Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mark Arcobello Autograph Card

And now, time for autographed card #2 in my 2013-14 Score (by Panini) box break, this Hot Rookies card of Edmonton Oilers 5'9'' forward Mark Arcobello:
The diminutive forward went undrafted after four seasons with the Yale Bulldogs, but worked his way through the Oilers' affiliates (the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL and the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL, with which he almost a point-per-game player, including a 22-goal, 68-point - in 74 games - season in 2012-13 that culminated in a 12-goal, 20-point postseason in 17 games).

He played in one NHL game last year, filling in for now-departed captain Shawn Horcoff.

This could be the season the Oilers return to the postseason, with an attack that added David Perron, and Boyd Gordon and a defensive corps that added Andrew Ference, Philip Larsen and Denis Grebeshkov. A lot of grit to add to their already-potent offense...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Casey Wellman Autograph Card

As I pointed out for my 2013-14 Score (by Panini) box break, I got two signed cads last week as part of that set. The first one, from the first box, is this Casey Wellman card:

Though pictured with the Minnesota Wild, he is described as being a member of the Washington Capitals, but the back of his card may have some confused:

Nowhere does it mention the Wild on there, though they are the ones who signed him out of College and traded him to the New York Rangers.

As a matter of fact, he only played for the Wild for parts of three seasons spanning 2009-2012 and has belonged to to other NHL teams before the Caps, though spending his time in the AHL.

I have another Score Wellman signature card - a redemption from two years ago - which I have just realized I never posted here. I'll have to do that. Chances are that this sticker autograph (in blue sharpie) is from the same batch he signed back then and Panini just went on a recycling binge.

Still happy to have this signed insert, card #SS-CW in the set, the Signature sub-set.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Two Score 2013-14 Box Breaks

As has become tradition since Panini resurrected the Score brand, I pre-ordered two boxes of the 2013-14 product when they were announced; I was shocked to receive them so soon, barely a month after the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins en route to their second Stanley Cup this decade.

I guess they didn't want to have to deal with all the players changing teams after the free agent frenzy began...

The first thing that struck me was its price tag: at $55, it was nearly double what I was used to spending on their 36-pack box in previous seasons; on the other hand pack sizes increased by 40% (as is clearly stated on the front of the box), going from 7 cards per pack to 12. I decided to get two boxes anyway, as that was my habit. Also, after not getting a single autograph card last year in two full boxes and some 70 extra single-purchase packs, I was more than happy that they went back to ''guaranteeing'' a signed card in every box.

This year's regular set contains 550 cards, plus 30 ''Team Leaders'' cards, 10 ''highlights'', 60 Hot Rookies (last year's rookies AND this year's), 59 Hot Rookies autographs (with a different design from the regular rookie cards), 25 ''Check-It'' hard-hitters cards, 20 of the First Goal variety, 10 ''Team Score'' and 15 ''Future Team Score'', 20 Net Cams, 20 ''Recollection Collection'' autographs of past legends on old designs, 39 Score Signature autograph cards, 48 Team 8s jersey cards, as well as 30 The Franchise and 10 The Future Franchise cards. View the complete checklist here. No ''Award Winners'' this year, but then again, there wasn't a ceremony. An action shot of each player would still have made for a nice card, though.

The wrappers are foil, reminiscent of the very first Upper Deck packs in the early 1990s:
Here's what the cards look like, first the front:
The scan may not show it too well, but they are way over-Photoshopped; they look like paintings more than pictures, and they're a lot glossier than in years past. They will definitely require some pre-erasing for autographs.

Here are the backs:
Pretty plain, as if they spent all their budget on the front. But I don't mind. Look-wise, they're a solid 7/10, maybe a weak 8/0. I love the pictures, if not the effects used on them.

Here is how the first box broke down:

36 packs, 12 cards per: 432 cards

Regular cards: 349

'Gold' parallel: 40 (including two Hot Rookie, one Season Highlights and one Team Leaders)

Hot Rookies: 23 'normal' ones plus the two 'gold' versions, four big names (Viktor Fasth, Vladimir Tarasenko (regular and gold), Dougie Hamilton and Emerson Etem), and two Habs - Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu (regular and gold).

