Saturday, December 7, 2019

Nick Paul: Two Autographed Cards

First things first: Nick Paul was a power forward in Juniors who didn't quite live up to that reputation in the AHL afterwards, but with 9 points in 25 games with the Ottawa Senators so far in 2019-20, it feels like the 24-year-old, 6'3", 220-pound winger is getting a feel as how to translate that in the Big Show. However, he'd left Wednesday's game against the Edmonton Oilers in the first period with a neck contusion, so he wasn't playing at 100% against the Philadelphia Flyers this afternoon.

Second: Flyers gonna Flyer. It looks like a bench that has Alain Vigneault to lead it and Michel Therrien, Mike Yeo and Ian Laperriere wants to bring grit back after the Ron Hextall/Dave Hakstol talent-driven years, as the Flyers players took exception to many a hard, legal, quality hit by the Sens to retaliate, cheap-shot and goat Ottawa players into fighting.

Joel Farabee initiated a fight with Jean-Gabriel Pageau of all people for a clean hit Pageau had laid out on his prior - what ever happened to taking note of a guy's number and trying to get him back later? Does Farabee not trust himself enough to put himself in a position to either hit Pageau back or strip him off the puck in a manner that'll make it on a highlights reel? Pageau defended himself ok and threw a decent couple of shots, but someone should clock that rookie to teach him some respect.

Which brings me to Jakub Voracek. I like him a lot and will continue to defend his play and effort (when defensible) even as the 60-point seasons become more common than the 80-point ones, but seriously, it's not his role to pick a fight with Paul after the Sens laid big hits out on Travis Konecky (a masterclass center-ice hit by Mark Borowiecki, the guy who stopped a robbery in Vancouver earlier this week) and Farabee:

It was a case where I had to root for Paul, who dished out a couple of nice uppercuts, not just because the Sens were playing clean and didn't deserve to get called out on their hits, but also because Paul was damn close to having had a concussion just three nights ago and this dickhead chose him as the scapegoat to try to change the momentum of the game.

It did, as the Flyers ended up intimidating their way to a 4-3 win, and now head coach D.J. Smith has to convince his team that the pain they endured in a losing cause wasn't worth it, but perhaps just a tiny bit more pain - 5% more - would have resulted in a win, and that's pain that's worth the effort.

So Nick Paul and Jean-Gabriel Pageau deserve stars in their notebooks today, as does Borowiecki - and the Flyers earned a note in the teacher's binder that they are not mature enough to be patient, not smart enough to be strategic and win clean, not brave enough to fight fire with fire, and not talented enough to keep up with a team that was destined to be a bottom-two this season. They are once again bullies, but probably not tough enough to handle big boys like the Boston Bruins or St. Louis Blues.

Here is Paul wearing the Sens' best-looking jersey of all time, the "Black O", on card #299 from Upper Deck's 2016-17 MVP set:
And here's a close-up of his face, wearing Ottawa's white (away) uniform, on card #P-107 from Upper Deck's 2016-17 Series 2 collections and UD Portraits sub-set:
He signed both "Rookie" cards in blue sharpie last year, when the Sens lost 5-2 against the Montréal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

He suited up for Team Canada at the 2015 World Juniors, and one of his 3 goals (in 7 games) was scored in the final against Team Russia, helping the Canadians win gold on home soil in a 5-4 game.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Ryan Strome Jersey Card

Earlier tonight, New York Rangers forward Ryan Strome shot a puck directly into Montréal Canadiens captain Shea Weber's face, leaving the Norris Trophy candidate bloodied - although Weber wouldn't even miss a shift and would go on to play a game-high 24 minutes.

Strome's been finding more net than face this year, with 6 goals, 18 assists and 24 points in 28 games, with 22 penalty minutes and a +7 rating. He is second only to Artemi Panarin (13 goals, 21 assists, 34 points) in team scoring, playing upwards of 19 minutes per game. All this is factoring in the fact that he only had two assists in his previous five games, he's had a tremendous bounce-back season.

He's 11 points from last year's total of 35, which he had to dress in 81 games to get; his career-high of 17 goals and 50 points (2014-15, New York Islanders) not only seem attainable but well within reach.

It's the type of comeback story that wins a Bill Masterton Trophy if no one has a deadly affliction during the season.

We've been hearing the word "flop" associated with Strome for at least three years now, but the fifth-overall pick of the 2011 draft has climbed up the production chart to 16th of his class, which makes him worthy of a first-round spot, especially considering Nikita Kucherov (58th overall, second round, 1st in points), Johnny Gaudreau 104th overall, fourth round, 3rd in points), Brandon Saad (43rd, second round, 7th), Ondrej Palat (208th, seventh round, 10th), Vincent Trocheck (64th, third round, 13th), and Andrew Shaw (139th, fifth round, 15th) are ahead of him.

It's a safe bet that Kucherov, Gabriel Landeskog (second overall, 2nd in scoring), Gaudreau, Mark Scheifele (seventh-overall, 4th in scoring), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (first-overall, 5th in scoring), Jonathan Huberdeau (third-overall, 6th in scoring), Sean Couturier (eighth-overall, 7th in scoring), defenseman Dougie Hamilton (ninth-overall, 8th in scoring) and Trocheck continue hitting the same type of production for the remainder of their careers with similar aging curves, and it's expected that Saad, Palat and Shaw may regress due to playing more a physical style that lends itself to injuries as times piles on, and I'm betting on Mika Zibanejad (sixth-overall, 9th in points) to hit higher peaks than he had in past years for the next five, so my expectation of their points totals once they've all retired would have them finish in the following order:
1. Kucherov
2. Gaudreau
3. Huberdeau
4. Scheifele
5. Couturier
6. Zibanejad
7. Nugent-Hopkins
8. Landeskog
9. Trocheck
10. Strome
11. Hamilton
12. Rickard Rackell
13. J.T. Miller
14. William Karlsson
15. Jean-Gabriel Pageau
16. Phillip Danault
17. Palat
18. Saad
19. Shaw
20.  Vladislav Namestnikov
Or maybe Palat finishes 13th, but I'm fairly confident about the final positionning for the rest of the guys, with a two-rank buffer at most.

