Sunday, May 21, 2017

Roman Hamrlik Autographed Card

One player who came to the Montréal Canadiens late in his career and surpassed expectations was Roman Hamrlik, the former first-overall draft pick (Tampa Bay Lightning, 1992).

Bolts fans remember him as the best defenseman on an awful team, one that accumulated minuses at pretty much the same rate as Wayne Gretzky accumulated assists, but the truth is he was a dependable defender when slotted correctly on teams with some talent. In terms of career points, he ranked fifth of his draft year with 638 (155 goals and 483 assists in 1395 games, again, playing defense), behind Sergei Gonchar (14th overall, 220-591-811 in 1301 games), Alexei Yashin (second overall, 337-444-781 in 850 games which included a year-long holdout and a buyout), Cory Stillman (6th overall, 278-449-727 in 1025 games) and Martin Straka (19th overall, 257-460-717 in 954 games).

What's more, even apart from his career-high 65 points with the Lightning in 1995-96, he has posted 40-point seasons with the Edmonton Oilers (45, in 1999-2000) and New York Islanders (46 in 2000-01 and 41 in 2002-03), then could be counted on for 30-some points in the twilight of his career, 2005-11, with the Calgary Flames and Habs, when he became a very good second-pairing defenseman who brought sound positioning, physical play and very good hockey IQ to the line-up.

He retired following the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, spent mostly as a scratch with the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, after which he moved back to the South Shore of Montréal where he holds the Hammer Hockey Camp in the summer, with fellow former NHLer Petr Klima, as well as Martin Hamrlik (his older brother, a coach in the Czech Republic) and Karel Svoboda, former Hab (and Jaromir Jagr's agent) Petr Svoboda's brother, who coaches a Midget AAA team on the island during the season.

Of note, he's a huge P.K. Subban fan, and was so even when they were both on the Canadiens; he says rumours of dissent within the locker room at the time were greatly exaggerated, and that those who did have an issue with him are mostly gone (reading between the lines, Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, who were loud and vocal but did not represent the majority of players, come to mind).

Here he is whilst wearing the Isles' blue turn-of-the-millennium away uniform, on card #119 from Upper Deck's 2001-02 Series 1 set:
He signed it with a beautiful silver sharpie, adding his Habs number (44) at the end, rather than the one he wore with the Isles (4).

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Hannu Toivonen 8X10 Autograph Card

Ah ha! I knew I had my own copy of this Hannu Toivonen signed 8x10 card! I finally got a hold of it while searching for this Jhonas Enroth card I've now traded away... but more on that when I talk about what I'm getting in return!

For now, let's focus on my second #SP-HT 8x10 picture/card from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Be A Player Portraits (the Signature Portraits sub-set:
Since my last post in 2013, Toivonen's been plying his trade in Finland, notably for the Tampere Ilves, the most decorated team in Finnish hockey, Finland's Montréal Canadiens, if you will. And, like the Habs, they haven't won a championship in a long time, in their case, since 1985.

He's had a losing record for the last three years, but his individual statistics are pretty decent:
From HockeyDB
I also found two of Nikolai Zherdev's of the same set, so look for that eventually as well.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers Jersey Card

I was wondering what happened to Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers recently, finding it hard to believe that a player who was a 31st overall pick (Edmonton Oilers, 2002) and played last season in Germany (with the Augsburger Panther) would be out of work at 33 years old.

Well, I found him when perusing stats from the Chinook Hockey League, as he played 3 games with the Lacombe Generals (posting a high 2.98 goals-against average but a decent .917 save percentage). If you remember this story about Ryan Smyth, they're the team Smyth's Stony Plain Eagles were facing in the Chinook League final. Both teams eventually made it to the Allan Cup, but the Generals made it to the final.

Justice was served, however, as the Grand-Falls Windsor Cataracts won the championship. Of note, the Generals brought no less than five goalies to the tournament: Drouin-Deslauriers, who was the third-string goalie, Steven Stanford, the backup, and starter Kramer Barnstable; Marcel Léger and Jacob Deserres were also on board.

So, yeah, that's where JDD is at these days. He hasn't appeared in a postseason game since surrendering a bunch of goals while with the Oklahoma City Barons in 2010-11...