The Franchise: 2, Patrick Kane and Shea Weber.

Net Cam: 2, Cory Schneider and Carey Price.

First Goal: 1, Alex Galchenyuk.

Team Score: 1, Claude Giroux.

Season Highlight: 4

Team Leaders: 9

Autograph: 1 (will feature soon!)

Montréal Canadiens (my home team): 10 regular ones, plus both recent acquisitions Daniel Brière and George Parros, plus the two/three rookies, the Net Cam, the Team Leaders and Galchenyuk's First Goal.


Here is a breakdown of the second box:

36 packs, 12 cards per: 432 cards

Regular cards: 348

'Gold' parallel: 40 (including two Hot Rookie, one Season Highlights and one Team Leaders, and 9 wearing a Canadiens uniform)

Hot Rookies: 23 regular ones (plus the two gold), no Habs, but four big names: Nail Yakupov, Filip Forsberg, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Mikael Granlund.

The Franchise:
2: Taylor Hall, and new retiree Miikka Kirpusoff.

Net Cam: 2, seemingly taken in the same game:
First Goal: 1, Damien Brunner.

Team Score: 1, Alex Pietrangelo.

Check-It: 1, Dougie Hamilton.

Season Highlight: 4 - the exact same four as the first box!

Team Leaders: 9

Montréal Canadiens (my home team): 14, including two departed players (Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle), plus new tough guy Parros in his Florida Panthers garb.

Hot Rookies Autograph: 1 (featured soon!)

Panini guaranteed a black variant in every box, but I got none - in two. Don't mind at all.

This remains my favourite product of the season, slightly ahead of UD's Victory. The number of players available is only surpassed by O-Pee-Chee, but the pictures and multitudes of sub-sets (rather than multitudes of parallel cards) rank it far higher.

Of course, this is all regarding the lower-end products, affordable to all, but I feel these are the most important products on the market, first because they can introduce kids to the hobby with a large number of cheap cards, but also because you can afford to keep up with the set's evolution throughout the years without busting your budget. Lastly, because I don't mind shelling out $30-60 bucks for 400+ cards and an autograph I view as a bonus, compared to spending over $100 for less than 10 cards and ending up with 'hits' of guys who'll never play 100 games in the NHL (or when they do, will never score 20 goals in their careers); I don't mind getting those as commons, but HATE getting them as 'hits'.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Nicklas Lidstrom Swatch Card

You've got to give to receive... and this trade would have sent shockwaves all around the NHL had it been done in real life: A Raymond Bourque (sporting a Colorado Avalanche uniform) swatch card for this one of Nicklas Lidstrom:
The best defenseman of each of their eras, though Lidstrom was far more dominating. The card is from Panini's 2012-13 Certified (card #FOG-NLI of the Fabric Of The Game sub-set) and has him pictured in the Detroit Red Wings' white (away) uniform, with matching swatch.

It is serial-numbered 111/299. I would have preferred number 2 (his jersey number), or 222, but the gift-horse's mouth looked pretty good nonetheless.

The first (and only) European captain of a Stanley Cup championship team and perennial Norris trophy winner will soon be a lock as a first-ballot Hall Of Famer... I'll need another card to commemorate his induction!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mike Ribeiro Autograph Card

I guess I cold have mentioned when I featured the Teemu Hartikainen card that I got it when I was barely half-way through my box which ''guaranteed'' 6 hits. Well, at my very last pack, I got hit #7, this terrific Mike Ribeiro card:
Like the Hartikainen and my very first hit card of Andrei Markov, it's a sticker autograph, signed in blue sharpie, from the 1999 Skybox insert sub-set (card #99-MR), found approximately in every 20 packs of Upper Deck's 2012-13 Fleer Retro. Notice how the signature ends with '63' - it was his number with the Dallas Stars, meaning he likely signed it before getting traded to the Washington Capitals last summer.

