Friday, August 30, 2013

Ryan Whalen Autograph Card

Once in a while, I like to buy a mix-and-match re-packaged grab-bag of mixed sports (I do prefer those with guaranteed 'hits' because I'll usually try to find out more about the usually-unknown player I'll score while I'm a it). One such pack gave me this card a little over a year ago:

It's from the Cincinnati Bengals' sixth-round pick in 2011, Ryan Whalen of the Stanford Cardinal (no 's') football team. It's from Upper Deck's 2011 Sweet Spot set (card #47, signed on-sticker in blue sharpie).

As every football season starts, there is always more action behind-the-scenes and in the news than on the field: Fantasy Leagues, free agent signings, pre-season injuries and roster cuts (NFL salaries, unlike in the NHL, aren't usually guaranteed, and cut players don't count against the salary cap), and of course the never-ending debate over whether College athletes should be allowed to take money selling their likeness (they currently are forbidden to), since everyone else does, from the schools themselves and the NCAA selling their jerseys, card companies selling their faces and names, TV networks paying all sides while profiteering from ad revenue...

It's relatively easy to argue for both sides: on one hand, the schools usually give athletes full scholarships, missing out on admission fees, providing the athletes with services such as dieticians, medical staff, training facilities, free food and housing and the like. The salary is the education - worth tens of thousands of dollars in the American system -  and the school makes that money back through, well, making that money back on the players' backs.

On the other hand, star athletes are much more in demand than pretty much every other students - including lesser athletes. They are asked to appear in school promos, press conferences, media interviews - all of this mixed with time on school benches and training. They don't have the same peace of mind not ability to enjoy College as most other students have. In theory.

In the end, athletes may get a little something, but giving them too much would result in class-action suits where past players would also want a chunk of change; also, if the pendulum swings too much the other way, full scholarships may only be offered for the top-tier, bankable athletes, and those from lesser-viewed positions (linemen in football, for example) or less popular sports (track and field, water polo) may be more affected than those in baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

But back to Whalen. He played 4 games in 2011, and 9 in 2012. His best game last season was against the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he caught 4 balls for 31 yards (a 7.8 average). He has yet to score a touchdown.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rick Tocchet Autograph Card

Power forward: a rare type of hockey player who possesses both the skills of a sniper (capability to score goals) and a grinder (hard-nosed role player who hits opponents in order to retrieve the puck and/or extenuate them). Usually among the most respected in the dressing room.

Examples: Jarome Iginla, John LeClair, Keith Primeau, Todd Bertuzzi, Cam Neely.

And Rick Tocchet.

I'll forever associate Tocchet to the Philadelphia Flyers, because he spent his first 7 1/2 and last 2 1/2 seasons with them, but he might like to have a special thought for the Stanley Cup he won with the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992.

He ended his career with 440 regular-season goals, 952 points and 2972 PIMs (yes, nearly 3000!) to go with a 52-60-112 production in 145 playoff games (471 PIMs), a Cup, another Finals, and a Conference Finals with the Flyers in 2000 in which he managed 11 points in 18 playoff games near the end of his career. He was also a four-time All-Star.

He amassed 150 penalty minutes or more (three times near the 300 mark) in his first 9 seasons ending his streak with 252 in 1992-93, nearing that plateau again in 1997-98 (157) and 1998-99 (147) as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes. That's just about where this card comes in, their original ''coyote on peyote'' white (home) uniform:
It's from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player (127 in the set) signed on-card in black sharpie. Apart from the autograph, the cards are exactly the same as the regular version, so you always had to be extra careful when opening packs to look for the 'special' ones. I've seen people open a pack in a store, get one auto and throw the rest away, and of course there'd be another one in it!

On a lesser note, he played a year and a half for the Los Angeles Kings, two half-seasons with the Boston Bruins and 13 games with the Washington Capitals, but non-hockey fans will mostly remember him from having run an illegal gambling ring while an assistant coach in Phoenix (one of his high-profile clients was Janet Jones, Wayne Gretzky's wife) while hockey trivia aficionados will remember his short head coaching stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning in which he merely won 53 of 148 games, finishing 5th and 4th of the worst division in the league, back when the franchise was a joke.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Craig Janney Autographed Card

There are two ways to look at the great career Craig Janney has had in the NHL. The first one would be to look at it as the story of a New England kid (born in Hartford, CT) who went to Boston College, got drafted in the first round by the Boston Bruins, became their first-line center, played in Olympics, World Championships and a Canada Cup, and mid-career fed Brett Hull amazing passes that made him (Hull) one of the most prolific snipers in NHL history, helping Janney finish at nearly a point-per-game pace.

The other way to look at it would be to compare it with Hull's previous star center - that he was traded for - the undrafted, never-played-for-a-national-team Adam Oates, who ended up in the Hall Of Fame on the strength of 1420 career NHL points - nearly double Janney's total.

And yet both sides would be correct.

Janney was the best American passing center of his time, which gave him access to national teams; he had 8 incredible seasons as a first-liner, and three as a role player, and only with the Bruins did he play for a legitimate contender. Oates started as an elite second center, and moved up the ladder to superstar status pretty quickly to also end up with 8 - albeit non-consecutive - dominating seasons, but on the Canadian depth chart, always fell behind Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, and Mark Messier - a list to which you are free to add the likes of Ron Francis, and Eric Lindros for some years; but Oates played for 19 seasons in total, and even his on-paper neglected teams made decent runs for the Cup, such as the 2003-04 Edmonton Oilers.

Longevity counts.

