Sunday, July 31, 2016

Nigel Dawes Autograph Card

There are countless examples of players who had an average shot at making the NHL but, when put in a position to succeed on a first or second line, delivered results that were better than expected: Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Christopher Higgins and Brendan Gallagher rank among them.

There are others who showed promise later on but were forced by circumstances to apply to another role than they'd originally been groomed for, scoring forwards who were asked to become grinders or shut-down players, for example, such as Guillaume Latendresse, or Nigel Dawes.

Eventually, those players retire or move to Europe, where their skill set is better recognized; Dawes has not only been playing with the KHL's Astana Barys, based in Kazakhstan, for the past five years and for the next two, but has enjoyed his experience so much that he actually applied for citizenship there. And as soon as it was granted, the diminutive winger from Winnipeg who played in two World Juniors Championships for Team Canada (silver in 2004, gold in 2005 alongside Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron) started representing his new country at the World Championships, along with fellow former Canadians and Astana teammates Dustin Boyd and Brandon Bochenski.

Despite Kazakhstan being relegated to Group 1A with a 1-6 record, Dawes had 3 goals, 4 assists and 7 points in 7 games at the 2016 Worlds, plus a shootout goal against Switzerland's Reto Berra in a 3-2 win in the only game where he didn't register an official point.

He is quickly establishing himself as one of the most dependable professional hockey players outside the NHL.

Here's a card from when he was a New York Rangers prospect, as an alternate captain for the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack, wearing their white (home) uniform:
That's the signed insert version of card #78 (herein called #A-ND, featuring a black-sharpied on-sticker autograph) from In The Game's 2006-07 Heroes And Prospects set (and Prospect sub-set).

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Robbie Tallas Autograph Card

Robbie Tallas last played in the NHL when the Chicago Blackhawks sent him on the ice for 12 games in 2000-01, but he has suited up twice since becoming the Florida Panthers' goaltending coach, first after an injury to José Theodore, and the last time roughly a year ago when both starter Roberto Luongo and backup Al Montoya fell to injury in the same game.

He is mostly known for the 87 games (over five seasons) where he played for the Boston Bruins, posting a 26-35-10 record with the Bs (and going 2-7-0 with the Hawks), with a career 2.91 GAA and .891 save percentage (in the dead puck era).

Here he is wearing the Bruins' white (then-home) late-1990s uniform, on card #158 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
The Edmonton native and undrafted professional had his best pro seasons in 1997-98 in the NHL (6-3-3, 1.83 GAA, .926 save % and one shutout in 14 games in Boston) and in 2003-04 in Finland (8-8-4 record, 1.99 GAA, .922 save % and one shutout in 22 games with Hämeenlinnan Pallokerho (HPK, a.k.a. The Knights).

He's been a goaltending consultant/coach with the Panthers since 2009.

If he does ever play even a single minute of play replacing an injured goalie, he will appear in his 100th NHL game.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Bobby Ryan Swatch Card

A few days ago, Ottawa Senators winger Bobby Ryan lost his mother to cancer. To find out how much she meant for him - and to make your allergies tear your eyes up - read his piece on The Players Tribune; I don't remember a story so heart-wrenching, particularly when one knows of his family history.

Everyone has a story, and not all people can handle all situations; still, without putting down those who have and still struggle with what life brings or has brought their way, it's nice when someone gets to rise above it and succeed at what they choose to do.

He of the six 50-point seasons (with a high of 71 in 2010-11) and of the four 30-goal seasons (with a high of 35 in 2009-10 is still in his prime at 29 years old, and will be a big part of the Sens' resurgence this coming season. Guy Boucher will be the perfect head coach to help him reach a level the Senators have not gotten out of him yet.

Here he is wearing the Anaheim Ducks, white (away) uniform on card #FOG-BR from Panini's 2012-13 Certified set and Fabric Of The Game sub-set, numbered 147/299 and featuring a matching game-worn jersey swatch:
It's a thick, beautiful silver foil card that I'm extremely happy to have.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Doug Bonner Autograph Card

There's been a lot of talk concerning which goalies would be made available for the future Las Vegas NHL team to choose from at next June's expansion draft, and although I have been one of those who spent a lot of ink and saliva on the subject - even going so far as to email the team to suggest GMs, coaches and perhaps myself as goalie scout - today I want to look forward to the next expansion... to Seattle.

They have yet to build an arena and no owner wants to take on a team, despite interest from nearby Portland and their own billionaire Paul Allen. But it got me thinking about Doug Bonner, a native of Tacoma, Washington who played his junior hockey just over a half an hour North, for the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds.

He was drafted in the sixth round (139th overall) in 1995 by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and spent five seasons in their organization, splitting his time at first between the ECHL and AHL, but mostly the former, and entirely so for the final two, with the now-defunct New Orleans Brass.

In 2000-01, he attempted to rise through the ranks of pro hockey by signing a free agent contract with the UHL's Missouri River Otters, but despite similar numbers, only appeared in 18 games to Benoit Thibert's 46.