And this summer, as the Free Agent Frenzy got underway, he signed a 4-year deal with the Phoenix Coyotes, where he'll be their no-contest #1 center - though he won't have a James Neal, Jamie Benn, Michael Ryder or Alex Ovechkin to dump his perfect passes into empty nets. I see him flanked with Shane Doan and Mikkel Bodker, while Radim Vrbata will likely play with Antoine Vermette. Lucky for them they play in the West, where it'll be 19% easier to make the playoffs than in the East...

Ribeiro is one of my favourite centers in the NHL. He ranks as one of the best play-makers out there, right after the likes of Jason Spezza and Sidney Crosby. He doesn't really stand a chance of playing for Team Canada at the Olympics, though, because he ranks behind them and Jonathan Toews on the offensive side, doesn't have Ryan Getzlaf's size, and doesn't play a two-way game like Patrice Bergeron or Mike Richards. But I'm still shocked that he's yet to play at the World Championships or Spengler Cup. He is a world-class player. If there was a Team Québec - and he'd be a shoe-in for that! -  I think he could help them to a medal.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Teemu Hartikainen Autograph Card

My show-and-tell is nearing its end. A reminder: I was lucky enough to get my hands on a box of Upper Deck's 2012-13 Fleer Retro cards for $160 (I've seen them go up to $250); they consist of 100 cards per box, including 6 autographs, which revisit classic Fleer and Skybox designs.

This was my sixth ''hit'' - the first one which wasn't a defenseman. It was of Edmonton Oilers prospect Teemu Hartikainen, who unfortunately left North America for the KHL's Ufa Salavat Yulayev:
Over the past three years that he was in North America, Hartikainen had several auditions with the Oilers, with boxcars of 52 GP, 6-7-13, -10, 16 PiM. He also played extensively in Oklahoma City, where he posted regular season numbers of 164 GP, 45-66-111, +6, 69 PiM, with an additional 11 goals and 13 assists in 37 career playoff games. His season to season numbers have persistently translated to an NHL equivalent of about 25 points (plus or minus 10%) per 82 games, whereas his actual production in the bigs was similarly on about a 20-point pace for a full season. Anticipated development in his offensive game was slow in coming, although Teemu’s strong performance (17 GP, 7-8-15) in the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs had provided some cause for optimism. He seemed well-positioned to make a strong bid for a full time job in the NHL come the fall. Suddenly he’s gone from RFA to UFA in one swell foop.
His 2012-13 in the AHL led me to believe he was going to turn into a potent second-or-third line winger - 14 goals and 37 points in 47 regular season games, and 7-8-15 in 17 playoff games, but it'S true that the KHL overpays for players aged 18-25 in their first few NHL contracts (the first of which is capped).

And I'm always happy to add an Oilers card to my collection:

It's a sticker autograph, signed in blue sharpie. It's from the 1999 Skybox insert sub-set (card #99-TH), found approximately in every 20 packs. It shows him wearing the Oilers' white (away) uniform.

Hartikainen was originally a 6th-round pick, 163rd overall. Chosen after him were Justin DiBenedetto (175th), Zac Rinaldo (178th), Jason Demers (186th), and Anders Lindback (207th).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Nicklas Grossmann Autograph Card

Now that I've digressed with an awesome Henrik Zetterberg return and a tribute to Scott Niedermayer, let's get back to that 2012-13 Fleer Retro box break...

My fifth hit was also the fifth defenseman and fourth with the 1996-97 Skybox Autographics design; they do, after all, come in every ten packs...
It's card #96-NG in the set, and though it's a bit over the top in the multitudes of inserts, it's a great idea from Upper Deck. Also, Nicklas Grossman looks right at home wearing the Philadelphia Flyers' uniform.

Grossman was originally a second-round (56th overall) pick of the Dallas Stars in 2004, and toiled around with their AHL affiliate Iowa Stars for a few seasons before making the jump to the NHL. He was even voted the AHL team's Most Improved Player after his first season, during which he was converted into a defenseman rather than a right winger. The Flyers acquired him in exchange for a second- and a third-round pick.

While I can see him notching one or two 15-to-20-point seasons in the near future, he is not exactly of the point-per-game variety; he plays a complete game and even managed to post a -1 season last year with a Flyers team that didn't even make the playoffs and was thought to have problems defensively. He'll seldom put his team into trouble and will accumulate less than a penalty minute per game.

