Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Edward Pasquale: 6 Autographed Cards

After sifting through the (amazing) backlog of last week's deliveries, I'll be up-to-date with this terrific Edward Pasquale return:
Pasquale is the epitome of irony: he has been as consistent as can be, but because his teams haven't been, his statistics look like a roller-coaster ride through the highest peaks and the lowest valleys, regardless of the level he played at.

What he does is play a positional style, using his 6'3'' frame and 215 pounds to cover a lot of net and lets the puck hit him, and with playoff save percentages like his .940 rating in the OHL in 2008-09 and .923 at the AHL level in 2011-12, one can assume it works wonders for him. He leaves a bit of open net on purpose on the glove side and anticipates shots heading there to swiftly grab them out of thin air. I'm not sure how that'll translate to better shooters at the NHL level, but only time will tell.

Only once has he lost less games than he's won, and that was with the lowly St. John's IceCaps in 2012-13, going 15-23-4 in 43 games, making 1109 saves in the process. He has had seasons of 1821 and 1677 saves with the OHL's Saginaw Spirit, as well, prompting the Atlanta Thrashers to draft him in the 4th round in 2009.

He's still with the organization despite their becoming the Winnipeg Jets, though his contract expires at season's end. When young goalies lose patience, they tend to move on to Europe these days; I don't know if Pasquale is considering it, but I hope he gives the AHL another season, perhaps as the official 50-plus-game starter and impress the team enough to give him an NHL contract for 2015-16.

I had sent Pasquale these six custom cards from my own Hell's Kitchen 2013-14 Series 2 set (all variants - A, B, C, D, E, and F - of card #39), first showing him with the IceCaps' white uniform:
Also, three featuring him in the IceCaps' prettiest - particularly on the upright card - dark blue uniform (yes, I tried a few colour combinations for the background), showing him covering a lot of net from the wide side:
There's also one of him wearing the Jets' training camp practice jersey:
All six were sent to him along with a fan letter on March 11th, 2014, and all were signed in thin blue sharpie, with his AHL uniform number (40) tagged at the end, and received last Monday, April 28th (2014) - a 48-day return from the 2009 CHL Prospects Game MVP.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Robert Mayer: 10 Autographed Items

To close off my returns list from last Friday (after Scott Mellanby, Stéphan Lebeau and Sven Andrighetto) comes my largest return ever, nearly a year to the date after my first return my Robert Mayer:
Here's what happened: I really like Mr. Mayer; he's a pretty good goalie and (obviously) a great guy. Because of my four-card return last season, and the fact that he re-signed with the Montréal Canadiens organization rather than play overseas this year and the next, I wanted to thank him in the few ways I can: I went to a few Hamilton Bulldogs games this year (road trip!), and when I decided to write to him again on April 1st 2014 with custom cards to sign, I included extras that he could keep and do what he wanted with; what he did instead was sign them all, along with the index cards, and sent them all back, signed in red sharpie, in his unique autograph that includes his jersey number (29) in the twist after the last 'R'. As I mentioned before, I received it last Friday, April 25th, 2014 - a 24-day return!

The big knock on Robert Mayer is a perceived lack of consistency, how he can be great one game and let in a ''soft'' goal or two the next. My answer to that is two-fold: first, can't the same be said for established NHL goalies such as Carey Price and Antti Niemi? And secondly, there isn't anything soft going in per se, just a lazy generalization about people who don't study the art of goaltending and blindly follow the opinions of commentators, who view anything new as inherently negative.

First, let's talk about pedigree, because that's what those folks use as a reference in the number of chances a player can get at the NHL level: sure, he isn't a first-round pick, but he was a playoff MVP in his first professional season with the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones; the move to the AHL wasn't all that easy in 2010-11, but he has posted terrific records in the three seasons since, improving each year:
-2011-12: 2.94 GAA, .909 save percentage on the last-overall team
-2012-13: 2.93 GAA, .908 save percentage on the last team in their division
-2013-14: 2.80 GAA, .909 save percentage on the last-overall team
On teams that score merely two goals per game - and where the leading scorer doesn't net 20 - those stats are amazing.

