Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Mike McKenna Autographed Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the New Jersey Devils would finish tied for fourth/fifth in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20).

Granted, I do not have many Devils-themed collectibles, and I didn't want to feature a retired player who just spent a single season with them (well... a retired star player, anyway), but I did manage to find one player worth talking about, the journeyman of journeymen goaltenders, Mike McKenna.

You might recall McKenna if the 15 NHL organizations he passed through was the one you cheered for, of if you followed the ECHL after the season-long 2004-05 lockout, or if you read his wife's tweets explaining the hardships that come with being traded and/or claimed on waivers many times per season, or his bittersweet - mostly sweet - retirement announcement this summer.

He's played in Springfield (IL), Las Vegas, Norfolk, (Vegas again), Milwaukee, Omaha, Portland (ME), (Norfolk again), Tampa Bay, Lowell, Albany, New Jersey, Binghamton, Peoria, Springfield (MA), Columbus, (Portland again), Arizona (Portland again), (Springfield MA again), Syracuse, Texas (Austin), Dallas, Belleville, Ottawa, sat on the bench in Vancouver, was assigned to but didn't play in Utica, played in Philadelphia, and Lehigh Valley.

That last stretch was pretty insane: three different organizations in four days, six teams in the same week, when the Ottawa Senators re-assigned him to the Belleville Baby Sens, traded him to the Vancouver Canucks, who assigned him after two games backing up Jacob Markstrom to the Utica Comets, only to have the Philadelphia Flyers snatch him on waivers, have him play a game, then send him down to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

It was during his time in Ottawa that he signed card #51 from Panini's 2010-11 All Goalies set in blue sharpie, tagging his jersey number with the Devils (40) at the end:
That was one of his finest masks; in Philly, not taking any chances, he ust had an all-black one. In case.

I respect McKenna a lot. I believe had I continued playing after getting traded from Laval to Halifax in Juniors, I would have had the same kind of trajectory, probably without the ECHL and AHL All-Star titles he has, though.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Don Sweeney: Two Autographed Cards

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Boston Bruins would finish fourth in the Atlantic Division in 2019-20).
Nowadays, people see Don Sweeney as an executive - the reigning GM Of The Year - but he's also a 16-year former NHLer who spent the vast majority of his career with the Boston Bruins (15 years) as the great Raymond Bourque's defensive partner.

You learn a thing or two in such circumstances, including the need to keep a winning/contending team together so the star players don't have to leave to win that elusive Stanley Cup. And not only was he able to do so with his current roster, he also re-signed RFAs Charlie MacAvoy and Brandon Carlo to team-friendly bridge deals that fits right under the cap, with the understanding that they'll cash in on their next deals, when Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, David Backes and even Patrice Bergeron will no longer be on expensive deals.

It's ironic that what he does best - managing the salary cap - was his predecessor Peter Chiarelli's biggest weakness. Then again, Sweeney spent four years at Harvard while honing his skills instead of trying to play in Canadian Juniors.

While the Bruins' uniforms always remain close to their roots, my favourites were the ones from 1969-1995, which are the ones he's featured in on the cards he signed for me in black sharpie last year, starting with the white (home) ones:
That's card #244 from Pro Set's 1992-93 Parkhurst collection, and it's unclear if he's falling from being checked, from attempting to check an opponent or attempting some odd defensive maneuver in which he'd clear the puck with his hand whislt tripping.

There is also card #91 from Upper Deck's 1995-96 Collector's Choice set, showing him wearing their black (away) uniform, taking control of the puck in his own zone in front of journeyman goaltender Vincent Riendeau and New Jersey Devils forward Randy McKay:
Those are simply classic - simple and beautiful, perfect colours and stripes.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Nick Foligno: Two Autographed Cards

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Columbus Blue Jackets would finish eighth - or fourth, but mostly eighth - in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20).
My thing is, you don't leave a good team to try to find another one. What we're building in Columbus, everyone is excited to be part of it. You want guys fully on board.
That's Nick Foligno. The captain's words couldn't be clearer: the departures of unrestricted free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky over the summer left a sour taste in many players' mouths, and head coach John Tortorella as well:
I'm pissed. Yeah, I'm pissed. I'm pissed for my players. I'm pissed for my organization. And I'm pissed on behalf of my city.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of them. I do. A tremendous amount of respect. But don't talk about goddamn winning, like you want to go somewhere to win. It's right there in front of you. I respect them all. But I don't want to hear 'I want to win' when it's right fucking here. I respect them, but I'm really pissed. It was right there, where we were really progressing.
And that's where I agree wholeheartedly with all of them - when these guys were kids, the Columbus Blue Jackets didn't exist; none of the Jackets' players and staff dreamed of playing for them, and probably not even for a team that hasn't been around for two whole decades, doesn't have much history let alone that of winning (and had never actually won a playoff round before). But they all landed there, and not only did they make the best of it, they were starting to make a habit out of getting on the at-times-champions Pittsburgh Penguins' nerves, particularly Sidney Crosby.

