Saturday, July 15, 2017

Anthony Stolarz: Two Autographed Cards

When the Philadelphia Flyers selected Anthony Stolarz with the 45th overall pick (second round) in 2012, the plan was to let the first New Jersey-born NHL-quality goalie slowly develop into a #1 goalie. Whether it was going to take seven years to become a top-level puck stopper (Carey Price) or nine (Jake Allen), GM Ron Hextall was not going to throw him to the wolves sooner than necessary.

Five years in, he saw his first 7 games of action in 2016-17, winning the first one, earning a shutout in the second, ending up with a 2-1-1 record, .928 save percentage and 2.07 goals-against average, easily the tops on the team ahead of Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason.

That being said, his season in the AHL had its ups and downs, with a 2.92 GAA and .911 save percentage that ranked him behind Alex Lyon. So when Hextall extended both Lyon and Stolarz earlier today, it sent a clear message that Stolarz is not ready to be an NHL backup yet in his general manager's eyes. He'll need to dominate consistently in the AHL before getting that chance, which explains why Hextall also signed free agent on-again, off-again starter Brian Elliott for two years on July 1st.

I look forward to watching the 6'6" goalkeeper's development throughout the years. For now, however, here's a look at the uniforms he wore with the OHL's London Knights, starting with the black "away" one, with a throwback to the team's 1970s logo, on card #33 from In The Game's 2012-13 Between the Pipes set and CHL Prospects sub-set:
And here he is wearing the white alternate home uniform with the KNIGHTS downward wordmark, on card #12 from ITG's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed both in blue sharpie, tagging his jersey number (43) at the end, during the 2014-15 AHL season, after a Lehigh Valley Phantoms game against the Hamilton Bulldogs.

The cards show his goaltending stance very well: he's a tall, butterfly goalie who hasn't learned to keep his stick blade stuck to the ice and uses the "patting glove hand" method that cuts out some of the angles but reduces occurrences of reflex stops, particularly the middle two feet of the left post. I usually prefer when my students extend their hand outwards a little more to the left and not so much to the front - I'd rather their stance say "try me" than show fear and play safe, which I also call "play dead". But I've never played in the NHL, and Stolarz will one day star in it.

Fun fact regarding the cards: they do not agree on where he was born:
For the record, he was born in Edison and raised in Jackson.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Curtis Lazar Autographed Card

After trading for him earlier this spring and protecting him in the expansion draft, the Calgary Flames followed the expected route with prospect Curtis Lazar by signing him to a two-year "show me" contract whose cap hit is just below the $1M mark.

For a while there, we were using his achievements in the minors as promises that he'd likely be able to produce at the NHL level as well (with feats such as breaking Steven Stamkos' and Sidney Crosby's Canada Winter Games points records, winning a 2012 Ivan Hlinka tournament gold medal with Team Canada and captaining the Canadian team to gold again at the 2015 World Juniors on home soil in Montréal and Toronto), but after the trade, he did accumulate three points (a goal and two assists) in four games with the Flames, as well as suit up for one game in the playoffs.

It can be hard for youngsters to come in and learn a new system and get acquainted to new teammates in just a few weeks and make their mark enough to dress over guys who've been there all year.

He'll be a regular next season, in a line-up that will include such high-profile young forwards as Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Spencer Foo, Micheal Ferland and Freddie Hamilton, as well as veterans Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan and Kris Versteeg.

He'll be 24 by the time his contract expires, about to enter his prime, and considering he was drafted to be a cross between Milan Lucic and Mike Fisher by the Ottawa Senators (17th overall in 2013) following a fine WHL career with the Edmonton Oil Kings, that could be a huge deal for the newly-rebuilt Flames.

Speaking of the Oil Kings, here is what their white uniform looks like, on card #92 from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set and CHL Rookie sub-set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during the 2014-15 playoffs.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Rick Tocchet Autograph Card

Rick Tocchet.

I wasn't a huge fan of his during his playing days, when he was a power forward comparable to Wendel Clark, Dino Ciccarelli, Brian Bellows and Ray Sheppard, a notch below the pre-eminent one of the 1980s (Cam Neely) and the perfected versions of the 1990s (Eric Lindros, Todd Bertuzzi).

