Saturday, June 25, 2016

Marc Savard Jersey Card

Marc Savard hasn't played a single NHL game since the 25 he suited up for in 2010-11, but that hasn't stopped his rights from moving from the Boston Bruins to the Florida Panthers last season, and from the Panthers to the New Jersey Devils a couple of weeks ago.

Savard had fine beginnings, spending a season and a half with the New York Rangers before being traded to the Calgary Flames, where he quickly yet subtly became part of team's core, finishing fourth in scoring in his first season (Valeri Bure was first) and second (behind Jarome Iginla), in his second season, posting 65 points. In 2001-02, he finished fifth in team scoring with 33 points despite dressing in just 56 games. That's when he first caught the injury bug, however.

Shortly into the 2002-03 season, the Flames sent him to the Atlanta Thrashers for KHLer Ruslan Zainullin; playing with Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley (and later Marian Hossa) both cemented his reputation as a tremendous playmaker, but also as perhaps someone who was merely producing because he was paired with superstars.

But coming out of the 2004-05, he posted a whopping 97 points with the Thrashers in 2005-06, good the ninth in league scoring, and repeated the following year with 96 points as a member of the Bruins, with whom he'd signed as a free agent.

Then the injuries really started to add up in 2009-10: a foot broken twice, an MCL tear in his right knee, and the first significant concussion - on an awful Matt Cooke hit that changed the NHL rule book. A (much lessser) hit by Matt Hunwick ten months later was the final contact he would receive in the NHL, and he is still reeling from post-concussion symptoms to this day, which is why his contract, expiring at the end of the 2016-17 season, is still being shopped around as a commodity, seeing as it counts for $4M on the salary cap but actually only costs $575K in salary. When it expires on July 1st, 2017, he will be able to properly retire - probably as a member of the Bruins, who have treated him well.

I was never a huge fan - and by that I mean I wouldn't buy a jersey of his, cheer for him specifically, or strongly voice my opinion for his inclusion on a national team - but his 706 points in 807 NHL games (plus another 22 in 25 playoff games, and an All-Star Game game-winning goal), half of them in the Dead Puck Era, deserve respect and recognition, at the very least.

I think he'll always be a Bruin to me - which might explain my position towards him - but here he is with the Flames' white (then-home) uniform, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch, on card #J-MS from Upper Deck's terrific 2001-02 Ice set (and Jersey Card sub-set):
It'll temporarily stand as #27 in my Flames Numbers Project (until an autographed card replaces it); it's one of those awesome see-through plastic cards that Ice specializes in.

Friday, June 24, 2016

André Lacroix: Two Autographed Cards

Here's one to fit with the Saint-Jean Baptiste, Québec's national holiday: Lauzon, Québec-born André Lacroix may be the most productive player in the history of the WHA. After all, he does hold the career marks for assists (by nearly two hundred) and points (by over a hundred) and posted six consecutive 100-point seasons. That's 251 goals, 547 assists and 798 points in just 551 WHA games (plus 14-29-43 in 48 playoff games) and 79 goals, 119 assists and 198 points in 325 NHL regular season games (plus 2-5-7 in 16 playoff games).

After playing for the Québec Aces in the AHL for three and a half seasons, he made the Philadelphia Flyers on a "French Line" with Jean-Guy Gendron and a rotation of Richard "Dick" Sarrazin and Simon Nolet, but at 5'8" and 175 pounds, he was a bit small for the Broad Street Bullies, despite having what many people later described as Wayne Gretzky-like hands.

He did get around, though, through no fault of his own; after a season with the Philadelphia Blazers who moved to Vancouver, he was traded to the New York Golden Blades, who became the New Jersey Knights halfway through the season and became the San Diego Mariners after relocating, with whom he won his second scoring title and was the second pro player ever to hit the 100-assist mark (after Bobby Orr).

He then played one year with the Houston Aeros before joining Gordie Howe and sons Mark and Marty with the New England Whalers, who then merged with the NHL, becoming the Hartford Whalers.