He currently works as a sales and leasing associate at commercial real estate service company Cushman & Wakefield.

Here he is while with the Oilers, with a nice view of his mask, on card #M-25 (Black Version) of In The Game's 2010-11 Between The Pipes set and Game-Used Jersey sub-set:
It features a nice, large, two-colour game-worn jersey swatch from his days with the Oilers.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Aaron Williams Autograph Card

Aaron Williams was a second-round pick of the Buffalo Bills (34th overall) in 2011, becoming a regular in his third season with the team, coinciding with a move from cornerback to (strong) safety.

However, two severe neck injuries forced him into missing 22 games in the past two years, and with the Bills changing coaches, they opted to release him last March, weeks before his 27th birthday.

His football future is now uncertain.

Here he is wearing Buffalo's white (away) uniform, on the signed insert version of card#143 from Panini's 2011 Absolute Memorabilia set and Spectrum and Rookie Class of 2011 sub-sets:
It features an on-sticker, blue-sharpied autograph.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Chris Drury Jersey Card

Chris Drury's had a busy spring, starting with being named co-GM of Team USA's selection at the World Championships (with Bill Guerin), then watching the New York Rangers block the Buffalo Sabres from interviewing him for their own vacant GM position, to finally being assigned to manage their AHL affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack.

It must be pretty wild to have two teams you've captained fight for your services...

Drury is the typical All-American: a Hobey Baker winner in the NCAA (with the Boston University Terriers), a Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) winner and Stanley Cup champion (with the Colorado Avalanche) and, as mentioned previously, captain of the Sabres (held jointly with Daniel Brière) and Rangers.

Now, he will have the opportunity to show what he can achieve in a managerial position, although most of the team's player personnel decisions will stem from the Rangers' top brass (President Glen Sather, GM Jeff Gorton and senior vice-president and assistant-GM Jim Schoenfeld), and the team's record will have a lot to do with injuries to the parent team.

Here's Drury wearing the Sabres' 1996-2006 white (home) uniform, on card #GJ-30 from Upper Deck's 2003-04 Bee Hive set and Game-Used Jersey sub-set:
It features a black game-worn jersey swatch (complete with a white stitch in the middle of it) from the forward who finished his career with 255 goals, 360 assists and 615 points in 892 regular-season games, and 89 points (47 goals, 42 assists) in 135 playoff games.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Martin Parisien Signed EP

Last night, I had the pleasure to headline a unique show that featured three solo performers: Martin Parisien (formerly of Huis Clos) hit the stage first, a solo blues-tinged rockabilly act, then Vincent Letarte (from funk-country act Hangover Lobsters and blues-rock outfit Young Dogs) followed with his "Into The Beat" piece, which is pretty much a 15-to-20-minute drum solo. And then I got up on stage to sing selections from my French and English songbooks (feel free to buy a copy or two).

Letarte's name goes around as someone who can backbone a group of virtuoso musicians and will remain recognized as such, but Parisien is bound to become a household name for his songwriting, if not for his entire act. It's the beauty of being good at something: sometimes, others ask you to do it for them. Songwriters can expand their circle of influence to include that of other songwriters and even interpreters; the growth can be exponential.

I'd traveled with both guys to Toronto for Canadian Music Week in late April - there were nine of us in total, from five different bands, in fact - and we had a blast. At that time, Martin gave me a physical copy of his EP, and he jokingly signed it last night:
It's definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Philippe Boucher Autograph Card

Philippe Boucher's career mirrored that of another defenseman of his generation, Patrice Brisebois, in that both were extremely good with the puck, made very good passes, had an accurate shot that was just hard enough to go in on its own but also easy enough for teammates to try to deflect, and whose size had GMs and coaches hoping they'd be more physical and better in their own zone.

In today's NHL, these types of players - exemplified best by the likes of Mark Streit and Kris Letang - are now known as "puck-moving offensive defensemen", and most play top-4 minutes; this was also often the case in the 1990s and early-00s, but physical play was more prevalent (and refereeing was, dare I say, worse) back then, so forwards with lesser talent were usually tasked to hit them - legally or not - to prey the puck loose, and once a cycle was in motion, they had little means to stop it.