I truly respect Craig Janney. No one can take away his 563 assists or 751 points, nor his 110 points in 120 playoff games.

Plus, on this card, he's wearing the nicest St. Louis Blues uniform of all time:
It's from Upper Deck's 1993-94 Upper Deck (Series 1); it's card #303 in the set, part of the Team Point Leaders sub-set. He signed it in black sharpie in the mid-to-late 1990s after a game against my hometown Habs. He was playing for a team I didn't like, so either the San Jose Sharks or Phoenix Coyotes.

Notice how the twirl from his 'g' and the dot on his 'i' almost make it seem like he's wearing jersey #75...

Oddly enough, when I unpacked this after my move, I decided to put it in my ''keepers'' binder and start seriously collecting him, at least enough to fill a plastic sheet of ''special cards'' of his, so I looked for some on Ebay... all I saw were three signed cards, all three this exact same one, ranging from $1 to $15.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jarrod Skalde Autograph Card

Because I am a gullible person who believes what he reads on hockey cards, I was convinced Jarrod Skalde would have a great, long, flourishing career in the NHL, perhaps the New Jersey Devils' first, real star offensive leader. Basically, I thought he might go on to become Patrik Elias.

In the early 1990s, every set from every manufacturer had a rookie/''future superstar'' card with his name on it - sometimes both in the ''regular'' (Series 1) and ''update'' (Series 2) versions, then one in every set the following year showing his impressive point ratio (1 assist in one NHL game, 3 goals and 5 points in 3 AHL games) to prove that he was a sure-fire, blue-chip prospect.

It seemed he was a steal having been drafted in the second round, 26th overall, ahead of Patrice Brisebois (30th), steady defensive defenseman Bob Boughner (32nd), Canadian Olympian Rob Zamuner (45th), best defenseman of his era Nicklas Lidstrom (53rd), four-time Stanley Cup winner, Selke winner and Olympian Kris Draper (62nd), multiple 100-point man and Selke winner Sergei Fedorov (74th), Aaron Miller (88th), Dan Bylsma (109th), Hall of Famer Pavel Bure (113th), 25-to-30-goal man Donald Audette (183rd), Olympians Vladimir Malakhov (191st) and Arturs Irbe (196th), and two-time Cup champion Vladimir Konstantinov (221st).

I have asked for his autograph three or four times in my teens, and will feature those cards some day, but I'd like to concentrate on another one for now, one that shows him with the old-school San Jose Sharks teal jersey:
It's a signed insert from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player set (card #198), signed on-card in black sharpie. How would a future Devils superstar end up playing in San Jose, you might ask? It's actually more complicated than that. Brace yourselves...

After bouncing around from New Jersey and the AHL's Utica Devils for three seasons, he was demoted to the IHL's Cincinnati Cyclones to finish the 1992-93 season, then was picked by the start-up Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the expansion draft, but he split the season between the NHL and the San Diego Gulls.

The 1994-95 lock-out was of no help to him, so he spent the season with the Las Vegas Thunder with such players as Radek Bonk and Alexei Yashin, managing to put up 75 points in 74 games, bringing his then IHL statistics to 60 goals, 81 assists and 141 points in 135 games.

So back to the AHL it was for the 1995-96 season, first with the Baltimore Bandits, then the Saint John Flames when the Calgary Flames traded for his rights. He even played a game with the big team, going scoreless. He also spent the following season in St. John, combining for 59-76-135 in 133 games.

He signed with the Sharks as a free agent prior to the 1997-98 season, and that's when it got crazy. Not only did he spend time in both the IHL (Indianapolis Ice) and AHL (Kentucky Thoroughblades), he may have broken the NHL waiver wire:
  • 1998-Jan-08 Claimed off waivers by Chicago Blackhawks from San Jose Sharks
  • 1998-Jan-23 Claimed off waivers by San Jose Sharks from Chicago Blackhawks
  • 1998-Jan-27 Claimed off waivers by Dallas Stars from San Jose Sharks
  • 1998-Feb-10 Claimed off waivers by Chicago Blackhawks from Dallas Stars
  • 1998-Mar-06 Claimed off waivers by San Jose Sharks from Chicago Blackhawks
Apparently, the Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks had a little thing going...

And that was just the beginning...

In the next 10 years, he would play in 6 different leagues despite taking a whole year off. He played in the NHL (Sharks, Atlanta Thrashers, Philadelphia Flyers), AHL (Thoroughblades, Chicago Wolves, Philadelphia Phantoms, Utah Grizzlies, Springfield Falcons, San Antonio Rampage), IHL (the Grizzlies 5 years before their move to the AHL, the Orlando Solar Bears - yes! - and the Bloomington PrairieThunder), the Swiss-A league (Lausanne),  the Swedish league (Leksands IF) and Austria (Jesenice). All in all, he has played for 8 NHL teams, 9 AHL teams, 7 IHL teams in two different incarnations of it, as well as Austria, Switzerland and Sweden.

As The Beatles said in Norwegian Wood, ''This bird has flown''. He is the epitome of the journeyman player. He now coaches the Cyclones, and has led them to the third round last season.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Aaron Palushaj Autograph Card

Aaron Palushaj will start the upcoming season with his fourth NHL team despite having had the best year of his career with 9 points in 25 games with the Colorado Avalanche to go with his 10 points in 25 AHL games with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Indeed, the Avs - possibly through Patrick Roy, who had seen and heard of him through his friends with RDS' analysis team for Montréal Canadiens' games, Palushaj was let go by the Avs and signed a two-way contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. My guess is he forces their hand and plays between 5 and 10 minutes per game for them all year.

