Sunday, October 15, 2017

Box Break: 2017-18 Artifacts Blaster Box

I went to Walmart today to buy a blaster box of 2017-18 Artifacts hockey cards by Upper Deck, which I had seen the last time I was there but opted not to buy, unsure whether it was worth it to pay $30 plus tax ($35) for 40 cards.

After mulling it over for more than a week, I went for it.

It seems like UD's running out of ideas with their designs, as these white-background cards are similar to SP sets from a decade ago, simple and uncluttered, sure, but not as impressive as the Artifacts sets of that time:
The backs (right) still show up to five seasons of NHL stats and the picture on the front (left) fades to white at the bottom - perfect for autograph seekers such as myself. Of note that the back has a cropped version of the same picture that can be found up front.

Out of 40 cards, the only "insert" I pulled was this ruby version of Colin White's rookie card:
It's numbered 20/399 and features a nice close-up of the young prospect.

On the plus side, the cards remain as thick as they've always been, and despite their apparent lack of originality, are still pleasing to the eye. The box I bought contained 8 packs of 5 cards apiece (again, for some $30) but this link gets you a retail box of 24 five-card packs for $65, with jersey cards coming in at a 1:24 clip, so likely better odds and pulls than I got here.

I still like the thick, premium feel of these cards, and they still look better than most sets. I guess I was hoping for better (or more) "hits", but I was glad to fall onto 11 cards of players from Canadian teams, which I usually find easier to get signed. And the cards are still extremely sign-able with the design that gives the pictures room to breathe.

I wish you better pulls. I still rate this one a 8/10.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

5-Pack Break: 2017-18 Upper Deck Tim Hortons

Another Autumn, another food-based hockey set, namely Upper Deck's 2017-18 Tim Hortons series:
At $2 a pop for 3 cards (or one pack at $1 per beverage purchase), it's still a tad on the expensive side, but they look great, so much so that the Tim Horton one looks like it's extremely low-resolution in comparison to the Connor McDavid:
Each pack contains two base cards and one insert; my base card list reads as follows thus far:

1. Tim Horton
2. Duncan Keith
11. Anze Kopitar 
25. William Nylander
38. Nikolaj Ehlers
49. Bo Horvat
64. Mikael Granlund 
84. Steven Stamkos
97. Connor McDavid
98. David Pastrnak

Among the inserts that are back from previous years is the Game Day Action sub-set, of which I pulled a Max Pacioretty commemorating his first career four-goal game:
The young players have an altered sub-set now titled Clear Cut Phenoms, of which I pulled Patrik Laine, which I have already seen sell online at around $20 a pop:
Among new sub-sets is Stat Makers, which has golden foil, as seen on this Sean Monahan card (the silver in the scan actually looks gold in real life):
And, in celebration of the NHL's Centennial, the checklist cards this year feature players who were chosen among the league's Top 100; Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby fit the bill:
All told, they still look pretty cool.

Completing the set will probably almost prove impossible again, and many of the players featured are stars too "big" to sign autographs for adults like myself, but the cards do look really cool.

I'll rate this one a solid 8.5/10.

Monday, October 2, 2017

My Sens Numbers Project: An Introduction

Has it really come to this, a gimmick worth repeating many times over, after my initial Habs Numbers Project and my Oilers Numbers Project?

Actually, it's more that I realized I had a lot of this one down already: so far, I have featured 37/70 numbers used in previous posts:

1: Damian Rhodes: check!
2: Lance Pitlick and Jared Cowen: heck!
3: Zdeno Chara: jersey card check!
4: Chris Phillips: check (and once more)!
5: Christoph Schubert: check!
6: Wade Redden: check!
7: Randy Cunneyworth: check!
9: Milan Michalek: check!
10: Brandon Bochenski: check!
11: Daniel Alfredsson: check!
12: Mike Fisher: check (and once more)!
14: Andrej Meszaros and Colin Greening: check!
16: Brian McGrattan, Bobby Butler, Clarke MacArthur, and Mark Stone: check!
19: Jason Spezza: check! (also wore #44 and #39)
21: Dennis Vial: check!
22: Shaun Van Allen: check!
24: Stéphane Da Costa: check!
25: Bruce Gardiner: check!
27: Janne Laukkanen: check!
30: Brian Elliott: check!
31: Peter Sidorkiewicz: check! (also Alex Auld)
33: Jakob Silfverberg and Pascal Leclaire: check!
38: Erik Condra: check! (also wore #22)
39: Matt Carkner: check!
40: Robin Lehner: check! (also Jeff Glass and Patrick Lalime)
41: Craig Anderson: check!
43: Roman Wick: check!
44: Jason Spezza: check! (also wore #19) (also, Jean-Gabriel Pageau)
46: Patrick Wiercioch: check!
47: André Benoit: check!
53: Ilya Zubov: check!
57: Derek Grant: check!
59: David Dziurzynski: check!
61: Mark Stone: check!
62: Eric Gryba: check!
65: Erik Karlsson: jersey card check!
74: Mark Borowiecki: check!
89: Cory Conacher: check!

Captains: Cunneyworth, Alfredsson.

I'll reiterate that I'm looking for collectibles - ideally signed cards, but also signed pictures or, at the very least, jersey cards of players from every possible Sens jersey number that has been worn.

