Monday, April 27, 2015

Ben Bishop Jersey Card

I hinted at this card when I featured Ray Bourque two weeks ago, and with his win a few minutes ago against the Detroit Red Wings, I thought it'd be a good time to talk about Ben Bishop again.

One of last year's Vezina Trophy finalists, Bishop didn't play particularly well tonight, and wasn't as good this season as some might have hoped, with a 2.32 GAA and .916 save percentage - but those were fine numbers for a team that finished first in scoring and who were finding the right balance of defensive play for the surprise offensive prowess its second line was giving them.

I'd say Bishop ranks second among American-born NHL goalies these days (behind super-clutch Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick), and third among my own favourite goalies (behind Jaroslav Halak and Corey Crawford).

He's huge (6'7'', 220 pounds), covers a whole lot of the net, has lightning-quick reflexes and is in the top-5 in puckhandling - even posting a 2-assist game against my hometown Montréal Canadiens (and their own fine puck-moving goalie in Carey Price). He's bound to have another Vezina-caliber season soon, as the many Cinderella stories (Price, Devan Dubnyk) this season has laid witness to will likely not be repeated, and the law of averages should prevail. His quality starts percentage is impressive, and has been throughout his entire career; those are the types of numbers that never lie.

So when I was able to grab this card for a buck on Ebay along with the aforementioned Bourque one, I didn't think twice:

Don't let the penny sleeve fool you, this card's actually in better shape than the Bourque one.
It's from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Trilogy set (#T-TBL3 of the Tryptichs sub-set, numbered 237/400), showing him wearing the Bolts' blue (home) uniform, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Curtis Lazar Jersey Card

Well, Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators put up a great fight, but the Montréal Canadiens were luckier, had a few calls go their way, and proved to be a much deeper team on the whole, despite the fact that just one or two pucks lifted over a sprawling Carey Price (or on either of his top corners) could have made this series end in a 4-2 Sens win instead of the other way around.

Still, this young Senators team has gained valuable playoff experience, and they've shown a great never-say-die attitude in the face of constant fear of elimination, stemming from the beginning of the calendar year when they were as far as 14 points behind the final playoff position.

One of the kids who will likely grow into a larger role as the years pass, possibly to become the #2 center behind Kyle Turris, is Curtis Lazar, who won gold captaining Team Canada at the World Juniors during the Holidays, after winning the Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings last year.

As a player, he's mature beyond his years, but he remains a 19-year-old, capable of some extreme cuteness, such as this drawing when Chris Phillips (whose house he's residing in during the regular season) was shut down for the remainder of the season last week:
 Here's a card I landed on last year, from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set (card #TPM-16 of the Top Prospects Game-Used Jersey sub-set, the ''Black'' version), with a huge black and red swatch from the actual OHL/CHL/NHL Top Prospects game, where he is pictured wearing the white (Team Orr) uniform:


Friday, April 24, 2015

Andrew Ference: 4 Autographed Cards

I took a little over a week off to solve certain problems in my life, and was brought back to the blog by this tremendous return Thursday evening, a 35-day trip that started with my sending Edmonton Oilers captain Andrew Ference three cards and a fan letter on March 19th, 2015, and ended with my receiving four back, on April 23rd, 2015, signed in black sharpie.

You can tell Ference's story backwards and forward and what you'll end up with is a guy with a lot of heart who is extremely passionate on the ice - at times crossing certain lines because of it, such as when, as a member of the Boston Bruins, he gave the middle finger to the Bell Centre crowd after scoring a decisive playoff goal or laid an extremely dangerous hit to Monréal Canadiens fourth-line center Jeff Halpern's head in the next game, or when he was suspended earlier this season for a high hit on Zack Kassian.

But the 208th pick of the 1997 draft who was born in Edmonton and raised in the suburb of hockey-friendly Sherwood Park (where Gerald Diduck, Ken Hitchcock and Tony Twist hail from, notably) is also a tough, courageous 5'11'' and 185-pound defensive defenseman who won't back down from anyone in the NHL in any context, is sound defensively, can be counted upon for some 15-20 points per season and good penalty killing and who will turn it up when it matters - come playoff time.

