Saturday, September 9, 2017

2016-17 Parkhurst Hockey Box Break

First off, let's start by saying there were a few things wrong with the release of Upper Deck's 2016-17 Parkhurst collection, starting with the fact that they were supposed to be sold exclusively at Canadian Walmart stores in December of 2016, but because there were issues with an Ontarian distributor, they found their way into American Walmart stores instead for the longest time.

I bought an Ottawa Senators team pack - containing 10 of the 11 cards of Sens players in the set - during the playoffs last year before I saw a box anywhere. That changed yesterday when I went to a Walmart Supercenter, shopping for a play set for my cat and saw them; I put down the Marvel Daredevil figurines I had laid my hands on and took this box instead, for a cool $29.92 (plus taxes, which amounts to $34.50).

What I got was 120 cards - so, 40 cents each - but there were so many inserts and variants that I was left with a satisfaction I hadn't felt since... well, since Panini produced Score sets for the NHL, which reminded me of my youth.

The cards are thin and fragile, and super glossy; they'll be a pain to sign for players, and they'll be easy to crease, as they seem to be half as thick as regular cards (Series 1, O-Pee-Chee, MVP, etc.). However, they look good, the design feels right, and there's just enough variety that I was happy even though I didn't pull an autograph or a jersey card.

Here's a breakdown of what I got:

89 regular-issue cards with a green border, with the back showing statistics from the past four seasons, which is enough to see how players are trending:
There were, however, seven doubles: Matt Beleskey, Jake Allen, Colin Greening, Jamie McGinn, Roman Polak, Jonathan Toews, and Kyle Okposo.

The variants come in either the "red" or "black" variety, which look like this (notice how the alternate border extends to the back of the card as well):
Adam Lowry, Boone Jenner and Ben Hutton are the only three players whose regular-issue cards ended up being variants for me, but I did get a few Rookies that were of the "red" variety (Pontus Aberg, Charlie Lindgren, and Thomas Chabot) to go with my 18 other "Rookie" cards: Mitch Marner, Lindgren, Lawson Crouse, Chase De Leo (twice), Alan Quine (twice), Oliver Kylington, Brandon Carlo, Pavel Zacha, Gustav Forsling, Matthew Tkachuk, Ivan Provorov, Frédérik Gauthier, Travis Konecky, Stephen Johns, Kasperi Kapanen and Oliver Bjorkstrand:
I also landed one "Rookie Parade" card of Connor Brown:
There was one "Checklist" I could have done without, despite it featuring Auston Matthews:
I also fell upon three "NHL Centennial Salute" cards, including these two of Mark Messier and Jonathan Quick, as well as one of Glenn Hall:
And the goalie nerd in me was happy to pull two foil "Protectors Of The Net" cards, Carey Price and Pekka Rinne:
Again, despite landing no "real hits", I was left with a giddy and satisfying feeling after opening this box, the likes of which I hadn't felt in maybe five years of when opening boxes - and this is for a box of a product that is a season old.

This is a solid 8.5/10 for me.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sam Bennett Jersey Card

There are varying opinions of Sam Bennett's new deal online, with some saying he got fleeced by Calgary Flames management by signing a two-year deal with a cap hit of $1.95M.

Here's my reasoning for why it's a better deal for him:

First off, he's showing good faith and pretty much admitting he had a sub-par 2016-17 season (13 goals, 13 assists, 26 points and 75 penalty minutes in 81 games, ten points down from the 18-18-36 he posted in 77 games from the previous season) and is willing to make amends. That scores high in my book.

The team's now left with $5.2M on the cap, which should be more than enough to sign someone like Jaromir Jagr who would immediately add talent in the top-9, and frees up a bit of money for an in-season trade in case someone under-performs or gets injured. Both of these would likely help Bennett produce at a higher clip than last year.

Sure, there are comparables like Nick Bjugstad, who signed for a $4.1M cap hit ahead of the 2015-16 season at the age of 23; but what the Flames are looking for in Bennett is a progression like Nick Bonino's - who played on the third line for three different teams before the Nashville Predators signed him this summer to center the second - except in accelerated form, which is fair to ask of a fourth-overall draft pick (2014).

He has two years to post a 40-to-50-point season and hover around 20 goals, like a second Mikael Backlund; if and when he does, he'll be making second-line money ($5M to 6.5M), which will be worth it for both the team and the player.

Here he is sporting his usual #93 on card #FT-SB from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Ice collection and Fresh Threads sub-set:
It shows the gold medalist (Team Canada, 2013 U18 World Juniors) wearing the Flames' white (away) uniform and features a matching jersey swatch from a rookie photo shoot.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

François Beauchemin Autographed Card

Two months after seeing his contract be bought out, François Beauchemin found a new home, returning to the Anaheim Ducks for his third stint with the team.

I know he had a pretty bad year with the Colorado Avalanche, but to see him go from a team that finished last to one that is a serious contender for a Stanley Cup remains a tad unsettling. At least he'll get to mentor some kids into becoming better professionals - perhaps these ones will even listen and learn.

I might be wrong, but I think he is, with head coach Randy Carlyle, and superstars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, one of the final four members of the 2007 Cup-winning Ducks team to still call Anaheim their home.