Here are examples of things I'll be featuring soon - or am looking to add to the list:

13: Peter Regin, Vinny Prospal or Ted Drury I remember
15: I would prefer Shawn McEachern, but Dany Heatley or Zack Smith would do
17: Jody Hull, Filip Kuba and David Legwand are the most famous
18: Marian Hossa will be in the HoF some day, but current wearer Jim O'Brien works too
20: Antoine Vermette or Marek Svatos are players I followed
23: Kaspars Daugavins' current number
26: André Roy, Vaclav Varada and Ryan Shannon have worn it
28: neither Zenon Konopka nor Matt Kassian replied to my TTMs
29: I could totally go for Martin Gerber and his black mask here
32: only Rob Ray and Daniel Berthiaume have ever worn this number
34: only Darren Rumble and Shane Hnidy have worn this one
35: only 5 goalies have worn this one, including Auld, Tom Barrasso and Mike Bales
36: only Josh Hennessy wore it for more than a few games
37: only Dean McAmmond wore it for more than one calendar year
42: Julien Vauclair would be cool for a goalie nerd like myself
45: only worn by Denis Hamel or Alexandre Picard
48: Jared Cowen wore it briefly
49: Michel Picard or Francis Lessard
51: Derek Smith
52: Colin Greening had it for a short spell
55: Sergei Gonchar never replied to my TTM, but Brian Lee also works
56: Lance Pitlick
58: Cody Bass, briefly
60: Mark Stone (who also wore 61)
68: Mike Hoffman
71: Nick Foligno
73: Guillaume Latendresse or Jarkko Ruutu
76: Radek Bonk
77: Joe Corvo
78: Pavol Demitra
82: Martin Straka
83: Ales Hemsky, very briefly
90: Alex Chiasson
91: Alexandre Daigle
93: Mike Zibanejad
94: Stan Neckar
97: Matt Gilroy

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mike Modano Jersey Card

The Dallas Stars overhauled everything they could this off-season: they let backup goalie Antti Niemi go and replaced him with two-time Vezina Trophy nominee Ben Bishop; they let oft-injured right winger Ales Hemsky test free agency (and, ultimately, sign with the Montréal Canadiens) and signed the Habs' best player, Alexander Radulov instead; they went and took Marc Methot - one of the best defensive defensemen in the game - off the Vegas Golden Knights' hands; they did not renew head coach Lindy Ruff's contract, instead picking up Ken Hitchcock, who was behind the bench for the franchise's lone Stanley Cup in 1999, with Ruff on the losing side of that, too; the only "not-win" they have on their summer report card is signing slow-footed Martin Hanzal essentially to replace Cody Eakin. Hanzal almost single-handedly cost the Minnesota Wild first place after a trade deadline deal last year, and didn't do much when they were eliminated in the playoffs either.

All those moves lead me to believe they might take a while to assimilate Hitchcock's system and gel, but that by entering the playoffs as a Wild Card team, they could do like the Nashville Predators last year and make their way to the Stanley Cup Final, perhaps even beating the Tampa Bay Lightning while they're there.

I like this team a lot more than I did the Cup-winning 1999 edition, who had players I didn't like too much at the time (Ed Belfour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Brett Hull, captain and bruising defenseman Derian Hatcher, Pat Verbeek, Mike Keane), but a few guys I did respect a lot (Mike Modano, Brian Skrudland, Jere Lehtinen, Darryl Sydor, Dave Reid, Craig Ludwig, Benoît Hogue), and one guy I loved (Guy Carbonneau). I did prefer the Stars winning over Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres, though.

This time around, there are so many players I like. Sure, the new guys Methot, Radulov and Bishop are awesome, but so is Cup-deserving veteran Jason Spezza, captain Jamie Benn, star center Tyler Seguin, bruiser Antoine Roussel, and defensemen John Klingberg, Dan Hamhuis, and Julius Honka.

If they want to, they can ask Modano for guidance at any time, because he works for the team as its alternate governor as well as in advisory role.

Despite playing out his final season with his hometown Detroit Red Wings, he'll always be the Original Dallas Star to me, which is why I'm such a big fan of card #M-26 from In The Game's 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s set and Game-Used Jersey sub-set:
It depicts him wearing the team's original (in every sens of the word) star-shaped jersey and features a fairly big white game-worn jersey swatch.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Ilya Zubov Autographed Card

Was last year's Game 7 Conference Finals finish a fluke, or are these Ottawa Senators the real deal? Oh, they're real - I even think they'll finish second in the Atlantic Division, ahead of the young Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the best defenseman in the game in Erik Karlsson and support from the likes of Dion Phaneuf, Cody Ceci, Fredrik Claesson, Chris Wideman and rookies Thomas Chabot, Colin White and Andreas Englund, as well as three potential 30-goal scorers on the wing (Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan) and two proven 60-point 1A centers (Kyle Turris and Derick Brassard), plus a fine tandem in nets consisting of Craig Anderson and Mike Condon, Ottawa has one of the most well-balanced teams in the league.

There was a time when the Sens were looking at a young Russian center to one day replace Jason Spezza on the top line, a fourth-round (98th overall) pick at the 2005 draft called Ilya Zubov. Standing at 6' and just a little over 200 pounds, with tremendous speed and stick-handling skills, and the ability to make plays in tight spots, the Sens were convinced he had what it takes to become the next Ryan Getzlaf.

Unfortunately, he does not like playing in traffic, and the North American ice brings about more physical play than the European game, so he was never really able to make the transition right. The third time he was demoted to the AHL's Binghamton Senators to start a season, he requested a trade; the organization instead agreed to let him go back to the KHL, where he has been playing ever since.

