Sunday, May 31, 2015

Tomas Sandstrom Autograph Card

Someone asked Daniel Brière recently how he'd feel about retiring at this point, just 27 games shy of #1000, and I loved his answer: ''With the two lock-outs, I would have reached that milestone already. Plus, with all the playoff games in which I was just as productive as in the regular season, we're way past 1000. And I played 973 more than some so-called experts had predicted considering my size (5'9'')''.

And that got me thinking about all the players who narrowly missed milestones, such as Martin Brodeur (9 wins short of 700, 3 losses short of 400), Rick Middleton (988 points), Brett Hull (1391 points), Luc Robitaille (1394 points), and Paul Coffey (396 goals).

And one player I've talked about a few years ago who finished with 857 points in 983 games, Tomas Sandstrom, seen here as a member of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, sporting their white (home) late-1990s uniform:
It's the signed insert version of card #153 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set, featuring a thin black-sharpied autograph.

His playing style was similar to that of Esa Tikkanen, where he had good size for his era (6-foot, 200 pounds), good speed, good hands, a great accurate shot, and a mouth that never stopped yapping, with the bonus of never backing down from challenges and answering the bell when he ignited fires, although not so much with his fists as, say, perhaps with his stick or elbows.

Sandstrom's most memorable Stanley Cup run was when he posted 25 points in 24 games in 1992-93 with Wayne Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings, which he ultimately lost to Patrick Roy's Montréal Canadiens, but he did enjoy one that ended with a Cup win, in 1996-97, with the Detroit Red Wings, where he had 4 assists (and 24 penalty minutes) in 20 games for Scotty Bowman's team.

He played his final NHL season in Anaheim before closing out his career with three more in Sweden. Of note that while he was born in Finland, he is a Swede and played for the Tre Kronor internationally. Then again, the history between the two countries is reminiscent of that between Slovakia and the Czech Republic or Québec and Canada in that each one's largest minority consists of the other's peoples, more or less, and their respective rights are (mostly) protected in their constitutions. And, to some extent, wouldn't most of the world's problems be solved if dual-country overlapping borders and dual citizenship were a more common occurence?

Anyhow, World Peace - like the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup aspirations - is not for this year.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Chris Chelios Swatch Card

Guess which team I'm rooting for tonight, as the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals for the right to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals? (Yes, I'm rooting for the Hawks, but my head is telling me the Ducks will win).

The Hawks are an Original Six franchise, meaning they are one of six remaining teams - along with the Montréal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs - from before the 1967 expansion, which added the California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers to the fold.

Two things folks should know about this: First, the Original Six are not the founding teams of the NHL. Only the Habs and Leafs (then known as the Arenas) date back to the NHL's inaugural season in 1917-18 (and the Habs were already 10 years old at the time) - the league also had the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Wanderers playing games, and the Québec Bulldogs were technically part of the league but not ready to play yet, so they started the following season, with their players dispersed throughout the league for the first year.

Secondly, what is now known as the current Philadelphia NHL team was pretty much always going to join the league, expansion or not. For many reasons - including the fact that they were the first expansion team to win a Stanley Cup - I consider them the Seventh Original Six franchise, because the team's owners had secured the ownership rights of the Montréal Maroons (active 1935-38), a Cup-winning franchise that shared an arena with the Habs as a sister/nemesis team, the Habs representing the French-speaking/underdog/defeated/colonized/workers side of the city, and the Maroons representing the English-speaking/England-friendly/invaders/conquerors/owners. The Maroons franchise had run into financial problems with World War II and the Great Depression, but was always welcome back into the fold if they could get their act together, so when a Philly group purchased the rights to the team, it became a matter of time before the NHL would once again operate in the City Of Brotherly Love (after the Philadelphia Quakers abandoned after one season in 1930-31).

As part of the Original Six (having joined the league in 1926, roughly a decade into the NHL's existence), the Hawks have a relatively rich history with five Stanley Cups (two of them coming in the past five years) and numerous Hall of Famers, but also a lot of years of futility. They were often at the bottom of the standings in the six-team era alongside the Rangers, as well as in the 1980s and 90s, despite having had the likes of Glenn Hall, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, Tony Esposito, Bobby Hull, Denis Savard, Jack Stewart, Chris Chelios, Steve Larmer and Ed Belfour. Many of their current-day critics attribute their depth and talent to having ''tanked', (or, in my opinion, merely ''bombed'') to draft the likes of Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane.

Which brings me to hometown hero Chelios, who captained the team for four seasons and won the Cup with two other Original Six teams (the Habs and Wings), but not in Chicago.

Originally a second-round (40th overall) pick of the Canadiens in 1981, Chelios won the Cup with the surprising and amazing 1986 team, which had a great mix of veteran Hall Of Famers (Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson), rookies who would become Hall Of Famers (Patrick Roy), young guys who should now be in the Hall (Guy Carbonneau, Claude Lemieux, some might even add Bobby Smith to that list though I'd be content with the first two), rookies who went on to have storied careers (Stéphane Richer, Mats Naslund), and great role players (Mario Tremblay, Mike McPhee, Chris Nilan, Gaston Gingras, Petr Svoboda, Sergio Momesso, Rick Green, Craig Ludwig, and enforcer John Kordic).

He won the Norris Trophy after the 1988-89 season, leading the Habs to the Presidents' trophy and the Stanley Cup Finals, but by the turn of the 1990s, team physicians were concerned about his recurring knee injuries first and foremost, and ''active lifestyle'' (lots of drinking, late-night partying, and fun time with the ladies) as well, and told GM Serge Savard that if he could find a decent deal for him, he should take it before his value goes down or he's forced to retire at a young age. Which Serge Savard did, for Hawks superstar and Montréal boy Denis Savard, and because Chelios went on to play until he was 48, it is generally seen as one of the 5 worst trades in Habs history, oftentimes as the single worst one; I'll go deeper in it in the next few days, but for now, let's just say I disagree with that statement, though I would have loved to get to witness the next, say, 15 years of Chelly's career in my city.

Because Chelios did continue to play. And play well. He won two more Norris Trophies (with three more finalist nods), two more Cups, played in 9 more All-Star Games (including one in Montréal in 1993 during which he and Hawks teammate Belfour were hilariously hungover) to add to the two as a Hab, four additional end-of-season First All-Star Team nods (to the one he got in 1988-89) and two Second All-Star Team nods, a World Cup championship with Team USA won at the then-Molson Centre, a silver medal at the 2002 Olympics, and captaining the American team four times - once in a stint that didn't end up going well off the ice (Nagano).

