Thursday, January 16, 2020

Laura Fortino: Three Autographed Cards

The NHL announced it will hold a Women's 3-on-3 tournament during the All-Star Weekend, featuring an American and a Canadian team facing off, with 10 players suiting up for each. Of course, that means 13 players from World Championship and/or Olympic rosters didn't make the cut for reasons ranging from unavailability to marketability to the NHL not having French-speaking decision-makers and the PWHPA choosing to play its run of exhibition games in places like Hartford, Etobicoke, Hudson (New Hampshire), and Buffalo instead of, say, Montréal, where half the Canadian Olympic team played for the CWHL's Montréal Canadiennes, the team that has won most of the league's championships in ended up as finalists almost every other time.

All of this to say that the only three Quebecers who made Team Canada were Marie-Philip Poulin (the current best player in the world), Mélodie Daoust and goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens, leaving out Lauriane Rougeau, Annie Bélanger, Catherine Daoust, Tracy-Ann Lavigne, Geneviève Lacasse, Mélanie Desrochers, Sarah Lefort, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Sophie Brault, Kim Deschenes, Maude Gélinas, Karell Emard, Marie-Soleil Deschenes, Genevieve Bannon, other francophones such as Ontario's Carolyne Prevost and Marlene Boissonnault from New Brunswick and current Québec residents Emma Martin, Hilary Knight, Jill Saulnier and Erin Ambrose.

That being said, the 20 players who will be there are, indeed, among the 50 best players in the world - roughly the same percentage as the"real" All-Star Game, which will be played without the likes of Alex Ovechkin (declined invitation), Marc-André Fleury (declined), Darcy Kuemper (injury), Jake Guentzel (injury), Johnny Gaudreau (not invited), and Nikita Kucherov (not invited) and Sidney Crosby (missed nearly the entire first half of the season to injury).

Among those who made the cut is defender Laura Fortino, the CWHL's first-overall pick in 2014 who assisted on the gold-winning goal by Poulin at the 2014 Sochi Games in her first Olympic experience and helped Canada capture silver at the 2018 games in Peyongchang. She also has World Championship gold (2012), silver (2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017) and bronze (2019) medalsas well as two U-18 silvers (2008 and 2009).

Professionally, she wore the assistant-captain's "A" for the Brampton Thunder and Markham Thunder. She was mostly a point-per-game player when the team was in Brampton, finishing close to forward Jamie-Lee Rattray for the team's scoring crown. She rarely gets called for penalties, is a quick skater and controls the play very well.

Here she is wearing Canada's 2014-15 pseudo-vintage white ("home") uniform with "CANADA" written diagonally, New York Rangers-style, on card #55 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Team Canada Juniors/Women set:
And here she is wearing the 2015-16 uniform with the "Hockey Canada" logo (first worn 2008-13), from UD's 2016-17 Team Canada Juniors/Women set:
On the left is the base card (#22 in the collection), while the card on the right is #POE-42 from the Program Of Excellence sub-set.

The Cornell University graduate, College All-Star and 2015-16 CWHL Defenceman (sic) of the Year signed all three in blue sharpie after a game against the Canadiennes in 2017or 2018. She fits perfectly as #8 in my Team Canada Numbers Project.

My Team Canada Numbers Project

Well, I have Numbers Projects for so many teams now (my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project my Sens Numbers Project, my Canucks Numbers Project, my Nordiques Numbers Project, my Flames Numbers Project and my Expos Numbers Project), I figured why not make one for Team Canada as well?

It'll be easier in some regards with all the national teams at all the levels (including but not limited to the World Juniors, the World Championships, the Spengler Cup, the Canada/World Cup, the Summit Series, and the Mens and Womens Olympic teams), but I'm again at a loss for #99 (Wayne Gretzky) and likely will be for my entire life.

The plan is to stick to hockey, but who knows, maybe I'll get to add some from other sports as well; it might be my only shot at a #99.
So far, I have featured 32 players representing a total of 25 jersey numbers.

Here they are:

1: Braden Holtby: check!
2: Meghan Agosta: check!
3: Eric Brewer: check!
4: Thomas Hickey and Chris Phillips: check!
5: Bryan Allen and Samuel Morin: check!
8: Laura Fortino: check!
10: Dale Hawerchuk, Brayden Schenn and Charles Hudon (also wore #16): check!
11: Zachary Boychuk: check!
12: Julien Gauthier: check!
13: Caroline Ouellette: check (and check again)!
14: Thomas Hickey (also wore #4): check!
16: Kerby Rychel, Jayne Hefford and Charles Hudon (also wore #10): check!
17: Marcus Foligno: jersey card check!
19: Alexandre Daigle: check!
20: Guillaume Latendresse, Jason Ward and Louis Leblanc: check!
21: Anthony Beauvillier: check!
22: Frédérik Gauthier: check!
23: Jason Botterill, Rob Niedermayer and Daniel Audette: check!
24: Patrice Brisebois and Logan Couture: check!
25: Tessa Bonhomme: check!
28: Nathan Beaulieu: and Victor Mete: check!
29: Marie-Philip Poulin: check!
30: Dustin Tokarski: jersey card check!
31: Geneviève Lacasse and Olivier Roy: check!
32: Charline Labonté: check!
37: Patrice Bergeron: jersey card check!
51: Ryan Getzlaf: jersey card check!
97: Joe Thornton: jersey card check!

