.

Then, as the years pass, trades and retirements make way for you to be an essential component on the second pairing, and finally you graduate to the top unit and top powerplay crew. You have fulfilled the promise of a first-round draft pick (the Wings chose him with the 29th-overall choice in 2000) with your perfect balance, strong skating, booming shot and knack for open-ice hits, which have now been named after you (search "getting Kronwalled" on YouTube, you'll squirm on your seat as if you were watching videos of baseball pitchers getting hit in the nuts with line drives).

It's easy to forget his smallish stature (in comparison to the force of the impact on the hits he delivers) because he plays like a giant, and his personae and aura reflect much larger than he actually is.

He won the Stanley Cup with the Wings in 2008 and is part of the Triple Gold club thanks to his Olympic gold (2006) and World Championship gold (2006) medals, and he also won silver at the Olympics (2014) and Worlds (2003) with Team Sweden. With Henrik Zetterberg and Mikael Samuelsson, he's part of the trio who own the distinction of having acquired the Triple Gold title the fastest - in just over two years' time.

He has played in 674 NHL regular-season games so far - all with the Wings - and stands at 339 points and 426 penalty minutes. He averages roughly the same types of statistics in the postseason, with 46 points and 81 penalty minutes in 104 playoff games.

Here he is wearing the Wings' classic red (now-home) uniform, with a matching game-used jersey swatch, from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 1 set:
I bought it on Ebay last year as a test, to see if I'd like the design and feel of the cards before spending money on an actual box. I did.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mike Komisarek Signed 8X10 Picture

In the last decade or so, there have been two universal truths about the Montréal Canadiens:

1. If a defenseman played alongside Andrei Markov, he would look so good that he would eventually leave as an overpaid free agent. Case in point: Sheldon Souray (to the Edmonton Oilers), Mark Streit (to the New York Islanders).

2. If a player was deemed such a powerful leader that he'd be viewed as ''the next captain'', he would be moved before that would happen, as was the case with Christopher Higgins (traded to the New York Rangers), Craig Rivet (shipped to the San Jose Sharks), Kyle Chipchura (sent to the Anaheim Ducks), and Josh Gorges (who refused a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs to later accept one to the Buffalo Sabres).

Enter Mike Komisarek, who fit both bills.

The seventh-overall pick of the 2001 draft - behind Ilya Kovalchuk (1st), Jason Spezza (2nd), Stephen Weiss (4th), and Mikko Koivu (6th), and ahead of Pascal Leclaire (8th), Tuomo Ruutu (9th), Dan Hamhuis (12th), Ales Hemsky (13th), Chuck Kobasew (14th), R.J. Umberger (16th), Alexander Perezhogin (25th), Derek Roy (32nd), Michael Cammalleri (49th), Jason Pominville (55th), Peter Budaj (63rd), Tomas Plekanec (71st), Craig Anderson (73rd), Patrick Sharp (95th), Jordin Tootoo (98th), Christian Ehrhoff (106th), Kevin Bieksa (151st), Mike Smith (161st), Dennis Seidenberg (172nd), Ryan Clowe (175th), Marek Zidlikcy (176th), Andrew Alberts (179th), Cristobal Huet (214th), Johnny Oduya (221st), Marek Svatos (227th), Martin Gerber (232nd), and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (264th) - played in the 2009 All-Star Game, held in Montréal, where Alex Kovalev stole the show. It was the same year he finished 17th in Norris Trophy voting (Markov finished 6th, while Streit was 13th).

Judging from that list of draft picks above, some are clearly out of place, as Plekanec, Anderson and Sharp should probably have been picked in the first round, possibly in the top-10, but Komisarek's not out of place though.

Sure, he looked great next to Markov, but it was his steady and physical play that complemented his partner's style perfectly, freeing him to concentrate on exiting the zone and creating offense, then coming back to defend with speed and positioning while Komisarek cleared the front of the net and intercepted cross-ice and through-the-paint passes. He even led the league in blocked shots once.

In any other city, it's a thankless and anonymous job, but luckily, having been drafted by the Habs and playing in front of the knowledgeable Montréal crowd, the gentle affable giant became a star defensive defenseman, the Scott Stevens of the post-lockout era.

And over time, the smiling behemoth American took on a more vocal role on the team, became a trusted veteran and a reliable presence. Which meant the Leafs had to have him. And they did, and they ruined him.

That's not entirely fair nor true. He wasn't "ruined", he was just a little slower than he used to be, and wasn't put in a position to succeed in the same way he'd been with the Canadiens. Plus, he never really fully recovered from a fight against the Boston Bruins' Milan Lucic - and was a lesser physical presence for the remainder of his career.

