Thursday, June 15, 2017

Phil Housley: Two Autographed Cards

Phil Housley is going home, in a way.

Indeed, the former Buffalo Sabres star defenseman was named the team's new head coach, just hours after the Nashville Predators fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the Stanley Cup Final, going back to the franchise that initially drafted him 6th overall in 1982, behind Gord Kluzak (1st, Boston Bruins), Brian Bellows (2nd, Minnesota North Stars), Gary Nylund (3rd, Toronto Maple Leafs), Ron Sutter (4th, Philadelphia Flyers), and Scott Stevens (5th, Washington Capitals), and ahead of the likes of Rich Sutter (10th, Pittsburgh Penguins), David Shaw (13th, Québec Nordiques), Chris Kontos (15th, New York Rangers), Dave Andreychuk (16th, Sabres), Murray Craven (17th, Detroit Red Wings), Ken Daneyko (18th, New Jersey Devils), Patrick Flatley (21st, New York Islanders), Gary Leeman (24th, Leafs), Paul Gillis (34th, Nordiques), Tomas Sandstrom (36th, Rangers), Pat Verbeek (43rd, Devils), Ken Wregget (45th, Leafs), Troy Loney (52nd, Pens), Mario Gosselin (55th, Nordiques), Kevin Dineen (56th, Hartford Whalers), Corey Millen (57th, Rangers), Dave Reid (60th, Bruins), Ulf Samuelsson (67th, Whalers), Mark Lamb (72nd, Calgary Flames), Vladimir Ruzicka (73rd, Leafs), Dave Ellett (75th, Winnipeg Jets), Bob Rouse (80th, North Stars), Alan Kerr (84th, Isles), Brad Shaw (86th, Wings), Ray Ferraro (88th, Whalers), Dean Evason (89th, Caps), Claude Vilgrain (107th, Wings), Randy Gilhen (109th, Whalers), Ron Hextall (199th, Flyers), Tony Granato (120th, Rangers), Bob Sweeney (123rd, Bruins), Doug Gilmour (134th, St. Louis Blues), Dave Brown (140th, Flyers), Mike Hough (181st, Nordiques), and Kelly Miller (183rd, Rangers).

Out of that draft year, you could say the biggest home run was Gilmour, and a few teams drafted particularly well (Flyers, Rangers, Wings, Nordiques and Whalers). If we could go back in time, my top-10 would likely be:
10.  Tony Granato
9.  Dave Andreychuk
8. Ron Hextall
7. Ulf Samuelsson
6. Murray Craven
5. Kevin Dineen
4. Brian Bellows
3. Doug Gilmour
2. Scott Stevens
1. Phil Housley
Going back to Housley himself, the American defender has a stellar career, posting career totals of 338 goals, 894 assists and 1232 points in 1495 regular-season games, and an additional 13 goals, 43 assists and 56 points in 85 playoff games, the first half against strong Adams Division rivals (the Bruins and Montréal Canadiens each reached the Final twice in the 1980s) and the middle part against the Edmonton Oilers dynasty...

Late in his career, he became a regular on the waiver wire, but during his prime, he was fairly traded for the likes of Hall of Famers Dale Hawerchuk and Al MacInnis, just to give you an idea.

Upon retiring, he turned to coaching - obviously - starting out with nine seasons coaching the Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota, then won a gold medal coaching Team USA at the 2013 World Juniors before spending the last four seasons as an assistant-coach in Nashville, a role he has also held with the American National Team four different times, at the 2011, 2013 (bronze medal) and 2014 World Championships, as well as the 2016 World Cup.

As a player, he has a silver medal from the 2002 Olympics, and was a member of the 1996 World Cup team that beat Canada in the Final in Montréal. He played in seven All-Star Games.

Despite also suiting up for the Sabres, Flames, Devils, Caps, Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, I usually picture him as the blue-line leader for the Jets, sporting the alternate captain's "A", as seen in these two cards he signed in blue sharpie during his Hall of Fame induction weekend in 2015; let's start with the home (white) uniform, on card #440 from Score's 1992-93 Score set and Franchise sub-set, a card that defines him in my opinion, with the Jofa helmet and a Sabres player in the background:
And here he is wearing the blue (away) uniform, on card #276 from Upper Deck's 1992-93 Series 1 set:
Yes, this "A" seems cheaper, like it was made out of tape or a roughly-cut piece of plastic that was ironed on the jersey, typical of the "old" rinky-dink NHL. I love it!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ed Westfall Autographed Card

Ed Westfall may have essentially been forgotten by hockey fans outside of Boston and Long Island, but he was essential to the 1970s NHL.

He kicked the decade off with Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins in 1970 and 1972, making one very under-appreciated "hockey play" right outside the frame of one of the best-known goals of all time, Bobby Orr's "Flying Special" in the 1970 Cup Final: he rotated and took Orr's position on right defense; had Orr lost control of the puck or otherwise missed on actually scoring, the St. Louis Blues would not have been able to get more than a 3-on-2 on the Bs, because Westfall's defensive play - a given in 2017, but not so in 1970 - would have saved the day, positionally anyway.