The man was a physical beast. He had the most arduous training habits seen thus far - way tougher than CrossFit, though in the same vein: he'd use his stationary bike for hours at top speed, in his sauna, among other training techniques. That's why he was able to play at a high level for so long and was the athlete that he was.

On the other hand, he acted like a Chicago mobster at times, threatening commissioner Gary Bettman's life during one lock-out, going against union heads at another, and while he may not have been as overly dirty as Mark Messier, Ulf Samuelsson, Bryan Marchment or Gary Suter, you did not want to get on his bad side because it was going to hurt.

So far, the hockey community has chosen to let his talent and achievements wash over his transgressions - in my opinion, deservedly so, but it's a debate I'm glad I did have in my own mind. I talked about how I viewed him in the top-5 or top-10 of all time about a month and a half ago, and that still stands and will until another suitor is actually worth reconsidering for, which may or may not happen in my lifetime.

So, in my first official Chelios post, here he is wearing the Hawks' classic red (then-away) uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set, card #TC-CCH of the Red ''regular'' Jersey sub-set, with a white game-worn swatch inserted:
Chelios. In red. With the captain's ''C''. This whole card just fits.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Alex Killorn Autograph Card

Alex Killorn scored the opening goal of Game 7 earlier tonight, which was enough to carry the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup Finals, as Ben Bishop got his second Game 7 shutout of the postseason, eclipsing ''The King'' Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, who looked beat after the game.

Killorn has become an important part of Tampa's offense - clearly the best in the league - with 16 points in 20 games so far and getting better and more comfortable every game while Bishop has proven to not only be an elite goaltender but also able to beat those considered ahead of him in most people's rankings, and Tyler Johnson is the East's strongest candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy at the moment.

I'm still rooting for the Chicago Blackhawks, but I do feel the Anaheim Ducks will win tomorrow, making for a match between skill, size and goaltending (Bolts) versus size, grit and speed (Ducks). Probably a good series in the making, and one in which Montrealer Killorn and linemate Steven Stamkos will have to continue their formidable work from Round 3.

In the meantime, here's a Killorn auto I pulled last summer, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Authentic (card #284 of the Future Watch sub-set, the Autographed insert version), showing him in the Bolts' blue (home) jersey, signed in thin blue sharpie (and numbered 770/999):

SP Authentic is usually a clean, white-based design where the only effects are shadows and blending the picture within the background, but this insert incorporates darker colours matching the uniform, so it looks even better.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ryan Kujawinski Autograph Card

Well, I do have some nice Memorial Cup autographs to share in the near future, but I thought I could remain in the CHL but send my eyes towards the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs and North Bay Batallion's Ryan Kujawinski, who signed an entry-level deal with the New Jersey Devils earlier today.

Kujawinski had been New Jersey's second pick (73rd overall, in the third round) at the 2013 draft, the Devils were probably hoping the 6'2'', 210-pound center would eventually develop into a hidden gem power-center - ideally a second-liner with grit, speed and play-making abilities in the same vein as Ryan Getzlaf but, obviously, not at the same level as the should-have-been-a-Hart-Trophy-nominee.

Except that in Juniors, he was never a point-per-game guy, not even this season as a 20-year-old playing against teenagers - and certainly not in the playoffs, where his totals spread over three seasons are 9 goals, 4 assists (13 points) in 26 games, with 15 penalty minutes. Still, speculation as to how he'd perform was very positive before the season started.

There have been games where he's looked unstoppable, but usually he's kept pretty quiet, considering the quality of opposition. In that respect, he reminds me a bit of the Montréal Canadiens' Lars Eller, who has the complete skill-set including size but somehow fails to find the consistency required to excel in the top-6 for a full season.

But bigger players usually take longer to develop, and Kujawinski might turn out to be a late bloomer. The Devils could certainly need the help offensively, though in my opinion he's easily a couple of years away from the NHL at the very least. Working in his favour is the fact that in the modern-day NHL, semi-stars and high-end grinders now have similar statistics in the 40-to-55-point range as most teams play a defense-first chess-like system that creates and limits chances (i.e. evens things out) no matter who is playing.

That being said, here's the reason why I know anything about him, from In The Game's 2012-13 Draft Prospects set (card #A-RK of the Autograph sub-set, the Silver Version variant), showing him in the Frontenacs' Boston Bruins-inspired (circa 1934-36) uniform:
It features an on-card autograph, signed in thin black sharpie with his jersey number (17) tagged at the end. Boxes of 12 cards sell for around $60, which is a bargain if you get a Nathan MacKinnon auto or Sergei Fedorov jersey card, but steep if you factor in the design that's similar to any of their usual Heroes And Prospects sets and the small amount of cardboard received in exchange for your hard-earned cash.

The card's nice, I'll give it a B+, but the set itself gets a C+ after factoring the cost.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Paul Baxter Autograph Card

Twenty years ago today, the Québec Nordiques' owners announced they had sold the team and it was moving to Denver where they would win the Stanley Cup 12 months later after acquiring the best goaltender of his time, Patrick Roy of provincial rivals Montréal Canadiens.

They were the team of my youth, and I did switch my allegiance over to the Colorado Avalanche when they got their hands on Roy, because Roy and Joe Sakic were my two favourite athletes - and still are.

Paul Baxter's time with the Nordiques was before my time, however, as he played in Québec in the WHA from 1976-79 then in the NHL in 1979-80 as the franchise switched leagues. Baxter had a couple of 10-goal seasons, but he's mostly remembered as a tough guy.

How tough? How about 962 penalty minutes in just 290 career WHA games tough? How about 1564 penalty minutes in 472 regular-season NHL games, and 162 more in 40 playoff games just for kicks?

Yeah, the man almost had a major penalty per game. As a matter of fact, in 1981-82, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he amassed 409 PIMs (the second-highest single-season total in NHL history) in 76 games. Keep in mind it was his most productive NHL season in terms of points as well, with 43, and the 9 goals he scored were the third-most of his career.

He was also a target of many an opponent's anger, as per Legends Of Hockey:
In one stretch, no less than five players were suspended for a total of 20 games in incidents related to the Penguins' defenceman. On November 21, 1981, Chris Nilan of Montréal threw a puck at Baxter in the penalty box after an altercation, opening up a cut that required eight stitches and netting the Canadien tough guy a three-game suspension. On December 9, Philly's Paul Holmgren was so intent on getting to Baxter that he punched referee Andy Van Hellemond. Holmgren was suspended for five games. December 14, Barry ''Bubba'' Beck and Nick Fotiu of the New York Rangers were convinced Baxter had been up to evil and led a charge of their New York fellows off the bench to correct matters. Beck was gone for six games, Fotiu for one. Finally, normally mild-mannered Blaine Stoughton was sent home for eight games when the league ruled his series of cross checks to Baxter's head was an intent to injure
He is now the President and GM of the NAHL's Wichita Falls Wildcats, after three years as their head coach. He had been an assistant coach at the NHL level, with the Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers earlier in his post-playing days.

