Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Josh Ho-Sang Autographed Card

A little bit of weirdness yesterday, as the New York Islanders called up then re-demoted prospect Josh Ho-Sang in a matter of hours, without having played a single game.

Ho-Sang is a polarizing player, very skilled but with a debatable/questionable work ethic. He's been late to practice with every team he's been on, including on the very first day of his very first Islanders training camp after being drafted. He also has a temper, as signified by the fact that he's been suspended in Juniors for breaking an opponent's leg with a check from behind.

On the other hand, his skill level has been compared to that of a Johnny Gaudreau or a Mitch Marner, with a somewhat diminutive physique, standing at just 5'11" and 160 pounds. His self-confidence is akin to a P.K. Subban's, which is perhaps why he's letting a lot of it get to his head.

Of note that while he did dominate in the OHL, he is not yet a point-per-game player in the AHL, with 10 goals and 26 assists for 36 points in 48 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers so far. If there is a GM who will give him as many chances as possible, however, it's Garth Snow, who has been quoted saying: "He'll fit right in. They shit on me too. We get the players that we feel can help us win. And we don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks."

Let's just hope he matures into something closer to his childhood idol, Mario Lemieux. Here he is sporting the Windsor Spitfires' red uniform, donning #66 in honor of Lemieux, on card #36 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set and CHL Rookie sub-set:
He signed it in blue sharpie.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Adam Erne Autographed Card

In the next few hours, many free-agents-to-be will switch teams, going from pretenders to contenders as teams try to stack up to face the top teams in their divisions. With Kevin Shattenkirk off to the Washington Capitals and Ben Bishop now with the Los Angeles Kings, the top two available players are currently off the market, but many more are left.

Speaking of Bishop, the Tampa Bay Lightning have also sent Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, meaning they may have decided to forget about their dwindling playoff hopes and instead focus on next season, meaning they will either make room for their prospects right away or use one of them to acquire players who have some term remaining on their contracts, such as the Colorado Avalanche's Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. Should they go that route, power forward Adam Erne might be one player who'd go the other way, seeing as he has yet to make a dent on the score sheet in 5 NHL games this season, but has 14 goals and 13 assists for 27 points in 39 AHL games with the Syracuse Crunch so far.

The American youngster was an alternate captain with the Québec Remparts team that lost in the 2015 Memorial Cup Final against the Kelowna Rockets, winning the LHJMQ's playoff MVP award in the process.

He reminds me of Keith Tkachuk, a speedy, super-strong winger with a knack for finding the hole to score through. I expect him to be a force within three years.

Here he is wearing the Remparts' white uniform on card #246 from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set and CHL Rookie sub-set:
He signed it in thin blue sharpie in 2015; the signature has since faded a bit.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Jeff Zatkoff Stadium Series Jersey Card

Starting with the rebirth of Peter Budaj and continuing with the acquisition of Ben Bishop, the Los Angeles Kings may very well have sentenced intended backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff to a couple of years in the AHL instead of the two-year run as Jonathan Quick's backup, as had previously been intended.

It's been a pretty bad season for the former Pittsburgh Penguins prospect, and not just because of his 2-7-1 record, 2.94 GAA and awful .879 save percentage, but also because he has had to deal with injury after injury.

Zatkoff thus becomes the only goalie since the Darryl Sutter and Bill Ranford era began to not have a career season with the club, after Jonathan Bernier, Erik Ersberg, Ben Scrivens, Martin Jones and Jhonas Enroth had all posted terrific statistics behind the reinforced steel wall that is the Kings' defense.

Zatkoff possesses athletic genes, his father (Jeff Sr.) having been an NBA draftee and his great uncle Roger Zatkoff having played in the NFL with the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.

Here's a really cool card showing Jeff wearing the Pens' 2014 Stadium Series white uniform, in a snowstorm, featuring a big white game-worn jersey swatch (that may or may not have been used in that game):
It's card #SS-JZ from SP Authentic's 2014-15 SP Game-Used Edition, by Upper Deck.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Nikolai Khabibulin Autograph Card

The Phoenix Coyotes are no more, and perhaps soon neither will the Arizona Coyotes...

Honestly, that saga has been a shit show for the better part of a decade now, and it's time to put it to rest. To help put the final nail in its coffin, I've decided to make a list of the best players at each position for the franchise.

On defense, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Teppo Numminen are pretty much no-brainers. At forward, Jeremy Roenick is the clear choice at center, and Shane Doan is the obvious captain and right winger. I'd want to add Keith Tkachuk at left wing - the position he's played most in the NHL - but the team records have him listed as a center... He's a winger. Done.

Keith Yandle could have also made the cut on defense.

