Monday, January 21, 2019

Ryan Callahan Jersey Card

Fresh from pulling it in a recent Upper Deck 2018-19 Mystery Box, I figured I could talk a bit about Ryan Callahan via card #AF-RC from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition collection and Authentic Fabrics sub-set:
It shows him wearing the New York Rangers' white (now-away) uniform and, although the scan doesn't do it justice, features two lines of stitching - one below the "n" and one below the "c" of the word "Authentic". If you look closely at the picture, you'll also see he was the team's captain at the time (2011-14), between the reigns of Chris Drury and current Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Ryan McDonagh.

An American from Rochester, NY, it felt like a perfect fit when the Rangers selected him 127th overall in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL draft, one of the best "value" picks of the later rounds (3-9) with Brandon Prust (70th overall, 486 games played, 1036 penalty minutes), Andrej Sekera (71st, 683 games, 232 points), Alexei Emelin (84th, 456 games, 81 points and lots of hard-hitting checks), Alexander Edler (91st, closing in on 800 games and over 350 points from the blue line), Johan Franzen (602 games, 370 points, a Stanley Cup and World Championship gold), Kris Versteeg (134th, 643 games, 358 points), Mikhail Grabovski (150th, 534 games, 296 points), Roman Polak (734 games and counting, 132 points and 599 penalty minutes so far), Anton Khudobin (206th, career GAA of 2.47, save percentage of .916 and currently a league leader in both categories), Troy Brouwer (214th, 351 points and 569 penalty minutes), Matt Hunwick (224th, 523 games), Pekka Rinne (258th, a Vezina Trophy and a Cup Final in consecutive years), Mark Streit (786 games, 434 points, captain of two teams and two-time Swiss Olympian and captain), Daniel Winnik (265th, 798 games) and Jannik Hansen (287th, 626 games).

As a matter of fact, if I had to re-do the 2004 draft, my first round would likely go as follows (half-knowing what I know now, following the development curb these players had, but notwithstanding injury occurrences, and accounting for the fact that I would normally advise against drafting a goalie in the first round, despite there being three here):

1. Alexander Ovechkin
2. Evgeni Malkin
3. Blake Wheeler
4. Rinne
5. Streit
6. Alexander Radulov
7. Franzen
8. Andrew Ladd
9. David Krejci
10. Mike Green
11. Edler
12. Callahan
13. Brandon Dubinsky
14. Alex Goligoski
15. Ladislav Smid
16. Emelin
17. Travis Zajac
18. Brouwer
19. Grabovski
20. Wojtek Wolski
21. Versteeg
22. Sekera
23. Drew Stafford
24. Devan Dubnyk
25. Andrej Meszaros
26. Bryan Bickell
27. Blake Comeau
28. David Booth
29. Carl Soderberg
30. Cory Schneider

Callahan had a few injury-laden first few seasons, but broke out in 2007-08 with 22 goals, good for third on the Rangers, then was named alternate captain the following year, posting roughly the same amount of goals and points as the previous season.

He missed some 20 games by breaking his hand to block a shot in 2010-11, which didn't stop him from posting career-high offensive totals for goals (23), assists (25) and points (48). He also suffered a broken ankle from blocking a Zdeno Chara shot - who held the record for hardest/fastest shot at the time - at the end of the season, earning the team's captaincy with his compete level and effort. He was the first Rangers captain to have been born in the State.

He followed that with 29 goals, 25 assist and 54 points in 2011-12, also suiting up for 20 playoff games (posting 10 points) en route to the Conference Final.

Contract talks stalled with New York, however, as the team wanted to add more offensive firepower to an already well-oiled machine, offering Callahan $36M for six years (at a $6M per season cap hit), while Callahan's camp remained first at $6.5M; at the 2013-14 trade deadline, the Rangers sent their captain, the first-round pick who became Josh Ho-Sang, the first-round pick who became Anthony Beauvillier and the seventh-round pick who became Ziyat Paigin to the Lightning for the remaining two seasons of disgruntled captain and superstar Martin St. Louis' deal and a second-rounder (Oliver Kylington).

