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.

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