Here he is, representing the Nordiques in their white (home) jersey, in In The Game's 2013-14 Enforcers II set (card #A-PB of the Autograph sub-set), always a well designed and original release:
He will slot in perfectly as #4 in my Nordiques Numbers Project.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mark Barberio Autograph Card

It looks like Montrealer Mark Barberio will draw out of the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight against the New York Rangers, as Matt Carle is expected to return to action.

Barberio, despite finishing with a -1 and having made a mistake on a Rick Nash goal (which makes him the 387th to do so, considering Nash's regular-season and playoff totals), was by no means responsible for that goal (Cédric Paquette was in position to repair the error), and certainly not for the Bolts losing that game, which the Rangers won 5-1.

An offensive defenseman in the same vein as Nathan Beaulieu, Barberio dominated in the LHJMQ with the Moncton Wildcats, and did the same at the AHL level, winning the Eddie Shore Award as the league's best defenseman one year, making the end-of-season Second All-Star Team the next, both times reaching the Calder Cup Finals (and winning it the first time).

Like Beaulieu, he just needs to translate that play to the NHL, which is hard to do without top-4 minutes. He's done everything that was asked of him, and I'd say he's improved his defensive play by at least 200% in the past two years, and in that regard he might benefit from the teachings of a Victor Hedman.

Even the analytics ''support'' his case:
Just 5.90% of Tampa Bay's shots at 5v5 became goals when Barberio was on the ice, even though the team shot over 9% on the year, an enormous difference. Barberio's presence on the ice didn't come with a significant dip in scoring chances, either; the team had 30.45 chances per 60 minutes with Barberio on, about the same amount as with both Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. So Barberio helped move things in the right direction, helped get the team in position to score, and yet, for some reason, score they did not.
Couple that fact with below average goaltending behind him (Tampa Bay goalies stopped 91.74% of 5v5 shots with Barberio on compared to 91.98% overall) and you have a recipe for Mark Barberio's season; quietly effective but seemingly invisible due to lack of scoring, and scapegoated at times due to the play in net behind him. Every guy on Tampa Bay's blue line makes mistakes with the puck; Barberio's just ended up in the net more often than not through no fault of his own.
Although, honestly, a lot of that is a crock of bull. If you're going as far as to analyze how many shots per second occur when one player's on the ice, ''puck luck'' should not factor in, and numbers like ''Tampa has a worse shooting percentage when he's on the ice'' should be looked into more closely to see if that's because the rest of the players are fourth-liners or if he really does factor in the number.

He should be developed as if he were a first-unit defender, to at least be shaped into a second-unit defenseman (and, let's be honest, Hedman's on the left side of Tampa's defense for another decade as the #1 guy). But second-unit time requires he play with first- or second-liners in front of him, not checkers and ''role players'' who can't finish his plays.

He's proven all he needed to at the AHL level, and he's good enough to be on any team's regular six-man unit, save perhaps the Rangers'. The question is just whether it'll be on Tampa's.

And so, here he is rocking the Lightning's blue (home) jersey, from Panini's 2013-14 Rookie Update set, and Prizm sub-set:
It's card #389, with a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph, part of the Dual Rookie Class and of the ''Cracked Ice'' variety that Panini inserted in Rookie Update boxes that encompassed the ''missing'' cards from all of its other lower-end and mid-range products (Prizm being particularly devoid of rookies), in addition to a stand-alone base set. Boxes of 50 cards sold (and still sell) for roughly $75, which is a decent deal.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Éric Dazé Autograph Card

On the eve of a game that could be the turning point in the series pitting the Anaheim Ducks against the Chicago Blackhawks (and because as I was cleaning house I came onto a box full of early-alphabet cards), I figured I'd feature one of the few bright spots in a not-so-great turn-of-the-millennium Hawks team, Éric Dazé, with this card (#179 in the series) from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player collection, showing him in the team's classic red (then-away) uniform, signed on-card in black sharpie:

Dazé was a fourth-round pick in 1993 because while his scoring talent was undeniable, many scouts were less than thrilled that he wasn't overly physical despite his 6'6'' frame and 220-some pounds; few could deny his shot was world-class and he could pass well, too, and while he wasn't the fastest man on the ice, he could keep up with linemates Tony Amonte and Alexei Zhamnov for a while.

In a way, considering the back injuries that plagued the latter half of his career and still has him in pain to this day, ten years after his final NHL appearance despite numerous surgeries, it's better that he didn't play like a wrecking ball or we might not have had a chance to even witness what he did bring to the table.

He played more than 60 games only six times in his career - spent entirely with the Hawks - and hit the 30-goal mark four times, with a high of 38 in 2001-02, the year he not only played in the All-Star Game but was also chosen as its MVP.

He also had two seasons in which he played more than 50 but less than 60 games - and he hit the 20-goal mark both times anyway, which he did in every season in which he played more than 20 games. And this was in the clutch-and-grab Dead Puck Era, mind you. He was also the runner-up in Calder Trophy voting in 1995-96, and finished his career with 226 goals in 601 games.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Mike Richter Jersey Card

Well, the New York Rangers have tied their series at two wins apiece against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 5-1 win that saw Rick Nash score twice, Martin Saint-Louis score once and Henrik Lundqvist stop 38 of 39 shots fired against him.

Strong goaltending being a factor in a Rangers playoff win led me to this card of Mike Richter's, from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Masterpieces set, the ''Authentic Memorabilia'' insert version of card #CC-MR of the Canvas Clippings sub-set, showing him in the Rangers' classic blue (then-away) jersey but incorporating a white swatch:
I'd featured a card from this set before, one that Rogatien Vachon signed for me by mail a couple of years ago, but these really are fine cards, with terrific texture and nice, matte finish that both signs well on and complements the jersey swatches when applicable. It's tasteful, too.

I wasn't always a fan of Richter's though. I thought he was a tad over-rated, having never won NHL hardware (save for the 1994 Stanley Cup), finishing among the Vezina finalists only once (third place in 1990-91), playing in three All-Star Games and leading the league in sub-par categories such as wins (42 in 1993-94), games played (72 in 1997-98), goals allowed in (184 in 1997-98), ties (15 in 1997-98), and losses (31 in 1999-2000).