He also scored the second goal in what stands as the fastest set of three goals in NHL history, a 20-second span that put the Vancouver Canucks in the record books for the wrong reasons.

Westfall was a defensive specialist. He never won a Selke trophy for the simple fact that it hadn't been invented yet, but his defensive play was so widely recognized that he made his way onto the 1971, 1973, 1974 and 1975 All-Star Games despite his most prolific offensive season netting him 25 goals, 34 assists and 59 points (all three being career-highs) in 1970-71.

He was also one of two very good players chosen by the New York Islanders in the 1972 expansion draft, along with a goalie by the name of Billy Smith. Westfall was named the team's very first captain, and he also scored its very first goal.

He helped coach Al Arbour shape the team's identity and work ethic, and although he relinquished the captaincy to Clark Gillies in 1977 and retired just one season before the Isles' first of four straight Cups, his fingerprints were all over it. As a matter of fact, so was his voice, as he was the team's TV analyst from his retirement until 1998.

The team has since then held many events where he and other former players took center stage, including when they first wore "retro" jerseys in 2007, an Ed Westfall Night when he was inducted to the team's Hall of Fame in 2011, and a few other occasions.

It was during one of my pilgrimages to Nassau (I have yet to visit Barclays Center, and I don't plan on doing so either) with the Nordiques Nation that I got him so sign this card of his in black sharpie:
That's card #32 from O-Pee-Chee's 1974-75 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him wearing the Isles' white (then-home) uniform, with the "C" clearly visible. I also had him sign one where he was wearing the blue (away) uniform, but I have since traded it away. I regret it now, and plan on re-acquiring one, as well as (at least) one from his days with the Bruins.

I wasn't born in 1974, but I did buy a bunch of old cards as a kid in the late 1980s, at a flea market where my grandmother sold shoes; most cards were from 1977-1979, but there were a couple of older ones as well. Watching Patrick Roy win the Cup and Conn Smythe in 1986 got me interested in the sport (and wanting to be a goalie), but these couple of hundred cards from the flea market were probably what got me interested in the history of the game. Well, that and having a sportswriter/journalist grandfather who was friends with the 1960s and 1970s Montréal Canadiens, and having those legends show up at many family events and my own games sometimes. Yeah, I guess that helps, too.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My Expos Numbers Project: An Introduction

Why limit a good and fun concept to just hockey when I have enough signed baseball cards to seriously consider adding a Montréal Expos Numbers Project to all my hockey ones (my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project my Sens Numbers Project, my Canucks Numbers Project, and my Nordiques Numbers Project).

It'll be harder to finalize because baseball has more players in uniform (factoring in spring training and the 40-man roster after the trade deadline), but I start with the advantage that the team no longer exists, and no new number will be worn.

The first Canadian (and first non-U.S.) team to join Major League Baseball (in 1969), the team had its two best seasons when strikes disrupted play: the 1981 division win, and the magical 1994 season where they were leading the majors with a month left of play when the playoffs were cancelled as players walked out, which rang the beginning of the end for the team, who started its first official fire sale.

There'd been prior instances of the team trading highly-paid veterans for youth when they were being priced out of the team's budget (Gary Carter), but post-1994, it actually became official team policy to always trade players when they hit their prime and were about to earn serious dough. From the first wave (Delino DeShields, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker, John Wetteland) to the second (Pedro Martinez, Jose Vidro, Vladimir Guerrero) to seasons where it was a single player to when the Evil Twins came from New York with empty promises and ran the team to the ground so they could profit from its sale and trade up, to the Florida Marlins.
So, here I am attempting to collect autographed/memorabilia stuff from players representing every number worn by a member of the Expos. So far, I have featured 33; here they are:

Managers: Bill Virdon and Buck Rodgers.

3: Jose Vidro and Junior Noboa: check!
4: Mark Grudzielanek: check!
6: Ryan McGuire: check!
11: John Tamargo: check!
12: Wilfredo Cordero: check!
13: Jeff Fassero: check!
15: Curtis Pride (also wore #16) and Jeff Huson: check!
16: Tom Foley: check!
19: Fernando Seguignol: check!
20: Mike Fitzgerald: check!
21: Larry Jaster: check!
23: Mitch Webster: check!
24: Darrin Fletcher: check!
25: David Segui: check!
27: Andy McGaffigan: check!
29: Tim Wallach (and again here): check!
30: my favourite ball player of all time, Tim Raines (and Cliff Floyd): check!
32: Dennis Martinez: check!
33: Carlos Perez and Peter Bergeron: check!
34: Gil Heredia (also wore #52): check!
35: Otis Nixon: check!
37: Buck Rodgers: check!
41: Brian Barnes (also wore #47): check!
44: Tim Burke and Ken Hill: check!
45: Michael Barrett also wore #5) and the great Steve Rogers: check!
46: Kevin Gross: check!
47:  Brian Barnes (also wore #41): check!
50: Jay Tibbs: check!
51: Randy St. Claire, Mike Thurman, and Scott Stewart: check!
54: Tim Scott: check!
55: Bill Sampen: check!
57: John Wetteland: check!
62: Henry Mateo: check!