He does appear in the ECHL's record books, albeit for a reason that has little to do with his skills: at one point, he had made the third-fewest saves in a playoff game in league history.

Here he is wearing the Thunderbirds' white (home) uniform, albeit with the front logo airbrushed out for copyright reasons, from Signature Rookies' 1995-96 Draft Day set (card #5 in the series, numbered 927/4500, signed on-card in blue sharpie):
He currently works in selling educational tools for the company Amplify in Lafayette, where he played from 1997 until 1999, for the ECHL's Louisiana IceGators (not the same as the current version of the team, which plays in the SHL).

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Brayden Schenn Autograph Card

It looks like the Philadelphia Flyers and Brayden Schenn won't go to arbitration after all; indeed, the 24-year-old former fifth-overall pick (by the Los Angeles Kings, 2009) signed a four-year deal that will earn him an average of $5.125M each year.

Of note, current Flyers GM Ron Hextall was the Kings' assistant-GM when Schenn was drafted, so you'd think he figures in his team's long-term plans.

Schenn reached the 50-point mark for the first time in 2015-16, finishing with career highs in goals (26), assists (33) and, of course, points (59). His best point-per-game average came in the 2011-12 playoffs, when he had 9 points in 11 games, which is good news for other Flyers forwards such as Jakob Voracek, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds and, to a lesser extent, Matt Read and Scott Laughton, who seem to have stalled a bit in their development.

Here he is wearing Philly's classic/retro orange (now-home) uniform, on card #96-SC from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Fleer Retro set (part of the 1996-97 Skybox Autographics throwback design sub-set):
He looks a little stoned (or very tired) in the picture, which might have been funnier if he was shown with the Kings instead of the Flyers...

Monday, July 25, 2016

Darryl Sydor Autograph Card

In an effort to keep poaching all the available talent in the Central Division in the hopes of repeating last season's pre-playoff choke/terrific regular season, the St. Louis Blues have hired Darryl Sydor to be one of two assistant coaches (with Daniel Tkaczuk) with their AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves.

Sydor had been an assistant coach with the Minnesota Wild for the past four seasons, before a DUI event forced him to step down and enter rehab.

As a player, he'd been in five Stanley Cup Finals - including two Cup wins - to go with a Memorial Cup, two All-Star Games, over 500 regular-season points and over 50 more in the playoffs. He wasn't a Hall of Famer, but he was certainly a star and a good team player.

Here he is wearing the Dallas Stars' original (notwithstanding the Minnesota part of the franchise, anyway) green - away - uniform, showing him taking a slap shot from inside the offensive zone:
It's card #96 from Panini's 2012-13 Classics Signatures set (the signed insert version, signed on-card in blue sharpie - you can tell because the spot where the signature is was airbrushed white to show him where to sign). I'm not sure whether I'd classify that set as higher-mid-range or lower-premium, but boxes are still available for around $60 for 30 cards, with 5 or 6 autographs per.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cam Ward Swatch Card

Cam Ward was the Carolina Hurricanes' best goalie last year, which put them in a corner when he turned free agent but no other team offered him a contract: they brought him back for two years at half price, even though he never lived up to his previous contract.

Heck, he never lived up to his rookie season, where he overachieved by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy (over the more-deserving members of the losing Edmonton Oilers Dwayne Roloson and Chris Pronger), let alone a deal that paid him $6.3M a year, putting him in the league's top-five well-paid goalies for most its duration.

And so he will be making an average of $3.3M for the next couple of years, the Canes hoping that's how long it takes Eddie Lack to grow into the #1 goalie slot.

Except that some of the best goalies in the league - Ben Bishop and Marc-André Fleury, for starters - are rumoured to be available, and after the Montréal Canadiens traded P.K. Subban, every other GM in the league should be inquiring with GM Marc Bergevin about Carey Price's availability; though price is overrated by a lot, he's still a much better option in goal than Ward.

I mean, look at these statistics from the last few seasons:
2012-13: 17 games, 2.84 GAA, .908 save percentage
2013-14: 30 games, 3.06 GAA, .898 save percentage
2014-15: 51 games, 2.40 GAA, .910 save percentage
2015-16: 52 games, 2.41 GAA, .909 save percentage
So, in the past four seasons, he has posted unspectacular backup numbers while playing a starter's amount of games for the last two, getting paid as an elite player at his position.

The Hurricanes have failed to make the playoffs for as far as I can remember, and with good reason: their starting goalie, by failing to stop over 91% of shots against him, has been worse than a plywood dummy in over 100 games in the past two years, and 150 in the past four.

He makes for a good alternate jersey model, however, as can be attested by the game-worn jersey swatch insert version of card #14 from Panini's 2010-11 Luxury Suite set:
It contains a white jersey swatch that's as plain as the Canes have been since the card was issued.