Here are two identical cards of his I got in a repackaged "guaranteed-hit" envelope a few years ago, both signed in silver sharpie and consecutively numbered (883 and 884) to 1972:
They're from Pacific's 2004-05 WHA Autographs and WHA Legends sub-sets, showing Lacroix wearing the WHA's All-Star uniform.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Robbie Ftorek Autographed Card

The Québec Nordiques will probably not be an NHL hockey team in the next two seasons barring a surprise relocation, but that won't stop me from checking off #7 in my Nordiques Numbers Project with this beautiful old-school card of Robbie Ftorek:
It's card #267 from O-Pee-Chee's 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him in the team's inaugural blue (away) uniform, back when they had a white logo - a better view of which can be seen on the player standing right behind him in the picture, obviously taken during a pre-game warm-up.

Many people remember Ftorek for his helmet, but he was also quite the hockey player. After failing to crack the Detroit Red Wings for a couple of seasons, he made the move to the WHA where, after a decent first season in 1974-75 with the Phoenix Roadrunners (31 goals and 68 points in 53 games), aligned four 100-point seasons, with two each of First Team All-Star and Second Team All-Star nods, complete with the 1976-77 Gordie Howe Trophy (formerly known as the Gary L. Davidson Trophy) as league MVP. Not bad for a skinny 155-pound speedster.

He was the most productive American player of the 1970s - and Team USA's best forward and points leader at the 1976 Canada Cup. He also made the 1981 team, but Minnesota North Stars teammates Neal Broten and Steve Christoff were the team's unquestionable offensive leaders at that point.

Following the WHA folding, Ftorek signed with the Nordiques and had two nearly point-per-game seasons culminating in a sixth-place finish for Selke Trophy voting in 1980-81 and being named team captain, replacing local star Marc Tardif.

The captaincy may have proved too big a burden to bear, however, as Ftorek was limited to a single goal and 9 total points in 19 games to start the 1981-82 season, prompting the team to trade him to the New York Rangers along with the draft pick that became Brian Glynn for Pat Hickey and Jere Gillis.

I first got familiar with him when he coached the Los Angeles Kings at the end of the 1980s as Wayne Gretzky got traded to California, but more so when the Nordiques made him an assistant coach in that awful 1990-91 season where they only won 16 games despite Joe Sakic posting 109 points.

Fans of the New Jersey Devils will remember this outburst:

He had two decent years coaching the Boston Bruins to begin the millennium, but I got him to sign that card in blue sharpie during his time with the AHL's Albany River Rats, which dates this as between 2003 and 2006, when he won two AHL Coach Of The Year awards.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Drew Doughty Jersey Card

Look, yes, Drew Doughty was probably due to win a Norris Trophy at this point, but as Puck Daddy puts it, Erik Karlsson kind of got robbed at last night's NHL Awards - kind of like when Phil Kessel was robbed of the Conn Smythe by Sidney "we have to make him the legend we billed him as" Crosby - except worse.

Voters - journalists who are often accused of having an "East Coast" bias they had to prove wrong - deliberately did not vote for certain elite defensemen who had excellent seasons (Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban, Marc-Édouard Vlasic), and some who had terrible seasons got some nods (Ryan Suter, François Beauchemin) just to ensure Doughty ended up with more tallies than Karlsson, who already has two Norrises, one of them considered to be solely due to his point production and not his overall skill-set (which has, to be honest, improved a lot).

This is the exact same situation that made Martin Brodeur retire with four Vezinas while Patrick Roy - who is in the conversation as one of the best goalies of all time - has three. And that made Miikka Kiprusoff - the best goalie on earth for a full six-year span - end up with as many as José Theodore (a terrific goalie who has had an unbelievable season and at least three more excellent ones, but probably not a Hall Of Famer): one.

If we're following the "deserving" list, Victor Hedman, Shea Weber and Mark Giordano should probably get the Norris nominations next year...

But, hey, Doughty won. It's done.