But you've got to give credit where credit's due, and his play at the inaugural 1996 World Cup was a big reason why Team USA beat Team Canada and win top honors, getting named Tournament MVP (and best goalie) in the process, though it is important to note that Canada opted not to even invite the best goalie in the world - Patrick Roy - to play on its team. You reap what you sow.

And he was a big part of the Americans' losing bid at the 2002 Olympics, losing the final game to earn a silver medal while Canada captured gold on U.S. soil.

He finished his NHL career having played for just one team, and a nice round number of 666 regular-season games for the Original Six franchise, winning 301 of them in the pre-shootout era.

All told, he was pretty good, definitely All-Star material, but it's also fitting the he isn't in the Hall Of Fame, because he did fall a bit short of that.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nick Foligno Jersey Card

It seems most of my recent posts were subconsciously leading me to this one... the Columbus Blue Jackets announced yesterday that Nick Foligno would be their new captain. The title had been vacant since Rick Nash (2008-12) was traded to the New York Rangers three years ago; the other four previous captains were Adam Foote (2005-08), Luke Richardson (2003-05), Ray Whitney (2002-03) and Lyle Odelein (2000-02).

Foligno, like his brother Marcus Foligno (obviously), is the son of former Buffalo Sabres great and captain Mike, who coached both sons with the OHL's Sudbury Wolves. Nick was a first-round draft pick, though, so he was always sort of expected to be an impact player, whereas Marcus was selected 104th overall, probably thought of more as a role player (and he's a fine one at that).

But Nick has suited up for Team USA three times - at the 2003-04 U-17 Worlds, and at the 2009 and 2010 World Championships, wearing the alternate captain's ''A'' the second time. He also played in the last All-Star Game and was named the captain of one of the two teams (partly because the game was held in Columbus), and finished with a (roughly) point-per-game average for the first time in his NHL career with 31 goals, 42 assists and 73 points in 79 games.

He signed a six-year contract extension that kicks in next year, valued at $33M and averaging $5.5M per on the cap; whether or not he replicates this year's numbers (I think he mostly will, 4 times out of 6, he's that talented and has hit his stride, but teams will concentrate on stopping him with their best checkers more), he'll be worth it as the cap increases and 5.5 starts looking like a second-liner's wage.

In the meantime, here's a look at a classic example of a (beautiful) Frankencard:
It's the dual-jersey insert version of card #72 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Artifacts set (numbered 89/125) showing him in the Jackets' terrific alternate uniform, which features two red jersey swatches from his days with the Ottawa Senators. Still, I don't mind the clash/contrast in colours, probably because Artifacts is always a great-looking set with a simple, classy design.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Two (Similar) Autographed Luke Richardson Cards

You might have heard something about Mike Babcock opting to go to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the next 8 seasons... maybe. Buffalo Sabres fans are pretty angry and/or disappointed, and Detroit Red Wings fans are mostly just happy that the drama's over.

Which leaves one less option for the Sabres, with Todd McLellan having chosen the Edmonton Oilers yesterday. One AHL head coach who has NHL experience behind the bench as an assistant and 21 years as a player does have ties with Sabres GM Tim Murray, as both worked together in the Ottawa Senators organization who, like Buffalo, is rich in young talent. And the man responsible for making all the Sens' kids into adults who are ready to step in right away is none other than Luke Richardson, the former bruising defender who has accumulated over 2000 penalty minutes while suiting up for the Leafs, Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers (with whom he reached the Stanley Cup Finals), Columbus Blue Jackets (which he captained), Tampa Bay Lightning and Sens.

I think it's a no-brainer, because he's great with youngsters and can get them NHL-ready, is a terrific teacher, doesn't shy away from tough play, and wouldn't have to move far to get from Binghamton (the Sens' AHL affiliate) to Buffalo, a ride that takes roughly three hours. His family wouldn't feel too out of place.

I have met Richardson a few times in my life, and got him to sign cards for me on a couple of occasions. One of these is from my teens years (early 1990s), while the other was signed while he played for the Sens, in 2007:
They both show him wearing the Leafs' 1990s blue (away) uniform, battling for the puck with the Minnesota North Stars' Brian Bellows, and are from Upper Deck's 1990-91 Series 1 set (it's card #362 in the collection), signed in blue sharpie.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Matt Duchene Jersey Card

With his Olympic gold medal in Sochi, and now the gold medal from the World Championships in Prague over the weekend, Matt Duchene is now one Stanley Cup away from joining Sidney Crosby in the Triple Gold Club...

He is also a gold medal winner from the 2012 Spengler Cup, the 2008 U-18 championship and 2008 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (Junior U-18) as well as the 2008 U-17 World Hockey Challenge. Not bad, eh?

I was impressed by his performance at the Worlds this year, seeing as he was the third-line center (behind tournament MVP Jason Spezza and captain Crosby), still scoring 4 goals and 12 points in 10 games, getting his points but melting in the team-first mentality along with his Colorado Avalanche teammates Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O'Reilly and Tyson Barrie.

I'd featured Duchene twice before, once with the Avs' white (away) jersey, and once in the pretty blue (alternate) one, so here he is in the burgundy (home) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set (card #GJ-MD of the UD Game Jersey sub-set:

Like the other two, it incorporates a burgundy game-worn jersey swatch - but this time it really matches the picture.

As was the case with many of the Avalanche's young stars, Duchene had an off year statistically, with merely 55 points in 70 games - although his 21 goals were in the vicinity of what can be expected of him, he's just usually stronger on the assists front.

Pundits have tried explaining the situation with ''pretend-fancy stats'', but I, for one, don't buy it: the Avs aren't a team that shoots blindly at the other net 40 times per game; they possess the puck and make plays through deft passes, not an over-abundance of shots. It's an anomaly in today's ''pray for a deflection'' NHL, but it's the closest thing to hockey one can play in 2015. The Avs just lacked a #3 and #4 defenseman to move the puck forward and may have missed André Benoit's contribution on that front - and the competition within the division improved greatly.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Samuel Morin Jersey Card

The Philadelphia Flyers were pretty high on Samuel Morin when they made him the 11th overall pick in 2013, ahead of Max Domi (12th), Curtis Lazar (17th), Mirco Mueller (18th), Anthony Mantha (20th), Émile Poirier (22nd), Zachary Fucale (36th), William Carrier (57th), Eric Comrie (59th), Anthony Duclair (80th), Sven Andrighetto (86th), and Jordan Subban (115th).