In nets, there is only one choice: Nikolai Khabibulin.

The Hall Of Fame is much stricter for goalies, with many of the deserving ones only getting in decades after they should have been (Rogatien Vachon), while forwards (Eric Lindros, Mats Sundin) and defensemen (Larry Murphy) get in as semi-stars.

Khabibulin may not have had the most consistent career, with three seasons with save percentages below .900 and four with a GAA above 3.00, but he has a Stanley Cup on his resume that the Tampa Bay Lightning would not have won without him, particularly in the Final against the Calgary Flames. He also has two Olympic medals (gold in 1992, bronze in 2002) and was named the tournament's top goalie in 2002; he also won gold at the 1992 World Juniors.

He has appeared in four All-Star Games, twice representing the Yotes and twice as well for the Bolts. He was also the IHL MVP in 1999-2000. He even somewhat revived his career with the Edmonton Oilers after his stint with the Chicago Blackhawks didn't end on the best note.

My rules for Greatness being stricter then the Hall's, he wouldn't make the cut in my book; but any organization that includes Murphy and Mike Gartner definitely should have room for the likes of Khabibulin and José Theodore.

Here he is wearing the Coyotes' "peyote" white (home) uniform, on the gold variant of the signed insert version of card #108 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
He signed it in thin black sharpie. That may have been my favourite uniform of theirs, with the current one a distant second.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Larry Jaster Autographed Card

Larry Jaster's name is synonymous with a few noteworthy achievements in baseball.

First, in his official rookie season in 1966, he led the National League with 5 shutouts. Of note, all five came in consecutive starts against the same team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the second time a Major League pitcher shut out the same team five times in the same year (a feat GroverCleveland "Ol' Pete" Alexander had accomplished against the Cincinnati Reds in 1916), but no one had ever done it consecutively - nor has it happened since.

Then, there's the fact that he appeared in back-to-back World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967 and 1968, winning in his first year and surrendering the series-ending grand slam to his hometown Detroit Tigers in his second go-round.

And, upon being selected by the Montréal Expos in the expansion draft, Jaster became the first MLB pitcher to throw in a regular-season game in Canada, helping beat the Cards.

I doubt I was aware of all these facts when he signed this card in black ball-point pen for me when I was a child, possibly during an evening where the Expos were commemorating their original stadium at Parc Jarry:
That's card #124 from Topps' 1970 Topps set, showing him pretending to wind up in the team's classic white (home) uniform. His #21 uniform sets him up perfectly for entry in my Expos Numbers Project.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ales Hemsky Autograph Card

The Dallas Stars seem to be in a selling mood, with the prospect of missing the playoffs one year after leading the Western Conference now becoming a reality more and more every day.

The off-kilter season started with a slew of injuries to their star players suffered at the World Cup, continued with the poor goaltending of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, and just never let up.

One of the forwards lost at the World Cup was Ales Hemsky, who appeared in a single game before it was deemed he would need season-ending surgery to repair his hip. While he wasn't exactly lighting it up in Dallas, he did have back-to-back 30-plus-point seasons (32 and 39, respectively) with the Stars, decent middle-six numbers in this day and age, although way below his career highs (77, 71 and 66 with the Edmonton Oilers after the 2004-05 season-long lockout), and below what he usually puts up with the Czech Team in international competitions; he did lead his country in points at the 2014 Olympics, in addition to his securing a 2006 Olympic bronze medal and 2005 gold and 2012 bronze medals from the World Championships.

Here he is on card #SFS-AH from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Trilogy set and Scripts One sub-set, showing him in the Oilers' late-1990s white (home) uniform with the team's 25th Anniversary patch:
It features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph that makes him the perfect entry for #83 in my Oilers Numbers Project.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Filip Forsberg Dual Jersey Card

To say last night's game between the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators was a roller coaster of emotions would be selling it short, as would be saying Filip Forsberg had somewhat of a say in it.

Indeed, the young Preds star scored a hat trick in his team's 6-5 loss, but his goals had them rally from a 4-1 deficit to a 5-4 lead in a 10-minute span. He also factored into the Flames' overtime winner, as the Mark Giordano shot hit his skate and deflected into the net behind backup goalie Juuse Saros.

I'd been holding off writing about the 22-year-old sniper since September, when I purchased this card on Ebay. After signing a huge contract extension last summer, one that will see him make $6M per season for this year plus another five seasons, he was either going to step into the next gear after two consecutive 60-point seasons, including a career-high 33 goals in 2015-16... or he was going to feel the pressure get to him and have a disappointing season. So far, it's been the latter, as even with his hat trick, he's now at 19 goals and 20 assists for 39 points in 59 games, a 0.66 point-per-game average, whereas he'd had us used to a 0.78 rate (63 and 64 points in 82 games, respectively).

