Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Alex Killorn Swatch Card

I thought I could use my last post of the year to feature a player I've grown to like in the past two and a half seasons, Alex Killorn of the Tampa Bay Lightning - and not just because we share a birthday and having grown up in Montréal. (He attended Loyola High School, which was located maybe ten streets from where I grew up myself, though we have a ten-year age difference).

After starring in the final three of his four seasons with the Harvard Crimson in the NCAA, Killorn won the Calder Cup with the Norfolk Admirals in 2011-12, and then graduated to the NHL where he has been consistent in his point-per-game averages, on pace for 40 points per 80 games every year.

As a center, he will undoubtedly play behind Steven Stamkos for the duration of his career in Tampa - which isn't the worst place - and should reach the 20-goal mark quite a few times - maybe five or six - and I've got him penciled for the 60-point mark three or four times as well.

He was close to a point-per-game producer in the AHL, so once experience and getting used to better teammates sets in, he should gain the consistency to avoid longer slumps and, combined with his decent speed (I'd say he's in the upper-30% of the league in terms of skating) and once his body weight remains over the 200-pound bar consistently, he can work in becoming the ideal #2 center, capable of containing the opposition on most nights and generating offense at the same time.

He should also be able to replace Jonathan Drouin on the first-line left wing in a few years in injury situations, once he sees how a top-level passer sets up a top-level sniper in more than just a straightforward manner. With a full degree in political science from Harvard, he's proven he can learn.

At just 25 years old, he's already an important part of what makes the Lightning contenders this season, and for perhaps the next three to five. And things are looking up!

You can imagine how happy I was to unearth this 2013-14 Crown Royale silver foil card (#HT-AK of the Heirs To The Throne and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets) by Panini last year, featuring him in the team's blue (home) uniform, with a white event-worn swatch:


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Curt Fraser Autograph Card

I was a bit surprised to find Curt Fraser in In The Game's 2013-14 Enforcers II series with this Autograph sub-set card (#A-CF in the collection, signed in black sharpie on what's a great use for a sticker):

Not that he was soft by any means, he did have memorable fights against the likes of Willi Plett and Bob Probert, but Fraser never hit the 200-PIM mark in the NHL (his tops was 182 penalty minutes in 1986-87 with the Chicago Blackhawks).

He's pictured as a member of the Vancouver Canucks - with their (in)famous black ''Flying V'' uniform from the early 1980s - a team for which he was a first-liner with Stan Smyl and helped lead to the Stanley Cup Finals, and with whom he had two of his five 25-goal seasons; the other three were with the Hawks.

A rare player to have suited up for both Team Canada (1978 World Juniors) and Team USA (1987 Canada Cup), Fraser played in 704 regular-season games (403 points and 1306 PIMs) and 65 more in the playoffs (33 points and 198 PIMs), retiring after the 1989-90 season with back problems.

He is currently an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars, and has head coaching experience with the Atlanta Thrashers as well as the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, the Detroit Red Wings' farm club.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Derek Roy Jersey Card

It's time to welcome Derek Roy to the madness that is this season's Edmonton Oilers team! Indeed, instead of claiming him off waivers, the Oilers decided to trade Mark Arcobello - who I've featured here before - to the Nashville Predators to obtain Roy; my guess is, after claiming Matt Fraser from the Boston Bruins yesterday, the Oilers might also claim Dany Heatley to play with Roy on a second line with David Perron, i.e. a ''Last Chance'' line if you will (well, except for the still-solid Perron).

I do understand why some Oilers fans/bloggers are boggled, but I do see how the Oilers had to shed one small center to fit another one in. And still, Roy is an inch taller, 15 pounds heavier, and has the experience of having advanced to the third round of the playoffs, as well as a couple of silver medals with Team Canada (World Juniors, and World Championships) - the type of experience the Oilers' kids need to listen to and learn from.

I get the move by GM Craig MacTavish, but it's still not the move he should be making; he's either stalling, or is getting very sub-par offers for Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and / or Justin Schultz.

We'll see how it goes, though, the bigger picture - if there is one - will become clearer in time.

In the meantime, here's a Frankencard from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Series 1 set (#GJ-RD of the Game Jersey sub-set), showing him with the Buffalo Sabres' white uniform with a matching swatch, but listing him as a member of the Dallas Stars - he would finish that season with the Vancouver Canucks, before moving on to the St. Louis Blues last year, and the Preds and Oilers this year. That's six teams in not even four seasons...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tyler Pitlick Autograph Card

After scoring a huge check of my Habs Numbers Project with this Scotty Bowman card 48 hours ago, I decided to check #68 off of my Oilers Numbers Project with a player who has a link to my Sens Numbers Project, Tyler Pitlick, with this card from Panini's 2013-14 Contenders set (#223 in the collection, part of the Rookie Ticket and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets, signed on-card in thin blue sharpie and showing him in the Edmonton Oilers' classic blue - now home - uniform):

As you've probably guessed, Tyler is Lance Pitlick's nephew, and while Tyler is a center and Lance was a defenseman, the elder Pitlick - who now runs a stick-handling-oriented hockey school and training program - says his nephew has a lot more offensive talent than he ever did. I liked Lance a lot, and I respect his opinion.

The 23-year-old's statistics at every level show that he was among the good players for the Minnesota State University, Mankato Mavericks before being a better-than-point-per-game producer in the WHL, and has progressed very well in the AHL as well, from 23 points in 62 games in 2011-12 to 22 points in 39 games last season (with 10 games in Edmonton) to 9 points in 14 games this year.

At 6'2'' and weighing over 200 pounds, the right-shooting pivot may soon become a hot commodity should he start really keep developing at the top level; centermen his size that shoot right-handed are relatively rare, even more so when it comes to those who can play on a team's top-9 or top-6.

I personally don't think the second-round pick will become a 60-point man in the NHL as a few experts had predicted when he was chosen 31st overall in 2010, but he's pretty dependable defensively, and I think he can man a third line on a deep team that only uses its fourth line to check opponents, or he could be a 40-point man on average (30-to-45 for maybe 4 or 5 years) on a weak team's second line where he'd get plenty of ice time, like the Arizona Coyotes or Carolina Hurricanes.

The last couple of years, I thought he and Mark Arcobello might switch second- and third-line duties in Edmonton for the foreseeable future (or both on the second line with one of them playing right wing), but in all honesty, Leon Draisaitl looks more like the perfect candidate for that position at this point.