When they landed against one of the best teams of all time - the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning - in the first round, they didn't just lie down waiting for a beating, they took the game to them and did the impossible: they swept the Bolts in four straight games.

Coach Tortorella and GM Jarmo Kekalainen built a system and a roster, respectively, that enabled a small-market team to rival the greats. It's even better when they can rely on superstars to support it and add an extra layer of offense, but it's effective enough to stand on its own. And something Torts is adept at is creating team spirit, team chemistry. Whether he unites the team against himself or instills an "us-against-the-world" mentality, he always knows exactly the right buttons to push to have his teams work as a single unit.

21 of the 23 guys on last year's opening roster had that, from Foligno to goal-scoring machine Cam Atkinson to 21-year-old #1 centre Pierre-Luc Dubois to star defender Seth Jones to his partner Zach Werenski to Team Canada alumnus David Savard to 25-and-under drafted and "home-developed" talents like Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alexander Wennberg, Markus Nutivaara and Lukas Sedlak to acquired defensive veteran leaders like Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Harrington and Mark Letestu.

The other two have left for cities with brighter spotlights, leaving the bulk - the core - to deal with the unfinished business at hand: pursuing further playoff success. Foligno, having had separate health scares to his two children last season, is particularly looking forward to a full season of just concentrating on hockey.

I thought it'd be nice to showcase his ascension in the Blue Jackets' ranks with these two cards, first sporting the alternate captain's "A" on card #56 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 1 set:
And here he is sporting his current captain's "C", on card #37 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 MVP set:
He succeeded Rick Nash (2008-12) in the title in 2015 (the position had been vacant for two seasons). The previous wearers of the "C" had been Adam Foote (2005-08), Luke Richardson (2003-05), Ray Whitney (2002-03) and Lyle Odelein (2002-02). There's a strong tradition of the captaincy remaining with strong, blue-collar-type players which, in my opinion, is a good thing. You want guys who set the example for the rest, and effective hard-working guys who are good enough to occupy the middle of the line-up and/or have Stanley Cup-winning experience is a plus.

Foligno, son of hard-working semi-star Mike Foligno, is that kidn of guy on this team, no longer the #1 (Dubois is) but still the team's heart and soul; I figure the next in line for the title is Jones. He signed these two cards in fading black sharpie in February, after scoringa  goal in a loss to my hometown Montréal Canadiens.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Jyrki Lumme Autograph Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Arizona Coyotes would finish sixth in the Pacific Division in 2019-20).

The Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes have been bottom-dwellers since their relocation in the late 1990s. They've employed superstars at various positions - Wayne Gretzky as a head coach, Brett Hull, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick and Shane Doan up-front, Oliver Ekman-Larsson on defense, Curtis Joseph and Nikolai Khabibulin in net - but never won their division, and only once made it (accidentally) to a Conference Final, with the seasons before and after proving it was a fluke.

They're also one of those teams that always changes their uniforms, proving they're unstable and don't know what they're doing. Heck, they seem to be for sale every other year. I hear Hartford, Québec, Houston, Hamilton, Kansas City and Saskatoon are looking for teams to relocate there...

For now, Arizona is the NHL's retirement home, where players extend their careers by a year or three, cashing in their final cheques while remaining in the vicinity of what looks like a team, fully aware that they'd be forced to retire and turn to player development in any other city.

Which brings me to Jyrki Lumme, a former Montréal Canadiens draft pick (third round, 57th overall, 1986) who became a star with the Vancouver Canucks for most of the 1990s. Mostly known as a good skater, good passer and good shooter, the fact that he wasn't ready to put as much effort into defending (and because the Habs already had very good powerplay point men) in the earlier part of his career is what got him traded out of Montréal; it took him a few years of good offensive play on middling Vancouver teams to realize he had to become a more complete player, but when he did, he helped the team reach high levels of success, including a Stanley Cup Final in 1994 that was ultimately won by the New York Rangers.