The Preds are a work in progress. Pekka Rinne has been up-and-down (as he had been the previous three seasons), and while the defense boasts big names such as Roman Josi and P.K. Subban, coach Peter Laviolette is still struggling to find the right combinations for all three pairs to be as solid as they'd been in years past.

The offense is the biggest sticking point, however, with Forsberg struggling, James Neal falling similarly, Mike Ribeiro being sent down to the AHL and Ryan Johansen being his usual whiny self, recently complaining about not getting recognition from the Columbus Blue Jackets on the Jumbotron to celebrate his time on the team, seemingly forgetting what can only be described as a tumultuous relationship that saw him refer to the team's leader Brandon Dubinsky as their "second-line center", hold out for a contract that would have priced him so high as to cost at least one teammate's job and essentially be a walking - and more importantly, talking - distraction to the entire team.

I mean, shit, here's a guy who is supposed to lead his current team - one that if it can find its groove before the playoffs start just might become a Stanley Cup contender overnight - and instead makes it all about himself. Again. While failing to have either of his elite sniper wingers reach the 30-goal plateau.

Neal's a veteran, he's seen a lot of things happen with both the Preds and the Pittsburgh Penguins in his day, but Forsberg's still a kid. I'm fairly certain he's smart enough to know the difference between right and wrong and how, for example, Subban's limelight-taking is much better for a locker room than Johansen's, but there still needs to be a working environment that is conducive to having success.

GM David Poile seemingly has a knack for acquiring both the good (Hal Gill) and bad (Andrei Kostitsyn) type of leaders at once. Here's hoping he can get his team to change its current course before the season's a write-off in what should have been the first of a three-year window to the Cup with this crew.

And here's Forsberg on card #PM2-FF from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Portfolio set, one that may have featured nice action photos on the regular-issue cards but whose inserts left a ton to be desired, including how the die-cuts that allowed for these jersey swatches were botched the whole way through (click on the picture for a complete zoom-in):
It's great that there are two different-coloured swatches (white and black), but unless UD can guarantee an arm-less child cut those holes with a rock in its mouth to make the card Free Trade, this is simply not acceptable.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Frédérik Gauthier Autographed Card

With leading rookie scorer Mitch Marner again on the injury list, the Toronto Maple Leafs have recalled their first-round draft pick from 2013 (21st overall) Frédérik Gauthier to fill a roster spot.

Though he may develop into a regular contributor, Gauthier so far hasn't shown any signs of becoming the next Cam Neely; he was close to but never a point-per-game performer in Juniors with the LHJMQ's Rimouski Océanic but still made Team Canada twice (U-18s and World Juniors) on the strength of a 6'4" frame carrying around 215 pounds of muscle. He's hard to take off the puck, although he doesn't do much with it (a single assist in 7 games at each of the 2014 and 2015 World Juniors, 1 goal and 5 assists for 6 points in 26 AHL games with the Toronto Marlies this season). He also seems to lack grit and combativeness; he may find it in a couple of years, which could turn him into a 40-point producer, probably a third-line center with the possibility of perhaps becoming a middle-six power forward winger.

Essentially, I see him having a career of ups and downs like Lars Eller.

The Leafs don't need him to surpass expectations à la Jamie Benn, what with the likes of Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly already on the roster, but the fans may always be vocal about the team spending a first-round pick to draft him instead of a second-round one, although that is not Gauthier's fault.

Here he is on card #50 from Upper Deck's 2014 Team Canada Juniors/Women set:
He signed it in blue sharpie last year, in the midst of a season that saw him post 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists and just 10 penalty minutes) in 56 AHL games in his first professional season.

Thus far, he has 4 points (2 goals and 2 assists) in 25 career NHL games, with 21 penalty minutes, 15 of them coming against the Montréal Canadiens.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mike Hough Autographed Card

Another day, another story about Arizona Coyotes arena trouble, another one about the New York Islanders' arena trouble, and another story about the Carolina Hurricanes playing to empty stands.

Which brings me to the Québec Nordiques, or rather, the absence thereof.

In the mid-1990s, there was no salary cap in the NHL and revenue-sharing was just about a joke, a minuscule blip on the radar, which meant the larger cities with the most hockey history usually had the largest fanbases, which in turn meant those teams had the highest revenue in a league where ticket sales were the #1 source of income and paraphernalia was a distant albeit non-negligible second.

That meant the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and Montréal Canadiens could, technically, afford to pay the highest salaries (from homegrown talent as well as free agency), leaving the rest of the league to fight for scraps, particularly smaller markets; this led to the Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets, Hartford Whalers and Minnesota North Stars being forced to relocate, no longer able to survive in small markets.