64: Keith Evans: check!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Simon Després Jersey Card

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the referees for the second straight Stanley Cup, and to Sidney Crosby and a ridiculously biased short list of 17 newscasters who chose him as the Conn Smythe winner when he was at best the fourth-best choice for the second-straight year, this time behind playoff points leader Evgeni Malkin, rookie points record holder and leading goal scorer Jake Guentzel, as well as Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. Pens goalies Marc-André Fleury and Matt Murray were arguably the best players on the ice in each game, but having split the playoffs, neither of them were legitimate choices.

But I want to take a moment to acknowledge a player whose luck turned when the Pens sent him to the Anaheim Ducks and missed out on both runs, Simon Després.

Després was a first-round pick, 30th overall, in 2009. His development had been slow and steady, and he appeared in two postseason run with the Pens and two lengthy ones with their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He scored his first playoff goal with the Ducks - a game-winner against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014-15, then was limited to 32 regular-season games and 5 more in the playoffs the following year, but 2016-17 really takes the cake, as he suited up in just one game after signing a five-year extension, then was put on long-term injury leave.

And I was told there were chances he'd even be bought out prior to the expansion draft this summer. (edit, June 16th: it is confirmed). Essentially, chances are he'll be making a million dollars per year for the next eight years regardless if he plays hockey or not.

Just a reminder that one's luck can change quickly in Life, often with little having to do with the person on the receiving end of the hardships.

Here he is sportin the Pens' post-lockout white (away) uniform, on card #GJ-SD from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 1 set and UD Game Jerseys sub-set:
It features a black game-worn jersey swatch of the young defenseman, to whom we wish a happy life.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Craig Billington Autograph Card

After featuring Craig Billington with the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche, perhaps it's time I revisited his first NHL trade, one that sent him from the New Jersey Devils to the Ottawa Senators, with card #A-CB from In The Game's 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s set:
Notice the Devil's horns helmet but black jersey, which is the original Sens away uniform.

At first, Billington was highly regarded as a potential #1 goalie, which is why the Devils drafted him in the second round (23rd overall) in 1984, but by the time he finished his career in Juniors (two more seasons in the OHL) and finished developing with the AHL's Utica Devils, making it to the NHL in 1991-92 after spending all of the previous season with the Canadian National Team, the Devils were  had already drafted Martin Brodeur, so they no longer had a need for Billington or Chris Terreri - although it should be noted that the latter eventually turned into Brodeur's backup and retired to become his goaltending coach.

Yet, because every team needs to be represented at All-Star Games and the 1992-93 Devils were so awful, Billington was the representative that was sent to Montréal for the mid-season classic, where he joined the Senators' own rubber magnet, Peter Sidorkiewicz.

That first-year Sens teams were god-awful, finishing with a 10-70-4 record, and its leading scorer was a defenseman, and not a household name either: Norm Maciver, a guy who had been toiling between the AHL and NHL in the Edmonton Oilers organization the previous three years, the Hartford Whalers before that, and the New York Rangers the three seasons before that, so of course their only representative would be their goalie, although considering Sidorkiewicz finished with a 8-46-3 record, 4.43 GAA (which was extremely high even in the high-scoring 90s), and a .856 save percentage.

And so, on Draft Day 1993, just four months removed from both appearing in their lone, semi-controversial All-Star Game, both goalies were traded for one another, with former Rangers prospect Troy Mallette and the fourth-round pick that became Cosmo Dupaul also making their way to the Sens.

With all the shuffling on the Colorado Avalanche staff these past few years, Billington has graduated from player development coach to Director of Player Personnel to VP of Player Personnel to his current position as assistant-GM to Joe Sakic, as well as the general manager of their AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage, although I hear rumblings they may move their players closer to home in Colorado in the near future.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Henry Mateo Autographed Card

Henry Mateo is mostly known as a baseball player. He played for the Montréal Expos/Washington Nationals for parts of six seasons, then tried to get back in the Majors via stints with the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays, to no avail.

While toiling in the minors leagues, he became a wanted man for "criminal conversation in North Carolina", a civil charge that is, essentially, adultery. He has not returned to the United States since, having instead opted to play in Mexico twice, with a stint in China Taiwan in between.

He wasn't much of a threat at bat, with one career home run in 280 plate appearances, and the year he saw the most games was 100 (for a total of 169 plate appearances) in 2003, in which he batted for .240; he batted .273 the following summer, but barely stepped up to the plate 46 times in 40 games, as Jose Vidro was the team's main second baseman... and Jamey Carroll was his principal replacement, although I don't remember him at all.

A noted base stealer in the minors, Mateo only accomplished the feat 15 times in the National League.