Friday, July 22, 2016

André Benoit Autographed Card

After one year in the St. Louis Blues organization where he only suited up in two games at the NHL level (and 72 with the AHL's Chicago Wolves, posting 33 points), André Benoit will now take his talents to Europe, signing a one-year deal with the SHL's (Swedish League) Malmö Redhawks.

Last season, the Redhawks had a roster that included former NHLers T.J. Galiardi, Peter Mueller, Derek Meech, Kent McDonnell, and goalie Mika Noronen.

Casual NHL fans won't know much about Benoit, but he's an underrated #5-6 defenseman who rarely makes mistakes, except that one year where he finished -19 with the Buffalo Sabres, who were a laughingstock and a pity to watch; unfortunately, his safe playing style means that he doesn't get the recognition he deserves when he makes the right play, either, but let's just say that he was never on championship teams and yet was only a -1 for the 122 other NHL games he suited up in, with the Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche and those two games with the Blues (+1).

He'd been a point-per-game player from the blue line with the Kitchener Rangers over the course of five seasons, and then had three very decent seasons (over five years, there was a two-year European stint in there) with the Hamilton Bulldogs, who at the time were the Montréal Canadiens' AHL affiliate. When the Habs failed to give him a real chance, he bolted to the Sens.

He was also serviceable with the Avs, whose defense has had many a hole to plug since he left as a free agent after their Central Division title two years ago, off a strong 7-goal, 21-assist, 28-point season, good for third among the team's defensemen.

I wish him the best - and a third return to North America in 2017 to finish his NHL career in style, perhaps even in Las Vegas.

He signed this 2011-12 Score (Hot Rookies) card from Panini for me a few years ago, which slots him into #47 in my Sens Numbers Project:
It shows him wearing the Sens' red (home) uniform that he wore for 8 games in 2010-11; he switched to #61 the following year, a number he kept for his entire NHL career.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mikhail Grigorenko: Two Autographed Cards

Mikhail Grigorenko signed a one-year "show-me" contract with the Colorado Avalanche yesterday, after a season that Buffalo Sabres fans will call disappointing ("27 points in 74 games, unfit for a 12th overall pick, what a bust! Glad we got Ryan O'Reilly!"), whereas Avs fans, while unsure at the beginning of the season with the healthy scratches, under 10 minutes of ice time and looking out of shape, are happy with how he progressed throughout the year and looked worthy of a top-6 role on a very skilled team offensively.

What happened was the Sabres stalled his development, first by keeping him in the NHL but sitting him in half the games in 2012-13, then by sending him to Juniors midway through his sophomore season whist burning a year on his entry-level deal, and finally by demoting the disgruntled forward to the AHL and never really giving him a shot at showing what he can do.

This is, after all, a guy who had 70 goals and 139 points in 92 regular-season games with the LHJMQ's Québec Remparts (plus another 24 points in 22 post-season games) before even being drafted. And that time the Sabres sent him back against his will? He still put up 15 goals and 39 points in 23 games, plus 9 more in 5 playoff games.

The game that brought him to life last year - the first time he played over 15 minutes in a game in 2015-16 - was at the Bell Centre, against the Montréal Canadiens, in November, where he had a goal and two assists, which also sparked the Habs' downfall.

It was after that game that he signed these two cards in blue sharpie, first the one showing him with the Remparts, on card #100 from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects card (and CHL Rookie sub-set):
And a card from the dark days of the Sabres not knowing what to do with him, on card #213 from Panini's 2013-14 Prizm set and Dual Rookie Class sub-set (the regular silver version):
His second half was terrific; it was where he posted 15 of his 27 points and became a fixture on the ice, more often than not hitting the 15-minute mark, including seven games at or near the 20-minute mark.

Essentially, he should be getting second-line minutes and second-unit powerplay time next season, which should at worst get him in line to sign a long-term deal (five or six years) at $4-5M per; at best, he could become the team's second-line center if Matt Duchene becomes expendable and gets traded for a good defenseman, which the team sorely lacks behind Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Jordan Schroeder Autograph Card

How dickish are the Minnesota Wild? Well, they spent all of last season praising Jordan Schroeder's talent, versatility, patience, and team spirit and, just as he's about to get his arbitration hearing in the hopes of securing a one-way contract, have placed him on waivers.

The Vancouver Canucks would be wise to pick him up the same way the Wild stole him from them in the first place...

I could also see the Arizona Coyotes - who are in harsh negotiations with Tobias Reider themselves - making a play for the former first-rounder.

Here he is as a Canuck, wearing their blue (home) uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Dominion collection and Private Signings sub-set:
It's card #PS-OE (numbered 81/199) in the set and was hard-signed in thin blue sharpie. I really like the gold foil all around the card, it gives it an aura of semi-class.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mika Zibanejad Autographed Card

The trade that sent Derick Brassard from the New York Rangers to the Ottawa Senators yesterday also took Mika Zibanejad by surprise; the Swede was comfortable playing on the Sens alongside countryman Erik Karlsson and with former team captain Daniel Alfredsson now in the team's administrative staff.