It's hard not to be high on a kid who already stood at 6'6'' and 200 pounds as a 17-year-old (now 6'7'' and 220), and had a lot of frame left to fill yet already had a booming shot, perfect, hard passes and got into using his frame to provide hits more and more as time passed.

This year, in his fourth season in the ''Q'' with the Rimouski Océanic, at 19 years old, he looked like Chris Pronger out there; don't get me wrong, he won't ever be a Pronger - he doesn't have the mean streak, for one - but as one of the veteran players on a team that finished first in the regular season and just won the league's Finals in double-overtime of Game 7, he was heads and shoulders above the rest, and not just because of the size Mother Nature imparted upon him. He's got skill. And he was solid for Team Canada at the World Juniors.

Another Flyers top prospect, Shayne Gostisbehere (a.k.a. ''The Ghost'') also can't wait to be paired with him on a regular basis, and GM Ron Hextall is happy with his progress so far, after almost starting the year with the big club.

I read left and right about journalists who are often wrong saying the Flyers have no defense to speak of (somewhat true at present time) and nobody in the system coming up (a complete fallacy, as can be attested by Ghost and Morin alone), which could very well mean Philadelphia is a lot closer to a complete turnaround than anyone expects. Particularly with a new head coach.

Now, defensemen take longer to develop than forwards, particularly those who have monster size. But Hextall will take his time and be patient with Morin, knowing full well it's better to wait a couple of seasons and have him be excellent for 12 years than have four so-so development years at the NHL level for 4 pretty good and 5 excellent seasons. Hopefully.

Here's Morin wearing the Océanic's blue (away) uniform:
It's card #M-22 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set (part of the Game-Used Jersey sub-set, the ''Black Version'' variant), featuring a game-worn white jersey swatch with a huge stitch and overlap spanning the whole swatch. I got it in a trade last year with three other cards, this being the third I have featured so far (Scott Harrington is coming eventually).

Sunday, May 17, 2015

David Cooper Autographed Card

Ok, fine, it may be a bit of a stretch to link Team USA's defeat at the hands of Team Russia at the World Championships to this card of David Cooper using his hard slap shot with the Rochester Americans (get it?), but I'm taking it anyway (and I'm saving Mike Richter for later):
It's card #210 from Classic's 1993-94 Pro Hockey Prospects set (with the Blue Chip Prospect seal in red foil), which he signed for me in person in blue sharpie in the mid-1990s; during that time, I was playing Bantam and/or Midget and/or Juniors, played in the Ottawa region in the summer (there weren't high-level, i.e. AAA leagues, in Montréal in the summer), and was a goaltending teacher's assistant at various hockey schools in Montréal and the Outaouais region. Cooper hails from there, so chances are our paths crossed at one of these schools (I didn't just bring random cards to games I was playing in, but usually had a heads-up when pros were to be coming to the schools). That blue Americans uniform is one of my favourites in the AHL.

Drafted 11th overall in 1992 by the Buffalo Sabres - ahead of Sergei Krivovrasov (12th), Sergei Gonchar (14th), Jason Smith (18th), Martin Straka (19th), Peter Ferraro (24th), Jim Carey (32nd), Valeri Bure (33rd), Michael Peca (40th), Andrei Nikolishin (47th), Mattias Norstrom (48th), Manny Fernandez (52nd), Craig Rivet (68th), Robert Svehla (78th), Matthew Barnaby (83rd), Jere Lehtinen (88th), Marcus Ragnarsson (99th), Adrian Aucoin (117th), Joël Bouchard (129th), Ian Laprerrière (158th), Nikolai Khabibulin (204th), Anson Carter (220th), and Dan McGillis (238th) - Cooper was seen as a sure-shot NHL regular, having posting nearly point-per-game averages in his final two OHL seasons as a defenseman.

He played for parts of four seasons with the Americans, but knew his time within the Sabres organization was up when they sent him to play for the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays to close out the 1993-94 season, after which he signed on with the Toronto Maple Leafs, with whom he would suit up for 30 games over three seasons at the NHL level, before getting traded to the Calgary Flames organization, who sent him to their AHL affiliate St. John Flames for all of 1998-99, producing 18 goals and 42 points in 65 regular-season games and another 5 points in 7 playoff games, showing he was ready to take his game to a higher level.

Finding no employment in the NHL, he set his sights to Europe, where he played for the following decade, in Germany (1999-2000, 2001-02, 2003-04), Russia (2002-03), Italy (2004-05, 2007-08) and Denmark (2005-07), save for one more try with the Leafs organization (2000-01), mostly spent in the AHL.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Marcus Foligno Team Canada Jersey Card

Marcus Foligno is becoming a reliable, hard-working checking winger who can at times chip in with timely goals. Casual fans might not have noticed him these past couple of years because ''timely'' was hard to associate with the Buffalo Sabres, but in 2013-14, out of his 7 goals, 6 were at even strength, 1 was shorthanded, and a whopping 3 (nearly half) were game-winners.

While he was a point-per-game player in the AHL with the Rochester Americans in 2012-13, he didn't really have a history of doing so even in Juniors, where he only achieved the feat in his fourth and final season (2010-11), the second year after his hometown Sabres made him the 104th pick at the 2009 draft.

He'll still barely be 24 when the next season gets underway, so he hasn't hit his peak nor exactly found his groove yet, but I foresee a reliable, 10-goal, 25-to-30-point man down the line.

His father, Mike Foligno, was a Sabres great when I was a kid, surpassing the 50-point mark 5 times with 5 seasons over 25 goals, including a peak of 41 in 1985-86; he ended up posting over 700 points in over 1000 NHL games while also suiting up for the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, and playing his final 39 games with the Florida Panthers.

As a local kid, Marcus gets a lot of attention in Buffalo, often appearing in team promos, and because he's good-looking, a (probably) mock Twitter page has him hitting on lady-fans and calling out/laughing at fellow players in the style of Roberto Luongo's page, but a tad ''jockier''.

Of course, my main reason for featuring this card today is because it features him playing for Team Canada at the 2001 World Juniors (held in Buffalo), wearing his father's #17 (he wears #82 with the Sabres):
It's card #TC-MF from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition series, showing him in Canada's red (''visitors'') uniform, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Alexei Kovalev Autograph Card

In a repeat performance, Team Russia will face Team USA in the World Championship semifinal in Prague on Saturday after beating Sweden, which was arguably missing the best goalie in the world (Henrik Lundqvist, whose New York Rangers are still in the NHL playoffs).

It is believed the Russians will have Alex Ovechkin for the game, which will be a boost, and reminds me of when another Russian Alex was viewed as All-World and could have a tremendous impact on games, Alex Kovalev.