But the kid has heart, and he likes to initiate contact. He's not afraid of hanging around the front of the net. He just might need to shoot more, but those types of opportunities come in due time when the effort level's there. He's got the balls to wear Jaromir Jagr's jersey number, so here's hoping he can match Grandfather Time's intensity level. He seems to know what it takes to stay in the NHL at this point. I can only wish him the best.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Oliver Ekman-Larsson Jersey Card

Well, the World Juniors are under way, and what better pretext to feature one of the NHL's most underrated defensemen, Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes. If this guy were playing in a hockey town - or anywhere on the East Coast - he'd no doubt be in the same conversations as Victor Hedman.

He's been on a 40-point pace each year since his sophomore season - again, with the Coyotes, a team who does have another big-minute defender in Keith Yandle but never really had top-notch talent up front to complete the plays started from the back end. He's often in the minuses (because the Coyotes) but still manages to get some Norris votes, finishing 7th in the race in 2012-13 (with three first-place votes) and 14th last year.

He has all the tools required to be among the elite at his position for a long time. His smooth and seemingly effortless skating hides dashing speed - not unlike Scott Niedermayer at a certain time. And his dazzling speed doesn't come on its own, as he can make plays at top speeds as well, not just blast forward and get lost in the moment.

Defensively, his style's closer to Nicklas Lidstrom's, though they're not on the same level. After all, Lidstrom's among the best of all time (definitely top-5 for me, with Doug Harvey, Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Larry Robinson), but Ekman-Larsson also has that near-perfect positioning and ability to just scoop the puck away from opponents at the right time.

Like Hedman, the 23-year-old already has extensive international experience, having won two silver (2011 World Championships and 2014 Olympics) and two bronze medals (2010 World Juniors and 2010 World Championships) with Team Sweden, with the swatch from this card seemingly from one of the latter two tournaments:
It's from In The Game's 2011-12 Canada Vs The World set (#IMM-18 of the International Material sub-set, the ''Black'' - or ''least rare'' variation), showing him wearing Sweden's classic blue uniform, with matching swatch.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Scotty Bowman Autographed Card

How should I go about this one?

Option 1: When it comes to Holidays, the one that counts the most is the one with ''the big man'', coming to bring you presents, and in the hockey world, as far as coaches are concerned, there is no one alive bigger than Scotty Bowman, who brought his teams Stanley Cups like Santa Claus fills Christmas stockings.

Or Option 2: Every team needs a head coach, even my all-time Habs Numbers Project team, and what better way than with the winning-est coach of all time, Scotty Bowman?

Either way, I win:
It's card #160 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Canadiens Centennial set, signed in black sharpie a couple of years ago at a function with other former Habs - he didn't want to sign it at first, but he remembered Gustave Lacombe, my grandfather who was a journalist and news editor in the 1970s and also had two or three Canadiens players boarding at his house in any give year, and his face changed from scary to friendly in half a second after that. Still, I left him alone for the rest of the evening.

He rarely comes back to his hometown these days, living in the U.S. on a permanent basis for the past 30 years, and most team functions he attends are those of the Detroit Red Wings or, in working duties, the Chicago Blackhawks, with whom he serves as a consultant for GM Stan Bowman, his son.

Like many things related to the Montréal Canadiens of the 1950s-1980s (and again under Bob Gainey's watch in the 2000s), Bowman didn't always have it easy in Montréal. He coached the Habs-affiliated Ottawa Canadiens in the Québec Junior League to a championship, and led the Peterborough Petes to the Memorial Cup, then more championships with the NDG Monarchs and Montréal Junior Canadiens, but still didn't get his first taste of the NHL with the Canadiens, instead starting as an assistant with the St. Louis Blues, but taking over head coaching duties mid-season and leading them to three straight Stanley Cup Finals in his first three seasons at the helm before bowing out in the first round in his fourth season.

Come 1971, he was appointed to coach the Habs, replacing Al MacNeil, who not only didn't speak French but favoured playing anglophones (Frank and Pete Mahovlich over Jean Béliveau, Yvan Cournoyer and Jacques Lemaire up front, Terry Harper over Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, Jean-Claude Tremblay and Jacques Laperrière on defense, Phil Myre in 30 games in goal despite his statistics being far from Rogatien Vachon's). The farthest thing from a ''player's coach'', Bowman was strict and at times even mean, but apart from teaching someone a lesson / showing them who was boss, he gave the best players the most ice time and was deemed more fair than his predecessor. His goal was to win the Stanley Cup every year, and he would do anything he had to to get there.

On a team that included Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Lapointe, Yvon Lambert and Mario Tremblay among the renowned partiers, the fact that Bowman wouldn't begrudge his players' off-the-rink habits as long as they performed well during games kept the locker room balanced. The coach also had tricks up his sleeve to disrupt the opposition, knowing when to use his tough guys (John Ferguson played under his watch), but also using the city's rabid hockey fanbase and his contacts to have the fire alarm sound off at the hotels where opposing players were staying in the middle of the night, so they'd be tired when it came time to play against the Habs.

And just like it didn't start like a fairy tale for Bowman with a stint in St. Louis before getting the call in Montréal, it ended abruptly when he wasn't offered the general manager's job when his mentor, mastermind Sam Pollock, retired.

The Buffalo Sabres came calling, offering him the dual GM/head coach job. In seven seasons in Buffalo, he held the head coaching job for four full seasons and parts of three others, where he served as interim bench boss after firing whoever he'd appointed when they couldn't do the job.

He stepped down and took some time off from the daily grind of the game, appearing occasionally on CBC's Saturday-night show Hockey Night In Canada for the end of the 1980s, until he became director of player personnel with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990, winning the Stanley Cup with the team in that role. However, after the Cup win, head coach Bob Johnson was diagnosed with cancer, and Bowman replaced him behind the bench, leading the team to its second straight Cup.

He left after the 1992-93 season, after the two-time champs and regular-season leaders were ousted in the first round, signing with the Wings, where he coached for 9 years, winning three more Cups in the process while playing in the same conference as the Colorado Avalanche (winners of two themselves), and losing in the Finals to the New Jersey Devils in 1994-95, also known as the Year Hockey Died.

He helped bring the Wings back to respectability, and had the team's old-timers be proud to walk into the Joe Louis Arena every game again. Detroit became an attractive place where superstars could come win a Cup before they retired (Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Luc Robitaille).

By then he had adapted his coaching style, softening it to become a better teacher, communicating more, developing strategies to make use of the NHL's modern landscape, such as having five Russian players - or five Swedes by the end of his tenure - play together and communicate only in their own language on the ice to foil the opposition with tactics they could only see but not hear; he also made the ''left wing lock'' (where the left winger is more of a defensive rover) a common thing to counter the straight-up trap the Lemaire-coached Devils used to kill the game.