Which is to say that Strome, in less than a full calendar year with the Blueshirts, has even gone up five to eight spots in my own opinion of him. All credit goes to the way he's handling himself in a hard situation, with the pressures of a first-rounder, the near-kiss of death of serving as one of the Edmonton Oilers' worst transactions in recent memory - a one-for-one trade for Jordan Eberle, who it has to be said has been trending downwards in the goal-scoring department - to finding his game as a young veteran on a Rangers team that is going through a complete rebuild and where he was only expected to fill a roster spot, not earn top-six minutes and a new deal.

Which brings me to card #M-RS from Upper Deck's 2015-16 SPX set and Monochromatics sub-set, showing him and the rest of the picture in black-and-white save for the blue on Islanders' home jersey:
It features a matching game-used jersey swatch. Although it's impossible to tell via the scan, the "Monochromatics" text, the swatch's contour, his name and the SPX and Isles' logos are all actually in silver foil. It's a beautiful card and a great sub-set idea.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Anthony DeAngelo Autographed Card

Anthony DeAngelo had a good "first full season" last year, posting 30 points in 61 games with 77 penalty minutes, a points total that had him lead the New York Rangers despite playing in 12 fewer games than his closest pursuer, Kevin Shattenkirk.

This year, he's doing even better from an offensive standpoint, with 7 goals and 20 points in 27 games (and just 17 penalty minutes), and his +1 rating is a nice surprise considering he came with a reputation: that of an aggressive player who needed to keep his anger in check (from his days in Juniors) and a defenseman who refused to play defence (from his AHL days with the Syracuse Crunch as a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect). He was also unable to "stick" with the Arizona Coyotes.

Yet, with Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei playing like a top pair and the Adam Fox/Ryan Lindgren pair making the argument that they're the best defensemen on the team this year, some are arguing that GM Jeff Gorton should sell high on the talented RFA-to-be, with only UFA Torey Krug being a comparable type of player without a contract for next year, with Dougie Hamilton (20th top scorer in the NHL so far) alone on a similar list of perhaps-available high-producing d-men with a year left on his deal after this one.

Any contender or playoff bubble team looking for an extra spark in their top-four would do well to inquire about his availability, as now would be a good time for the Blueshirts to listen to proposals. I would see him as an upgrade to Justin Schultz and an insurance policy with the oft-injured Kris Letang on the Pittsburgh Penguins, for instance.

Here he is wearing the Sarnia Sting's white (home) uniform on card #82 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed it in black sharpie during the 2015-16 season, when he played for the Crunch.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Kirk McLean Autographed Card

I must admit I was surprised when Twitter showed #RIPKirk trending among Vancouver Canucks fans with one man specifically asking Canucks fans to tweet a farewell to his father "Kirk", who had "just passed away". It turns out it's either a hoax or just someone sharing the same same name, not the guy featured wearing the team's beautiful 1985-1997 black uniform on card #16 from Donruss' 1995-96 Donruss set:
You might not be able to see it, but Kirk McLean signed it for me in fading black sharpie via snail mail to the Canucks a few years ago. I was a Brian's man myself, but I'm hit with a bit of nostalgia looking at those Vaughn pads and glove (I could do without the brown blocker).

McLean to me is part of the trifecta of Best Canucks Goalies with Roberto Luongo and Daniel Bouchard, not quite the Hall Of Famer Luongo was, but a two-time Vezina nominee nonetheless, the guy who stopped 52 shots in Game 1 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final to lead Vancouver to a 3-2 win over destiny's New York Rangers.

He won the Molson Cup (most Three Stars selections) honours three times at a time when Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden were on the team, which says a lot about the weight he carried on the ice. He's also participated in the 1990 and 1992 All-Star Games and played for Team Canada at the 1990 World Championships, finishing in fourth place.

In ten and a half years in Vancouver, he got to write a lot of the team's record book, and most of the enviable ones (wins, shutouts) were beaten by Luongo in some 70 fewer games, but he still has those for games played, playoff games played (68 vs 64), playoff wins (34 vs 32) and losses.

he's also played for the New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers and New York Rangers, but he'll always be Vancouver's Goalie In Black to me. With this regular-sized card, he knocks Luongo's 4x6 picture off my Canucks Numbers Project for #1.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

My Canucks Numbers Project: An Introduction

After my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project and my Sens Numbers Project, might as well get started publicly admitting I'm also on a Canucks Numbers Project.
The team as it is known now was founded in 1970 and has changed uniforms a lot since, at the rate of once every five years or so, usually in a complete overhaul.

The Canucks' and Sens' players have been the most responsive in answering my requests, I think, when it comes to current players, in the many years since I've started blogging about cards and collectibles, and I've been getting a decent amount of in-pack hits as well to get me started on my quest, with 28/66 worn uniform numbers accounted for so far, which is why I decided to pursue the task.

Here's the list of those I have featured here thus far:

Head Coach: Marc Crawford: check!
1: Kirk McLean: check! (also: Roberto Luongo 4x6)
2: Dan Hamhuis: check!
3: Kevin Bieksa, Brent Sopel and Doug Lidster: check!
5: Bryan Allen (twice): check!
6: Adrian Aucoin: check!
7: David Roberts: check!
10: Pavel Bure: check!
12: Stan Smyl (twice): check!
14: Alexandre Burrows (twice), Geoff Courtnall and Steve Bozek: check!
16: Trevor Linden once, (then twice): check!
17: Ryan Kesler, Radim Vrbata and Bill Muckalt: check!
18: Igor Larionov: check!
19: Markus Naslund, Petr Nedved and Jim Sandlak: check!
21: Mason Raymond: check!
22: Daniel Sedin: jersey card check!
24: Curt Fraser: check!
25: Dan Kesa: check!
26: Frank Corrado: check!
27: Sergio Momesso: check!
33: Henrik Sedin: jersey card check!
35: Alex Auld and Troy Gamble: check!
36: Jannik Hansen: check!
40: Maxim Lapierre: check!
41: Curtis Sanford: check!
45: Jordan Schroeder: check!
46: Nicklas Jensen: check!
47: Yann Sauvé: check!
49: Zack Fitzgerald: check!
58: Robert Kron: check!

