Saturday, April 22, 2017

Marcel Dionne Jersey Card

Congratulations are in order for the New York Rangers, who have eliminated the Montréal Canadiens in 6 games and will now likely face the Ottawa Senators in the Atlantic Division Final.

We are nearing the end of Henrik Lundqvist's prime, and he has precious little time to finally earn his first Stanley Cup, which brings me to a former Ranger whose name does not appear on hockey's most sacred chalice, Hall Of Famer Marcel Dionne.

For a long while, the Rangers were the team where old stars made their final big-contract stop before retiring, from Mark Messier's second run to Wayne Gretzky to Doug Harvey to Pavel Bure, and almost Jaromir Jagr, too, had he remained exiled in the KHL instead of coming back across the pond.

Dionne had requested a trade from the Detroit Red Wings, claiming he did not want to be part of a rebuild; in two and a half seasons with the Rangers, he was ousted twice in the first round and failed to make the playoffs once - they didn't rebuild or tank, they just sucked and underachieved. He wasn't so bad himself, posting 42 goals, 56 assists and 98 total points in 118 games in New York, but those aren't the type of numbers that got him an Art Ross, two Lester B. Pearson and two Lady Byng trophies, as well as a Canada Cup title (1976) and three World Championship bronze medals (1978, 1983 and 1986), including the Best Forward award in 1978.

Here he is in Ranger Blue, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch:
That's the "Black" version of card #M-41 from In The Game's 2010-11 Decades - The 1980s set.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Shawn Lalonde Autograph Card

The Chicago Blackhawks should have read my playoff predictions so as to not be disappointed at the outcome of their playoff series against the Nashville Predators, who swept the three-time champions in what many are calling an upset.

What better time to feature Cologne Sharks defenseman Shawn Lalonde, the Hawks' 2008 third-round pick (68th overall), showing him wearing the team's white (away) uniform:
It's the Black version of the signed insert variant of card #336 from Panini's 2013-14 Prizm collection (and Dual Rookie Class sub-set), which also serves as his rookie card in the series.

He's in the mold of Mark Streit and Yannick Weber - and, to a lesser extent, Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Burns - as an offensive defenseman his NHL coach had no idea how to utilize, even spending some time as a forward. In Germany, while manning the blue line, he still gets to finish in his team's top-3 for both points and penalty minutes.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Steffon Walby Autographed Card

Steffon Walby was a minor-league player for 11 seasons, which included decent AHL seasons with the St. John's Maple Leafs (1993-96), Hershey Bears (1996-97, 1999-2001), Rochester Americans (1998-99) and Kentucky Thoroughblades (1998-99), a fine, quick turn with the IHL's Fort Wayne Komets (1997-98) and a dominating turn in the ECHL with the Mississippi Sea Wolves (2001-04), earning First Team All-Star honors each year:
Courtesy of Hockeydb.com
Following his retirement, he turned to coaching, becoming the first head coach of the Mississippi Surge of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), winning the 2009-10 Coach of the Year trophy in his inaugural season and the 2010-11 SPHL championship before losing his job over internal politics related to new ownership.

After serving as interim head coach for his son's prep school's team for the 2013-14 season, he was named full-time head coach in April 2014 when he righted the ship at the end of the year.

He had also served as an amateur scout for the Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning.

He never played an NHL game but had initially been signed as a free agent by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Here he is on card #97 from Classic's 1993-94 Pro Hockey Prospects set, showing him in AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs' blue (away) uniform:
He signed it in large blue sharpie, which leads me to think he signed it around the 2004-05, where he was an associate coach with the Sea Wolves.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Jaroslav Balastik Autograph Card

One team I expected to win more in this year's playoffs is the Columbus Blue Jackets, who currently trail their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1. They had finished the season 4th overall on the strength of team defense, team toughness, the goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky, the coaching of John Tortorella and the rise of defenseman Zach Werenski.

The Pens, however, just seem to be able to pull rabbits out of their collective hats every game - and that's saying nothing of Bobrovsky, the heavy favourite to win the Vezina Trophy this season, allowing upwards of 3 goals per game (3.61 average).

Which brings me to a failed Jackets experiment from a decade ago, Jaroslav Balastik, featured here in the team's white (then-home) uniform, on card #JB from Upper Deck's 2005-06 SP Authentic set and Sign Of The Times sub-set:
Balastik was a star in the Czech Extraliga, its best forward for the 2004-05 season and two-time league leader for goals (29 in 2003-04, a mark he replicated in 2007-08, and 30 in 2004-05), as well as playoff goals (9) and points (18), both set in 2003-04, when he led is team to the league championship.

He also won a silver medal with the Czech Team at the 2006 World Championships, which makes it harder to conceive that he only managed to put up 13 goals, 11 assists and 24 points in 74 NHL games over two seasons, and 5 goals, 6 assists and 11 points in 20 games with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch over the same span.

He retired following the 2014-15 season, having spent most of his career with PSG Zlín (parts of 15 seasons), finishing with 277 goals (6th all-time) and 202 assists for 479 points (15th all-time) in 725 games in the best Czech league.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dan Blackburn Autographed Card

Congratulations are in order for the New York Rangers, who have tied their first-round series against the Montréal Canadiens on the strength of a 2-1 win tonight. The Habs did play lights-out in the third, but just couldn't solve Henrik Lundqvist, who was royal for the third time in the series.

Speaking of strong Rangers goaltending, Montrealer Dan Blackburn used to be the man-in-waiting between the pipes for the red, white and blue at the turn of the millennium until a shoulder injury forced him to choose between retiring or attempt playing with two blockers and no catching glove, because nerve issues had him incapable of rotating his would-be glove hand; an MCL strain at the Rangers' training camp then put him in a difficult position: he could either retire and receive $6M in insurance money, covering the end of his contract and a bit more, or forfeit any chance of future insurance and try to earn a spot upon recovery. He wisely opted to retire at age 22, his final game a 5-4 loss at the hands of the Canadiens, the team against which he won his first NHL game as the Rangers' second-youngest goalie of all time.

Here he is wearing the Rags' blue Lady Liberty former alternate (one of my favourite alternate uniforms in hockey history) on card #123 from Topps' 2002-03 O-Pee-Chee set and Topps All Star Rookie sub-set:
Most goalies in the set were pictured horizontally. He signed his card in black sharpie in 2002-03.