It was such a blockbuster deal that both teams benefited from it immediately, facing off in the Conference Final, with Tampa winning in seven games.

He has been plagued by injuries ever since, however, as he was limited to 18 games in 2016-17, 67 in 2017-18 and 40 so far in 2018-19 with just 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists), ranking 16th on the team, behind four defensemen and Adam Erne, a rookie who has only suited up in 34 games. His ice time has mostly been below 10 minutes per game this year.

Many feel he will be ripe for a buyout this summer (provided he's not injured during the team's window to do so), but some Rangers commentators would like to see him come back home - at a fair price.

Either way would be fine for the romantic in me - finishing his career as the Rangers' two-time captain, or playing on Cup-contending teams with fellow former Rangers McDonagh, Anton Stralman, J.T. Miller and Daniel Girardi. Plus, as the Los Angeles Kings showed us with Mike Richards, having an experienced, dependable checker who can fill in in other roles temporarily is a plus come playoff time.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Robin Lehner Autograph Card

Earlier today, one of the ten best goalies in the NHL this year shut out the Vezina frontrunner's team, as the New York Islanders' Robin Lehner blanked John Gibson's Anaheim Ducks 3-0. Gibson's having a season for the ages, where he is solely responsible for 90% of the Ducks' cumulative points this year, but Lehner currently ranks second in both GAA (2.02, behind Laurent Brossoit's 2.01) and save percentage (.930, behind Jack Campbell's .931). Yes, only a pair of backups are ahead of Lehner, mostly because he has played more games than both of them combined.

Rounding out the "best goalie" conversation are Ben Bishop (2.37 and .921 on a Dallas Stars team that has trouble scoring two goals per game), Marc-André Fleury (2.49 and .911, to go along with a league-leading 27 wins), the two-headed Boston Bruins monster comprised of Tuuka Rask (2.43, .919) and Jaroslav Halak (2.47, .919), Andrei Vasilevskiy (2.50 and .925 playing for the league-leading and nearly flawless Tampa Bay Lightning), surprising Calgary Flames sophomore David Rittich (2.49 and .917), last year's winner Pekka Rinne (2.51 and .913) and the Toronto Maple Leafs' Frederik Andersen (2.54 and .922).

One thing that sets Lehner apart is his own admission of being ten-months sober from alcohol and sleeping pills right before the regular season started, as well as bouts fighting bipolar disease and depression.

It took major balls to look deep inside himself and tell the world that while we could all see his level of talent and competitiveness, the reason why he was let go by the Buffalo Sabres was himself, and the reasons why he lost the #1 goalie job on a team that's poised to make a huge bounce in the standing in the next few years come from within.

He's now seemingly dealt with his demons and gotten his career back on track, and now all he needs to do is keep walking that line and forging ahead. Should he not win the Vezina, he'll likely get strong Masterton Trophy consideration and a new, more lucrative deal for the future, two more reasons to keep at it.

Here he is at the beginning of his NHL career, on card #39 of the NHL Ink sub-set from Panini's 2011-12 Contenders set:
It is a beautiful, relatively thick, sleek and clean card, with lots of blank space for him to sign in blue sharpie. It shows him sporting the Ottawa Senators' very best jersey, the black "O" throwback uniform, stopping a puck behind his net.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Kirk Muller Autographed Card

A cool nickname, "Captain Kirk". The second-overall pick of the 1984 draft. Captain of the New Jersey Devils and Montréal Canadiens. Stanley Cup winner. All-Star. Had he had his say, that's the way the story would have ended for Kirk Muller, a path that may have led him to the Hal of Fame.

Instead, after assurances from GM Serge Savard that he would not get traded - and that if he were to be, that it be to a contending team - he was sent to the New York Islanders on April 5th, 1995, along with Mathieu Schneider and Craig Darby.

What had changed? Isles GM Don Maloney felt his team needed to add grit and a hard work ethic to his team, and made captain Pierre Turgeon - a French Canadian star - available, for one; also, the Habs needed to get rid of Schneider after a fistfight with star goalie Patrick Roy in Philadelphia in a personal matters issue that was never going to be resolved. Schenider's value didn't match Turgeon's, so the Habs added their own captain and a prospect to the deal, and the Isles added Vladimir Malakhov, an extremely talented but enigmatic (and perhaps lazy) defenseman, on their end.