In March 2012, it was revealed that his last name had been misspelled for years in North America, and he was just ''too shy'' to have it corrected, though it is now a done deal. Ironically, this card is from the 2012-13 season and still sports his 'old' last name... Also, I particularly like this quote, especially in regards to this card:
Grossman said he'd sign autographs with the double "N" and his parents back in Sweden were aware of (the situation).
But looking at the blue-sharpied signature on the sticker of this card, I'm hard-pressed to find even one 'N'...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Scott Niedermayer Jersey Card

Congratulations are in for Scott Niedermayer, who was just inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame this week, alongside obvious choice Chris Chelios and dark horse Brendan Shanahan, as well as coach Fred Shero (Philadelphia Flyers, as a ''builder'') and Geraldine Heaney for women.

Although I personally don't feel like the teams he was on wouldn't have won without him, the fact remains: he was on all those championship teams, from winning gold at the World Juniors (1991) to the Memorial Cup (1992) to four Stanley Cups (1995, 2000 and 2003 with the New Jersey Devils, and 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks), World Cup gold (2004) and silver (1996), World Championship gold (2004) and Olympic gold (2002 and 2010). For all those men's teams, only those recognized to be among the best were even invited, and having been the only defenseman not named Nicklas Lidstrom to win the Norris trophy between 2001 and 2008 (he won it in 2004) certainly also proves he was just that.

Maybe I would have been more amazed had he won a Calder Cup (AHL championship) to complete the collection...

Also, he was a member of one of the biggest flops ever, the 1992 World Juniors Team Canada that finished 6th (!!!) of eight teams with a roster that included Eric Lindros, Darryl Sydor, Kimbi Daniels, Patrick Poulin, Martin Lapointe, John Slaney, Turner Stevenson, Paul Kariya and Trevor Kidd. He is now one of the Ducks' assistant coaches.

Still, he's a hockey legend. And this is a beautiful card, from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Artifacts set (card #27):
It's serial numbered 28/125 and is comprised of two black patches matching the card's background and clashing perfectly with the Ducks' white uniform. It's hard to see his captain's 'C' in this position, but we all know it's there. Contemplate it, that's what a winner looks like.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Henrik Zetterberg: 2 Autographed Cards

Can you say ''best return in a long while''?

One of my favourite players in the NHL/world is also one that is often overlooked when naming the best in the world, despite his multiple achievements. Even on his own teams, he is often thought of second - or third. Yes, I'm referring to Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg. I had sent him these 4 cards and a fan letter on April 25th, 2013, and received all 4 back, 2 signed in black sharpie, on July 10th, 2013:
The fact that he was chosen in the seventh round in 1999 remains the stuff of legends, but he's not the only one whose draft position was out of whack when analysed over a decade later: many remember first-overall pick Patrik Stefan, who had a decent if not-quite-stellar career with the Atlanta Thrashers, but 4th pick Pavel Brendl was also an early-pick ''bust''. And though considered a ''deep'' pool at the time, only 16 of the 28 first-rounders ended up playing 82 games (in total, not in a single season) or more in the decade after they were drafted - compared to 23/27 for the 1998 picks and 21/30 for the 2000 batch.

Not just that, but the seventh round (Zetterberg's) also included long-time NHLers Martin Erat, Tom Kostopoulos, and Radim Vrbata, while the eighth round produced Garnet Exelby, new Montréal Canadiens tough guy George Parros, Radek Martinek, Jeff Finger and impact defenseman Douglas Murray. All guys worth - in retrospect - a late first-round or second-round pick - except Zetterberg, who would now be a consensus top-3 pick (keep in mind the Sedin twins were chosen second and third overall). He was a favourite of then-assistant GM (now Dallas Stars GH) Jim Nill.

Which brings me to how Zetterberg can be considered underrated: on his own NHL team, he started in the shadows of Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan, and even today, Pavel Datsyuk is the yearly no-surprise finalist for the Selke trophy and considered by some as the most complete player in the world. Yet Zetterberg has a Conn Smythe, and is team captain. He's at an almost point-per-game pace in the NHL (672 points in 714 regular-season games, 114 points in 123 playoff games), although he often centers the second line.