Captains: 5 of 13: Smyl, Lidster, Linden, Naslund, Luongo, H. Sedin

Which means I'm looking to fill these (luckily I have all 4 retired numbers):

4: GM Jim Benning, Gerald Diduck or Nolan Baumgartner would be nice
8: Willie Mitchell and Chris Tanev
9: I sent Zack Kassian mail years ago, might have to ask Brad May instead
11: no one's worn it since Mark Messier's odd turn as a Canuck
13: Nick Bonino's number, Raffi Torres' too
15: the most-worn number in team history
20: I really liked Alexander Semak back in the day
23: Alexander Edler or Marc Bergevin work well here
28: I've been meaning to write Dave Capuano...
29: Aaron Rome or Tom Sestito work
30: I'll try Ryan Miller and Garth Snow
31: Eddie Lack did not respond, I'll try Corey Hirsch
32: I tried Dale Wiese last year, I'll give it more time
34: I probably have a Jassen Cullimore
37: Jarkko Ruutu would be cool
38: Pavol Demitra or Jan Bulis would be nice
39: this is Dan Cloutier's number
42: Josef Beranek wore it first
44: I have a Todd Bertuzzi signed insert card somewhere...

And the following numbers have only been worn by one or two players: 48, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 57, 62, 64, 66, 71, 72, 77, 79, 81, 89 and 96.

Johan Franzen Jersey Card

It's not getting any better for Mike Babcock's reputation, as Chris Chelios had things to say on the Spittin' Chicklets podcast, and Johan Franzen corroborated he was on the bad end of Babcock's moods, going so far as saying he was “the worst person I have ever met. A great coach, but he's a terrible person, the worst I ever met. He’s a bully who was attacking people. It could be a cleaner at the arena in Detroit or anybody. He would lay into people without any reason.”

So not just scratching Mike Modano playing for his hometown Detroit Red Wings for ten straight games so he could retire with 1500 games played, scratching Jason Spezza in what would have been his first game as a member of his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs because it was against his former team - but actual verbal abuse rough enough to launch a player suffering from a concussion into a full-blown depression.

And Franzen came to Detroit the same year Babcock started, the 2005-06 season, playing two games in 2015-16, the year after Babcock left - and had been on LTIR since.

The Mule wasn't just a bit player who won an Olympic gold medal with Team Sweden in 2006 and a Stanley Cup with the Wings in 2008; he had 18 points in 16 games during that Cup run and 23 points in 23 games the following team when the Wings lost the the Pittsburgh Penguins in 7 games. He holds the team records for most game-winning goals in a single month (6), most goals in a single playoff series (9), most game-winners in a playoff year (5), most points in a playoff game (6), shares the team record for most consecutive playoff point streak (12 games, with Gordie Howe) and the mark for most goals in a post-season (13, with Henrik Zetterberg) and the NHL record for most points in a 40-game series (9).

In my lifetime, he's probably the third-best playoff performer I've seen play for Motown, after Nicklas Lidstrom and Zetterberg, ahead of Pavel Datsyuk, Mike Vernon, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov.

His regular-season numbers were nothing to sneeze at either, with four 25-goal seasons in five years - with a high of 34 in 2008-09 - and the one where he didn't put up those numbers on an even better pace, with 10 goals, 11 assists and 21 points in 23 games in 2009-10.

At 6'4" and 230 pounds, he wasn't physically weak, in case carrying the Wings on his back in the postseason didn't clue you in on that. He wasn't mentally weak either. But he still hasn't recovered from the physicality of the game coupled with the PTSD that came with Babcock piling on with his own shit.

I hope he can continue to improve as he turns 40 in 20 days, and lives a great retirement. He's more than earned it.

Here he is wearing the Red Wings' white (away) uniform on the dual jersey silver version of card #41 from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Artifacts set, numbered 80/125:
I got this one on Ebay a couple of weeks ago hoping to talk about Franzen again eventually, I just had no idea it would come so soon. It features two red game-worn jersey swatches.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Mark Borowiecki: Two Autographed Cards

They call him "Borocop" and the nickname proved to be truer than ever today, as Mark Borowiecki of the Ottawa Senators thwarted a theft in Vancouver ahead of tonight's game against the Vancouver Canucks.

Essentially, a man stole something from the back of a vehicle, tried to flee with it on a bike, BoroCop ran after him, clothes-lined him, wrested him, retrieved the bag and called the police. And this being Vancouver, the police have a word of warning:
As this did happen on Dec. 1, it’s the start of the holiday season, we are going to see more and more parcels in the back of vehicles and the front of vehicles. We’re asking people: keep your property in your car safe, keep it secure and out of sight.
I hate that we're there, in this day and age, that someone's stuff is only theirs until someone else takes it away and where folks are being spied on by the State and the police are militarized yet no one ever seems to catch petty criminals.

At least there are god people like Borowiecki, who we can watch 82 times a year perform his craft of defending his own zone and looking like a superhero on a card like #347 from Panini's 2011-12 Pinnacle set:
It's a dark, silver foil in the same vein as Upper Deck's Black Diamond series.

