Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Guy Lafleur Autographed Card

It's been a while, but my desktop computer (with over a hundred scans of possibly upcoming features as well as mouse and everything I liked writing on) has failed me, and it took me a while between work (day job as a translator and gigs playing music), sleep and Life to set my laptop up to post. But I think I'm good to go, and I want to start with a bang: Hall Of Famer Guy Lafleur, who lost a civil lawsuit against Montréal police earlier today.

I had previously featured him with the Montréal Canadiens and Québec Nordiques, as well as a book (an autobiography) he's signed and sent me a couple of years ago, but I thought I could go with a card showing the entirety of his NHL career:
It's card #403 from Score's 1991-92 Score (American) set that shows him in the Habs' classic bleu-blanc-rouge uniform (right), the Nordiques' home (white) uniform (left), and the New York Rangers' white (then-home) uniform, the team he came out of retirement to play for in between stints playing for teams from La Belle Province.

As it stands, Lafleur is the Canadiens' all-time points leader with 1246 (from 518 goals and 728 assists) in 961 games, forming the best line of its era with Jacques Lemaire and Steve Shutt on what was perhaps the best team of all time. He won a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1977, three consecutive Art Ross trophies, three consecutive Lester B. Pearson Awards (MVP as voted by the players, now known as the Ted Lindsay), and two consecutive Harts (while finishing top-5 in voting for five straight seasons) to go with five straight Stanley Cups.

Ironically, it was Lemaire's turn to coaching who forced the six-time 50-goal scorer into an early retirement, as the hard-line defensive coach was unhappy with his two-way play (or lack thereof) resulting in him getting relegated to third-line duties and scarce playing time.

Four years after retiring, following his induction into the Hall Of Fame, he managed to put up 18 goals and 45 points in 67 games with the 1988-89 Rangers, followed by 24 goals, 38 assists, 62 points and an All-Star Game appearance in 98 games spread over two seasons with the Nordiques to cap off a legendary career that also saw him suit up for Team Canada at two Canada Cups (winning in 1976 and finishing runner-up to the Soviet Union in 1981), as well as the 1979 Challenge Cup (losing the series 2-1 to the Soviets) and at the 1981 World Championships.

He signed that card for me at the Bell Centre, a year and a half ago, during the 2013 playoffs, around the same time he heavily criticized (current Habs captain) Max Pacioretty's failings at stepping up in the postseason.

These days, Lafleur operates a helicopter and transportation company and acts as a Canadiens ambassador, but always speaks openly and honestly about the team, often criticizing them when he doesn't like where they're headed. He has also operated restaurants once his playing career was actually over.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Nicole Loum Autograph Card

Ealier this summer, I received Benchwarmer's 2015 Fathers' Day set with a few added inserts, and this was one of them:
It's card #60 from BW's 2015 Signature Series set featuring Canadian model Nicole Loum (it also acts as her de facto "Rookie Card" seeing as it's her first presence in a full set, but she'd appeared in special-edition mini-sets prior to this one); she signed it in black sharpie and appears to have made a mistake in doing so, judging by the smudge in her signature.

Loum hails from Sainte Catharines, Ontario (currently actually lives in Toronto) and burst onto the modeling scene in 2014 with a bunch of photo shoots of very proud photographers and onto a few red carpet events with Benchwarmer CEO Brian Wallos, as well as a few card collectors' events in Las Vegas.

I anticipate her popularity to blow up in the coming years, as she's quickly becoming a BW staple and will soon grace magazine ads and covers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Paul Kariya Jersey Card

Remember when a player scoring 50 goals in a single season happened enough for card companies to have complete sub-sets of them in their card collections? Last season, only Alex Ovechkin reached that milestone, marking the sixth time he's reached it; there are only seven other active NHLers with 50-goal seasons, and they are: Jaromir Jagr (1995-96, 2000-01, and 2005-06), Jarome Iginla (2001-02 and 2007-08), Vincent Lecavalier (2006-07), Sidney Crosby (2009-10), Steven Stamkos (2009-10 and 2011-12), Corey Perry (2010-11), and Evgeni Malkin (2011-12), it in addition to Ovi (2005-06, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2013-14 and 2014-15), as well as Dany Heatley (2005-06 and 2006-07) and Ilya Kovalchuk (2005-06 and 2007-08), who will be playing overseas this year. That doesn't make for a huge set.

The following card comes from Upper Deck's 2002-03 Series 2 collection's Reaching Fifty sub-set, which included the likes of Brett Hull, Peter Bondra, Iginla, Jagr, Wayne Gretzky, John LeClair, Joe Sakic, Keith Tkachuk, Mario Lemieux, Mike Modano, Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, and this one, #50-PK in the set, Paul Kariya:
It shows him wearing the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim's purple (then-away) uniform, though the consecutive white and grey lines were actually from the white (home) jersey. Unlike the previous time I've featured him, though, he has actually worn this one in an NHL game.

He has never won the Stanley Cup, but does have two Lady Byng trophies at home and made the First All-Star Team three times and Second All-Star Team twice, in addition to being nominated for the Hart a couple of times and playing in seven All-Star Games. He has suited up for Team Canada several times, winning gold medals at the 1993 World Juniors, 1994 World championships and 2002 Olympics, and silver at the 1991 Phoenix Cup (the then-name of the U-18 tournament), 1994 Olympics and 1996 World Championships.