Captains: Poulin, Hickey

Saturday, January 11, 2020

2019-20 Upper Deck Series 1 "Mega" Canadian Blaster Box Break

I didn't receive any of Upper Deck's flagship 2019-20 Series 1 cards for Christmas this year and felt they were overpriced compared to other products (namely Parkhurst and O-Pee-Chee, and Topps's Stickers set), so I was ready to wait until a good deal presented itself, and I felt that it did in the form of this "Mega" Blaster Box because of the Canadian Exclusive extra, which we'll get to later:
Here is what the base cards look like:
The Justin Schultz card on the left shows the diversity of jerseys one can find in these, and the Brent Seabrook card on the right shows that the back displays the player's complete career statistics as well as a short blurb, regardless whether said player is a rookie or a veteran - none of that "past five years" crap. It's a very glossy set as well, so great for the eyes, a headache to get signed; collector advice: even erasing multiple layers of gloss may leave signatures a bit smudgy.

As usual, the set features amazing photography:
I was able to land a couple of insert cards, including a couple of Young Guns, Danil Yurtaykin and Josh Brown:
I also fell upon a Canvas card of Josh Bailey:
There was also a Shooting Stars card of Brendan Gallagher:
I was under the impresion that these concerned mostly young guys, but veteran Gallagher is a bona fide star and likes to shoot the puck, so that works.

One insert I can definitely do without is UD Portraits, which are at best creepy and/or tacky, and for goalies wearing their masks, utterly useless, as can be attested from this Henrik Lundqvist card:
Which brings me to the bonus two-card pack of Team Triples, which for some reason shows only player (the Vancouver Canucks' Quinn Hughes):
I pulled two historically tough teams, the "Broad Street Bullies" Philadelphia Flyers (featuring Claude Giroux, Carter Hart and Nolan Patrick) and the "Big Bad" Boston Bruins (with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask):
I'd have been more interested if they'd been signed or jersey cards, but as it stands, they're trade bait or Ebay-ready, hoping they find someone who'll show them more love than I can give them.

All told, I got 74 cards: 9 packs of 8 cards for the regular Series 1 set, and the two Team Triples, for $44 ($37 plus sales taxes) - two hours of work at a good-paying job and just under four hours of work at minimum wage (before income taxes, so roughly three hours at a good-paying job and five at minimum wage). Not as nuts as a concert or hockey game ticket, but a significant enough investment that it's likely not an impulse buy.

The cards look and feel great, and they're perfect if you're looking to build a set, and UD even made unannounced variants of two dozen cards where the players are depicted in another jersey and oftentimes in a differnet orientation (vertical vs horizontal), giving it more collectability.

However, between the retail packs, fat packs, retail boxes, hobby boxes, regular blaster boxes and special-edition blaster boxes, it really feels like the 2019-20 iteration is over-produced in the same way that Pro Set cards used to be; it sells at a higher price than it used to but isn't rarer. I don't feel that any of the cards I pulled are worth the 50 cents I paid for them, and wouldn't be surprised if once the mass-production numbers come out, this set's value falls off a cliff.

Despite all of this, I'm not exactly underwhelmed by it either; I'm just not super-excited.

It's slightly above "meh": I'm at 7/10.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Max Reinhart Autograph And Swatch Card

Former NHL Paul Reinhart's three sons played in the NHL: Sam was a Buffalo Sabres first-round pick and still plays centre for the team; Griffin was a New York Islanders first-round pick who now patrols the blue line with the KHL's Chinese team, the Kunlun Red Star, after passing through the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights organizations; and Maxwell retired at age 25 after spending the 2017-18 season with the AHL's Belleville Senators, essentially used as their fourth-line centre.

I was under the impression that he would make a fine 'tweener, playing shut-down AHL minutes and the occasional fourth-line call-up in the NHL, but a coach told me he didn't feel like his defensive play was good enough to trust at that position.

From what I remember, though, Max had good two-way instincts and was above-average speed-wise - two of the most in-demand traits in the NHL these days; he also had a decent vision and passing skills in Juniors and at the AHL level, but maybe he lacked that split-second to keep at it in the NHL.

He holds the AHL's Abbotsford Heat record for points in a single season on the strength of 63 in 66 games.

Here he is wearing the Calgary Flames' red (now-home) uniform, on the "all-dressed" insert version of card #164 from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set and Dual Rookie Class sub-set:
It features a white "event-worn" jersey swatch and blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Al MacAdam Autographed Card

Don't make your mind up about Al MacAdam solely on his career regular-season statistics of 240 goals, 351 assists and 591 points in 864 games, because those are skewed by playing four seasons with the lowly California Golden Seals/Cleveland Barons franchise and the mid-1980s Vancouver Canucks. He had a solid prime that compares with that of any non-Montréal Canadiens player from the late 70s and early 80s.

He started out playing for the Charlottetown Islanders of the MJAHL - a second-tier Junior League, right below the "Major Junior" leagues of the CHL - where he averaged two points per game and had them on runs to compete for the Centennial Cup, that level's equivalent of the CHL's Memorial Cup, losing in the semifinals in 1969-70 and reaching the Final in 1970-71.

The following season, he joined the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers, where he had 32 goals, 21 assists and 53 points in 36 games, but when the team failed to make it to the postseason, he re-joined the Islanders for yet another Centennial Cup run; despite his 15 goals, 21 assists and 36 points in just 11 games, the team lost in yet another semifinals.