Some of these players won Stanley Cups in their heydey - Brisebois with the Montréal Canadiens in 1993, for instance - but others had a harder time at it. Boucher falls into the latter category.

Originally a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings after failing to make his mark in Buffalo for three seasons. The big knock over his time in L.A. was his inability to remain healthy, only suiting up for 80 games in a season once, in his final of eight seasons in the sun. It was with the Dallas Stars that he would truly find his groove, however, setting the team record for goals by a defenseman with 19, in 2006-07. That year, he made it onto the All-Star Game's starting roster (replacing the injured Scott Niedermayer), finished 12th in Norris voting and even got some Lady Byng votes.

However, as he was nearing the end of his contract and perhaps even his career, at age 35, the Stars sent him to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline of the 2008-09 season, and he provided defensive depth for a team that went on to win the Cup.

He did, in fact, retire after winning the championship, injuries having taken their toll.

In 2011, he was named President and GM of the LHJMQ's Rimouski Océanic, until he stepped down to become GM and head coach of the rival Québec Remparts after their own owner, President, GM and head coach Patrick Roy signed on to be head coach and VP of Player Personnel of the Colorado Avalanche.

In the three seasons the team has been under his watch, the perennial contenders reached the league final once, and were ousted in the first round twice, including a clean sweep this year against the Gatineau Olympiques.

Here he is while with the Kings, wearing their best-looking black (away) uniform, on the signed insert version of card #74 from Pinnacle Brands' 1996-97 Be A Player set:
He signed it in thin black sharpie... pretty much directly on the black jersey. Look for it, though, it's there!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Scott Hartnell Swatch Card

Scott Hartnell is a polarizing figure in today's NHL. Known mostly as a bruiser, folks tend to forget he's a three-time 60-point man whose career-high is 37 goals with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011-12, prompting the team to sign him to a contract extension that was sure to come bite them in the ass later, unless they traded him away eventually. Which they did, to the Columbus Blue Jackets, with whom his points totals went from 60 to 49 to 37 this year.

That's fine production for a 35-year-old physical player, by the way. But his playing time dipped in his second season in Ohio, a trend that will continue as the Jackets continue to improve with their current crop of youngsters. Hartnell has already lifted his no-move clause, so the Vegas Golden Knights may want to pick him up this summer. His actual salary will only be $3M while his cap hit sits at $4.75M, which could help the Knights underpay to reach the cap floor, exactly like the poorly managed and always-tanking Arizona Coyotes have been doing for years now. Except I trust the Knights to be a much better team than the Coyotes from the get-go.

I used to dislike expansion teams. The San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks and the like, they meant nothing to me and I mostly wanted to watch them fail time and time again. It was different for the Minnesota Wild and the Blue Jackets, because those teams were in actual hockey markets (Columbus had a team in the very first professional hockey league, along with Pittsburgh, Detroit, Sault Ste Marie (Ontario) and Sault Ste Marie (Michigan), with Montréal, Toronto and Ottawa, but the teams in non-traditional markets used to anger me. Especially the relocated teams. The Dallas Stars started out rich and bought themselves a championship early on, but I could never get behind the Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes. I still hate that the Canes have a Stanley Cup, and I hope the Sharks never do.

For some reason, though, I'm rooting for Vegas to do well. Just like I always root for the Jackets and Flyers to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. Which brings me back to Hartnell, seen here wearing Philly's retro/current home jersey, on card #97 from Panini's 2010-11 Pinnacle set and City Lights sub-set:
It features a white game-worn jersey swatch and is numbered #235/499.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tandon Doss Autograph Card

The Baltimore Ravens selected Tandon Doss in the fourth round in 2011, but cut him loose twice in three seasons, first waiving him, then re-claiming him when the Green Bay Packers did the same, then letting him become a free agent and sign on with the Jacksonville Jaguars, with whom he spent an entire season on the injured list before getting cut prior to the start of 2015, never actually suiting up for a game.

Technically, he won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2013, but was released before the next season even started. Apart from the championship, his most remarkable individual feat was an 82-yard punt return touchdown on his 24th birthday.

The lowlight of his career was probably his arrest for disorderly conduct, although he was eventually released from that as well, without charges.