He is currently in his third stint with Ufa Salavat Yulayev, producing at nearly a point-per-game pace (1 goal, 9 assists and 10 points in 12 games). He also played parts of five seasons with powerhouse CSKA Moscow (playing alongside the likes of Alexei Yashin and Alexander Radulov), a year and a half with Vladivostok Admiral, and two seasons with Omsk Avangard (with Vladimir Sobotka, Martin Erat, Nikita Nikitin and Alexander Perezhogin).

Here he is sporting the Sens' red (home) uniform on card #50 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Rookie Class boxed set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
He's wearing #53, which is perfect for inclusion in my Sens Numbers Project.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pavel Bure Jersey Card

I just posted my prediction for the upcoming Florida Panthers season, admitting I may have been overly optimistic by placing them 5th instead of 7th in the Atlantic Division, but it is what it is - I mean, I decided on my standings on September 1st, so there's really no going back now.

I could have gone many ways in featuring the Panthers on this blog today, but I decided to go with Hall Of Famer Pavel Bure, who led the NHL in scoring twice while in Florida, with 58- and 59-goal seasons in 1999-2000 and 2000-01, in the heart of the clutch-and-grab Dead Puck Era. He had also led the league in his second-consecutive 60-goal season with the Vancouver Canucks in 1993-94, bringing the team to one win of the Stanley Cup on the strength of 16 goals and 31 points in 24 postseason games.

Upon leaving Vancouver after a contract dispute, he played only four more playoff games - all of them in 1999-2000, his second season with the team. He wouldn't see playoff action in two injury-riddle years with the New York Rangers (2001-03) either, but still managed to score 31 goals and amass 19 assists for 50 points in 51 games on Broadway.

His NHL career was among the most spectacular of all-time:

He also starred and won a lot internationally, first with the Soviet Union, with World Juniors gold (1989) and silver (1990, 1991), World U-17s gold (1988), European Juniors Championship gold (1989) and bronze (1988), World Championship gold (1990) and bronze (1991), and Goodwill Games gold (1990), and also with Team Russia, earning Olympic silver (1998) and bronze (2002) medals.

Here he is sporting the alternate captain's "A" on the Panthers' best-looking red (then-away) uniform, on card #SCS-PB from Topps' 2001-02 Stadium Club set and Stadium Club Souvenirs sub-set:
It features a yellow game-worn jersey swatch that was likely from a stripe on the arms. I traded three Chicago Blackhawks autograph cards from the same brand to obtain this one in 2010 or 2011.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Jim Paek Autographed Card

It could have been a great story that wrapped things up perfectly but, alas, the NHL will not be sending its players to the Olympics this year in Pyeongchang, South Korea. As is customary, the host country will have a team - unfortunately, it will share a division with Team Canada, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, but it's still a feat to have climbed the ranks from 33rd in the world seven years ago to 18th at the moment.

The key to that rise has been naming former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, two-time Stanley Cup winner Jim Paek as head coach, plucking him from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins; the Seoul-born, Etobicoke-raised Paek then picked up another dual-citizen former NHLer, Korean-American Richard Park, as assistant coach, and the duo worked on developping the overall skill set of the 2500 registered hockey players in the country, enlisting the help of Canadian and American expats playing in Asia, particularly those such as Brock Radunske, a former third-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers (79th overall, 2002) who has been a tremendous player for the Asia League's Anyang Halla for ten years and is described by Paek as a "blond-haired, blue eyed Kitchener native".

Although Radunske's currently having a tough season, he's pretty much a lock to make South Korea's Olympic team:
From EliteProspects
Wouldn't it have been a great occasion, though, to showcase the world's best players in a year where the Pens are back-to-back champions, in a country whose national coach was himself a back-to-back champion with the same team?

I don't think Pittsburgh can three-peat (granted, I didn't have them as favourites in either of the last two seasons either), but I do see them winning the Metropolitan Division this year.

Here is a card I got Paek to sign (in blue sharpie) at a card show in Florida in the early 2000s:
It's #192 from Upper Deck's 1993-94 Series 1 set.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dirk Graham Autographed Card

The Chicago Blackhawks are not adverse to making summertime roster changes, and perhaps this summer's moves will require a bit of an adjustment period before bearing all their fruits - not enough for them to miss the playoffs, mind you, but enough to face another tough first-round match-up against the Nashville Predators.

Throughout the years, the Hawks have had some excellent captains, many of whom are Hall of Famers: Dick Irvin (1926–1929), Johnny Gottselig (1935–1940), Doug Bentley (1942-44, 1949–1950), Jack Stewart (1950–1952), Bill Gadsby (1952–1954), Pierre Pilote (1961–1968), Stan Mikita (1976–1977), Keith Magnuson (1976-1979), Darryl Sutter (1982–1987), Denis Savard (1988–1989), Chris Chelios (1995–1999), Tony Amonte (2000–2002) and Jonathan Toews (2008–present).

You may have noticed how I skipped the guy who was in between superstars Savard and Chelios, actually taking over from Savard as he was injured, one of many times head coach "Iron" Mike Keenan made his disdain for his star center public. That replacement captain would be Dirk Graham, a tough, defensively-minded center who taught many of the kids on the team (Jeremy Roenick, Joe Murphy) the merits of playing hard and with a measure of integrity, leading the 1992 edition of the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to Mario Lemieux's and Jaromir Jagr's Pittsburgh Penguins.

Graham didn't talk much, but he led by example, surpassing the 20-goal mark seven times (with a high of 33 in 1988-89), and the 50-point mark four times in 12 NHL seasons, all while attempting to check the other team's best players, which led to his finishing in the minuses five times as well.

In every season where he had a negative +/- differential, he averaged more than a penalty minute per game, going over the 100 mark three times, with a high of 142 in 1986-87 in his last full season with the Minnesota North Stars.