His points-per-game average is 1-in-4 during the regular season, and it nears 1-in-3 in the postseason. He was on the Calgary Flames' magical run that ended with a seven-game loss in the Finals in 2003-04 with my favourite captain (Jarome Iginla) and goalie (Miikka Kiprusoff) of their era, and he won the Stanley Cup with the 2010-11 Bruins.

He's intense, and he'll do anything for the logo in front of the jersey, usually to the point where he'll forget about what's best for the name on the back of it. He'll defend his teammates, he'll get involved in a rivalry, he'll do everything it takes to win - and he knows how much it takes to be on either side of a Game 7 Cup Finals. Not only was he an ideal fit for an Oilers team that needed a solid second-pair defender to center their core around, he was also the best choice as captain, to lead that young squad as they strive towards the greatness that was always supposed to happen.

And he's even more valuable off the ice, the winner of last season's King Clancy Trophy (for best humanitarian), for not just getting involved in the community and helping people once, but staying with them as a friend, as is the case with this young fan from Boston (yes, you'll cry). He also created the NHL's carbon-neutral program, which has over 500 players purchasing carbon offset credits to make the league's carbon footstep eco-friendlier.

He's impossible to root against, except in a Bruins uniform. And thankfully those days are over for now. Still, winning the Cup and being part of the Habs-Bruins rivalry warranted that I include these cards as part of my package:

They're variants of the same #37 card from Panini's 2013-14 Score set (the one on the right being the ''Gold'' version), showing him pushing the play forward through a hard pass or a shot. I just noticed through this scan that the Gold card is a close-up of the original, regular-issue card (it's not so clear to the naked eye). They show him wearing the B's white (away) uniform.

And, of course, I had to have him with my childhood team, the Oilers, in their classic-current white (now-away) uniform:

The card I sent was the one on the right, from Upper Deck's 2014-15 MVP set (card #121), a busy-looking set I reviewed in November. And he was kind enough to add the 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee card (#7 in the collection, also manufactured by UD) on the left, which made my week, to be honest.

Sometimes, I'm one of those who say things like ''hockey players have so much heart and such kind souls'', but I feel it's nice to remove the generalizations and acknowledge the specific individuals who make that statement true, and Andrew Ference is the perfect candidate for that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ray Bourque Jersey Card

I hadn't purchased mid- or high-range hockey card products this year for a few reasons, one of them being a lack of funds and the other a semi-boycott of Upper Deck's monopoly tactics, and before I took a plunge - which I might succumb to this summer - I decided to try looking for individual cards on Ebay, which is where I found this 2014-15 Trilogy card (#T-RB1 of the Tryptichs sub-set, numbered 247/400) of Raymond Bourque sporting the Boston Bruins' superb classic 1980s black (away) uniform:
I got it for just over a dollar (plus shipping, with another card that was just a dollar), and it features a white game-worn jersey swatch.

Bourque is usually considered among the top-5 best defensemen of all time, and depending who you ask, the rest of the list might include fellow Bruin Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Denis Potvin, Nicklas Lidstrom, and maybe Chris Chelios, with Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe not far behind in the mix for spots 4 and 5 for certain folks. (I think mine ranks Harvey, Orr, Lidstrom, and Bourque in the top four spots, and it's a toss-up between Potvin, Robinson and Chelios for fifth).

Bourque (along with Cam Neely and tremendous goaltending from he likes of Andy Moog, Réjean Lemelin and Bill Ranford) was the centerpiece of a dominating Bruins team in the 1980s, one that went to the Stanley Cups Finals twice (both times losing to the Edmonton Oilers) in three seasons, in a decade where the New York Islanders had their dynasty and the Montréal Canadiens were still pretty great thanks to Patrick Roy (Stanley Cup in in 1986, Cup Finals in 1989, and another Cup win would follow in 1993); factor in both Philadelphia Flyers Finals losses that decade and you have yourself a four-team Prince of Wales (as was then known the Eastern Conference) cartel.

The 1990s weren't as glorious, though, and at one point the Bs had to ponder offering the team's longest-ever serving captain a chance at winning the Cup with another team, or risk retiring with a rebuilding team (centered around a young Joe Thornton). They did in 2000, sending him to the Colorado Avalanche, with whom he would win the following year, bring the Cup back to Boston for a final farewell, and retire happy as a champion.

