Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pierre-Marc Bouchard Jersey Card

The curious case of Pierre-Marc Bouchard... drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the first round (8th overall) of the 2002 NHL draft (ahead of Cam Ward, Alexander Semin, Keith Ballard and Duncan Keith, among others) after winning Top Prospect honours in both the QMJHL and CHL, Bouchard was expected to be the same type of player Mike Ribeiro turned out to be: an adept playmaker with great deking hands who can lead his team in scoring once in a while.

Combined with Mikko Koivu, he was supposed to be the beginning of the Wild's change from a defense-oriented team to more of an offensive threat.

Unfortunately, it took him until the 2006-07 season to reach the 20-goal barrier, and until 2007-08 to gather more than 60 points (63, off 13 goals and 50 assists). And just when it looked like he was getting there, he had a sub-par season in 2008-09 (16 goals, 30 assists, 46 points in 71 games) before suffering a concussion in the very first game of the 2009-10 season - from which he has yet to recover. He only started skating again - lightly - this week.

Very few players come back from a year-long injury to reach elite levels; it's even rarer when it comes to concussion victims. But he claims he's 90% recovered, we'll just have to wait and see.

This beautiful card (#U-PB) is from Fleer's 2006-07 Fleer Ultra set, the Ultra Uniformity sub-set. It sports a gorgeous dark green patch, probably from the jersey's waist line. I used to not like the Wild's jersey colours, I found them ''un-hockey-like'', but I've gotten used to them and find them ok now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

André Savard Autographed Card

At 6'1'' and 185 pounds, André Savard was a big man for the NHL of the 1970s; it's no surprise both the Boston Bruins (NHL, 6th overall) and Québec Nordiques (WHA, 3rd overall) made him their first round pick. His junior career with the Québec Remparts had been spectacular: an average of over two points per game in all four seasons, good for 172 goals and 279 assists (451 points) in 206 games, and a well-rounded defensive game to boot.

In fact, the back of this very card - in addition to a fac-simile autograph - states that as soon as he joined the Buffalo Sabres, he became ''an integral part of the club's improved defense''. It also states he was voted the most popular player on the team, although they don't say if it's an honor bestowed by fans or the players themselves.

He finished his career with the Nordiques, who by 1983-84 and 1984-85 were in the NHL; he managed to score 29 goals and garner 34 assists - good for 63 points - in 95 games with the team, not bad for a 12-year veteran. He also served as their head coach in the awful 1987-88 season, and came back as an assistant from 1992-94.

In 1994, he was named as co-head of the scouting staff for the Ottawa Senators, whom he helped turn around from a terrible expansion team who didn't draft well to a perennial regular season powerhouse pretty much overnight. In 1999-2000, he was back behind the bench as the Sens' assistant coach, but a front-office job was waiting for him in Montréal the next season, when he replaced Réjean Houle as the Canadiens' GM and stacked the team's prospects pool for successor Bob Gainey. Then it was back to coaching as assistant to Michel Therrien for the Pittsburgh Penguins, as they lost in the Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings. He definitely has an eye for talent that begs to be given a voice in the NHL, either as head of scouting or as an assistant to a GM.

This particular card (#253), from the 1978-79 O-Pee-Chee set, which was released the month I was born, was signed in black ball-tip pen by Mr. Savard; the signature looks like a cross between his first and last names from the fac-simile autograph on the back of the card. It was signed in person at a hockey clinic in the mid-to-late 90s in the Ottawa region, where he was a guest speaker and I was an assistant to the goalie teacher for the summer - and playing with the Sens' Bantam AAA team on days off.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Craig Darby Autograph Card

It's almost rookie camp time, and that means some kids will surprise and be invited over to the regular camp, where they'll have a shot at taking an older player's job, particularly if the veteran is overpaid and the rookie's salary is close to league minimum - salary cap era and all.

In the mid-to-late 90s, one player who was given many a chance to do just this is 1991 second-round draft pick (43rd overall) Craig Darby. Second-rounders are usually given just about as many chances as first-rounders to, firstly, make the team and, second, be a key part of the making of the team. For the Montréal Canadiens, particularly, second-rounders have pretty much always performed better than their first picks: José Théodore, Mike Ribeiro, P.K. Subban, Guillaume Latendresse, Maxim Lapierre and the list goes on...

After playing with the Providence College Friars and Fredericton Canadiens, he was given a 10-game tryout with the Habs, registering 2 assists, before being traded to the New York Islanders with then-captain Kirk Muller and Mathieu Schneider for Vladimir Malakhov and future captain Pierre Turgeon. Unfortunately for Darby, he would only play 13 games over parts of two seasons with the lowly Islanders before being picked up on waivers by the Philadelphia Flyers, where he had a decent showing, albeit in few games (1-4-5 in 9 games in 1996-97 and a goal in 3 games in 1997-98, playing with fellow former Habs Éric Desjardins, John LeClair, Kevin Haller and Petr Svoboda).

In the 1998 expansion draft, he was chosen by the Nashville Predators, but played the whole season with their IHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals, collecting 32 goals and 22 assists (good for 54 points) in 81 games, which is possibly why then-Habs GM Réjean Houle signed him as a free agent in the summer of 1999. In two of the worst seasons in Canadiens' history - the first one during which Martin Rucinsky led the team in scoring with a mere 49 points and the second one that saw Saku Koivu lead with 47 in only 54 games - Darby managed to amass a total of 19 goals and 26 assists (45 points) in 154 games... which pretty much explains why he spent the third year of his contract playing for the Habs' AHL affiliate Québec Citadelles.

Always willing to take chances on low-scoring forwards, the New Jersey Devils then inked him to a contract, only to have him play 5 games in two seasons. By now it was clear he would be a career AHLer, even though his rights did belong to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks later - he would never play another NHL game. When he got tired of riding buses on the AHL circuit, he set his sights on Europe, playing one season in Germany (Augsburg Panthers, 51 points in 52 games in 2006-07) and Austria (Innsbruck EV, 43 points in 45 games in 2007-08).

This card (#197) is from In The Game's 2000-01 Be A Player Signature Series, and sees him sporting the Habs' classic red jersey and sports the mention ''FIRST SIGNATURE CARD'', which both the company and I hoped would one day mean something important. It's still a common card in the set and only holds value to me for depicting a Canadiens player.