Injuries are always the ultimate "What If?", but in Blackburn's case, after winning the WHL Playoff MVP award, the CHL's Goalie Of The Year award and leading his Kootenay Ice to a berth in the Memorial Cup,  then making an NHL roster at just 18 years old - the fifth-youngest of all-time in the NHL - the sky was the limit. That, or nerve damage.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mark Borowiecki Autographed Custom Card

After initially having been thought of as a two-way defenseman, Mark Borowiecki has found a niche on the Ottawa Senators' bottom-two pairs as a defensive-minded blue-liner who dishes out punishing hits, earning the nickname "BoroCop" as well as upwards of 100 penalty minutes in the past three seasons, including a career-high 154 in 2016-17.

He will not be suiting up against the physical Boston Bruins tonight, however, as he suffered a leg injury in the last game; 22-year-old rookie Ben Harpur will take his place, bringing a bit more skill to his game and having reportedly worked on adding some aggressiveness to his play with the Binghamton Senators this year.

Borowiecki, also a Sens home-grown player, won the Calder Cup with the Baby Sens in 2011. Of note that after a four-year exile, Binghamton is now coached by Kurt Kleinendorst, the same man who brought them their AHL title back when BoroCop was manning their blue line. Full Circle, I like that.

Borowiecki slots in perfectly as #74 in my Sens Numbers Project with this custom signed card from Ottawa-area collector BG's 2015-16 Custom Set:
It shows him wearing the Senators' white (away) uniform, fighting for positioning and puck control along the boards.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Émile Poirier Autograph Card

Back when he was drafted (22nd overall by the Calgary Flames in 2013), I thought expectations towards Émile Poirier needed to be tempered a bit; this was not top-level, top-line talent, but would have been a very nice second-round pick.

He's 6'1", 185 pounds and gaining weight, and has proven he can score in the LHJMQ with 32- and a 43-goal seasons for the Gatineau Olympiques, and he had a fine rookie season in the AHL in 2014-15, posting 19 goals and 23 assists for 42 points in 55 games with the Adirondack Flames, playing in the AHL All-Star Game in the process. He fell to 29 points in 60 games the following season and 17 (6 goals) in 43 games this year.

Where does his real potential lie? As a middle-six left winger. He's still learning, still growing, still just 22 years old.  Imagine a three-power-forward line comprised of Sam Bennett, Matthew Tkachuk and Poirier, each playing a heavy-hitting game and garnering between 40 and 60 points apiece... that would be nice. I'm no longer certain Bennett will hit that peak, but I'm pretty sure Tkachuk will develop nicely. All three need grooming, that's for certain.

I have at least two more cards of his to showcase, so I'll be keeping you abreast of my impressions throughout his development. In the meantime, here he is sporting the Flames' red (home) uniform, wearing the #57 jersey that slots him perfectly in my Flames Numbers Project, on the signed insert version of card #234 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 SP Authentic set:
It's signed on-card in blue sharpie, part of the Future Watch sub-set and numbered 762/999.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Noah Hanifin Jersey Card

Team USA has announced two more entries for its young 2017 World Championships team, including Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin. I have him in my keeper pool, but honestly, I can never put my faith in the Canes; even this season, I had predicted they'd finish last in their division, perhaps even in the East; I was wrong, as they finished a whole 17 points ahead of the New Jersey Devils - what a shit-show there - but second-to-last in their division is nothing to be proud of.

They have a young and talented defense, but two goalies (Cam Ward and Eddie Lack) and a head coach (Bill Peters) who are in way over their heads, and a forward corps that lacks three first-liners to slot everyone in their current top-9 back a peg and perhaps into a more proper ranking. GM Ron Francis might not get a chance to move with the team to Québec if he can't right the ship by next Christmas.

Which means Hanifin may eventually become the new Québec Nordiques' captain eventually... provided he doesn't get snatched by the Vegas Golden Knights this summer. Here he is wearing the Canes' current red (home) uniform, not a bad look, but I preferred their previous red one with stuff happening on their shoulders:
That's card #FT-NH from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Ice set and Fresh Threads sub-set, that features a matching red jersey swatch from a rookie photo shoot.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Pekka Rinne Autograph Card

They said Pekka Rinne was over the hill, and that the Chicago Blackhawks would beat the Nashville Predators easily in the first round of the 2017 NHL playoffs (God I hate agreeing with Arpon Basu, the only NHL.com who picked the Preds to win the series; read my full predictions here).

And yet, off a 29-save Rinne shutout, the Preds took Game 1 at Chicago's United Center to take the lead and steal home-ice advantage from the Hawks.

Rinne's had a decent season, finishing with a 31-19-9 record with 3 shutouts (against the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, and Minnesota Wild, all potential playoff adversaries), a .918 save percentage and 2.42 goals-against average. The latter may seem a tad high in today's NHL, but keep in mind that Nashville spent a month and a half finding its game after the Shea Weber/P.K. Subban trade, and just when they'd found their rhythm, Subban injured his back for a month, case the team to go on a bit of a losing streak.

They could definitely surprise a few people here. I'd love it if they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final and faced their former coach Barry Trotz and his Washington Capitals...

As I mentioned in my prediction, however, that will require Rinne to play like the perennial Vezina runner-up that he used to be at least a dozen times, but I think he can do it. Here he is wearing the Preds' current white (away) uniform, on card #US-PR from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Ultimate Collection set and Ultimate Signatures sub-set:
It features an on-card autograph, signed it blue sharpie.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Brad Stuart Autographed Card

The Boston Bruins, despite a litany of injuries and not securing a single shot on the opposition's net in the entire second period, have beaten the Ottawa Senators tonight on a late goal by Brad Marchand.

I stand by my prediction that the Sens will take it in 6, but they may finish more exhausted and bruised than I initially thought.

The Bs have had nice uniforms, more often than not, in their 93-year history. I could do without the yellow uniforms of the early 1940s and alternates from 1995-2006, but generally speaking, although they tweak them a lot for an Original Six team, they stay within the boundaries of their classic, tried-and-true look.

One such uniforms is the white (home) one worn by Brad Stuart on card #18 from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Victory set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during his time with the Detroit Red Wings, probably in November 2009.