He is the NHL's all-time leader in regular-season wins (1244) and postseason wins (222), and counting all Cups at every level, his 13 as a coach and executive rank second only to Jean Béliveau's 17 (10 as a player, 7 as an executive). The way the Hawks are built, he could very well earn a couple more before he decides to step away from the game completely.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nathan Beaulieu Autograph Card

I'm saving a very special ''feature'' for tomorrow, but with the World Juniors set to begin in a few days and Nathan Beaulieu now seemingly with the Montréal Canadiens to stay (he's played very well of late, perhaps a little too hesitant to go on the offense like he will later, but that's ok, Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban can take care of that aspect for now), I thought I could feature him playing for Team Canada, wearing the #28 uniform of his youth that he has now switched to with the Habs as well, after wearing #40 previously:

It's from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Team Canada set (the same as the regular #147 card but with a sticker autograph signed in blue sharpie and the Signatures mention on the left-hand side), showing him wearing the country's white (usually playing the ''home'' side) uniform.

Beaulieu has a bronze medal from the 2012 World Juniors, where he had a single assist in 6 games, way off from the near point-per-game pace he kept in the LHJMQ. He has also yet to score a goal in the NHL in 43 games so far (yeah, I'll be ready when he does), with just 6 assists (2 per year since 2012-13), but he's improved consistently in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs, so my guess is once he hits his stride, it'll be smooth sailing.

Still, he just turned 22, so I don't expect him to reach anything close to his peak for 3 more years. As Snoop Dogg would put it: ''Slow and steady is all to the gravy''.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Vincent Lecavalier Jersey Card

Is Vincent Lecavalier back? He had a game-tying goal and an assist on Sunday, led the Philadelphia Flyers in shots, and played exactly the way the team thought he might when they hired him: physically, North-South, no bullshit, all effort. The type of attitude he'd developed as captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and one he further delved into after a grueling series against the Flyers - and Keith Primeau in particular - in 2004.

Lecavalier stills owns Tampa's single-season record for points (108), is second to Martin St-Louis on the team's all-time points and assists list, and tops the career goals mark for the Lightning - which will probably be surpassed by Steven Stamkos in the next five years. He's won a Stanley Cup, a World Cup in which he was named MVP while suiting up for Team Canada, a Rocket Richard Trophy (for most goals in a season), a King Clancy for leadership and serving his community, and has been a perennial All-Star, even once captaining his All-Star team.

He's not as fast as he used to be, but when he has the puck, he still has the strength to plow through the opposition, stand tall and not fall when checked, and can pass and shoot accurately. He won't be at an advantage playing on a fourth line with guys who can't keep up with his skill level for long, but he still managed to score 20 goals last year while changing linemates and positions pretty much every game in head coach Craig Berube's doghouse. Philly tried to trade him this summer but with most teams with money being strapped by the salary cap, GM Ron Hextall couldn't find any takers.

And so the back-and-forth with Berube continued, and Vinny was scratched for the first time of his (potentially Hall Of Fame-worthy) 14-year career a month ago. Berube, a career grinder, seemingly needs to see players showing their teeth and growling at opponents to be satisfied, whereas Lecavalier, though tough as nails, isn't an instigator, and is a classy and elegant player until pushed... where he becomes the very definition of a power forward. His captain-versus-captain bout with Jarome Iginla will forever be my favourite NHL fight of all time, because it pitted two superstars going at it in the heat of the moment, marking the end of an offense/defense battle:

He has also fought other stars (Zdeno Chara twice, Marian Hossa) as well as actual tough guys (Denis Gauthier twice, Brad Ference, Andy Sutton, Alex Petrovic) and some heart-and-soul guys (Alexandre Burrows, and Scott Hartnell), too.

As I said, he's a tad slower than he used to be, but I think he can still be a 40-50 point producer in the NHL, playing in the middle-six with some powerplay time which, with the two years he has remaining on his contract, should enable him to pass the 450-goal and 1000-point marks relatively easily.

Here he is wearing Tampa Bay's old black and white away uniform, from Upper Deck's 2006-07 SPx set (card #WM-VL of the Winning Materials sub-set), with a dual white swatch:
On it, he's sprting the alternate captain's "A".

Monday, December 22, 2014

Curtis Lazar Jersey Card

Congratulations are in order for Curtis Lazar, who was named the captain of Team Canada ahead of the World Juniors which will start this weekend in Montréal and conclude in Toronto at the end of the Holidays. The young forward from British Columbia is on loan from the Ottawa Senators - the team that drafted him 17th overall in 2013 - after suiting up for them 27 times this year so far. The hope is that he plays a central role in redeeming last year's 4th-place finish on home ice and can return to the team fully energized and ready to take on more responsibility at the NHL level as the Sens make a push towards a playoff spot.

He's broken records belonging to Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby at the Midget level, and from the moment he stepped into the WHL with the Edmonton Oil Kings, he has been on a steady stream of improvement, netting 31 points in 63 regular-season points in his rookie season followed by an impressive 19 in 20 games in the playoffs, and accumulating 38 goals and 61 points in 72 games in his sophomore year, saving his best for last, 41 goals and 76 points in just 58 regular-season games last year, plus 10-12-22 in 20 games to lead the Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup last year.

He's been compared to Milan Lucic a lot because he's built tough (210 pounds on his 6'0'' frame at just 19 years old), but as a right-handed center who likes to play in traffic and can also pass, I'd compare him to Ryan Getzlaf.

Here he is sporting the Oil Kings' red uniform, from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set (card #M-05 of the Game-Used Jersey sub-set, the ''Black'' version), with a huge matching swatch that take sup most of the card:

Cool card depicting a player who'll help the Sens for a long time; he and Kyle Turris will make a nice one-two punch at center ice that will match up with some of the best teams within three years.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Joel Otto Autograph Card

The Calgary Flames did the right thing last week by extending head coach Bob Hartley's contract, though it's weirdly timed that they're in the midst of an eight-game winless streak that is showing some of the lapses (mostly inexperience, but also a bit of a lack of depth now that the mid-season fatigue is close to upon us) many experts saw in them at the beginning of the season when they predicted the team would fall just short of a playoff spot.

Now that Hartley's safe in his seat, perhaps changes will come among his assistants. Hartley's long-time associate coach Jacques Cloutier (the pair won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche) seems safe in his position, so either Martin Gélinas will go, or they will add someone else, perhaps a special teams specialist.

As I wrote back in April, I think Joel Otto will be that person. He's already on the WHL's Calgary Hitmen coaching staff (owned by the Flames), is a former Flames letterman, Stanley Cup champion, World Cup champion, Team USA captain, face-off specialist, second-unit powerplay and first-unit penalty-kill center, and totally ''Flames tough''. Like Hartley, he's a terrific teacher and respects players who work hard; where Hartley's more of a motivator, Otto seems more of a congratulatory type. The only thing I see that would make him not take the job would be its implications of long road trips and being away from his family more, i.e. the same reasons why Larry Robinson will step down from a similar role with the San Jose Sharks after this season.