Joe Sakic handing Bourque the Cup was one of the most touching hockey moments of the 00s, and he probably truly was the team's main source of inspiration in that particular run, but I still don't really understand why the Avs went and retired his jersey after 14 months on the team. The Bruins, yes, for sure, but the Avs may have cheapened the meaning of such an action in this particular case by honoring a player who is clearly most remembered as part of another organization, which is totally acceptable considering he spent 21 years playing in Beantown. I write this fully realizing he was a Norris Trophy runner-up in his final season, winning it five times between 1986-87 and 1993-94.

There's no denying he was one of the best of all-time, retiring as the defenseman leader in goals, assists and points, a first-ballot Hall Of Famer with two Canada Cups with Team Canada and a runner-up nod as well.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Jakub Voracek Jersey Card

With their playoff hopes a long shot from a while back, I was kind of hoping for the Philadelphia Flyers' sake that Jakub Voracek might run away with the scoring race and win the Art Ross Trophy; it would have been well deserved for such a hard-working and talented player, and it would have been different from the usual suspects.

When Jamie Benn won it by passing John Tavares, I got half my wish of fresh faces, at least, but poor Voracek finished the season with 81 points, tied with Alex Ovechkin in 4th place, behind Benn (87), Tavares (86) and Sidney Crosby (84). Good company, for sure.

The seventh-overall pick in 2007, he scored in his first NHL game with the Columbus Blue Jackets, was part of their first team that made the playoffs and assisted on their first postseason goal; former NHLer Cam Russell, who coached him in Juniors in the LHJMQ with the Halifax Mooseheads, said he was the most talented and disciplined player he'd ever coached and was probably the best player of his draft class, one that included Patrick Kane (1st, two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe), James Van Riemsdyk (2nd), Kyle Turris (3rd), Sam Gagner (6th), Logan Couture (9th), Brandon Sutter (11th), Ryan McDonagh (12th, a President's Trophy and a Cup Finals), Lars Eller (13th), Kevin Shattenkirk (14th, a gold-winning Olympian), Max Pacioretty (22nd, an Olympian and this season's 5th-leading goal scorer), Mikael Backlund (24th), David Perron (26th), P.K. Subban (43rd, a Norris Trophy in tow), Wayne Simmonds (61st), Alex Killorn (77th), Alec Martinez (95th, two Stanley Cups), Benn (129th), Jake Muzzin (141st, two Stanley Cups), Scott Darling (153rd), and Nick Bonino (173rd). That's good company as well.

It remains to be seen whether he, Kane, Subban, Benn, McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Pacioretty or even Simmonds has the best career, but he already has achievements no one can take away from him: a bronze medal at the 2008 World U18 Championships, and gold (2010) and bronze (2011) medals at the World Championships for the Czech Republic. He also tied the All-Star Game points record (6) in February, so his name can now be said in the same breath as Mario Lemieux's.

He's also developed a dislike for losing, which will make Flyers GM Ron Hextall very happy as he tries to build a contender around Voracek, Simmonds and Claude Giroux.

I'll be keeping an eye out for sure. In the meantime, here he is finishing up a slap shot near the boards, in the Flyers' current/retro bright orange (home) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set (card #GJ-JV of the UD Game Jersey sub-set) featuring a black game-worn jersey swatch:
I'm not certain he'll be able to repeat finishing in the top-5 again, but that doesn't mean he isn't a heck of a hockey player.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Andrej Meszaros Autographed Card

The Ottawa Senators secured their playoff spot this afternoon with a decisive win, and they'll face off against my hometown Montréal Canadiens, which means I might go watch a few games at the Corel Scotiabank Canadian Tire Center.

The Sens scare me a bit, and not just because of Andrew Hammond's incredible run, which should run out of steam at any moment; no, it's more that the Sens have taken a liking to treating the Habs as a true, bitter rival, and have gone 3-1 against them this year - and I still have not forgotten the one-sided 4-1 playoff series from a couple of seasons ago.