When he inherited the "C", he was considered the first captain of African descent in NHL history, because one of his parents was of mixed race; when Jarome Iginla became captain of the Calgary Flames, Iginla was retconned into the position because one of his parents was Black. In my opinion, Graham came first, he should get the title; Iginla should be content with being the best captain of his generation, and there will be a "full-Black" captain eventually, rendering these race sub-categories even more irrelevant.

My main gripe with Graham is his 1991 Selke Trophy win. He was not among the better defensive players of his time by any means; he got Selke votes in just five of his NHL seasons, twice finishing 7th, once 19th, and once 29th. This is not the type of polite nod that screams "dominant player".

At that time, the best defensive player in the world was without a doubt Guy Carbonneau. He received votes in every season from 1983-84 until 1993-94 and again in his final season, 1999-2000; from 1983-84 until 1988-89, he was on the same line as Bob Gainey, pretty much the guy for whom the award was created, so you'd think that would have played against him, yet in each of those seasons, Carbonneau finished well ahead of Gainey.

As a matter of fact, "Carbo" won it three times, finished second twice and third another time in a seven-year span in which the only anomaly was a fourth-place finish... in 1990-91. That year, both Carbonneau and Graham produced 0.56 points per game, with Carbonneau scoring more goals. The Hawks were a powerhouse, with six players at +20 or better - including two in the league top-5 (Roenick at +38, Steve Larmer at +37) - while Graham was eighth on the team; in comparison, only one Hab was over +10 (Brian Skrudland, +12), as the team struggled to find consistency in the backup role, trying out the likes of André Racicot (7-9-2, 3.20 GAA and .891 save percentage in 21 games), Frédéric Chabot (0-0-1, 3.33 GAA and .867 save percentage in 3 games), and Jean-Claude Bergeron (7-6-2, 3.76 GAA and .862 save percentage in 18 games).

And yet the Canadiens finished with a 39-30-11 record, with Carbonneau facing the likes of Dale Hawerchuk and Pierre Turgeon (Buffalo Sabres), Cam Neely, Ray Bourque and Craig Janney (Boston Bruins), Pat Verbeek, Ron Francis and Kevin Dineen (Hartford Whalers), Lemieux, Jagr, Mark Recchi, Kevin Stevens, Paul Coffey, Joe Mullen and John Cullen (Pittsburgh), Brian Leetch, Mike Gartner and Ray Sheppard (New York Rangers), Pat Lafontaine (New York Islanders), Dale Hunter, Mike Ridley, Dino Ciccarelli and Kevin Hatcher (Washington Capitals), Kirk Muller, Brendan Shanahan, Peter Stastny and Claude Lemieux (New Jersey Devils), and Rick Tocchet, Pelle Eklund and Murray Craven (Philadelphia Flyers) every night.

Also, Graham was invited to play on Team Canada at the 1991 Canada Cup by Hawks head coach Keenan, who mostly chose players he knew extremely well, from then-Hawks Larmer, Graham and Ed Belfour to Tocchet of his former team (Philadelphia) and a grand total of 13 players from the Clarence Campbell (now known as "Western") Conference out of 22 NHLers. The best goalie in the world (Patrick Roy), the best defensive forward of his era (Carbonneau), the youngest captain at the time (Joe Sakic, fresh off two consecutive 100-point seasons), one of the best defensemen of all time (Bourque), former Hawks legend Savard, and the most talented player of all time (Mario Lemieux, allbeit with a bad back) were all conspicuously absent from the line-up, but OHLer Eric Lindros made the cut, as did the likes of Shayne Corson, Russ Courtnall, and stay-at-home defenseman Mark Tinordi.

It was a joke of a line-up, and Graham's Selke is another taint on the aberration that was the 1990-91 season in terms of fair play and common sense.

Which isn't to say he wasn't very good at what he did. I just don't think he was ever the best at it, even for a single season.

Here he is sporting the Blackhawks' white (then-home) uniform, on card #261 from Score's 1991-92 Pinnacle set:
He signed it in (dying) black sharpie at a card show around 2005-2006.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Darryl Sittler Jersey Card

After taking a moment earlier today to predicting they'd finish third in the Atlantic this coming season, I thought I could honor the Toronto Maple Leafs by featuring Darryl Sittler, one of the five greatest players in team history, in a conversation with Dave Keon, Syd Apps, Charlie Conacher, Johnny Bower and Tim Horton, ahead of the likes of his best friend Lanny McDonald, Frank Mahovlich, Turk Broda, Doug Gilmour, King Clancy, Red Kelly, and hundreds more.

Ironically, Keon, Sittler and McDonald all had issues with then-owner Harold Ballard and were essentially run out of town, thrown under the bus, and/or made to suffer by the organization at one point or another.

Sittler, who replaced Keon as captain after Ballard not only decided not to re-sign him but also pretty much forbade any other NHL team to offer him a contract as a free agent (setting up a "compensation fee" so high for the then-35-year-old that it would essentially strip that team of any of its talent), set his sights on a few NHL records, starting by becoming the first Leaf to ever accumulate 100 points in a single season, then scoring the most goals in a single playoff game (5), scoring the game-winner for Team Canada in the first Canada Cup (now known as the "World Cup"), and, of course, the record for most points in a single game (10 points, from 6 goals and 4 assists).