And so I present you this card showing him with the Flames' mid-1990s uniform, alternate captain's ''A'' clearly visible, signed on-card clearly in thin black sharpie, from In The Game's 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s (#A-JOT in the set of Autograph inserts):

ITG thinks these through very well; I'm particularly fond of the picture of the Olympic Saddledome - where the Flames and Hitmen currently play their home games - in the background; there are plans for the teams to move into a new arena within five to ten years, so this may become an archival piece as well as a great card to have.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dany Heatley & Jason Spezza Jersey Card

Pardon my absence this week, as I had way too much work and was dealing with a pretty bad case of the mumps flu.

I thought about writing a few posts, was hoping perhaps a return from last season's of this year's mailings would come in to get my spirits up, but it didn't happen. I could even have gone to the game tonight, pitting the Ottawa Senators against the Montréal Canadiens, but I'm still a bit too groggy to want to step out into the winter if I can avoid it, so I'll watch it from the comfort of my home instead. And probably nap during the second period.

Still, I figured I could talk about the Sens a bit, through this card featuring their former star sniper Dany Heatley and former captain and star playmaker Jason Spezza, from Upper Deck's 2006-07 SP Game-Used Edition set (card #AF2-SH of the Authentic Fabrics / Dual Jersey sub-set, numbered 77/100), showing both of them wearing the Sens' red uniform, Heatley with a matching red swatch, and Spezza with a black one:

Heatley was a bona fide NHL star for a while, twice scoring 50 goals, scoring 41 two other times and 39 twice as well, being voted in 5 All-Star Games and playing in four, being named the MVP in one. However, the fact that he has demanded trades from the Atlanta Thrashers (in an understandable move, considering) and the Sens (childishly, after being demoted to the second powerplay unit), then proceeded to see his goals totals plummet (26, 24, 11, 12) with the Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks - finishing last season with just 28 total points in 76 games - screams ''entitlement'' and ''pouty behaviour''. He tried to revive his career with the Anaheim Ducks this season, but injuries have prevented him from doing so. Perhaps it's time for him to realize that at age 33, his body has accomplished what it had set out to, and not let his legacy be tainted by additional sub-par years.

His accomplishments even extend further than the NHL: his play for Team Canada has garnered him Olympic gold (2010), World Cup gold (2004), World Championship gold (2003 and 2004), World Championship silver (2005, 2008, and 2009) and World Juniors bronze (2000 and 2001), two World Championship MVP nods (2004 and 2008), and the record for most career goals and points on Canada's men's teams. While I think a Hockey Hall Of Fame berth is out of the question, he does have a case for the IIHF one.

Spezza, on the other hand, remains a potent offensive force in the NHL. Originally slated to be the Dallas Stars' second-line center this year, injuries and Ales Hemsky's slow start forced the team to play him as a winger on the first line, and he was in the league's top-20 for assists and points for most of the year (he remains 18th in assists as of this writing but has fallen considerably for total points in the last two weeks). He and Tyler Seguin are probably the two lone bright spots on the Stars thus far, though.

Spezza was the best man at Heatley's wedding. And now they're both playing down South.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Martin Erat Jersey Card

I hope the Nashville Predators don't win the Stanley Cup this year, because it might incite weird debates, such as ''do we send former Washington Capitals GM George McPhee a ring? Or perhaps Martin Erat?''

You might recall the Caps acquired Erat at the trade deadline two seasons ago for what they were hoping was a long playoff run, and it cost them highly-touted prospect Filip Forsberg - currently the favourite in the running for the Calder Trophy, the rookie leader in points and the NHL leader in +/-.

Erat's career started to dwindle in Nashville, and he asked for a trade, making his value plummet - though David Poile still managed to acquire quite an asset in return; Erat then didn't do so well in Washington either, and asked for another trade, which happened at last year's trade deadline.

He is currently with the lowly Phoenix Coyotes, with 12 points in 30 games, good for 7th on the team.

He is a three-time 20-goal scorer (with a high of 23 in 2007-08), and five-time 50-point maker (with a high of 58 in 2011-12), with three more years at 49 points, which is to say he's been a steady contributor for the better part of a decade, though in the NHL, many first-liners get their 50 points, so it could have been more of a matter of the Preds not having anyone better to play ahead of him. Honestly, I wouldn't know, living in the East and following mostly the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings out West, I didn't catch too many of Nashville's games these past few years; I would have thought he'd be in the same category as a Radim Vrbata, but Vrbata's proving to be solid this year in a brand new context.

Suiting up for the Czech Republic, he has medals of each kind: gold at the World Juniors (2001), silver (2006) and bronze (2012) at the World Championships, and bronze at the Olympics (2006).

Here's a card of the speedy winger wearing the Predators' awful all-yellow then-home uniform, from Upper Deck's 2002-03 Series 1 set (card #HP-ME of the New NHL Hot Spots / Game Used Jersey sub-set) featuring a blue swatch (likely from the away uniform):
Judging from his position and the fact that his helmet isn't strapped on, the picture is probably from a pre-game skate.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Jean-Gabriel Pageau Autograph Card

At first glance, when the Ottawa Senators drafted hometown boy Jean-Gabriel Pageau 96th overall in 2011, it may have looked like a risky pick, but seeing the way he dominated his opposition in Juniors (the Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier was among the victims of Pageau's brilliant two-way play), it was a gamble worth making.

Unfortunately for Pageau and the Sens, head coach Paul MacLean, seeing his sound play, elected to groom him little by little, by playing third- and fourth-line minutes rather than place him in an offensive role from the get-go (not unlike the Flyers with Couturier), so his NHL statistics so far (4 goals, 6 points in 32 regular-season games) don't seem all that impressive, but his 4 goals and 6 points in 10 playoff games sure do. As a matter of fact, he and Daniel Alfredsson are the only two Sens ever to have recorded a hat trick in the post-season.

GM Bryan Murray has said all year that Pageau deserved to make the team from training camp, but as the only forward eligible to be sent to the AHL's Binghamton Senators without having to clear waivers, he was on the outside looking in almost regardless of his play.

It's safe to say, though, that after posting a 20-goal and 44-point season in 46 AHL games last year and 18 points (second among forwards) in 25 games this year, he's earned his call-up in the wake of injuries to Chris Neil and Zach Smith.

With news that the Sens fired MacLean last week and replaced him with Dave Cameron, there was a sense that the 5'9'' speedster who turned 22 less than a month ago seemed to fit better on the younger, faster team that will try to make it back in the playoff picture with structured play and strong efforts - two things Pageau has in spades, in addition to his upside in the attacking zone.