And Carey Price may well win all the awards next June (deservedly so), he still has only won just 4 or 5 total playoff series in 8 seasons, two of which came last year. And the Habs have one of the worse offenses in the league - and might start the playoffs without Max Pacioretty, the third best goal scorer in the NHL. It'll be a good test for the Canadiens' defense, perhaps the deepest in the Eastern Conference, and possibly the best one-two punch in the league in Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban.

But back to the Sens, who were so far out of playoff contention in December when they fired their head coach Paul MacLean. Dave Cameron, who replaced him, put his faith in the team's youth, and the kids performed near-miracles, with two rookies finishing in the top-5 for rookie scoring; Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, and young veteran Kyle Turris are filling out the score sheets, as is Erik Karlsson out back, and should Hammond falter, Craig Anderson remains a very capable actual #1 goalie.

And so, in their honor, I decided to check another number off my Sens Numbers Project with #14, Andrej Meszaros, who is currently a member of the Buffalo Sabres and twice as a member of the Sens received Norris Trophy votes (finishing 16th and 17th). He had split the 2013-14 season between the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins, odd teams considering he's not overly physical with his 6'2'' and 215-pound frame, as he is more of a mobile, point-producing defender who can usually be counted upon for 30-some points without necessitating first-unit powerplay time.

Here he is blasting a slap shot from the point in the Sens' former red (home) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Series 1 set (card #137 in the series):
It was signed in person in blue sharpie, during his time with the Flyers, possibly in 2010-11 or 2011-12.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dale Hawerchuk Jersey Card

The Winnipeg Jets clinched a playoff spot yesterday when the Calgary Flames beat and eliminated the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, securing the team's first postseason appearance since relocating from Atlanta - and first in Winnipeg since 1995-96.

What better way to celebrate than by featuring their former captain and franchise player Dale Hawerchuk, he who led to OHL's Barrie Colts to 41 wins this year and who some think he might be the next big-name NHL coach - he did, after all, coach the likes of Mark Scheifele, Tanner Pearson and Aaron Ekblad.

He won the Memorial Cup twice with the Cornwall Royals as a player, hopefully he can get one with the Colts as a head coach as well.

I had featured him a year ago, but I'd still like to point out, again, his 518 goals, 891 assists, and 1409 points in 1188 regular-season NHL games and 99 points in 97 postseason games, as well as two Canada Cup victories with Team Canada (1987 and 1991), six 100-point and four other 90-point seasons. He earned his Hall Of Fame induction in 2001.

And here he is wearing the Jets' early-1980s blue (away) uniform (you can tell by the jersey's sleeves as well as the team's logo, which changed in the 1990s):
It's card #GJ-DH from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set, featuring a nice red swatch. I also like that the captain's ''C'' is red on this, when he's usually mostly shown having a white one.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Derrick Pouliot Jersey Card

Every time he was called up from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this season, showcasing this card was an option; now that the Pittsburgh Penguins are in danger of missing the playoffs altogether, I guess I have to ''take advantage'' of his injury to talk about the impressive prospect on their blue line, Derrick Pouliot.

The Pens chose Pouliot 8th overall in 2012 knowing full well they had another player just like him in Kris Letang - smooth-skating, booming shot, good hockey vision and great passes, standing at around the 6'0''and 200-pound mark, and somewhat needs to work on his defensive game - but he was so good that they just couldn't pass him up.

He's already suited up twice for Team Canada at the Juniors level, and has made the Memorial Cup All-Star Team, and has played in the CHL's Subway Super Series, as can be attested by this card from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set (card #SSM-31 in the Game-Used Jersey sub-set):

He's shown wearing the WHL All-Stars' white (home) uniforms as they faced off against a group of talented Russian Juniors stars; Pouliot participated in both the 2012 and 2013 editions of the tournament that is usually played in November as a prelude to the World Juniors.

He also played in this year's AHL All-Star Game, as he led his team in scoring (as a defenseman) despite having been called up to the NHL for a good chunk of December; all told, he's played 34 games with the Pens so far this year, though he's out for their next game.