When he turned 31, after two straight seasons with games missed to injury and a production that fell well below the 50-point mark, the Canucks opted not to re-sign him, so he left as a free agent and signed with the Coyotes, with whom he reached the 40-point plateau for the last time in 1999-2000.

After three seasons in Phoenix, he suited up with the Dallas Stars for 15 games and the Toronto Maple Leafs for the bulk of two seasons, before going back home to finish his career with a third stint (pre-NHL, lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, and 2005-07) with the only Finnish team he's ever played for, Ilves Tampere, which he now co-owns.

Here he is wearing the Yotes' Kachina-style original jersey which the team now uses as an alternate, on card #259 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player Signature Series set:
It's the "Gold" variant and includes an on-card black-sharpied signature.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Mikko Koivu Autographed Card

Usually, on September 14th, I feature someone who shares the same birthday as me (and I do still have signed Tim Wallach cards that I haven't shown here); I could have also featured a signed card from my favourite player of all time, but I'm thinking I'll hold onto it for a while until I finish writing a book in which he'll be heavily featured.
So I thought I'd continue with my month-long theme of twin-posting with my "regular" blog - where I predicted the Minnesota Wild would finish seventh in the Central Division in 2019-20 - and mention their much-maligned captain, Mikko Koivu.

Koivu was the Wild's first-round pick (6th overall) in 2011, behind Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza, Alexandr Svitov, Stephen Weiss, and Stanislav Chistov; it's fair to say he's had a better career than three of them. And of the remaining first-rounders, only Mike Komisarek (7th, 735 NHL games, 2009 All-Star Game participant), Dan Hamhuis (12th, 1000+ NHL games), RJ Umberger and Colby Armstrong have had an impact on a line-up for more than just a couple of seasons, so he was the best remaining player with some pedigree.

In later rounds, only Jason Pominville (55th), has more career points, and only Mike Cammalleri (49th), Patrick Sharp (95th), Tomas Plekanec (71st) Ryan Clowe (175th), and Kevin Bieksa (151st) carry some kind of clout; the only goalies who played more than 150 games are Cristobal Huet (214th), Ray Emery (99th), Craig Anderson (73rd), Martin Gerber (232nd), Peter Budaj (63rd), Pascal Leclaire (8th) and Mike Smith (161st).

If there was a do-over, he'd be a top-5 pick, and possibly even a top-3.

He consistently gets a ton of Selke votes, finishing in the top-5 three times spread out throughout the course of his consistent career: fourth in 2008-09, third in 2016-17 and fifth in 2017-18. His points-per-game average has been at or above 0.66 (so two points per three games, which was top-line material for most seasons in his career) 10 times in 14 seasons, and above 0.80 five times.

He owns most Wild franchise record, and I'm particularly fond of the order in which they came: he became the biggest point producer in mid-March of 2014 and only surpassed the total games mark two years later in late February of 2016.

He's also captained Team Finland, with whom he is extremely decorated with silver (2006) and bronze (2010) Olympic medals to go with World Championship gold (2011, as captain), silver (2007 and 2016) and bronze (2006 and 2008), World Cup silver (2004), World Juniors silver (2001) and bronze (2002), and U-18 gold (2000) and silver (2001).

And yet, reading online hockey boards for the past decade - even more so in the last five years - shows a lot of displeasure with Koivu, usually associated with his cap hit and lack of goal-scoring (no mention, however, that he almost always tops the 30-assist mark, topping 40 five times with a high of 49 in 2009-10). His cap hit this season (and last) is set at $5.5M, a $1.2M cut from his previous deal, despite the fact that he is still an offensive contributor to his team, among the two top centres and among the four most effective forwards.

I get it - the same thing happened to his older brother Saku Koivu here in Montréal, with people complaining he wasn't a "true" #1 centre until he was replaced with Scott Gomez, then people started remembering him fondly again, some folks actually calling for a Hall Of Fame induction.

So, yeah, things will stabilize for the younger Koivu too. Here is is wearing the Wild's red (home) uniform on card #135 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie in January, when his team was in town to face the Montréal Canadiens.

I like the design of this set, by the way, the way the border is a lighter shade of the rest of the picture, bot just a generic white or deliberately off-putting colour the way UD has a habit of doing for OPC.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Ivan Provorov Jersey Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Philadelphia Flyers would finish fourth in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20).

Ivan Provorov, who just signed a six-year deal worth on average $6.7M per, has the potential to become a true #1 defenseman, which would make him a bargain at that rate should he reach it.