Here he is sporting that era's white (away) uniform, on card #36 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie while playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs (2009-11); his signature consists of a large "F" and a small "L" or really thin mountain, followed by his uniform number (23).

Monday, September 4, 2017

Jeff Tambellini Jersey And Autograph Card

In keeping up with the "matching daily team articles on both blogs" theme, after predicting the Los Angeles Kings would finish 5th in the Pacific in 2017-18, I thought I could focus on the career on one of their former prospects, Jeff Tambellini.

Tambellini was a fine player for the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA and perhaps the best skater in his age category when the Kings made him their first-round pick (27th overall) in 2003; unfortunately, they also viewed him as soft and unreliable defensively, so despite his putting decent numbers up (56 points in 56 games) with the AHL's Manchester Monarchs, they sent him (and Denis Grebeshkov) to the New York Islanders for Brent Sopel and Mark Parrish in March 2006.

While in the Isles' organization, he developed into a fine two-way player, thanks to his speed in coming back in the defensive zone when his team lost possession of the puck. He also further developed his offensive attributes (namely his quick wrists and good, deceptive shot) with their AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers (138 points in 113 games) but just couldn't stick in the NHL, accumulating 46 points in 176 games on Long Island.

In 2010-11, he tried his luck with the Vancouver Canucks, yielding similar results: 17 points in 62 games when he was up, 5 goals and 2 assists for 7 points in 7 games with the Manitoba Moose.

He then tried his hand in Europe, finding some success in the Swiss League with the Zurich Lions (45 points in 50 games in his first season there, 12 in 27 the following year), prompting a downfall that would be consistent save for two fine playoffs and another decent turn in the AHL for good measure:
Courtesy of HockeyDB
As far as I know, he is currently a free agent and would thus be eligible to suit up for Team Canada at the Olympics in February... He does have a silver medal from the 2004 World Juniors...

Here he is dating back to his days with the Kings, wearing their black-and-purple uniform on the "all dressed" version of card #241 from Fleer's 2005-06 Hot Prospects set and Prized Prospects sub-set, manufactured by Upper Deck:
It's got everything a card collector hates, from the blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph to the black swatch (they call this one a "patch" on the back of the card, though I don't see it myself) coming from a jersey used in a rookie photo shoot.

It's numbered 225/349.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Alexander Khokhlachev Jersey Card

Continuing with this month's theme, here's a Boston Bruins-related post, after I predicted they'd finish sixth in the Atlantic Division this season. Today, I thought I'd focus on a highly-touted prospect who came to the OHL's Windsor Spitfires from Russia to get acquainted with the smaller ice size, was drafted in the second round by Boston (40th overall in 2011), showed some promise in the AHL with the Providence Bruins but lost patience with the team when he felt head coach Claude Julien didn't give him a fair chance and went back to the KHL.; that's right, we're taking a look at Alexander Khokhlachev!

Khokhlachev has become a master at the offensive side of the game. He is a slick puck carrier who can both protect the puck well with his low center of gravity (5'10", 180 pounds) and make moves to distance his checkers, and has a creative offensive sense that ranks in the top 10% in the world; on one hand, he can make nearly-impossible passes and, on the other, he can find the open ice to be in a position to receive passes himself like the best of the elite players, and he has a tremendous release as well.

He's willing to sacrifice his body to make a play - as long as said play is in the offensive zone. That's where his issues lie; he has concentrated so much on making his o-zone play top-notch that he forgot to learn the basics of playing defensively. His backwards skating is deficient, his man-to-man coverage is null unless he hits the body and his zone coverage is akin to that of a pylon.

Young, creative, smallish, bad defensively. And he wonders why Julien wouldn't give him a chance?

There are players like him who have had fine NHL careers; Thomas Vanek comes to mind, except Khokhlachev may be even better with the puck... and worse defensively. (Vanek could play defensively, he just doesn't want to).

In two yeas in Providence, he has led the team in points both times, appearing in one AHL All-Star Game. Signing in the KHL, he first went to powerhouse St. Petersburg SKA, where he had little ice time behind the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Vadim Shipachyov, Nikita Gusev, Evgeny Dadonov, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin's buddy Sergei Plotnikov, meaning he also didn't get to play with the likes of Slava Voynov, Anton Belov and Igor Yakovlev on the back end; his production was thus limited to 10 points (5 goals and 5 assists) in 25 games. He did win the Gagarin Cup with the rest of the team, though.

He was then traded to his original KHL team, Moscow Spartak, (where his father is the general manager) a few weeks ago, and he is showing extremely well there, with 5 points in 8 games so far and generally leading the play alongside Ben Maxwell.

Here he is sporting the Bs' black (home) uniform, on the "gold" variant of the "Jersey" insert version of card #132 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 SP Game-Used Edition:
It features a matching jersey swatch from a rookie photo shoot and is numbered 214/499.