However, in dominating in such fashion, he caught the attention of the Philadelphia Flyers, who drafted him 55th overall in 1972 and had him spend nearly two seasons with their AHL affiliate Richmond Robins; they called him up late in 1973-74 for five regular-season (no points) and one playoff game - the Stanley Cup clincher - before even playing his official rookie season. A proud hard worker who wanted to earn his credit, however, he refused to ever wear his championship ring, feeling he hadn't contributed enough to deserve it.

The Flyers sent him to the Seals during the off-season to acquire Reggie Leach, a move that helped earn them a second consecutive Cup, and one that ensured MacAdam would see regular playing time in the NHL, considering the California team's weak line-up. He made full use of his ice time, producing 18 goals, 25 assists and 43 points in his rookie season and a 32-goal, 31-assist, 63-point season the following year in what was the Seals' final season before being relocated to Cleveland, where he had another 63-point season in 1976-77.

Both 63-seasons had led him to the All-Star Game, and he was named the Barons' captain for the 1977-78 season, and although he finished fourth in team scoring that year, he did so on only 48 points as the struggling franchise was merged with the Minnesota North Stars as both teams were in danger of folding.

Despite appearing in only 69 games (amassing 58 points in the process) in the 1978-79 season, MacAdam forged a bond with linemates Bobby Smith - the eventual Calder Trophy winner - and Steve Payne, who scored a career-high 42 goals in just his second NHL season. The trio would be dominant for the following three seasons during which MacAdam would collect 93 (including a career-high 42 goals himself and a Bill Masterton Trophy), 60 and 61 points, with the first two seasons including deep playoff runs: a Conference Final in 1979-80 (16 points in 15 games) and a Cup Final in 1980-81 (19 points in 19 games).

The entire line also made its way to the 1979 World Championships on Team Canada, although Payne would be replaced by Marcel Dionne half the time. This was MacAdam's second World Championships, as he'd also suited up in the 1977 edition, the first time NHL professionals were allowed to participate in the tournament, following a six-year absence/boycott from the Canadian team.

MacAdam's time in the spotlight ended during the 1982-83 season when rookie Brian Bellows took his place on the North Stars' top line, relegating #25 - a strong two-way player and one of the smartest North American players of the 1970s with Bob Gainey and Jacques Lemaire - to a third-line checking role. The Selke Trophy votes became a yearly occurrence, but his points totals dipped to 33 in 73 games in '82-83 and 35 in 80 games the following season,leading to a trade to the Canucks in exchange for the legendary Harold Snepsts. It was Canucks GM Harry Neale's second attempt at having MacAdam play for him, as he'd invited him to join the OHA's Hamilton Red Wings in 1971-72 when the latter opted to go to university instead.

However, MacAdam never felt accepted by the Canuck fan base who didn't take well to Snepsts' departure, and he retired a year and a half later, 11 games into the Fredericton Express' (AHL) 1985-86 season, where he served a dual player-coach position.

He moved on to coaching full-time later that year, assuming a dual position as St. Thomas University's assistant athletic director and head hockey coach of the Tommies. In that capacity, he was named AUAA Coach of the Year in 1995-96. He accepted a position as head coach of the AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs from 1996-2000, then graduated to the NHL, becoming assistant-coach to Brian Sutter (with legends Denis Savard and Vladislav Tretiak) for the Chicago Blackhawks from 2000-04.

After a short stint with his alma mater University of Prince Edward Island Panthers, he coached the Halifax Mooseheads for a year and a half, leading the 2005-06 team to the second round of the LHJMQ playoffs before taking a break from the hockey life.

He briefly returned to getting paid to watch hockey games as a scout for the Buffalo Sabres from 2011-14, mostly watching Juniors games in the Maritimes and acting as the team's Director of Amateur Scouting for the 2012-13 season.

He sometimes leaves his comfortable life near the sea to participate in trade shows, which is where he signed this card of his for me between 2013 and 2015:
It's card #178 from In The Game's 2004-05 Franchises set (cards 151-300 are from the "U.S. West" sub-set/series), showing him wearing the Barons' red (away) uniform, with the captain's "C" visible. He signed it in thick black sharpie.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Justin Abdelkader Jersey Card

For the third time this season, the Detroit Red Wings - the worst team in the NHL - beat the Montréal Canadiens earlier tonight; newcomer Ilya Kovalchuk had two assists and now has three points in two games for the Habs, as he's seemingly taking a liking to the positive reception he's getting.

Montréal's current seven-game winless streak isn't its worst of the season: they had an eight-loss streak in November. Some fans have started chants encouraging the team to tank to increase its odds of landing local kid Alexis Lafrenière as the first-overall pick of the upcoming draft, the most inventive of them being "Finir en dernière pour Lafrenière" ("Finish last for a Lafrenière draft"), especially since this year's event is being held at the Bell Centre.

They'll have to compete with the San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Los Angeles Kings and Wings for that, however.

Detroit is saddled with seemingly untradeable contracts to aging veterans, such as 35-year-old Valtteri Filppula ($3M until the end of next year), Frans Nielsen (35, $5.25M until 2022), Darren Helm (32, $3.85M until the end of next year), Mike Green (34, $5.75M), Jonathan Ericsson (35, $4.25M), Trevor Daley (36, $3.167M), Jimmy Howard (35, $4M), Jonathan Bernier ($3M for a backup until the end of next year), and Justin Abdelkader (32, $4.25M until 2023).