He had to retire after 15 seasons due to concussions, and has since been outspoken about the dangers of players returning from them too soon - though he doesn't do so in hockey-related environments, having even shunned his good friend Teemu Selanne's jersey retirement ceremony.

His 989 points in 989 games are a big achievement, particularly the fact that most of it occurred in the Dead Puck Era. I've very happy I got this card in a trade for a couple of Eric Lindros cards, and a double of a Peter Forsberg jersey card I'll get to here eventually.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Eric Weinrich Autograph Card

It's a hard day for the hockey world with the passing of Todd Ewen, yet another enforcer falling to depression and suicide. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the gentle giant who once held the NHL lead in goals with 4 in the first 7 games of the 1992-93 season (from a 4-goals-in-3-games streak), ahead (or tied with, I'm not sure anymore) Brett Hull; because of Ewen, at the beginning of every season, I look at the scoring leaders to identify that given year's recipient of the "Todd Ewen Award" as the player with the unlikeliest odds of keeping the pace and finishing with a breakthrough/statistical anomaly-type of season.

He will be missed, and he's yet another argument not only against the role of the enforcer in today's NHL but hockey fights in general, and of increasing research into CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, i.e. the study of how multiple concussions affect how the brain functions and causes depression so bad that suicide is pretty much the most usual outcome).

That being said, there was also a smaller news item making the rounds today, as Eric Weinrich, the New Jersey Devils' second-round pick (32nd overall) at the 1985 draft, will go back to his roots as the team's development coach for defensemen.

I had written about his career as a player last February, but it bears repeating that he knows the game and rigors of the NHL through-and-through, having himself been an elite prospect, a decent offensive defenseman, and then evolved into a defensive specialist over time. He's been traded during the summer and at the trade deadline, and even knows what it's like to get drafted ahead of time, as the Buffalo Sabres had initially selected him in 1984 when he was too young to even be eligible.

He also knows how to deal with adversity, as he was a member of the Devils when they were still a joke (the early 1990s), the Chicago Blackhawks when they were irrelevant (most of the 1990s) and the Montréal Canadiens in their worst three years ever (1998-2001), when people didn't even try to remember the organization's good old days. He knows a thing or two about dark times, so he'll be able to tell the kids more than just "hey, at least you're not playing for the Arizona Coyotes".

I wish him the best, and am confident he'll do a fine job (though having the kind of depth on D that the Devils have, they'll make him look good as much as the opposite, I'm certain).

Here he is rocking the Hawks' classic red (then-away) uniform, about to enter back-checking mode, from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set (the signed insert version of card #30, autographed in thin black sharpie):
It's the more common "Silver Version" of the card.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Brian Elliott Autographed Card

The St. Louis Blues just cannot catch a break in net; this time, their "goalie oft he future" Jake Allen has been taken out of training camp with back spasms, an issue that has a tendency to become chronic with athletes over time.

That means Brian Elliott gets to be top dog again, though with GM Doug Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock, who knows how long that'll last. We are, after all, talking about a team whose goalie made it to the All-Star Game, was confirmed as a starter two weeks ahead of the playoffs, then was stuck to the bench when they came along. The same team that wasn't content with having playoff hero Jaroslav Halak because he'd never played over 60 regular-season games in a single season (and who has since made the New York Islanders into contenders).

Here's the thing with Elliott: is he one of the 10 best goalies in the world? No. But do you need a top-10 goalie to win the Stanley Cup? No. Sure, Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford do rank highly in my opinion, but Antti Niemi doesn't; neither did Chris Osgood. And Henrik Lundqvist (the best in the world), Pekka Rinne (the runner-up) and Carey Price (the best last year) have all yet to see their names engraved on the famed salad bowl.

Do I think Elliott is good enough to be a starter in today's NHL? Absolutely. Here's a list of teams for which he'd be the clear #1 in my opinion: the Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs, Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets, Carolina Hurricanes, and Minnesota Wild. And it'd be a close battle with the Detroit Red Wings and maybe even the Anaheim Ducks. He can stop pucks well, is what I'm saying.

I got this card in the mail at my old place, but I'm not sure who sent it to me (it's not a TTM return, as I've never owned this card in its regular form):
It's card #7 from In The Game's 2008-09 Between The Pipes set (part of the Future Stars sub-set), showing him wearing the Binghamton Senators' red (away) uniform. He signed it on-card in blue sharpie.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Max Pacioretty Autographed Card

I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Max Pacioretty on becoming the 29th captain in Montréal Canadiens history, the second consecutive (after Brian Gionta) and third overall (Chris Chelios had shared the title with Guy Carbonneau in the late 1990s) American to have that honour.

In a weird turn of events, this now makes both the Habs' first-round picks from the 2007 draft as captains, as Ryan McDonagh is doing the same with the New York Rangers; the Canadiens' second-round pick that year, P.K. Subban, would have been another very good choice. Needless to say, it was a very good draft for Montréal, as they also selected Yannick Weber that year.

Here's a card I got last year, from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee (#315 in the set):
It's signed in blue sharpie and shows him in the Habs' classic red (now-home) uniform, with the Centennial patches on each shoulder. It also enables him to take the #67 spot in my Habs Numbers Project.

I had written him back in 2010, care of the Hamilton Bulldogs, when the Habs sent him back there to finish in the 2010-11 season and never heard back, so I assume he doesn't do TTM, but he seems open to signing after games.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Brad Winchester Jersey Card

After Simon Gagné yesterday, it's now time to bid farewell to another retiree, Brad Winchester, who I had featured last November.