He had originally been drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the second round, 44th total, in 2007. He was sent to the Habs in exchange for since-departed Matt D'Agostini.

Despite being an accomplished playoff performer (and the Bulldogs' all-time-best playoff scorer), he was never used as an offensive weapon in the Canadiens' arsenal, instead playing sparse minutes on fourth-line duty, though at 5'11 and 185 lbs, he may be a tad small for an energy player.

At least I have this on-card, blue-foil autographed insert card of his to remember him by:
It's from Panini's 2011-12 Donruss Elite (card #207, with the mention that he's a Rookie) and is signed in blue sharpie.

I got it in a trade for another autographed insert card, possibly a common player from the Minnesota Wild (I recall the colour green).

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Theo Peckham Autographed Card

Theo Peckham was the 76th pick of the 2006 NHL draft, ahead of other notable prospects Kaspars Daugavins, 91st), James Reimer (99th), Richard Bachman (120th), Chad Johnson (125th), Pavel Valentenko (139th), Viktor Stalberg (161st), Mathieu Perreault (177th), and Erik Condra (211th). No All-Stars, perhaps one Olympian in Valentenko.

Upon picking Peckham, the Edmonton Oilers knew they weren't getting a sniper or a playmaker; he got 60 points over three seasons in Juniors (181 games), with seasons of 209, 236 and 173 penalty minutes. He did manage a pretty impressive 2005-06 OHL postseason with a goal, seven points and 32 penalty minutes in 11 games, but at 6'2'' and 235 lbs, he's more of a defensive defenseman.

He was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks this summer, so perhaps they're trying to get heavier on the back end to defend their title this upcoming season...

He did seem like a gentle giant when I met him in 2011 to have this card signed (then again, I'm 6'3'' and close to 275 lbs and had long hair until recently...):
The card is from Upper Deck's 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set (card #532, the Marquee Rookies sub-set) and was signed in thin blue sharpie - someone else's that he used to sign a few objects, mostly pucks since I was the only one with a card for him. He wore 49 and 24 as an Oiler, and though it looks like a '29', he was sporting #24 at the time.

I guess the Oilers feel they've upgraded by signing the equally-physical but more-experienced (and Stanley Cup winner) Andrew Ference to their line-up; the Hawks must feel that six seasons after having been drafted and an injury-plagued lockout-shortened season, he'll play with a chip on his shoulder for a championship-caliber team. All in all, could be a win-win for both teams.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bob Elliott Autograph Card

Bob Elliott was the first college basketball player to amass 2000 points and 1000 rebounds at the University of Arizona. When it came time to play pro, however, he only got to play three seasons in the NBA, for the now-defunct New Jersey Nets (now playing out of Brooklyn).

He does serve as the NBA Players Association president, plays with the Retired Players Association Band, plays a huge role in the NBA Cares program and was the colour commentator for the NBA Live game for years.

I got this card of his via trade (it was an add-on, not what I was after) about a year ago:
It's from Panini's 2011-12 Past & Present set (card #BE, the Elusive Ink insert sub-set), and is signed in blue sharpie on a sticker. I've seen some cards from this sub-set feature a colour picture; I'm not familiar enough with basketball to know if it's because those are current players or not (I don't know who B.J. Armstrong is), but I kind of wish this one was in colour, so I could know what that uniform really looked like.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Darryl Sydor Autograph Card

How lucky are the young studs on the Minnesota Wild's defense corps to have as accomplished an NHL defenseman as Darryl Sydor to coach them?

5 Stanley Cup Finals - 2 Cup wins - to go with a Memorial Cup, two All-Star Games, over 500 regular-season points and over 50 in the playoffs. Both team and individual success which, for team players, usually go hand-in-hand.

While I already had an in-person auto of him, finding this card in a pack of Pinnacle's 1996-97 Be A Player last summer convinced me to consider collecting him as a player more thoroughly. I'll now be accepting trades involving him (going my way).

I like that he's wearing the Dallas Stars' ''original'' (for that part of the franchise's history, at least) white (home) uniform, which may be the best they've had... until this year. I'm so glad they got rid of the generic city name and put a logo back on the front of their jerseys; plus, the new colours are reminiscent of the Hartford Whalers, and an Irish jersey I own - two definite plusses.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jeff Petry Autographed Card

This is a weird card for me. I think it's my only Jeff Petry card, and I didn't even purchase the set it's from, but I acquired the card in a trade of commons and got it signed in person, on a night that shifted a lot of things in my life.
It's card #658 from Panini's 2010-11 Score Rookies And Traded set, one that came at season's end and has, technically, that current season's statistics on the back, one of my pet peeves. It features Petry in the Edmonton Oilers' pajama-like white (away) uniform, trying to get the puck out of his zone.

The son of former baseball pitcher Dan Petry, the defenseman is known for his hard shots more than his passes and has so far spent two-and-a-half seasons with the Oilers, going 3-9-12 (with 29 PIMs) in the locked-out season's full 48 games last season.

He has already played twice for Team USA at the World Championships, playing a large role (2 goals, 4 assists and 6 points in 9 games) while the U.S. finished seventh in 2012, and going pointless in 10 games while winning the bronze medal this year. That experience will no doubt serve him well in the future, and he may even become an Olympian in 2020.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Anze Kopitar Swatch Card

Oh, man, Anze Kopitar!