Here is what he does well: he's extremely athletic, and his glove-hand is NHL-ready, reminiscent of Mike Vernon in his Calgary Flames Stanley Cup days.

Here's how he is different from the current norm of NHL goalies: he's 6'1'', not a giant. Therefore, his style just cannot be of the ''sit back calmly and cover the net, just barely sliding from side to side'' variety.

Who we should keep in mind when judging him are Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur; granted, I didn't like them very much, but one thing Hasek had was the element of surprise, as shooters never had the slightest idea how he would react in any given situation, and Brodeur likes to come out and challenge shooters, then has the agility (despite his weight and shape) to compensate for wrong decisions should they occur.

What Mayer needs to work on: when to move further out in front of his blue circle, and when to keep the back of his skate in the blue paint, at least. And possibly his lateral butterfly slides, at least when he reaches the next level, where he will inevitably be facing quicker adversity. He needs to make absolutely sure his defenseman covers the empty man on 2-on-1s so he can concentrate on the puck carrier and then come out, because if the D doesn't intercept the puck, it can lead to an empty net to shoot in, and the inevitable cries of ''weak'' goals.

Keep in mind that NHL defenders make less mistakes than their AHL counterparts, though, so that might be less of a problem in the higher echelon.

I've gotten back to teaching young goalies this year (at the pee-wee and bantam levels), and when I'm showing them how not to conform to just one style, Mayer has been an example I've given them. But every goalie should be helped by a coach who will use their protégé's abilities as the basis of their tweakings, not forced into a style that doesn't match their personalities, skill level and/or body type. Mayer has what it takes over the shoulders to endure the grind of a long season, and just needs a bit of work (and more freedom) to do what he needs to do from the neck down.

Here's a closer (and un-doubled) look at the custom cards I sent, all showing him with the Bulldogs' white uniform:
They are all variations (A, B, C, D) of my Hell's Kitchen 2013-14 Series 2 set (card #24) and, yes, one of them has a much lighter shade of the Habs' bleu-blanc-rouge than the rest, possibly a result of the printing.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sven Andrighetto: 8 Autographed Items

Part three (of four) of my tremendous returns from last Friday, this time involving Sven Andrighetto, who was an AHL rookie this year and yet was invited by the Montréal Canadiens to join their taxi squad for the playoffs - the only player among the dozen to not have any NHL experience.
Sven Andrighetto was a pro in Switzerland by the time he was only 16, and by 18 he had 23 points in 38 games in their B league. The Zurich native then made the move to North America, playing in the LHJMQ with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, posting a 36-goal, 74-point rookie season (in 62 games), followed by a 31-goal, 98-point sophomore year (in 53 games) in 2012-13.

Drafted by the Habs in the 3rd round (86th overall) in 2013, he made the move to the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs this year, starting off slowly, but finishing on the team's top line with 44 points in 64 games (second in points and third in goals on the weakest team in the league).

At just 5'9'' and 188 pounds, he is not the power forward fans have been dreaming about, but he has a strong work ethic and good speed. His hockey sense is a definite plus, as he can slip to a third-line role should a slump occur and help the team in a different way than just by posting points.

In a year, he will likely already be the best forward on the Swiss Team in international competitions. I have seen roughly a quarter of the Bulldogs' games this year, and he was one of the most consistent players in the second half (he was benched and scratched a lot when the season started). He'll be a solid second-liner, I'm just not sure it'll be with the already-small Habs...

I had written Andrighetto on March 17th, 2014 and sent along these six custom cards, and received them all back on April 25th (2014), signed in black sharpie, with his jersey number (27) tagged at the end, with the added bonus of signed index cards. It was a 39-day return from Montréal to Hamilton!