That being said - and even when contextualizing that his best seasons took place between 1987 and 1993, at the height of NHL scoring prowess and right before the Dead Puck Era - one has to give him his dues: fans and head coaches loved him, as can be attested by his four (1989, 1990, 1991 and 1993) All-Star Game appearances; he reached the 40-goal plateau three times, twice with the Philadelphia Flyers (45 in 1988-89 and 40 in 1990-91) and once with the Pittsburgh Penguins (48 in 1992-93, which ranked third on the team behind Mario Lemieux's 69 and Kevin Stevens' 55); he surpassed the 100-point mark in 1992-93, one of four members of the Pens to do so that year, with Jaromir Jagr's 94 just shy of making it five; he won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1991-92; and he holds the Flyers' career mark for Gordie Howe hat tricks (with 9), as well as the entire NHL's (with 18).

He also surpassed the 200-PIM mark four times during his career, and had at least 150 penalty minutes nine times.

He played for the Flyers (twice), the Pens, two half-seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and the same with the Boston Bruins and Phoenix Coyotes while I stopped actively following hockey, before going back to Philly to bookend a career that saw him score 440 regular-season goals with 512 assists for 952 points in 1144 games, with 2972 penalty minutes around all that production.

His playoff contributions amounted to 52 goals, 60 assists and 112 points with 471 penalty minutes in 145 games. He reached the Conference Finals twice with the Flyers, in 1987 and 2000.

After his playing career, he became an assistant coach (to Wayne Gretzky) with the Coyotes. His tenure was most notable for having been named the leader in a gambling ring that put Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones, in the spotlight in 2006.

He followed that up with a head coaching stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning, missing the playoffs twice with terrible records:
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Keep in mind those teams included Martin St-Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos up front both years, and Alex Tanguay on left wing and Victor Hedman on defense the second...

And yet, now that he's helped the Pens to consecutive Cup wins as an assistant to head coach Mike Sullivan, he interviewed for many teams this summer, eventually finding a fit back to a two-time stomping ground - the Arizona Coyotes. None of the articles I've read mention how long his contract is for; then again, he's already the franchise's 18th head coach, the 7th since its move to the desert.

Speaking of which, here he is wearing the team's "Peyote Coyote" jersey design ("dark" away version), on the silver signed insert version of card #105 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
I miss those uniforms...

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Laurent Dauphin: Two Autographed Cards

Needless to say, the Chicago Blackhawks have become masters at dealing with the salary cap after championship runs, but that fact also means losing players fans had been attached to. Many times, those players have come back years later, either to finish their careers with the team on low-paying salaries (Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, Patrick Sharp) or in trades that raise more questions than they answer.

One trade that may eventually make sense from a hockey standpoint was the one that sent Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin. As it stands, casual hockey fans see this as a salary dump mixed with a D-for-D trade, noting that Murphy had become a staple of the Coyotes' blue line last year, posting career-highs in assists and points at the age of 24.

However, the hidden chip in that trade - and the reason why I would have also done it in GM Stan Bowman's shoes - is the 22-year-old Dauphin.

You see, a couple of years ago, when the Hawks were winning championships every other season, their depth was as much of a reason they won as their offensive star power (Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane), stellar goaltending, except when facing the Nashville Predators (Corey Crawford) and, of course, elite play by defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Hjalmarsson.

But the third-line center spot was held down in recent years by the dependable Marcus Kruger, who had a heir apparent in Phillip Danault. The problem with Kruger was that he came with a $3M cap hit; the problem with Danault, whom the Hawks rightfully knew was going to come into his own and be able to produce at the NHL level, was Kruger was ahead of him, so he was traded to the Montréal Canadiens at the 2015-16 trade deadline. Danault posted 40 points with the Habs in 2016-17, playing in a first-line role he isn't suited for; Kruger was traded twice this summer.

Which leaves an open spot at the 3C position, one that was destined for Danault for years. Dauphin's statistics with the LHJMQ's Chicoutimi Saguenéens (186 points in 170 games) mirror those of Danault with the Victoriaville Tigres (251 points in 243 games), and his progression in the AHL (going from 0.25 points per game to 0.36 to 0.74) is even sharper than Danault's (from 0.36 to 0.54 to 0.33).

At 6'2" and 185 pounds, he just needs to add some 10 pounds of muscle to his frame to be a dominant third-liner like Jordan Staal and Nick Bonino have been in recent years. He isn't lights-out in any skill set, but he has no weaknesses either. He's a workhorse with good speed, good hands, terrific hockey IQ, good vision, and is already an above-average setup man. And he's sound defensively.