The 11th overall pick of 2005, the lone NHL Slovenian player would probably have been chosen second overall after Sidney Crosby (and perhaps Bobby Ryan) in retrospect... a point-per-game (on a defensive-minded team no less), large center at 6'3'' and 225lbs, already a Stanley Cup champion who has 34 points in 44 career playoff games... the potential cornerstone of pretty much any organization save the Penguins (Evgeni Malkin), Ducks (Ryan Getzlaf) and Flyers (Claude Giroux and Vincent Lecavalier)...

I know I've been dreaming of him since the 2005 draft! He's also the main reason why I like to stay up late at night and watch Los Angeles Kings' games on TV. I hadn't liked a King so much since Wayne Gretzky left town in 1996.

So when I picked this card up at the tail end of a pack of Panini's 2010-11 Limited (card #46, numbered 6/199), I was ecstatic:

The foil looks better in real life, obviously, and it's a nice black swatch, likely from the dark home jersey, pictured in front of the card. I like that the swatch doesn't hide the Kings' (part-time) logo, nor the assistant-captain's 'A'; the Kings change uniforms so often, I'm kind of always happy to get a collectible card of any variation in any given season.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jeff Brown Autograph Card

While a member of the Québec Nordiques, Jeff Brown was one of my favourite NHL defensemen. A powerplay specialist with a killer, hard shot, he was kind of his generation's Sheldon Souray. His plus/minus stats weren't all that great, though, and not all of them can be blamed on the lowly Nordiques: he even managed to be -6 while recording 25 goals for the St. Louis Blues in 1992-93, and -11 the following year, split between the Blues and the Vancouver Canucks while scoring 14. That season, though, he did go 6-9-15 for the Canucks on route to a Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Finals.

As a matter of fact, he was almost a point-per-game player in the post-season, with 20 goals, 45 assists and 65 points in 87 playoff games, including 12-in-12 in 1989-90, 12-in-13 in 1990-91, and 11-in-11 in 1992-93.

This is one of the rare cards depicting him in the Carolina Hurricanes' uniform, since he completed the 1996-97 season playing for the Hartford Whalers (who became the Canes during the summer), and was traded mid-season in 1997-98 to the Toronto Maple Leafs:
It's from Pinnacle Brands' 1997-98 Be A Player, a signed (in black sharpie) insert version of card #89. Released mid-season (Pinnacle had a habit of preferring to release products in calendar years rather than right before seasons started), it bears a mention on the back that he was sent to the Leafs on January 2nd, 1998.

He had to retire from the NHL due to concussions, but is still in the game as the head coach of the USHL's Indiana Ice, where I might send him a TTM request this year, after having won a championship coaching the NAHL's St. Louis Bandits.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Francis Lessard Autographed Card

Francis Lessard was a pressure player and terrific zone defender in Juniors - even going as far as making a Memorial Cup All-Star Team alongside Brad Ference -  but when it came to the pros, where players of his type abound, he had to resort to his other skill: fighting. After seasons of 312, 338 and 295 PIMs in Juniors, his numbers went up to 416 in his first AHL season with the Philadelphia Phantoms, and 330 in his second year. That's when he caught the eye of the Atlanta Thrashers and was involved in ''his'' second trade, though the NHL's ''eternal bar code'' system which ties him with the fact that he was the 80th draft pick in 1997 makes it as though this was his fifth, as that pick had been traded three times before being used by the Carolina Hurricanes - first from the Colorado Avalanche to the New York Islanders, then to the Calgary Flames, then to the Canes. And when the Philadelphia Flyers - who love players from Québec, particularly the tough ones - saw what he was made of, they acquired him from the Canes themselves, meaning the 80th pick of 1997 had been traded a total of five times before even playing a single game in the NHL.

But he did manage to play with the Thrashers - 5 of them in 2001-02, a season in which he also won the Calder Cup with the Chicago Wolves. Lessard's reputation was becoming one of a tough guy with discrete leadership skills who could help his teams go far in the playoffs.

Despite signing as a free agent with the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes, he wouldn't play another NHL game between 2006-07 and 2010-11, this time with the Ottawa Senators, though he spent more time with their AHL affiliate, Binghamton Senators. He played 24 games with the Sens, going 0-0-0 with 78 PIMs.

He played last season in the LNAH with the Cornwall Riverkings, which is how I got this card signed:
I got his to sign this team-issued 2010-11 Binghamton Senators card in blue sharpie prior to a game versus the Sorel-Tracy Éperviers. I try to attend at least one LNAH game per year, usually with my dad. I saw three last year. It's good-time minor-league hockey, with most guys playing to keep in shape - and because being part of a hockey team's the only thing they've ever known.

The talent level in this league is pretty good, with about a third of the players having played at least an NHL game or a few full AHL seasons, the rest all being important players on their Junior teams. It used to be all about fighting, but it's common now to ''merely'' see two fights per game.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Jeff Fassero Autographed Card

After a brief break in reality, which led to hockey-time temperatures, I decided to not taunt the Gods and return to the summertime classic, PED-fed America's Pastime with this autographed card of past Montréal Expos star starter Jeff Fassero:

Like his role on the team, his uniform number changed over the years: he started wearing 39 when he was considered mostly a middle reliever, then switched to 13 when he became a starter.

With the Expos, he was particularly great in 1993 (2.29 ERA, 140 Ks) and 1994 (2.99 ERA) on great teams, but wasn't recognized league-wide until 1996, when he finished 9th in Cy Young (best pitcher) voting, despite no longer being the team's star, having been surpassed by Pedro Martinez.

After that season, he moved on to the Seattle Mariners, the first of 8 MLB teams that would use his services, but would never again be a star-caliber player.