He went through back surgery six games into last season and hasn't played since, the Colorado Avalanche having bought him out at season's end. It's assumed he'll retire this summer after a full season of not playing and with NHL teams looking for fast, young blue-liners.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Martin Biron Jersey Card

This is a Philadelphia Flyers uniform I was never on board with, the alternate from the 2002-07 years, as seen on card #DDJ-BI from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Black Diamond set (and Black Diamond Jersey sub-set):
It features Martin Biron, one of about two dozen goalies who were not given a very long chance at being the team's #1 goalie in the past three decades, and a reddish game-worn jersey swatch.

The thing with the Flyers is they are pretty good at reaching the Conference Finals or even the Stanley Cup Final at least once per decade, but they are also prone to awful seasons where they finish near the bottom of the league standings; when it's the latter, they usually completely overhaul the goalie position, focusing the blame on poor goaltending, but they rarely view the puck stoppers are a reason for their success.

They are pretty much a goaltender cemetery. This year should be no exception, as blame for the team's failures will likely fall on Steve Mason's shoulders despite the offense and coaching being, in my opinion, the main culprits of their fall, centered around a pretty bad losing streak around the All-Star Game.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Rob Blake Autograph Card

Depending how you look at it, the Los Angeles Kings either succumbed to public pressure or didn't fall prey to feelings and matters of the heart when they fired GM Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter earlier today, i.e. the two architects of the team's pair of Stanley Cups.

The coach has yet to be named, but stepping into the spotlight as the general manager will be Rob Blake, the team's former two-time captain and Lombardi's assistant since 2013. He was on board for the 2014 Cup, and had also won one as a player with the Colorado Avalanche.

The question on everyone's mind is how the former Team Canada star will fare as a GM, whether he'll be more like Joe Sakic (currently in over his head and hurting the Avs' chances by not improving their defense) or more like Steve Yzerman (building a contender with his Tampa Bay Lightning).

Still, he's already in the Hall Of Fame as a Norris Trophy winner two-team captain (he also wore the "C" with the San Jose Sharks before retiring) and member of the Triple Gold Club (the 2001 Cup, 1994 and 1997 World Championship gold and 2002 Olympic gold); there's no chance he can ruin his playing legacy even if he fails to build a championship team in L.A.

Here he is as captain of the Kings, wearing their old white (with purple, black and silver accents) uniform, on the signed (silver) insert version of card #212 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
It's signed on-card in thin blue sharpie.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Henrik Zetterberg Jersey Card

If you know anything about me, you know I'm a romantic at heart. And not just beneath a gruff exterior - though I do have one - but I actually wear my heart on my sleeve at all times. I'm the type of guy who would drink a case of 24 beers in 24 hours at a rate of one per hour with friends in the summer, just to bask in the experience of spending an uninterrupted day of laid-back good times.

So when a scheduling quirk - a postponed game - made it so that Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg was going to play his 1000th NHL game on the final, farewell night of Joe Louis Arena, I almost cried. Then I saw a few of the tributes to the Joe and actually did:


Growing up in the 1980s, there was talk of Original Six teams and all, but most of them were a joke: the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks hadn't won a Stanley Cup since before my parents were born, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins hadn't won since my parents were kids - although the Bruins came close in 1988 and 1990, falling to my Edmonton Oilers both times - and the Wings would sometimes fail to make the playoffs altogether in a division where four teams made it and the same number of teams usually played below .500. The Montréal Canadiens were the only Original Six team that remained among the league's prestigious clubs, though 1995 was just around the corner, and with it a decade of shame.

Pre-salary cap, when owner Mike Illitch bought the Wings - and the Detroit Tigers, really - he went all-out to have his teams be as best as possible, hiring the best people to make the best decisions to best represent his beloved city. The Wings were among the league's biggest spenders - with the Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche - and purchased themselves the last consecutive champion teams (1997 and 1998) and a 2002 championship by developping their own talent to build around, sure (Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Chris Osgood) but also signing the best available veterans who agreed to leave their egos at home and step into specific roles that went against everything individual achievement they may have accomplished in the past, including the likes of highest-scoring left winger Luc Robitaille, highest-scoring right winger Brett Hull, most over-rated right winger Brendan Shanahan, one of the best defensemen of all time in Chris Chelios, and former-star-goalies-for-hire Mike Vernon, Curtis Joseph and Dominik Hasek.

Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg - along with a fine supporting cast - helped Detroit reach the third-longest consecutive playoff streak with 25 despite the salary cap era bringing forth unparalleled parity, a streak that ended this season. Now, Lidstrom's in the Hall Of Fame, Datsyuk is playing his final season(s) in Russia, and Zetterberg's 36 years old, which didn't stop him from leading the Wings in points with 68 in 82 games, good for 904 in 1000 games so far. He also has 120 in 137 playoff games.

Here he is wearing the Winged Wheel's white (then-home) uniform, on card #MM-HZ from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Bee Hive set and Matted Materials sub-set, which features a red game-worn jersey swatch:
Like a card I featured nearly four years ago, it shows both Zetterberg and Lidstrom (in the background), the Wings' back-to-back Swedish captains.

He's an Olympian gold (2006) and silver (2014) medalist with Team Sweden, and also holds all three medal types from the World Championships: gold (2006), silver (2003), and bronze (2001 and 2002).

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Tye McGinn Autograph Card

This entire card will not be making the NHL playoffs this year:
The Philadelphia Flyers were eliminated more than a week ago, so that took care of that. Then, Tye McGinn, now part of the Tampa Bay Lightning's depth chart - he suited up in two games last season with no points or penalty minutes and suffered a pretty bad injury in late October that compromised his AHL season - who were also eliminated, along with the New York Islanders, when the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, will also not see NHL postseason action this year.

And, of course, this is the signed insert version - a blue-sharpied, on-sticker autograph - of card #626 from Panini's 2013-14 Score set and Hot Rookies and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets, showing McGinn wearing the Flyers' current/retro orange (now-home) uniform... and Panini is no longer an NHL-licensed card manufacturer after the second post-lockout backroom deal cut by Upper Deck in ten years.

It should be noted that McGinn was nearly a point-per-game player upon his return, with 16 points (9 goals and 7 assists) in 19 games with the Syracuse Crunch. He had accepted a drop of salary entering the 2016-17 season, going from $625K to $550K, and I'm guessing the Bolts will not re-sign him this summer. I'm curious to see where he'll end up.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Joe Nieuwendyk Autographed Card

I consider things as being "back to normal" when teams from my youth such as the Montréal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames make the playoffs, so things are, indeed, back to normal on that front. The Toronto Maple Leafs are also on the verge of clinching a playoff spot ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, which I would have preferred been avoided, but considering they'll be facing either the Washington Capitals or Ottawa Senators, I'm fairly confident they'll lose in the first round anyway.