On Team Sweden, he often was surpassed by Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg - and even the Sedins. Daniel Alfredsson, too. And unlike them, he's a member of the Triple Gold Club (Olympic gold, World Championship gold, Stanley Cup)... Then again, on a team that stacked, it's no surprise he's won gold at the 2006 Olympics and 2006 Worlds, silver at the 2003 Worlds and bronze at the 2001 and 2002 Worlds... He has 54 points in 72 Sweden men's games despite often being relegated to third-line duties, and had a whopping 3 goals, 12 assists (15 points) in 8 games at the 2012 Worlds.

He is also often mistaken for actor/singer Jared Leto:
I don't know why he didn't sign the Stars Of The Game cards, but I'm more than happy about the other two! First, sporting the Wings' red (now-home) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 SP Authentic (card #36), making a deft pass:
There he looks even more like Jared Leto!

Also, wearing the white (now-away) uniform, from UD's 2010-11 Victory (card #71):
The background complements the cards so well, especially the perfectly-toned V on the last card. I wish I had a card displaying his captaincy, but maybe in a couple of years...

Beautiful, classic uniform, worn by a player who exudes grace on skates and yet grinds it out of pure passion each shift out, while almost never accumulating penalty minutes. The perfect card, I think.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Victor Hedman Autograph Card

And now, part 4 of my 2012-13 Fleer Retro (by Upper Deck) box break, featuring Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman:
It is card #96-VH in the set, and uses the 1996-97 Skybox Autographics design; this particular card, like those of Jonathan Blum and Ryan Ellis, is from Group 'E' - which can be found in every ten packs. On this card, he is sporting the Lightning's alternate (third) jersey, worn for the first time in the 2008-09 season; it is usually worn at weekend home games. Notice the shoulders, though: it is of the old logo, discontinued two seasons ago, meaning it's an old picture. The current, ''simplified'' version looks like this:
Rumours have it that Tampa tried to lure the Colorado Avalanche into trading the first-overall pick for their third by including Hedman in the deal, and that's one I would have made, especially since, in retrospect, the Florida Panthers chose Alexander Barkov with the second pick. Hedman would have solidified the Avs' D instantly, and the team would still have had a shot at choosing among the remaining two out of Nathan MacKinnon (their actual pick), Jonathan Drouin (the play-making wonder Tampa chose third) and Seth Jones, the best defenseman available and Denver hometown kid that the Lightning wouldn't have picked. Just having Hedman as a safety net (because the draft isn't an exact science and accidents are known to happen) would have made sense.

Tampa looked to shake up their roster this off-season, buying out long-time captain Vincent Lecavalier (with 7 years remaining on his contract!) and hiring long-time Detroit Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula among other moves.

Hedman is merely 22 years old, far from a defenseman's prime (25-30) and already has 4 NHL seasons under his belt. In 2012-13, he went 4-16-20 with a very respectable +1 in 44 games in Tampa to go with his 1-20-21 and a stunning +18 in just 26 games for Barys Astana in the KHL. He will be very good for a very long time.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Jannik Hansen: 3 Autographed Cards

I got a great surprise in the mail when I got home from work today: this 3-card return from Vancouver Canucks forward Jannik Hansen!
The Danish winger has enjoyed his two best seasons back-to-back, first tallying 39 points (including 16 goals) in 2011-12, and then gathering 27 points (10 goals) in 47 seasons in the lock-out-shortened season to go with the 7-10-17 record he accumulated in 20 games while playing for Tappara Tampere (which stands for ''Battle Axe''!) in Finland's SM-liiga during the work stoppage.

Not bad for a guy who was chosen fifth-last overall at the 2004 NHL draft, in the now-defunct 9th round. Now if he could just improve on his playoff record (5-9-14 in 58 games)... I think he'll get more quality ice time now that John Tortorella is the Canucks' head coach - not just because he finished third in team scoring this year, but also because he's the right size (6'1'', 185lbs), is fast, skilled, and not a defensive liability; guys like that usually get their 15-20 minutes under The Media's Enemy.