He finished his career with one season playing with the Carolina Hurricanes and a failed try-out bid with the New Jersey Devils. He then returned to finish his degree at the University of Michigan, and currently acts as an assistant coach for the Wolverines.

He has suited up for Team USA five times in total.

Here he is with the Habs, during better and brighter days (though his left eye might disagree), wearing the classic bleu-blanc-rouge uniform prior to a face-off:
He signed it in blue sharpie, mid-picture, on top of the blue line on his jersey. It may have shown more had he signed it on the red part of the jersey of on the ice between his legs. Still, it's a beautiful picture of one of the toughest customers to wear #8 in my lifetime (with Brandon Prust being a close second).

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Radek Bonk Jersey Card

Ah, Radek Bonk.

Sure, when he was chosen third overall at the 1994 NHL draft, expectations were high on the Czech center. Chosen after Ed Jovanovski (1st) and Oleg Tverdovsky (2nd) and ahead of the likes of Jason Bonsignore (4th), Jeff O'Neill (5th), Ryan Smyth (6th), Jamie Storr (7th), Brett Lindros (9th), Jeff Friesen (11th), Mattias Ohlund (13th), Ethan Moreau (14th), Éric Fichaud (16th), Wayne Primeau (17th), Dan Cloutier (26th), Stanislav Neckar (29th), José Theodore (44th), Mathieu Dandenault (49th), Patrik Elias (51st), Fredrik Modin (64th), Sheldon Souray (71st), Chris Drury (72nd), Milan Hejduk (87th), Vaclav Varada (89th), Marty Turco (124th), Daniel Alfredsson (133rd), Roman Vopat (172nd), Shane Hnidy (173rd), Frédéric Cassivi (210th), Tim Thomas (217th), Evgeni Nabokov (219th), Tomas Vokoun (226th), Steve Sullivan (233rd), Richard Zednik (249th), Mike Peluso (253rd), Sergei Berezin (256th), Tomas Holmstrom (257th), Dick Tarnstrom (272nd), and Kim Johnsson (286th).

Among those chosen in the top-5, it's hard to argue he shouldn't have been in the top-3. In retrospect, when considering the players drafted in every round, he's still a definite first-rounder, and still a top-10 pick for me, as my order would probably be:
1. Alfredsson
2. Hejduk
3. Smyth
4. Elias
5. Theodore
6. Tverdovsky
7. Thomas
8. Vokoun
9. Drury
10. Bonk
11. Jovanovski
12. Souray
13. Ohlund
14. O'Neill
15. Nabokov

And he may not have become a leading scorer (though he did have a 70-point season as well as a couple where he put up 60 and 59, part of a streak of four consecutive 20-goal seasons), but playing alongside Marian Hossa on the Ottawa Senators for seven seasons really cemented his abilities as a two-way center, which led to his earning Selke Trophy consideration five times, including twice with nearly the same number of votes as Hossa.

However, there came a point where the expectations of high production in Ottawa became too lofty, and he was part of a three-way trade that sent him to the Montréal Canadiens, where head coach Claude Julien was quick to cast him into a defense-first role where 10 to 15 goals and 25 to 30 points were going to be acceptable, and for a couple of seasons he thrived in Montréal. So much so that he eventually signed a free agent contract with the Nashville Predators, before a one-year stint in the KHL and a return to the Czech Republic.

Here he is wearing the Habs' white (now-away) uniform, from Fleer's 2006-07 Fleer Ultra set by Upper Deck, card #U-RB of the Ultra Uniformity sub-set, featuring a red game-worn jersey swatch:
You might remember him from his mullet in his early years, but this is him as he is ingrained in my brain.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Patrick Marleau Autograph Card

Well, another season is upon us, and as always the San Jose Sharks seem like they're in complete turmoil. Both disgraced former captains (Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton) are back, as is GM Doug Wilson despite his calling Thornton out and his star center's reply to "shut his mouth".

Tomas Hertl has to rebound from his sophomore slump, head coach Todd McLellan has moved on to coach the Edmonton Oilers after winning gold at the World Cup with Team Canada, and choke-master extraordinaire Peter DeBoer has replaced him behind the bench.
"Peter is a well-respected leader who possesses all of the characteristics we were looking for in our next head coach," general manager Wilson said in a team statement. "He's an extremely intelligent and innovative individual who likes to play an aggressive system. Peter has a track record of extracting the most out of his players and is willing to make tough decisions that are based on achieving team success. We're extremely excited to have him leading our group."
Yes, he's exactly what the Sharks need: a coach who has never won the Stanley Cup and isn't afraid to make unpopular decisions, such as McLellan's stripping Thornton of his captaincy and yet not replacing him, then strapping an "A" to his chest as part of a "leadership group". Tough decisions. Stupid, but tough. And yet, he wasn't able to tell Martin Brodeur to stay on the bench when he clearly became a liability that ultimately cost him his job with the New Jersey Devils. So how come he didn't make THE tough decision?