Here are the cards, all variants (A, B, C, D, E, and F) of card #58 of my Hell's Kitchen 2013-14 Series 2 set, showcasing all three uniforms worn by the Bulldogs this season, starting with the white uniform:
He's already pretty good at figuring out where to sign... here's one of the ''regular'' red uniform, which I probably could have cropped better:
And lastly, two of the awful-yet-not-so-bad camouflage uniform:
And the index cards, one more centered than the other:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Stéphan Lebeau: 6 Autographed Items (Part 1)

Here is the second part of my amazing return from yesterday, with 1993 Stanley Cup winner Stéphan Lebeau:
Undrafted after improving in four consecutive juniors seasons with the Shawinigan Cataractes, posting 79 points (41 goals) in 66 games his first year then 146 points (69 goals) in 72 games, 167 points (77 goals) in 65 games and a whopping 188 points (94 goals) in 67 games, he was signed to a minor-league contract by the Montréal Canadiens, who sent him to their AHL affiliate.

In his rookie year with the Sherbrooke Canadiens, he scored 70 goals, assisted on 64 more for 134 points in 78 games, winning the points race, the MVP trophy and being named rookie of the year - enough to ensure he would never again play in the minors.

He became a regular with the Habs in 1989-90 and had 15 goals and 35 points in 57 games. The next three seasons, his goals totals improved to 22, 27 and 31, and his points followed the same path at 53, 58 and 80 - good for fourth on the team in both categories, behind Vincent Damphousse (39-58-97), Kirk Muller (37-57-94) and Brian Bellows (40-48-88), established veterans with All-Star pedigree. That was 1992-93, the year the Habs last won the Cup - and the last time a Canadian team won the championship.

I have four cards to show for that period, first with the Canadiens' white (home) uniform, from Pinnacle Brands' 1990-91 Score (card #262), calling out for a pass to get on the attack (and showcasing his signature blue skate bottoms):
Notice how he's not sporting his usual #47 jersey but is wearing #50 instead? That fits him right into my Habs Numbers Project...

I also have three relatively different variations of the classic red (then-away) uniform, first the ''regular'' one, from Upper Deck's 1990-91 Series 1 set (card #51):
 And also two from the league's 75th anniversary:
The card on the left, from Pinnacle Brands' 1992-93 Score (French Canadian Version, card #246), is the regular jersey with the commemorative patch; the card on the right is a throwback jersey (with the commemorative patch thrown in for good measure) from the 1925-35 era, when the team's logo was also present on the left sleeve whereas numbers weren't, and is from Upper Deck's 1992-93 Series 1 set (card #213).

        (continued in the following post)

Stéphan Lebeau: 6 Autographed Items (Part 2)

        (continued from the previous post)

The next season started slower for most of the team, and Stéphan Lebeau was among those who paid for it, as he was traded mid-season to the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim. Over two half-seasons in Anaheim - the second one due to the lock-out - Lebeau had 34 points in 60 games; to put it into context, his 16 assists in 1994-95 were second in team totals and his 24 points were good enough for third, despite having missed 10 games due to injury.

From that era, here is a beautiful 1994-95 Pinnacle card (#67 in the set) from Pinnacle Brands (notice how his skate bottoms are now black):
Teal and purple, so 1990s! I chose to feature Lebeau today because of this card: the Anaheim Ducks winning last night, and the Los Angeles Kings (notice the defender on the left of the card?) playing a team that is usually teal-coloured tonight (the San Jose Sharks).

Still, despite being one of the team leaders in Anaheim, the Mighty Ducks chose not to offer him a new contract, and he spent his final six years of pro hockey in the Swiss League, playing for three different teams for two seasons each, totaling 349 points (143 of them goals) in 222 games.

Upon retiring, he first moved back to Sherbrooke and became involved in minor hockey at Bishop's College (Midget AAA), until he was named an assistant coach with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs this year. My guess is he'll be the team's head coach before next Christmas.

I had sent him these 5 cards on April 3rd, 2014, care of the Bulldogs, and got them all back signed in black sharpie - with his jersey number (47) on the top-right of his autograph - 22 days later (April 25th, 2014), along with this note on one of the index cards I'd used to protect the cards:
It reads: ''Hello Sebastian, thanks for your comments, Stéphan''.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Scott Mellanby: 6 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

Today was an awesome day for returns, my best in a couple of years for sure!