There'll be knocks on his game for a while because of his ''defensive failings'', but like Letang or P.K. Subban, he will ultimately produce far more points than be responsible for goals going in, and the differential between one and the other will determine whether he will be a top-4 defenseman or a top-pairing left-hander like Erik Karlsson. He's just 21 and has already scored on Roberto Luongo (on his first shot, no less), so I'm fairly confident we'll be talking about him as an NHL player for the next 15 years.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Jimmy Howard Swatch Card

Statistically speaking, Jimmy Howard's season is a fine one so far, what with a .912 save percentage and 2.41 GAA to go with a 23-13-10 record and 2 shutouts, but the reality is that injuries have kept him out of the middle of the season, hampering his groove, and he's finally hit a slump right when the Detroit Red Wings need him at the top of his game - looking to secure a playoff spot and enter the postseason on a positive note.

He's now won two in a row, but has had a few meltdowns in March that put doubts inside head coach Mike Babcock's mind as to which goaltender would give him the best chance to win between Howard and rookie Petr Mrazek.

I like Howard, he's a fine (but nowhere near perfect) goalie; I just don't like his cap hit - as a matter of fact, if Henrik Lundqvist's and Pekka Rinne's salaries are in the $7M range and Jonathan Quick's is at $5.5M, no other goalie should be making more than Quick - Olympian, Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winner. No other goalie should be playing in over 60 games either, so, pro-rated, paying $5M for a 60-game top-10 starter is akin to (and a smarter deal than) a 70-game starter at $7M who'll tire when the heat starts and/or gets injured in the playoffs.

Howard's proven that he can stop 91-92% of pucks in any given year, but not that he can play with the big boys when it counts. As such, he ranks among the likes of a lot of his current peers, like Cory Schneider. His talent level compares to that of Corey Crawford, who has won a Stanley Cup, and Jaroslav Halak (a bit more ''naturally talented'', a little less heart), who has single-handedly taken a lower-tiered team to a Conference Finals, winning against perhaps the two best teams in the league in the best effort of rope-a-dope hockey of the past 25 years. Howard can probably compete with these guys, he just needs to get his focus back. He reminds me of Carey Price two years ago.

And so I wasn't disappointed when I came across this card (#D-HW, numbered 52/99) in a pack of Panini's 2013-14 Dominion last year, showing him in the Wings' classic red (home) uniform with a matching game-worn swatch:

The scan actually provides more detail in the foil (the team's logo, the bottom of the card, the brand name) than the naked eye can see - which is just a cluster of dark blue - unless, like a dress, I'm just seeing it wrong.

Monday, April 6, 2015

J.P. Dumont Autograph Card

It looks more and more like the Buffalo Sabres will finish last in the NHL to ''gain'' a 20% chance of winning the draft lottery and pick first; at the very worst, the last-place team can pick second overall, and there are allegedly at least two ''generational'' players available in this year's crop (Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel).

But the same was also said of Pat Falloon at some point, and Alexandre Daigle was another ''can't-miss'' sure shot. The point being: it's not just about raw talent; luck, development and environment also comes into play, as does character.

I hope the Sabres or Edmonton Oilers win the lottery, because I'd like the talented guys who can potentially turn a team around go to a loyal fanbase who deserves it, not build one from scratch. But ideally, I'd go back to how it used to be - and how it remains in the NFL - which is, the team that finishes last picks first. It's the best way to ensure parity, that the rich don't keep getting richer, and that there's a rotation of potential talent.

Representing the Sabres today is Jean-Pierre Dumont, seen here from behind in the team's turn-of-the-millennium white (home) uniform:
It's card #4 of In The Game's 2001-02 Be A Player Signature Series (signed insert of the ''gold'' variant variety, though the scan looks greenish), signed on-card in black sharpie.

Originally a first-round pick (third overall in 1996) of the New York Islanders, he is one of the many blunders of then-GM Mike Milbury, he who traded away an entire Stanley Cup-contending roster of players during his tenure on Long Island, with a stud two-time gold medalist Olympian, former captain and perennial Vezina-nominated goalie (Roberto Luongo), Olympian goalie Tommy Salo, a Norris-winning defenseman and NHL captain (Zdeno Chara), other top-line defensemen (Vladimir Malakhov, Bryan Berard and/or Wade Redden, and Bryan McCabe), another two former first-round pick defensemen (Scott Lachance and Canadian Olympian Eric Brewer), an All-Star 100-point center and former NHL captain (the draft pick that became Jason Spezza), an Olympic medalist center who was an NHL captain (Olli Jokinen), the biggest brawns-for-pounds power forward of the 1990s (Todd Bertuzzi), and known pests Jarko Ruutu and Raffi Torres, in addition to Dumont.