It's fitting, then, that I share #44 off my Sens Numbers Project with this card of Pageau's, who has tremendous potential, when I already had one of Jason Spezza with the same number:

It's card #179 from the Authentic Rookie sub-set of Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition collection, showing him in the Senators' white (away) uniform, with a blue-sharpied, on-sticker autograph, with his jersey number tagged at the end.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cory Conacher Jersey Card

I wrote about Cory Conacher having been a healthy scratch for the New York Islanders last month... well, he's now cleared waivers and is off the the AHL to play for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Sure it's a fall from grace of sorts, for someone who'd been an early front-runner for the Calder Trophy in his rookie season (though by the end he fell to 6th in voting), but at this point, the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres and Islanders have all lost patience with him at the NHL level, so perhaps lighting up the AHL will be his way back to The Show, but to say his point production has taken a significant drop would be an understatement: after a rookie year in which he posted 11 goals and 29 points in 47 games, he fell to 7 goals and 26 points in 79 games last year, and had a measly 1 goal and 2 assists (3 points) in 15 games with the Isles this year, despite some playing time with John Tavares.

Conacher's just about two years removed from an 80-point season with the Norfolk Admirals, though, so perhaps that's just what the doctor ordered. Or maybe his skill level falls in the cracks between ''too good for the AHL'' and ''not quite NHL material''.

In any case, here's a Rookie Materials card of him with the Sens, #RM-CO of Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 set:

It depicts him with the Senators' red (home) uniform, but has a swatch from a rookie photo shoot that is white, that could come from either that same uniform, or their white (away) one, or even that of the Tampa Bay Lightning, with whom he started his career before being sent to Ottawa.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dwayne Roloson Autograph Card

Dwayne Roloson accomplished many things in his NHL career: he was a top-ten finalist for the Vezina Trophy twice, almost single-handedly (with the help of a very strong Chris Pronger) brought the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2005-06 where he would have been a likely candidate for the Conn Smythe had his team won - or had he not gotten injured in the first game.

He retired three years ago at over 42 years old, and has since signed on with the Anaheim Ducks as their goaltending consultant, and he backed up Jason LaBarbera last month in an emergency situation, where I was kind of rooting for him to play at least a minute in so he could stand as the third-oldest NHL goalie to suit up in a game, after Johnny Bower and Maurice Roberts. As it stands, he was already the last player to retire that had been born in the 1960s.

He led the league in save percentage in 2003-04 while playing with the Minnesota Wild, stopping 93.3% of pucks - a year after finishing second with a .926 save percentage, which is why it's fitting to feature him with the Wild's white (then-home) uniform:
It's card #DR of Upper Deck's 2005-06 Be A Player set (the Signatures sub-set), signed on a sticker in thin black sharpie.

Despite playing on some sub-par teams (late-90s Calgary Flames, turn-of-the-millennium Buffalo Sabres, 2009-10 New York Islanders, 2010-11 Tampa Bay Lightning), Roloson finished his career with decent statistics: a 227-257-82 record in 606 games, 29 shutouts and a 2.72 GAA and .908 save percentage - and over 15,000 total saves. His playoff statistics are even better, with a 2.54 GAA and .918 save percentage.

Suiting up for Team Canada, he has a trifecta of World Championship medals: gold (2007), silver (2009), and bronze (1995).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rob Niedermayer: Two Jersey Cards

One thing that's cool about follow-up sets is when they put the effort to make a player collectable by showing him wearing different uniforms on the cards, such as these two cards of Rob Niedermayer from Upper Deck:
The card on top, showing him wearing the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim's white (then-home) jersey with a matching swatch is from the 2005-06 Series 1 set (card #J-RN), while the bottom one, showing him in the Mighty Ducks' purple and teal (away) uniform with a teal swatch is from the follow-up 2005-06 Series 2 collection (card #J2-NI). The cards themselves kept the same design and colour scheme, but to show the alternate captain wearing both uniforms, I thought, was a nice touch.

One can safely say that Rob was more of a grinder than his brother Scott Niedermayer, who was a superstar and Hall Of Famer, yet Rob ended up being the type of team player you want to make a deep run. He started on that trend by winning gold with Team Canada at the World Juniors (1993), and helped his Florida Panthers to a Stanley Cup Finals in 1996 (where they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche), in his third NHL season.

After a short stint with the Calgary Flames, he was sent to the Mighty Ducks and made it to the Finals in his very first season there as well, this time losing to his brother's New Jersey Devils. He spent 6 seasons in Anaheim, where he did win the Cup - with brother Scott in tow - in 2007, three years after the siblings won gold together at the 2004 World Championships. The shut-down line Rob formed with Samuel Pahlsson and Travis Moen was essential to the Ducks beating the Ottawa Senators that year- as well as the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks in previous rounds.

After his time with the then-Anaheim Ducks, Rob spent a season in New Jersey, and another with the Buffalo Sabres, before heading to Switzerland for a final 14 games in 2011-12, with the storied HC Lugano, a seven-time league champion team established in 1941.

Never flashy, he passed the 40-point mark just twice in his career, with 61 (off a career-high 26 goals) in 1995-96, and 51 in 1998-99 (off second-best goals total, 18) - both times with the Panthers. He's the type of player I could see making a fine assistant coach in the AHL or NHL, or head coach in Juniors.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Daniel McGillis Autograph Card

Dan McGillis played in the NHL for 9 seasons, with his longest tenure coming with the Philadelphia Flyers, with whom he played for parts of six seasons. Initially a Detroit Red Wings draftee (238th overall in 1992), McGillis opted to go the U.S. College route and actually remained with the Northeastern University Huskies for four full seasons, after which the Edmonton Oilers traded for his rights by sending rugged winger Kirk Maltby to Detroit.

His rookie season went pretty well, as he registered 6 goals and 22 points in 73 games (and 5 more assists in 12 playoff games), garnering some Calder Trophy votes in the process.  He got to be so valuable that the Flyers were willing to part with powerplay quarterback Janne Niinimaa to acquire his services - a deal that happened at the trade deadline in his second season.

He was solid with the Flyers, with some PP and PK time, facing the best opposition, and twice exceeding the 40-point mark, with a high of 49 (on 14 goals) in 2000-01, earning some Norris and end-of-season All-Star Team consideration.

The make-up of the Flyers' blue-line changed by 2002-03, however, and with Éric Desjardins still playing some All-Star-caliber hockey, and with the rise of Kim Johnsson and Eric Weinrich's steady play, McGillis was deemed expendable - and trade bait. The Flyers sent him to the San Jose Sharks, with whom he played for 37 games (with 3 goals and 16 total points), who themselves flipped him to the Boston Bruins before season's end, where his lone assist in 10 regular-season games wasn't all that impressive, but his 3 goals in 5 playoff games were.