The 35th pick of the 2000 NHL draft, he wrapped up his career after playing in 390 regular-season NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. Not only are the Blues the team he's played the most games with, they're also the only team he's scored over 10 goals in a season with (13, in fact, in 2008-09).

He had spent the last 3 seasons playing exclusively in the AHL, with five different teams - the Milwaukee Admirals, Rockford IceHogs, Iowa Wild, Norfolk Admirals, and Oklahoma City Barons. By finishing with the Barons, he book-ended his career with stints in the organization that had initially drafted him, the Oilers.

The 6'5'', 230-pound winger's career AHL numbers are pretty good, with 74 goals, 58 assists and 132 points in 232 games, with an astonishing 460 penalty minutes, meaning his contributions came with relatively limited actual ice time...

He had led the Edmonton Roadrunners in goals in 2004-05 with 22, and had 26 more (and 40 total points) in 40 games the next year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, a season in which he finished the year up in Edmonton, where his burly play and all-effort game-winning goal against the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs turned many a head and led some to believe he might turn into an elite power forward.

This is what he looked like when everything seemed so promising, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 1 set (it's card #RT-BW from the Rookie Threads sub-set, featuring a photo shoot-worn dark blue jersey swatch):
He himself is wearing the team's late-1990s, early-2000s white (home) uniform, with the "oil driller" shoulder patches.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Simon Gagné Autographed Card

Today we tip our hats to one of the most prolific scorers of the Dead Puck Era, Simon Gagné, who retired yesterday after taking a leave of absence from the Boston Bruins midway through last season to be by his father's side, as he was dying of cancer. He'd actually earned a contract from the Bruins after coming to training camp on a PTO, a feat that only a couple of players achieve each year.

The two-time NHL All-Star had reached the Conference Finals twice with the Philadelphia Flyers and once with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and earned a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012. Factoring in the Bruins and Tampa's then-uniforms, he only played for black-suited teams in his 14-season career.

He reached the 40-goal plateau in both 2005-06 and 2006-07 and has suited up for Team Canada on five separate occasions, winning two gold medals (2002 Olympics and 2004 World Cup) and two silvers (1999 World Juniors and 2005 World Championships), and was also on the hugely disappointing 2006 Olympic squad that failed to medal in Italy.

As he was taking a break from competition last year, he did show up at a few events and LHJMQ games at the Colisée Pepsi (home of the Québec Remparts, his former Juniors team) late last season, where he signed this card:
It's #270 from Upper Deck's 1999-2000 Series 2 collection, showing him in the Flyers' classic black uniform, which he signed in thin blue sharpie.

To me, this will always be the way I remember him; the Flyers are the one team I'll always associate him with, despite liking the Kings and his winning the Cup in L.A. It's fitting that his most memorable moments to me are from the 2010 playoffs, where he almost single-handedly orchestrated the Flyers' historical comeback, as they were trailing the Bruins 3-0 and won the series in 7 games; he'd missed the first three games due to injury, scored the overtime game-winner in Game 4 keeping his team alive, scored two goals in Game 5, had the assist on Mike Richards' game-winner in Game 6, and scored the winning goal himself in Game 7.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ken Wregget Autograph Card

Full disclosure: I was never a huge Ken Wregget fan.

It has nothing to do with him per se, it's that he started out with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they're the only team I really have no respect for. And he played for the Leafs in the 1980s, their worst decade ever (though 2005-2015 is pretty bad as well). Also, in the packs of O-Pee-Chee cards I collected, the Leafs were represented by Allan Bester, whose equipment was blue and white compared to Wregget's brown gear, so Bester seemed more modern, like more money was spent on him, like the true leader (give me a break, I was less than 10 years old).

After the Leafs came a short stint with the Philadelphia Flyers backing Ron Hextall (a reversal of the roles they had while playing with the WHL's Lethbridge Broncos in Juniors), then a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins where he was behind Tom Barrasso, winning the Stanley Cup in 1992. I didn't like the stacked Pens team of the early 1990s, as I preferred Wayne Gretzky's calculated efficiency over Mario Lemieux's natural abilities, and they also had too many former Hartford Whalers (Ulf Samuelsson, Ron Francis). These days, my nostalgia includes the Whalers, but back then, I saw them essentially as I see the current San Jose Sharks, losers who'll never amount to anything and shouldn't ever get near the Cup.

After the Pens, with which he did finish fifth in the Vezina race in 1994-95, he went to the Calgary Flames - a team I like, except that I didn't follow the NHL much in the late 1990s, so it fell under the radar for me - before a final season with the Detroit Red Wings in 1999-2000. He retired after spending the 2000-01 season with the IHL's Manitoba Moose, playing in front of his hometown crowd.

It's a career path I wish I'd had, for sure, and I do love myself a good journeyman goalie story, so here he is, wearing the Flames' turn-of-the-millennium red (away) uniform, from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set (card #169 in the collection, the gold variant of the signed insert version, with an on-card thin black sharpied autograph):
The fact that he wore Brown and Excel gear bothered me as a kid as well, and before that, he was still using Cooper gloves and blockers when the rest of the world was more aptly protected by Brian's and Vaughn - it didn't scream "#1" to me.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Happy Birthday Tim Wallach: 3 Autographed Cards

Famous people born on September 14th include singer Amy Winehouse, rapper Nas, actors Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Tyler Perry (Gone Girl), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), and Callum Keith Rennie (Californication), wrestler Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon, and comedian Mike Ward.

