Friday, January 27, 2017

Mike Keane Autographed Card

As I'm gearing to put another set of my cards in binders, I thought it would be helpful to feature Mike Keane once more, if only to put in perspective how much the game has changed since the end of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Take the 1992-93 season as an example, centered around Keane, two years ahead of his short stint as Montréal Canadiens captain. The team won the Stanley Cup that year, after a respectable 102-point season, which was still only good for third in the Adams Division, behind the Boston Bruins (109) and Québec Nordiques (104). Yet, that mark was good for sixth in the NHL, as only the Pittsburgh Penguins (119), Chicago Blackhawks (106) and Detroit Red Wings (103) did better in the entire league.

It has often been said that the Habs won the Cup that year on the back of Conn Smythe winner Patrick Roy and, perhaps, to a lesser extent, the incredible shut-down play of Guy Carbonneau, who silenced the likes of Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Pat Lafontaine, Alexander Mogilny, Dale Hawerchuk, Ray Ferraro and Wayne Gretzky.

While mostly true, this narrative forgoes and forgets the fact that a defenseman, Éric Desjardins, posted a hat trick in the Cup Final. That John LeClair rose from the status of almost-bust to budding clutch player. That Carbonneau was flanked by two terrific two-way players in Keane and Benoît Brunet.

It also neglects to remember that the team was also made up of very productive offensive players, such as Vincent Damphousse, who posted 97 points that year, Kirk Muller (94), Brian Bellows (40 goals, 88 points), and Stéphan Lebeau (80 points in 71 games), and that it also included former 100-point superstar Denis Savard (50 points in 63 games), All-Stars Desjardins and Mathieu Schneider on defense, former 50-goal scorer Gary Leeman, as well as a lot of heavyweights: Lyle Odelein, LeClair, Kevin Haller, Mario Roberge, Todd Ewen, and convicted killer Rob Ramage.

Where did Keane fit in this collection of very good players and rogue assembly of role players? His 60 points had him in fifth place during the season, and his 15 playoff points tied him for third on the team, behind Muller (17) and Damphousse (23).

Nowadays, 60 points is what Jonathan Toews gets; some team scoring leaders don't even get there. 97 points (Damphousse's 1993-94 total) gets you in Art Ross contention - Jamie Benn won it with 87 points in 2014-15, Martin St-Louis won it with 94 in 2003-04.

Don't get me wrong: the fact that he vowed never to learn French despite captaining the Habs, and how head coach Pat Burns would send him and Brent Gilchrist on the ice at all times - I understand when shorthanded, but when down by a goal, wouldn't you want some of your proven scorers there instead? - would anger me and many other fans for years, but perhaps he was better and more important on the ice that we thought at the time.

After all, he did also win the Cup in 1996 (with the Colorado Avalanche, with Roy and Canadiens alumnus Claude Lemieux) and 1999 (Dallas Stars, with Carbonneau and fellow former Habs Brian Skrudland and Craig Ludwig).

Here he is wearing the Habs' classic red (then-away) uniform, battling for position with giant (6'6", 235 pounds) Uwe Krupp of the New York Islanders, on card #92 from Topps' 1993-94 Stadium Club set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
Ironically, Krupp would be a huge part in the Avs' 1996 Cup win, with 16 points in 22 games manning the point, including the series-clinching, third-overtime goal in the fourth game of the team's sweep of the Florida Panthers.

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