Easily the best forward to play for the Montréal Canadiens in the past 25 years whenever he decided to ''turn it on'', ''Kovy'' was named the All-Star Game MVP in front of the home crowd at the Bell Centre as he dominated a game that featured Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Carey Price and the rest of the league's star players.

As I wrote nearly a year ago:
Did he have a tendency to take two or three nights off per week? Short answer: yes. In fact, though, the more honest answer would be this: never in important games, never in the playoffs, never when sporting a letter (be it the captain's 'C' or the alternate's 'A') on his chest, and never in front of an adoring hometown crowd cheering him on. And never when he could take center stage.
If there was a spotlight, he wanted it shined on him, no matter who else was there. The only time it didn't happen was during his rookie season, on a Stanley Cup-winning Rangers team, where Mark Messier stole the show; any other time, even playing alongside Mario Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr, Kovalev looked like the best player on the ice... (exactly) half the time.

Here he is deking and going through a Finnish goalie to score a goal while playing for the Soviet Union (notice the CCCP letters on his jersey, which no longer existed when the card set, Upper Deck's 1995-96 Be A Player collection, from which this is card #S182 - the S stands for ''signed insert version'' - featuring an on-card thin black-sharpied autograph, was released):
The card is part of the set's World Class sub-set, where they could use a player's picture while suiting up for his national team.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ulf Samuelsson Autograph Card

The Eastern Conference finalists will both be teams who play in blue at home and white as visitors, as the New York Rangers have joined the Tampa Bay Lightning as the final teams standing in the Eastern time zone.

As a treat, I will once again feature Ulf Samuelsson, who used to be one of their bruisers on defense for four seasons at the tail end of the 1990s and is now their assistant coach.

''Bruiser'' might be sugarcoating it, though, as he is generally considered one of the dirtiest players of all time, and certainly the dirtiest of his era, holding the title on his own for the second half of the 1980s and sharing it with Bryan Marchment and Darius Kasparaitis in the 1990s. His knee-on-knee hits were on the wrong side of legendary, and his ''Robocop'' nickname is possibly the most sarcastic use of a euphemism hockey has produced in the last 30 years.

Still, he was a force to reckon with, and was actually a very good physical defensive defenseman. As a matter of fact, the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired him from the Hartford Whalers (along with Ron Francis) specifically to cement and strengthen their entire six-man defensive unit, which he did right away, helping the team to two straight Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.

Sure, it helps to have enough depth to stick Hall Of Famer Francis on a second line behind Mario Lemieux, with Jaromir Jagr on the wing, and Larry Murphy anchoring the powerplay on defense, but you also need to stop the puck from going in you own net, and that's where Ulf and Kjell Samuelsson came in, along with Tom Barrasso in nets. And playing with Lemieux somehow brought Ulf some respect as a protector rather than a mere instigator - or maybe that's just my childhood innocence talking.

In any event, here he is sporting the Rangers' classic white (then-home) uniform, from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player set, the signed insert version of card #126, autographed on-card in thin black sharpie:

Sure, he seems like he's open and expecting a pass to help out the offense, but that's not what the opposition players are worried about. His 57 career goals and respectable 333 points in 1080 games (and two Norris Trophy top-10 finishes) kind of do pale in comparison to his 2453 penalty minutes...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Jonathan Audy-Marchessault Autograph Card

Well, hats off to the Tampa Bay Lightning for ousting the Montréal Canadiens tonight. It was a hard-fought series, and while my usual self would be inclined to say Tampa won 4-2 because Ben Bishop outplayed Carey Price, it's also true that the Habs have only one true goal scorer (Max Pacioretty) and just didn't have the firepower to match when goaltending is close to being even.

What I was happy about was that for the decisive game, head coach Jon Cooper opted to dress Jonathan Audy-Marchessault to replace Ryan Callahan (out after having had his appendix removed last night), keeping a right-handed physical player in the line-up, which dressing Jonathan Drouin may not have achieved (he's a play-making lefty who has yet to consistently make plays).

Also, Audy-Marchessault was a point-per-game player in the AHL and has been for his 4 seasons now (or in the vicinity, at least). And he had two points in two games with the Lightning earlier this season.

I've been sitting on this card of his for over a year now, and I was waiting for the right time to feature/criticize it:

Nice-looking card, right? The Columbus Blue Jackets' awesome alternate jersey, lots of silver foil (looks better scanned, but decent in person), with a short but well-placed on-card blue-sharpied signature, from Panini's 2013-14 Dominion set (#108 in the collection, part of the Dual Rookie Class, numbered 212/299).

I criticized the set (and its swatch cards) in this Erik Karlsson post last October, so I won't repeat my main gripes with it here (price was definitely an issue), and while I'll admit the autograph cards' silver foil makes the logos and letter easier to decipher, I HATED the difference in thickness between the auto cards and the swatches:

That's right - in an effort to thwart customers who ''feel'' packs up before they buy in an attempt to try to get the best ''hits'', they made the autograph cards double the thickness of the already-pretty-damn-thick jersey cards - meaning I can't store them in binders with my regular cards and, therefore, pretty much want to get rid of them instead of having them garner dust on some shelf or end up in a box in my closet.

You had one job, Panini, and you were too thick to cut it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Pekka Rinne Jersey Card

There's a lot of talk about goaltending in the current NHL playoffs, some narratives truer than others. Henrik Lundqvist has played well enough to warrant still being The King (and the best goalie in the world), but Braden Holtby has been up to the challenge in facing him after not being quite as good as Jaroslav Halak in the first round.

Carey Price has been outplayed by both Craig Anderson and Ben Bishop so far, and his save percentage for the second round just barely made it back above the .900 mark after Game 5, so Playoff Price is back, but there's no question he was on the ball in the regular season with Vezina and Hart nods, and sharing the Jennings.

In the West, Frederik Andersen has put any doubts about his lack of experience to rest for the Anaheim Ducks, as have Karri Ramo (Calgary Flames), Eddie Lack (Vancouver Canucks), and Scott Darling (Chicago Blackhawks), while Devan Dubnyk, like Price, may have been shown the postseason is a while different animal, as can be seconded by Corey Crawford, who while spectacular at times and arguably one of his team's MVPs with Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane when he was on, was replaced by Darling as the starter in at least a couple of games.

Which brings me to the Nashville Predators' Pekka Rinne, who had okay numbers against the Hawks in the opening round, going 2-4 with a 2.68 GAA and .909 save percentage (as well as an assist) against the powerhouse team from Chicago, but he really finished his (also-Vezina-nominated) season with a bang by accepting Team Finland's invitation to play overseas.