Also, myself, and former baseball star third baseman Tim Wallach. When I was a kid, most years, there was a Montréal Expos game at the Olympic Stadium on that day, and I'd go, and they'd say it was his birthday, and I felt special because it was mine too. There was even one year where my name appeared on the scoreboard, and I got to meet him and have him sign cards for me.
I'm not sure if any of these cards are from that day, because as is the case with my favourite player (Tim Raines), I have a ton of Wallach-signed stuff. He, Raines and Gary Carter are my Holy Trinity of baseball players, though I never got to meet Carter.

Wallach was usually among the league leaders in Game-Winning RBIs, and twice led for doubles, with 42 each time. The Expos were always a run-first team, putting emphasis on doubles and stolen bases (of which Raines was the champion) instead of raw power, and #29 also holds the team record for inside-the-park home runs, both in a single season and over a career. He did have some power to his game, however, surpassing the 20-homer mark five times (with a high of 28 in 1982).

He was also a three-time Gold Glove winner, in the Mike Schmidt, Terry Pendleton and Matt Williams era, no less.

Here are the three cards I chose to feature today, all of them signed in blue sharpie, starting with card #685 from Topps' 1986 Topps set:

He's shown from the side of the field near the bench, in his regular batting stance (upright), sporting the team's classic powder-blue (away) uniform, as is the case in the following card, from Fleer's 1990 Fleer set (card #364), except there he's shown mid-swing:
There's also this one where he's wearing the team's 1990s grey (away) uniform, watching a ball he hit go deep into center field:
It's card #570 from Topps' 1993 Topps collection, one of the last baseball sets I tried to complete.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pascal Leclaire Autograph Card

For the life of me, I can't understand why people even think there's a doubt that Craig Anderson will be the #1 goalie for the Ottawa Senators this year, ahead of Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond. I see it in every pre-season preview magazine, it's all over the sports blogs, people have no respect for a #1 goalie who has proven time and time again to be among the league's top-10, and who two years ago was leading the Vezina race by a landslide before getting injured.

And it's not the first time a Sens goalie doesn't get his dues; Ron Tugnutt led the league with a GAA under 2.00 (1.79 in 1998-99) and has similar stats in the playoffs (1.98 and .917 save percentage in 1996-97) and he's still considered a career backup; Patrick Lalime, as previously mentioned, was top-10 in Vezina voting twice, and had amazing playoff statistics as well:
2001-02: 1.39 GAA, .946 save %, 4 shutouts in 12 games
2002-03: 1.82 GAA, .924 save % in 18 games
2003-04: 1.96 GAA in 7 games
One goalie who doesn't factor in this conversation is Pascal Leclaire, a very talented netminder who just fell into some injury trouble with the Sens and never got to show he could do the job as well as the others. Upon retiring at age 29 because of recurring hip problems, he became a player agent, a position he still holds to this day.

Here he is looking good and natural in the Sens' white (away) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Fleer Retro set (card #96-PL of the 1996-97 Skybox Autographics throwback design sub-set):
He has suited up for Team Canada twice and won silver both times, starting as the #1 guy at the 2002 World Juniors where he posted a 1.80 GAA with two shutouts in 5 games, as well as at the 2008 World Championships where he had a 2.00 GAA, one shutout and a .925 save percentage in 4 games.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Tyler Seguin Swatch Card

Bad boys, bad boys, what'cha gonna do / what'cha gonna do when they come for you?

It's been the summer of suspected repeat offenders in the NHL, what with alleged sexual assault cases (Mike Ribeiro settled out of court with his nanny, Patrick Kane is facing a grand jury next week), Mike Richards getting caught "smuggling" prescription medication across the Canada/U.S. border, and Tyler Seguin "partying too loudly" in Toronto.

And that's in addition to first-time offenders Jarred Stoll (ecstasy and cocaine possession) and Slava Voynov (domestic abuse).

For many of these cases, little is known about the actual facts, and the internet is filled with suppositions, particularly in the case of the harsher allegations (Ribeiro, Voynov, Kane), the notion of "innocent until proven guilty" usually thrown out the window on the sole basis of the players' reputations.

Which brings us to Seguin, whom the Boston Bruins traded to the Dallas Stars mostly because, at age 21, he didn't fit into head coach Claude Julien's defense-first system and would party into the late/early hours while the rest of the team was leading mostly disciplined lives.

Stars' GM Jim Nill was adamant that his budding scoring superstar would have learned from this, yet former Toronto Maple Leafs president Richard Peddie claims Seguin parties late, disturbs his neighbours and leaves his trash on his lawn, among other things. In the off-season. In the summer. Around Canada Day.

Perhaps one guy has to grow up, and it's Peddie. Except that because of Seguin's reputation, he's the target of the media's attention, despite the fact that he stayed home, didn't go to a bar, didn't get into trouble, and from my knowledge, didn't get into legal troubles either. So, essentially, he did nothing terribly wrong.

Now let's talk about what he does right. Such as playing hockey, enabling teammate Jamie Benn to win the Art Ross Trophy last season, edging out Sidney Crosby and John Tavares. He finished sixth in Hart voting the season before that, and both of his seasons with the Stars had him at a more than a point-per-game pace, both times scoring 37 goals with 40 or more assists. He's also played for Team Canada at the World Championships, winning the gold medal and leading the tournament in scoring with 9 goals in 10 games.