Here he is on the more classic card #486 from Upper Deck's 2016-17 Compendium Series 2 set:
Both feature him wearing the Sens' white (now-away) uniform; he signed them during the 2017-18 season in blue sharpie.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Eric Hartzell Autograph Card

Most Hobey Baker Award winners don't have a huge NHL career, and the finalists are oftentimes career minor-leaguers. Such is the case with Eric Hartzell, who starred and had tremendous numbers for the Quinnipiac University Bobcats, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to sign him to a one-year entry-level contract.

He only appeared as a backup once with the main team but had an excellent season with the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2013-14, sharing the "Hap" Holmes Award as the league's best goalie, but it was mostly an ECHL and European thing after that magical season.

His final stint in the ECHL, with the Quad City Mallards, ended when the team folded at the end of the 2017-18 season. He never found work between the pipes after that, retiring at age 28, but I hear he may be a teacher at a hockey school in the summer.

And that's the difference between an undrafted player and one where the team feels forced to keep giving some guys chances despite pedestrian numbers on the long term - think Scott Darling, James Reimer and Carey Price - often rewarded with untradeable contracts to boot.

Here he is stopping pucks during warm-ups on the signed version of card #260 from Panini's 2013-14 Select set and Dual Rookie Class sub-set:
It features a blue-sharpied, on-sticker autograph and shows him wearing the Pens' then-white (away) uniform. I'd like to get some ECHL and European cards of him signed one day.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Nathan MacKinnon Jersey Card

There are two undeniable and irreplaceable forwards in the NHL "MVP" conversation: Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, because he's simply the best player in the world in this generation, and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, who is proving that he doesn't need his fellow stars Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen not only to produce points, but also wins for his team.

The 24-year-old has 16 goals, 23 assists and 39 points in 25 games this season, 16 of them without Rantanen, 14 without Landeskog.

The Avs currently sit third in the Central Division with 32 standing points, one behind the Winnipeg Jets with a game in hand, and tied with the Dallas Stars with two games in hand.

When he was drafted first overall, it was widely believed the Avalanche would instead opt for hometown kid Seth Jones (now a #1 defenseman in his own right and perhaps eventual Norris Trophy winner), but head coach and VP of Hockey Operations Patrick Roy - who had just coached against MacKinnon and the Halifax Mooseheads in the LHJMQ - insisted the Avalanche select MacKinnon instead; Jones fell to fourth, behind Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Drouin. Because Drouin and MacKinnon were teammates, it was widely believed they complemented one another to a point where if they were to be separated, perhaps they would be less productive.

Nowadays, not only have those fears dissipated, but most of that strong draft year's top-20 currently plays a high-profile role in the NHL, as Elias Lindholm (5th), Sean Monahan (6th), Darnell Nurse (7th), Rasmus Ristolainen (8th), Bo Horvat (9th), Max Domi (12th), Josh Morrissey (13th), Alexander Wennberg (14th), Ryan Pulock (15th), and Anthony Mantha (20th) are all top-unit players, and Nikita Zadorov (16th) plays a big part defensively on the Avs.

Drouin was the Montréal Canadiens' best forward this season before suffering an injury that will sideline him for months, and MacKinnon has been close to the 100-point plateau for three straight seasons now.

In retrospect, perhaps voters now feel Taylor Hall's 2017-18 Hart Trophy would be more at home in MacKinnon's living room (I already felt that way at the time, myself).

Here is #29 in all his splendour, sporting the Avalanche's burgundy (home) uniform on the "Gold" jersey insert version of card #55 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 SP Game-Used Edition collection:
It features a white game-worn jersey swatch from Colorado's away uniform.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Maxime Fortunus Autographed Card

Does racism exist in hockey? Of course it does, because it still exists in the world.

I was in a special bubble growing up, playing hockey in the NDG district of Montréal where there was at least one girl and four people of colour on every team in every category in our neighbourhood until - and including - Midget. It wasn't by design or by some sort special program - we all grew up loving and playing hockey, and there were enough of all of us to fill two A-level and two B-level "elite" teams and usually a handful to eight C-level "house league" teams per category (from Novice to Atom to Pee-wee to Bantam to Midget) and, statistically, the proportions were often relatively the same at all levels on all teams. It represented our neighbourhood, as did the fact that half the teams were French-speaking and the other half had English as a common language.

As a matter of fact, as most things Montréal, language was a larger factor of discontent, fighting and favouritism than skin colour or gender.

Were insulting words ever said? Absolutely. Until Pee-Wee at least, when folks on both sides start realizing the meaning - both from the person saying it and the person receiving it. A person of Indian descent getting called "Paki" finds it ridiculous until the "all you Brown people are the same category of not welcome" starts kicking in, and the playfulness of an insult stops being funny when the other side gets hurt more than intended. And almost everyone was a target of slurs at some point, from the Francophones ("Frog", "Pepper", "Pepsi") to Blacks to Indians to girls to guys who look more "effeminate" to Indigenous peoples... even straight, "regular" white Anglo-Saxon Canadian males ("Squareheads", "Blokes").

Starting at the Pee-Wee level, ages 12-13-14 (depending on date of birth), people learn to not say hurtful things to people they care about, and eventually we'd just start hearing it more from kids from poorer neighbourhoods, and we'd use it as a rallying point. One of our teams would usually finish in the top-5 of any province-wide end-of-season ranking, and would usually medal in tournaments, even when icing just half a team because said tournament was played in the daytime on a school day, or all day during the Sabbath:
After Midget came the LHJMQ. Girls were no longer part of the equation, but I'm of that generation that produced elite goaltending (Jean-Sébastien Giguère, José Theodore, Roberto Luongo) and tough guys, a lot of them being people of colour (Jason Doig, Peter Worrell, Donald Brashear, Georges Laraque, Craig Martin, Francis Bouillon, Jason Downey). Laraque spoke eloquently (as usual) about the pains he endured as a child climbing up the ranks.