Abdelkader, a Michigan native, is probably the one who gets the most flack because at his peak, he was a big-bodied (6'2", 215 pounds) winger who may have been able to post 40-point seasons on a second line, with a second-round draft pick pedigree.

He fell to 19 points last year and only has 3 so far in 27 games this season (and is injury-prone). But he's one of the last remaining Wings with Stanley Cup Finals experience, something the current crop of young prospects could use. He also scored important goals in his heyday, including the winner for Michigan State against Boston College in the Frozen Four Final, where he was named Most Outstanding Player. His first two NHL goals came in the Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.

He's been clutch.

 He would probably be a perfect bottom-six guy were it not for his cap hit, and he'll probably be an excellent development coach some day. However, paying him $4.25M isn't a problem in itself: he's a local kid, a great leader, has a wealth of experience (the Cup Final, but also a member of the bronze-winning Team USA at the 2007 World Juniors, the 2012 and 2014 World Championships and 2016 World Cup), can help other players come to grips with line-bouncing and is further proof that the Wings treat their veterans with respect and loyalty - a key point in enticing free agents to sign with the team.

Building a team isn't only about grabbing the best players available on the free market (New York Rangers), tanking (Buffalo Sabres) or playing a near-perfect defensive system (Barry Trotz' Nashville Predators, Jacques Lemaire's Minnesota Wild). After all, only X first-overall picks from the past 30 years have won Stanley Cups: Vincent Lecavalier, Marc-André Fleury, Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Patrick Kane - and two of them, Fleury and Crosby, won as part of the same team, with a second-overall pick (Evgeni Malkin) with them.

No, successful teams are usually built through a cohesive unit that includes veterans and young guys, stars and bruisers, leaders who inspire others to play above their heads for a limited amount of time, a good goalie, and guys who are willing to sacrifice themselves so their teammates can reap the benefits.

Adbelkader can be one of those ingredients, for sure. Here he is sporting the Wings' white (now-away) uniform on card #GJ-JA from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a red game-worn jersey swatch that could be from either their home or away uniform - they're exact opposites and are only made of red and white.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Ilya Kovalchuk Jersey Card

For anyone who doesn't want to read a long analysis/tirade, the gist of it is this: after having his contract terminated by the Los Angeles Kings on December 15th, Ilya Kovalchuk signed a league-minimum two-way deal with the Montréal Canadiens for the remainder of this season.

Here's the thing: The Habs are desperate for offense. They are currently without point-per-game winger Jonathan Drouin, 30-goal scorer Brendan Gallagher, career-year right winger Joel Armia, 20-goal scorer Paul Byron and young mid-lineup guy Matthew Peca - all out with injuries. Max Domi's game isn't what it what in his career year last season. And the team is coached by Claude Julien, who historically coaches with the objective that a lucky bounce will net his team a 1-0 win because he does not understand creating offense.

Spoiler alert: Kovalchuk isn't the 50-goal player he was in his prime, nor the KHL points leader from a couple of seasons ago. He's slowed down a bit, but he still has that Alex Ovechkin-esque shot. He's a powerplay and shootout specialist.

Which brings me to this observation: Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has a gambling problem. He's a functioning gambler in the same way that functioning alcoholics can still do what's asked of them and keep their jobs, because he's more afraid to spend than he is to take bets, but most of his moves have been long shots that are destined to fail, and he can't stop himself from making a ton of them:

His first two trades were one-for-one prospect swaps, a gamble in and of itself, but nothing major. His third deal was his first involving NHLers, and he sent appreciated veteran and current 30-goal scorer Erik Cole to the Dallas Stars for an over-the-hill former Canadien in Michael Ryder, a guy who in his prime could score 30 but was a negative in every other aspect of the game. Ryder played 27 games in his second stint in Montréal, had a surprising 21 points and was a -2. He retired after playing with the New Jersey Devils for two seasons. This counts as a salary dump as well as a "net loss".

He then acquired Davis Drewiskie from the Kings for a fifth-rounder. He hoped Drewiskie would be a third-pairing defender. The draft pick (Patrik Bartosak) never played for the Kings, Drewiskie played his final 9 NHL games for the Habs (producing a decent 1 goal, 2 assists and 3 points) before finishing his career in the AHL. That kind of works as a win, but it's a missed home run. If you're doing the math, that's one win, one loss and three failed gambles.

July 2013 brought actual hockey deals, starting with a swap of seventh-round picks (tie) and a trade of draft pick busts (Christian Thomas for Danny Kristo) - another failed gamble. He then managed to grab pugilist George Parros from the Florida Panthers for their own seventh-rounder from days earlier and a prospect who didn't pan out (Philippe Lefebvre).

At the 2013-14 trade deadline, he made a flurry of moves trying to get his team to the playoffs:
- He got veteran grinder Dale Weise for quick-skating young Swiss defenseman Yannick Weber. Win.
- He swapped unsigned rookies (Robert Czarnik for Steve Quailer) with the Kings. Failed gamble.
- He traded a fifth-round pick for veteran depth forward Mike Weaver in his fourth trade with the Panthers. Does he only have two GMs' phone numbers handy?
- He landed disgruntled free agent-to-be Thomas Vanek (and a fifth-rounder) for a prized prospect (Sebastian Collberg) and a second-rounder - his first true gamble win. Vanek had a good run to help the team make the playoffs then disappeared in the postseason and becoming a reason why the team didn't advance further.
- He acquired a spiralling Devan Dubnyk from the Nashville Predators as insurance as a third-stringer. Dubnyk would revive his career with the Arizona Coyotes the following season - they won their gamble, Bergevin lost his.
At the 2014 draft, he traded his third-rounder and a fourth for the Coyotes' third-rounder. None of them had a lasting impact in the NHL. Failed gamble.

