Thursday, November 4, 2010

Steve Shutt: Two Autographed Cards

Often forgotten about or lost in the shuffle in conversations about the best hockey players of all time is the legendary Steve Shutt - and I just don't understand why.

His 60 goals in 1976-77 were an NHL record until Luc Robitaille scored 63 in 1992-93 (helped by a certain fellow named Wayne Gretzky). He played 12 full seasons with the Montréal Canadiens - winning 5 Stanley Cups - before being sent to finish his final season with the Los Angeles Kings. He was part of the team that is considered the best of all time, the 1976-77 Habs team that only lost 8 games out of a possible 80.

Maybe it's because he was mostly paired on a line with Guy Lafleur, the flashiest and most explosive of his era, and Jacques Lemaire, the premier set-up centerman of the time who became one of the best coaches ever upon retiring.

Ironically, despite all three being integral parts of the team's success and history, they each had to endure the hardships of being a Canadien which meant, in the 80s, to be forced into retirement without being ready for it. Lemaire exiled himself in Switzerland where he became a player/coach, then came back to coach the Habs and ultimately force Lafleur into retirement (Lafleur would un-retire 4 years later). Shutt was sent to L.A. Other former Habs stars were also sent abroad in the twilight of their careers: Serge Savard was traded to Winnipeg, Bob Gainey went to France, Larry Robinson finished his playing career in Los Angeles. The reasoning behind the whole thing was this: it's the most storied franchise of its sport, so not only does it have to be difficult to make the team, it also has to remain difficult to stay on it. And I get it; it just seems at times that they could be a little more humane in handling things.

But as it often happens with the Habs (see: Gainey, Guy Carbonneau, Lemaire, Jacques Laperrière, Lafleur, Henri Richard, Savard), Shutt was brought back to the team in 1993 as a powerplay coach.

I sent Shutt these two cards and a fan letter on September 2nd, care of the Habs' Alumni Association, and got both back on November 1st, signed in black sharpie, personalized to me - although not spelled the same way both times: once he wrote SébastiAn, with an 'A' at the end, as I write it, and the other with an 'E'. But the gesture is much appreciated. It makes already-beautiful cards even more meaningful. Two months' time, through a third party from a player who lives in another province? That's a mighty quick return from a Hall of Famer.

Speaking of which, the one on the left is from Upper Deck's 2004-05 Legendary Signatures set (card #8) while the beautiful foil-plated die-cut card on the left is #SCH-SS of Topps' 2002-03 Stanley Cup Heroes set and looks even better (less dark) in person.

These days, Shutt skates in Old Timers' games, which draws nostalgic fans such as myself but also helps raise money for charitable organizations. I make sure to buy tickets whenever they're in town out of principle, and if I can't go myself, I give them away as presents to family or friends - an easy way to make two nice gestures in one.

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