Here he is fielding in the pre-season, wearing the Expos' Grapefruit League blue shirt and sporting #62, which slots him nicely in my Expos Numbers Project:
That's card #261 from Topps' 2002 Topps Total set, packs of which I purchased at dollar stores the following winter, which means I likely got the card signed - in blue sharpie - in 2004, the Expos' final season in Montréal, which they split evenly between the Olympic Stadium on the East end of the island and Estadio Hiram Bithorn in Puerto Rico.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Steve Bernier: Two Autographed Cards

When a couple of friends and I last spoke with Steve Bernier in late May, he was telling us that during this past season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, he realized he hadn't felt as good about his scoring ability since his days in Juniors, and we're talking about a guy who's had 31-, 49-, 36- and 35-goal seasons in the LHJMQ, only once appearing in over 68 games (71, in 2002-03, the year he potted 49 with the Moncton Wildcats).

Of course, his comeback season came to an end in late January, after 33 games, in which he had scored 16 goals with 10 assists for 26 points, with 26 penalty minutes and a +13 rating. A labrum tear was the final diagnosis. Still, that didn't stop the New York Islanders from re-signing him to a two-year, two-way contract earlier today.

In the NHL, the former first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks (16th overall in 2003) has reached the 30-point mark three times in two separate decades, the most recent occurrence being with the 2014-15 New Jersey Devils.

He brings a wealth of experience, having been a star growing up (MVP of Canada's Midget AAA tournament, then known as the Air Canada Cup, now the Telus Cup), then in Juniors, and having been a part of the gold medal Team Canada rosters at the 2002 Ivan Hlkina U-18 Tournament and the 2003 U-18 World Juniors, in which he finished second in team scoring with 8 points in 7 games. He also played in the 2011-12 Stanley Cup Final, although some Devils fans might still have outbursts of violence when they're reminded of his 5-minute major during which the Los Angeles Kings scored three goals in the deciding game. Let's be honest, though: the Devils never stood a chance, and were extremely lucky to make it there in the first place.

He signed two cards for me (in blue sharpie) earlier this Spring, both from his days with the Sharks. First, the former home and weirdly-delimited white uniform, on card #67 from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Black Diamond set:
And here he is in black, on card #165 from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Fleer collection:
He tagged both signatures with "16" - the jersey number he currently wears with the Isles, not the one he wore in San Jose (26).

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Luke Glendening Jersey Card

Luke Glendening has been a winner and leader throughout his hockey career, starting with two seasons as the University of Michigan Wolverines' captain, leading them a CCHA title and NCAA Final. He then won the Calder Cup with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins in 2012-13, following a 26-point rookie season in the pros.

After starting the 2013-14 season in the AHL, posting 12 points (5 goals and 7 assists) in 18 games, he was recalled by the Detroit Red Wings, who were facing a ton of injuries, and he hasn't looked back since. Sure, he took a personal step back with just 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists) in 74 games last year, missing the last six because of injuries as the Wings ended a 26-year consecutive playoff streak, but the 28-year-old whose cap hit is below the $2M mark should hover around 10 goals and 20 points per year, and a half-point-per-game average in the playoffs, which makes him a valuable NHLer.

He has a tremendous work ethic and has become a good two-way center who starts most of his team's penalty-killing shifts.

I was extremely happy to pull this card from a raffle/group break last month, showing him in the Wings' red 2016 Stadium Series uniform, which includes the old-school stylized "D" on the chest, although I am not fond of the football-style huge numbers on the arms:
It's card #RW-LG from Upper Deck's 2016-17 SP Game-Used Edition set and Stadium Series Fabrics sub-set, featuring a red swatch worn on February 27th, 2016, as the Wings faced long-time rivals Colorado Avalanche at Coors Field in Denver, a 5-3 Detroit win despite the Avs leading 2-1 after two periods. Glendening had an assist on Justin Abdelkader's 15th of the season, which put the Wings up 3-2.

Glendening was likely to be left available at the expansion draft in a couple of weeks, but an ankle surgery may have the Vegas Golden Knights looking to grab another Detroit player instead.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Brian Barnes: Two Autographed Cards

Brian Barnes was a standout playing baseball at Clemson University (and eventually even made it to their Hall of Fame), the first true steps of a career that saw him play for five seasons in the majors - four of them with the Montréal Expos - and six more in minor-league ball after that.

He completed a game in each of his first two seasons in Montréal, leading the team to believe he had it in him to become a #2 or #3 pitcher in the rotation at some point; indeed, he went 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA with a veteran group in 1990 - his first game coming on my birthday, September 14th - then went 5-8 with a 4.22 GAA in 1991 as the team went through a rebuilding phase centered around Delino DeShields, Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker.

He became a reliever and an injury-replacement pitcher in the rotation for 1992 and 1993, then couldn't find a permanent spot in stints with the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994.