All of this is to say that I'm just a little bit stunned by Akim Aliu's recollection of events that happened in the AHL. Not that it happened at all, but that it happened in the third-best hockey league in the world. You'd think the kind of language used would have been weeded out by encountering other human beings as Bill Peters would have climbed the ranks from Amateur to Juniors to the pros. You'd think someone would have told him it's wrong, would have stood up to him, would have been in a position to threaten his job at some point.

But more than the language, you'd think the Omertà would not have been strong enough to allow for Aliu's demotion to the ECHL simply for standing up to him. And that's one of the major problems with the way the AHL management teams are set up: usually, the AHL team's GM is either the parent team's GM or their assistant-GM, meaning they oversee player personnel and decisions, but from the main offices in the parent team's building, 90% of the time, when what would be required is a continuous presence with the team, to feel its pulse, to not rely on one person's opinion regarding not just the makeup of the team and asset management, but also possibly the player's ability to deliver and become the best he can be - either for the team or for someone else via asset exchange.

Since players are the "product", they should be cherished and nourished to become the best they can be by being put in the best situation for them. Minor-league coaches are only there for their development. Sure, they may eventually earn a promotion... if they succeed at developing impactful players. There should be no other criteria, or goal.

Which brings me to Maxime Fortunus. He's five years younger than me, so I never got to play with him, and I've had all of two minutes of interactions with him in my life. I don't know if there is a reason beyond size and perhaps defensive zone lapses that made him go undrafted or limited him to 9 NHL games, but I know he makes a really good pass and has a booming shot, and I know he wore an "A" on his chest with the Manitoba Moose and the captain's "C" with the Texas Stars, so he at least was a respected presence in an AHL locker room. And I've seen Aliu play, and there is no on-ice reason why the former first-rounder could not have at least been the type of guy who is an AHL star like Fortunus. For God's sake, he's still practising full-time in Toronto in the hopes that an NHL team will call, he knows he's skilled enough.

And, hey, Fortunus left a spot open, as he's now playing in Germany, for the Fischtown Pinguins. Here's a card from his first season with the Texas Stars on card #11 from the 2010-11 Choice team set by Choice Sports Cards:
It shows him wearing the team's white (home) uniform; he signed it in blue sharpie in 2015 or 2016, adding his uniform number (18) to his signature.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Valentin Zykov Autographed Card

Today, the Vegas Golden Knights announced they had sent Valentin Zykov down to the AHL's Chicago Wolves after clearing wavers, as he is set to return to play after a 20-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. After it has been revealed that this was done without the consent of the Golden Knights - and because he's the second player in two seasons to get suspended by the league for PEDs - I am fairly certain the organization now wants him out.

Despite his pedigree as a second-round pick (37th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2013), the 24-year-old with over-average stick-handling skills and near-elite passing with decent size (6'2", 205-210 pounds), I doubt many teams want to take a chance on handing him a middle-six position on the wing after this. I believe he will require a five-year exile to the KHL to mature before getting another chance at an NHL gig, especially with just 15 points in 47 NHL games to his name so far split between L.A., Vegas and the Carolina Hurricanes.

He did put up 33 goals and 54 points in 64 games with the AHL's Charlotte Checkers in 2017-18, but translating that extra "oomph" to NHL success has proven to be difficult, as is often the case for power forwards.

Here he is from his high-scoring Juniors days with the LHJMQ's Baie-Comeau Drakkar on card #65 from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set:
I got this one in a trade last year from fellow collector BG, who got the autograph in-person. He's shown wearing the Drakkar's red (away) uniform, which does well to mostly use the Calgary Flames' colour scheme but avoid the trapping of copying their uniform design.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Dave Poulin Autographed Card

It feels like I haven't featured a player from the Philadelphia Flyers in a long time, so why not go big and feature a former captain who took his team to the 1985 and 1987 Stanley Cup Finals and 1989 Prince-Of-Wales Conference Final, Dave Poulin?

Poulin hails from Timmins, in Northeastern Ontario, a bilingual town not far from the province of Québec not too far from the  mining town Rouyn-Noranda. It's the birthplace of many international artists - notably Shania Twain, Maurice LaMarche, and Lights - as well as athletes "Baz" Bastien, Bill Barilko, Les Costello, Hall Of Famer Murray Costello, Shean Donovan, Réal Chevrefils, Rick Lessard, Frank Mahovlich, Pete Mahovlich, Jim Mair, "Doc" Prentice, Steve Shields, Steve Sullivan, Eric Vail, Walter Tkaczuk, and Olympic gold medalist Kathy Kreiner.

From there he spent four seasons with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and upon not being drafted by an NHL team took off to Sweden to play for Rögle BK. Their head coach Ted Sater being a scout for the Flyers, he insisted they offer him a contract, and after being called up from the AHL's Maine Mariners (where he had 16 points in 16 games), he scored two goals in a 6-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, which cemented his place on the NHL roster.

He spent his rookie season on the team's first line alongside Tim Kerr and Brian Propp, finishing with 76 points in 73 games, finishing fourth in the Calder Trophy race for rookie of the year behind winner Tom Barrasso (also the Vezina winner), Steve Yzerman (87 points) and Sylvain Turgeon (40 goals).

By his second full season in 1984-85, he was named team captain, due to the fact that he was already 26 at the time and already a strong two-way player who gave maximum effort. When Paul Holmgren took over from Mike Keenan as head coach, Poulin's responsibilities shifted from producing points to shutting down opponents, which is why he went from a point-per-game player to a 35-point man in just one year.

GM Bobby Clarke then dealt him to the Boston Bruins, where he was reunited with Propp to help lead the team to the Cup Final in 1990; it would be his third Finals defeat at the hands of the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers.

After three more years in Boston (which came with a King Clancy Award) came two with the Washington Capitals, then he was off to coach Notre Dame into relevance, before accepting a VP role with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the request of Brian Burke.

Because none of the last nine words of the previous paragraph ever work out, he ended up losing that job in 2014 and has since been an analyst for TSN - a much more respected career path.