This i a bizarre card I don't remember owning or having purchased, be it in a pack or individually, from Skybox's Fleer '97 set (card #377); I don't remember the card, but I remember having him sign one/it for me in blue sharpie in 2003, when he was a member of the St Louis Cardinals. Maybe he signed a lot at a time, and gave the wrong ones back to people, or maybe my memory's becoming faulty with age. Yet, here it is,in all its matte glory - no, can't blame that one on the scan, the card really does look this way!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Nik Antropov Dual Jersey Card

In the trade that netted me this Montréal Canadiens triple-swatch and this Detroit Red Wings dual swatch, one card I made sure to keep was this Nikolai Antropov card:
Sure, it's a card of him with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team I try to avoid at all costs. In my hierarchy of teams, it's Habs first, then a thought for my former-favourite Québec Nordiques, then teams Wayne Gretzky played for in chronological order, then the American Original Six teams plus the Colorado Avalanche, then the Canadian teams except the Leafs, then the rest of the American teams, followed by the AHL teams, the KHL and all European teams, the ECHL teams, the LNAH, Junior teams, beer-league teams, then people who don't play but watch on TV, then those who don't watch but read some box scores in the papers, then (...), then golf, then cricket, then (...), then lawyers, then politicians, then insects, then, perhaps the Leafs.

But my first 'hit' after nearly a decade of not purchasing cards was of this gentle giant - and I'll feature it as soon as I unpack it. But I decided to collect him despite the Leafs thing.

He signed a two-year deal with Astana Barys of the KHL last weekend. As a Habs-killer, I'm not so sad to see him leave, but it's too bad it had to be the way he did - after a season misused as sometimes the third-line center (a role that should have been reserved for under-producing Olli Jokkinen), gathering 18 points in 40 games with the lowly Winnipeg Jets. He didn't get the offers he was expecting on this side of the pond, so he went to Russia with the hopes of reviving his career - perhaps with an Olympic medal in tow.

I got a six-card return from him a year ago.

This card was from Upper Deck's 2005-06 SPx set (card #WM-NA of the Winning Combos insert set, numbered 177/350); it features a nice, dark blue swatch and a white one, both official Leafs colours.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jessica Hall Autograph Card

Jessica Hall is a model, TV personality (she hosted shows on MTV - such as Burned - and can be seen in her close friend Kendra Wilkinson's Reality TV shows) and also hosts a show on Playboy radio. Her younger sister Stacie Hall played in the MTV series The Hills. She also married secretly in 2011, fearing her Playboy fans might like her less if they found out she wasn't available. Because she's never heard of Shannon Tweed or Demi Moore, probably.

I've known her mostly as a Benchwarmer model, though, like in this card from their 2011 Vault set (card #RG-5 of the Racer Girls autograph sub-set):

There were 20 cards in this sub-set, most (all?) of which used pictures used in previous sets (not autographed) put in front of a new background and autographed, on-card in black sharpie. There are limited-issues as well, signed in coloured sharpies.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Henrik Zetterberg & Nicklas Lidstrom Dual Jersey Card

Present-day captain? Check.
Past captain? Check.
Sure-fire Hall Of Famer? Oh yeah, check, maybe even twice.

From Upper Deck's 2005-06 SPx set (card #WC-RW, the Winning Combos sub-set) comes this numbered (340/350) dual jersey card featuring two Detroit Red Wings stars:
On the left, current captain Henrik Zetterberg, who sent me this tremendous TTM return barely a month ago. His jersey swatch is pinker, must not have been dry-cleaned...

On the right, former captain and best defenseman of his generation, Nicklas Lidstrom, who sent me a TTM return a year ago. I pulled another double-swatch of his a few years back, though he was alone on that card.

I received this in a trade late last week, along with this Saku Koivu, Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk card, featured yesterday.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saku Koivu, Lars Eller & Alex Galchenyuk Triple Jersey Card

So far, this is the best pick-up I've had in a while. Maybe more than a year. I got it in a trade (along with tomorrow's card!) in exchange for 15 common swatch cards (mostly of the Upper Deck Series 2 variety) of players from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers...

So, no one I really wanted to keep nor start collecting actively, for two cards featuring 3 captains and 4 superstars... and the first one, a triple-jersey card from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Trilogy (card #PPF-MON, the Star Spotlight, Past Present & Future sub-set):
Saku Koivu: the longest-serving captain in Montréal Canadiens history. 10th all-time for points (641 in 792 Habs games, ahead of Hall Of Famers such as Elmer Lach, Pete Mahovlich and Hector 'Toe' Blake), 6th all-time in team assists with 450 (ahead of Hall Of Famers Yvan Cournoyer, Maurice 'Rocket' Richard, Doug Harvey, Steve Shutt, Bernard 'Boom-Boom' Geoffrion and Dickie Moore), all of this despite rarely playing with players of the caliber others on the list have played with (Mark Recchi being the lone, possible HoF exception), usually playing with the likes of Richard Zednik, Brian Savage, Chris Higgins and Martin Rucinsky, making them better point-getters than they were anywhere else.