The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were in similar dire straits, as were the Ottawa Senators.

Since then, the economic conjecture has changed, and even smaller towns have joined the NHL, such as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators; the league has gone back to Winnipeg and Minnesota (with the Wild), and next season will bring the Vegas Golden Nights.

And yet, there remain teams that struggle in their own markets - the above-mentioned three, plus the billionaire toy club Florida Panthers - who are there just so owner Vincent Viola can have the right to book high-grossing concerts at his team's arena - while Québec has a brand-new amphitheater with no NHL tenant.

But this uniform would look great in it:
That's Mike Hough, wearing the Nordiques' final (and best-looking) iteration of their blue (then-away) uniform, with red contours on the jersey numbers and name plate; it's card #393 from Score's 1993-94 Score set. He's seen wearing the alternate captain's "A", though he did also serve as co-captain for a season. His #18 uniform fits perfectly in my Nordiques Numbers Project as well, in addition to being today's date.

Hough was one of many Montréal-born Nordiques players, which just added to the rivalry between both teams. In 707 NHL games, he posted 100 goals, 156 assists and 256 points with 675 penalty minutes; he was a tough, grinding defensive specialist who could, at times, contribute offensively.

Afraid they were going to lose him in the expansion draft, the team traded him to the Washington Capitals (for Réginald Savage and Paul MacDermid), who in turn left him unprotected, so the Panthers did indeed end up selecting him; he played with them for four seasons, scoring the double-overtime elimination goal against the Flyers which would be the last NHL goal scored at the Philadelphia Spectrum.

Following his time in Miami-Dade county, he signed a two-year deal with the Isles as a free agent, retiring after the 1998-99 season.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ryan Walter Autographed Card

Sure, I officially made Claude Larose my entry for #11 in my Habs Numbers Project, but throughout my youth, only Ryan Walter was worth mentioning as the number's keepsake, until the courageous and talented Saku Koivu came along and elevated it even higher - on any other franchise, possibly even as high as the rafters.

Walter was a different sort of beast altogether.

After captaining Team Canada at the 1978 World Juniors, he was drafted second overall by the Washington Capitals that year, behind Bobby Smith and ahead of Wayne Babych (3rd), Mike Gillis (5th), Ken Linseman (7th), Dan Geoffrion (8th), Brad Marsh (11th), Larry Playfair (13th), Steve Tambellini (15th), Al Secord (16th), Dave Hunter (17th), Steve Payne (19th), Joel Quenneville (21st), Curt Fraser (22nd), Steve Christoff (24th), Don Maloney (26th), Al Jensen (31st), Tony McKegney (32nd), Stan Smyl (40th), Paul Messier (41st), Curt Giles (54th), Kevin Reeves (69th), Lou Franceschetti (71st), Ted Nolan (78th), Jim Nill (89th), Tom Laidlaw (93rd), Keith Acton (103rd), Paul MacLean (109th), Don Wadell (111th), Jerry Price (Carey's father, 126th), Craig MacTavish (153rd), Kevin Constantine (154th), Bob Froese (160th), Risto Siltanen (173rd), Steve Weeks (176th), Darryl Sutter (179th), Anton Stastny (198th), Viacheslav Fetisov (201st), Chris Nilan (231st), Rick Wilson (232nd), and Louis Sleigher (233rd), in a draft that was heavy on players who would become coaches and managers.

Walter himself would eventually become a motivational speaker and an assistant coach with his hometown Vancouver Canucks in his second career, after experiencing such highs as a player as being made the NHL-record (since broken many times by the likes of Steve Yzerman, Vincent Lecavalier, Sidney Crosby and Gabriel Landeskog) youngest captain in history with the Capitals, posting a 38-goal and 87-point season with them in 1981-82, being traded to the Montréal Canadiens (with Rick Green, for two-time Norris winner Rod Langway, Selke winner and NHL ironman record-holder Doug Jarvis, Craig Laughlin and Brian Engblom) to play with Guy Lafleur and Doug Wickenheiser, getting named to the 1983 All-Star Game, winning the Stanley Cup in 1986 and losing it to the Calgary Flames in 1989, to signing with the Canucks as a free agent at the turn of the 1990s.

Throughout his playing career, he went from playing like a power forward and accumulating penalty minutes from his hard checks to being an offensive force to being a terrific shut-down center and penalty killer. He did it all for the team, and his teams had success when he was around.

He finished his career with 264 goals via seven 20-goal seasons, 382 assists, 646 points and 946 penalty minutes in 1003 regular-season games, and another 16 goals, 35 assists and 51 points in 113 playoff contests, with just 62 penalty minutes in the postseason.

