Monday, May 28, 2012

Marc Crawford Autographed Team Postcard

Surprisingly, Marc Crawford's name comes up pretty often when it comes to naming the Montréal Canadiens' next coach, mainly in English-speaking media from outside Québec. Not that he isn't a good coach - you don't coach 4 different NHL franchises on bullshit alone.

But many of his supporters point to his knowledge of French and a Stanley Cup acquired by the surging Colorado Avalanche (division winners the year before who acquired the best goalie of all time midway through their Cup season) as sure signs he should always be considered for the Habs' coaching job when he is the one who has contacted the team - twice.

He has failed to make the playoffs in his past 5 NHL seasons - since the lockout ended, actually - with 3 different teams. He is still the subject of a lawsuit from the Steve Moore incident... and will forever be remembered as the guy who kept Wayne Gretzky on the bench in an Olympic shootout.

And there are coaches with better, more current resumes - Bob Hartley (also a Cup winner, now European champion); Guy Carbonneau (led his team to 1st in the East, with 1st overall powerplays and PKs); Michel Therrien (a Cup Final and a three-quarters of a Cup season); and Patrick Roy (GM and head coach of a junior team that has won the Memorial Cup and been a contender every year since he stepped behind the bench). Two of those are Habs legends and there may be more, including Hall Of Famer Denis Savard (former Chicago Blackhawks head coach, Habs Cup winner in 1993).

Which is not to say Crawford's a bad guy. As a matter of fact, he sent me this team postcard during the 2003-04 season after I'd merely sent him an email - back when team websites gave out such information! The back of the card is the full team schedule for the 2003-04 season, and his signature (in thick black sharpie) even went through!

To put it in perspective, had the team named Crawford head coach 4 years ago instead of Jacques Martin, I would have been happier - happier than today, and happier than I was when they named Martin. But the team needs new blood, a teacher with an attitude that superstars won't intimidate.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ray Whitney Autograph Card

Just like the Roman Hamrlik card from a few days ago, this Ray Whitney card is from Pinnacle Brands' 1997-98 Be A Player set (card #105, signed on-card in black sharpie), and was purchased off Ebay for $1.99. He is shown wearing the Florida Panthers' red (away) uniform.

I learned a lot about Whitney when he got an assist on March 31st for his 1000th career NHL point, a remarkable feat for a guy who has been waived a lot in the past few seasons. This year again, he amassed 77 points in 82 games - the exact same statistics as three seasons ago.

I remember he captained the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2002-03, following in Lyle Odelein's path. A clear sign that the Jackets don't know which direction to take their team in, they've had just about as many ''offensive star'' captains (Whitney, Rick Nash) as ''defensive team players'' (Odelein, Adam Foote, Luke Richardson)...

Whitney's better off with the Phoenix Coyotes, that's for sure. Although his season seems like it's nearing its end...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Patrik Elias Autograph Card

I'm not the biggest New York Rangers fan by a long shot - I have much respect for Henrik Lundqvist, Brad Richards, Ryan McDonagh and John Tortorella - but I hate the New Jersey Devils a whole lot more, mainly because I think Martin Brodeur is the most over-rated goalie of all time, but also because their trap-won Stanley Cups have taken a lot of luster off of the trophy's worth.

I'm glad the Rangers have taken the series' lead with a 3-0 victory last night.

This, despite my admiration for Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias...

So when I saw this Elias card on Ebay for $1.99, I just couldn't pass it up.

Elias is a winner, as can be attested with a Cup, sure, but also three bronze medals (2006 Olympics, 1998 and 2001 World Championships). The reason why he doesn't have more World medals is because the Devils are pretty much always in the playoff picture, so he's busy in the NHL post-season while the Czech National Team gets going.

He is a monster under pressure, going almost a point-per-game in NHL playoffs (40-77-117 in 138 games, including a 16-points-in-9-games season in 2005-06 and two 20-point postseasons) and international play (16-14-30 in 34 games, including two 9-point performances at the Worlds), and has captained both the Devils and the Czech team.

He has also posted a team record 96-point season in 2000-01, and remains a scoring threat to this very day.

This is card #81 in In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set - the signed insert version.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Roman Hamrlik Autograph Card

In honour of the Washington Capitals' win over the New York Rangers last night, I'm putting up a card from the monster pressure player who goes by the name of Roman Hamrlik.