But Muller wanted nothing to do with the Islanders. So much so that he didn't report to the team. At first, Maloney offered him to take some "personal time" to get his "affairs in order", but when it looked like he was never going to report to the team, Maloney had to promise to try to trade him over the summer, after which Muller suited up for the team's last 12 games of the season.

Then the team introduced its "Fishstick Fisherman" jersey, and half the team wanted out. I don't know what it took to get Muller to smile here, but I bet it had something to do with the photographer telling him he was probably never going to have to wear it on the ice:
That's card #115 from Topps' 1995-96 Topps set, which he signed in blue sharpie in his first stint as a Canadiens assistant coach.

When the 1995-96 season came along, Muller's trade value had plummeted, with every GM in the league knowing full well he wanted out and trying to short-change the Islanders in a deal. Muller flat-out stopped trying and was sent home in early November to await a trade, with his full salary. Due to his inability to deal with the issue, Maloney was fired on December 2nd, replaced by "Mad" Mike Milbury, who sent him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in January, with veteran goalie Don Beaupre, in a three-team swap that netted the Isles Martin Straka, Bryan Berard and Ken Belanger.

He had a bit of a resurgence with the Leafs, posting 25 points (9 goals, 16 assists) in 36 games, but the following season it became clear he had lost a step and could no longer contribute as a second-liner. He would play two and a half years with the Florida Panthers (to little fanfare) before joining fellow former Habs leaders Guy Carbonneau, Craig Ludwig, Mike McPhee, Mike Keane and Brian Skrudland with the Dallas Stars, where he spent his final four seasons.

And how do Isles fans feel about his short time on Long Island? Here's an interesting take:
We've heard about French Canadian players avoiding signing with the Habs because of the pressure their fans will put on them. Take my word for it, that's a good problem to have. It means the players understand exactly what will be expected of them and, if they're not up to the challenge, you probably wouldn't want them anyway.
Players avoiding the Islanders is a horse of a different colo(u)r, though. They're usually borne from not understanding, or wanting to understand, what the hell's even going on over there on Long Island. This is a much larger problem to have. And until it's fixed for good, every big-time player could potentially fill Kirk Muller's old unwanted jersey.
Which was number 9. Which was Clark Gillies' number. Who is still a god on Long Island. Which is yet another reason to hate the piece of shit prick Muller.
It's the complete opposite in Montréal, where Muller is one of two non-French-speaking coaches (with McGill University alumnus Mike Babcock) fans would accept as head coach of the storied Canadiens - and that's saying a lot.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Two Shean Donovan Autographed Cards

Shean Donovan spent more or less his entire NHL career a victim of his physique. Drafted 28th overall (second round) by the San Jose Sharks in 1993 after a 53-poiint season, he exploded for 84 points in his final OHL season with the Ottawa 67s, not unlike their current star player Tye Felhaber.

Of course, at 6'3" and 225 pounds with terrific speed, Donovan qualified as a power forward and would have needed at least five to seven years to develop, but the Sharks lost patience after four seasons and sent him to the Colorado Avalanche, where he had trouble getting ice time on a team that also included such All-Stars as Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay, Chris Drury, Adam Deadmarsh, Brian Rolston, and Claude Lemieux, so he was eventually dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers, claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and traded to the Calgary Flames.

It was the Flames who took a long look at his skating ability ahead of his size and made him into a second-liner instead of a checking winger, and it paid off with a terrific 2003-04 season where he scored 18 goals (second on the team), collected 24 assists (third) and posted 42 points (third).

The season-long 2004-05 lockout got the best of him, however, as he only played 12 games overseas with the Genève-Servette HC, collecting 8 points but also 30 penalty minutes. Playing on a checking line for ten seasons in the NHL had instilled bad habits in his game, and the rule application in Europe and when he made his way back to North America in 2005-06 was such that he essentially had to be relegated to a checking line once again as he played one year for the Boston Bruins and three more with the Ottawa Senators.