Here he is wearing the Habs' classic red (then-away) uniform, on card #275 from O-Pee-Chee's 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in black sharpie when Bob Gainey hired him to speak with player prior to the start of the season a few years ago.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mike Comrie Autographed Card

I certainly hoped I'd get to talk about former Edmonton Oilers star Mike Comrie in another light, but the day after Valentine's Day seems like as good a time as any for him to be accused of rape - which allegedly involved someone he had known for a long time, in a three-way, meaning the third party will likely be the most reliable witness, leading to a likely "not guilty" decision. Comrie has already said he expects "his name will be cleared".

Hilary Duff's former husband, now 36, hasn't played professional hockey since the 2010-11 season due to a hip injury that three surgeries hadn't completely fixed. His career 443 penalty minutes show he played much bigger than his 5'9", 185-pound frame.

Through ten NHL seasons, Comrie has played for the Oilers and the Ottawa Senators twice apiece, as well as the Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, New York Islanders, and Pittsburgh Penguins - i.e. many of the teams former Oilers tend to end up playing with (Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Luke Richardson, Ken Linseman).

He hit the 30-goal and 60-point marks twice each (once with the Oilers, once in Arizona) and was a consistent point producer until 2008-09 - especially considering he started out playing in the Dead Puck Era - but his later years have hit his career stats line, where he finished with 168 goals, 197 assists and 365 points in 589 regular-season games, with just 4 goals, 6 assists and 10 points in 32 playoff games.

Of note, he is one of the rare players who came up as part of Edmonton's young core at the turn of the millennium who didn't stick around long enough to make it to the 2005-06 Stanley Cup Final, instead reaching it the following year as a depth player with the Sens, whose offense was carried by Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

Here he is retrieving or playing the puck ahead of Brenden Morrow of the Dallas Stars on card #34 from Upper Deck's 2001-02 SP Authentic set, which he signed in blue sharpie, tagging his uniform number (89) at the end:
It shows him wearing the blue (away) uniform the team wore from 1996 until 2007, with the oil driller patch on the shoulder and bronze instead of orange in the colour palette.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ciara Price Autograph Card

Happy Valentine's Day!

To get there, here's card #RB-CP from Benchwarmer's 2015 Signature Series set, featuring none other than Ciara Price, the Maine-born model-turned-DJ:
It features a black-sharpied on-card autograph (with a heart tagged at the end of it) and a superb gold/black/red design and colour palette.

Here's the back:
If I remember correctly, she now has a tattoo on the left side of her back where her bikini top is, and another on her right butt cheek.

Formerly linked to rugby player Mitchell Pearce, UFC fighter Sean Loeffler and the Dallas Stars' Tyler Seguin, she usually likes her men built and slightly bearded - and her sports tough and physical.

She was Playboy's Playmate Of The Month in November 2011, and also graced the cover two more times after that.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Glenn Close Swatch Card

I recently watched Guardians Of The Galaxy for the second time, as the sequel's trailer made the rounds at the Super Bowl, looking good enough to go see in theaters, which in turn made me think of this card I got in a trade earlier this winter:
That's Glenn Close  - playing the role of Nova Prime - and two wardrobe pieces from the set of the first film, on card #CS-9 from Marvel's 2014 Guardians Of The Galaxy set and Cosmic Strings sub-set, manufactured by Upper Deck.

She will reprise her role as chief of the intergalactic police force in the next movie as well.

You may recall her from 101 Dalmatians (1996), but she received Academy Award nominations for The World According to Garp (1982), The Big Chill (1983), The Natural (1984), Fatal Attraction (1987), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), and Albert Nobbs (2011) - the first three sor Best Supporting Actress, the latter for Best Actress.

While she has yet to win an Oscar, she has three Tonys, three Emmys, two Golden Globes, a Drama Desk Awards and a Screen Actors Guild Awards. She has also been inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Craig Anderson Jersey Card

It's been a hell of a season for Craig Anderson, what with staying home to help his wife in her battle against cancer, yet coming back for shutout wins against the Edmonton Oilers and now the surging New York Islanders.

I've been a fan of Anderson's since he came to the Ottawa Senators in 2011 and just took possession of the net, never relinquishing his starter status even when the team had such viable and younger backups as Ben Bishop, Brian Elliott and Robin Lehner. He just wouldn't budge and kept offering strong performances, which is why I'm not surprised he's currently in the top-5 in the NHL with a 2.34 GAA, .927 save percentage, and 4 shutouts in 20 games, for an average of 1 every 5 games.