That's why it seems to me like more of the same for the Sharks: a finish outside the playoff picture, having handed the goaltending duties to Los Angeles Kings backup Martin Jones with Alex Stalock (who couldn't wrestle the #1 gig away from Antti Niemi) as the fall-back plan.

Also - and maybe that stems from my being from Montréal - but when the banners on the ceiling of your arena are just for winning division titles, you've never achieved anything. Only Cup banners are worth hanging in the rafters, and yet:
"There is a tradition here of winning and a challenge to go deep into the playoffs," said DeBoer. "That is my expectation and that is Doug's expectation as well."
Uh huh. Riiiiight.

And all respect due to Marleau, he'll be caught in the crossfire, no longer the star player he once was, therefore unable to carry the team on his shoulders, but too good to be cast aside for an unproven rookie if DeBoer truly wants to win, with an unmovable contract to boot.

He's currently at 988 career points (in 1329 games), so he'll at least get to pass the millennium mark within the first couple of months of play, maybe even in October if he continues his career trend of strong early starts, but his 57 total points last year are a clear sign of his overall decline.

Here he is back when he wore #14 (he now sports #12), from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set, card #120 of the signed insert sub-set (the gold variant), handling the puck and looking at it, so probably in the neutral zone:
He's pictured with the Sharks' teal (then-away) uniform, one that I never understood why it got so much love; I'm a far bigger fan of the garbs they wore from 2007 until 2013, save for the jersey numbers on the front, which are an aberration and a crime against hockey tradition and fashion.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thomas Vanek Dual Jersey Card

Thomas Vanek with the Buffalo Sabres... those were the days!

Many criticized his play with the Montréal Canadiens in 2013-14, particularly come playoff time, but without his 15 points in 18 regular-season games, who's to say the Habs would even have made it to the postseason?

But Minnesota Wild fans were certainly expecting much more than 21 goals (a career low in a non-lockout season, as he'd scored 20 in 38 games in 2012-13) and no back-checking from him when GM Chuck Fletcher shelled out $19.5M and a no-trade clause for the exclusive rights to have him wear the uniform and loosely redefine the meaning of the words ''play'' and ''compete''.

But with the Sabres, Vanek was a star, a nearly point-per-game player with two 40-goal seasons on his resume, the role of captain for that final year, a true leader. I'm fairly confident he can return to that level if paired with players who do, actually, play at both ends of the ice and let him be creative and help them rack up points.

Here he is looking good in the retro-modern white garbs, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Artifacts set, card #TS-TV of the Treasured Swatches sub-set:
It featured a yellow and a dark blue game-used jersey swatches, seemingly from the ''turd burger'' jersey, but not so. Honestly, the Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks should just return to their 1980s or 1990s uniforms and stick with them instead of trying to "innovate" every other year by coming up with worse atrocities every time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Robert Kron Autographed Card

Robert Kron was an important member of the Czechoslovakian hockey team at the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, participating in three straight World Junior Championships and winning two consecutive bronze medals at the World Championships in 1989 and 1990 before making the team for the 1991 Canada Cup.

In the NHL, he was a Vancouver Canucks fifth-round draft pick (88th overall) in 1985, and made his way across the pond to post 32 points in 76 games in his rookie season in 1990-91.

He was moved to the Hartford Whalers at the trade deadline during the 1992-93 season, and would post two 20-goal seasons with the franchise (both in 50-point seasons) and remained with the team as they became the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997-98, remaining all the way until the summer of 2000, when the Columbus Blue Jackets chose him in the expansion draft. He would play in Columbus fo two seasons before playing in Finland for one year.

He is now the European director of amateur scouting on the Canes.

He also fits the bill as #58 in my Canucks Numbers Project, with this card that he probably signed in his final season, a.k.a. the year I got back into following hockey:
It's card #225 from Upper Deck's flagship 1991-92 Series 1 set, signed in blue sharpie (which tells me it probably doesn't go back to my teen years) and shows him wearing the Canucks' quintessential black (away) uniform, with the skate logo that they will bring back for one game this coming season. It's a hundred times better than their current blue-and-green retro monstrosities, and stands as my favourite Canucks uniform (ahead even of the admittedly less-tacky Markus Naslund-era from the turn of the millennium).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mark Giordano Swatch Card

The captain will be back!

The Calgary Flames have indeed re-signed star defenseman Mark Giordano to a reasonable six-year, $40.5M contract that includes a full no-trade clause for the first four years and a 20-team one for the last two.

At the time of his injury last season, he was leading all defensemen in points and his play at both ends of the ice helped push the Flames into a playoff spot; he was the heavy favourite for the Norris Trophy and would have been a consensus pick because he usually qualifies as ''not just an offensive defenseman'', unlike, say, Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban, albeit erroneously at this point in their careers for those two.