In honor of the Philadelphia Flyers' win over the New York Rangers earlier tonight, I thought I'd start with one of their former 25-goal scorers, Montréal-born hard-nosed power forward Scott Mellanby.

The 27th overall pick of the 1984 draft, Mellanby proceeded to play his first two games less than two years later, at the tail end of the 1985-86 season. Over the course of the next seven seasons, spent between the Flyers (5 years) and the Edmonton Oilers (two), he was a steady 20-goal, 40-point, and 150-penalty minute man, playing a rough shut-down game that included punishing opponents and scoring clutch goals - usually game winners.

He had two deep playoff runs with the Flyers, 24 games in 1987 (10 points and 46 penalty minutes) and 19 games in 1989 (9 points and 28 penalty minutes), both times losing in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Oilers, who he was traded to (essentially for Jari Kurri) prior to the 1991-92 season.

These two cards show him wearing the Flyers' 1980s uniform I grew up watching:
On the left, in the white (home) uniform, is card #242 of Pinnacle Brands' 1990-91 Score (American), while the card on the right, in the orange (away) uniform, is from Pro Set's 1991-92 Series 1 collection (card #172).

Because the Oilers were so deep, though, he was relegated to a lesser role in Edmonton despite entering his prime; sure, he got 50 points in his first season with the team, but in 16 playoff games, he was only credited with two goals, an assist and 29 penalty minutes. These two cards are from that era:
On the left, wearing the Oilers' classic blue (away) uniform, is card #119 from Upper Deck's 1992-93 Series 1 set, while the card on the right - showing him in the team's white (home) uniform - is from Topps' 1992-92 Topps set (card #444).

        (continued in the following post)

Scott Mellanby: 6 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

         (continued from the previous post)

When 1992-93 came to an end and he had ''only'' registered 15 goals and 32 points (147 penalty minutes) in 69 games, Scott Mellanby was left unprotected for the expansion draft and quickly chosen by the Florida Panthers, with whom he had an immediate impact.

He scored the very first goal in team history, still shares the team record for most assists in a single game (4), and made hockey folklore by killing a rat in the team's locker room, prompting a craze known as ''rat trick'', where fans would throw plastic rats on the ice every time the team scored a goal.

He had two 30-goal and one 27-goal seasons with the Panthers, and was considered an elite power forward in the NHL in the mid-to-late 1990s.

After leading the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996, he was named its captain in 1997, a position he held until 2001, when he was traded to the St. Louis Blues, with whom he did post a 26-goal, 57-point season (with 176 penalty minutes) in 2002-03.

His last team was the Atlanta Thrashers, with whom he had two 12-goal seasons and was their captain for his entire run with the team.

All told, he played in 1431 regular-season NHL games, captained two teams, scored 364 goals, assisted on 476 others (good for 840 points), with nearly 2500 PIMs. Plus a 24-29-53 production (and 220 PIMs) in 134 playoff games that resulted in 3 Cup Finals.

These cards show him with the Panthers:

On the left, from Pinnacle Brands' 1993-94 Score (card #503), we see him wearing their white (home) uniform, in his usual position near the opposing goalie's crease; on the right, from Pinnacle Brands' 1994-95 Score (card #102), he's wearing their red (away) uniform with the alternate captain's 'A' stitched on his chest, fighting for puck possession with the New York Islanders' Pierre Turgeon.

I had sent Mellanby a fan letter and these six cards on February 2nd, 2014 - care of the Montréal Canadiens, where he is the Director of Player Personnel - and received them back on April 25th (2014), 81 days later, signed in (a fading) black sharpie. A tremendous return from a player I have always respected, though as a Habs and Colorado Avalanche fan, he was always on the wrong side to openly cheer for!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ryan Smyth Autographed Card

When future civilizations uncover the remains of our history and enter Rexall Place in Edmonton, they'll see five Stanley Cup banners and close to a dozen banners with numbers and names hanging from the rafters, ranging from 3 (Al Hamilton) to 99 (Wayne Gretzky), and figuring out through our printed material that 99 was the very best there ever was at whatever ''ice hockey'' was, they might assume that the one hanging right next to him, 94, with Ryan Smyth's name on top of it, would be second in line. If I'm still around when that happens, I will do nothing to try to convince them otherwise - apologies to Mark Messier and Jari Kurri.