He retired after the 2009-10 season and began coaching in 2013-14, first as an assistant and development coach with the 67s, then adding the Sens starting the following season. He is still in that position for the Senators, splitting his time between Ottawa and their AHL affiliate in Belleville.

He signed the above cards for me in blue sharpie during his penultimate season, in 2008-09. Card #60 from Upper Deck's 2005-06 MVP set sees him wearing the Flames' red (then-away) uniform:
And here he is sporting Calgary's white (then-home) uniform, on card #29 from UD's 2005-06 Series 1 set, celebrating after a goal:
He tagged both cards with #10, his number on the Sens, rather than #16, his number with the Flames.

He has won gold medals twice playing for Team Canada, at the 1995 World Juniors and 1997 World Championships.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Nikita Scherbak Autograph Card

The 26th overall pick of the 2014 NHL draft, Nikita Scherbak was waived by the Montréal Canadiens on December 1st and claimed by the Los Angeles Kings the next day, marking the seventh of eight first-round picks that have yet to work out in Montréal, the exception being current rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi, with a thought for elite defenseman-to-be Mikhail Sergachev, traded for Jonathan Drouin.

He scored a goal in his first game in L.A. but produced nothing in the next seven, which prompted the Kings to assign him to their AHL affiliate Ontario Reign, where he again has a lone goal in four games.

He has NHL-level size, skill, speed, hands, shot and overall ability, but so far has refused to put in an NHL-level effort in practices and games. It seems like he feels he should be able to glide on talent alone, like Thomas Vanek a decade ago, with a disdain for good defensive positioning.

Maybe we're looking at an Evgenii Dadonov-type of situation, where he needs to post good numbers in the KHL to develop a thirst for more and come back to North America wanting to surpass himself.

Still, it adds to a pretty uninspiring list of first-round failures (in terms of helping the team, not sheer talent) for Montréal, with all of these players now playing elsewhere at various levels or just plain retired from the game: Mike McCarron (25th overall, 2013), Alex Galchenyuk (third, 2012), Nathan Beaulieu (17th, 2011), Jarred Tinordi (22nd, 2010) and Louis Leblanc (18th, 2009). For the record, Galchenyuk already has a 30-goal season under his belt and I foresee at least five years in the point-per-game range for him starting in a couple of years; I also see McCarron posting a couple of 30-goal seasons, a few 50-point seasons with a peak at around 60-65. They will not all be busts.

It's hard to predict what will come of Scherbak, however.

Here he is sporting the Habs' red (home) uniform, making his entry as #38 in my Habs Numbers Project with the signed insert version of card #91 of the Rookie Premieres (Level 2) card from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Trilogy set:
It's a nice mix of silver (blue on the scan, silver to the naked eye) and gold foil, with a sticker autograph, signed in blue sharpie with his jersey number tagged at the end; it's both tacky and spectacular. This card is numbered 201/349. The NHL's 100th Anniversary patch is displayed below the right shoulder, attesting that the picture came from a regular-season game.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Greg Nemisz Autographed Card

The last time we checked up on Greg Nemisz, he had been traded by the Calgary Flames to the Carolina Hurricanes, then sustained a season-ending knee injury after posting 14 points in 21 games for the AHL Charlotte Checkers.

While rehabbing his knee at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, he accepted an offer from the Oshawa Generals to be their video coach; after realizing he would never fully recover from his third major injury in three seasons, he put an end to his playing career and became a full-time assistant coach with the Generals, a position he still holds today.

I met him in 2016-17 when I was scouting Generals goalie Jeremy Brodeur, son of Martin Brodeur, and he was kind enough to sign this 2012-13 Score card (#99 in the set) by Panini for me, in blue sharpie:
It shows him wearing the Flames' classic red (now-alternate) uniform.