He's on his way up, and will be a star for the next decade. Here he is on card #CL-TS from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set (and Clear Cloth sub-set), featuring a black game-worn jersey swatch from the Stars' former garbs but showing him with the team's new green (home) jersey and new logo:
I really love the clear plastic where his head shot is; this one and that of Henrik Zetterberg are the only two I have of this sub-set, and I wish I had more; I'm willing to trade this one for two of "lesser-valued" players I collect (Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, Alexandre Burrows, Blake Wheeler, Roberto Luongo), but would also be content starting a Seguin collection. This one is numbered 86/100.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Kerby Rychel Autograph Card

There are many thing I don't get about Kerby Rychel; I hadn't followed his Juniors career closely, but I thought he may have been chosen a tad early when the Columbus Blue Jackets picked him with the 19th-overall pick at the 2013 draft, ahead of Anthony Mantha (20th), Zachary Fucale (36th), Eric Comrie (59th), Anthony Duclair (80th), Sven Andrighetto (86th), Jordan Subban (115th), and Kristers Gudlevskis (124th); NHL Central Scouting had classified him as the 17th North American skater, which sometimes means a second-round position.

His showing at the 2014 World Juniors (no points in 7 games for Team Canada in a fourth-place finish) was underwhelming, to say the least, but he did make the Memorial Cup All-Star Team later that year.

But once the Jackets had me convinced he was a blue-chip power forward prospect, I just couldn't believe the number of trade rumours he was a part of for the last couple of seasons, as though the fans who were supposed to be excited about him didn't want him at all.

Most smart fans will accept two types of players getting traded: those not pulling their weight, or those who disrupt team spirit (usually by holding out on what should be easy contract negotiations, à la Ryan Johansen), but the best prospect at forward? That seemed bizarre.

And yet, he's still around, and about to travel with the rest of Columbus' rookies to Traverse City for the Detroit Red Wings' annual rookie tournament, to help the Jackets defend their title, after which he'll proceed to the team's NHL training camp and try to make the opening night roster.

I'm curious to see how it pans out for the kid who turns 21 on October 7th, but with two 40-goal seasons in the OHL, he'll be given all the right opportunities by GM Jarmo Kekäläinen. Here he is sporting the Windsor Spitfires' white uniform, with card #A-KR from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set, featuring a black-sharpie on-sticker autograph:
One thing's for sure, former NHLer (and Stanley Cup winner with the 1996 Colorado Avalanche) Warren Rychel's son does have impeccable taste in music:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Jamie Linden Autographed Card

Jamie Linden is the tough younger brother of Vancouver Canucks legend Trevor Linden. He was signed as a free agent after his time in Juniors by the expansion Florida Panthers in 1993, despite having never been drafted - he was of the 20-point, 200-PIMs right winger variety.

He did end up appearing in 4 games for the Panthers in 1994-95, registering 17 penalty minutes and a -1, but mostly spent his time in the minors, in the AHL for a bit but mostly in the IHL. Here he is with the Cincinnati Cyclones, a Panthers affiliate at the time, from Classic's 1993-94 Pro Hockey Prospects set (card #134), which he signed in blue sharpie, probably around 1997:
The Cyclones have existed in name since 1990, as an IHL team (1992-2001) and an ECHL team (1990-92, 2001-04, 2006-present), as two separate entities. The first ECHL team existed, then its owner (Doug Kirchhofer) was awarded an IHL team, which he also named the Cyclones, but sent his ECHL team to Alabama where they became known as the Birmingham Bulls; they eventually moved to New Jersey where they became the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies, winning the Kelly Cup in 2002-03, but eventually moved to California, becoming the Stockton Thunder, then to New York State to become the Adirondack Thunder, where they are now affiliated to the Calgary Flames and Stockton Heat.

The other franchise lasted until the IHL folded in 2001, after which they sold their name to a new ECHL franchise that had previously been named the Louisville RiverFrogs and the Miami Matadors, before laying dormant as a non-existent entity owned by a group in... Birmingham, Alabama. It lay dormant again during the NHL lock-out (2004) but came back in 2006 to much success after securing an affiliation deal with the Montréal Canadiens and Hamilton Bulldogs, winning the Kelly Cup in 2008 with star player David Desharnais, and again in 2010.

Their current NHL affiliation is with the Nashville Predators.

As for Linden, he suffered a pretty awful injury in 1995 that necessitated going to court to obtain worker's compensation, and from the 1995-96 season onward, he would split his time between the AHL (Carolina Monarchs) and IHL (Grand Rapids Griffins and Las Vegas Thunder), retiring before the millennium kicked in.

Nowadays, he dabbles in real estate, an adventure he got into with his brother but now carries out mainly with other partners, because the elder Linden is now the Canucks' president (and kind of has a lot on his plate as is).

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Three Tomas Plekanec Jersey Cards

At this point, readers know my soft spot for Tomas Plekanec, who deserves to have had a Selke Trophy at this point in his career (and, in my opinion, he deserves the one they gave Ryan Kesler most of all).

I was going to wait until he signed an extension to feature these cards, but as the Montréal Canadiens' annual golf tournament is coming and players are starting to arrive on the South Shore, Habs players who are already here (Pleks spent the summer training with the team's staff) are starting to receive media attention, and The Turtlenecked One, with his pending UFA status up in the air, has started fielding questions about his contract status.