As captain and player representative to management, Sittler was responsible for having coach Roger Neilsen re-hired after a Ballard outburst left him without a job; GM Punch Imlach had issues with the amount of power Sittler had built up in the locker room and inquired with other teams about his trade value, but Sittler had a no-trade clause, which his agent Alan Eagleson said he would waive for half a million dollars. Imlach instead traded his best friend and linemate McDonald to the Colorado Rockies, resulting in Sittler taking scissors and cutting the "C" off of the front of his jersey. Which just furthered his influence among his peers, while Ballard compared the move to "burning the Canadian flag". Canadians consider him a folk hero, as proven by this country song.

Here he is the way he should always be remembered, wearing Leaf blue, with the "C" very visible for all to see, on card #GJ-SI from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Series 1 set and Game Jersey sub-set:
Keon may have won the Stanley Cup, Mahovlich may be the team's highest-scoring winger; Gilmour and Mats Sundin may have instilled hope and inspired a generation of Leaf fans during their respective reigns as captains, but only Sittler combined both talent and leadership to that high a level at the same time. He's the Top Leaf in my book.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Nicolas Petan Jersey Card

I totally expect the Winnipeg Jets to make the playoffs - albeit as the West's Second Wild Card, playing out of division in the postseason - but they are more than ready to take the next logical step and win a game in the playoffs. Because, yes, this current iteration of the Jets has failed to do so thus far.

Part of that lays with GM Kevin Cheveldayoff pulling the trigger on just one major trade since taking the reins of the franchise in 2011 and his inability to secure a true #1 goalie to complement his team (although Eric Comrie has some Junior-league pedigree and I still fully believe Connor Hellebuyck will develop into a high-end netminder), and part of it lies with head coach Paul Maurice's sometimes inexplicable decisions, particularly his obsession with forgiving his players' dumb penalties and favouring heavy players to skilled ones in games where speed might make a difference.

Yes, perhaps that was a bit contrived just to get to 5'9", 2013 second-round pick (43rd overall) Nicolas Petan, who was scratched two dozen times last season on his way to a one-goal, 11-assist, 12-point season in 54 games despite decent AHL production with the Manitoba Moose and two 100-point seasons with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks.

So far in the NHL, he's been playing alongside Chris Thorburn, an honest, hard-working fourth-line grinder whose highest production was the 19 points he put up with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010-11.

However, there were flashes of brilliance, such as when he's tasked with quarterbacking the powerplay, where he can use his centerman's vision, speed and play-making skills to create plays from the point out of thin air. On a team with such talent as Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Mark Schiefele, Bryan Little, and Mathieu Perreault, and blue-liners like Dustin Byfuglien, Dmitry Kulikov and Jacob Trouba on his side, the Jets' powerplay could (and should) be in the league's top-10.

He has suited up for Team Canada three times, earning two gold medals (2012 U-18s and 2015 World Juniors), as well as a disappointing fourth-place finish at the 2014 World Juniors.

Here he is wearing the Jets' white (away) uniform on the Level 1 Jersey insert of card #126 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Trilogy collection and Rookie Premieres sub-set:
The card is from a multi-brand repack with "guaranteed hits" and features a dark blue swatch from a jersey worn in a rookie photo shoot. It's numbered 407/599.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Jason Zucker Autograph Card

I didn't go about writing all 31 of my NHL 2017-18 Standing Predictions posts going in with the idea that the Minnesota Wild would finish first overall; as a matter of fact, I wasn't even sure they'd win their division until I analyzed each team's strength, weaknesses, number of off-season moves and first week of training camp injuries list. Then I predicted they would. Then I looked at all four teams I thought would finish atop their respective divisions (Minnesota, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Edmonton Oilers), thought the Pens might feel the effects of two straight Stanley Cup wins, the Bolts will have fought a deep Eastern Conference, and the OIlers will have fought hard within their division all year as well, so the Wild stood out.

Just like Jason Zucker's $2M cap hit stands out, after piling up 22 goals, 25 assists and 47 points in 79 points last year and looking to build on that total as he's entering his prime years (he's 25 years old).

Of course, he's also entering his contract year in his final RFA season, so if he reaches anywhere between 50 and 60 points, he might be looking at more than doubling his current salary for the next 5, 6, 7 or 8 years.

So far, the 2010 59th-overall pick (second round) has 110 career points, which ranks him 21st of his draft class, way behind Tyler Seguin (428) and Taylor Hall (382), but ahead of forwards Brett Connolly (6th, 83 points), Alexander Burmistrov (8th, 95 points), Joey Hishon (17th, 2 points), Austin Watson (18th, 28 points), Beau Bennett (20th, 64 points), Riley Sheahan (21th, 98 points), Quinton Howden (25th, 17 points), Emerson Etem (29th, 46 points), Tyler Pitlick (31st, 14 points), Brett Bulmer (39th, 3 points), Christian Thomas (40th, 3 points), Devante Smith-Pelly (42nd, 78 points), Curtis Hamilton (48th, no points, 5 penalty minutes), Connor Brickley (50th, 7 points), Calle Jarnkrok (51st, 89 points), Petr Straka (55th, 2 points), Johan Larsson (56th, 48 ponts), and Oscar Lindberg (57th, 48 points), defensemen Erik Gudbranson (3rd, 49 points), Dylan McIlrath (10th, 5 points), Brandon Gormley (13th, 5 points), Derek Forbort (15th, 20 points), Jarred Tinordi (22nd, 6 points), Mark Pysyk (23rd, 44 points), Alex Petrovic (36th, 36 points), Jon Merrill (38th, 36 points), Patrik Nemeth (41st, 15 points), and Martin Marincin (46th, 25 points), goalies Jack Campbell (11th, AHL), Mark Visentin (27th, Austria), and Calvin Pickard (49th), and non-NHLers Jared Knight (32nd), John Mcfarland (33rd), Dalton Smith (34th), Ludvig Rensfeldt (35th), Brad Ross (43rd), Sebastian Wannstrom (44th), Phil Lane (52nd), Mark Alt (53rd), Justin Holl (54th), and Kent Simpson (58th).