Taking inspiration from his incredible performance at last year's edition (where he posted a 170-minute shutout streak, nearly three games long), he actually did better this year, posting an IIHF World Championships record 237-minute shutout streak, including three full shutouts (versus Denmark, Norway and Slovenia), then finally letting a goal in against Belarus.

With performances like these, he's really making King Henrik's stay at the top of the goalie food chain one in which he can't get too comfortable or complacent in - and that's all the better for us hockey fans.

And so I close the run of cards I started last summer with this one showing him with the Preds' former blue (home) uniform, making a spectacular glove save, featuring a white game-worn jersey swatch, from Panini's 2010-11 All Goalies set (card #8 of the Stopper Sweaters sub-set):

These inserts came at one per boxed set, which contained the entire 100-card collection as well; these sets cost $10-15 apiece on Ebay nowadays, but multipacks are available, such as 4 boxes for $30 or 20-box cases for $120-150.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Caroline Ouellette Autographed Card

Women's hockey is a relatively young category in the sport, and I am one of those who feel a 25-year period needs to pass before pitting statistics, players, talents and eras in any form of comparison, but it's safe to say that when we start looking at ranking the best of all time, Caroline Ouellette will be among most lists' top-5s.

Hayley Wickenheiser was a huge part of making Women's Hockey ''a thing'' in Canada, and former Team USA captain Cammi Granato was also instrumental in advancing the game in the United States, and both were dominant players, but Ouellete brings a state of grace along with her talent that is reminiscent of Jean Béliveau, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. (The fact that she rarely gets penalized likely helps those comparisons.)

I see current Team USA captain Meghan Duggan (in whom I see a Joe Sakic-type of player) also eventually making such lists, but, really, Ouellette, at 35, remains a force to be reckoned with and has been for over a decade.

She's won scoring titles, MVP awards, holds records (NCAA/WCHA's 2 shorthanded goals in a single game, for one) at every level, and has elevated her game when the pressure was on to lead her teams to championships, as can be attested from her inclusion in the Triple Gold Club (Olympic gold, World Championship gold, and Clarkson Cup, the women's equivalent of the Stanley Cup).

And it's not like her teams have won one of each: she has four Olympic gold medals (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014), six World Championship gold medals (1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2012), six World Championship silver medals because the U.S. has to win sometimes (2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015), and the two Clarkson Cups (2009 and 2011), including one where she was the playoff scoring leader.

Most women playing in the CWHL not only do it as a labour of love, but have actual jobs they need to get to outside of playing and training hours, because the league doesn't pay its players (most teams lose money as is anyway). 20 to 25 girls part of the Canadian Olympic program get an allocation for being full-time athletes (which roughly amounts to having a job that pays minimum wage, $350 per week), but the vast majority do it out of sheer passion. Here's a bit about what a 48-hour stretch might look like from Ouellette's point of view.

I met the humble superstar at a fundraising activity a few months ago and talked to her about how my minor-league teams growing up, from the atom level until midgets, all had at least one girl on them (making the team after camp, not through any type of entitlement program) and made all the boys better humans for it, and how I foresee the NHL having no choice but to draft and try a woman out within the next decade because the disparity in talent is shrinking (among the elite women and fringe men) and the teams' systems are rendering a lot of that gap irrelevant in all aspects except rugged play.

She was polite enough not to take a stance either way and left me with my illusions, just saying ''that'd be nice'', but the night was about the Montréal Stars' partnership with the NHL's Montréal Canadiens anyway, where the CWHL team will now share access to the Habs' training facilities (no more 11 PM practices!) and marketing team (which it didn't have at all) to, if not earn a proper living, at least make the players' working conditions optimal and provide the team with the means to try to ''make it'' on their own (and attract fans to Étienne-Desmarteaux Arena to watch their often-entertaining games, on the ice bearing Ouellete's name).

It was there that she signed this 2014 Team Canada Juniors/Women card (#80 in the set made by Upper Deck) for me, in blue sharpie, showing her wearing her famous #13 in Team Canada's classic red uniform:
Incidentally, the men's team featuring the likes of Sidney Crosby and Taylor Hall almost lost to France today at the Worlds... I'm pretty sure Ouellette's available to help out, and she isn't too far away, having just climbed a mountain a France (of all places), while the tournament is taking place in Prague (Czech Republic).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Rick Nash Jersey Card

After a 42-goal season in 2014-15 - a career high and the league's third-highest total - Rick Nash has fallen into familiar times this postseason, reduced to hoping for a favourable bounce to fix a 3.1 shooting percentage - an awful number for pretty much any NHLer, let alone a sniper of his caliber, and below even his career average of... 3.5.

Some articles written about him are downright mean:
During Game 1 of the New York Rangers’ series against the Washington Capitals, NBC analyst Mike Milbury said that Rick Nash was playing a “marshmallow soft” brand of hockey, which wasn’t exactly fair, considering that marshmallows are visible.
Through eight playoff games, Nash has one goal and four assists. Against the Capitals, he has one assist. In his last 33 playoff games with the Rangers, he had four goals. In his last 33 regular-season games with the Rangers, he had 14 goals.
I get it: he makes a lot of money, eats a lot of cap space, and is relied upon to score goals, which he does amazingly well in the regular season, but seldom in the playoffs. I'd be mad if he were on the team(s) I'm rooting for, sure, probably, but these are the same playoffs where Steven Stamkos was shut out for 8 games, where grinders outproduce stars, and where all 8 teams remaining in the second round have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup (ok, maybe not the Calgary Flames, but one can dream/hope).

And he's a big body with good speed who still gets covered like a sniper, so he's helping his team by occupying the defensive players and creating more space for his teammates. That probably won't get enough to quell his critics, but it'll make his coach and GM appreciate some of his play, at least.

This card is very similar to the one I featured last October, in that it shows him wearing the Rangers' white (now-away) uniform, but has two game-worn jersey swatches from a black uniform, likely from the Columbus Blue Jackets' alternate uniform from the 2003-07 era, the only one he's worn that has black on it:
It's from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Black Diamond set (card #NYR-RN of the Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set).

Monday, May 4, 2015

Erik Condra: 3 Autographed Cards

Erik Condra is one of two Ottawa Senators who are the most likely to end up with the puck no matter what zone they're in if the puck carrier is in front of them, with Calder Trophy nominee Mark Stone; they force turnovers like a McDonald's Employee Of The Month, with the sole difference being that Stone converts many of his chances while Condra has just posted his career-best numbers with 9 goals.