The 22-year-old former first-round pick (7th overall in 2015) already has a 41-point season under his belt; he is a fast and agile skater with an accurate shot, great passing skills and the ability to treat five-on-five play like a powerplay with his on-ice vision and control. Sometimes, it's almost comical, seeing him skate up with the puck with the swagger and grace of an Indianapolis Colts-era Peyton Manning facing a group of undecided teenagers.

It's just that he doesn't always put the elements together, he hasn't yet developed into the guy whose defensive play will complement his skill-set. Some guys have it (Nicklas Lidstrom), others develop it (Mark Giordano), some work on their strengths in a way that their weaknesses don't necessarily show (Kris Letang). Some just coast on what they have and cash their paychecks (Vladimir Malakhov).

We'll see where Provorov falls during the course of this contract, but one thing's for sure: the Flyers signed a cornerstone of their defense and expect it will continue to be one of their main strengths. Former GM Ron Hextall built his defense so that Provorov, Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim and Shayne Gostisbehere would be the main pieces - and they're all still there - but current GM Chuck Fletcher added veterans Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun to the equation to bring in more experience.

In the meantime, here he is wearing the Flyers' white 50th Anniversary uniform (as attested by the patch on the left shoulder and the gold numbers), on card #GJ-IP from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a bright orange (a lot flashier than the scan) game-worn jersey swatch that could very well be from that same jersey.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Mark Borowiecki Autographed Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Ottawa Senators would finish eighth in the Atlantic Division in 2019-20).

Earlier today, Mark Borowiecki, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ron Hainsey were named the alternate captains of the Ottawa Senators, and for the second straight season, no one will get to wear the "C", as the captaincy remains vacant since the Erik Karlsson trade at last year's training camp.

My guess is Borowiecki, Pageau, Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot are the front-runners to carry the torch in the future, but the Sens may feel Chabot or Tkachuk is the leading candidate at the moment but too young for the time being, as they are still on their ELC (rookie contract).

Borowiecki has never played a full 82-game season so far in the NHL; his career-best was the 70 games he suited up in in 2016-17, whic enabled him to lead the league in penalty minutes with 154, which in turn led to his starring on this "Retro" variant of card #594 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 O-Pee-Chee set and League Leaders sub-set, which he signed in blue sharpie last season:
I mentioned it previously, but this bilingual card (and entire set, truth be told) is very poorly translated, because the French text, Les Dirigeants De La Ligue, does not translate to League Leaders but instead to League Managers.

Barring an extremely generous lottery win, I fail to see how a 30-year-old stay-at-home defenseman with a $1.2M cap hit playing for the Sens could also have the means and find the time to own a team and manage it.

That being said, I like the Sens and have for a long time. And while I live in the heart of Montréal, they're the most affordable local pro hockey I have, as the Habs are out of range and boring (plus I boycott them for a variety of reasons including the P.K. Subban trade and the re-hiring of Claude Julien), the Laval Rocket isn't much cheaper, and at least the Senators' players are endearing and nice, and making the trip there allows for a mini-vacation (I usually make a weekend out of it).

I'm extremely confident that the bunch of kids GM Pierre Dorion has put together will be the foundation of a very good team down the line, and I hope the young veterans who are elading them now (Borowiecki and Pageau chief among them) will be still there to watch them shine five years from now.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Henrik Lundqvist Jersey Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the New York Rangers would finish sixth in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20).

9/11 seems like as good a day as any to mention the team playing in Manhattan and its best player of the past 15 years, star goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

"Hank" is one of only eight active NHL goalies with a Vezina Trophy on his resume, and one could certainly make a case for why he should have two. If there was an award for most consistent over the longest period of time, he'd definitely get it:
from HockeyDB
I mean, so many seasons under 2.50 goals-against average, so many seasons above a .920 save percentage, most of them hovering near or reaching the 70-game plateau, so it's almost not surprising he's the only goalie in NHL history with 11 30-win seasons in his first 12 seasons - a feat even workhorse and trap benefactor Martin Brodeur never achieved.

He's even better in the postseason:
from Hockey-Reference
There has been a decline, however, as the Rangers have gone through a rebuilding process - not just of his play and stamina, but of the team's entire defense corps, meaning he gets better quality chances against, so he has a tougher job, so it's a bit of a vicious circle.