Enough to warrant the New Jersey Devils to sign him to a two-year contract contract... only to bury it in the AHL to fit under the salary cap. That marked the end of his tenure in the NHL - despite accumulating 66 points on 17 goals in 108 AHL games - and after a failed tryout with the Vancouver Canucks, he played three more seasons in Germany with the Mannheim Eagles (or Adler, as they say), and retired after the 2009-10 season.

Being bilingual (he's fluent in French) and from Hawkesbury, Ontario, he would have been a natural to suit up for either the Ottawa Senators or Montréal Canadiens, but that never happened.

Records usually show him wearing #23 with the Oilers, but this card instead sees him fulfilling #33 of my Oilers Numbers Project:

It's from Pinnacle Brands' 1997-98 Be A Player set (card #131 in the collection), signed in black sharpie with the same number he is shown wearing (33) tagged at the end; he's shown wearing the Oilers' white (home) mid-1990s uniform (with Oil driller shoulder patch).

He had a solid career, even suiting up for Team Canada at the 2020 World Championships, and I'm more than happy to have found this card of his pre-Flyers days inserted in one of the packs I bought at random a few years ago.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jacob Trouba Jersey Card

A cool thing about the midway point of a season in terms of card releases is to see rookies wearing a brand-new uniform, as was the case when I unwrapped this 2013-14 Series 2 Jacob Trouba Rookie Materials card from Upper Deck last season:
It shows him wearing the Winnipeg Jets' current white (away) uniform, with a black (or dark blue) swatch from a photo shoot, well placed below the action shot, in a very lively design.

Trouba was selected 9th overall in 2012, and at the time I didn't know who he was, because he'd mainly played with the U.S. Development Team, though the team had won two U-18 World Championship gold medals.

I saw a lot of him the following year, as Team USA won gold at the World Juniors and he was named the tournament's top defender, before also suiting up for the national team at the World Championships in the Spring, where he participated in winning bronze.

You never want to get carried away with young defensemen, but it seems like 2012 was a particularly stellar year for the position at the draft, with Ryan Murray leading the charge at second overall, followed by Griffin Reinhart (4th), Morgan Rielly (5th), Hampus Lindholm (6th), Mathew Dumba (7th), Derrick Pouliot (8th), Slater Koekkoek (10th), Cody Ceci (15th), Olli Maata (22nd), Mike Matheson (23rd), Dalton Thrower (51st), and Shayne Gostisbehere (78th) all within the first three rounds.

Trouba, a tall, skinny, quick skater who can throw some hits but might need to add 20 more pounds to his frame to survive a decade of the contacts he initiates, had 10 goals, 19 assists, 29 points and was a +4 on a very poor Jets team in his rookie season last year, in just 65 games. This year, he has 12 points and is a +6 through 29 games, showing no signs of slumping. Granted, three of those points came in just one game against the Edmonton Oilers last week, but he still put them up on the board.

He, Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byflugien, and Zach Bogosian make for a very interesting top-4 on defense, definitely one of the strongest such units in the Eastern Conference.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Andrew Ladd Autograph Card

I wasn't always sold on Andrew Ladd. I didn't follow his career in the minors and in Juniors, and hadn't heard of him until the Carolina Hurricanes selected him 4th overall in 2004, one spot ahead of now-teammate Blake Wheeler, but also Ladislav Smid (9th), Cory Schneider (26th), Mike Green (28th), Johan Fransson (34th), David Booth (53rd), Alexei Emelin (84th), Alexander Edler (91st), Johan Franzen (97th), Dustin Boyd (98th), Pekka Rinne (258th) and Mark Streit (262th).

He did contribute to Team Canada's gold-winning team the following season, though, posting 7 points in 6 games on a team that included Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook and goalie Jeff Glass.

He won the Stanley Cup with the Canes in his rookie season in 2005-06, but as a Montréal Canadiens (first-round loss and an eye injury to Saku Koivu) and Edmonton Oilers (losing in the Finals, in part because of an injury to Dwayne Roloson) fan, I tend to want to forget that ever happened. So his 5 points in 17 playoff games didn't faze me so much.

In his third NHL season, Ladd was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, and through two straight deep playoff runs (including another Cup win), I came to really appreciate what this young player could bring to a team. He didn't ''finish'' as much as I would have liked with 99 points off 37 goals in 184 regular-season games with the Hawks (plus another 10 points in 36 playoff games) for a player of his size and determination, on such a stacked team, but he helped balance the line-up, and he did create chances offensively and could hold his own on the defensive side as well. He was built to perform in the playoffs.

The Hawks were forced to shed salary to comply with the cap, and thus many of their supporting cast were traded, mostly to the Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers. Ladd joined former Hawks Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel on the team that would become the Winnipeg Jets after relocating. He was made captain almost right away, on the strength of his two Cup wins.

It wasn't an easy run, from the final year in Atlanta to the first three in Winnipeg, but the Jets are hanging on this season, currently sitting in 4th place of the Central division behind powerhouses Chicago, the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. It sure didn't look so bright earlier in the season, but decent goaltending and adept coaching by Paul Maurice made the seemingly depth-deprived Jets contenders for a playoff spot, with the help of Ladd's leadership.

The 6'3'', 205-pound left winger has become a reliable point producer with the Jets, good for over 20 goals and 50 points, with a breakout season in 2012-13, where he had 18 goals and 46 points in 48 games, earning Lady Byng and Selke consideration for the second time of his career. At just 28 years old, he might even be good for a couple of 30-goal and 70-point seasons, but as I mentioned before, the numbers don't tell his whole story anyway. If I were a general manager, I'd look to have him play on the second line, with another tough, tall, physical, dependable, defensively-responsible perpetual winner - a Mike Richards-type, if you will.

I had written the Jets' captain last April, sending 4 cards his way, and haven't heard back yet. Luckily, I fell on this one through a store owner who was conducting a case opening this summer:

It's card #AU-AL of the Auto Biography sub-set of Panini's 2013-14 Playbook collection, numbered 3/99, signed on-card in blue sharpie, with his jersey number (16) right in the middle of his signature. It shows him wearing the Jets' dark blue (home) uniform.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Scott Gomez Jersey Card

If you thought Scott Gomez' days in the NHL were over because the Florida Panthers didn't re-sign him this summer after making him a healthy scratch for most of last season, the New Jersey Devils would like to remind you that loyalty still exists, and that they had a glaring need at center with all their injuries. And that there was a way to make their average roster age a bit higher. By offering Gomez a two-way deal. And promptly put him on the first line with Jaromir Jagr (who got injured).