In preparing for the free agent season, he then sent disgruntled forward Daniel Brière to the Colorado Avalanche for Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and a fifth-rounder, a pure "hockey trade" that ended up even. After failing to sign anyone on the market, he sent veteran defenseman Josh Gorges to the Buffalo Sabres for a second-rounder who has yet to play in the NHL and is now in the Chicago Blackhawks organization, Chad Krys). Gorges played in Buffalo for four seasons. This one's a loss.

At the beginning of the 2014-15 season, to not lose goalie Peter Budaj in the waiver wire, he was sent to the Winnipeg Jets with fading prospect Patrick Holland for former prospect and AHLer Eric Tangradi. Pure loss, and failed gamble.

In early November, oft-injured hard worker Travis Moen was sent to the Stars for a fading Sergei Gonchar, who played his final 45 NHL games with the Habs. That's a win. Two weeks later, overpaid bottom-six forward Rene Bourque was sent to the Anaheim Ducks for overpaid third-pairing defenseman Bryan Allen, a tie even though Allen played only 5 games with the Canadiens and Bourque played for three more NHL seasons plus one year in Sweden. Addition by subtraction.

The trade deadline brought forth another avalanche of moves:
- Then-prized prospect Jiri Sekac was sent to Anaheim for Devante Smith-Pelly. Gamble loss: GSP brought too many problems along with his uneven game.
- He acquired the final couple of months of Jeff Petry's contract from the Edmonton Oilers for a second- and a fourth-rounder. Not only did Petry re-sign, but he's been a cornerstone of the Habs' defense ever since. Clear win.
- He also got fourth-liner Brian Flynn from the Sabres for another fifth-rounder. Win.
- Minutes later, same team, same kind of deal: he acquired Montrealer and fourth-liner Torrey Mitchell from Buffalo for a minor-leaguer and a seventh-rounder. Win.
Come July 1st, he sent beloved grinder Brandon Prust to the Canucks for Zack Kassian's alcoholism. Kassian a former Sabres first-round pick, never played a single game in Montréal, getting into a drunken car crash prior to training camp instead. Huge gamble, huge loss.

Remember Christian Thomas? He was sent back to Arizona during the Holiday period, for 12 games of a young Lucas Lessio, who now plies his trade in Germany after a few years in the KHL. Gamble and loss. Around that same time, Kassian was also sent packing - to the Oilers, for minor-league goalie Ben Scrivens. Don't get me wrong, he had to go, but he's now playing on Edmonton's top line with Connor McDavid. Another loss.

Two weeks after that, goalie Dustin Tokarski - the prospect acquired in Bergevin's second-ever trade - was sent to the Ducks for 23-year-old Max Friberg, who never played in Montréal and has been in Sweden for three years. This could either be a "gamble-and-loss" or "we're giving Tokarski away so he can play". Let's go with #2 and call it even.

A week later, Bergevin pulls a thee-team trade that lands him enforcer John Scott (from the Coyotes, for prospects Stefan Fournier and Jarred Tinordi) and Victor Bartley from the Preds (for the Coyotes' Stefan Elliott). He then refuses to let Scott play, creating a whole mess because Scott's named (sarcastically, via fan vote) to the All-Star Game, eventually being named MVP of the event. For some reason, Bartley suited up in 9 games with the Habs. Elliott is currently the only player in the list who has a shot of ever playing in the NHL again, having appeared in three games with the Ottawa Senators just last season, at 27 years of age. This is a loss, for sure, I'm not sure it's a gamble, though.

In late February, in a trade deadline move, Bergevin made his best very trade, acquiring centre Phillip Danault AND A SECOND-ROUNDER (Russian super prospect Alexander Romanov) for depth forwards Weise and Tomas Fleischmann (a free agent gamble of his own) as the Chicago Blackhawks made a push for a fourth Stanley Cup with their current core. Falling under the radar was the trade that sent Smith-Pelly to the Devils for Stefan Matteau.

The June 2016 draft was a busy time for GMMB, as he sent Lars Eller to the Washington Capitals for two second-round picks who have yet to develop and grabbed Andrew Shaw from the Hawks for two second-rounders including Alex DeBrincat. Ironically, I would have considered an Eller-for-Shaw trade equal, perhaps even slightly advantageous to the Habs; however, with the players selected in the draft, this becomes two losses for Montréal. The team also swapped second-rounders again, this time with the Jets.

Then the seismic trade happened. This could be Shea Weber's final season where his positives outweigh the negatives. He traded a thriving Norris Trophy winner and three-time nominee in P.K. Subban to get him. Of course, Subban hasn't really been the same since the trade, but that's because he's always only wanted to play in Montréal. He's lost. Meanwhile, Weber's under contract until he turns 42.

At the beginning of the 2016-17 season, Bergevin traded prospect Tim Bozon to the Panthers for Jonathan Racine, whom he sent - along with a sixth-round pick - to the Tampa Bay Lightning three months later for Nikita Nesterov, who would play all of 13 games with the Habs before leaving for the KHL... but not before essentially calling head coach Julien a racist and biased against Russians. Considering five of them didn't make it back to the team the following season (first-line forward Alexander Radulov, top-pairing defenseman Andrei Markov, top prospect Mikhail Sergachev, hard-hitting defenseman Alexei Emelin and Nesterov) and that another one didn't make it to the Holidays the following year (Nikita Scherbak), he probably had a point. That's one lost gamble and one loss, and it was the first instance of Julien rebelling against his boss' player selection.