He'd been trending upwards and improving ever since he came to the NHL and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future, likely garnering him a huge raise from his current $3.25M salary:
A 30-goal and/or 70-point season is not out of the question for the now-23-year-old in the next few years - perhaps even for the next few years. He's also likely to be a staple of Team Sweden, with whom he already has gold (2012 World Juniors), silver (2011 World U-18 Championships) and bronze (2010 World U-17 World Championships) medals.

Here he is sporting Stockholm's famous Djurgårdens IF Hockey team's away uniform, on card #9 from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set and International sub-set:
He signed it in blue sharpie two seasons ago after a game against the Montréal Canadiens.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Derick Brassard Autographed Card

One thing's for sure, NHL teams are not afraid of making moves this summer; GMs are probably weary of their own shelf life, and each one wants to save his ass by having his team make the playoffs, although only half of them will.

Today, Derick Brassard went from the New York Rangers to the Ottawa Senators for promising young gun Mika Zibanejad, in a move that has many puzzled. Don't be.

Statistically, they both had similar 2015-16 campaigns, with Brassard posting 58 points (27 of them goals) and Zibanejad 51 (21 goals), but Brassard is a better, more complete player right now, although Zibanejad is five years younger and probably has more upside, including at least one 30-goal, 70-point season ahead of himself.

Brassard also has just $10M left to be paid over the next three years with a $15M cap hit now that the Rangers just paid him his bonus for next year, while Zibanejad is a RFA-to-be who is making just under $3M next year... but will probably be in line for a raise that nets him over $5M on his next deal, which is something the (notoriously cheap) Sens wanted to avoid. They now have bought themselves three years to draft and bring up his replacement.

This move was about math, but economics math. And the Sens know that if they can reach the playoffs and face the Montréal Canadiens in the first round, Craig Anderson can probably outplay Carey Price for the third time in five years, which would entirely justify making the trade in the first place.

Here is Brassard in his Juniors days, playing for the Drummondville Voltigeurs, who were coached by none other than Guy Boucher, the Sens' new bench boss, on card #135 from In The Game's 2005-06 Heroes And Prospects set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
He's wearing their white (hom) uniform - and looks like a child. Going to the Sens is a homecoming for Brassard, as he's from Ottawa suburb Hull.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Jamie Benn Jersey Card

There were two big pieces of news regarding Jamie Benn today: first, he signed a new monster contract that will pay him $9.5M per season for eight years, and second, the Dallas Stars' captain might miss the World Cup because of abdominal surgery to repair a muscle injury.

Let's talk about his deal first, which kicks in for the 2017-18 season. Is he worth that kind of top-player money right now? Absolutely, seeing as he won the Art Ross Trophy in 2014-15 and was runner-up in 2015-16, he's definitely a top player worthy of being "in the conversation" in terms of rare franchise players. However, he still has a year to go on a contract that currently pays him $5.75M, which makes him one of the most affordable and valuable players in the league at the moment, meaning some view him as currently underpaid.

His style of play is straight-up power forward, but he doesn't get that many penalties called against him, which differentiates him from the prototypical/stereotypical power forwards of the past, such as Keith Tkachuk, Eric Lindros, Todd Bertuzzi, or Jeremy Roenick. He does hit and get hit a lot, though, which means his body may get some bumps and bruises over time.

As I wrote somewhere else:
Ironically, the one thing that could save him with his physical style of play is a serious injury that takes a year for him to recover from, as every other bone and muscle in his body will also get some rest and he’ll be able to bounce back and buy back some time.
If not, the last couple of seasons may seem like overpayment and some disgruntled fans may scream for a buyout, which would be unfair for a true leader who really gives everything he's got for his team.

I'd featured Benn in the Stars' post-lockout black (home) atrocity a little over a year ago, so now it's time to do so with its counterpart white (away) monstrosity on card #DALL-JB from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Black Diamond set and Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set:
I'm so glad Dallas changed their uniforms to the current green and white ones with an actual logo instead of just letters; there are limits to identifying with colleges, i.e. amateurs.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Wade Redden Autograph Card

Were you tired of hearing about the Nashville Predators' defense this summer? And why could Wade Redden possibly have anything to do with any of that?

Well, Redden signed on as the Preds' player development coach for defensemen, where he'll get to mentor his own former mentor Lance Pitlick's son, Rem. All of Nashville's prospects on D stand to benefit from the experience of a former NHL alternate captain who has 1023 regular-season and 106 playoff NHL games on his resume despite spending two full seasons in the AHL just because his contract was too hefty to allow him to remain on the New York Rangers roster.

The kids will get to find out that even All-Stars (and Norris top-5 finishers) can take blindside hits and have to pick themselves up and keep fighting for their spots at times.

He has a World Cup title (2004) and two World Junior Championship gold medals (1995 and 1996) as a member of Team Canada, with whom he also won silver at the 2005 World Championships.