Dumont is a six-time 20-goal scorer (with a high of 29 in 2007-08 with the Nashville Predators), eight-time 40-point producer and three of those being 65 or over, with a high of 72 in 2007-08. He got Lady Byng votes four times in his career (though he's only had 20 or less PIMs five times in his career) and retired having surpassed the 800-game, 200-goal, 300-assist and 500-point milestones.

He also has 17 goals, 17 assists, and 34 points in 51 playoff games, including 14 points in 18 games in a fine run by the Sabres in 2005-06.

I played with him in Midget AAA with the Montréal-Bourassa / Collège Français Canadiens in 1994-95, and he went on to play with my high school teammate (with the Notre-Dame Sabres) Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre both in the LHJMQ's Val D'Or Foreurs and the (NHL) Sabres. He also played with Steve Bégin, Luongo, and Francis Lessard on the Foreurs. (My rights belonged to the Laval / Collège Français Titans in 1995-96 and Halifax Mooseheads the following year, but I never officially played in regulation, I was a goon who was tapped to pretend to play goal but instead started a fight; somehow HockeyDB doesn't acknowledge my 100-plus PIMs because I didn't register a complete minute of play for the Titan).

He also played with another of my high school teammates, Ben Guité, with the Preds in 2009-10. His is a small world.

He had started his career with two seasons playing for the Chicago Blackhawks as a complement to sniper Éric Dazé, but was ultimately sent to Buffalo with an aging Doug Gilmour for Michal Grosek, essentially.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jamie Benn Jersey Card

Well, the Dallas Stars are pretty much eliminated from the playoff picture right now, so the team's tought start will have cost them in the end.

They have had some fine individual seasons, however, from the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, young defenseman John Klingberg and captain Jamie Benn, who hit the 30-goal mark for the second consecutive season and will finish with a point-per-game production.

It's important to remember that the Olympic gold medalist (Team Canada, 2014) is still just 25 years old and has a lot of good hockey left in him, and the Stars are on the rise and might become Stanley Cup contenders in a few years; Benn's built for playoff hockey, too, at 6'2'' and 205 pounds of determination, as can be attested by how he's playing in traffic alongside the Washington Capitals' Karl Alzner on this card:

It's card #GJ-JB from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 collection and Game Jersey sub-set, and pictures him wearing the Stars' current white (away) uniform, possibly their best-looking one since the team's inaugural one, although it could easily be mistaken for a St. Patrick's Day uniform.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Chris Marinucci Autograph Card

With the slew of undrafted U.S. College hockey players signed to NHL deals in the past couple of weeks, I was wondering how many of them would eventually become full-time players, and how many were little more than lottery picks.

I was also telling myself it'd be nice to have a game of, say, the 30 best of these undrafted players in their early 20s facing off against kids aged 18 and 19 from Canadian Juniors teams who were drafted outside the top 10 picks and devoid of any professional experience, just to see if these educated promising young men actually did have what it takes to further their development. I mean, if they were all NHL-bound, surely they'd have been drafted by now, and it's a recipe more teams than just the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild would be trying out on a consistent basis.

It's looking more like an ''impending salary cap crunch'' kind of situation than a ''stocking up on great talent'' run. Not that these guys are awful, in any way, it's just that the NHL is supposed to be the best league in the world, where the elite play - not a development program for late bloomers. There are but 660 jobs for skaters, 65 for goalies, and each team is only allowed to have 50 NHL contracts at any given time; somewhere, somehow, something,s going to crack.

And my reflection was started by the fact that not even all Hobey Baker winners (i.e. the trophy for ''Best College Player'') ''make it''; case in point: Chris Marinucci, winner of the 1993-94 award, preceded by Paul Kariya (''The Next One''), ahead of Brian Holzinger (a dependable defensive forward who put up 20-35 points per season, mostly with the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning).