Off the ice, he's also beaten cancer, given season tickets away to needy children, and helped gather enough money to help local hospitals buy better equipment. The only thing fans could ever pin on him negatively in his 13 seasons here was the fact that he didn't learn French to communicate with fans better, as all previous captains had, and most players prior to the 1990s, most notably (in my lifetime) Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson; for everything else, he was exemplary and legendary. Representing ''the past'' on this card is a no-brainer.
Lars Eller: having him represent ''the present'' is a bit of a puzzle to me, because while he has had a 4-goal game, he has not yet come even close to fulfilling what his potential leads us to expect from him. He is still considered the team's third-line center, behind David Desharnais (though he seems on the downhill) and Tomas Plekanec (whom many fans - NOT ME! - would like to see get traded to make room for the second and third players on this card, as he likely would get the best return, meaning he'd be valuable on other teams, as if he wouldn't be here, but that's a story for another day). I like the guy, and his 30 points last season (in 46 games) was an improvement from his previous year's 28 (in 79 games), but that has as much to do with Desharnais' decline  as the fact that he subbed on the first line playing wing to make up for injuries for half the season. He's still a project, though.
Alex Galchenyuk: the type of player you build your franchise around. P.K. Subban is - deservedly - getting most of the positive press, and Carey Price is - deservedly - getting most of the negative press (trade HIM!), but Galchenyuk is the real deal on offense. When he gets settled into the #1 center role (in a couple of seasons, I'd say), Plekanec can move down to #2 as the shut-down guy whose production will dip from 60-75 to 40-50 points, and it'll be fine. "Galchy'' is as deft a playmaker as he is a sniper, and he'll eventually grow into his 6'1'' frame (and maybe even grow an extra inch) to become a player like Jonathan Toews - minus perhaps the leadership skills, but with more of a physical presence. In juniors, he was a two-point-per-game player, and there is no reason to think that he won't gather 75-95 points for a decade when he hits his stride.

I honestly haven't seen such a hard-working natural talent since... Joe Sakic? I mean, Alexei Kovalev (a.k.a. 'The Artist') had off-the-charts talent, but could take two or three nights off in a row and flip the switch back on when he felt the limelight was worth the effort (see: All-Star game in Montréal, eclipsing everyone else including Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin). Galchenyuk has all-world talent like those guys (a notch below Kovalev, Malkin and Ovie, honestly), but the drive of a fourth-liner, and a will to learn that Subban has also discovered.
This team will be an exciting one for years. Probably not a Cup contender due to question marks in net, but a Conference Finalist contender for sure, though playing in the NHL's best division (alongside perennial front-runners Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators, with Toronto, Tampa Bay, Florida (eventually moving to Québec?), and Buffalo also fighting for the final playoff spot) might mean missing the playoffs a few times.

But an offense led by Gachenyuk, Max Pacioretty, and Brendan Gallagher, with specific two-way roles held by Plekanec and Eller, and grit provided by Brandon Prust, George Parros, Gabriel Dumont and Ryan White make for a solid core. Add to that the second-line potential of Sebastian Collberg, Charles Hudon, and Jacob De La Rose and you can build around a bunch of guys who are not question marks. Unfortunately, I see a guy like Louis Leblanc on the move, possibly to one of the Florida teams, where he'd be an ideal fit on either team's second line.

Add a defense led by Subban,with Raphael Diaz as a back-up on the right side for the powerplay, the passing skills and tremendous vision of Andrei Markov (ideally moving back to 20 minutes per game instead of 25), the physical presences of Jarred Tinordi and Alexei Emelin, and time to groom Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn by playing soon-to-be-retired Francis Bouillon and soon-to-be-the-man-out/former-future-captain Josh Gorges and you've got one the best back-ends in the league.

In nets, the team hadn't drafted anyone not named Carey Price prior to Zach Fucale last month, with steady Peter Budaj in the back-up role for the last and next two seasons. Price was invited to Team Canada's development camp, but I personally think it'd be the wrong decision for him to make the team (though he's a long-shot, ahead of James Reimer and Braden Holtby for sure, but behind Roberto Luongo, Corey Crawford and even former Conn Smythe and Cup winner Cam Ward in my opinion). Because if he plays and melts down - which is a definite possibility - he'd not only cost Canada a medal, but his confidence level could plummet and even prove costly to the Habs, à la Tommy Salo after this goal, who still have 5 years remaining on Price's deal, at a ridiculous $6.5M per season, who would then become untradable, while he still holds some value now.

To think Ben Bishop and Corey Schneider were worth a second-rounder (a year ago and at the draft, respectively), and Jonathan Bernier fetched a back-up goalie, a second-rounder and an over-achieving 30-point man... and Vezina winners Tim Thomas and José Theodore are still free agents, as was Ray Emery earlier in the summer, and Tomas Vokoun was last year... Jaroslav Halak is on the trade block...

There are far more good, affordable goalies than there are #1 spots, so sticking with anyone who has a 6-year career and a 9-17 (2.90 GAA, .905 save percentage) playoff record to show for it (and making a specialty of losing to Boston and Philadelphia) despite his team once being a #1 seed and being a #2 seed last season, and a 2.59 GAA and .905 % the season in which the highest-ever contract awarded by the team kicks in, and having the third-highest cap hit of all NHL goalies to show for 0 hardware nominations (not even a Calder, a trophy Scott Gomez and Andrew Raycroft have won) doesn't bode well.

On the other hand, Chris Osgood has three Stanley Cups. Come to think of it, he also has two Jennings trophies and a Second Team All-Star nod, so never mind that.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Justin Dibenedetto Autograph Card

Justin Dibenedetto has always taken small steps towards improving his game, first in juniors, where his production went from 9 to 30 to 63 to two consecutive 93-point season, then for the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the New York Islanders' system, going from 14 to 30 to 41 points (including 20 goals, in 55 games).