I've said it before, but I'll display the staggering statistics, just for fun: he's also bested Carey Price in both playoff series they've faced each other, which happened to be in a three-year span, starting with 2013:
Oh yeah, Price has a tendency to get injured when things don't go his way, and let the other goalie face elimination
But even when the Sens lose, Anderson's still on top, as can be attested by when they faced each other in 2015 (keep in mind Anderson came into game 3 without having played in months due to injury, the Sens losing the series 2-0, as they'd played Andrew Hammond first, who was in better game shape and had just been in a Cinderella run):
Both did well in 2015 (it was Price's dream season, after all), but Anderson was better. He just has that ability to shut the door when it matters, under pressure.

And this is why I'm giving him another nod today, as he's making a strong case for the Bill Masterton Trophy, which recognized perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game, with card #GJ-CA from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It shows him wearing the Sens' red (home) uniform, wearing his Colorado Avalanche blocker and glove; it features a white (presumably from his days with the Avs, perhaps going as far back as his days with the Chicago Blackhawks or Florida Panthers) game-worn jersey swatch.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Steve Bégin: 3 Autographed Cards

Steve Bégin was an impossible-to-dislike grinder and penalty-killing specialist with a huge heart who was almost a spiritual captain on the Montréal Canadiens from 2003 until 2009, often needing a ridiculous injury to keep him off the ice, usually two at once.

He was forced to retire after years of enduring hip pain that the Boston Bruins' medical team had told him was "normal" for "many" hockey players, that could be operated on upon retiring. Three and a half years after retirement, he still ails, despite an operation by the Nashville Predators staff.

Still, he and Georges St-Pierre held a press conference earlier today promoting Challenge U, an app that enables folks to earn their high school diploma. Bégin, who had to quit school to move from Trois-Rivières to Val d'Or to play Juniors, has now vowed to finish high school before his teenage daughters, one of whom is a Senior.

So, yeah, he's still impossible to dislike.

Here he is with the Calgary Flames, the team who drafted him 40th overall (second round) in 1996 and with whom he retired, wearing their red turn-of-the-millennium red (away) uniform, on card #299 from Topps' 2000-01 O-Pee-Chee set and NHL Prospects sub-set:
Like most Quebecers, however, I will remember him most fondly from his days with the Habs.

First, here he is wearing the team's white (then-home) uniform, on card #257 from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Parkhurst collection:
And here he is with the classic red uniform, on card #264 from UD's 2006-07 O-Pee-Chee set:
With that, he is included in both my Habs Numbers Project and Flames Numbers Project (twice).

He signed all three cards in blue sharpie, adding his uniform numbers (7 and 22) at the end, though it seems he mixed up the numbers on the Flames and white uniform Habs cards!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Cam Neely Jersey Card

It had been years in the making, but Boston Bruins President Cam Neely has finally okayed the firing of head coach Claude Julien, whom he inherited from previous regimes; indeed, Julien had been head coach of the Bruins since June 2007, whereas Hall Of Famer and former star power forward Neely returned to the organization in a front office capacity first as VP in September 2007, then as President in 2010.

In the meantime, Julien had coached the team to a Stanley Cup (2011), another Final (2013) and a Presidents Trophy (2013-14), earning the Jack Adams Trophy (2008-09) in his tenure as well, which he concluded as the franchise's winningest head coach. He had missed the postseason these past two years and was outside the playoff picture as of his firing as well.

Neely, on the other hand, has fired GM Peter Chiarelli and hired Don Sweeney to replace him; the next coaching nomination could spell the end for either or both of these Bruins alumni.

Neely had also been a contested inclusion in the Hall Of Fame, having never won a major award - the only hardware he owns from his playing days is a Masterton for his comeback season in 1993-94 - nor participated in noteworthy international competitions.

He had three 50-goal seasons in the high-scoring 1980s, and retired short of the point-per-game mark (395 goals, 299 assists and 694 points in 726 games, plus another 57-32-89 in 92 playoff games, reaching the Final twice and losing to the Edmonton Oilers both times).

Was he good? Undoubtedly. Great? That's debatable. In an era that featured most of the record-setting seasons of all time, he stands behind contemporaries Brett Hull, Jari Kurri, Mike Bossy, Pavel Bure, Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne and Sergei Makarov for sure. Alex Kovalev - a 1000-point man and Stanley Cup winner of whom Mario Lemieux once said had the "greatest hands (he'd) ever seen" - as well.

At best, he's equal to Dino Ciccarelli, Alexander Mogilny, Steve Larmer, Owen Nolan and Theo Fleury, which means slightly superior to Claude Lemieux, Mike Gartner, Brian Bellows, Glenn Anderson and Brendan Shanahan (in that order, probably).

Because he came before the likes of Keith Tkachuk, Éric Dazé, Tony Amonte and Todd Bertuzzi, I will gladly slot him ahead of them. Later, however, Jarome Iginla, was much more dominating at his position (right wing), as was Daniel Alfredsson.