It was while at the employ of TSN in 2016 or 2017 that he signed this card for me in black sharpie:
That's card #100 from O-Pee-Chee's 1988-89 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him watching the puck against the New Jersey Devils, captain's "C" prominent, with a perfect view of the Flyers' classic 1980s orange (away) uniform. This reminds me of my childhood so much I can practically taste the cherry-flavoured 7up.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Jaroslav Halak Swatch Card

The Montréal Canadiens - and particularly their head coach Claude Julien and star goalie Carey Price (3.56 GAA, .886 save percentage) - are mired in a month-long funk that is seemingly without end, so facing former star goalie Jaroslav Halak - he of the near-perfect record against the Habs, especially in Montréal - was likely going to prove problematic, especially since he's in town with the rest of the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins in search of their fourth-straight win after a sub-par outing in Ottawa last week.

Wouldn't you know it, Price let in 5 goals on 11 shots while Halak stopped 36 of 37 en route to an 8-1 routing of the home team. This after Price, Julien and the Canadiens blew a 4-0 lead to lose 6-5 at the hands of the New York Rangers on home ice on Saturday.

This was Montréal's fifth-straight loss, and the masses are already speculating on who could take over behind the Canadiens' bench, the smart money betting safe on Associate-Coach Kirk Muller, Mike Babcock, Guy Boucher and current assistant Dominic Ducharme.

I believe the team will stay idle, but there are plenty of bench bosses I prefer to Julien, including Patrick Roy, Guy Carbonneau, Manitoba Moose bench boss Pascal Vincent, Syracuse Crunch head coach Benoît Groulx and - why not? - Ducharme, Boucher and Muller, in that order.

Not Babcock - he needs to sort his public image out, repent, and attempt to grow and change his ways a bit before he's given a second (fourth) chance. Furthermore, he seems like he's taking his former partners down with him - today it was Bill Peters' turn for alleged (and seemingly now-corroborated) racist behaviour, perhaps tomorrow it will be Boucher, a fellow McGill alumnus and another coach who uses mind games to motivate his players.

But back to the hero of the evening, Halak, who made news last week for his use of practice pads. He is on the last of a two-year deal with Boston that pays him $2.75M annually to play roughly the same amount of regular-season games as starter Tuuka Rask - who makes $7M - so that Rask can be rested come playoff time, a strategy that worked well enough to lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final last season. It's a thankless job, but he's shining in it, with a 2.39 GAA (7th in the NHL), a 5-1-3 record, a .930 save percentage (4th) and a shutout (tied for 7th). Other goalies aren't faring as well:
The Bruins are among the favourites to earn the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals given as a team, which would mark Halak's second such win. The first time, of course, was as a member of the St. Louis Blues, as can be seen on card #FOG-HAL from Panini's 2012-13 Certified set and Fabric Of The Game sub-set:
It is numbered 101/150 and is of the "Red / Mirror" variant; the swatch lies underneath a die-cut stencil of the word "Blues", fittingly, and features a prominent blue game-worn jersey swatch.

I got it on Ebay just last week for use at a much later date, but it was (physically) the closest piece of memorabilia to feature when I opted for Halak as my subject of the day.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Jonny Brodzinski Jersey Card

You may recall this Jonny Brodzinski jersey card from a box break last year:
It's #RM-JB from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 2 collection and Rookie Materials sub-set, showing him wearing the Los Angeles Kings' black (home) uniform, with a matching "player-worn memorabilia", without specification if it's at the draft, during practice, a game or a photo shoot. Or just in the press box while watching other Kings players practice.

Upon signing him to a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks on July 2nd, GM Doug Wilson had this to say:
Brodzinski has an excellent combination of power and scoring skill-set. He had a great collegiate career at St. Cloud State and has continued that success at the professional level. We feel there’s a good opportunity for him to earn playing time and help us offensively this upcoming season.
His father Mike and uncle Steve as well as second-youngest brother Easton are all products of St. Cloud State, while his two middle brothers Michael (a Sharks draft pick) and youngest brother Bryce opted for the University of Minnesota.

I want to disagree with Wilson's rose-coloured glasses assessment of Brodzinski, however, as he was barely a point-per-game forward in College, never actually got there at the AHL level but did get close once with the Ontario Reign and has yet to translate any of that to the NHL level, although to be fair, he was mostly asked to play a fourth-line role with the Kings.

I see his upside as a third-line winger more than a centre, if he can translate some of that offensive skill by playing with more talented players than your average fourth-liner. But let's keep in mind he's a fifth-round pick who is already 26 years old. He needs to grab the bull by the horns if he doesn't want to remain a 'tweener alternating between the NHL and AHL.

I'd love to see all four brothers on the ice at once, though, so perhaps there's a chance with the San Jose Barracuda.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Viktor Arvidsson Jersey Card

Last night, the St. Louis Blues' Robert Bortuzzo cross-checked the Nashville Predators' Viktor Arvidsson irresponsibly twice - throwing him head-first towards the net piping, then forcing him down again as he's trying to get up, apparently pulling or tearing a leg or groin muscle:

While the NHL announced Bortuzzo had been suspended without pay for four games (a $67K loss), the Preds announced Arvidsson would miss four-to-six weeks with a lower-body injury.

Since Bortuzzo had already been suspended twice and doesn't seem to be getting the message, I would have suspended him for at least four games for each infraction; I would not have gone wholesale on this at all.