I mean, sure, Mess has two Cups more than Gretzky does, a Hart trophy and a Conn Smythe. Whoop-dee-do, considering the teams he's played on. Smyth? He was often the one posting the best on-ice results despite even all the articles praising him suggesting he may have been the least talented player on the ice the whole time, that it was all accomplished out of sheer will and hard work alone. All of it: an All-Star Game; a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals; 6 international gold medals (including an Olympics and a World Cup) and one silver with Team Canada, often as the captain (6 times); 1270 regular season games with 360 goals, 456 assists and 842 points (again, on ''no talent''), with 59 more points (28 of them goals) in 93 playoff games.

I like that despite Andrew Ference being the Edmonton Oilers' captain, the team put the 'C' on Smyth's chest for his final game, on April 11th. As this 2003-04 Quest For The Cup card from Pacific (#43 in the set) can attest, it wasn't the first time:

Indeed, he was the de-facto choice to wear the 'C' when the captain would be injured from 1997 onwards, and often during the pre-season as well. But he was also such a tremendous leader that he didn't need it to be stitched on his chest to give it his all, and the results would show up on the score sheet as well, with seven seasons of more than 25 goals (with a top of 39 in 1996-97) and a good 50-60 guaranteed points by year's end, with a career-best of 70 in 2000-01 and 10 different seasons over the 50 mark.

Stability, leadership, dedication, consistency. Had the Mark Messier award (for best leader) existed in the 1990s and 2000s, Smyth may very well have won it... over Messier himself.

Thanks for the memories.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

R.J. Umberger Jersey Card

Looks like the Columbus Blue Jackets are going to make this a series... good, because I chose them to win in seven games, mostly because R.J. Umberger has proven to be a clutch playoff performer in the past while with the Philadelphia Flyers. He hasn't been as big of a factor thus far, but did assist on the overtime winner tonight to tie the series at 2 apiece.

Chosen 16th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in 2001, he has had a better career so far than anyone chosen after him in the first round, though later picks Mike Cammalleri (49th), Jason Pominville (55th), Craig Anderson (73rd), Patrick Sharp (95th) and Cristobal Huet (214th) would likely have been earlier first-rounders with the benefit of retrospect.

The Pittsburgh native never did play in Vancouver, as they traded his rights before he played a single NHL game - in their defense, he did sit out an entire season to avoid having to play in the Canucks organization - and though he was sent to the New York Rangers, he elected to sign with the Flyers as a free agent instead.

Apart from his sophomore season, he can be counted upon to provide 40-50 points each year, and as I previously mentioned, he loves the post-season, with 21 points in 30 playoff games so far, highlighted by his 10 goals and 15 points in 17 games in 2007-08 with Philadelphia, and 3 goals in 4 games with Columbus the next year.

Here he is wearing the (fortunately) short-lived, mostly-orange uniform the Flyers wore in the mid-00s, from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Be A Player Portraits card (#FE-RU in the First Exposures sub-set), featuring a photo-shoot-worn piece of jersey:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Valtteri Filppula Jersey Card

An anomaly in the Detroit Red Wings' system at the time because he hails from Finland and not Sweden, Valtteri Filppula first rose to prominence in 2007-08 as he posted 19 goals and 36 points in his sophomore season and 11 points in 22 playoff games to help the Wings win the Stanley Cup and just kept improving from there.

The next year he posted 40 points through 80 games in the regular season and another 16 more in 23 playoff games as the Wings lost in the Cup Final. In 2009-10 he posted 35 points in just 55 games, and the next season he slipped a bit to 39 points in 71 games (though with 16 goals to show for it), but exploded in the post-season with 8 points in 11 games.