Bergevin, trying to please his new bench boss, made another torrent of moves at the trade deadline, trying to build Julien a heavy team to work with instead of one built on speed and skill:
- First came a prospect gamble, acquiring Keegan Lowe from the Carolina Hurricanes for Philip Samuelsson.
- Then came a net win, acquiring #6-7 D-man Jordie Benn for stagnating prospect Greg Pateryn.
- There was a gamble-and-loss in giving David Desharnais away to the Oilers for Brandon Davidson, who never became the bottom-pairing defenseman it was hoped he would turn into.
- Former pest Steve Ott was acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for a sixth-rounder. Loss.
- Fourth-line grinder Dwight King was acquired from the Kings for a fourth-rounder. Loss.
- Grinder Andreas Martinsens was acquired from the Avs for young prospect Sven Andrighetto, who was a solid second-liner on that team for over two seasons. Loss.
After failing to make the playoffs once more, Bergevin pulled the trigger on the trade that brought Drouin (and a sixth-rounder) to Montréal for Sergachev (and a second-rounder). He got rid of a Russian for Julien - one who could win a Norris Trophy some day - for a Quebecer, whom Julien isn't much more fond of. It's too early to tell who will actually win that one, but for the second straight season, my opinion is that the GM went for exactly the right player but overpaid to get him - and should have held onto the piece he gave away.

Later that summer, he sent Nathan Beaulieu to Buffalo for a third-rounder (loss) in a move to shield himself from losing him to the expansion draft, sent the Kings a fifth-rounder for David Schlemko (even) to compensate, and once again swapped seventh-rounders, this time with the Philadelphia Flyers (this one looks like a home run, because it netted him goalie Cayden Primeau).

At the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Bergevin pulled the trigger on a bunch of other small moves, sending Zach Redmond to Buffalo for local kid Nicolas Deslauriers (win), sending Martinsons to Chicago for failed prospect Kyle Baun (gamble loss), Mitchell to the Kings (because youcan't have too many local guys on your team) for a fourth-rounder (even) and grabbing veteran depth guy Adam Cracknell from the New York Rangers for Holland (even).

After New Year's, backup goalie Al Montoya was sent to the Oilers for a fourth-rounder (even), and at the trade deadline, defenseman Jakub Jeřábek went to Washington for a fifth-rounder (loss), veteran Tomas Plekanec and Baun made their way to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a playoff run in exchange for Kerby Rychel, Rinat Valiev and a second-rounder (gamble fail), Joe Morrow was sent to the Jets for a fourth-rounder (even), and what should have been a steal sent the Minnesota Wild a fifth-rounder for potential powerplay quarterback Mike Reilly (gamble fail).

The summer of 2018 was once again shock-full of roster moves:
- Bergevin's very first first-round pick, Alex Galchenyuk, was sent to the Coyotes for their own struggling former first-rounder, Max Domi. Habs win this on following production, age and salary on the following two seasons.
- The Oilers grabbed Hayden Hawkey - a quality NCAA goalie - for a fifth-rounder. This one's even for now.
- At the draft, the Habs and Calgary Flames swap... fourth-rounders. They also exchange fifth-rounder with the Hawks, seventh-rounders with the Flyers, and add picks with trades with Edmonton (receiving a third and a fifth for a second, a net loss in quality) and San Jose (receiving fourth- and fifth-rounders for a fourth, essentially a slight step back for more volume, a win).
- A week later, on the eve of July 1st, Bergevin makes his third-best move as Habs GM, sending prospect Simon Bourque to the Jets for Armia, a 2019 seventh-rounder, a 2020 fourth-rounder and Steve Mason's cap hit, which he buys out immediately.
Bergevin's pre-season is also overloaded with moves:
- Rychel is sent to Calgary for another first-round disappointment, Hunter Shinkaruk (gamble loss).
- In Bergevin,s second-best trade (he just may be improving!), he sends disgruntled captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for prized prospect Nick Suzuki, dependable two-way forward Tomas Tatar and a second-rounder. In pure hockey terms, any two of these would have been a win for the Canadiens - landing all three was spectacular, especially since Pacioretty actually wanted out.
- In what could very well be Bergevin's fourth-best trade, he sent Valiev and depth veteran Matt Taormina to the Flames for Brett Kulak, who has turned out to be better than the use Julien makes of him.
- Will Bitten was also sent to the Wild for Gustav Olofsson (gamble, even).
 The 2018-19 trade deadline was once again fertile ground for minor moves involving the Habs:
- The team sent defensemen Schlemko and Byron Froese to the Flyers for Weise and rugged defender Christian Folin (even).
- Taking advantage of a Kings fire sale, the Habs grabbed Nate Thompson and a fifth-rounder for a fourth-rounder, then re-signed the third-liner.
- In order to shed another local kid from the roster, the Canadiens send young grinder Michael Chaput to the Coyotes for veteran grinder Jordan Weal. The Habs lose on age, gain experience. Slight net loss here.
Then the 2019 draft came along, and with it its numerous pick swaps so that Bergevin can justify his yearly $6M salary: a swap of fourth-rounder with the Sharks, the yearly swap of seventh-rounders with the Flyers (no joke), a swap of fifth-rounders with the Panthers, and a trade-down move that gave the Kings the Canadiens' second-rounder in exchange for their third- and fifth-rounders.