I had written Gomez in March of 2012, sending 3 cards his way and never hearing back, and since he's the only Montréal Canadiens player to wear #91 in a regular-season game, I kind of had to revert to this jersey card for my Habs Numbers Project:

It's card #GJ2-SG of the UD Game Jersey sub-set of Upper Deck's 2009-10 Series 2 collection, showing him wearing the Canadiens' red (home) uniform #91, with a black swatch, probably from his days with the Devils.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Kyle Chipchura Jersey Card

Yes, the Arizona Coyotes are in panic mode.

After buying out their lone #1 center Mike Ribeiro last summer, then claiming to go through a youth movement before back-tracking and claiming veterans will help the team make the playoffs, the Coyotes saw their backup goalie Devan Dubnyk outplaying starter Mike Smith, the team is starting to hold post-game meetings, GM Don Maloney threatened to trade all of his players, including those with no-trade clauses - and he got on that by sending Rob Klinkhammer - a winger who had 20 points last season - to the Pittsburgh Penguins, then putting Kyle Chipchura (a shut-down, penalty-killing center who also had 20 points last season) on waivers earlier today.

At this point, I'm probably more confident to see the Edmonton Oilers bounce back before Arizona...

Getting rid of your ''sure things'' isn't the way to build a contender, it's a sure-fire way to tank. Within just a few months, Maloney got rid of his best offensive weapons (Ribeiro at center, and he let goal-scorer Radim Vrbata walk as well), and his penalty-killing center, because who need centers, passers and scorers, right?

Don't misunderstand me on the importance of Chipchura: he's slow for the NHL, and his 20 points last year were a career-high - an attainable goal, but far from a guarantee. What he can give you, though, is leadership (he captained Team Canada at the World Juniors and was drafted by the Montréal Canadiens in the first round on his leadership skills alone), ability in the face-off circle (i.e. ''initial possession''), and decent defensive play, particularly on the PK. And all teams need that, particularly teams who cannot replace that skill at a higher speed.

For my complete view and evaluation of his skill set, I'll refer you to this post I made in September, which I still stand by; the only thing that's changed since that post is I no longer keep contact with my ''new friend''.

But I thought the news of his being waived, and likely return to AHL play, warranted I talk about this terrific card, from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set (#M-10 of the Game-Used Jersey sub-set, the ''Black'' variant):

As you can see, it contains a rare jersey swatch with a stitch from both the red and white parts of the Hamilton Bulldogs' jersey, though it shows him wearing the Portland Pirates' red (away) uniform - and the alternate captain's ''A'' sewn on his chest. Either it was a mistake, or they used an old swatch, as Chipchura hadn't played for the Bulldogs since the 2008-09 season; then again, he hadn't played in the AHL at all between that season and 2011-12, and he was only there because of the lockout, as he played in 46 of the Phoenix Coyotes' 48 games when play resumed.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Daniel Alfredsson Autographed Card

I really wanted to feature this card in happier circumstances, when he'd announce he was to return for a final season, a farewell tour of sorts, but instead, here we are talking about Daniel Alfredsson's retirement. At least it came as a member of the Ottawa Senators, though I do feel a bit bad for the Detroit Red Wings, who waited on him since last June and who were to be the team he would have suited for had he been able to play. It also feels weird that all parties involved didn't choose a game between both teams for the announcement.

But, as they say, ''it is what it is'', and the possible Hall Of Famer signed a one-day contract with the Sens, skated in the pre-game warm-up, and addressed the crowd at the Scotiabank Place:




Alfie made an impact from the minute he got to the NHL - well, almost. After being drafted 133rd overall in 1994, he came over to North America for the 1995-96 season and didn't even have a stall to dress in during training camp, sitting on a tiny wooden chair instead, expected to be sent to the AHL for at least a whole season, perhaps even for ''a lot of seasoning''. And yet he made the team. And ended up leading it in scoring, and winning the Calder Trophy ahead of Saku Koivu.

At that time, the Sens' captain was Alexei Yashin who, while putting up some very good offensive numbers, was a public relations nightmare, three times holding out for more money in a five-year span despite having a contract, and trying to close backdoor deals with charities while redistributing parts of the proceeds to his parents. Yashin even demanded a trade the third time he held out, and Alfredsson stood up to his leader, saying the team didn't need to bother with a player who clearly didn't want to be there; the team immediately stripped Yashin of his captaincy and handed it to Alfredsson - and traded Yashin to the New York Islanders for Zdeno Chara, Jason Spezza and Bill Muckalt.

From that point on, Alfie stringed together nine straight 70-point seasons with the Sens, usually playing on a line with Spezza and Dany Heatley, perhaps the best trio in the league for a spell. He started getting injured more often as he hit his late-30s, and ultimately was forced to retire because the back pain was too severe to suit up for another season with the Wings, whom he led in scoring last season, at age 41, with 49 points in 68 games.

He retires with a Calder Trophy, a King Clancy (2012) and a Mark Messier Trophy (2013), six All-Star Games (two as a starter), a Second All-Star Team nod, an All-Rookie Team nod, as the 75th NHLer with over 1000 points, the Sens' career records for goals (426), assists (682) and points (1108), the team's marks for playoff games, goals, assists and points, the team records for best +/- in a season (+42), and most points in a single game (7).

He also would get Lady Byng, Selke and Hart votes pretty much every year, in addition to being a runner-up for the Masterton in 2011-12.

And though his team achievements in the NHL are reduced to losing one Stanley Cup Final where he carried the Sens on his back, he contributed to a Swedish league championship in 1994-95, and his international record with Team Sweden is astounding: 14 total participations, Olympic gold (2006) and silver (2014), two World Championship silver medals (1995 and 2004) and two bronze (1999 and 2001), and individual statistics of 32 goals, 42 assists and 74 points in 88 games with the mens' team, usually playing on its second line.

I had written him a fan letter and sent six cards in March 2011, care of the Sens (including one All-Star card and one with Sweden), and had never heard back, so I took it upon myself to ask for an autograph in person during the 2012-13 playoffs, pitting the Sens against my hometown Montréal Canadiens and came back with this card, from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Victory set (card #131 in the series), which he signed in blue sharpie:
Despite his overshadowing of Koivu at times and his being a legendary Habs-killer, I always admired Alfredsson, and he and Spezza are probably the only reason I paid any attention to the Sens from 2002 onwards when my interest in hockey came back, so much so that I probably have attended as many games in Kanata as I have at the Bell Centre here in Montréal in the years since.

I wish him the best, and wouldn't be surprised if he came back to Ottawa and/or Detroit in some capacity, be it as assistant coach, director of player development, or assistant general manager.