He helps me check off two different boxes in my Expos Numbers Project, starting with #47 on card #73 from Topps' 1992 Topps set:
He also wore #41 in his final year in Montréal, which is where card #289 from Pinnacle Brands' 1994 Score set comes in:
He signed both cards in thin blue sharpie in 2000, when he was playing for the Calgary Cannons, the AAA affiliate of the Florida Marlins.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Matt D'Agostini Autographed Card

Have you lost track of former Montréal Canadiens draft pick Matt D'Agostini? As I had predicted, he made his way to Switzerland, where he was nearly a point-per-game player for powerhouse Genève-Servette for two seasons, but had trouble adapting to a mediocre team in HC Ambri-Piotta this past year:
Courtesy of HockeyDB
Still, if you would have asked me prior to the beginning of 2016-17, I would have said a return to the NHL was likely, seeing as his coach with Team Canada's 2015 Spengler Cup-winning team was current Ottawa Senators bench boss Guy Boucher, and Boucher brought fellow team member Tom Pyatt along. And D'Agostini's the one who scored the Cup-winning goal.

The Director of Player Personnel for that team? Current Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee...

Perhaps he'll get a tryout with either team. In any event, here is his rookie card, #523 in Upper Deck's 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set and Marquee Rookies sub-set, wearing the Habs' classic "bleu-blanc-rouge" (now-home) uniform:
He signed it in blue sharpie - tagging his jersey number (36) at the end - most likely in 2009-10, a season he spent hovering between the Habs and their AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs, before being sent to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

P.K. Subban Dual Jersey Card

So, uh, he delivered on his guarantee...

Indeed, the Nashville Predators won Game 3 and P.K. Subban, of course, played a pretty big role, part of a four-man unit (with Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis) that reduced the Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby to a grand total of... zero shots on goal. He got Malkin to lose his cool and Crosby to say something worth Subban distorting it to create a minor controversy.

And that's the thing about Subban: he's as good as the best in the league with his on-ice play. He can hang in there and dominate games like Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Duncan Keith, and the Drew Doughty and Dustin Byfuglien types of recent years - but once he's confident that his game preparation is tight enough, he also has that cockiness and edge to try to take some opponents off their game, yet also the leadership to calm his troops down and turn a 2-0 series deficit into a 2-2 tie, by calmly stating facts like "we're nearly unbeatable on home ice", and "we've got a great group of guys", "well coached", "terrific goaltending that's the backbone of this hockey club" all while never giving the Pens any locker room billboard fodder, not even mentioning the Preds had outplayed Pittsburgh in those two games.

The 2017 playoffs have shown and confirmed to the entire world - stubborn media types in particular - that Subban (particularly how he handled Jonathan Toews in the first round, but also his play against the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks) and Karlsson (who skated circles around the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and even the Pens most times) are now the complete deal, that their positioning, defensive play and, heck, even hitting game is on par with their offensive prowess. They are on top of the game. The Hockey News even went so far as saying that Karlsson may now be on par with Crosby and Connor McDavid as the best player(s) in the game.

Here's Subban on the dual swatch insert version of card #77 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Artifacts set:
It shows him wearing the Montréal Canadiens' white (now away) uniform, with two matching game-worn jersey swatch. It's numbered 87/125, and I feel I paid fair value for it on Ebay at $8.50 ($4.99 plus $3.50 shipping).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

2016 World Cup Figurines Review

Last September, I purchased three 2016 World Cup of Hockey figurines by Imports Dragon, and I must say I was let down a bit. I mean, I get that they didn't have a lot of time to produce and market them, but still, some of their flaws show a definite drop in quality from the ones I'd purchased years ago from McFarlane Toys.

Back in the day, McFarlane made awesome sports-related toys, as well as film-related and music-themed ones; I had Slash from Guns N' Roses, Angus Young from AC/DC, Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, all of Metallica, Freddie Kruger from the Nightmare On Elm Street films, Little Nicky from the Adam Sandler movie, Michael Myers from the Halloween series, Eric Draven from The Crow, Samuel L. Jackson as Shaft from the remake, Edward Scissorhands, but the highlights were my hockey figurines, including four of Patrick Roy (red and white Montréal Canadiens uniforms, and burgundy and white Colorado Avalanche uniforms), a couple of Wayne Gretzky (black Los Angeles Kings uniform, white Edmonton Oilers with the Stanley Cup), P.K. Subban (Habs red), Miikka Kiprusoff (red Calgary Flames uniform), Saku Koivu (Habs white), Mats Sundin for some reason (Toronto Maple Leafs blue, with a crooked pin under his skate), four of Joe Sakic (white Avs uniform, burgundy and alternate as well, and Québec Nordiques blue), Cristobal Huet (Habs red), Chris Chelios (Canadiens red), and Jose Theodore (Habs red, which I had him sign the base of).