The end of June 2019 was also a busy time for the GM, as he sent Shaw back to the Hawks with a seventh-rounder for a second, a third and a seventh-rounder (he really loves to move those around!), meaning that, essentially, he got three years of Shaw - a solid, proven playoff performer - two of which were not playoff seasons, by trading down a second for a third pick and losing out on DeBrincat, a 40-goal scorer.

Oh, and he got rid of Deslauriers, a local kid, for a fourth-rounder (even).

Which brings us to this week, where he sent Reilly to the Sens for ECHLer Andrew Sturtz and a fifth-rounder (loss) and got local kid Marco Scandella for a fourth (win).

That brings us to his free agent signings: Prust (UFA move), Francis Bouillon (return to original team, 35+ deal), Colby Armstrong ("no-risk" $1M deal, didn't pan out), Douglas Murray (one-year "no risk" deal, didn't pan out), Tom Gilbert (didn't pan out as second-pair defender but played ok), Manny Malhotra (didn't work as fourth-line centre), Sekac (traded out after 50 games), Drayson Bowman (minor-league move), George Holloway (minor-league move), Mike Condon (prospect/backup goalie gamble), Joey MacDonald (backup goalie gamble, didn't pan out), Joel Hanley (prospect gamble, didn't pan out), Alexander Semin ("no-risk" one-year, $1M deal, didn't pan out), Fleischmann (didn't pan out, traded out mid-season), Radulov ("mid-risk" for his salary, coming off a KHL scoring title on a "show-me" one-year deal, left as a UFA for greener pastures), Chris Terry (former prospect gamble, didn't pan out), Bobby Farnham (minor-league move), Montoya (depth goalie signing), Karl Alzner ($5M per, five-year bust, currently buried in the AHL), Mark Streit ("no risk", $1M, one-year deal for returning veteran after Cup win, didn't last a month before getting terminated), Ales Hemsky ("no-risk" one-year, $1M deal, didn't pan out), Morrow ("no-risk" one-year, $650K deal, didn't pan out), Antti Niemi ($1M backup goalie deal, didn't pan out), Keith Kincaid ($1.75M backup goalie deal, didn't pan out).

Some of his most important players have been waiver wire grabs, like Byron.

To recap, on the trade market, Bergevin has 19 wins, 24 losses, and 12 even "hockey" trades, and has gambled 36 times, winning/hitting home runs on exactly 3 of them. He rarely gives up a roster player and has yet to trade a future first-rounder, so it's normal that the returns have been underwhelming - you can't receive while never giving. In terms of free agent signings, only one gamble (Radulov) has paid off out of 14, and most non-gambles haven't worked out well either - Prust, his first signing, may be his most valuable. And one of his most consistent goal scorers, Byron, comes from waivers.

All of this to say that when Bergevin comes out saying disrespectful things about Kovalchuk like "he has to buy into the system" and "he knows it's his last chance", he does come from a place he is familiar with: he has given a boatload of players a chance that has ended up being their last, perhaps if only because if someone can't stand out on a team that keeps missing the playoffs, then other teams feel their value has dropped and their time is up.

Kovalchuk had other options - apparently with better teams like the Caps and Boston Bruins; Bergevin should be a little more thankful that #17 (after a nice gesture toward Kulak) chose Montréal and its apparently open spot on the powerplay to attempt to salvage his North American career.

Here he is during better times, sporting the Atlanta Thrashers' white (then-home) uniform on card #TS-IK from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Artifacts collection and Treasured Swatches sub-set:
It features a blue game-worn jersey swatch.

Internationally, the Russian star captained the Russian Athletes' Delegation for their gold medal run at the 2018 Olympics, where he was named the tournament MVP. He also has a bronze Olympic medal (2002), gold (2001) and silver (2000) from the World U-18s, and World Championship gold (2008, 2009), silver (2010, 2015) and bronze (2005, 2007 and 2019) medals with Team Russia.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Marco Scandella: Two Autographed Cards

All season long so far, Montréal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien has been telling GM Marc Bergevin through the media that he doesn't like his options for the bottom-two roles on defense; while Shea Weber, Victor Mete, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot have been playing a bunch of minutes, Brett Kulak, rookie Cale Fleury and Mike Reilly have been alternating with call-ups Christian Folin, Otto Leskinen, Gustav Olofsson for some playing time, with veterans Xavier Ouellet and Karl Alzner also available with the AHL's Laval Rocket. And the NHL season hasn't even reached the halfway mark yet!

Kulak, Reilly, Olofsson, and Folin were all acquired via trade by Bergevin and re-signed afterwards; Ouellet, Leskinen and Alzner were free agent signings. All of them were chosen to be on the roster by the GM. And the coach cannot find a way to use any of them properly.

A few hours ago, Bergevin moved Reilly - a good skater with a decent pass and some offensive vision who at times makes bizarre decisions in his own zone, not unlike two-time Stanley Cup champion Justin Schultz or now-appreciated veteran Ron Hainsey - to the Ottawa Senators for a late-round draft pick and a career minor-leaguer and followed that up by acquiring Marco Scandella from the Buffalo Sabres for a fourth-rounder.