And as the above link to his suspension notes, he's been guilty of even more dangerous stickwork other than his previous two suspensions:
Over the years he has developed quite a track record of similar incidents where he uses his stick in such a manner.
A couple of years ago he had a similarly violent attack on New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson (resulting in a fine but no suspension) that you can see here.
In last year’s playoffs against the Dallas Stars he took exception to what he considered to be repeated dives from Esa Lindell by giving him another high cross-check. You can see that here.
Although the circumstances were different, he also injured Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin with a blatant cross-check away from the play and in front of the net. You can see that one here.
He also has an additional fine for another cross-checking incident involving Jordan Szwarz of the Boston Bruins late in the 2017-18 season (no video available).
It's been a tough season for Arvisson, whose 6 goals in 22 games this year is far off his usual 30-goal pace, especially considering last season's career-high 34 came in only 58 games. He was also one of the few Preds players to put up numbers in the postseason that could compare with their regular-season output.

Here's hoping he comes back strong enough to finish the season on a high note and that it doesn't affect the rest of his prime.

Here he is wearing Nashville's yellow (home) uniform on card #GJ-VA from Upper Deck's 2018-19 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a white game-worn jersey swatch from the away uniform.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

2019-20 Upper Deck Artifacts Hockey Blaster Box Break

Upper Deck's 2019-20 Artifacts collection remains among the best-looking semi-affordable ($35 for 35 cards in this blaster box, in 7 packs (5 "regular" + 2 "bonus" five-card packs) sets of the early season - and althouygh I miss the times when they were printed on thicker, matte cardboard, the design still looks classy:
An action shot, some clever cropping, a great picture, and an elegant design. The stats are limited to the past five seasons, but at least just about every player gets a blurb that is different from those in other sets.

I pulled no rookies, no jersey cards or autographs, and my lone "insert" was a "Copper" variant of Max Pacioretty, numbered 158/299:
For me to be able to deliver a decent enough scan of the foil's colour, I had to tone down the brightness of the card's background, but it really looks nice, like broken 15th-Century art (think Renaissance/Sistine Chapel-type) with colours going from green to golden yellow to white.

This earns a 8/10 for me this year.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Michael Rasmussen Autograph Card

A lot of Detroit Red Wings fans are quick to push the panic button on their first-round prospects if they aren't as quick as Dylan Larkin to have an impact in the NHL, but these people need to realize Larkin took a major step back in his second and third seasons; Anthony Mantha also needed some grooming, and it too a stint playing for Team Canada for him to fully develop the confidence that he could be as dominating with adults as he was in Juniors.

At 6'6" and 221 pounds, it's quite possible that Michael Rasmussen's development path will follow that of a power forward, and he could become a dominant player only at age 24-26 - it's a bet all GMs make when they select a giant in the first round. He's producing at a point-per-game average with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins this season, but again, people need to let him develop at his own pace, and not place undue pressure on him if he regresses or stagnates or goes pointless in ten straight games - these things happen to all players, particularly young ones.

Wings fans should remain optimistic that they will have a very good team in two or three years, and that perhaps at that moment or right afterwards, Rasmussen may very well be an important part of the core, either as a middle-six centre or as a net-crashing and board-busting playmaking winger.

Here he is wearing the WHL's Tri-City Americans' white (home) uniform on card #BA-MR1 from Leaf's 2016-17 Leaf Metal set:
Oddly, it bears the In The Game logo on the back but not the front, possibly because they hold the license for CHL cards, but Leaf doesn't want to give them a second life after having purchased their vault a few years ago:
The all-silver foil card features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Stéphane Quintal Autographed Card

The Winnipeg Jets are experimenting with their forward depth these days and possibly eyeing the future as they are turning first-line winger and captain Blake Wheeler into the second-line centre they've been looking for for the past three years and slotting Patrik Laine in his spot alongside Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor.

The thinking is if Wheeler can remain effective as a centre playing behind Scheifele, both will see advantageous match-ups - perhaps even more so Wheeler - as opponents will now have two lines with the potential to take over a game and pay attention to.

With goalie Connor Hellebuyck back to his Vezina-level ways, that just leaves the defence as a point of concern, particularly the right side, which reminds me that Stéphane Quintal has once held that position as a 25/26-year-old, as can be attested by card #245 from Fleer's 1994-95 Fleer Ultra set, which he signed in black sharpie at his induction into the LHJMQ Hall Of Fame last year:
You tend to forget how simple and beautiful their white (home garbs were at the time, because you mostly see the dark jersey nowadays, but "WOW". The veteran of 1037 NHL games is still the Assistant-Director and Senior VP of Player Safety for the NHL but would listen if an NHL team came calling with an offer for a front-office job.

My Jets Numbers Project: An Introduction

It was just a matter of time before I had the Winnipeg Jets join my esteemed "Numbers Projects" alongside my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project, my Nordiques Numbers Project, my Sens Numbers Project, my Canucks Numbers Project, my Flames Numbers Project, my Team Canada Numbers Project and my Expos Numbers Project.

What's nice is I get to cheat here, because I will use all professional iterations of the Jets in Winnipeg: the WHA team that became an NHL team, and the one that was created when the Atlanta Thrashers moved up North; I will not be including Atlanta numbers nor those of the Phoenix Coyotes, the team that was moved to the desert after the 1995-96 season.
It's hard not to have a soft spot for the perennial underdogs, the team with the smallest arena, from the smallest city and metropolitan area, that always faces nearly insurmountable odds just to exist - let alone succeed - and whose fanbase has stuck with them through thick and thin. They kept the dream alive amid not really having a chance at all to see it materialize. They certainly were never given any hope by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at any point.

They won AVCO Cups in the WHA in the 1970s, were merged into the NHL along with the Hartford Whalers, Québec Nordiques and Edmonton Oilers in 1979, kept losing to the dynasty Oilers in the 1980s, moved to Arizona in the 1990s, came back (albeit from the ruins of another franchise) in the 2010s. Their history is rich in superstars, hard-knocks, and the inevitable small-market reality of icing a bunch of journeymen players.