Which means the Canucks could have five 20-goal scorers next season with Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Hansen.

I had sent Hansen these three cards and a fan letter on March 20th, 2013, and got them back on July 8th, 2013, a three-month trip from one coast of Canada to the next and back. They were signed in black sharpie with his number (36) added at the end. Here they are:

First, his rookie card, from the last good-looking Canucks uniform (apart from their recent Vancouver Millionaires garbs):
The picture was obviously taken during a pre-game warm-up (notice the helmet isn't strapped on) and makes for a nice, clear pose. It's card #245 in Upper Deck's 2007-08 Victory set (it's his Rookie card). This served as the road uniform for a while, until the dark colours became the home jerseys.

Next up is the current home uniform:
Please excuse the crookedness... Not only do I hate the colour combination, spelling out the team's name and/or city on the front just looks cheap, minor-league, and unbecoming of an NHL franchise. But they're players are really nice, close to their fans. So I'll cherish this 2012-13 Score card (#456 in the set) by Panini, just as I will the next one:
From Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee set (card #224) comes a very concentrated Hansen waiting to pounce of the puck, a member of the visiting team.

I'm a huge fan of sets like Victory, O-Pee-Chee and Score, which come out to about a buck per pack for a bunch of cards (5 to 8) you can collect and get signed. It beats spending $100 on four cards with event-worn swatches and/or completely fabricated add-ons, and it reminds me of my childhood, where my ''tip'' for going to purchase milk or bread from the corner store for my parents would be a pack of 35-cent O-Pee-Chee cards in the late 1980s - 7 cards and a stick of bubble gum that got harder as the season went on, and could totally deface the top card - it's happened to me on a Wayne Gretzky!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ryan Ellis Autograph Card

And now for the third part in my 2012-13 Fleer Retro (by Upper Deck) box break, a card featuring none other than a Nashville Predators prospect I briefly mentioned yesterday, Ryan Ellis:
He's seen sporting the Preds' ugly yellow (home) uniform, one I find is way too similar to opponents' whites when they're confronted at Bridgestone Arena; they should have remained with some sort of combination using a dark shade of blue and grey. Just like yesterday's Jonathan Blum card, this card uses the design of the 1996-97 Skybox Autographics design  and is #96-RE in the set; this particular card, like the Blum one is from Group 'E' - found in every ten packs. Luckily there are 22 of them, so despite their large numbers, one would still be unlikely to stumble upon multiple copies of the same card. It was signed in blue sharpie, on a sticker.

Ryan Ellis was a first-round pick, chosen 11th overall in 2009, behind (in order) John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Nazem Kadri, Scott Glennie, Jared Cowen and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, and ahead of Dmitri Kulikov (14th), Nick Leddy (16th), Louis Leblanc (18th), Chris Kreider (19th), Jordan Caron (25th), Simon Després (30th), Jakob Silfverberg (39th), Robin Lehner (46th), Brandon Pirri (59th), Tomas Tatar (60th), Ryan Bourque (80th), David Savard (94th), Gabriel Bourque (132nd), and Gabriel Dumont (139th). All in all, it was a pretty good year.

Ellis is a stud defenseman who will be on the team's top pairing for years, perhaps even decades. He has won two Memorial Cups, and holds defenseman scoring records both for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires (ahead of a certain Joel Quenneville) and Team Canada at the World Juniors, where he also holds the country's assists mark. And while he lost the 2009 CHL defenseman of the year to Blum, he won it in 2011, along with the Player Of The Year award - a feat unheard of since Bryan Fogarty did it 22 years prior.

He has won gold at the U-17, and both versions of the U-18 (the regular IIHF one and the Ivan Hlinka Memorial), to go with one gold (2009) and two silver medals (2010, 2011) at the World Juniors.