I think he's among the Wild's good, young building blocks, along with Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Joel Eriksson Ek, Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, and Jonas Brodin.

Here he is wearing their old red (then-home) uniform, on the signed insert card #SS-JZ from Panini's 2013-14 Score set and Signature sub-set:
I features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph that consists of a big "J", an uncomfortable "Z" and his uniform number (16) in some sort of a cloud/bubble.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Christian Dvorak Jersey Card

The Arizona Coyotes have made a ton of changes this off-season that scream "we are doing everything we can to finally put an NHL team on the ice", and 20 years into the franchise having moved from its previous home as the Winnipeg Jets, and it sure is fishy considering the team is unable to sell season tickets, unable to secure an arena deal anywhere in the state, and was purchased by Andrew Barroway, a hedge fund manager who happens to have personal family ties with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

There is a clause in the Coyotes' minority owners' initial purchase deal that stated the team would be allowed to relocate if it incurred losses of $50M over five years; last year alone, the 'Yotes lost $24M... and I'm fairly certain that what hedge fund managers like to do, first and foremost, is to make money.

The Coyotes cost Barroway, essentially, $150M. The Vegas Golden Knights were one of two teams that applied to acquire a $500M expansion team (i.e. a team with no staff or players) two years ago, along with the potential next iteration of the Québéec Nordiques; no other city will be given an expansion team in the near future out of respect for the time and money Québec has already put in.

However, there is an NHL-ready arena in Kansas City, an NHL-acceptable one in Portland, Oregon that would do until a new one is constructed, two new arena projects in Seattle, and Houston has yet to be utilized properly... You'd think a fully-staffed team with a full stable of terrific young players would net at least $350-400M in this new marketplace...

So, if anything, urgency might be the reason why the team has made all these moves this summer. And they should almost pay off, as I see them finishing fourth in the Pacific Division, ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks... but right outside the playoff picture, with the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets taking the Western Conference Wild Card spots.

Speaking of the Coyotes' young guns, Christian Dvorak was one of three London Knights players drafted by Arizona, with Max Domi and Brendan Burke. He captained the team in 2015-16, leading it to its second Memorial Cup, and also won bronze with Team USA at the 2016 World Juniors.

He has a great shot and combativeness that should enable him to keep piling up numbers at the NHL level while playing in a middle-six role, although he could be teamed with Domi on the first line on occasion a few years down the line, when Derek Stepan is no longer the go-to middleman. Heck, some even see Dvrorak - not Domi - as that eventual #1C.

Here he is on the jersey insert version of card #103 from Upper Deck's 2016-17 SP Game-Used Edition set and Authentic Rookies sub-set:
It shows him wearing the Coyotes' current burgundy home uniform, with a matching jersey swatch he wore in a photo shoot. The card is numbered #67/399.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Bob Sweeney Autograph Card

The 1990s weren't kind to the New York Islanders, as GM Mike Milbury traded away an entire roster of first-round draft picks and quality role players like defensemen Vladimir Malakhov, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Bryan Berard, Eric Brewer, Darius Kasparaitis, Scott Lachance and Bryan McCabe; Olympic goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Tommy Salo; and forwards Olli Jokinen, Todd Bertuzzi, Tim Connolly, Jean-Pierre Dumont, Raffi Torres, and the second overall draft pick from 2001 which became 100-point center Jason Spezza.

That's a pretty impressive cast to just send away at the four corners of the NHL. It was as if Milbury, a Boston native, was still trying to work for the Boston Bruins despite their having fired him four years prior; he single-handedly ran a once-dynastic franchise to the ground for a full decade.

Another Bostonian who played for his hometown Bruins for a long time and ended up with the Isles in the mid-1990s was Bob Sweeney, seen here wearing the infamous "Fisherman" jersey (albeit with the logo airbrushed out because of copyright issues), on the signed insert version of card #26 (therefore known as S26) from Upper Deck's 1995-96 Be A Player set:
He's fighting for rink real estate with a Pittsburgh Penguins player - I want to say Chris Wells, but I might be wrong.

The 1995-96 season was Sweeney's last in the NHL, split between the Isles and the Calgary Flames. He then spent one year in the IHL with the Québec Rafales before spending five seasons in the German League (DEL).

Despite what some folks will have you believe, the present-day Islanders have a good, balanced team (as long as John Tavares remains with them), a work of art and patience built by a savvy, smart and bold GM in Garth Snow, who may have been handed the job in a bizarre manner (slotted in as Rick DiPietro's backup, owner Charles Wang had a talk with him and realized he had detailed knowledge of every team's players, systems and coaches, and ideas on how to make all of them better, Isles included), but the reason he did replace Neil Smith was because he basically delivered a better interview and had better knowledge of current-day players than Smith, who'd been away from the day-to-day operations of running a team for six years.

I believe in Snow, and I believe Snow has built a good enough team to enter the playoffs as the East's First Wild Card team, ahead of the New York Rangers and last year's Atlantic Division-leading Montréal Canadiens.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Luca Sbisa Autographed Card

I wasn't sure what team I'd choose to feature this card for - if any - but I'll go with the Vegas Golden Knights, whom I believe will finish 7th in the Pacific Division, ahead of the Vancouver Canucks - and also ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings.