He must have felt that was worth more than an 8-game stint in the NHL, though, because he spent the 2012-13 season in Austria, registering 44 points in 49 games. Either he's reached his level, or he's on another climb uphill which, on the verge of turning 25, is actually likely.

I found this signed rookie card of his in the dollar bin at a comic book shop last year:

It's from Panini's 2011-12 Certified set (card #184, the Freshman Signatures sub-set) and is signed in blue sharpie directly on the card, a rare feat for Panini. He's seen sporting the Isles' current home uniform, using its classic colour scheme with a more modern design of large lines rather than small ones. The rainbow colouring is a reflection of the foil on the scanner.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

David Segui Autographed Card

When you're a kid, you can start following (or liking) a player for reasons as simplistic as having pulled their rookie card from a pack. Such was the case for me and then-Baltimore Orioles prospect David Segui, having pulled his rookie card in Donruss, Topps and Score.

First traded to the New York Mets, where he led the National League in defensive statistics for a first basement, he was then traded to the Montréal Expos early in the 1995 season, a big-name arrival after a summer that saw All Stars Larry Walker (Colorado Rockies), Marquis Grissom (Atlanta Braves), Delino DeShields (Los Angeles Dodgers), Ken Hill (St. Louis Cardinals) and John Wetteland (New York Yankees) walk away in free agency, the 'small-market'' team (though ironically second-most profitable market in hockey) not able to match the excessive salaries offered by (mostly) classic teams. All of which would go on to win championships in the near future.

Segui's end-of-career didn't go without controversy, as he was found to have used HGH (human-growth hormones) during his career, as well as anabolic steroids. But he had a doctor's prescription for the HGH, which he'd used for a long time to counter an insufficiently he'd always had.

His specialty, at bat, was doubles, notching 25-30 almost every season, with a peak of 42 in 2000 splitting his time between the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers.

I got him to sign this card for me in black sharpie (all I had at the time, and usually still the case - when they're signed in another colour, it's usually a sign that a player used someone else's for multiple items) in 1997:
It's from Donruss' 1997 Donruss set (card #187). I also had one of him wearing the Orioles' uniform, but I must have traded it away.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gil Heredia Autographed Card

I fell on some signed baseball cards while unpacking, so I figured I'd keep up with the theme I started with the Wilfredo Cordero card and add Gil Heredia to the mix.

Heredia was a fine middle relief pitcher for the mid-1990s, most notably on the Montréal Expos. As for the rest of the team, his 1994 season was particularly great, with a 3.46 ERA and a 6-3 record, 62 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 39 games.

When he joined the Oakland Athletics (A's) in 1998, they made him a starter, a role in which he was also quite efficient, going 13-8 (with 117 Ks and 34 walks) in 1999 and 15-11 (with a 4.12 ERA, 101 Ks and 66 walks) in 2000.

As a matter of fact, he led the American League in 1999 for walks per nine innings and finished second for strikeout/walk ratio. Honestly, I didn't think he had that kind of domination in him.

He signed this card for me in blue sharpie prior to a game in 1995:

It's from Fleer's Fleer '95 set (card #353), picturing him in the Expos' grey (away) uniform. The card has a pseudo-foil effect, but it's more like pre-photoshop extra colours than actual foil.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Patrick O'Sullivan Autograph Card

Patrick O'Sullivan is widely considered one of the biggest draft ''busts'' in recent NHL history, but most of the other cases aren't as documented as his, and we can easily pinpoint its origins to an abusive father, career minor-leaguer John O'Sullivan, who even went as far as banging on the rink's glass and shouting (swearing) at his son during an OHL game, making the family problems public. Patrick filed for a restraining order on John.

Projected as a first-rounder, Patrick was instead chosen in the second round, 56th overall, in 2003, the strongest crop of the last generation.

After averaging almost a goal per game and two points per in Juniors, Patrick entered the AHL on a similar high note, re-writing the Houston Aeros' history books with 47 goals and 93 points as a rookie. Still, his rights were passed around ten times as he suited up for a total of 5 NHL teams so far, twice belonging to the Phoenix Coyotes and going through both Alberta teams.

He now plays in Europe.

With 161 points in 334 NHL games (he's never played in the post-season), his statistics aren't awful, but they're far removed from what most blue chip prospects manage. His Team USA totals are more impressive, though, what with 29 points in 28 games with Junior teams (and gold at the 2004 World Juniors as well as the 2002 U-18 tournaments) to go with 14 points in 19 men's games. At 28 years old, though, chances are his peak years are past him, if not most productive.

I got this card in a trade for a Bryan Allen autographed card and a few minor league singles because I had another autograph card of his that I figured I'd put in a binder together, and because I was already deep into Panini's 2012-13 Fleer Retro inserts:

Like most of my own pulls, it uses the 1996-97 Skybox Autographics design; they do, after all, come in every ten packs... This one is #96-PO in the set and shows him wearing the Coyotes' white (away) jersey, a simple-yet-effective hockey design, though to make it more classic, the purple could be changed for maroon...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Marian Hossa Swatch Card

Marian Hossa has been through a gamut of situations in his career, from an all-around talent under-used and almost under-recognized with the Ottawa Senators to lost in a non-hockey market with the Atlanta Thrashers to a last-second non-trade to the Montréal Canadiens (won instead by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have a knack for that sort of thing - see Jarome Iginla - maybe GM Ray Shero has a wide array of compromising photographs of all his colleagues in one of his drawers) to a Stanley Cup Finals loser with both the Pens and the Detroit Red Wings to, finally, a key cog in two Cup championship teams with the Chicago Blackhawks. Quite a resume, no?