Here's hoping he helps the Los Angeles Kings make a deep playoff run next year, as we look at him wearing the team's white (away) uniform, on card #GJ-DD from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch:
Chances are he'll add a World Cup title to his resume in September, though I won't be rooting for his Team Canada; I'll probably be more interested by the two made-up teams, the North American Young Stars and Team (Rest of) Europe.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Jonathan Toews Autographed Card

This probably qualifies as my BIGGEST return ever...

I had sent Jonathan Toews two cards of his - one each of the team's classic red and white uniforms - probably two years ago, and received both of them back today - one signed in black sharpie. First, here's the one he didn't sign, in red:
And, the pièce de résistance, the one he did sign, an action shot of him in the Hawks' white (away) uniform, on card #SOG-JT from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Victory set and Stars Of The Game sub-set:
A three-time Stanley Cup winner (and 2009-10 Conn Smythe winner), two-time Olympic gold winner, the man who should always wear the "C" when playing for Team Canada, a perennial Selke candidate (he even won it in 2012-13), Toews will likely not be the player who'll make you win your office pool (although he shouldn't make you lose either); however, he's probably the guy you want to build a franchise around, because he makes everyone around him better - and not just on his own line, and not just the other top lines because he'll have gotten the opposition's best checkers off of them, but also because as Captain Serious, he's an inspiring player to want to follow.

As one of the most quiet and charismatic NHLers today, the consummate professional nearly has as many international hockey medals (six gold, one silver) as he does NHL seasons played (nine), despite being on a perennial contender.

He and Corey Crawford make rooting for the Hawks in the West come playoff time a natural occurrence come Spring. Well, I mean, them and the über-talented Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Artemi Panarin, of course, but Toews and Crawford rank among my favourite players.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Tom Pyatt: Two Autographed Cards

The Ottawa Senators announced in late May the signing of depth forward Tom Pyatt to a two-way contract for next season. He'd played in Switzerland (for Genève Servette) for the past two years, where Sens coaches Guy Boucher, Marc Crawford and Rob Cookson had also plied their trade in that time span.

Pyatt is a speedster with a good hockey sense that makes him perfect for a third-line role in today's NHL; he can also fill in on the second line once in a while but isn't the type to put up a surprising amount of points while doing so; he had 29 points in 42 games in the Swiss League last year and has 54 in 245 games with the Montréal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning in five NHL seasons.

Speaking of the Habs and Genève, he was teammates with Robert Mayer and Matt D'Agostini last year, as well as Quebecer Matthew Lombardi. They probably had a lot to talk about...

I really liked him on the Habs, and he signed two cards for me in 2010-11, in blue sharpie, both showing him with the Canadiens' classic bleu-blanc-rouge uniform with the Centennial shoulder patch.

First, here's card #268 from Panini's 2010-11 Score set which celebrated the brand's 20-year anniversary with the NHL with a nod to its 1990-91 set:
And here's card #99 from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Series 1 collection:
That was a nice set from UD, letting the picture speak for itself with little in the way - short borders at the bottom, subtle logo - with an additional head shot at the bottom, usually wearing the team's uniform not featured in the main picture.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Andy McGaffigan Autographed Card

As a kid, I generally preferred my baseball cards to be action shots, but this one of Andy McGaffigan's - from Topps' 1988 Topps set (card #488), which he signed in black sharpie - always makes me happy, firstly because of his terrific mustache, but also because of the look on his face, which shows a sense of humour:
McGaffigan holds the distinction of having played twice for both the Montréal Expos and San Francisco Giants and having also belonged to the Cincinnati Reds twice - they'd initially drafted him in 1974, left him unsigned, and traded for him in 1984.

He was a dependable reliever who could fill in as a starter on a whim, which was extremely helpful to managers.

He also had some decent dodging moves, as can be attested by this video:

He's also a welcome addition to my Expos Numbers Project, filling in at #27.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cam Fowler Autograph Card

What's old is new again for the Anaheim Ducks now that Randy Carlyle is back as head coach...