As a reminder, 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 31 players for 24 numbers:

4: Fredrik Olausson: check!
6: Phil Housley: check!
7: Keith Tkachuk and Brent Ashton: check!
8: Randy Carlyle and Jacob Trouba: check!
10: Dale Hawerchuk and Alexei Zhamnov (twice): check!
11: Paul Fenton: check!
14: Anthony Peluso: check!
16: Andrew Ladd and Stéphane Quintal: check!
17: Kris King and Jim Nill: check!
18: Bryan Little: check!
19: Brian Mullen and Shane Doan: check!
21: Aaron Gagnon and Chad Kilger: check!
22: Moe Mantha: check!
23: Paul MacDermid: check!
25: Thomas Steen: check!
26: Blake Wheeler: check!
31: Rick Tabaracci: check!
33: Dustin Byfuglien: jersey card check!
34: Darrin Shannon: check!
35: Bob Essensa: check!
38: Paul Postma: check!
40: Edward "Eddie" Pasquale: check!
44: Zach Bogosian: check!
80: Nikolai Antropov: check!

Captains: King, Hawerchuk, Steen, Ladd

I still have a lot of work ahead of myself, but I'm up to the challenge!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Jamie Oleksiak Autograph Card

It's not often an NHL player is less popular than their sibling (I know it was the case for Zak Bierk, whose brother Sebastian Bach fronted cock-rock/hair metal band Skid Row for a decade), but in the case of the Dallas Stars' Jamie Oleksiak, it's his Canadian Olympian sister Penelope "Penny" Oleksiak - the youngest Canadian athlete ever to medal and the first to win four medals in the same Summer Games - who wears the mantle.

The 6'7", 255-pound Jamie has an interesting career; he was drafted by the Stars then traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a fourth-round draft pick, yet when he was shown to be a poor fit in Pittsburgh and when the Stars realized he was exactly who they needed to have on their back end, was traded back for the exact same pick, as if the trade had never happened, save for the 83 games he played there, and the 8 goals, 17 assists, 25 points, 106 penalty minutes and +18 rating he collected while in Steel Town.

He's now a regular on the team's third pairing, generally driving play forward and contributing to the tune of a point per five games or so. Here he is wearing the Stars' old digs, the white (away) uniform with the awful wordmark and number instead of a logo on the signed insert version of card #173 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Trilogy set and Rookie Premieres/Level 1 sub-sets:
The card appears to have a blue tint, but that's just the scan; it's actually a silver foil to the naked eye, with the parts appearing as black being gold foil. The signature is in blue sharpie, on a sticker. The card is numbered 137/699.

Oleksiak is a big tattoo buff.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Anthony Duclair Autographed Card

Anthony Duclair played like a superstar tonight, posting two highlight-reel goals and an assist as his Ottawa Senators beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3; since the game took place in Detroit, it was sort of a hometown game for head coach D.J. Smith, who grew up across the lake in Windsor, Ontario and attended Wings games as a youth.

Here is his second goal of the night:

Duclair is really starting to put it together, and his season average of 16:09 per game hides the fact that in every other game, he's actually closer to 18 minutes minutes, factoring in more and more games as the season gets underway.

He had 14 points (8 goals) in 21 games with the Sens last year and is now at 13 (9 goals) in the same span this year, but this year he's on a sustainable shooting percentage (12.5%, close to his career average) , whereas he was hitting the back of the net at a 20% click last year. His season is "for real", trending upwards, and at age 24, he's about to enter his prime while reaching the maturity level to play a better-rounded game.

He's looking like a 30-goal, 50-point player, which will be great for Ottawa; he can be what they were looking for when they acquired Alexandre Burrows a few years back, but younger.

Here he is wearing the Chicago Blackhawks' white (now-away) uniform on card #113 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie this off-season, tagging his jersey number (91) at the end.

Monday, November 18, 2019

My Nordiques Numbers Project: An Introduction

You're probably used to it by now, what with my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project, my Sens Numbers Project, and my Canucks Numbers Project, but I decided long ago that I would also have one for my favourite team growing up, the Québec Nordiques.

As a reminder, the goal is to have an autographed card of a player representing each jersey number worn/used by the franchise. If I can't find an autographed card, autographed pictures, postcards or jersey cards can count.
Originally founded as a WHA team in in 1972, they joined the NHL with the New England/Hartford Whalers, the Oilers and the Winnipeg Jets when the WHA folded with the agreement that four teams would merge with the NHL, pending a transfer fee and the loss of their superstars whose rights belonged to existing NHL teams.

Because the franchised relocated to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, it's a tad harder to complete this set than my previous ones, because it gives me a limited number of years to access and fewer players having the chance to wear certain jersey numbers.

I'm starting this project with the mindset of limiting myself to the 1972-1995 time period, ignoring the Avs part of the team's history - and also skipping over former teams based in the same city, such as the Stanley Cup-winning Québec Bulldogs.

Here's the list of those I have featured here thus far:

1. Ron Tugnutt and Richard Sévigny: check!
2. Sylvain Lefebvre: check!
4. Paul Baxter: check!
5. Réjean Houle and Brent Severyn: check!
6: Craig Wolanin: check!
7: Robbie Ftorek: check!
9: Réal Cloutier: check!
10. Guy Lafleur: check!
12. Chris Simon: check!
16. Michel Goulet once: (and twice) check!
18: Marian Stastny and Mike Hough: check!
19. Michel Dion (also wore 30): check!
21: Randy Moller: check!
22. Ron Sutter: check!
30. Michel Dion (also wore 19): check!
31. Stéphane Fiset: check!
32. Dale Hunter: check!
33. Mario Gosselin: check!
36: Adam Deadmarsh: check!
40: Tony Hrkac: check!
44: Mario Marois: check!
48. Scott Young: check!
49: Kip Miller: check!
51: Andrei Kovalenko: check!
55: René Corbet: check!

That's 25 numbers. Some numbers will be harder than others (Peter Stastny's 26 and Joe Sakic's/Owen Nolan's 88), but I'm actually fairly confident with this one. This and the Habs one, fittingly, should near completion before I get bored with having these projects!