I now check #11 off my Sens Numbers Project.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kevin Bieksa: 2 Autographed Cards

It's a bittersweet time to be a fan of Hockey History, what with the passing of Gilles Tremblay, Jean Béliveau, Viktok Tikhonov and Pat Quinn, and the dwindling health of Gordie Howe and Jean-Paul Parisé. I plan to acknowledge (some of) those situations soon, but I had a return I wanted to talk about today.

Nearly a year in the making, I had sent Kevin Bieksa a fan letter and three cards, care of the Vancouver Canucks, on January 28th, 2014, and got these two back on December 3rd, 2014 - 309 days later - signed in blue sharpie, with his jersey number (3) in there:

A seasoned veteran and alternate captain on the Canucks, Bieksa, 33, is no stranger to taking on leadership roles: he was also an alternate captain for the Bowling Green (State University) Falcons - where he was a teammate of Jordan Sigalet's - as well as in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose and for Team Canada at the World Championships in 2014, tallying 4 points in 8 games from the point.

He's won awards in the NCAA, was on the All-Rookie team in the AHL and broke defensemen scoring records for the Moose, and has become one of Don Cherry's favourite defensemen, despite his always mispronouncing his name.

In his first full season in Vancouver in 2006-07, he paced the team's D with 30 assists, 42 points and 134 penalty minutes, usually while playing against the opposing team's top line. Known primarily as a creative offensive defender, he improved on the defensive side as well, posting a +32 rating in 2010-11 (ranking second in the NHL) the same year he gathered 10 points (5 goals and 5 assists) in 25 playoff games in the Canucks' unsuccessful Stanley Cup run. He even posted a career-best 44 points the following year.

He can shoot (and score), he can pass, he can defend, he's not afraid to fight, and he's a leader. Not bad for 2001's 151st draft pick. Not that there weren't any good players chosen later, because Mike Smith (161st), Dennis Seidenberg (172nd), Ryan Clowe (175th), Marek Zidlicky (176th), Jussi Jokinen (192nd), Brooks Laich (193rd), Cristobal Huet (214th), Johnny Oduya (221st), Marek Svatos (227th), Petr Cajanek (253rd), and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (254th) have all had respectable careers so far, but Bieksa is probably head and shoulders above all of them for his level of play as much as his consistency.

His draft class spawned 9 NHL All-Stars, and probably a hundred NHL regulars, and yet if it had to be done all over, his name would probably come out in his year's first round.

He's taken some heat of late for a few turnovers, but he'd still be a top-2 defenseman on most teams, and a top-4 on an elite team. He has a couple more years where he'll be able to keep up the pace before having to slow down when nature catches up to him, at which point his defensive efficiency and intelligence will take more space than his creativity, and he could have another good 3 years as a bottom-pairing blue-liner when he does get there.

The Canucks are one of those teams that changes uniforms regularly. While I prefer their 1980s black one the most, the turn-of-the-millennium one - of which this is the white (home) version - was also pretty cool:
It's card #10 in Fleer's 2007-08 Fleer Ultra set by Upper Deck.

I like it a lot better than the current/pretend-retro garbs represented by this white (away) uniform from Panini's 2012-13 Score set (card #451, the Gold variant):
It was well worth the wait!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Jaroslav Halak: 2 Autographed Cards

There are so many hockey stories to start the week (Scott Gomez signing in New Jersey, Daniel Brière scoring against the Habs, the players Team Canada chose to invite to its camp for the World Juniors) that I almost didn't know where to start, and who to feature.

Of course, getting a surprise in the mail that wasn't even a return (just a straight-up ''free'' gift) kind of supersedes any other story, particularly when it's from one's favourite goalie... who was just named the first star of the week. Of course, I'm referring to the New York Islanders' winner of nine straight games, Jaroslav Halak.

Per NHL.com:
Halak posted a 3-0-0 record with a 0.95 goals-against average, .964 save percentage and one shutout to help the Islanders (17-7-0, 34 points) win three of four starts and complete their best November in 34 years. (...) Halak extended his personal winning streak to a career-long nine games (1.18 GAA, .956 SV%, 3 SO); only Billy Smith has posted a longer such streak in Islanders history (Jan. 23 – Feb. 25, 1982: 10-0-0). The 29-year-old Bratislava, Slovakia, native is 12-4-0 in 16 appearances this season, ranking in the top 10 in the NHL in wins, goals-against average (2.13), save percentage (.926) and shutouts (3).
I talked a lot about Halak's recent stats back in July, but I want to point out that apart from the lockout-shortened season in which he only played 16 games due to injury and had a sub-par GAA of .899, this year's numbers are consistent with what he's always provided during the regular season:
GAAs in the low 2s, save percentages in the .920s, usually tremendous under pressure (long runs with teams looking to secure playoff spots). And that's saying nothing of his Conn Smythe-caliber playoff run in 2010 on a team that didn't believe in him and almost refused to let him play.

Speaking of which, here he is wearing the Montréal Canadiens' white uniform, from Panini's 2010-11 Score set (card #7 of the Playoff Heroes sub-set):

And one of him with the St. Louis Blues' blue (away) uniform from the beginning of the Reebok era, from Upper Deck's 2012-13 SP Authentic set (#4 in the collection):

Both cards came in on December 1st, 2014, signed in (fading) black sharpie, with his jersey number tagged at the end. I'm particularly happy about them because now that he's an Islander, I don't expect him to receive his mail anymore, meaning the only way to get his autograph now will be in person.

In my old days, I also wore Brian's equipment, mostly (though I had a Vaughn blocker and Victoriaville stick, the rest was all Brian's); therefore, I commend Halak's taste in protection, which usually looks as good as it protects.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Victor Hedman Autograph Card

By the way, this weekend marked the return of Victor Hedman to the Tampa Bay Lightning, following a month and a half on the long-term injury list. The towering former second-overall draft pick (in 2009) started looking like a Norris trophy candidate last season and was pretty much dominating in the five games he's played in so far to start the year.

If anything, his 7 points in his first 5 games made him one of the most valuable defenders in this salary-capped season, only accounting for $4M of his team's possible $69M. As for Norris talks, I usually hold out until mid-February to have a better idea, when play tightens and the injury situation is clearer, but he's definitely a member of the elite among defensemen now.

He turns 24 in a couple of weeks, with plenty of time to add to his collection of hardware, which already includes World Juniors silver (in both 2008 and 2009), World Championship bronze (2010), and another bronze and gold in U18 and U17 tournaments (in 2007). A Norris (or two), an Olympic medal, a World Cup, and perhaps even a Presidents' Cup / Stanley Cup would certainly look nice on his mantle - and he has at least a decade left to reach for those objectives.

Here's what he looked like when he was drafted:

It's card #19 from the Draft Day Autographs sub-set of Panini's 2011-12 Titanium set, numbered 74/99.  It features a sticker autograph, signed in blue sharpie.