The Flames played in the strongest division of the 1980s, with the Oilers and Winnipeg Jets as powerhouses, which didn't stop them from winning the Presidents Trophy in 1987-88 and 1988-89, and winning the Stanley Cup to close out the decade year as well, in addition to losing to the Habs in the 1986 Final. They were truly a force, with the likes of Doug Gilmour, Theoren Fleury, Joe Mullen, Sergei Makarov, Joe Nieuwendyk and Joel Otto up front, Al MacInnis and Gary Suter out back and Mike Vernon between the pipes.

Sure, I put Nieuwendyk fifth on that list, and I always viewed him as an over-achiever, but the truth of the matter is he did achieve all the things that had him inducted in the Hall Of Fame in 2011 and among the league's Top-100 players at last February's Centennial All-Star celebrations (that part is definitely an aberration, considering players like Jarome Iginla and Joe Thornton didn't make the cut).

Here are the facts: he was only the second rookie to ever score 50 goals in a single season, winning the Calder Trophy in the process. He won Stanley Cups with three different organizations (the Flames in '89, the Dallas Stars in '99 and the New Jersey Devils in 2003), winning a Conn Smythe in 1999 that could have easily gone to Mike Modano (who had two more points), Brett Hull (who scored the winning goal and played fine two-way hockey), Ed Belfour (who posted a .930 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average with three shutouts) or even Dominik Hasek (.939 and 1.77 despite losing the Final 4 games to 2).

He played in two Olympics, posting 5 points in 6 games as Team Canada choked like never before or since at the 1998 Nagano Games but won gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games as a fourth-liner, with two points in 6 games. So, yeah, you can add Olympic gold to his resume, as well as silver from the 1986 World Juniors.

Add to that a King Clancy Trophy (for community and charity work) and you have yourself a fairly distinguished career...

All told, he scored 564 goals to go with 562 assists and 1126 points in 1257 regular-season games, having hit the 90-point mark twice, but never 100. He also has 116 points (66 goals and 50 assists) in 158 playoff games. Failing to post a career point-per-game average in either regular-season or postseason play, to me, says "semi-star" instead of "superstar", which should have excluded him from the Hall, but I'm still glad to have him serve as #25 and captain in my Flames Numbers Project:
That's, fittingly, card #25 in Fleer's 1992-93 Fleer Ultra set, which he signed in blue sharpie either in 2003-04 (while with the Leafs) or 2005-06 (with the Florida Panthers), after a game against the Sens in Ottawa.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Steve Konowalchuk Autograph Card

The Washington Capitals have clinched the Presidents' Trophy for the second consecutive season, but getting out of the Metropolitan Division won't be a cakewalk, seeing as it's home to three of the top five teams in the league - points-wise, at least, although the division's basement-dwellers were among the worst in the league - but it must be pointed out that one of those will be eliminated when the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Columbus Blue Jackets. Hopefully, the Jackets make it through.

The Caps really are a force, having the most offensive depth in the league (Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Justin Williams, André Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, Marcus Johansson, Lars Eller, Daniel Winnik, and Jay Beagle), the best goalie in the game in Braden Holtby, a very reliable defense that operates without a superstar (John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik, trade deadline acquisition Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt, John Erskine and Taylor Chorney), and one of the best coaching minds in the league in Barry Trotz.

Here's an error card of former Cap two-way center Steve Konowalchuk (spelled "Konowalchuk"), showing him with the team's turn-of-the-millennium dark blue (away) uniform with the Capitol building logo, which is the signed silver version insert of card #13 from In The Game's 2000-01 Be A Player Signature Series set, autographed on-card in thin black sharpie:
When he first joined the Caps, who had drafted him 58th overall in 1991, he was slotted behind Dale Hunter, Dave Poulin, Michal Pivonka and Joé Juneau but climbed the ranks steadily, earning his teammates' respect enough to serve as captain (2001-03) until he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche. He could be depended upon for 40-some points each season in the era between the first two Gary Bettman-led lockouts (from 1995-96 until 2003-04).

He earned enough league-wide respect to not only be selected as a depth player for Team USA's 1996 World Cup run, but even to suit up in a game and help it earn the win. He also played in the 2000 (5th-place finish) and 2002 (7th place) World Championships.

Following his playing career, he spent time with the Avs in player development roles and two seasons as an assistant coach before becoming the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds head coach in 2011-12; the team lost in the Finals last season and boasts an even better record (46-20-0, for a .681 win percentage) this year.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Clarke MacArthur Autographed Card

Back in January, the Ottawa Senators announced they were shutting Clarke MacArthur down for the season due to post-concussion syndrome, and many thought it spelled the end for his career.

Until last night, when he suited up in a 2-0 win against the Detroit Red Wings:

It was only his fifth game since the start of the 2015-16 season.

This was 18 months in the making, and a grand moment for him and his family. We'll see where that leads, as concussions have a sneaky way of being symptom-free for a day or two then hitting back with a vengeance - and notwithstanding the fact that the playoffs are right around the corner and usually involve heavier hitting than the regular season - but, for now, this is a pure and positive a story as can be.

I wish him luck and health going forward.

Here he is wearing the Sens' white (now-away) uniform, on card #406 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 set, which he signed in (fading) blue sharpie:
It depicts him fighting for the puck in front of then-Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen, now with MacArthur's former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs... the Sens' likely first round opponents.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Paul Kariya Dual Jersey Card

It turns out the St. Louis Blues will be making the playoffs after all, despite having traded defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and fired head coach Ken Hitchcock. Good for them, though they will likely face the Minnesota Wild - no small task, considering they led the league standings nearly all year.

The Blues are one of two teams - with the Colorado Avalanche - with whom Paul Kariya has not had a point-per-game season. He was, of course, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim's long-time captain, but many folks forget he also holds the Nashville Predators' team single-season marks for assists (54) and points (85), both set in 2005-06.

Kariya retired after taking the 2010-11 season off altogether while recovering from the many concussions he incurred during his career, which he ended with exactly 989 points (402 goals and 587 assists) in 989 regular-season games; it would have been nice to see him reach the 1000-point mark, but alas, like Wayne Gretzky before him, he fell victim to Gary Suter's medecine: a cross-check to the head that forced him to miss the 1998 Olympics. Gretzky had been cross-checked in the back during the 1991 Canada Cup.