Often forgotten playing behind talents such as Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Hossa should nonetheless pass the 1000-point mark next season (he currently stands at 935 in 1018 games), and passed the 400-goal mark in December 2011. He also has 43 goals and 113 points in 152 playoff games despite starting his career on a Sens team that had a nasty habit of getting completely shut down by Pat Quinn's Toronto Maple Leafs.

A Slovak player, he also has a reasonable chance at an Olympic medal this coming winter; Team Slovakia finished 4th in Vancouver in 2010, on the strength of incredible goaltending by Jaroslav Halak, steady defense by Zdeno Chara, and Hossa's 9 points in 7 games. He has 67 points in 71 games with his country's men's teams, despite starting out at 18 years old and having never medalled.

I've been a big fan of his since his days in Ottawa, though I lost track of him a bit when he played for the Thrashers. I think he's a perfect fit on the Hawks, though, and that's why I'm very happy to have this card:
It's a foil card (hence the rainbow-tinted background on the scan) and is from Panini's 2010-11 Limited set (card #28 in the set) and contain a white swatch of the Hawks' away jersey, pictured. It's numbered 149/199.

Had he been a center rather than a winger, I'm sure he'd be as widely highly regarded as Pavel Datsyuk. He's probably happy playing in his teammates' shadow, though.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Wil Cordero Autographed Card

Writing the words ''Puerto Rco'' and ''baseball'' on my regular blog earlier today inspired me to revert back to America's Pastime today and feature this card of the Montréal Expos' Wilfredo Cordero:

It's from Pinnacle Brands' 1995 Score collection (card #386), back when he was an All-Star shortstop. After moving on from the Expos, he was turned into a (fine) outfielder, but never again went to the mid-summer classic.

Then again, he looked good on the 1994 Expos because, well, everyone did. They had the best record in baseball (ahead of the New York Yankees, and well ahead of everyone else) on the strength of one of the best outfields in history (Moises Alou, Larry Walker and Marquis Grissom), so strong that Cliff Floyd had to play first base. Budding star Rondell White - also on the rise - was confined to the bench for pinch-hitting presences, still hitting .278, while the pitching rotation included Jeff Fassero, Ken Hill, eventual multiple-Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez, Butch Henry and Kirk Rueter, while the bullpen included one of the best closers in history in John Wetteland, and the best set-up man of his generation (turned fine closer in his own right) Mel Rojas.

Jeff Shaw, Tim Scott, Gil Heredia and Denis Boucher rounded out the pitching staff of a team favoured to win the World Series had it not been for a season-ending strike. Most Montrealers felt their love of the game end at that time, while the rest of us waited until Jeffrey Loria bought the team and dismantled it while collecting government grants and pushing out local investors who went from owning 67% of the team to 10% just by not answering Loria's multiple calls for extra capital.

Cordero came back to the Expos amidst this power struggle in 2002 and 2003, no longer an elite player on a team that struggled a bit on the field carried only by powerhouse slugger Vladimir Guerrero rather than a whole cast of star players, finishing an impressive 2nd in the East in 2002, but 4th in 2003 - they would end in last place (5th) in their final season of existence, not even attracting a million spectators, as people were fed up with being played as pawns in a game that didn't give a rat's ass about them other than squeeze out the last possible bit of money possible out of their pockets, knowing full well every dime spent on the team didn't even go to the players - the lowest-paid in the Majors - but instead went directly to Loria and son-in-law David Samson, who were going to spent it on the purchase of the Florida Marlins, whose fans are destined to be played in the same manner.

It was during that period that I met Cordero, who was nice enough to sign this card for me in black sharpie. In his second stint with the team, he was no longer wearing #12, though; he sported #26.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Jan Bulis Autographed Team Postcard

I'm finally ready to knock off another card on my Habs Numbers Project, with #38, Jan Bulis:
A star player in Juniors for the Barrie Colts, Bulis was chosen 43th overall (in the late second round) by the Washington Capitals in 1996, ahead of Pierre Dagenais (46th), Colin White (49th), Zdeno Chara (56th), Oleg Kvasha (65th), Jon Sim (70th), Arron Asham (71th), Mark Parrish (79th), Toni Lydman (89th), Éric Bélanger (96th), Michal Rozsival (105th), Andreas Dackell (136th), Robert Esche (139th), Dan Hinote (167th), Pavel Kubina (179th), Willie Mitchell (199th), Tomas Kaberle (204th) and Sami Salo (239th).

In all honesty and quite objectively, he's had as good a career as anyone on that list not playing defense, though he never became the point-per-game player the Caps had hoped for when they drafted him. The Montréal Canadiens, however, after having acquired him along with Richard Zednik for Dainius Zubrus and Trevor Linden, taught him the finer points of playing well in his own zone and winning important defensive face-offs, and he became a decent two-way, third-line center for years, first for the Habs, then with the Vancouver Canucks, before making the move to Russia, where he's a 0.75 point/game forward who usually scores more than he gets assists.

I met him during the 2002-03 season, at a team event, during which he signed my team postcard in blue sharpie. He was a nice fellow, though a bit on the reserved side. He is seen here wearing the Habs' white (then-home) uniform, awaiting a pass from a a teammate.

He has represented the Czech Republic twice, both times in 2006, winning bronze at the Torino Olympics and silver at the Riga World Championships, though he has recorded no points in 17 senior team games (on teams stacked with talent such as Tomas Plekanec, Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Martin Straka, Martin Erat, Milan Hejduk, Ales Hemsky and Vaclav Prospal, mind you).