Here he is wearing one of the prettiest hockey uniforms of all time, the Sags' white (home) garbs, first with card #38 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set and CHL Rookie sub-set:
And here's an even better view of it, on the all-foil variant of card #58 from ITG's 2012-13 Draft Prospect set:
He signed both cards for me in blue sharpie in early May when he was in Montréal, tagging his jersey number (27) at the end.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Émile Poirier Autograph Card

Amidst all the free agent news, the expansion and amateur drafts, and subsequent rookie camps, I wouldn't want to miss a human interest story about a young man who admitted he had a problem and asked for help: the Calgary Flames' 2013 first-round pick (22nd overall) Émile Poirier admitted earlier today he'd been struggling with alcohol addiction, which kid of explains his personal leave from the Stockton Heat earlier this Spring.

Rookies such as Matthew Tkachuk have used Poirier's step back as a springboard to the NHL, but the 22-year-old Montréal native hasn't said his last word and should be a key component of a very talented Flames team for years to come.

Here he is wearing the team's red uniform on the signed insert version of card #184 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 O-Pee-Chee Platinum set and Rookie Auto sub-set:
It's a card made entirely of foil. You might notice he's sporting #28 instead of the #57 I last featured him in, worth a second induction in my Flames Numbers Project.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

My Flames Numbers Project: An Introduction

I have hinted at it before, but after my Montréal Expos Numbers Project and 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), now's the time to do the same for the Calgary Flames.
The Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989, the only visiting team to ever win it on Montréal Canadiens home ice. They have been in Calgary since 1980, but the franchise started out as the Atlanta Flames in 1972. For my project, I think I'll focus on the Calgary era only. It may evolve over time but for now, that'll be my goal.

Speaking of goals, the point of this project is to feature memorabilia from players who represent each uniform number ever worn in team history; ideally, for the purposes of displaying it upon completion, it'd be nice to have those all be signed cards; however, because I'm far from rich, sometimes these may be other types of signed items, or even jersey cards.

So far, I have featured the following 39* players for 35 numbers:

1: Tyler Moss: check!
3: Ladislav Smid: check!
5: Mark Giordano: jersey card check!
7:  T.J. Brodie (also wore #66) and Steve Bégin (also wore 26): check!
8: Joël Bouchard: check!
9: Lanny McDonald: check!
10: Roman Cervenka: check!
11: Gary Leeman and Mikael Backlund: check!
12: Jarome Iginla (twice): check!
13: Michael Cammalleri: jersey card check!
16: Cory Stillman and Dustin Boyd (also wore #41): check!
18: Matt Stajan: check!
20: Gary Suter: check!
22: Ron Stern: check!
23: Sean Monahan: check!
25: Willie Plett and Joe Nieuwendyk: check!
26: Steve Bégin: check!
27: Ed Beers: check!
28: Émile Poirier: check!
29: Joel Otto: check!
31: Réjean Lemelin, Rick Wamsley, and Ken Wregget: check!
34: Miikka Kiprusoff: check!
35: Henrik Karlsson: check!
37: Trevor Kidd and Leland Irving: check!
38: Ben Street: check!
40: Fred Brathwaite and Alex Tanguay: check!
41: Dustin Boyd (also wore #16): check!
42: Mark Cundari: check!
47: Sven Baertschi: check!
48: Greg Nemisz: check!
53: Derek Morris: check!
57: Émile Poirier: check!
59: Maxwell Reinhart: check!
61: Oleg Saprykin (also wore #19): check!
66: T.J. Brodie (also wore #7): check!

captains: McDonald, Nieuwendyk and Iginla.
*some players appear twice, and therefore count as two.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Alexander Radulov Jersey card

Coming off a terrific comeback season with the Montréal Canadiens, Alexander Radulov will go from a team that has Jordie Benn in its top-six on defense to the team that got rid of him as their seventh guy but is captained by his brother (Jamie Benn), the Dallas Stars. Indeed, the former Nashville Predators first-round draft pick (15th overall, 2004) has just signed this summer's most lucrative free agent deal, a five-year, $31.5M deal that carries a $6.25M cap hit.

It's a mixed summer for Habs GM Marc Bergevin, as he signed the Washington Capitals' best defensive defenseman (in my opinion, the best of the second-tier guys who do what he does, behind the top-four of Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Marc Methot, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm), but lost his team's best forward last season in Radulov, is playing hardball with one of the organization's best defensemen of all time in Andrei Markov, and looks primed to sign goalie Carey Price to the team's highest-paying contract of all time, likely top in the league by over two million per season (edit: actually by $3M, and since most of the money is in the form of signing bonuses, cannot reasonably be bought out to minimize the cap hit, as signing bonuses are guaranteed money), which will handicap the team's chances of building a contender for eight years. It's like he's hockey's Donald Trump, doing his best to get fired.