Here he is wearing the Ravens' #89 purple (home) uniform, on the signed insert version of his rookie card (#19+5 in the set) from Panini's 2011 Crown Royale collection:
It's numbered #491/499. I got it from a multi-sport repack box a couple of years ago. It features an on-sticker autograph in blue sharpie.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Matthew Halischuk Jersey Card

After years of mostly splitting his time between the NHL and AHL organizations of the New Jersey Devils, Nashville Predators, and Winnipeg Jets, Matt Halischuk went overseas for the 2016-17 season, signing on with the German League's Iserlohn Roosters.

The right winger scored 4 goals with 6 assists (for 10 points) in 23 games, a decent point-per-game production on a team where the leading scorer, former Bridgeport Sound Tigers player Blaine Down, posted 33 points 18 goals and 15 assists) in 48 games.

It's also the team where former Preds goaltending prospect, 2008 first-rounder Chet Pickard (Calvin's brother) plies his trade, as Matias Lange's backup.

Halischuk's main issue has always been his size. Though he grew to stand at 6'0", his lanky 180-pound stature makes it easy to knock him off the puck, regardless of the league he's playing in.

Here he is wearing the Devils' red (home) uniform, on card #FT-MH from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Ice set and Fresh Threads sub-set:
It features two jersey swatches from a rookie photo shoot, one all-black and the other mainly white with a trace of red, encompassing all three of the Devils' current colours.

Monday, May 8, 2017

John Tamargo Autographed Card

With the prevalence of beards nowadays, most of my friends now look like this:
That's John Tamargo, Gary Carter's first backup catcher with the Montréal Expos, on card #519 from Topps' 1981 Topps set, which he signed in thin blue sharpie. I got it in the mail this winter, but because I had sent it a few years ago and kept the dates on my old computer (R.I.P.), I don't have the sent date for this one. I did receive it in early December, though.

Tamargo didn't play in the Majors much, 135 games over 5 seasons, with his lone complete season with one team being that summer of 1980 with the Expos, which is still good enough to slot him as #11 in my Expos Numbers Project.

After his playing career, he slid into management, as did his son, John Tamargo Jr., who now coaches in the Toronto Blue Jays organization; John Sr. is now the Latin America Field Coordinator for the Seattle Mariners. They did coach against one another in Single-A ball in 2012.

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 30; 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!
44: Tim Burke and Ken Hill: check!
45: Michael Barrett also wore #5) and the great Steve Rogers: check!
46: Kevin Gross: 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!
64: Keith Evans: check!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

My Habs Numbers Project: An Introduction

So many hockey collectors have ''special projects'' they pursue to make their hobby even more fun, from trying to gather specific cards from every single Vancouver Canucks goalie to having an autographed card of every player who has reached the 1000-point mark.

I decided to start a project myself: to gather a special piece (jersey cards could work, but ideally an autographed card) from a player from every number worn by a member of the Montréal Canadiens.
Here's a look at the task that's ahead of me, starting with those I have:

Head Coach: Scotty Bowman: check!
1: Brian Hayward, and Rick Wamsley: check!
2: Gaston Gingras (also wore #29): check!
3: Sylvain Lefebvre once (then twice), and Brian Engblom: check!
4: the one and only Jean Béliveau: check!
5: Stéphane Quintal and Guy Lapointe: check!
6: Ralph Backstrom: check!
8: Mike Komisarek: 8x10 picture check!
10: Guy Lafleur: check!
11: Claude Larose and Ryan Walter: check!
12: Yvan Cournoyer and Mike Keane: check! (also: Darcy Tucker)
13: Alex Tanguay: check!
14: Mario Tremblay: check! (also, Tomas Plekanec, who also wore #35)
15: Réjean Houle once, (then twice), and Bobby Smith: check! (also: George Parros)
16: Henri Richard: check!
17: Georges Laraque and Benoît Brunet: check!
18: Valeri Bure: check!, and Serge Savard: signed lithograph check!
20: Phil Goyette: check!
21: Brian Gionta: once, then twice, and Christopher Higgins: check!
22: Steve Shutt, Steve Bégin and Gilbert Dionne: check!
23: Turner Stevenson: check! (twice)
24: Andreas Dackell: postcard check!
25: Vincent Damphousse: check!
26: Josh Gorges: check!
27: Alex Kovalev: jersey card check!
28: Kyle Chipchura and Éric Desjardins: check!
29: Gaston Gingras (also wore #2) and Brett Clark: check! 
30: Mathieu Garon: postcard check, Peter Budaj, and David Aebischer: check!
31: Carey Price: check! (also Jeff Hackett)
32: Travis Moen: check!
34: Peter Popovic: check!
35: Alex Auld: check! (also, Tomas Plekanec, who wore #14 as well)
36: Marcel Hossa (also wore 81): check!
37: Steve Penney: check!
38: Jan Bulis: postcard check!
40: Maxim Lapierre: check! (also, this Éric Chouinard postcard)
41: Jaroslav Halak: check!
42: Alexander Perezhogin: check!
43: Patrice Brisebois and Andrew Cassels: check!
44: Stéphane Richer: check!
45: Gilbert Dionne: check!
46: Andrei Kostitsyn: 8x10 check!
47: Brendon Nash and Stéphan Lebeau (also wore #50): check!
48: Jean-Jacques Daigneault, and James Wyman: check!
49: Brian Savage: check!
50: Stéphan Lebeau (also wore #47): check!
51: David Desharnais: check! (also wore #58)
52: Craig Rivet: postcard check!
54: Patrick Traverse: postcard check!
55: Francis Bouillon (also wore #51): check!
57: Blake Geoffrion: check!
58: David Desharnais: check! (also wore #51)
59: Brock Trotter: check!
60: José Theodore: check and check again!
61: Raphael Diaz: check!
63: Craig Darby: check!
64: Greg Pateryn: check!
65: Robert Mayer: check!
67: Max Pacioretty: check!
68: Yannick Weber: check!
70: Zachary Fucale: 4x6 picture check!
71: Louis Leblanc and Mike Ribeiro: check!
72: Mathieu Carle: check!
73: Michael Ryder: check!
74: Alexei Emelin: check!
75: Yann Danis: check!
76: P.K. Subban: jersey card check!
77: Pierre Turgeon: check!
79: Andrei Markov: check!
80: Ben Maxwell: check!
81: Lars Eller: check!
84: Guillaume Latendresse: check!
91: Scott Gomez: check!
94: Yanic Perreault and Tom Pyatt: check!

Captains: Béliveau, Gionta, Turgeon


Which means I'm looking to fill these:

7: This will be the hardest, seeing as Howie Morenz died in 1937 and the number was soon retired...
9: There are signature cards of Maurice 'The Rocket' Richard, but I don't think I'll ever be able to afford one!
19: This one will likely be between Terry Harper and Larry Robinson
33: Of course, my boyhood idol is Patrick Roy. Richard Sévigny would also be fine.
39: I think I also have a Reid Simpson one, but I'd love to upgrade to a Cristobal Huet or Enrico Ciccone
53: Rory Fitzpatrick and Ryan White have worn this number the longest
56: David Wilkie, Alain Nasreddine, Scott Fraser and Stéphane Robidas are the only ones to have worn this number in Montréal
62: It's a toss-up between Duncan Milroy and Frédéric St-Denis, but I did send St-Denis cards this season
66: Has only been worn in pre-season games
69: another pre-season number
78: I probably have some Éric Landry stuff somewhere...
82: It'd be nice to have Donald Audette's signature on a Canadiens' product
83: I don't even remember Éric Bertrand, but I'll gladly take the refresher course
85: never been worn, huh
86: Jonathan Ferland
87: never been worn
88: Chris Higgins wore it for a short while, as did Xavier Delisle
89: never been worn
90: I have lots of Joé Juneau cards, none of them signed
92: never been worn
93: the one and only Doug Gilmour
95: goalie Olivier Michaud would make my day, but Sergei Berezin would be fine as well
96, 97, 98, 99: have never been worn

Zach Fucale Signed 4x6 Picture

I've seen a lot of Zachary Fucale these past couple of seasons, and I expect to see more of him as he spends his summers improving with Montréal Canadiens goaltending coach Stéphane Waite before GM Marc Bergevin loses patience and sends him packing.