The Hammer played for the Habs the 4 seasons prior to this one and would have liked to stay, but the team only offered him a 1-year contract and he was looking for two, which the Caps offered. Plus, the opportunity to play with world-class players such as Alex Ovechkin was probably hard to pass up...

Kind of like seeing this card for $1.99 on Ebay was too hard for me to pass up. Card # 147 from Pinnacle Brands' 1997-98 Be A Player set - yes, that brand has had more manufacturers than almost any other so far! - it is a signed insert version of the regular card, different only that it is autographed on-card in black sharpie. Not only could it be the first card from the 1997-98 season I've featured on here so far, it also sees him sporting the Tampa Bay Lightning's eye-catching (for all the wrong reasons, of course), ill-fated third jersey, decorated with a commemorative patch to boot!

Also notice the O-Pee-Chee-worthy, slightly-out-of-focus picture, and Roman's famous ''round-shaped-mouth-looking-like-he's-having-trouble-breathing'' face.

Sure, he was a healthy scratch for 15 games or so this season, but Dale Hunter has been putting him out against the opponent's powerplay throughout the playoffs, and it looks like he's thriving in the hard-working environment the coach has created of late. Good for him.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mario Tremblay: 4 Autographed Items

Like it or not, Mario Tremblay is a Montréal Canadiens legend, having put up one 25- and four 30-goal seasons, playing on the team's checking (third) line for the historic 1970s, Scotty Bowman-coached team that won 4 straight Stanley Cups. He currently ranks 10th all-time on the team's plus/minus list with an astonishing +184.

He won another Cup in 1986, although he missed the playoffs due to a shoulder injury that would end his career the following September. He then became a sportscaster, with his own segment between the first and second periods of the Habs' Saturday night games on Radio-Canada (the French language CBC) and was quite entertaining, funny, and honest. He would often talk about behind-the-scenes secrets of events he'd witnessed in his playing days, as well as analyze current-game plays.

Unfortunately, those two tremendous successes are often overshadowed by the two seasons he spent as the team's head coach, from 1995 to 1997. Sure, he made the playoffs both years, losing in the first round, but he is solely responsible for the abrupt and controversial departures of star goalie Patrick Roy and beloved tough guy Donald Brashear, the first after letting him endure nine Detroit Red Wings goals in an 11-1 massacre, the latter during a morning skate where he called Brashear the ''n'' word in front of a TV news crew who happened to be filming...

In his defense, Tremblay wanted to be as tough a coach as he was a player, and had to step over Roy's ego and influence to ''take over'' the dressing room. The 1043 penalty minutes he gathered in 852 NHL games molded Tremblay into a man who would be no pushover. As a matter of fact, he is one of only two head coaches in the past 30 years who chose to leave the Habs on his on terms rather than get fired, the other being Jacques Lemaire, under whom Tremblay has served both with the Minnesota Wild (8 seasons) and New Jersey Devils (1 year).

These days, he is back as a TV analyst with RDS (the station that caught the Brashear incident on tape, ironically) where he often displays a tactical knowledge of the game beyond what transpired in his days behind the Montréal bench; he seems to have learned an awful lot behind Lemaire, while remaining the affable, honest talker he was when he first stopped playing.

I sent Tremblay the above 3 cards and a fan letter on March 13th, 2012, and got them all back, signed in black sharpie - with his number 14 tagged at the end of each one - on May 1st, 2012. He was also kind enough to sign one of the two index cards I always enclose to protect my cards:

As for the cards, all of them show him wearing the Habs' red (away) uniform and his classic Jofa helmet, usually worn by European players (and Wayne Gretzky):

The card on the left is from Topps' 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set (card #193), waiting for the puck to drop during a face-off; the card on the right is from Topps' 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee set (card #123), the back of which mentions his 100-point season (in 46 games!) in Juniors. It may appear blurry, but that's the actual card, not the scan.

While OPC was good at out-of-focus pictures, they also had a nasty habit of airbrushing players' new team jerseys onto old pictures and, like in the next card, not cutting them properly:

Believe it or not, that card was designed to be centered! It's card #192 in the 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee set by Topps.