So far, the undrafted Brodeur looks like he'll be a career minor-leaguer; his older brother Anthony, a former throwaway pick of the New Jersey Devils, is having a heck of a revival playing for the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Yves Racine Autographed Card

Yves Racine was chosen 11th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1987 NHL Draft, ahead of Joe Sakic (15th), Andrew Cassels (17th), John LeClair (33rd), Jeff Hackett (34th), Éric Desjardins (38th), Mathieu Schneider (44th), and Theoren Fleury (166th).

He was a blue-chip prospect and proved it by posting 94- and 108-point seasons for the LHJMQ's Victoriaville Tigres after being drafted, then went on to post two 40-point seasons with the Wings before getting traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, where he had a career-high 52 points in 1993-94.

He then made his way to the Montréal Canadiens as a free agent, unfortunately landing on his hometown team the year it parted ways with legendary GM Serge Savard, Stanley Cup-winning coach Jacques Demers and the best goalie of all time, Patrick Roy. To add insult to injury, the Habs already had offensive-minded defensemen on the roster (Schneider, Patrice Brisebois, Jean-Jacques Daigneault, fellow former first-rounder Bryan Fogarty), which meant his skill-set was overly redundant, particularly on a team that lacked on-ice chemistry and defensive acumen.

He had short stints with the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning (in his third turn with Demers as coach, after Detroit and Montréal), but his reputation was already too tarnished to continue playing in the NHL as he turned 30, so he exiled himself to Europe, playing one season in Finland and four more in Germany before returning home to play in the LNAH for the Thetford Mines Prolab for a couple of years.

He then went into business with the Prolab's owner, Réal Breton, investing and obtaining a huge return in the building and selling of condos. Nowadays, he owns and operates a hardware and lumber company, Fixatech. He still suits up for the Habs' alumni team for charity events, a dozen or so times a year.

Here is is sporting the Wings' red (then-away) uniform, on card #287 from Fleer's 1992-93 Fleer Ultra set, which he signed in black sharpie during his time in Thetford Mines:
I should also have a few of him in Flyer orange and the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge as well, somewhere.

Monday, January 14, 2019

2018-19 Parkhurst Hockey Blaster Box Break

Well, they've finally made the Big Time!

I usually buy this series as a means to acquire many cards that I can get signed, but the 2018-19 Parkhurst set by Upper Deck finally feels like a quality set: the cards are thicker than in the past, the design drifted from the usual green-based contour, the player selection remains decent and the sub-sets are original!

What an improvement!

First off, here is what the regular-issue cards look like:
They're reminiscent of old Victory or Topps Total sets, just a tad glossier.

Among the usual sub-sets, I pulled twelve Rookie cards: Maxime Comtois, Brady Tkachuk, Isac Lundestrom, Tomas Hyka, Dylan Sikura, Anthony Cirelli, Casey Mittelstadt, Robert Thomas, Oskar Lindblom, Henrik Borgstrom, Maxim Mamin and Brett Howden:
I also landed six All-Star Game cards, of Anze Kopitar, Pekka Rinne, Jack Eichel, Braden Holtby, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid:
I found it a bit weird that the All-Star cards showed the same five years' worth of basic statistics as the regular-issue cards when they could have shown All-Star Game stats instead, but I guess UD had other things in mind.

More, uh, original inserts included Original 6: Past, Present & Future, of which I pulled Jonathan Toews:
Don't get fooled by the scan, this one is actually a silver foil, not predominantly blue, as is the Parkhurst Permits series (again, Toews):
There was another sub-set of rookies dubbed Prominent Prospects, of which I lucked into Eeli Tolvanen, Brady Tkachuk and Dillon Dube:
For these as for the rest of the set, whenever a card also has a picture on the back, it's the same picture as the front, but with a different crop.

One set that looks cool but is just a pretext to feature the same stars in different angles is View From The Ice, although the signed versions (which I didn't pull) look even better:
These would feel at home in Upper Deck's Tim Hortons sets... That's an extra card of Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and Auston Matthews.

The most original insert is Tis The Season, as can be seen on this Auston Matthews card:
There are also two Checklist cards (and I got both); they feature Ovechkin and Matthews.
You probably see where I'm going with this...