Here he is wearing the Bs' classic 1980s black (away) uniform with the alternate captain's "A" on card #WM-CN from Upper Deck's 2010-11 SPX set and Winning Materials sub-set:
It features black and yellow game-worn jersey swatches. I got it in a trade a couple of years ago, I forgot what I sent in exchange.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Pat Falloon Autograph Card

10. X. Ten.

Ten days from now, I will lose my daytime job as a marketing consultant and translator at a market research firm I'd been with for over five years, after spending ten with another one before that. Both had been founded in 1984.

Which leads me to this Pat Falloon card I thought I'd feature today, featuring him wearing #10 with the Edmonton Oilers:
It's the (silver) signed insert version of card #205 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set, showing him wearing the Oilers' dark blue (away) turn-of-the-millennium uniform.

People like to rag on Falloon as a failed draft pick, and though the second-overall pick didn't reach the 1000-point or 1000-game mark, his 0.56 point-per-game average (322 points in 575 NHL games) is better than many. It just falls very short of Eric Lindros' (1.14), the guy who was picked ahead of him, relegating Falloon to the rank of "consolation prize"...

Which is how I'm trying to view my upcoming situation: I released two books in 2016. I played shows. I wrote new music. I have a shot at my first-overall passion, and I'm going for it; if it fails, I'll see what other options lie before me, and if and when I get there, I'll use it to make the best of both of us - the job and I - and how to use each other's strengths to make for a better team overall.

That's where I'm at, just past my mid-thirties.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Brandon Robinson Autograph Card

Brandon Robinson was an OHL first-rounder when the Brampton Battalion selected him prior to the 2011-12 season, and the fact that he played in the league for five full seasons is a testament that he knows how to play hockey, but also that he failed to meet expectations in the sense that not only was he never drafted by an NHL team, but that he also failed to secure a professional roster spot in the ECHL at 20 or 21 years old, though he did attend a Detroit Red Wings rookie camp.

In two and a half years with the Battalion and the same length of time with the Kitchener Rangers, Robinson never was a point-per-game player, despite playing a hard-hitting game with a good shot, and improving his skating nearly every year. His best season in Juniors was in 2014-15, when he scored 25 goals with 29 assists for 54 points in 62 games.

This season, he's got 9 goals and 5 assists for 14 points in 21 games so far with the Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks.

Here he is wearing the North Bay Battalion's (the team moved prior to his third season) white uniform, on card #A-BR1 from In the Game's 2013-14 Draft Series set and Draft Prospects sub-set:
He signed it on-card in black sharpie.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Joni Pitkanen Jersey Card

I briefly mentioned Joni Pitkanen when talking about the 2005-06 Philadelphia Flyers yesterday, which reminded me I'd been aiming to feature this card for a while now:
That's card #FI-JP from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Ice set and Fresh Ice sub-set, showing him in the Flyers' turn-of-the-millennium black uniform, and featuring an orange game-worn jersey swatch. What's great about it is it's made of plastic and the bottom-left, where it says Ice, is see-through.

Pitkanen retired in February 2016, after playing three games with the Finnish team Oulun Kärpät, scoring one goal in the process. He hadn't played a game in the three years prior, after suffering a broken heel while with the Carolina Hurricanes.

In nine NHL seasons, he reached the 40-point mark three times, twice with the Flyers, once with the Canes. He also spent one season with the Edmonton Oilers, posting 26 points (8 goals and 18 assists) in 62 games in 2007-08.

Internationally, he has two bronze medals with Team Finland at the World Juniors (2002 and 2003, in the first golden age of Finnish hockey) as well as one at the 2010 Olympics.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Turner Stevenson Autograph Card

Montréal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty has been on a tear lately, which may have something to do with playing with offensive genius Alexander Radulov and perhaps also with Team USA head coach John Tortorella singling him out during the World Cup. Or perhaps he has finally found the maturity to be able to lead an NHL team.

Whatever the reason, though, Pacioretty has now elevated his game to that of a big-time player, no longer a 30-goal scorer specializing in scoring hat tricks in 6-3 losses but an actual difference maker.

That's a pretty long detour to come back to Turner Stevenson, isn't it?

Pacioretty was a 22th overall pick in 2007, thought to be a power forward in the making; Stevenson was drafted 12th overall in 1990, with similar aspirations.

Obviously, with 75 goals in 644 games, Stevenson became something other than a first-line John LeClair-type, but no one can take away his Stanley Cup (2002-03, with the New Jersey Devils), something Pacioretty still lacks; the latter does have three straight 30-goal seasons and is five removed from a fourth this year, however.