Most of them were stolen, so I tried moving on, although I have purchased smaller ones of comics/film characters Batman and Black Widow in the past couple of years, which got me started again. My favourite of the three hockey ones is, of course, that of my favourite goalie (and by far the best of the tournament), Jaroslav Halak, sporting Team Europe's white (away) uniform, in a butterfly/glove save stance:
One thing I don't like is they are too rigid to change positions, yet fragile enough that you feel they might break if you tried, so I left his glove arm bent towards the back:
I'm not certain how realistic his waist size is, here... And here's the back:
Where I have the biggest issue, however, is with the otherwise pretty Tomas Plekanec (wearing the Czech Team's red uniform) and Andrei Markov (Team Russia white):
Their faces are their own, but the bodies come from the exact same mold, they just painted different uniforms and numbers on them:
McFarlane had a habit of re-using a player's mold for different teams and/or uniforms - OF THE SAME PLAYER; they didn't recycle them on their entire line.

Also, the Plekanec is missing his captain's "C":
And here's the Markov on its own:
They're worth it for how nice the uniforms are on their own, basically Adidas versions of their usual international jerseys, but decent ones. However, the toys themselves don't compare favourably to their predecessors, although I will readily admit that even McFarlane's quality had gone down when they started making too many per year.

McFarlane series 1-10: 9/10
McFarlane series 11-33: 8/10
Imports Dragon World Cup: 6.5/10

Edit, June 9th, 2017: According to the pictures on this Beckett Hockey page, they seem to have five player molds and three goalie molds. It's still incredibly lazy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Jeff Hackett Autographed Card

It was hard deciding which card to feature in the post that will make my page views pass the 200,000 mark for this blog, but I thought I could go with things that represented me well as a goalie: old-school helmet with a white neck protector, Vaughn Legacy 2000 blocker, black pads, a mix of stand-up and butterfly, usually the best player on an awful team...

Like Jeff Hackett, seen here wearing the San Jose Sharks' inaugural white (home) uniform, on card #308 from Upper Deck's 1992-93 Series 1 set, featuring the NHL's 75th anniversary patch:
He signed it in black sharpie in his time with the Montréal Canadiens. You might recall my encounters with him were not the friendliest...

Still, he overachieved on teams that underwhelmed - throughout his career. Well, he may have run out of gas at the end, in his stints with Habs rivals Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers...

Monday, May 29, 2017

Sean Day Autographed Card

John Tavares, first overall, 2009 (New York Islanders). Aaron Ekblad, first overall, 2014 (Florida Panthers). Connor McDavid, first overall, 2015 Edmonton Oilers). Sean Day, 81st overall, 2016 (New York Rangers). These are the only four players to have been granted "exceptional" status by the OHL, meaning they could compete against players aged 16-20 when they, themselves, were only 15 years old.

Two of them - Tavares and McDavid - are centermen, and both are NHL All-Stars, so it's easy to see why that happened there. The other two are defensemen, and Ekblad is, indeed, such an exception that he already has NHL hardware (Calder Trophy, 2014-15) on his mantle. Day's development has not been going so smoothly...

I can't speak to his play as a child, because I didn't witness it - although some websites have his statistics from his days at the bantam and midget levels available for all to see - but here's a look at the rough numbers:
From HockeyDB
The good: his +/- ratings have improved every year, from -35 to -27 to -13 to a +24 split between two teams; let's not count the statistics with the Memorial Cup-winning Windsor Spitfires just yet, though, to keep this in the perspective of his playing for a non-contender for four years. It's still a definite improvement every year.

The bad: His offensive development took a major step back in 2015-16, prompting him to fall in his draft year, from a projected late first-rounder/early second-rounder to 81st, near the end of the third. Sure, he went back to a half-point/game rate in 2016-17 with a championship team, but keep in mind he's now an adult facing some teenagers and players who are at most two years older than he is, not four five like when he started out.

By the time he started playing in the OHL, he was already 6'2" and 220 pounds with tremendous speed, which had scouts salivating at the prospect of his further developing; that was forgetting that he still was just a kid, and one who had had fun playing hockey until then. Now came pressure, and accusations of laziness when he failed to meet expectations. Before he was drafted, he took his body fat down from 19% to 12%, which still had him at 228 pounds.

He's now a Memorial Cup champion. Maybe we can take a breath or two and wait until he's 24 or 25 to judge who he becomes as a hockey player and, more importantly, as a human being.

Here he is as a rookie, on card #101 from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set and CHL Rookie sub-set, wearing the Mississauga Steelheads' white uniform, which he signed in blue sharpie:
I'm not worried about his becoming an NHLer, because by the time guys get to be his size, they'll be older than he is, which means he has that long to round his game and training regimen out. Essentially, he's learning the pro game backwards. As long as the Rangers' staffers know that, he'll be fine. He just might not be a first-unit defender, but there's nothing wrong with playing 1000 NHL games as a #4 or 5 defenseman - it's still living the dream.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Fabian Brunnstrom: Two Autographed Cards

NHL General Managers are in a bind when it comes to re-tooling their line-ups, because they're generally looking for younger, cheaper players who are ready (and already developed) to hold the fort until their own draft picks are ready.