Pro: great hand feel.
Con: too glossy.
Pro: great player selection.
Con: awful collation, as can be attested by all the Toews and Ovie cards (and way too many Matthews cards).
Pro: finally worth $30 for 120 cards (12 packs of 10 cards).
Con: 220 total cards in the regular set, so why bother with TWO checklists?

It's a terrific buy. If I had $30 to spend on more cards this year (and just $30, not a multiple of $30), this is the box I'd spend it on. It exceeded my expectations and, in doing so, surpassed Artifacts and O-Pee-Chee as the affordable set to buy. This is a solid 8.5/10.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

2018-19 Upper Deck Hockey Mystery Box Break

I've got to admit, this Upper Deck 2018-19 Mystery Box was compelling, at $45. A Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin/Evgeni Malkin, Mario Lemieux or Leon Draisaitl signed card? A Wayne Gretzky or Connor McDavid signed jersey? A premium pack? A coin worth $99?

Of course, I landed none of that, but I did get at least one of every "regular" pack shown on the box, namely a pack of the 2015-16 Series 1 set:
A pack of the 2015-16 Series 2 set:
Two packs of 2016-17 Series 1:
One pack of 2016-17 Parkhurst:
One pack of 2016-17 Team Canada Juniors/Women cards:
Two packs of the 2017-18 Series 1 cards:
And my guaranteed "Hobby" pack, from the 2016-17 CHL set:
I had fun opening the packs and landed a few inserts.

There is a Young Guns Canvas card of Nick Cousins:
A Parkhurst silver parallel of Daniel Sedin and two rookies:
Two UD Portraits cards from different sets:
And my CHL pack landed me 12 young players including this Milos Roman rookie card:
But the two best were this 2017-18 Game Jersey card of John Klingberg:
And this gold variant (#25/38) jersey card of Canadian Olympian Halli Krzyzaniak's:
The guaranteed "hit" card was this Authentic Fabrics jersey card of former New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan from the 2013-14 SP Game-Use Edition set:
The only truly disappointing pull was the fact that the guaranteed rookie card is in terrible shape; its Auston Matthews' Top Rookies card from the 2017-18 MJ Holdings Hockey set but has three banged corners, nearly half the left side of the cardboard lifted off and cutting lines on top and on the right:
Considering it should probably be the box's most valuable hit, it's a huge disappointment. I probably would've been able to make a Toronto Maple Leafs fan very happy via trade with this one, but I can't see anyone going out of their way trying to acquire it from me.

I'll contact Upper Deck and see if they can replace it for me, or perhaps explain that the entire run of MJ Holdings cards are this way. If it stands as is, I'll have to rate this one a 6.0/10.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Michael McCarron Autographed Card

On December 29, I went to Place Bell to see the Laval Rocket play the Charlotte Checkers, a game the Checkers dominated where one goalie (Laval's Étienne Marcoux) and two skaters (one from each team) were clear standouts, despite not racking many points in a nine-goal game won 5-4 by Charlotte.

For the home team, Michael McCarron nabbed an assist, but he was clearly - by far - the best player wearing red. He was like a member of the 1990s Legion Of Doom playing against AHLers; the day when he will put all the ingredients together, his impact will likely be as massive as Milan Lucic's.

As it stands, he's 23 (two years from hitting his prime as a power forward), 6'6", 230 pounds, with a strong, accurate shot, deceptive and impressive speed, and a willingness to knock opponents over like bowling pins, whether they're in his way or not.

I'm not saying he'll be a constant threat to score 35 goals at the NHL level, but I can see a 20-25-goal scorer, 40-50-points per year with a high of 65 once, who is a driving force of play for at least t5hree years, hopefully five. He's already too good for the AHL, he deserves a third-line NHL job until he can prove to be a top-six forward.

He signed his first OHL card in blue sharpie for me after the game, #15 in In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set:
It shows him sporting the London Knights' white (home) uniform, the team he wore an "A" with for a year and won the Memorial Cup against (as a member of the Oshawa Generals, who traded for him midway through the 2014-15 season).

He has so far won three silver medals playing for Team USA - at the 2012 U-17 Championships, and the 2018 World Juniors and World U-18 Championships.