Folks were worried when he was sent to the ECHL earlier in the season, after the Habs hired veteran Yann Danis to back up St. John's IceCaps starter Charlie Lindgren, but Fucale delivered the best performance in net out of the three goalies on the Brampton Beast:
From HockeyDB.com
He also helped Team Canada win the Spengler Cup over the Holidays, with four wins in as many games, including a 40-save performance in the Final. That's going to look gold with his 2015 World Juniors and 2012 U-18 Ivan Hlkina Tournament gold medals.

He's also been his team's only winning goalie in the postseason:
From HockeyDB.com
He's certainly on the right track, including having been recalled to the NHL in March when Al Montoya was injured, although Carey Price did not relinquish the net.

And he is now part of my Habs Numbers Project, entering as #70 with this signed 4x6 picture from training camp a few summers back (2013 or 2014):
He's wearing the team's classic red (now-home) uniform, deflecting a puck away with his glove, wearing his Halifax Mooseheads equipment.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bryan Bickell Jersey Card

Enough about concussions. Let's talk about multiple sclerosis instead...

That may be a dark segue into today's featured player, but it is what is forcing three-time Stanley Cup winner Bryan Bickell to retire after a hard season that started with his being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, essentially as a Chicago Blackhawks salary dump that also cost them prospect Teuvo Teravainen.

Bickell, the Hawks' second-round pick in 2004 (41st overall) turned out to be, for most of his career, a dependable bottom-six winger who could be counted upon for some 10 goals and 20 assists year in and year out, but whose 6'4" frame carrying 230 pounds came in handy in the postseason, where scoring is at a premium for top-line guys but where grinders can usually turn in heroic performances against their ilk and provide the kind of secondary scoring that wins championships. At first glace, his 39 points in 75 playoff games is just that, but even more so in the 2013 (17 points in 23 games) and 2014 (10 points in 19 games) playoffs specifically, the first of which landed him a four-year contract with a $4M cap hit that Chicago eventually had to try to rid themselves of, as his regular-season statistics could no longer justify that salary in the end, particularly with the Hawks' top-heavy cap load (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford).

On every message board and all over the internet, however, commenters who requested his being traded would always have an addendum that featured the words "thanks", "great guy", "nice guy", "too bad" and so forth. Despite how unproductive he had become (2 assists in 25 games in 2015-16 strikes me as a perfect example), Hawks fans regretted wishing he'd be let go or bought out. They liked the man himself and were grateful for his help in securing the 2013 Cup.

So far, Father Time remains undefeated, although for the moment, Jaromir Jagr seems to want to give Him a hell of a fight. Sometimes, He throws curveballs, such as when Bickell was diagnosed with MS after seven games in the Canes' uniform, after a battery of tests trying to explain why he was feeling so weak.

Bickell went through treatment, went to the AHL to get back in shape, and played the Hurricanes' last three games of the season, scoring a shootout goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in his final game.

You hate the way he has to leave the game, but you have to love how he still managed to make the best out of it.

Here he is waiting for the puck, wearing the Hawks' classic red (now-home) uniform, on card #GJ-BI from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a white game-used jersey swatch.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Guillaume Latendresse Autograph Card

In keeping with yesterday's theme of concussions via Keith Primeau and Sidney Crosby, I chose to feature this card of Guillaume Latendresse's today:
That's the signed insert version (on-sticker, in blue sharpie) of card #128 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Team Canada set and Signatures sub-set, showing him wearing his country's (bland, "home") uniform from either the 2005 U-18 Championships (silver medalist) or the 2006 World Juniors (gold). Of note, there's a "73" tagged at the ebnd of his signature, meaning he signed the sticker while he was with the Minnesota Wild.