For a couple of years, this came from unsigned U.S. College free agents, but this year, there's been an unprecedented wave of signings from European leagues, especially the KHL and Sweden League, particularly the championship-winning HV71, who has now lost the league's Rookie Of The Year Andreas Borgman (Toronto Maple Leafs), winger Filip Sandberg (San Jose Sharks), goalie Linus Soderstrom (New York Islanders), and forward Kevin Stenlund (Columbus Blue Jackets).

Signing free agents allows teams to not give up an "asset" (someone they already have under contract that they'd like to keep) while stockpiling other assets; there is a limit of 50 NHL-level contacts per team, however, which usually amounts to a full NHL roster (23 players), one or two overseas rookies, most of an AHL roster (15-23 players), some ECHL prospects (1-5), and a few players in Juniors (1-10), meaning the number of contracts awarded becomes a commodity almost as precious as salary cap space for some teams.

But the road to the NHL is abrupt, and for every success story like Jimmy Vesey, there's a Jimmy Hayes to contradict it. Which brings me to Fabian Brunnstrom, the once-sought-after wunderkind who quickly climbed the ranks of Swedish Hockey from third division to second division to a fine rookie season as a 22-year-old in the Elite League:
When Brunnström turned pro in Sweden's third-tier league with Jonstorps IF in 2005–06, he posted an impressive 44 points in 38 games; the following year, he joined Borås HC, helping them reach the second-tier Allsvenskan with a league-leading 73 points in 41 games. Then he was off to Farjestads BK Karlstad, where he posted what, at first glance, seemed like a decent season, with 9 goals, a team-leading 28 assists, and 37 points in 58 games. Except that stat line doesn't hint at the fact that most of his points were accumulated in the first half of the season, and as teams got wiser to him and started paying more attention, his production turned silent. Which also explains why he was reduced to a single assist in 12 playoff games.

That's why NHL teams are now looking for players from championship teams, who have won individual or team hardware and have produced when the play gets more physical and intense.

Many teams were vying to retain Brunnström's services, and the "usual" Swede-happy teams were in the mix: the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks - but it was the Dallas Stars who got the final word when the Canucks fired GM Dave Nonis, who reportedly had a deal in place.

After being a healthy scratch for the first two games of the 2008-09, Brunnström scored a hat trick in his first NHL game, prompting American sports media types to go nuts, kind of how they reacted last October when Auston Matthews scored four in his first game.

He did alright the rest of the year, including scoring a game-winner against the Flames in Calgary, but could never equal that performance; he finished the season with a respectable 17 goals, 12 assists and 29 points in 55 games, but injuries started taking over his 6'2", 205-pound frame.

Things got worse in 2009-10, as he spent the year alternating between the Stars (2 goals, 9 assists and 11 points in 44 games), their AHL affiliate Texas Stars (5 points in 8 games) and the injury list, then spent the entire 2010-11 season in the AHL, splitting his time between Texas (21 points in 37 games) and the Toronto Marlies (14 points in 35 games), and league-hopping again in 2011-12 between the Detroit Red Wings (one assist and 4 penalty minutes in 5 games) and the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins (12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points in 45 games), and while that was an improvement over the previous couple of seasons, it wasn't enough to convince yet another NHL team to give him a shot.

And so he went back to Sweden, where he was never again a point-per-game player (or even remote close to one), before ending up in Denmark last year:
from his HockeyDB page
And that's where it ends for him, as he has apparently retired. We're left with Wings GM Ken Holland's words about him, how he lacked "leadership and toughness".

He's not the only "Euro-bust" in recent memory, what with goalie Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson never panning out as a #1 starter, Ville Leino having had just one decent year, Damien Brunner, Jiri Sekac...

In his defense, I probably would not have wanted to play in the Stars' Rbk Edge uniforms. Ugh. They're a "greatest hits"of everything you want to avoid on a hockey jersey, from a word-mark instead of the team logo on the chest to having the number on the front, which was even worse on the dark (home) uniform, as can be attested on card #207 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Collector's Choice set and Choice Reserve and Choice Rookies sub-sets:
The white (away) uniform wasn't as bad, and although the Texas-shaped alternate logo on the shoulders wasn't the best idea ever, it wasn't terrible. And at least the jersey didn't have awful, ill-suited piping across the chest and under the arms:
That's card #467 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Series 2 set and Young Guns sub-sets.

They both count as rookie cards, and he signed them both in blue sharpie while he was in the AHL.

Friday, May 26, 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!
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
18: Mike Weaver would be cool
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.

Zack Fitzgerald Autographed Card

Zack Fitzgerald was a third-round pick of the St. Louis Blues (88th overall in 2003) who played a single NHL game, a 17-shift performance with the Vancouver Canucks in 2007-08. He's been playing for the Sheffield Steelers of the EIHL (British Elite League) for the past three seasons, after a decade of toiling around the AHL and two stints in the ECHL, mostly spent accumulating penalty minutes:
from his Wikipedia page
That being said, he's also won a championship while playing abroad (that's him with his wife, a fan of Iron Maiden):
Still, sometimes one game is enough for posterity, and he slots in extremely nicely as #49 in my Canucks Numbers Project, with card #503 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set and Marquee Rookies sub-set:
Note that the card lists him as "Zach", but he actually spells it "Zack". He signed it in blue sharpie while playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2011-12.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Javier Vazquez Jersey Card

Javier Vazquez had many highlights with the Montréal Expos.