Upon retiring, Kariya had some strong words towards the NHL's safety measures and correctional department. Things haven't changed all that much since - except for the fact that Kariya no longer attends games or cares about hockey.

Here he is wearing the Blues' post-lockout blue (home) uniform, on card #FF-PK from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Ice collection and Frozen Fabrics sub-set:
It features grey and white game-worn jersey swatches taken from the Preds' post-lockout uniforms.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Oliver Ekman-Larsson Autographed Card

Oliver Ekman-Larsson will miss the Arizona Coyotes' final (and very meaningless) games as he will travel back to Sweden to attend his mother's funeral then take time to grieve.

He'll turn 26 this summer, and the Coyotes are about to waste his prime years by remaining bottom-dwellers for at least two or three more seasons. And with the NHL now saying they won't be sending their players at next year's Olympics, the league may also be robbing him of a chance at another medal, after helping Team Sweden to silver at the 2014 Sochi Games.

He's yet to capture gold at any level, having also won silver at the 2011 World Championship, as well as bronze at the 2010 World Juniors and 2010 Worlds and 2016 World Cup.

He's literally All-World and holds the NHL record for most game-winning goals by a defenseman in a single season, with 8 - again, on the Coyotes, who barely win more than 8 games per season as a team. He's also the franchise's all-time leader in powerplay goals by a defenseman, having tied the Winnipeg Jets' 1980s reliable Fredrik Olausson last month, with two years remaining on his current contract and possibly a decade left playing the sport.

This year, there's pretty much no way the Norris Trophy doesn't go to Brent Burns. Erik Karlsson is probably still the best defenseman in the world, skill-wise, while Duncan Keith is probably the "best package".

The rest of the "current elite" class has to include Victor Hedman, P.K. Subban, Aaron Ekblad, Roman Josi, Mark Giordano, Kris Letang, Ryan McDonagh, Marc-Édouard Vlasic, John Carlson, Alex Pietrangelo and Ekman-Larsson, while the "still pretty great but on their way down" crowd includes the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Ryan Suter, and Andrei Markov. The likes of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are on the rise.

That is a mighty clogged list of defensemen deserving of end-of-the-year accolades, a rich crop reminiscent of the 1980s (Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch, Éric Desjardins, Larry Robinson, Al MacInnis, Denis Potvin, Mark Howe, Paul Coffey, Phil Housley, Gary Suter, Scott Stevens, Steve Duchesne, Doug Wilson, and so forth), so he may never get his hands on a Norris.

Our thoughts are with Ekman-Larsson in these hard times.

Here he is sporting the Phoenix Coyotes' former alternate uniform, on card #639 from Panini's 2010-11 Score Rookies And Traded set and Hot Rookies sub-set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
At this point, I'm tired of how pathetic the Coyotes franchise has become. I feel sorry for every talented player they have for how inept their management and ownership has been, is, and likely will remain. They are a joke, which isn't funny for players like Shane Doan, Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and a slew of other kids whose dreams are about to get shattered by the incompetence of those tasked with developing them.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Andrei Kovalenko Autographed Card

After entering him in my Oilers Numbers Project back in August, I thought I should feature Andrei Kovalenko once more to enshrine him as #51 in my Nordiques Numbers Project once and for all as well.

The 68 points (27 goals and 41 assists) he posted in his rookie season (1992-93) were not only a career-high for him, but also tops for a wearer of #51 in Québec Nordiques history, which makes him the perfect entry for said number, with card #122 from Leaf's 1993-94 Series 1 set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
What a beautiful uniform; this version, with the jersey numbers contoured in white, is particularly remarkable. That's the team's blue (away) uniform. He's seen here fighting for territorial advantage with the New York Rangers' Sergei Zubov, probably right after a face-off.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Kris King Autograph card

Kris King is the type of grinder that not everyone remembers the same way. His career-high in goals (11), assists (14) and points (25) all came in the high-scoring 199-91 season as a member of the New York Rangers, good for 11th on the team - which didn't even include Tony Amonte and Doug Weight, who only played in the postseason.

Most remember him for being a tough guy, twice surpassing the 200-PIM mark (286 in 1989-90 with the Rangers, 2005 in 1993-94 whilst with the Winnipeg Jets, and another 199 in 1997-98 with the Toronto Maple Leafs).

Those with pretty good memories will remember he also captained the Jets during the 1995-96 season, after superstar and previous captain Keith Tkachuk signed an offer sheet with the Chicago Blackawks; the Jets didn't want their locker room leader to be a defector, so they punished him by making likeable King the face of the franchise; other options included superstar Teemu Selanne, long-time defenseman Teppo Numminen, veteran Ed Olkzyk, tough defenseman Dave Manson, and rookie Shane Doan.

Here's a card depicting him as such:
That's card #A-KK from In The Game's 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s set (and Autograph sub-set), which he signed on-card in black sharpie.

It was after his lone season as captain - the team gave the title back to Tkachuk upon moving to Phoenix - that King was awarded the King Clancy Trophy, which combines leadership and humanitarian qualities.

Nowadays, he works for the NHL's Toronto office, as Senior Director of Hockey Operations.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Jeremy Roenick Jersey Card

Was Jeremy Roenick a very good hockey player? Absolutely, with 1216 points (513 goals and 703 assists) in 1363 regular-season games and 122 points (53 goals and 69 assists) in 154 playoff games. He also played for Team USA at the 1998 and 2002 Olympics, earning a silver medal in 2002. For all of those achievements, including ranking fourth all-time among American-born skaters for goals scored, he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.

That being said, did his ego usually get in the way of his making better, wiser decisions? All the time.

I've written before how Chris Chelios put him in his place early in his career when Roenick was under the impression that he'd reach the Stanley Cup Final regularly throughout his career, and we were privy to another such occasion of late, when he spent a night in jail after being arrested for driving with a suspended license in New York State.

It's not that he was wrong; indeed, there was just about no way of him knowing the state had been sending notices of an outstanding ticket to the wrong address, one that was 20 years removed from him living there. But he could have been more understanding towards the system, acknowledging there was no way the State could know he no longer lived in Westchester County but instead now resides in Arizona. At least in public, not using Twitter to express his anger.

And he certainly could have avoided adding: "I'm out $750. Not only my time. Plus I got arrested. Plus I sat in a jail cell with coke-heads. Plus I sat in the courtroom with real criminals. I've never been arrested before in my life!" So much for the courtroom motto (and justice system as a whole) being "innocent until proven guilty"... and such a great judge of character to demean addicts as lesser people than he - if they were coke-heads at all.