Many consider him a butterfly goalie, but I don't: he plays too deep in his crease (pictures 1-2), his glove is a tad too high (3, in that regard, he really has inspired the styles of many goalies a generation younger than he is) and his stance is too wide  - butterfly goalies' feet should be at of near the shoulders, whereas King Henrik's skates are usually out past his gloves even when standing (4-5). He does have the flat pad that butterfly goalies have perfected (6).
1. Instead of challenging the shooter, he gives him ample room to aim and get his bet shot in.
2. Instead of cutting the angle by coming out, Lundqvist remains deep and relies on his reflexes.
3. High glove, the high end even above the crossbar.
4. Wide stance ready for either a shot of a pass across.
5. This wider stance means he's expecting a shot and is ready to go down.
6. The "butterfly" technique's main advantage is that the flat pad nullifies the bottom 20% of the net completely.
Instead, I like to call his style "the brick wall", where he is usually right in front of the goal line, relying on his laser-accurate reflexes to stop high pucks with his glove or blocker, and expecting the rest to hit him on the pads or chest (7-9):
7. Remaining along the line enables Lundqvist to slide across while remain perpendicular to the middle of the net, parallel to the position of the net.
8. While remaining deep even on breakaways, by moving along the goal line, he is less likely to get thrown completely out of position.
9. Giving the shooter ample room and staying square in front of the net enables Lundqvist to stop shots in a butterfly-like position to kick the pad out of danger.
The thing about reflexes is they fade over time, sometimes drastically.

Still, it's extremely difficult to dismiss Lundqvist's mental strength and ability to will himself into one final spectacular season, provided he gets enough rest and plays no more than twice a week during the regular season and can accept being in net for, say 12-14 of the 16 wins a Stanley Cup victory requires, letting the younger Alexandar Georgiev handle the rest (and even outplay him for weeks at a time).

Here's the King, wearing the Rangers' classic white (now-away) unifrom on card #GJ-HL from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 2 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set, sticking to his goal post as he should, watching the puck in the corner:
It features a matching white game-worn jersey swatch. What a beautiful card and picture!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Cam Fowler Autograph Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Anaheim Ducks would finish seventh in the Pacific Division in 2019-20).

Like pretty much all Ducks players save for John Gibson and Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler is an enigma, even at the age of 27, in the midst of his prime and the second season of an eight-year deal that pays him like a top-unit defender.

He is one of the best skaters in the NHL, quick and fluid, and can stick-handle well to the naked eye, but his defensive zone IQ is lacking, and he often leaves his man open, somehow seemingly waiting to get the puck via a pass so he can skate it out of the zone. He has also never hit the 40-point mark in the NHL, so he can't even be regarded as a truly elite offensive defenseman.

Like the Boston Bruins' Torey Krug and the Washington Capitals' John Carlson, he needs to find a more well-rounded game to elevate his status to that of teammates Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson.

His last string of coaches didn't help, particularly the two stints by Randy Carlyle, who didn't actually have a defensive system.

Here he is wearing the Ducks' black (home) uniform from 2006-2014, on card #GEM-CF from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Black Diamond set and Gemography sub-set:
It features a large, blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Evgenii Dadonov: Two Autographed Cards

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Florida Panthers would finish third in the Atlantic Division in 2019-20).
The most complicated thing about Yevengy/Evgeny/Evgenii Dadonov is the correct spelling of his name; everything else is either straight to the point or so well-executed it looks effortless. One thing's for certain, he's not just a third wheel going forward on the strength of linemates Alexander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, he has earned his spot on the Panthers' top line with his steady play and elite-level zone entries.

He's a right winger who plays like a centre, looking for opportunities to give his linemates the puck but totally able to control it at will as well. And he has a heck of a shot from the slot, which explains his two straight 28-goal seasons since making it back on this side of the Atlantic. He's improved his point production, too, going from 65 to 70 points, and an 80-point 2019-20 is not out of the question if he can stay healthy, particularly if the team isn't stuck in its own zone for long periods of time in a system created by Joel Quenneville and backed by Sergei Bobrovsky.

Of course, it will take time for the team to gel, but once they get rolling around the Holidays, there won't be much to stop them.

I like that I was able to have him sign his rookie card last year, #509 from Panini's 2010-11 Score collection and Hot Rookies sub-set, showing him wearing the team's then-home black uniform:
The Cats would switch the red and black and remove the piping for the 2011-12 season, so this was one of its last instances.

He also signed a card with the Panthers' current away (white) uniform, #185 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 O-Pee-Chee set:
I don't hate it, it's possibly their best white uniform yet, but I still haven't fully gotten used to football-styled numbering on the shoulders.

I don't like the current home (red) uniform, though, that is basically this one with the red and white reversed. It's too "College Hockey", too "KHL" and too "Detroit Red Wings", it doesn't feel unique nor on brand.