He has silver (2012) and bronze (2013) medals suiting up for Team Russia at the World Juniors; it remains to be seen if he'll make the Olympic squad this year, but I figure he'd be a good sleeper pick on it.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Dave Andreychuk Autographed Card

In keeping with this month's theme of double-posting with my other blog, after predicting they'd finish 7th in the Atlantic Division in 2017-18, here is my Buffalo Sabres-related post, featuring none other than Dave Andreychuk, who was inducted in the Hockey Hall Of Fame last June.

Some of his career numbers warrant inclusion in the Hall, such as his 640 career goals, 274 of which came on the powerplay - an NHL record. But those 274 PP goals came over 23 seasons, which amounts to little more than 10 per; likewise, he has 1338 career points, but they're spread over 1639 games, most of the production coming in the offensively-minded 1980s.

To put it in perspective, he ranks tied for 29th for career points, but 7th in games played - that's a huge discrepancy. He has reached the 50-goal mark only once (with 53, 1993-94, whilst a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs).

In three of his four highest-scoring seasons, his points totals (99 in 1992-93, split between the Sabres and Leafs; 87 in 1985-86; and 82 in 1989-90) ranked outside the top-20 (and, in the case of 1989-90 as with most of his other seasons, outside the top-30). He failed to reach the point-per-game mark in each of his final 11 seasons, ranging from 1994-95 until 2005-06, usually by half a point per game.

And that's saying nothing about the fact that his greatest talent was using his 6'3", 220-pound frame to screen the goalie, get hit in the back and score garbage deflection or triple-rebound goals. Cool. That, and serving as the inspiration for the Tampa Bay Lightning to try to "win him a Stanley Cup" in 2004, because having the most clutch goalie that year (Nikolai Khabibulin), the record-holder for most overtime game-winners (Brad Richards), a Team Canada World Cup MVP (Vincent Lecavalier) and a two-time Art Ross winner (Martin St-Louis) clearly wasn't enough...

Case in point, during that run, Andreychuk had a single goal and 14 total points in 25 games. His entire playoff output is somewhat underwhelming (for a Hall Of Famer, of course, because it's fine for a very good player) at 43 goals, 53 assists and 97 points in 162 postseason games.

If I had to rank him on the Sabres' all-time list, as a forward, I'd put him behind Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and René Robert, for sure. If you add defensemen to the all-time list of best Buffalo skaters, that puts Phil Housley and Craig Ramsey ahead of him as well. If you factor goalies in, Dominik Hasek probably makes the top-5.

Therefore, I'd put Andreychuk in the same category as other Sabres greats who had a more limited time with the team, perhaps ahead of the likes of Alex Mogilny, Dale Hawerchuk, Pat Lafontaine, Danny Gare, Derek Roy, Pierre Turgeon, André Savard, defensive defenseman Lindy Ruff, and sniper Donald Audette.

Again, not bad company, but not all of them are in the Hall, and his category falls short of the all-time elite (Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque, Wayne Gretzky), particularly when only counting some of those players' time in Buffalo (Lafontaine, Hawerchuk, Turgeon).

All told, he's had a memorable and noteworthy career, and I felt it was fitting to feature him with the Sabres first, with card #17 from Pro Set's 1991-92 Parkhurst Series 1 set, showing him wearing Buffalo's classic blue (then-away) uniform from my youth, with the alternate captain's "A" fully visible, fighting for territory with the Philadelphia Flyers' Kerry Huffman, in front of Ron Hextall's net:
Ironically, both of those players were part of the package the Flyers sent to the Québec Nordiques for Eric Lindros, another debatable recent Hall inductee.

Andreychuk signed this one in thick, old-school black sharpie.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Patrik Elias Autographed Card

Greetings!

What I'll be trying to do this September is feature one player per NHL team on this blog while conducting a preview for that team on my "General/Opinion/Personal" blog, culminating in my predictions for final ranking, Stanley Cup winner and finalist, and all major individual trophy winners.

I thought I'd start out with the New Jersey Devils today (preview here), with a nod to Patrik Elias, who was forced to retire due to knee problems at age 41 earlier this spring; the team has announced they will retire his #26 in February.

He finishes his career with 408 goals, 617 assists and 1025 points in 1240 regular-season games on a tremendously defensive-minded Devils team who played the trap better than anyone else before or since. He captained the team for one year and won two Stanley Cups in 19 seasons with the organization. His playoff numbers aren't too shabby either, with 45 goals, 80 assists and 125 points in 162 games - including 20 points in 23 games and 23 in 25 in consecutive postseasons in 1999-2000 and 2000-01.

He was at close to a point-per-game pace (or better) for 12 of 14 seasons between 1998-99 and 2013-14, with a peak of 40 goals, 56 assists and 96 points in 2000-01.

He also won bronze medals with the Czech Team at the 1994 European World Juniors, the 1998 and 2011 World Championships, and the 2006 Olympics.

I personally think he falls short of a Hall Of Fame nod, but I do agree the Devils need to retire his number, because he was the best long-tenured forward in team history. Some teams are meant to have lower standards than others for such ceremonies... and New Jersey certainly doesn't have as rich a history as, say, the Montréal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings or Boston Bruins.

I've been sitting on this card for precisely this day:
It's #144 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Collector's Choice set. He signed it in blue sharpie, and it shows his wearing the Devils' red (now-home) uniform.