Here he is, sporting the Ottawa Senators' best-looking white (then-home) uniform, from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
It's signed on-card in thin white sharpie.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Joe Colborne Autographed Card

I mentioned earlier this month that Joe Colborne had signed with the Colorado Avalanche for the next two years after the Calgary Flames elected not to tender him a qualifying offer that they felt may have been a tad high for a player who hadn't shown his worth over a full season yet.

Some analysts aren't convinced he can sustain his late season production in the long term, but in the Avs' defense, it's just a two-year gamble at only $2.5M per, on a 6'5", 215-pound (i.e. skinny but heavy) forward who has played on all four of the Flames' lines last year and, thus, can be slotted anywhere depending on whether he fulfills expectations or not.

Colorado has pretty much every type of skill set up front to complement whatever it is he brings to the table, so it shouldn't be too much of an issue. Provided they get out of their own zone, because as was the case last season, the Avs' problem is that they're still missing at least two quality defensemen who can get the puck out from their defensive zone and push the play forward.

I remember being impressed with how tall he was (I'm 6'2") when I met him and had him sign card #145 from In The Game's 2010-11 Heroes And Prospects in blue sharpie:
It shows him wearing the Providence Bruins' white (home) uniform.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Yannick Weber: Two Autographed Cards

 
The problem with Yannick Weber isn't what he can do - a booming shot from he point, decent first and offensive zone passes, perfect to quarterback a powerplay - it's that when a team has him, they want to use his qualities so much that they put him in a position where his shortcomings - lack of size, defensive-zone mistakes stemming from opponents' physical play - were exposed.

Having him in the lineup is akin to testing one's patience and restraint; the coach knows he has a weapon capable of scoring goals on the powerplay and who can hold his own against bottom-sixers, but may lead to trouble against top-six forwards if the play isn't taking place in the other team's zone.

He'll get a chance to shine with the Nashville Predators, joining fellow former Montréal Canadiens star P.K. Subban on a new-look Preds defense that still includes Weber's childhood friend Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Perhaps the best defense in the league for the moment, at least until the kids mature with the Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars.

He signed the two cards above in blue sharpie, probably during the 2011-12 season. Here they are in greater detail, first with the Hamilton Bulldogs' white (home) uniform, from In The Game's 2009-10 Heroes And Prospects set (on card #26 in the series):
And wearing the Habs' Centennial patch-clad classic red (now-home) uniform, on card #501 from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee set:
I wish him the best in Nashville, a team that will be a lot of fun to watch next season.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Martin Lapointe Autograph Card

The Montréal Canadiens' prospects are currently practicing in a pre-rookie camp held by the team's Director of Player Personnel, Martin Lapointe.

You might remember Lapointe from his famous 2001 free agency summer, when he spurned the Habs' $25M offer to instead sign with their rival Boston Bruins, becoming the league's most overpaid player in the process.

You might not remember he got that offer because although he was not "the scoring type" (with 181 goals, 200 assists and 381 points in 991 regular-season NHL games), his leadership and consistent, physical play was considered a huge part of the Detroit Red Wings' Stanley Cup-winning teams of 1997 and 1998; his post-season play was also quite productive in those playoffs, with 12 points in 20 games in 1996-97 and 15 points (9 of them goals) in 21 games in 1997-98 on what is still the last team to date to win back-to-back championships.

He had averaged 15-17 minutes per game with the Wings and in his first season with the Bruins, but by the time 2005-06 came along and he started playing with the Chicago Blackhawks in his third Original Six team in a row, his ice time dipped below the 15-minute mark and, eventually, below the 10-minute mark, before he was sent to the Ottawa Senators (technically an actual original NHL team, as the league originally consisted of the Habs, the Montréal Wanderers, the Sens, the Québec Bulldogs - on paper only at first - and the Toronto Arenas) for his final 18 games in 2007-08.

It would have been nice for the man with 1,143 career penalty minutes to reach the 1000-game plateau, but he really was a bit out of place in the faster post-lockout NHL, and no team was willing to give up a roster spot for him to reach that milestone for the nine games that he would have required them to, especially since the "mutual breakup waivers" didn't exist back then.

Here he is in the Wings' white (then-home) jersey, on the signed insert (in thin black sharpie) of card #133 from Upper Deck's 1994-95 Be A Player set:
The 1994-95 set, because of the lockout mostly, but also because it was approved by the NHLPA but didn't have the licensing rights to NHL teams, featured either bust shots like this one, NHLPA "All-Star" union tours uniforms, or the players in casual, early-90s fluorescent "every day" clothes or playing other sports. It was ridiculous at the time, it's hilarious now!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Two Ryan McGuire Autographed Cards

What's great about Montréal summers is the entertainment offer: F1 racing, festivals (Jazz, French-language songs, three just for comedy, four for films, one of Afro-American culture, the hard rock and heavy metal festival, one for electronic music, the indie-and-pop Osheaga, the experimental music festival not too far off, a poutine festival, a beer festival, there are really too many to remember...), three paid holidays, the heat...