Scandella, a Montréal native whose uncle Sergio Momesso played with the Habs in the late 1980s and won a Stanley Cup here in 1986, is understandably ecstatic about coming home. His $4M cap probably no longer represents the kind of player he's become, but in his mid-20s, he was capable of playing upwards of 21 minutes per game (with a high of 23:19 in his first season with the Sabres in 2017-18), was good for some 20 points per season despite limited powerplay time and was a cornerstone of the Minnesota Wild's defense, playing in a shut-down role while Ryan Suter took care of the offensive-zone starts and easy minutes.

The wild's second-round pick in 2008 (55th overall) played his Juniors career with the LHJMQ's Foreurs de Val d'Or, where he had such an impact that he was their captain for two-thirds of his time there. He's a born leader and will make for a calming presence to help Fleury develop more effectively... provided Julien plays him that way. We're talking about the same coach who plays Chiarot upwards of 30 minutes per game and has a history of benching his most talented young players (Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin, Charles Hudon, Jonathan Drouin).

Here is Scandella wearing the Foreurs' "classic" dark (away) uniform in his rookie Juniors season - notice the awful socks - on card #94 from In The Game's 2008-09 Heroes And Prospects set:
And here he is wearing the Reebok Edge uniform, with asymmetric lines and terrible piping (albeit with better socks), on card #103 from In The Game's 2009-10 Heroes And Prospects set, sporting the captain's "C":
Both were signed in blue sharpie back when he played for Minnesota. I look forward to having him sign a card showing him with the Canadiens. I also wish him the best of luck in this circus, where the team is in danger of missing the playoffs the third straight season and the fourth time in the past five years.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

2019-20 Parkhurst Hockey: Three Blaster Boxes Break

It was Boxing Day at Walmart and I was in the area, so I figured I'd stop to see which, if any, hockey card boxes were on sale; it turns out the 2019-20 Parkhurst blaster boxes from Upper Deck were nearly half off - at $19.99 instead of $34.95 - so I went ahead and picked up... three boxes.

Instead of following in last year's footsteps and making this a semi-"prime" set, UD decided to scale the Parkhurst brand - if not its price tag, which went up a couple of dollars per box - back into less glossy and more low-range ballparks, with a feel to the hand that is reminiscent of Panini's take on Score cards; the base cards do keep the general look and greeniness of the Parkhust modern era, however:
As far as statistics go, only the last season and the player's career statistics are featured on the backs of cards, but at least every player gets a short blurb. What's really cool for autograph seekers like myself is the fact that Parkhurst is the first brand to feature players who switched teams in the summertime in their new uniforms:
Out of 36 packs and 360 total cards, I pulled a fair amount of insert cards, including eight All-Stars (pictured below are Erik Karlsson, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane, missing are two each of Auston Matthews and Nikita Kucherov):
You'll notice the players are wearing their All-Star Game jerseys, but the stats on the back are of the regular season; perhaps ASG stats would have been a nice thought here.

I also landed 36 "regular" rookie cards, including the four pictured below - Nick Suzuki, Noah Dobson, Kevin Bloyle and Jack Hughes - plus Blake Lizotte, Will Borgen, Teddy Blueger, Karson Kuhlman, Carsen Twarynski, Nico Sturm, Nikita Gusev, Tobias Bjornfot, Jacob Middleton, Zach Senyshyn, Barrett Hayton, Dominik Kubalik, Rudolfs Balcers, Josh Teves, Mario Ferraro, Joel L'Espérance (twice), Adam Johnson (twice), Hughes (again), Kole Sherwood (twice), Taro Hirose, Dante Fabbro (twice), Erik Brannstrom, Filip Zadina (twice), Carl Grundstrum, Victor Olofsson, Ville Heinola and Max Veronneau:
As is customary in this day and age, there were also "Silver" versions of the base cards (Nazem Kadri, Ryan Pulock, Dylan Strome, Brock Boeser, Aaron Ekblad, Jason Zucker and Andrei Svechnikov):
There were also Silver inserts of Crosby, Kuhlman and Vitaly Abramov:
And since you can't have Silver without Gold, I landed three of those as well, rookies Ryan Kuffner and Max Jones, as well as the base card of Nicklas Backstrom:
As per years past, a lot of rookies also found their way into the Prominent Prospects sub-set:
You can see via the Suzuki card that the picture used on these cards is the same as that of the "regular" rookie card, but used differently; other pulls in that sub-set: Rasmus Sandin, Adam Fox, Ilya Mikheyev, Zadina, Dobson, Trent Frederic, and Alexandre Texier. These cards have a nice, rigid feel and are all-foil.

A nice smi-foil sub-set is Hail Storm, as can be attested by the cards featuring Vladimir Tarasenko, Brent Burns, Elias Petterson and Johnny Gaudreau:
A returning sub-set is View From The Ice, rendering stunning photographs of Drew Doughty, Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid via foil treatment:
And, last but not least in the foil inserts, the Parkies, featuring McDavid, Ryan Poehling, John Tavares, Matt Murray, Alexander Radulov, Alex Ovechkin, Zadina and Jonathan Marchessault:
I wasn't all that impressed with the first few packs and halfway through my first box, I was seriously doubting the relevance of my purchase - and the collation is pretty weak, as I have a bunch of doubles - but the fact that the cards aren't overly glossy and will be easy-ish to get signed felt more and more like a plus as the break went on, and the plethora of inserts just seemed to add to that as I kept digging.

This has turned into a solid 8/10.