An injury sustained at his first training camp with the Predators prevented him from dominating offensively for the 2009-10 season, but he honed his defensive skills the whole year to end up being ''the complete package'': sound defensively, great passer, speedy, and with a hard, accurate shot. Not all that physical (he is relatively small at 5'9''), he is more Kristopher Letang than P.K. Subban. He's got the right stuff, that's for sure.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Jonathon Blum Autograph Card

My second ''hit'' (yes, I'm pseudo-live-blogging in order!) from my box of Upper Deck's 2012-13 Fleer Retro is of Nashville Predators' prospect Jonathon Blum, a former first-round draft pick, chosen 23rd overall in 2007, ahead of T.J. Brennan (31st), P.K. Subban (43rd), T.J. Galiardi (55th), Wayne Simmonds (61st), Yannick Weber (73rd), Jamie Benn (129th), and Paul Postma (205th).

He was named CHL defenseman of the year in 2008-09, ahead of fellow Pred prospect Ryan Ellis and Florida Panthers wünderkind Dmitry Kulikov. and represented Team USA three times so far (once at the World U-18 and twice at the World Juniors), captaining it once (WJC, 2009); he won silver at the 2006 U-18, and failed to medal twice at the World Juniors.

I have full confidence he will become a top-3 defender in this league, but with Shea Weber, Ellis and new draftee Seth Jones doing it for Nashville, it could, ultimately, be for another team.

This is a beautiful card, almost making me forget how much I despise the Predators' uniforms:
Ugh, the piping and the sub-piping... looks like a bad teen-league football uniform. But the colours are great. The card uses the 1996-97 Skybox Autographics design (it's #96-BL in the set), and this particular card (a Group 'E') is found in every ten packs. Which explains why I've seen this card for a buck or two all over Ebay. It contains an on-sticker autograph in blue sharpie.

Noteworthy is Upper Deck's claim that 99% of autographs were obtained in person rather than by mail, reducing the chances of a fake signature.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Andrei Markov Autograph Card

With Panini resuscitating past 1990s brands Score, Donruss and the like and re-using some of the early sets' designs, Upper Deck - already manufacturers of the Fleer and O-Pee-Chee formerly-standalone brands - one-upped the retro market with their 2012-13 Fleer Retro set: the main set consists of merely 100 base cards, but there are tons of inserts, all of which use classic Fleer and Skybox designs.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a box for $160 (I've seen them go up to $250), and as I made the count in my head (100 cards per box, including 6 autographs), I figured I may as well go for it. If worse came to worse (say, all ''hits'' being of the Phoenix Coyotes and/or Columbus Blue Jackets) or if it went too well (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and/or Alex Ovechkin), Ebay could become my friend. Almost any other dream situation (finally getting a Joe Sakic or Wayne Gretzky autograph! - didn't happen - or a few Montréal Canadiens players) or regular situation (decent prospects, players I like and respect), I'd keep the cards.

My very first hit was of the Habs player I respect the most, Andrei Markov. While I've seen the card on Ebay since, going anywhere from $1 to $10, in my heart, having pulled it myself, it's pretty much priceless:
It's a sticker autograph, signed in blue sharpie. It's from the 1999 Skybox insert sub-set (card #99-AM), found approximately in every 20 packs. It shows Markov wearing the Habs' white (away) uniform, sporting the 'A' as he has been for three years.

Coach Michel Therrien has taken to calling him The General because his play was so dominating at the beginning of the season, though he seemed to slow down by the end of the season, especially in comparison to young stud P.K. Subban, Norris trophy winner. I, for one, think Subban wouldn't have gotten the trophy without Markov by his side, for one, and also, considering he'll turn 35 in December and his lack of playing time these past couple of years, think his 25 minutes of ice time per game may have been a tad too much in a shortened season where teams played four times a week. Of the old-school Russian mentality, Markov didn't stay at home for optional practices, and never takes a day off unless forced to. Like Charlie Sheen, he only has one gear: ''GO!'' 

With a full season under his belt (he played in the KHL during the lock-out) and now aware of his new limitations (particularly in regards to top-speed and pivoting), he should be back in the shape that made him one of the league's 5 best defenders for a decade, and may be worth putting on the ice for 22 or 23 minutes per game without trouble.

I just wish the once-savvy and knowledgeable Montréal crowd realized how important he and Tomas Plekanec are to the club and stopped talking about trading them. Sure, as their age rises and as their roles diminish, their salaries should do the same, but these home-grown, faithful veterans deserve to retire wearing the CH crest.