Plus two summertime sports teams, the CFL's Montréal Alouettes (that I last went to three years ago when my brother and I had season tickets) and the MLS' Montréal Impact (which I've never seen live because I'm not into soccer).

It's almost hard to remember we once had the Montréal Expos, too, particularly considering the only baseball news I've been aware of in the past decade was the retirements of the two last players I'd known of (Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera) and the on-again, off-again relationship between Alex Rodriguez, steroids, and the penalties he gets from using them.

And baseball steroid used is synonymous with Mark McGwire, whose rookie cards sold for hundreds of dollars when he chased and then set the single-season home run record (70) in 1998; they now go for around a dollar.

The Expos had a brief moment using that last name at around the same time; however, Ryan McGuire spells his last name with a "u"...

McGuire was a left-handed first baseman who, in 1998 appeared in 132 of the Expos' 162 games, but only went to the plate 244 times (for 210 official at-bats), usually coming in late in a game as a defensive replacement after a replacement hitter would fill in for starting first baseman Brad Fullmer. His batting average was a lowly .186 that year, down from .256 in his rookie season the previous summer.

He had started his MLB career with hits in 12 straight games while the team used that to surf on a 10-game winning streak.

His statistics normalized in 1999 (batting .221 in 88 games and 171 plate appearances, with 7 homers, 2 doubles and 2 triples), but it went downhill from there, as he only appeared in a single game with the New York Mets in 2000, then went on to bat .185 in 48 games with the Florida Marlins in 2001 before posting a lowly .077 average with the Baltimore Orioles in 2002.

I was pretty busy in 1998-1999, what with being a musician who traveled from Montréal to New York on a weekly basis combined with one university (Concordia) and a college (Vieux-Montréal) and an extremely active social life that saw me out in bars on a nightly basis, so I didn't go to the Olympic Stadium much those years, meaning I wasn't there to see McGuire play when he did well.

I did have him sign a couple of cards when he came to town with the Marlins a few years later, both in a skinny black sharpie that couldn't have been mine and both showing him in the Expos' grey away uniform. First, here is card #303 from Topps' flagship 1999 Topps set, showing him playing defensively:
And here's card #123 from the 2000 Topps set, showing his reaction after hitting a pop fly:
These cards pencil him in as #6 in my Expos Numbers Project.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dustin Brown Jersey Card

One of the biggest news items on the Los Angeles Kings front this summer was when they took away the "C" from serving captain Dustin Brown, weeks before handing it to Anze Kopitar. He didn't take to it lightly, either (understandably).

While it's true his play had declined after signing a $47M contract that now seems unmovable, he was the player who first raised the Stanley Cup for both of the team's championships, and that still has to account for something, in my opinion...

I hope he finds his game again, but two straight 11-goal seasons and four straight seasons with less than 30 points has many Kings fans worried (or angry).

Here he was in more promising days, on card #J-BR from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 1 set (and UD Game Jersey sub-set), showing him in L.A.'s black and purple pre-lockout uniform:
It features a matching purple game-worn jersey swatch. The dust on the left of the scan is from the penny sleeve; the card itself is fine.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bryan Allen: Two Autographed Cards

Here's a cool return I wasn't expecting when I got home (late) yesterday, over two years in the making, as I'd sent Bryan Allen these two cards when the Montréal Canadiens assigned him to the Hamilton Bulldogs in January 2015:
He signed them in blue sharpie and sent them from (presumably) his home in California.

While he hasn't officially retired yet, he did not play during the 2015-16 season. The former fourth-overall pick of the 1998 draft - behind Vincent Lecavalier, David Legwand and Brad Stuart and ahead of the likes of Vitali Vishnevski (5th), Rico Fata (6th), Manny Malhotra (7th), Nikolai Antropov (10th), Alex Tanguay (12th), Martin Skoula (17th), Dmitri Kalinin (18th), Robyn Regehr (19th), Simon Gagné (22nd), Jiri Fischer (25th), Scott Gomez (27th), Ramzi Abid (28th), Jonathan Cheechoo (29th), Andrew Peters (34th), Mike Fisher (44th), Mike Ribeiro (45th), Brad Richards (64th), Jason LaBarbera (66th), Erik Cole (71st), François Beauchemin (75th), Brian Gionta (82nd), Josef Vasicek (91st), Shawn Horcoff (99th), Jaroslav Spacek (117th), Andrew Raycroft (135th), Chris Neil (161st), Andrei Markov (162nd), Pavel Datsyuk (171st), Michael Ryder (216th), and Karlis Skrastins (230th) - played for parts of five seasons with the Vancouver Canucks before being part of the first Roberto Luongo trade, sending Allen, Alex Auld, and Todd Bertuzzi to the Florida Panthers for Luongo, the draft pick that became Sergei Shirokov and Lukas Krajicek.