All this just two months removed from the Chicago Blackhawks honoring him as the third former player (after 1980s superstars Denis Savard and Steve Larmer) to get to dress for "One More Shift" prior to a game against the Vancouver Canucks.

Here he is sporting the Philadelphia Flyers' white (then-home) uniform they wore from 1982 until 2007:
It's card #115 from Upper Deck's 2003-04 SP Game-Used Edition collection and SP Cup Contenders sub-set, featuring a nice, big orange game-worn jersey swatch.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Andrei Markov Double Jersey Card

Andrei Markov made a bit of Montréal Canadiens history tonight as he tied Guy Lapointe for second for points by a defenseman in franchise history. That's nearly 110 years of history, folks.

He is without a doubt the most underrated NHL player of his generation, having never finished higher than sixth in Norris Trophy voting despite being one of the five best passers in the game (with Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Mike Ribeiro and Sidney Crosby) for most of that stretch.

By playing alongside him, Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit, Mike Komisarek and P.K. Subban all had career years that led to signing huge contracts, each with Norris consideration (Subban actually won); Streit did a decent, honest job captaining the New York Islanders upon leaving the Habs, and Subban is a superstar and likely will remain one for the next decade, but Souray and Komisarek could never live up to the expectations their contracts promised - mainly because they priced themselves out of playing with Markov, but also because there wasn't anyone like him where they went.

The General went through a dark period in December 2015 when he split with long-time partner Natalia Streckova, and his play was affected for a month or two, leading many talk radio callers to voice their opinion that he should be traded; they're no longer saying that this year, as he's back to his usual dominating, smart self on the ice, even helping Shea Weber look better than he has in years.

Unfortunately, Streckova died of cancer earlier this year, forcing Markov to travel to Russia to repatriate his twin five-year-old sons during the team's bye week last month.

It remains to be seen how many top-level seasons the 38-year-old has left in him - realistically, he should start slowing down next year and perhaps retire at 40, as a #3-5 defender, following the 2018-19 season. On any other team, he'd see his jersey number raised to the rafters the following October, but the Habs have nearly-impossible standards to meet before one gets that privilege: individual hardware, a Stanley Cup AND a Hall Of Fame nod seem to be the minimum-required elements for that honour. Markov, Team Russia's captain, winner of World Championship gold (2008) and bronze (2005 and 2007) medals and World Juniors silver (1998) and bronze (1997) is not the type to cry his way onto a Norris like Drew Doughty did last year.

He's the consummate team player, always putting the team's success above his own; in that regard, what's missing on his mantle isn't a Norris but a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold. His odds are about the same for each - I'll put them at 10:1 - but you want a guy who's worked so hard at his craft and even harder for it not to show to get his dues. I hope he does.

Here he is wearing the Habs' classic white (now-away) uniform on card #MTL-AM from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Black Diamond set and Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set, sporting his usual alternate captain's "A":
It contains two red game-worn jersey swatches.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Tim Brown Autographed Card

It's a done deal: the Oakland Raiders will move once more, this time to Las Vegas. With the NHL having approved of an expansion franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, who will begin play next season, Las Vegas is definitely aiming to make its mark in the sports field. It remains a tourist town, with only 600,000 permanent residents in its core, but there are no other cities like it. It's an experiment, albeit one that has a better chance of working out than, say, hockey in Arizona or Atlanta.

It's the franchise's second move out of Oakland, as it spent 1982-1994 being known as the Los Angeles Raiders, before moving back into its original NFL home, Oakland-Alameida County Coliseum (1966-1981, 1995-2018). Prior to that, as a member of the AFL, the team played at the San Francisco 49ers' Kezar Stadium (1960), the San Francisco Giants' Candlestick Park (1961) and Frank Youell Field, a stadium named after a mortician that was later bulldozed to make additional parking space for Laney College.

Pretty unstable and bush-league for a franchise that holds an AFL championship and three Super Bowl championships, eh?

I don't know what the future holds for the team in Vegas; perhaps they'll move back to Oakland in 15 years. What I do know is the stadium they're building for them will be packed and will host at least one Super Bowl. It's revitalized the team's image and reshaped Vegas once more as a family-friendly spot.

Growing up in the 1980s, I was a fan of the Raiders and 49ers. Still am, always have been. My admiration for the Niners wavered when they sent Joe Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs, and I never took to Steve Young - but I stuck to the Raiders no matter what they did, even when they anointed Carson Palmer as their QB; I didn't believe they'd win with him, and I disapproved of the decision, but I kept wearing my cap, my windbreaker or my tuque, depending on the season.

The 1990s in L.A. were about Wayne Gretzky on the ice, Mike Scioscia behind the plate and Tim Brown on the field. Luckily, I got to meet Brown at a signing when I was in high school, probably circa 1993, and again upon his retirement in 2005; it was then that he signed this card for me in blue sharpie:
That's card #150 from Pro Set's 1990 Series 1 collection; the first series contained cards #1-377, the second one encompassed #378-769, and the Final Update portion went up to #800O and #800D, for the offensive (Emmitt Smith) and defensive (Mark Carrier) Pro Set Rookies Of The Year, which was originally supposed to be a single title. There were also five ridiculous inserts found in packs of the Series 2 set, of which I had two, Santa Claus and commissioner Paul Tagliabue; I was missing those of Miami Dolphins founder Joe Robbie, failed comic-book superhero SuperPro, and golfer Payne Stewart.

I seem to have lost the card I had Brown sign in '93, which pains me a bit. The 2015 Hall Of Famer was special from the start. He was the first wide receiver to ever receive the Heisman Trophy, back when he was with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He then set the NFL rookie yards records and proceeded to appear in nine Pro Bowls and make the NFL's All-Decade 1990s team - in a decade that included such receivers as Jerry Rice and Michael Irving. He spent his first sixteen seasons with the Raiders but played his final season, 2004, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a falling out with management and ownership.

He had been eligible for the Hall in 2013, but was not admitted right away; that's too bad, because that's the year I went:
I'm in the middle, flanked by my current stepdad and brother. It was freezing; it felt like I hadn't left Montréal. I have a knack for that, as it was also the case when I went on a Vegas/Arizona trip in November 2015 and caught bronchitis (and a snowstorm). There are ways in which I would prefer avoiding feeling like home...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Zachary Boychuk Autographed Card

In the midst of turbulent times at Hockey USA, I thought I could feature another IIHF team - Team Canada - and revisit a player I last wrote about in 2012, Zach Boychuk.