Still, most coaches will agree it's better to have possession of the puck than surrender it, and there are no real bad shots in today's NHL, where all goalies are capable of playing in the Olympics as well as surrender a goal from behind the goal line or beyond center ice. And perhaps Condra just hasn't found his niche as a set-up man yet, and maybe he'd be better suited to rack up 30 assists than score 20 goals.

After all, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish alumnus who was a seventh-round draft pick (211st overall in 2006) not only was a point-per-game in College, even earning All-Rookie Team (first year) and Second Team All-Star (fourth year) nods, but never scored more than 15 goals in the NCAA/CCHA, so maybe he was always meant to pass it more than shoot.

The 28-year-old American is due for a nice raise in his last RFA summer, and will probably earn close to $3M per year, perhaps for as many as three seasons (up from his current $1.25M cap hit). Should the Sens not be willing to pony up that amount, I'm fairly certain his hometown Detroit Red Wings - a possession and positioning team if there ever was one - would.

For now, though, his Hockey IQ is important to the Senators, as they try to keep building towards a championship-level team game around a promising group of youngsters. And he's got some sweet moves, as this breakaway goal that left Carey Price dumbfounded proves:



And so it is with great pleasure that I add Condra to my Sens Numbers Project, and though Shaun Van Allen was already in for #22, Condra can take sole possession of the #38 spot with at least one of the cards.

Speaking of which, here they are, first with a couple from Panini's 2011-12 Score set:

The card on the left is his Rookie Card (#524 of the regular set, part of the Hot Rookies sub-set), showing him in the Sens' white (away) uniform, while the card on the right, showing him in his post-game ''gym clothes'' is card #3 of the First Goal sub-set; he actually scored two goals that night.

I also have one of him in the Sens' red (home) uniform, from Panini's 2012-13 Score set (card #339 in the collection), battling for puck possession with two Boston Bruins players:
I had sent him four cards on March 17th, 2014, and got these three back - signed in black sharpie - on May 4th, 2015, a mere 47 days later, after the Sens were eliminated by my hometown Montréal Canadiens.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Tyler Moss Autograph Card

As I wrote on my regular blog last Friday, The Calgary Flames' hopes lie with goaltender Jonas Hiller outplaying Frederik Andersen and/or John  Gibson and keeping Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf silent and at bay. It sure wasn't the case in Game 1, as the Anaheim Ducks' superstars combined for 8 points in nothing less than a shellacking.

In that game, the at-times terrific Swiss Olympian Hiller - capable of shutting out huge squads but surrendering awful goals the next game - was pulled after surrendering 3 goals in 22 minutes, and he also won't get to start Game 2, as backup Karri Ramo got the nod. In falling short, he reminded me of another former Flames goalie, who also wore #1 and caught the puck with his right hand: Tyler Moss.

Yes, this Tyler Moss:



(but that happens to everybody; I left my skate guards on at a tournament and fell to the ice in front of 5,000 people once - then proceeded to pull a 40-save shutout and win MVP honors).

But back to Moss who, unlike Hiller, was drafted - 29th overall in 1993, by the Tampa Bay Lightning, who then traded him to Calgary just about 4 years later, without having tried him at the NHL level. He had earned high praise and several honors in the OHL, saving the Kingston Frontenacs from embarrassment, and earning First All-Star Team nods while facing insane amounts of shots for three seasons.

He was so-so in 1996-97 with the Flames (a 2-3-1 record in 7 games with a 3.27 GAA and .892 save percentage) but had a terrific run with the AHL's Saint John Flames with a 1.91 GAA and .940 save percentage; the following season, he won the Hap Holmes Award in the AHL (shared with Jean-Sébastien Giguère) for having recorded the lowest GAA, and had a fine showing at the NHL level with a 2.51 GAA and .922 save % despite a 3-7-0 record in 11 games, more proof of how bad the Flames were than of his own play.

Still, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins who let him go after a single season, then signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, who finished the season with a tandem consisting of Arturs Irbe and Tom Barrasso, so he found himself out of the mix once again. His lone appearance with the Vancouver Canucks in 2002-03 left for some decent statistics as his NHL farewell numbers (2.73 GAA and .929 save %), but they weren't enough to have him keep playing in North America. Instead, he moved to Europe, where he played until 2011-12, in Russia and Germany.

He now works as a salesman in the oil industry in Alberta. Yes, that dirty tar sand oil.

Here is what he looked like as a Flame, from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set (card #17 of the signed insert sub-set, signed on-card in thin balck sharpie):


Friday, May 1, 2015

Boyd Gordon: 7 Autographed Items

My returns from the Edmonton Oilers have been great so far this year, as this Boyd Gordon surprise marks my third return from the boys in blue this Spring, though technically, seeing as I'd sent it on March 30th, 2014 and got it back on May 1st, 2015 (a 396-day return!), it probably counts as one of those I sent last season.

Originally a Washington Capitals first-round draft pick (17th overall) in 2002, Gordon was seen by then-GM George McPhee as the team's second-line center for the foreseeable future, and a terrific 2005-06 season with their AHL affiliate Hershey Bears in which he tallied 38 points (off 16 goals) in 58 regular-season games and 8 more points in 21 playoff games en route to a Calder Cup sure hinted at that, but because right-handed centers who win faceoffs are such a hot commodity - and perhaps because the most points he ever produced at the NHL level was the 29 he got in 2006-07 - he eventually found his niche as a shut-down center and penalty killer, most notably with the Phoenix Coyotes, suiting up for 95% of their games for two years after 4 seasons of less than 70 games per with the Caps.

Because of that, I included two cards of his showing him with the team from Arizona, both in the Coyotes' white (away) uniform:

On the left is card #392 from Panini's 2013-14 Score collection, while the card on the right is from the 2013-14 O-Pee-Chee set by Upper Deck, and is #214 in the series.

Some coaches (hello Dallas Eakins) have tried using his ability at winning faceoffs as a way to jump-start their powerplay, but once the team had puck possession, he would usually be called off the ice in favor of another of the Oilers' top producers, which was a tad unfair and a bit of a thankless job.

I was a big fan of the Oilers signing him as a free agent to solidify their third line, so it made sense to also send custom cards depicting him in both the team's current/retro uniforms, including one of him in the faceoff circle:

They are variants C, B and A of card #30 of my own Hell's Kitchen 2013-14 Series 2 set.

He also signed the two index cards I had included to protect the cards:

Like everything else, they're signed in old-school, thick black sharpie, with his jersey number tagged at the end (15 in Phoenix, 27 in Edmonton). Some have smudged a little, but I don't mind, as my collection is for personal purposes, not monetary or exchange value, and is usually about players I respect and admire.