I won't pretend that $6.5M per year isn't a huge payday, but in the ''elite-gets-paid-first'' NHL cap world, many expected him to be looking for an eight-year deal at $9M per, but instead he went and did the sensible thing and asked for a reasonable amount - enough to be the highest-paid on the team at his position for the next couple of years - but leaving ample room for management to bring back other players who will also deserve raises, and set the tone as the leader of the group and what type of character is required to play for that team. It really reflects what the Flames had shown us all year, with their grit, toughness, all-business, no-nonsense, fair and equal style.

Colour me impressed.

And so here's a card showing him wearing the captain's ''C'' in the team's red home uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Playbook set (card #LE-MGI of the Limited Edition sub-set, numbered 76/99), featuring a red game-worn material swatch enclosed:
He's also usually the team's leader in blocked shots and takeaways. He does it all, plain and simple.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Christian Thomas Autograph Card

When Marc Bergevin signed Alexander Semin to a one-year, $1.1M contract earlier this summer, it signaled a bit of a lack of confidence in the Montréal Canadiens' youngsters who are vying for a roster spot on the right wing for a chance to play on one of the bottom-three lines (Brendan Gallagher is pretty much set on the top unit, though he'd probably be more at home on a second trio).

Among them, Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas, two high-scoring right wingers in Juniors and decent producers in the AHL who have yet to contribute anywhere close to the same level in the NHL (though Thomas was used the most, albeit usually in fourth-line situations, while Andrighetto, a victim of his size, has impressed when called upon but has not gotten that call often enough).

All of Thomas' games have involved the Habs, from his initial game with the New York Rangers against Montréal to the other 20 with the bleu-blanc-rouge; he has one goal to show for it, which he scored last February against the Edmonton Oilers.

Here's a card combining both, showing him in the Rangers' classic white (now-away) uniform while listing him as a member of the Canadiens after a mid-summer trade:
It's card #A-CT from Panini's 2013-14 Prizm set, featuring a blue-sharpie sticker autograph; it's the silver variant of the signed insert version of his Dual Rookie Class rookie card.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Marc-André Gragnani Autographed Card

Oh, what a difference four years make...

When I last featured Marc-André Gragnani, the Montréal native was well on his way to NHL stardom, about to win the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's best defenseman, full of promise for the Buffalo Sabres' system.

But after four seasons of being called up and never staying in Buffalo on a permanent basis, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks, who didn't retain his services after a half-season. He then went on to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes, spending the bulk of his time with their AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers.

He then spent two seasons in Europe, first with the KHL's HC Lev Praha, and SC Bern of the Swiss League last year, posting an impressive 37 points in 49 games. He is slated to come back to North America this season, having signed a two-way deal with the New Jersey Devils in July.

I met him after his ''fourth rookie season'' in the summer of 2012, as I was a goaltending teacher at a hockey school and he came back to town for his off-season training. He signed this 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee card (#555 in the collection manufactured by Upper Deck, part of the Marquee Rookies sub-set) for me in blue sharpie:
It's ironic that such a gifted offensive defenseman would sign with the Devils, who are particularly deep at that position - and that position alone. It seems he didn't put himself in the best situation for easy NHL access, but then again, he probably did weigh his options and decided this one was best for him. I honestly don't see how he couldn't make it as a third-unit defender and first-unit powerplay specialist, particularly on teams such as the Canes, or the Phoenix Coyotes, or Toronto Maple Leafs, or a second-unit PP guy on teams such as the San Jose Sharks, Canucks or Boston Bruins.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Darryl Sydor Swatch Card

I have featured Darryl Sydor twice already, including once with the Dallas Stars' best white (then-home) uniform, but the news today that he'd been charged with DUI and aggravated counts of endangering a child (his 12-year-old son) and blood alcohol levels over 0.16 (actually at 0.30) dampened my spirit a bit today.

You can never take away his two Stanley Cups nor his other three Cup Final appearances, nor his 1992 Memorial Cup with the Kamloops Blazers (which he now partly owns), but his relapse a year after checking into rehab and tattooing his index and thumbs to remind himself never to drink again is a sad day for his fans, and more so for his friends and family.

It may also mean the end of his tenure as the Minnesota Wild's assistant coach in charge of defensemen and penalty kill. Great mugshot, though.

I sincerely hope he beats his demons.

Here he is wearing the Stars' awful post-lockout white (now-away) uniform, the one that just says DALLAS with the jersey number in front, football-style:
It's card #GG-DSY from Panini's 2013-14 Titanium set and Game-Worn Gear sub-set, featuring a green game-worn jersey swatch.