How many times does he expect to have to answer these questions if he doesn't sign soon? A thousand. And how many talks has his agent had with the team? Zero. But he would like to re-sign and finish his career with the bleu-blanc-rouge, the team that drafted him 71st overall in 2001.

What would be a reasonable cap hit for one of the top-5 two-way centers in the league who is about to enter regression, as he turns 33 in October? A reasonable way to look at it is to understand the CBA: contracts signed after age 35 carry huge penalties in the event of injuries (particularly the type of injuries that lead to retirement), as well as for sending veterans in the minors. Which means there are two options for Habs GM Marc Bergevin: a two-year contract leading to the next negotiation which would lead #14 to his final pre-35 contract, or a long-term deal that will lead him to retirement.

Plekanec made $5M per season in his last deal, a six-year pact in which he posted first-line numbers while playing with third-line checking wingers for most of that run.

The first option would be more costly (essentially paying full value for both years for a player who has proven to still be in his prime, scoring 26 goals and posting 60 points last season, so around $6M per), while the second would offset some of the cost with an expected decline that will possibly lead him to finishing as a third-line veteran center if it goes the way I see it, with a five- or six-year deal, leading him to age 37 or 38. I could see the salary structure going from $5.5M to $3.5M over a six-year deal, with a full no-trade clause kicking in at year 3 as the salary starts to decrease, ensuring he retires as a Canadien if he wants to. Six years, $28M, for a $4.67M average.

Now that that's settled, here's a trio of cards that took me a while to connect, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 set (#GJ-TP of the UD Game Jersey sub-set):
Three game-worn jersey swatch cards. Bleu. Blanc. Rouge.

I first pulled the white one a year and a half ago in a box I'd purchased with a friend. Then I pulled the blue one in a repackaged pack of multi-brand cards, so at this point I figured there had to be red ones as well, and they were probably easiest to find. It turns out the white ones (matching the picture on the card) were the most common among my contacts, but I did manage to secure the red one right before the playoffs started last year, in exchange for a few Team Canada cards I had laying around.

Obviously, I feel like I won that trade, regardless of my giving away Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf and some promising youngsters such as Samuel Morin in return (because those were regular-issue cards, unsigned or anything, and they'll help a fellow collector out with their own set-building).

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Lyle Odelein Autograph Card

Lyle Odelein was the Columbus Blue Jackets' very first captain, serving in that capacity for their first two seasons, before they traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks for Jaroslav Spacek. He'd previously acted as alternate captain for both the Montréal Canadiens and New Jesey Devils, and both in successful Stanley Cup runs (the Habs in 1993, the Devils in 2000).

He was a tough customer, but not an actual enforcer; he didn't back down from a fight but rarely instigated it. Instead, he rarely made defensive-zone mistakes for most of his career (save the early years as he was learning the ropes) but only once did he really make a notable and amazing offensive contribution, an end-to-end rush in which he deked everybody and scored on Ed Belfour. There was also the time where he had 5 assists in a single game, tying a Habs record he now shares with Sheldon Souray and Doug Harvey (for my money, the best defenseman in NHL history).

So, yeah, he may not have been a superstar, but he was kind of a big deal.

So here he is wearing the Jackets' original blue uniform, without the "C", so during a pre-season game, from In The Game's 2000-01 Be A Player Signature Series set (it's the signed insert version of card #88, the silver variant), which he signed on-card in thin black sharpie:
I very much prefer their current uniforms; these original ones are too simple, with too much of one colour and not enough design or thought having gone into it.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers Autograph Card

It looks like Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers will be playing in Europe for the foreseeable future, after stints with the Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild organizations didn't pan out.

He spent last season with the KHL's latest installment of the famed Dinamo Riga club (2.66 GAA and .903 save percentage in 13 games, in a league where the best goalies post averages below 2.00) and will be in Germany next year, manning the net for Augsburger Panther, where he'll be joined by Ben Hanowski, who just two years ago was part of a trade package that sent him to the Calgary Flames and Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Also playing for the Panther next year are former prospects Mark Mancari, Drew Leblanc and Ivan Ciernik. They should at least compete for a good position overall.

It's too bad for Drouin-Deslauriers, though, who came up with Devan Dubnyk through the Oilers' ranks and may have ended up on the wrong side of poor defensive teams long enough to stall his development. It could have cost Dubnyk his career as well, but he overcame tremendous odds and was nominated for the Vezina Trophy last season, winning the Masterton.

Here is JDL sporting the Oilers' post-lockout white (now-away) uniform that looks like a pajama had a baby with a practice jersey, in this card from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers Collection (it's card #FI-JD of the Franchise Ink sub-set, featuring a blue-sharpie on-sticker autograph):
I like his stance here, though he looks a tad nonchalant with his blocker a bit low. He's a goalie who is tremendously fast and agile with his pads, and at some point in the early stages in his career may have been on par with Jonathan Quick and Carey Price with his leg work, but he was susceptible to goals on the glove side, which is a frequent occurrence for goalies who catch with their right hand, just from a lack of practice from forwards in the lower levels being used to wanting to shoot to their right instead of their left.

He now counts as my entry for #38 in my Oilers Numbers Project.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Mike Modano Jersey Card

Now a member of the Hockey Hall Of Fame, Mike Modano currently stands as the all-time goals and points leader among American-born players in the NHL. He spent all but one season with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise, save for a final go-round for his hometown Detroit Red Wings.