His first shutout came on my birthday - September 14th - in 1999, against the Los Angeles Dodgers. By his third season with the team, in 2000, he was already the opening day pitcher, and had accumulated 8 wins in his first 11 starts that year, though the team being as bad as it was ended up catching up with him, as he finished with an 11-9 record. The following summer, he led the National League with 3 shutouts.

Following his final season with the team, in 2003, he told reporters he didn't like playing for "a team without an owner who couldn't afford to trade for a player to help down the stretch". That was actually putting it lightly: Major League Baseball actually forbade the team to even recall players from their minor leagues, essentially tanking a playoff-caliber team that finished 83-79 (fourth in the NL East), enabling the Florida Marlins (91-71) and Philadelphia Phillies (86-76) to pass them, and securing the division title for the Atlanta Braves (101-61). It was one of the most unsportsmanlike and deliberate fixing situations I've ever seen - and I follow hockey and the Arizona Coyotes situation.

For the 2004 season, he signed on with the New York Yankees, and many sportswriters saw him as that year's eventual Cy Young winner; he wasn't in contention, but he did play in his only All-Star Game that summer.

He played for the Puerto Rican team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic (while with the Chicago White Sox) and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting in 2009 while with the Braves. In 2010, in his second stint with the Yankees, he became the third active pitcher to beat all 30 MLB teams.

Still, seeing as I stopped following baseball after he left town, this is how I remember him best, wearing the Expos' pinstriped white (home) uniform:
That's card #DC-JV from Topps' 2003 Bowman Heritage set, featuring a grey game-worn jersey swatch.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tyler Bertuzzi Autographed Card

The Detroit Red Wings drafted Tyler Bertuzzi in the second round (58th overall) in 2013, and he was already saying things they wanted to hear, such as he's "meaner than his uncle", Todd Bertuzzi. High expectations indeed, because as much as the hockey world would rather forget Todd's high points to instead focus on his hit on Steve Moore, he was the toughest, meanest player and best power forward in the NHL for years; as a matter of fact, when it comes to adding the word "dominating" to a player's resume, Bertuzzi's West Coast Express (with Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison) ruled atop the NHL for as long as Eric Lindros' Legion Of Doom, though Lindros had very good seasons (read: point-per-game or near) without his linemates, which Bertuzzi did not, due to the fact that he was never the same following the hit, likely afraid to cost someone else their career because of a bad hit or if his temper flared during an on-ice altercation.

Comparisons between the two relatives are inevitable and unfair, yet warranted, because Todd played and dominated in the Dead Puck Era; he and Naslund had the size and fearlessness that allowed them to fire back at defenders who attempted to slow them down, and were among the rare few who thrived in that context; still, it being "Dead", his two best seasons were where he posted 46 goals (third in the NHL - and 97 points for fifth in the league - in 2002-03) and 36 goals (for 85 points, third in the NHL, in 2001-02). The rest of the time, he was a 25-goal scorer, which was still very good in that era because that's what top-line players did.

Nowadays, scoring is also an issue, with only one player (Connor McDavid) having reached the 100-point plateau this year, and none scoring 50 goals. Most players are defensively aware, and although there may be a slight discrepancy between the top of the elite class ("superstars") and "regular" stars, the systems at play are so sophisticated that teams' entire top-six are usually within the same range of point production.

In that context, a fearless, relentless 6'1'', 200-pound physical winger with decent hands can, indeed, expect those kind of minutes in his prime (ages 25-33), so I could see him get his 25-30 goals five or six times in that span, for sure. I think his peak/maximum upside would be something similar to a 2008-12 Alexandre Burrows, a top-line agitator who draws penalties, takes a few, and scores important goals.

For now, at 22 years old, he needs to add those ten missing pounds - he's currently at 190 - and continue developing. He went from a 43-goal season with the OHL's Guelph Storm in 2014-15 to 12 goals in 71 AHL games with the Grand Rapids Griffins the following year in his first pro season. He got up to 12 goals in 48 AHL games last year, while going pointless in 7 games with the parent Wings.

My plan if I were GM would be to have him aim for a 30-35 goal season in the AHL next year, then a 15-goal rookie season in the NHL, then a step up to 25 in 2019-20; Detroit, however, is in a rebuild, and they might look to speed things up by having him spend most of next year in the NHL to get that first year out of the way. We'll see. He currently has 12 points in 12 playoff games with the Griffins this year, his second-straight point-per-game postseason, so that probably has the Wings salivating.

Here he is wearing the Storm's white uniform, on card #9 from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed it in black sharpie last November, after a game against my hometown Montréal Canadiens.