Oh, and he followed the league-wide trend of signing veterans to $1M/one-year contracts, but instead of opting for, say,  Michael Cammalleri (Los Angeles Kings), Patrick Sharp (Chicago Blackhawks), Scott Hartnell (Predators), Nail Yakupov (Colorado Avalanche), David Desharnais (New York Rangers), Dominic Moore (Toronto Maple Leafs), Kyle Quincey (Minnesota Wild), Jussi Jokinen (Edmonton Oilers), Brandon Bollig (San Jose Sharks), or Benoît Pouliot (Buffalo Sabres), he went for injury magnet Ales Hemsky.

The Stars' Jim Nill, however, is looking to build a contender, after missing the playoffs entirely due to shaky goaltending following a first-place finish in the Central Division. Antti Niemi was bought out, Ben Bishop was brought in via trade-and-sign, and Kari Lehtonen will back him up for one season. The aforementioned Methot was acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, and the team still boasts Tyler Seguin, Benn and Jason Spezza on offense, in addition to signing Martin Hanzal, who could be Nill's mistake of the summer, as he's shown with the Minnesota Wild last season to be slow and unable to make those playing with him better.

Because of that, I envision the Benn/Seguin first-line pairing to remain intact, I expect Spezza to hit 50-60 points playing with guys who can finish his plays a small portion of the time (Antoine Roussel and Mattias Janmark) and Radulov to take Hanzal on his back and get him to some 40-50 points, which should also get casual fans thinking "Radu" is having a disappointing season while Hanzal's producing at his expected rate, when in fact the Toothless Russian will have carried him all season long. Case in point: Phillip Danault, who I like a lot, but whom Radulov got to the 40-poin mark despite his having never even reached that production level in the Chicago Blackhawks' AHL system and had obtained a grand total of 10 NHL points in his previous 53 NHL games spread over two seasons. Hey, this type of situation made Phil Kessel turn Nick Bonino into a "prized free agent" and two-time Stanley Cup winner...

As a reminder, Radulov is not only one of the hockey players that is most difficult to knock off the puck and an adept playmaker and scorer, but also a two-time World Championship gold medalist with Team Russia (2008 and 2009), a Gagarin Cup winner with Ufa Salavat Yulaev (2011) and Memorial Cup champion with the Québec Remparts (2006), as well as the KHL's second all-time leading scorer behind Sergei Mozyakin.

Here he is wearing the Preds' former home uniform, on card #HM-AR from Fleer's 2007-08 Hot Prospects by Upper Deck:
It features a matching white game-worn jersey swatch.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Ryan Strome: Two Autographed Cards

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the Edmonton Oilers sent Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for former first-round pick (5th overall in 2011) Ryan Strome last week, mostly as a salary cap move to free up space for Connor McDavid's upcoming contract, but also because Eberle was disappointing during the 2016-17 playoffs.

But was this a move backwards in terms of it being a "hockey trade"? Yes and no. Strome may never live up to being a fifth-overall pick - and he's technically the second "failed Islanders prospect" Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli has taken off Isles' GM Garth Snow's hands, after Griffin Reinhart last summer, who will now continue his career as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights - but Strome might be able to jump in and fit in right away in Edmonton, as his ability to play either center or wing should give him reps alongside both McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, in addition to occasionally spending time with another decent player in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

A pretty-much guaranteed top-six role means he will be able to aim at a 50-70-point season like he achieved in 2014-15 (17 goals, 33 assists, 50 points on the nose) because he'll have a John Tavares-esque player next to him regardless of how he slots in the lineup, which should get him back into the  2013-14 AHL groove, when he posted 49 points in 37 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and at one point even led the league in scoring (a call-up to the Isles "cost him" a scoring title, but that's one move most players would make).

And we're talking about a guy who has posted 106- and 94-point seasons in Juniors with the OHL's Niagara IceDogs and won the bronze medal suiting up for Team Canada at the 2012 World Juniors, posting 9 points in 6 games.

Speaking of which, here is a close-up of the IceDogs' black (away) uniform, on card #169 from In The Game's 2010-11 Heroes And Prospects set:
And here's a sideways and more global view of the uniform, on card #34 from ITG's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed both cards in black sharpie in January 2015, while the Islanders were in town to face the Montréal Canadiens. I have to say that I already found him to be NHL-ready when I saw him stand at 6'1" and 190 pounds, and he's since added ten pounds of muscle to his frame that should give him an entirely new dimension in the Western Conference.