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.

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