I actually thought the 2005-06 Philadelphia Flyers, coached by Ken Hitchcock and featuring Stevenson in a reduced role but also the likes of Simon Gagné, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Peter Forsberg, Joni Pitkanen, R.J. Umberger, Éric Desjardins, Derian Hatcher, Petr Nedved, Donald Brashear and an injured Keith Primeau would win it again, but unfortunately, they were brought down by Carter and Richards' lack of maturity and hard-partying ways, as well as shoddy goaltending from Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki.

And so today, reminiscing about the times when the Habs would select heavy guys from the WHL in the first round instead of American kids looking at four years of College Hockey, I have decided to feature the signed silver version of card #71 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
It shows him wearing the Canadiens' white (then-home) uniform, and a thin black-sharpied on-card autograph.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Gaston Gingras Autographed Card

What a weird season for St. Louis Blues fans... but totally in line with what a Bob Gainey-led organization - he's currently a "special advisor to GM Doug Armstrong", his protégé from their Dallas Stars days - feels like, as many of the moves and results are reminiscent of his time as Montréal Canadiens General Manager...

First, anointing a #1 goalie without competition too early is one of his signature moves, one he pulled with Carey Price six years too early, trading a staggering number of #1 goalies to make room for him, among which Vezina and Hart winner José Theodore, David Aebischer, Crozier winner Cristobal Huet, and of course playoff wunderkind Jaroslav Halak. Then came appointing no-threat backups, such as Peter Budaj, who just spent two full seasons in the AHL (although, to be honest, I would have put him in this year's All-Star Game).

To make room for Jake Allen to star in net, the Blues first got rid of now-Jennings winner Halak themselves, then co-Jennings winner Brian Elliott this summer, to install Carter Hutton as backup, who had one decent season out of the three-or-four he's played in so far.

Another signature Gainey move - and one that is rarer in professional hockey - is to have both the incumbent head coach and his heir behind the same bench, already labeled. With the Habs, upon firing Claude Julien, Gainey installed himself behind the bench to conclude the season, with "best friend" Guy Carbonneau as "associate head coach" to become full-time boss the next year.

In St. Louis, Ken Hitchcock, in the final season of his six-year term with the Blues, had next year's head coach Mike Yeo with him behind the bench. Not having the benefit of also being the team's GM, Hitchcock saw the players respond more to Yeo than himself, leading to his firing today; Armstrong said he had to let his "best friend go"...

Speaking of the stress of being in the final year of a contract, Gainey had no less than 13 skaters become free agents at the end of the 2008-09 season for a total of 22 player changes that summer - and not just bit players, either: out went ten-year captain Saku Koivu, All-Star Game MVP Alex Kovalev, first-liner Alex Tanguay, All-Star defenseman Mike Komisarek, as well as dependable players such as Tom Kostopoulos; in came Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Travis Moen, and no less than four new defensemen: Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, Paul Mara and Marc-André Bergeron. Oh, and he traded for Scott Gomez...

In St. Louis this year, in addition to Hitchcock, several players are set to turn UFA this summer (Kevin Shattenkirk, Patrik Berglund, Scottie Upshall, Chris Butler) and a few will be RFAs (Nail Yakupov, Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko, and pretty much everyone on the Chicago Wolves).

Speaking of Shattenkirk, one player he reminds me of is Gaston Gingras; they have similar styles of play, Gingras may have had a better shot and better skating ability and Shattenkirk may be better all-around, more physical and more impactful nowadays because of the way the game is played - which is why the current player is a #3 defender on a top-level team while Gingras was a #5 and powerplay specialist - but both are 40-some point producers while playing a sound game that moves the puck forward.

Here is Gingras, depicted with the Blues, on card #229 from O-Pee-Chee's 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee set, in one of those airbrushed photos they were so fond of:
Back in the day, OPC either airbrushed the player's new uniform on top of an older picture, or they just added "Now with X" in text on the picture when the design was too difficult or the trade/signing came too late in the summer.

Gingras played with Gainey on the Stanley Cup-winning 1986 Habs, with rookie Conn Smythe winner Patrick Roy in nets, which may have skewed his vision of how to deal with starting goalies. Speaking of which, the Blues also fired goaltending coach Jim Corsi, inventor of the Corsi shot-tracking pretend-advanced statistic, who paid for Allen's and Hutton's sub-par season, where they currently stand in 27th position overall. He was replaced by the two-headed monster of Martin Brodeur and Ty Conklin, because what the team needed this year was another scapegoat and another bizarre occurrence.

Oh, and by the way, the Habs had also let go of their goalie coach, Roland Melanson, after Price choked in the 2009 playoffs. Because history loves to repeat itself around Gainey.