In recent years, Canucks fans and beat journalists had taken a dislike to Luca Sbisa for his seeming inability to help the puck exit his defensive zone, let alone drive play; what he did, however, was deliver hard hits and help Vancouver kill penalties better than any other defenseman on the team. That's right: he led the team in fewest shorthanded goals given per PK minute played.

Now, many of us - even those who see his admittedly limited qualities - were surprised to see the Golden Knight choose Sbisa in addition to the equally-hard-hitting Alexei Emelin, considering Emelin is also better-rounded in every other aspect of the game save for fighting, but Vegas answered these questions by trading Emelin to the Nashville Predators for a third-round draft pick (and retaining $1.2M of his salary).

Although he was born in Italy to Italian parents, the Sbisas moved to Switzerland when he was one, and he has always suited up for Team Switzerland (or Team Europe) internationally. Although he has never medaled, he did meet his wife, Lauren Anaka Sbisa, while participating in the 2010 Olympics.

Here he is wearing the Philadelphia Flyers' white (away) uniform from 2007-2010, on card #362 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Power Play boxed set:
He signed it in blue sharpie in September 2016 during the World Cup, erroneously adding "42" as his uniform number instead of "47".

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My Canucks Numbers Project: An Introduction

After my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project and my Sens Numbers Project, might as well get started publicly admitting I'm also on a Canucks Numbers Project.
The team as it is known now was founded in 1970 and has changed uniforms a lot since, at the rate of once every five years or so, usually in a complete overhaul.

The Canucks' and Sens' players have been the most responsive in answering my requests, I think, when it comes to current players, in the five six years since I've started blogging about cards and collectibles, and I've been getting a decent amount of in-pack hits as well to get me started on my quest, with 28/66 worn uniform numbers accounted for so far, which is why I decided to pursue the task.

Here's the list of those I have featured here thus far:

Head Coach: Marc Crawford: check!
1: Roberto Luongo: 4x6 check!
2: Dan Hamhuis: check!
3: Kevin Bieksa  and Brent Sopel: check!
5: Bryan Allen: check!
6: Adrian Aucoin: check!
7: David Roberts: check!
10: Pavel Bure: check!
12: Stan Smyl: check!
14: Alexandre Burrows (twice) and Geoff Courtnall: check!
16: Trevor Linden once, (then twice): check!
17: Ryan Kesler, Radim Vrbata and Bill Muckalt: check!
18: Igor Larionov: check!
19: Markus Naslund and Jim Sandlak: check!
21: Mason Raymond: check!
22: Daniel Sedin: jersey card check!
24: Curt Fraser: check!
25: Dan Kesa: check!
26: Frank Corrado: check!
27: Sergio Momesso: check!
33: Henrik Sedin: jersey card check!
35: Alex Auld and Troy Gamble: check!
36: Jannik Hansen: check!
40: Maxim Lapierre: check!
41: Curtis Sanford: check!
45: Jordan Schroeder: check!
46: Nicklas Jensen: check!
47: Yann Sauvé: check!
49: Zack Fitzgerald: check!
58: Robert Kron: check!

Captains: 5 of 13: Luongo, Smyl, Linden, Naslund, H. Sedin

Which means I'm looking to fill these (luckily I have all 4 retired numbers):

4: GM Jim Benning, Gerald Diduck or Nolan Baumgartner would be nice
8: Willie Mitchell and Chris Tanev
9: I sent Zack Kassian mail years ago, might have to ask Brad May instead
11: no one's worn it since Mark Messier's odd turn as a Canuck
13: Nick Bonino's number, Raffi Torres' too
15: the most-worn number in team history
20: I really liked Alexander Semak back in the day
23: Alexander Edler or Marc Bergevin work well here
28: I've been meaning to write Dave Capuano...
29: Aaron Rome or Tom Sestito work
30: I'll try Ryan Miller and Garth Snow
31: Eddie Lack did not respond, I'll try Corey Hirsch
32: I tried Dale Wiese last year, I'll give it more time
34: I probably have a Jassen Cullimore
37: Jarkko Ruutu would be cool
38: Pavol Demitra or Jan Bulis would be nice
39: this is Dan Cloutier's number
42: Josef Beranek wore it first
44: I have a Todd Bertuzzi signed insert card somewhere...

And the following numbers have only been worn by one or two players: 48, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 57, 62, 64, 66, 71, 72, 77, 79, 81, 89 and 96.

Igor Larionov Autographed Card

The last time the Vancouver Canucks were irrelevant for this long, they were wearing their finest uniforms (the "spaghetti skate"), the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were dominating their division, they had a good group of young players to build around (including captain-to-be and current Team President Trevor Linden) but needed one spark-plug that came in the form of Pavel Bure.

Right now, they have potentially-good youngsters like Bo Horvat, Markus Granlund, Sven Baertschi, Brock Boeser, Troy Stetcher, Olli Juolevi, Thatcher Demko, Jonathan Dahlen, Elias Pettersson and Jacob Markstrom, but I don't see their savior anywhere yet, so I predicted they would finish 8th in the Pacific Division this year.

Two years before the Canucks plucked Bure away from the Central Red Army team, they had already brought him a mentor in Igor Larionov, one of the best players in the world in the 1980s, of whom Wayne Gretzky - the best player of all time and a part-time teammate of Mario Lemieux's on Team Canada - once said was the "best center in the world".