It was with the Panthers that he would crack the 20-point barrier (25, in 2006-07), but the 6'5", 220-pound defender was mostly known as a stay-at-home defenseman, often cracking or nearing the 100-PIM mark.

After most of five seasons with the Panthers, he spent a year and a half with the Carolina Hurricanes before signing his final contract, a three-season deal with the Anaheim Ducks, who sent him to the Habs in his last year for oft-maligned forward Rene Bourque.

It therefore made sense to send him cards of his first and almost-last teams; here he is in the Canucks' 1990s dark (away) orca logo uniform, on card #298 from Topps' 2002-03 O-Pee-Chee set and Prospects sub-set, allowing me to use him as #5 in my Canucks Numbers Project:
And here he is wearing what was then the Ducks' alternate uniform and is now their home garbs, on card #15 from Panini's 2013-14 Score set:
Because it's the lone return I'm missing from my 2015-16 mailings, I thought this might be from Torrey Mitchell; the fact that it wasn't keeps me hopeful that that one may yet be coming.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Dan Hamhuis Swatch Card

After failing to land him at the trade deadline, the Dallas Stars have now signed Dan Hamhuis as a free agent for two seasons, essentially replacing deadline acquisition and consolation prize Kris Russell.

Hamhuis, 33, is still good to have on the penalty kill and the powerplay; his experience will also help a young Stars defense, as he’s won a gold medal with Team Canada at the Olympics (with coach Lindy Ruff, who also coached him at the World Championships) and played in a Stanley Cup Final with the Vancouver Canucks.

Dallas' one big question mark remains in net, as both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have had disappointing playoffs, and with Ben Bishop and Marc-André Fleury rumoured to be on the trade market.

But with an offense that boasts Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp and Cody Eakin, goals for won't be a problem this year either.

Here is Hamhuis wearing the Canucks' blue (home) current/retro uniform, on card #TC-DHA from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set and Red Jersey sub-set:
It features a silver game-worn jersey swatch that dates back to his days with the Nashville Predators.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Brent Sutter: Two Autographed Cards

Do you know who Conner Bleackley is? He is a talented hockey brat who was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round in 2014, reported to camp out of shape and was never signed by the team, whose rights were traded to the Arizona Coyotes - who also declined to sign him - and was finally re-drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the fifth round this year and signed to his entry-level deal yesterday.

His own coach in Juniors - who happens to be the Red Deer Rebels' owner, too - even famously said, after he was initially drafted:
No, he’s not ready for NHL hockey. Conner still needs to grow, especially with skating and defensive responsibilities. His vision needs to improve. I’m not Colorado, I’m not Patrick Roy, but I feel like he’s not NHL-ready. There is growth in his game. There is a reason he went 23rd and not in the top-10, but I do think he’s a great prospect for that organization.
That coach/owner? None other than Brent Sutter. And, judging by my favourite comments from  Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, honesty and being a straight shooter is definitely a family trait.

There will never be enough Sutters in hockey. They are the example of why and how its players are down-to-earth, much more so than their counterparts in football, basketball and perhaps even baseball. Hockey does have a few flamboyant personalities (Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Radulov, P.K. Subban) - and we love them; but it's those quiet, hard-working "common men" grinders that push the sport itself through the decades.

Sutter's Rebels were the hosts of the 2016 Memorial Cup, which eventually went to Dale Hunter's London Knights; througout the season, he's had to field calls about his team's future - more specifically, if he was looking to sell it.

Here are two cards I got in the mail this winter, signed in black sharpie, presumably from having sent them in 2014 or 2015 (my former computer died and I lost much of my sent-receipt data from 2013-15), first with card #529 from Upper Deck's 2012-13 O-Pee-Chee set and Marquee Legends sub-set, showing him wearing the New York Islanders' white (then-home) uniform, battling for position with a 1980s mustache carrying a hockey player:
And here he is in the same stance, this time in front of Philadelphia Flyers goalie Tommy Soderstrom, looking to deflect a shot, as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks:
That's card #30 from Donruss' 1994-95 Leaf set, showing him in the Hawks' classic red (then-away) uniform.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Joe Sakic Jersey Card

It's been and will be an extremely busy summer for Colorado Avalanche former captain and current general manager Joe Sakic!

The biggest thing on his plate is probably re-signing RFA (restricted free agent) Tyson Barrie, one of the best young offensive defensemen in the league, who might be looking to a contract similar to that of teammate Erik Johnson, who now makes $6M per season.

In the meantime, Sakic - whose most pressing need is to improve his blue line - traded Nick Holden to the New York Rangers a week ago and signed free agents Joe Colborne - an improvement over Shawn Matthias, whom they themselves lost to free agency -as well as Patrick Wiercioch - whom the Ottawa Senators declined to make an offer to - and Fedor Tyutin, whom the Columbus Blue Jackets had just bought out.

Oh, and he traded goalie Reto Berra to the Florida Panthers in yet another puzzling move by their new GM Tom Rowe, giving way for Calvin Pickard to challenge Semyon Varlamov for ice time.