He claims he will be more patient with younger players, which much come as a relief for Cam Fowler, who was often in his doghouse in his rookie year in 2010-11.

The Ducks were one head coach away from a deep run this season... I'm just not certain that coach was Carlyle. We'll see.

Here's a bust shot of Fowler on card #A-CF from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Artifacts set and Autofacts sub-set, which has a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph:
Fowler's a big part of a young, strong and balanced defense in Anaheim, with the likes of Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Shea Theodore and Nick Ritchie. There may not be a clear "future Norris winner" in the lot, but all five definitely have top-2 material potential.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Zigmund Palffy Jersey Card

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on their fourth Stanley Cup victory. They deserved it, although I feel the Conn Smythe should have gone to (in order of deservedness) Phil Kessel, Matt Murray, Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks, Kris Letang or Brent Burns (also of the Sharks) - not Sidney Crosby. But the NHL has a legend to build and a story line to justify having pre-written, so Sid it was.

Which brings me to Zigmund Palffy, a Slovak national who had terrific seasons with the New York Islanders (331 points in 331 games including three 40-goal seasons) and Los Angeles Kings (340 points in 311 games, the result of five point-per-game seasons in five years), and played his final NHL season accomplishing the same feat with the Pens in 2005-06.

After initially retiring from hockey, he came back in the Slovak league for a final five seasons with Hokejový Klub 36 Skalica, posting ridiculous totals from 2007 until his retirement after the 2012-13 season, including league records for goals (52) and points (99) in 2008-09. In 53 games.

He also suited up for Team Slovakia on numerous occasions, earning a gold medal at the 2002 World Championships, bronze at the 2003 Worlds, leading the Olympic tournament in assists and points in 1994 and being a veteran member on the awesome 2002 Olympic team that finished fourth.

He was also old enough to play for then-Czekoslovakia, 1991 and 1992 World Juniors (winning bronze at the former) and also the 1991 Canada Cup.

Here he is with the Pens, on card #AF-ZP from Upper Deck's 2005-06 SP Game-Used Edition set and Authentic Fabrics sub-set:
It shows him wearing the Pens' white (now-away) uniform, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

The 26th overall pick of the 1991 draft also finished fifth in Lady Byng voting in 2000-01 while with the Kings, and is often thought of as underrated at best or underappreciated by a lot of folks. Perhaps it's because his story line hadn't been pre-written. We're talking about a guy who was a point-per-game player and a 40-goal man in the Dead Puck Era. Had he not played on Long Island and on the West Coast for most of his career, he definitely would have won some hardware and appeared in more than just three All-Star Games.

Here's a video montage of a few of his goals with the Kings:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Joe Thornton Autograph Card

I know I'd predicted/hoped the Pittsburgh Penguins would win in six games against the San Jose Sharks, but before Game 5, I was hoping they'd get it over with; however, Martin Jones deserved to have people talk about his performance for another two days, so I'll be content if they get it done this weekend.

Joe Thornton had another assist in the Sharks' 4-2 win, putting him at 3 goals, 18 assists and 21 points in 23 games in these playoffs, after an 82-point (19 goals, 63 assists) regular season. His career playoff point totals aren't awful (121 in 155 games), but they mostly pale to his regular-season play, and he usually can't seem to make his teammates better or stand up when it counts.

Which didn't stop Team Canada from adding him to their World Cup roster for September two weeks ago, because when he's surrounded by game-breakers, as can be attested by his 2010 Olympic gold medal and his 2004 World Cup title on teams led by Jonathan Toews and the Tampa Bay Lightning trio (Martin Saint-Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards), respectively, he doesn't ruin his team's chances either; he's usually just a towering non-factor that makes few mistakes.

Here he is wearing the Boston Bruins' alternate jersey from the turn-of-the-millennium, on the signed insert version of card #9 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
I wasn't very fond of these jerseys; yellow isn't my thing. But now that we have the Nashville Predators doing even worse with it, these don't look half as bad. The card looks much better to the naked eye: there are nice shades and the thin black-sharpied signature stands out a lot more.