It ties into Team Canada's win over the Czechs earlier today at the World Championships, but also of Tender's own history of concussions, which forced him to retire at the age of 26. Among revelations Latendresse has made in the last few days:
  1. Doctors even recommend he stop playing shinny hockey with his friends (I used to play in a summer league with him and other then-current NHLers and prospects, that may prove to be his most difficult task yet).
  2. When he hit his head playing Wii with his son last year, for an entire month, when a fellow RDS game analyst would go on for too long, Tender would lose track of the conversation and forget what he was supposed to be speaking about, on air.
  3. He barely hit his head when putting his daughter in the car a few days ago; he has been sleeping 12 hours a day since, in addition to napping for four hours at a time, with headaches, eye pain and motion sickness, just from a very minor bump.
  4. Stress, anxiety, pain, headaches and fatigue are regular occurrences, even three years into retirement.
  5. If he doesn't get at least 8 hours of sleep in a given night, he simply cannot operate the next day. I remember his social life extending past his bedtime and his being fresh as roses early the next morning. And he's still just 29, so it's not all just age doing the damage.
  6. He's less patient than he used to be, and gets angry at times as well.
  7. After six concussions in his last three seasons, doctors suggested he take a year or two away from the game; it's been nearly four years, and he still isn't feeling well.
  8. He spent a full year on antidepressants.
  9. He couldn't play without painkillers in his last few seasons. Tylenol was a minimum requirement; Advil, Motrin and Aleve were a regular part of his game-day diet.
  10. He couldn't talk to trainers, coaches or general managers, because it would be the end of his career; all were interconnected, working for the team, and he didn't want to build a reputation as a fragile player. Things were worse in Europe, where contracts are not guaranteed for "foreigners" who get injured.
  11. He has thought "If I get hit in center ice, that's probably it, I'll be a vegetable-state father of two" prior to and during games.
He also talks about how he now has to deal with his situation, cope and make the best of it, because his condition will never improve; this is as good as it gets for him going forward, the new normal.

Looking back now, he wishes he'd stopped a year or two earlier; however, he knew he was an NHL-level top-six forward and wanted to get back to that level, prove his doubters wrong and do what he had set out to do his entire life. This is, after all, the same player who scored 25 goals in 55 games with the Wild in 2009-10.

When you're in the action - or right outside of it, in his case - it's hard to gauge the repercussions in your old age. You hear of the extreme cases but figure you're an athlete, you're in better shape, you're tough, you'll be fine, as long as you avoid "the next one". Then the one after that. Then you find out we're all soft inside, and that the stories about failing health and difficulties living in the day-to-day were actually selling it short. That "pain" doesn't feel painful unless you're actually dealing with it in the moment. That head trauma isn't just an aching tooth you can pull out, or back pain that will resolve itself in weeks or months with pills and physiotherapy - it's in the area that controls your entire body, it ruins your day, and possibly even your life. It's fucking hell.

That's what Latendresse is living with right now. And Primeau. And Marc Savard. Years removed from whence those injuries occurred.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Keith Primeau Jersey Card

Keith Primeau knows a thing or two about concussions, so obviously, when Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby suffered yet another one against the Washington Capitals the other night, Primeau was going to be asked about it. And his answer was brutally honest.

Alex Ovechkin was asked about the hit as well, seeing as Crosby had made contact with him prior to falling into Matt Niskanen's stick. And head trauma professionals (i.e. "doctors") also weighed in, most agreeing that three or four concussions - which is at least where Crosby's at right now counting the current one, the one that sidelined him for two weeks at the beginning of the season and the one that took him away from the game for nearly a year, notwithstanding the times people assumed "concussion" but which he claims were "neck realignment issues" - is when athletes should start considering pulling the plug on their careers, one going so far as to say: "If he were an amateur, we would probably be telling him to hang up his skates".

Of course, Crosby isn't just an amateur, he's one of the best players in the world, one who fills arenas league-wide, has the most secondary-merchandise sales and second-most jerseys sold in the NHL; he's the face of the league, the captain of his team - which happens to be the defending champions - and a media darling who may win one of this year's MVP awards (the Hart is chosen by hockey journalists, while the Ted Linsday winner is selected by the players themselves) after scoring a league-leading 44 goals (side note: yes, it's depressing unsettling that in a non-lockout season, the NHL's leading goal scorer will not have scored 50 goals).

And that's the biggest difference between Primeau and Crosby: Crosby is in his prime, while Primeau was four years removed from his last point-per-game season when he was forced out, but he was still the Philadelphia Flyers' heart and soul - and captain; he provided the inspiration, and players like Simon Gagné provided the goals, kind of like Evgeni Malkin does when Crosby's out.