He was never a leading scorer and is thin on hardware (save for the 1999 Stanley Cup), but for most of his career, he finished with Selke, Lady Byng, and Hart Trophy votes, and was a Second Team All-Star in 2000, in addition to playing in 7 All-Star Games (once as team captain), making the All-Rookie Team in 1990, and suiting up for Team USA 11 times, winning one gold (1996 World Cup) and one silver medal (2002 Olympics), as well as a runner-up position at the 1991 Canada Cup. It's easily understandable why he was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

He finished his NHL career at nearly a point-per-game pace (1374 points in 1499 games, plus 146 points in 176 playoff games) and also had a decent showing internationally, with 41 points in 57 games playing for the United States.

He also captained the Stars from 2003 until 2006, until management decided to pass the mantle onto Brenden Morrow - a decision I disagreed with, at the time, and still do; in my opinion, he remains the face of the franchise in Dallas to this day, and he uses that title in his current role as a team ambassador, attracting sponsors and business partners.

And so it's fitting that I feature him not just wearing the Stars' uniform, but their best and most memorable one, the star-shaped green and black jersey, on a card featuring two black game-worn jersey swatches, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Artifacts collection:
It's a variant of card #66, and is numbered 50/125.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Louis Domingue Autographed Card

For a while there, it looked like Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue was headed to Europe next year, after GM Don Maloney signed no less than three other goalies (Anders Lindback to a one-way deal, as well as Niklas Treutle and Tyler Beskorowany to AHL deals, after both had played in Germany last year) in addition to having albatross Mike Smith already penciled in for the #1 spot.

But instead, he was released and accepted a two-way deal with the team, so he'll be staying in North America after all. I'm not sure why the Coyotes chose Lindback over him, or why they went with a two-way deal, considering Domingue had a respectable 2.73 GAA and .911 save percentage in the NHL last year, going 1-2-1 with the Coyotes, the second-worst team in the league.

His win came in his first start, too, against the Montréal Canadiens (who finished second overall, by the way), at the Bell Centre, no less. In February, not as they were shaking off some rust in early October. Alex Galchenyuk was the only player on the Habs to score on him, scoring twice in the first period.

It was at that game that I got three of his cards signed, but two are currently missing from my stash, so here's the one I could find:
It's card #56 from In The Game's 2010-11 Heroes And Prospects set, signed in blue sharpie. He's seen in the modern goaltender's stance, glove high up and little space between the blocker and pad when seen from the front, wearing the Québec Remparts' classic red uniform.

When the Phoenix Coyotes drafted him with the 138th pick of the 2010 draft, he was a typical goalie of his era, standing at 6'3'' and 191 pounds. He's almost smallish by current-day NHL standards, with the likes of giants such as Lindback and Ben Bishop.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Mark Visheau Autographed Card

I mentioned in the past having participated in two Winnipeg Jets summer "coaching camps" that doubled as rookie camps and pre-scouting camps for midget-aged players in the summers of 1994 and 1995.

One actual Jets prospect who was there was Mark Visheau, a 6'5'', 220-pound tower of power (who would play at 235 pounds with the Los Angeles Kings later in the decade), who was clearly being groomed to be a Lyle Odelein-type of stay-at-home defenseman who would fight, despite having posted 60 points in 62 games as a defenseman in his final season with the OHL's London Knights.

He only played one game with the Jets before toiling in the minors for a few years, until the Kings signed him as a free agent mostly as a negotiation tactic to bring Aki-Petteri Berg back in the fold, putting pressure on the Swede to accept a smaller salary (it didn't work).

During his lone season in Los Angeles, Visheau fought 13 times in 28 games (plus another 5 times in 5 pre-season games), and other health issues (an apparent urinary tract infection) resulting in complications led him to sue the Kings' medical staff, bringing an end to his hockey career - and bringing Berg back into the fold the following season; from afar, it really looks like he was used and thrown away.

He had signed an index card for me in Winnipeg, but I no longer have that; however, I do have this card, which he signed for me in blue sharpie during his season with the Québec Rafales in 1996-97:
It's card #101 from Classic's 1993-94 Pro Hockey Prospects set, showing him wearing the Moncton Hawks' white (home) uniform, matching the Jets' design. Pardon the scan's crop...

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Guy Carbonneau Autographed Card

Guy Carbonneau is the reverse/bizarro Jacques Lemaire. On all levels.

First, let's start with Lemaire: he was without a doubt one of the five best offensive centers of his era, probably top-3, possibly top-2. If it was just that he had Guy Lafleur on his side, one could argue that it may have been Lafleur leading the way and Lemaire just benefitting, but Lemaire also fed another 50-goal winger on the same line, Steve Shutt. When one center has two 50-goal scorers at once on his wings, he's doing something right.

After his playing career, Lemaire turned to coaching, and his perfecting "the trap" into a near-flawless defensive system helped the Montréal Canadiens to two more Stanley Cups (1986 and 1993), the New Jersey Devils to their three including the one where he was behind the bench (1995, 2000, 2003), and made the Minnesota Wild a playoff team practically from the time they joined the NHL as an expansion team.

Offensively gifted turned defensive genius.