Boychuk has since become the Charlotte Checkers' all-time leading scorer, which doesn't mean the Carolina Hurricanes have given him a fair shot at playing with NHLers of his skill level to demonstrate what he can contribute. As a matter of fact, after eight seasons in the Canes organization (albeit with a brief, two-month interruption in 2012-13 for 7 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins and 5 games with the Nashville Predators), he attended training camp with the Arizona Coyotes last September on a tryout basis, only to not be offered a contract after a decent camp.

And so he set his sails for the KHL, signing a one-year deal with Novosibirsk Hockey Club Sibir Oblast, a.k.a. "The Siberians". In a low-scoring league, he has 15 points (7 goals and 8 assists) in 35 games so far, seventh on the team but first among full-time centers. It should be noted that he has played at last 14 fewer games than anyone else above him, which makes his point-per-game average among the top-5 on the team.

Internationally, he has gold medals from the 2008 and 2009 World Juniors as well as the 2006 Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament. This card shows him wearing the red Canadian uniform at the 2007 U-18 Worlds, where he posted 7 points (4 goals and 3 assists) in a fourth-place finish, trailing only Steven Stamkos (10 points) and Jamie Arniel (8 points) on his team:
That's card #20 from In The Game's 2007-08 O Canada set, which he signed in blue sharpie in 2010 or 2011.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Éric Fichaud Autograph Card

Sometimes, a player's career is one of opportunities and a string of luck - both good and bad.

Case in point: Éric Fichaud. A classic butterfly goalie in Québec's Patrick Roy era (1986-2001), LHJMQ scouts were high on him because of his perfect technique; he had moderate success in Midget AAA, but it was believed that increasing his reflex speed by upping his competition would mold him into an ideal starter - which he became, leading the Chicoutimi Saguenéens to a league championship and a Memorial Cup berth, which it lost to the Kamloops Blazers, but enabled Fichaud to nab top goalie honors.

The Toronto Maple Leafs jumped on the opportunity to draft him, despite having Félix Potvin in the fold, possibly thinking that having two Sags alumni in the crease would make for better teamwork. However, they couldn't pass up the opportunity to trade his rights to the New York Islanders the following season, for Benoît Hogue and a fifth-round pick; the trade shook Fichaud, however, and his play suffered, enabling Chicoutimi teammate Marc Denis to make his own mark and earn his time in the spotlight.

He had respectable numbers of an awful Islanders team, one so bad that Tommy Soderstrom just left the team in 1996-97, enabling Fichaud to back up Tommy Salo full-time and appear in 34 games himself.

Everything changed in 1997-98, when Fichaud suffered a shoulder injury that would first sideline him for six games, then hurt enough to warrant an operation, forcing him out for the remainder of the season. He would never again have a save percentage above .900 in the NHL and it, essentially, relegated him to "good AHL goalie" status, though his nine-game stint in Germany in 2001-02 with the Krefeld Penguins was particularly spectacular (1.64 GAA and .944 save percentage).

For the two years prior and the two after that season - which he split with the AHL's Manitoba Moose, who at the time were the Vancouver Canucks' top affiliate - he was on the Montréal Canadiens' depth chart, first with the Québec Citadelles, then the Hamilton Bulldogs.

From the 2004-05 season until 2007-08, he played in the semi-professional LNAH, first with the Québec RadioX team, then a single season with the St. Georges CRS Express.

Today, I look back at the 1998-99 season, which he split between the Nashville Predators (9 games, 3.22 GAA and .895 save percentage) and their AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals (8 games, 3.13 GAA and .90 save percentage) with the signed (silver) version of card #227 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set, signed in thin black sharpie:
I wasn't a fan of Koho equipment growing up, which I found to be too stiff and bulky. You may recall from earlier posts that despite my idol Patrick Roy making the switch to Koho from 1992-93 onward, I was mostly a Brian's guy myself.

Nowadays, Fichaud is a hockey analyst on TV. After a stint at Radio-Canada, he can now be seen and heard on TVA Sports.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dwight Foster Autographed Card

The Detroit Red Wings will most probably miss the playoffs this year, after 25 consecutive postseason appearances. It's been so long since then that we tend to forget just how awful they were in the 1980s, despite being saddled in the weak Norris Division with the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs and dismal St. Louis Blues teams, the cheap Chicago Blackhawks and the up-and-down Minnesota North Stars. Failing to make the playoffs back then in the weakest division in the league was like losing a one-number lottery; 16 out of 21 NHL teams made the playoffs back then. Only five were eliminated after 80 games.

Imagine what it meant when, in 1983-84, Dwight Foster's defensive play and four players hitting the point-per-game mark (Steve Yzerman with 87 in 80, Ivan Boldirev at 83 in 75, Ron Duguay with 80 in 80 and John Ogrodnick at 78 in 64) helped the Wings make the playoffs for the first time in six years, earning third-place in the division... with a 31-42-7 record. Yes, eleven games under .500.
from HockeyDB.com
Foster was a Boston Bruins fist-round pick (16th overall in 1977) who had led the OHL in scoring with 143 points in 64 games but whose scouting report claimed he was a "a strong defensive forward with marginal offensive ability"... for the record, the first round was pretty hit-and-miss, with the most impactful players being selected 6th and 15th:
In later rounds went enforcer Dave Semenko (25th), prolific point-producer John Tonelli (33rd), Hall of Fame defenseman Rod Langway (36th), long-time goalie Glen Hanlon (40th), not-that Alain Côté (43rd), 1000-game defenseman Gordie Roberts (54th), masked marvel Murray Bannerman (58th), Mario Marois (62nd), Mark Johnson (66th), Greg Millen (102nd), Bob Gould (118th), former Québec Nordiques and Montréal Canadiens wearer of #33 Richard Sévigny (124th), All-Star goalie Pete Peeters (135th), and Craig Laughlin (162nd).

All told, Foster put up 274 points (111 goals and 163 assists) in 541 NHL games split between two stints with the Bruins, a few years with the Wings and some time with the Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils franchise. Only the Bs had decent teams during his career.