Crosby seems intent on coming back in this series, so we'll see how it pans out. But if doctors want to keep him away, he'll keep his annual $8.7M salary for the next few years, so it's not like he's not set for life. Should he have to cross that bridge, hopefully he'll make the right call for his later days.

In the meantime, here's Primeau wearing the Flyers' terrible alternate jersey from a decade ago, on card #S-KP from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 1 set and Shooting Stars sub-set:
God that's an ugly look, particularly the sleeves. The car features a black game-worn jersey swatch.
"If he were an amateur, we would probably tell him to hang up his skates." - See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/primeau-doctors-question-whether-crosby-should-return-after-fourth-concussion-1.18138096#sthash.AglrDVdo.dpuf

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

James Neal Jersey Card

James Neal scored the game-winner last night as his Nashville Predators took a commanding 3-1 series lead against the St. Louis Blues. Ryan Ellis and Pekka Rinne are having the playoffs of their lives, but the entire Predators team is currently firing on all cylinders.

I predicted the Preds, Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators would squeak through to the Conference Finals, but the Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers' physical play is taking a bigger toll than I thought it would, and the Pittsburgh Penguins just keep battling through their injuries; I won't mind being wrong on 75% of the second round if it means the quality of play will be as intense as those teams have shown.

Neal himself has had a bit of a down year, scoring 23 goals with 18 assist for 41 points in 70 games, after potting 31 goals the previous season. Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg each scored 31 this year, and Neal's 41 points is just one ahead of a defenseman (P.K. Subban) who played four fewer games than he has.

Perhaps some of the blame can be put on injuries, and part of it might also be Mike Ribeiro's regression from second-line setup man to AHLer; two-time NHL All-Star Neal will probably be back to his usual production rate next year.

It sure looks like he won't be able to add to his international medal count (gold at the 2007 World Juniors and silver at the 2009 World Championships with Team Canada) in the near future, however, with the Preds' playoff aspirations negating World Championship opportunities, and the NHL having decided to back out of the 2018 Olympics.

Here he is on card #GJ-JN from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 1 set (and UD Game Jersey sub-set), wearing Nashville's yellow (home) uniform, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch:
I don't like the yellow-versus-white thing that happens when the Preds host teams at Bridgestone Arena. I don't like the Predators' current uniforms at all, mind you, but if they insist on wearing an all-yellow jersey, it should be the "away" uniform, replacing the white, playing against teams with other colours. Yellow-on-white is an issue for me.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Dustin Hermanson Autographed Card

When the San Diego Padres drafted Dustin Hermanson, the thought was that his fastball would make him an ideal reliever, perhaps even a closer if he developed well enough. He sure had the facial hair to warrant playing as a closer...
Leave it to the Montréal Expos to try to convert him into a starter, leaving him with a 43-47 record over four seasons with the team.

After shuffling around with the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, and San Francisco Giants, he landed with the Chicago White Sox in 2005 and 2006; they made him their closer and won the 2005 World Series, albeit with rookie Bobby Jenks filling in when Hermanson had back problems, which forced him into early retirement after a filed attempt at cracking the Cincinnati Reds roster in 2007.

Here he is on card #87 from Topps' 1994 Stadium Club Draft Picks set, the first and only set of its kind released by the brand, which he signed in blue sharpie, likely when playing for the Giants, perhaps in August 2003:

Monday, May 1, 2017

Patric Hornqvist Autographed Card

Patric Hörnqvist was a game-time decision to suit up for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of their series against the Washington Capitals tonight, and perhaps he should have sat it out, considering he laid the game's most devastating hit... on teammate Conor Sheary.

Sitting out may also be something Pens captain Sidney Crosby might want to do for Game 4, given his past concussion issues, after accidentally getting hit by former teammate Matt Niskanen:

The Pens' injuries were already an issue in the 2017 Playoffs, but losing Crosby after Kris Letang and Matt Murray might be the final nail in their coffin.

Here's Hörnqvist from his days with the Nashville Predators, on card #40 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Rookie Class set:
He's wearing their former blue and grey home uniform; he signed the card in blue sharpie.