Carbonneau was a star in the LHJMQ in Juniors, but behind such centers as Bobby Smith, Stéphan Lebeau and Vincent Damphousse with the Habs, had to resort to playing the checking-line game if he wanted decent ice time. He did learn from the best (of their era) by sharing a line with Bob Gainey and Doug Jarvis, but by being a center who would often lead the league in face-offs won, he added a whole new dimension to the two-way forward role that neither had achieved. He shadowed the NHL's best and often had them finishing in the minuses because he could also contribute on the score board - all while playing clean hockey and not trying to get under their skin verbally.

The most obvious display of that mastery was in the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, as he shut Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings like no one had before and captained the team to what remains the last Cup having been won by a Canadian team to date.

After retiring, he held different management jobs, from assistant coach to assistant general manager to director of player personnel, until he was named the Canadiens' associate head coach in 2006-07 with the plan being that he would take on the job on his own the following season. And when he did, the Habs finished first in the Northeast Division with 104 points, and had the highest-ranked offense in the league with the Detroit Red Wings. When he was dismissed the following season (essentially for not following the company line and using Jaroslav Halak to win games instead of a struggling Carey Price), his team was still second in the Northeast - and they finished even lower after Gainey replaced him behind the bench.

For most of his tenure, the team led the league in penalty-killing (which was to be expected), but also on the powerplay. The result was a combination of having highly-skilled players such as Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov who were all allowed to be creative with the puck, sure, but also factoring in was Carbonneau's knowledge of how penalty killers think and react, and teaching his forwards to find ways around that.

Essentially, when he was hired as coach, he had three years to help the Habs win the Stanley Cup; he was ultimately given one and a half, because Gainey felt that goaltending wasn't that important a piece of the puzzle and it was better to go with the line-up he had envisioned for the Canadiens' Centennial instead of the one that worked and gelled. He was the boss, so it was his call, wrong as it was.

However, on the ice, Carbonneau did eventually supplant Gainey; he innovated past the teacher's lessons and became a master himself. Gainey's in the Hall Of Fame, and the main reason why the Selke Trophy even exists (having won it in its first four presentations); he played on 5 Cup-winning teams.

Carbonneau won the Selke three times (1988, 1989 and 1992) and probably deserved it in 1990 (Rick Meagher) and 1991 (Dirk Graham) as well. He's also played on three Cup-winning teams, including the 1999 Dallas Stars, on which Gainey was GM. It's while he was in Dallas that his daughter met her husband, Brenden Morrow.

If Gainey's in the Hall, so should Carbo. Not only was he the best at what he did for a long stretch (8 seasons in my count), but he revolutionized the position completely. Now every team has a third-or-second-line center shadowing the opposition's best player. That's all Carbo.

And so, for the first time I feature him, here he is depicted as a young player (before he ever sported the "C", so probably in 1985 or 1986 judging by the assistant coach on the bench), card #46 from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Parkhurst Champions set, showing him in the Habs' classic bleu-bland-rouge jersey:
He signed it in blue sharpie. Now that he's a TV analyst for RDS, he's relatively easy to find at all Canadiens home games.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Robert Meachem Rookie Jersey Card

Oh, look, a player-worn (but unclear whether in-game or during an event) jersey card:
(spoiler alert: he hadn't yet played in an NFL game, so it's ''event-worn''...)

That's from this card of Robert Meachem's, from Topps' 2007 Bowman Sterling set (card #BSRR-RM of the Authentic Player-Worn Jersey sub-set, which also acts as his rookie card in the collection):
He's pictured wearing the New Orleans Saints' black and gold uniform, the same worn he's worn in six of his seven NFL seasons, having spent the 2012 season with the San Diego Chargers.

He would usually dress for all the games (usually 16 in the regular season and 1 to 3 in the playoffs), but it's been harder on him since his one season in San Diego. In 2014, he was actually cut from the Saints' training camp and only offered a role after rookie Khairi Fortt got injured; he did manage to play in 11 games, though, and average his usual 16 yards per catch.

He's still a free agent as of today, but I'm fairly confident he'll get an offer soon. Every team needs a reliable wide receiver who happens to also be a veteran leader, a Super Bowl champion and former first-round pick to help teach the kids what it takes to win.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Maxim Lapierre Autograph Card

Maxim Lapierre has finally signed a professional contract... except he's headed for famed hockey team Ornskoldsvik Modo of the Swedish league, with an out clause releasing him to the NHL should he sign another deal prior to training camp.

I always thought he'd find a team that would pay him around $1.5M for the year, seeing as he's a decent face-off man, a right-shot center who can play on the penalty kill, and one of the league's biggest pests... although that, and the fact that he's a repeat offender when it comes to embellishment and diving probably played a part in that as well.

He collected 105 hits in 35 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins post-trade last year, which is consistent with the types of statistics he had in his last couple of seasons with the Montréal Canadiens before he was shipped to the Anaheim Ducks. Apart from taking stupid penalties at times, he's the type of player who'll do anything his coaches ask, whether it's shadowing the other team's top centers or chirp at them, or throw his (relatively diminutive) weight around. He can even fill in on the second line for a spell if a coach wants to punish certain players and reward effort.

Here he is wearing the Vancouver Canucks' current/retro blue (home) uniform, from Panini's 2012-13 Fleer Retro set:
It uses the 1996-97 Skybox Autographics design and is card #96-ML in the sub-set, featuring a sticker autograph signed in blue sharpie, with his jersey number (40) tagged at the end, which qualifies him for my Canucks Numbers Project.