It's easy to see why, too: Larionov won two Olympic gold medals (1984, 1988) with the Soviet Union, and one bronze for Team Russia (2002), but it was at the World Championships that the Big Red Machine really took its domination to the world stage, winning four gold medals (1982, 1983, 1986, 1989), one silver (1987), and one bronze (1985). The Soviet squad also won the 1981 Canada Cup, which was the first time Larionov was paired with Vadimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov to form the "KLM Line". He also played in the 1984 and 1987 Canada Cups, as well as its replacement, the inaugural World Cup of Hockey, in 1996.

Then came his turn in the NHL, starting in Vancouver, where he posted 52 goals, 92 assists and 143 total points in 210 games, followed by a decent stretch with the San Jose Sharks (82 points in 97 regular-season games, plus 27 points in 25 playoff games), the better part of 8 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings (three Stanley Cups, 397 points in 539 regular-season games and 59 points in 105 postseason games) interspersed by 26 games with the Florida Panthers (11 points), and 49 games (11 points) to close off his career with the New Jersey Devils. As a veteran leader on the Wings, he earned the nickname "The Professor".

Of course, with all those championships, he's one of the 27 members (to date) of the famed Triple Gold Club (Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold, a Stanley Cup). Better yet, though, with Joe Sakic, Scott Niedermayer and Viacheslav (Slava) Fetisov, he's one of four Quintuple Gold Club members, which adds Canada/World Cup titles and World Juniors gold to that feat. Sakic and Niedermayer also have Memorial Cups as well.

It was no surprise when he was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008.

Post-retirement, he served as Director of Hockey Operations for SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL) and is now a player agent (notably for Nail Yakupov, for whom he laid out a map for success) and a wine maker.

Here he is sporting the Canucks' superb 1980s white (home) uniform, on card #246 from Pro Set's 1991-92 Series 1 set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
While he mostly wore #8 or #9 in his NHL career, he wore #18 in Vancouver, which fits him perfectly in my Canucks Numbers Project.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Slater Koekkoek Autographed Card

After two unsuccessful turns in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and a decent 29-game showing last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed Slater Koekkoek to a one-year deal over the summer worth $800K.

The 23-year-old, 6'2", 193-pound rearguard was the Bolts' first pick of the 2012 draft (10th overall) was dominant in last year's AHL playoffs and will look to build on that to stick with the Lightning.

What you get from Koekkoek is a bit of everything. He was drafted to be a good second-pairing defender with the ability to quarterback a powerplay, good speed, the cardio to play a high-tempo game, an accurate first pass, good play-making ability and a heavy, accurate shot. He had also captained the OHL's Peterborough Petes and been an alternate captain on a U-18 Team Canada that won gold at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, so there was some leadership to his game.

In last year's Calder Cup Final run with the Syracuse Crunch, however, he added "shut-down defender" and "penalty-kill specialist" to his skill set.

That's not to say he can do all these things against the likes of Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid in the best league in the world, but it cements his potential as a #3 defender, no doubt. And if you factor in the fact that Tampa already has Norris Trophy contender Victor Hedman and added a guy who could win one in the next decade this summer in Mikhail Sergachev, an excellent #3 is just what they need anyway.

I already see them winning the Atlantic Division this year, maybe we should just go ahead and pencil them in for the next five years.

Here is Koekkoek wearing the "C" on the Petes' purple uniform, on card #76 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed it in blue sharpie after a game against his hometown Ottawa Senators during the 2014-15 season.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Vaclav Prospal Autographed Card

It's been a few seasons since the Philadelphia Flyers were considered serious contenders, but I feel they're on the verge of breaking out - not this year, but the way GM Ron Hextall has built his roster and taken his time bringing his players up in a way that he'll be able to keep most of them if not all under the salary cap for a long time, as soon as goalie Anthony Stolarz is ready to take over the #1 job between the pipes.

Since breaking into the NHL 50 years ago, the Flyers have been able to build a Stanley Cup finalist every decade, which is rather impressive. The team from the mid-1990s, starring Hextall for much of it, the Legion of Doom (Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg) up front, Team Canada defenseman Éric Desjardins, Rod Brind'Amour, Paul Coffey and so many more was pretty memorable despite never winning a championship.

One long-time NHLer was drafted to fit right in with that group, in the third round (71st overall) of the 1993 draft: Vaclav Prospal. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as Prospal was traded along with Pat Falloon and a second-round pick for the Ottawa Senators' Alexandre Daigle, in January 1998.

Prospal would spend parts of four seasons with the Sens, with whom he had his first 20-goal and 55-point season (1999-2000), then half a season with the Florida Panthers before getting traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he had his finest seasons in the NHL in three separate stints with the team:
From HockeyDB
As you can see, he narrowly missed being part of the 2004 Stanley Cup-winning Bolts team...

Although he was eventually bought out from the last three years of his final deal with the Lightning, he did play well for the New York Rangers (where he was also an alternate captain) and Columbus Blue Jackets - for two years apiece - after his time in Tampa.

Here, though, in keeping with my theme of featuring the same team on each of my blogs for all of September as I make my 2017-18 predictions public, I will show him wearing the Flyers' white (then-home) 1980s-1990s uniform, making a play along the boards in front of the New Jersey Devils' John MacLean, on card #McD-39 from Upper Deck's 1997-98 McDonald's / Ice set and Ice Breakers sub-set, which he signed in blue sharpie in 2012 or 2013:
I am particularly fond of how the signature does not bleed through his body on the reverse of the plastic see-through card:
He missed the 1998 Olympics because of an injury but did earn a bronze medal with the rest of the Czech Team at the 2006 Torino Games to go with his 2000 and 2005 World Championship gold medals.

He retired in January 2014.