Marinucci was drated by the New York Islanders out of high school (90th overall in 1990), then proceeded to play for four seasons for the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, his local team considering he hails from Grand Rapids. His NCAA stats read like this:
 1990-91: 6 goals, 10 assists, 16 points and 20 PIMs in 36 games
 1991-92: 6 goals, 13 assists, 19 points and 41 PIMs in 37 games
 1992-93: 35 goals, 42 assists, 77 points and 52 PIMs in 40 games
 1993-94: 30 goals, 31 assists, 61 points and 65 PIMs in 38 games
He got better as he got older, except that last season where he was probably subjected to better opposition, which might explain why his penalty minutes got higher, although that increase is consistent throughout the years.

He ended up playing 12 games with the Islanders in 1994-95 before getting traded to the Los Angeles Kings and playing one game with them, but spent the bulk of his career in the IHL, with notable stints with the Denver/Utah Grizzlies and Chicago Wolves, before moving to European leagues at the turn of the millennium, winning a Norwegian championship with the Storhamar Dragons in 2003-04 - his last season of record.

He won the Ken McKenzie Trophy as the IHL's best American-born rookie in 1994-95 as well as their Man Of The Year award in 1998-99 for his community work and charitable efforts. He did put up 365 points (on 157 goals) in 405 IHL games, so it's not like he wasn't any good. However, knowing as a kid that he and Kip Miller were Hobey Baker winners did teach me a thing about minor-league stars not always turning into elite professionals.

Here he is showing off his trophy while wearing the Bulldogs' white (home) uniform, from Classic's 1994-95 Classic set - the signed insert version of card #100:


Friday, April 3, 2015

Mike Cammalleri Jersey Card

There are two former Montréal Canadiens players who are still active in the NHL that I wish were still on the team and/or I miss dearly: goalie Jaroslav Halak, of course, but also super-sniper Michael Cammalleri, who scored against his former team earlier tonight.

As I mentioned back in July, I was surprised when he signed on as a free agent with the New Jersey Devils, but he has thrived while the team has dwindled in the standings - both of which were to be expected, Cammalleri's production being a given at this point (he has 28 goals in 65 games so far this year) and the Devils lacking the depth to contend for a playoff spot.

And that's the surprising part. This is the leader who scored 13 goals in 19 playoff games to lead the Canadiens to the Conference Finals in 2010, and the fierce competitor who called out his Habs teammates for their ''losing mentality'' in 2012 (he was absolutely right, by the way, and unlike the article states, no one could be excused from his assessment at the time, in my opinion).

He made a very good case for wearing the ''C'' in Montréal, and is doing very much the same thing in Newark at this point. The only knock on him is his durability - the only time he's come close to a full season since 2008-09 was the 44 games out of 48 during the lock-out season. Regardless, though, he'll get you your 30 goals, and unlike most very good shooters and top-line left wingers, will do so in 65-70 games instead of 82.

And when it matters most, say against your biggest rival on a celebratory evening, he'll steal the show; he'll be ready for the postseason and will carry the team's entire offense on his tiny shoulders. Yes, he's small at 5'9'' and 185 pounds, but I'd take six forwards like him at any time. Even if I managed a tough team like the Calgary Flames.

I didn't purchase a lot of Upper Deck's 2009-10 SP Game-Used Edition packs of cards, and I wasn't the most pleased with the ''hits'' I did get, so at one point I traded most of them for this one, #AF-MC of the Authentic Fabrics sub-set:
It's a great design, the colours really stand out, he's shown attempting a shot during a pre-game skate (he looks relaxed and like he's aiming for a shot, while in games he can find the top corners with his eyes closed when hitting a one-timer), and it's a two-colour swatch of a game-worn jersey. It's just perfect.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Lennart Petrell Autograph Card

The Edmonton Oilers are winning some games to end the season on a positive note, so I thought I'd come up with another installment of my Oilers Numbers Project, this time checking off my #37 with Lennart Petrell.

Petrell didn't last very long with the Oilers - parts of two seasons - after spending 8 seasons in the Finnish Elite League with the Helsinki HIFK, and it's mostly because for all he brought to the ice (hard checks, relentless energy, a never-say-die attitude, and a nearly flawless defensive game made of shot-blocking, pass interceptions and perfect positioning), he never could translate his attributes into tangible statistics, as can be attested by his 7 goals and 18 points in 95 games.