The Avs has definitely improved, but perhaps not enough to push the Minnesota Wild out of a playoff spot, and surely not enough considering both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers also got better.

I'm also looking at one of Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog to get traded this summer... probably Duchene.

So, chances are I'll be revisiting at least some of these names over the course of the summer.

In the meantime, here is card #JT-31 from Upper Deck's 2003-04 Bee Hive set (and Game-Used Jersey sub-set), showing the Avs' all-time leading scorer in their classic white (home) uniform with a burgundy swatch inserted into its design:
Here's a quick recap of Sakic's career, all with the same Avs/Québec Nordiques organization:
  • 1641 points (625 goals and 1016 assists) in 1378 regular season games.
  • 188 points (84 goals and 104 assists) in 172 playoff games.
  • 41 points (22 goals and 19 assists) in 48 international games for Team Canada.
  • Two Stanley Cups.
  • 13 All-Star Games, with a record 16 ASG assists.
  • An NHL record 8 playoff overtime goals.
  • 3 First Team All-Star nods.
  • A Conn Smythe, a Hart, a Lady Byng, a Lester B. Pearson, and an NHL Foundation Award.
  • An Olympic All-Star Team nod.
  • Gold medals at the Olympics (2002), World Championships (1994), World Cup (2004), and World Juniors (1988).
That, my friends, is an accomplished career!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Tom Gilbert: Two Autographed Cards

NHL free agency was pretty wild today...

There were many signings - a lot of them of the "too much term" variety that will spell "buyout" in three or four years - but some players went for a decent price, usually on one-year "show-me" deals, such as Tom Gilbert's contract with the Los Angeles Kings. They also signed backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff, grinding forward Michael Latta and depth defenseman Zach Trotman.

Gilbert had just spent two seasons with the Montréal Canadiens where his offensive production of years past pretty much dried up, but at least he became a dependable stay-at-home defenseman in the process. Still, we're taking about a guy who had put up 28 points with the lowly Florida Panthers in 2013-14 and had consecutive runs of 33, 45, 31 and 26 points with the even-worse Edmonton Oilers from 2007-08 until 2010-11. His 13 goals from the blue line in 2007-08 would have ranked second in the NHL last year...

And that's why his value dropped to $1.4M for next season and why a team like the Kings can afford to use him in its bottom pairing.

I had sent him custom cards for him to sign where he was shown wearing the Habs' uniform over a year ago and never heard back, but I did cross his path at the Bell Centre after he'd been shut down for the season following knee surgery, and he signed a couple of old cards for me in blue sharpie.

Here's the first one, showing him in the Oilers' pre-lockout white (home) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2007-08 MVP set (that's card #333 in the series, it's his rookie card), which also slots him as #77 in my Oilers Numbers Project:
There's also this one with the Minnesota Wild, wearing their white (away) uniform, on card #131 from UD's 2013-14 O-Pee-Chee set:
I'm not a huge fan of those recent OPC sets, with the extremely loud colours that many times don't fit the team's palette.

I am a fan of this Gilbert Bobby Orr-type goal against the Kings, however:

Dmitri Kulikov Autographed Card

The Montréal Canadiens aren't the only team making puzzling decisions this summer; the Edmonton Oilers are widely criticized for having traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson instead of, say, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, although if they do end up landing Milan Lucic, the hole left by Hall's departure wouldn't be so bad (though RNH is still an extra center they have no real need for).

I wasn't too kind on the Florida Panthers' recent moves myself, and that was before they traded Dmitri Kulikov to the Buffalo Sabres. Honestly, I don't get it. They won't be stupid enough to get rid of Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau or Aleksander Barkov, but now I fear for Roberto Luongo's job security.

A first-round draft pick (14th overall in 2009) that had played under coach Patrick Roy with the Québec Remparts, the 25-year old had just found his complete game with the Panthers. He was the ideal complement to Ekblad and they made a nice pair of two-way defenders. Before Ekblad's arrival, he had had to shoulder most of the even-strength offense, scoring 8 goals in 2013-14 (Brian Campbell handled much of the powerplay time); since Ekblad's arrival, Kulikov had become his set-up man, posting seasons of 19 and 16 assists.

With the Sabres, he joins the likes of Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen, Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe, and Cody Franson. With highly-paid veterans Brian Gionta, Ryan O'Reilly, Matt Moulson, Evander Kane (edit: and now Kyle Okposo!) and young guns Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, and Nicolas Deslauriers, something will eventually have to give and many of those veterans will no longer be on the team within the next two or three years.

I'm not sure what that will mean for Kulikov, but I would take him on my team any day. At $4.3M per year, he's the ideal second pairing left defenseman who can fill in on the top unit admirably in case of injury.

Here he is in the Cats' beautiful alternate uniform from just a few years ago, on card #211 from Panini's 2011-12 Score set:
He signed it in blue sharpie a couple of years ago after a game against the Habs at the Bell Centre.