Here he is sporting Detroit's classic red (the-away) uniform, on card #14 from Topps' 1985-86 Topps set:
He signed it in black sharpie at a Red Wings alumni event in Windsor, Ontario, roughly five or six years ago. He charged less for his signature than others did ($10 instead of $50-75), but I did have to purchase the card for a dollar because I didn't have one handy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Jason Sweitzer Autograph Card

Today I decided to feature a former OHL player from the Oshawa Generals, Jason Sweitzer, who retired after going undrafted. His statistics weren't bad at all, but he produced a lot less than his team's star player, Marc Savard:
Courtesy of EliteProspects.com
You'll notice the Generals made it to the Memorial Cup Final, which they lost to a Hull Olympiques team that was coached by Claude Julien and included the likes of Martin Biron (as Christian Bronsard's backup!), Francis Bélanger, Jonathan Delisle, Matthieu Descoteaux, Christian Dubé, Mario Larocque, Donald MacLean, Pavel Rosa, Colin White, and Peter Worrell.

And, well, that's it. He didn't get drafted, he didn't pursue a career in Europe nor was he a career minor-leaguer. He just became an adult.

Here he is sporting the Generals' alternate (blue) uniform, on a signed insert card from The Score Board's 1997-98 The Score Board collection, which I got in a re-pack box:
He signed it on-card in thin blue sharpie.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ron Tugnutt Autographed Card

Today marks the 26th anniversary of one of the most impressive sports feats of my lifetime: Ron Tugnutt's breathtaking 70-save performance against the Boston Bruins in a 3-3 tie, including 12 in the five-minute overtime period alone. The Bruins edged the Québec Nordiques 73-26 in shots, a record 19 of them coming from their star defenseman and captain Ray Bourque.

That game should have finished 10-3, but Tugnutt salvaged a point all by himself - literally.

Nowadays, he's the owner, governor and head coach of the Kemptville 73's of the CCHL, a Junior "A" league. Notable alumni include Calvin de Haan and Ben Hutton.

Here's Tugnutt wearing the Nordiques' beautiful blue (away) uniform, with a terrific red Fleur-de-lys mask to go along with it:
It's card #277 from Upper Deck's 1991-92 Series 1 set, which encompassed cards #1-500, while Series 2 (featuring more rookies and players who'd been traded mid-season) had #501-700.

If you think his pads look beat-up then, there are far worse pictures out there; he was a workhorse, finishing fourth in minutes played in 1990-91 with 3,144 in 56 games. That year, he stopped 1639 shots, finishing tenth in Vezina voting despite a 12-29-10 record.

In his entire professional career, spanning 1987-2004 including both the NHL and AHL, he made 16,466 saves. He has let in 1954 goals in 679 total games; he fared much better playing for Team Canada at the World Championships (1993 and 1999), finishing with a combined 2.25 GAA and .913 save percentage in 11 games, stopping 119 out of 130 shots, for a 4-3 record.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monetizing The Site

You may have noticed at times, recently, that team names - which, for a while were simply in italics throughout - now include links to Amazon products pertaining to said team.

That's my attempt to try to monetize the site, seeing as I no longer have a full-time day job and want to keep being able to write nearly daily - and delve deeper into the stories I write, be they historic, statistical, analytical or just fun - always pertaining to or coming back towards collectibles.

I had previously attempted to do the same in 2009-10 and am trying it again, partly because there had been no complaints at the time.

I will limit this to teams and team merchandise. I will not go "full native ad", and the links to players will still lead to former articles/posts written on this very blog, and news stories will still always link to the actual source material.

Hopefully it doesn't piss you off too much. At best, it might lead folks to products they're interested in; at worst, they're just another link not to click on.

Thanks.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Niklas Backstrom Swatch Card

The Minnesota Wild are currently mired in what seems like their worst slump of the season, at the worst time possible. For a while, as the team was on top of the Western Conference standings, all the talk was about how Bruce Boudreau is an amazing regular-season coach, how acquiring Eric Staal gave the team the best depth in the league - and perhaps the best center line in the NHL as well. And Devan Dubnyk was the leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy.

All that got me thinking about the history of goaltending in Minnesota. With his second Vezina-caliber season in three years, Dubnyk is showing signs of eventually becoming the best goalie in franchise history, a spot that is currently reserved for Niklas Backstrom.

Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson also deserve some credit, and José Theodore's season in Minny wasn't too shabby (15-11-3, 2.71 GAA and .916 save percentage in 32 games), but all things being equal, Dubnyk and Backstrom rule the Wild era of hockey in the State of Hockey. They come out ahead of the likes of Sebastian Bach's brother Zac Bierk, a soon-to-be-retired Ilya Bryzgalov, John Curry, Wade Dubielewicz, Derek Gustafson, Matt Hackett, Josh Harding (he who had multiple sclerosis), Anton Khudobin, Dieter Kochan, ego-driven Darcy Kuemper, and Jamie McLennan.

Lest we forget, however, that the Minnesota North Stars have had some decent netminders as well, including Miracle On Ice goalies Jim Craig and one-gamer Steve Janaszak, All-Stars Gump Worsley and Don Beaupre, Stanley Cup finalists Gilles Meloche and Jon Casey, Canadian Olympian Ken Broderick, Gary Edwards, Gilles Gilbert, WHA superstar Jean-Louis Levasseur, franchise record-holder Cesare Maniago, Roland Melanson, and a list of lesser-known athletes such as Gary Bauman, Daniel Berthiaume, Brian Hayward, losses specialist and record-holder Pete LoPresti, Markus Mattson, Lindsay Middlebrook, Jarmo Myllys, minor-league minute-muncher Fern Rivard, Mike Sands, Gary Smith, Finnish Olympian Kari Takko, Darcy Wakaluk, and Carl Wetzel.

And before all that was Hockey Hall Of Famer Frank Brimsek.

In addition to Brimsek, the following goalies from Minnesota are in the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame: Sam Lopresti, Jack McCartan, Larry Ross, Willard Ikola and Mike "Lefty" Curran.

So, in the grand scheme of things, my all-time ranking of Minnesota goalies would look like such:

1. Brimsek
2. Backstrom
3. Dubnyk (would move into #2 with a Vezina win or upon setting Wild career records)
4. Maniago
5. Beaupre

Which brings me to this beautiful card of Backstrom's, from Panini's 2011-12 Pinnacle set and Threads sub-set:
It's #71 in the series, showing him wearing the Wild's white uniform, beautifully capturing the uniform's red and green highlights; it contains a matching game-worn jersey swatch.