He could bat the puck out of thin air to save a perfect one-timer pass on the penalty kill but for some reason couldn't do it to redirect pucks in the opposition's net.

Then again, the 2011-12 and 2012-13 Oilers were far from All-Star-caliber teams, but the fact that he couldn't force the team to play him more than 11 minutes per game on such weak line-ups speaks volumes.

That's not to say the 6'3'', 215-pound Finnish heavyweight had an awful career; he hit the 30-point mark twice in Finland, had 5 goals and 21 points in 50 games in Switzerland last year, and 5 goals and 10 points in the very strong (and very defensive-minded) Swedish League this season. There's nothing wrong with playing pro hockey just below the elite level, and now that the NHL has over-specialized and the Art Ross winner will finish with the lowest points total in 53 years (and lowest points-per-game average in 65), perhaps there's room for the type of services he can offer a team, should he even want to come back to North America.

Last year I participated in a large number of online group box breaks, and in one of them, I got cards of players I care little for, and another participant traded this card for one of those I had ''hit'' with, knowing I had put bids on Habs and Oilers cards hits as well as what I ended up getting:

It's card #280 from Upper Deck's 2011-12 SP Authentic set (part of the Future Watch sub-set, numbered 839/999), showing him in the Oilers' classic blue (now-home) uniform. It's signed on-card, in blue sharpie.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Slava Voynov Jersey Card

Back in October when the news broke about Slava Voynov allegedly being involved in a domestic dispute, I cautioned to let the justice system run its course. Well, part of that includes trial dates getting pushed further and further back all the time, first from March until April, and now until July.

His wife refuses to testify so far, and refuses to explain why; from the start, she has argued that her English wasn't good enough to get her husband off the charges of domestic violence, and her only statement regarding the case is ''I do not believe Slava tried to hurt me'', which is still neither a denial nor a confirmation that (voluntary) physical violence did take place - and that's what the trial will (hopefully) try to determine.

What's messed up beyond the specter of the public watching something that perhaps should be better left private (i.e. ''wait until there is news to report at least'') - and the fact that, if true, is an incident that Western society wants to eliminate on a behavioral standpoint - is the more trivial and yet just-as-legally-complicated issue of Voynov's employer being a sports team (the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, of course) operating under a strict salary cap, and Voynov being a star defenseman whose salary accounts for a good portion of the allotted cap space and that while in society Voynov is still considered innocent until proven guilty, the NHL has basically strapped the Kings with penalties as though the organization was responsible for the alleged actions itself, while the player is merely ''suspended with pay'' (because the contrary would be against the law).

You see, by pushing Voynov's trial date after free agency begins, the Kings do not have any idea whether they will be allowed to replace his roster spot and cap space, and thus might operate ''a man short'', which is literally what they have done on the ice on a handful of occasions this season. If they do choose to replace him, not only are they sort of admitting they think he is guilty (and thus show the rest of the team that it won't have their backs if any allegations or trouble comes their way), but should he be cleared, will have one too many players on their roster and will be forced to trade people away, as the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks have done this year when faced with a cap crunch, and both usually-dominating teams are struggling to maintain their playoff position as we speak, with a week and a half left in the regular season.

The salary cap was supposed to even the odds for small-market teams, instead it hinders good teams' progress and forces unnecessary rebuilds and fire sales; the small market teams still suck, by the way, and last season saw the Kings and New York Rangers face off in the Stanley Cup Finals, with Chicago and the Montréal Canadiens as runners-up. Four of the richest teams in the league.

And yet, in the grand scheme of things, the most important point of order is to sort Voynov's criminal case. I'll point out, however, that in many high-profile cases, when police officers or District Attorneys make out-of-context and unsubstantiated claims to the press, trying to sway public opinion in their favor, it usually backfires; a courtroom is a place where straight, boring facts have prescience over personal vendettas. Usually. Mostly. Hopefully.

So, to keep us waiting until July (or later, you never know...), here's Voynov wearing the Kings' black (home) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Fleer Showcase (card #S-V of the Stitches insert sub-set), featuring a game-worn white jersey swatch:

Yes, the ugly design on the right side of the card is useless and detracts from pretty much everything else once your eyes set on it. I don't get it.