2011-12 was the year he made his mark as the team's second-line center with 23 goals and 66 points, but he opted to leave Detroit after the lock-out and signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning last summer. He responded with a career-best 25 goals and 58 points, but Tampa was swept in the opening round by the Montréal Canadiens mostly because Ben Bishop was injured and couldn't help his team. It was probably disappointing for him, though I would have liked to see him play with Steven Stamkos when the deciding game was tied at two.

It's as good a time as any to feature this 2006-07 Be A Player Portraits card (#FE-VF in the First Exposures sub-set) by Upper Deck:
It shows him wearing the Wings' classic white uniform, with a decent-sized red swatch from a rookie photo shoot jersey.

He has won three bronze medals with Team Finland: two at the World Juniors (including the 2004 one where he made the All-Star team), and at the 2010 Olympics.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Jarome Iginla Autographed Card

I (finally, after failing at the 2009 and 2012 All-Star Games) met my former favourite captain Jarome Iginla after a game at the Bell Centre last month, as he had collected an assist in a 4-1 Boston Bruins win over the Montréal Canadiens. He was accepting compliments but the whole team seemed in a hurry to get out of town, and I thought I wouldn't get him to sign for me... but he did.

I told him how for so long, he and Joe Sakic represented the pinnacle of leadership for me (forgot about Saku Koivu, but I wasn't there to make a Buzzfeed list), and how though he's a Bruin now - Montréal's fiercest and biggest rivals - I wouldn't mind if they won another Stanley Cup if it meant his name was to be engraved on it, but that it'd be even better next year with another team (his answer ''let me guess, the Habs?''); then he proceeded to sign this 2001-02 Heritage card by Topps (#40 in the set) in blue sharpie:
It shows him wearing the Calgary Flames' turn-of-the-millennium black uniform with the fiery horse logo - and notice how he wasn't captain yet: it only happened in 2003. Don't let the scan fool you: the card is in great shape (I had a plastic box), but the penny sleeve I put in it afterwards may not have been new.

He has just completed his thirteenth 60-point season and twelfth 30-goal season. He has 560 goals (and counting), over 600 assists, and nearly 1200 points in some 1300 games, plus 32 goals and 63 points in 71 playoff games so far despite rarely playing alongside players of his caliber.

Individually, he has an Art Ross trophy (points leader), two Rocket Richard trophies (leading goal-scorer), a Lester B. Pearson award (now the Ted Linday award as MVP voted by the players), a King Clancy (leadership off the ice and humanitarian contribution) and Mark Messier trophy (best leader) to go with his Rookie Team (1997), First-Team (2002, 2008, 2009) and Second-Team (2004) All-Star nominations and six All-Star Game appearances.

As a team player, he has two Memorial Cups with the Kamloops Blazers, and many gold medals with Team Canada, including at the World Juniors (1996, where he was also the tournament's MVP), World Championships (1997), World Cup (2004) and Olympics (2002 and 2010).

The Hall Of Fame will definitely be calling.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

P.K. Subban Autographed Card

I've been waiting to showcase this card for a while, because I'd sent P.K. Subban 3 cards and a fan letter in November 2011 with special cards, including a Score Hot Rookies card, one of him wearing the Carolina Hurricanes' uniform from an All-Star Game and maybe an AHL card; I never received anything back.

That same season, I met him before a game and he signed this card for me of him wearing the Hamilton Bulldogs' white (home) uniform, from In The Game's 2009-10 Heroes And Prospects set (card #64), signed in blue sharpie:
I hadn't posted it before because I didn't want to double-post the same player in too close a time span, but I think I can write those off at this point and concentrate on what lies ahead.

Subban won his first Norris trophy last season, and while he hasn't been as dominating this year - with Andrei Markov taking back the #1 defenseman spot - he still managed to finish second in team scoring with 53 points, despite having been benched more often than ever before in his NHL career.

He's been back to his old self in the playoffs as well, with two assists in the second game of the Montréal Canadiens' series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

He also won his first senior-team Team Canada gold medal at the Olympics this year to go with his two World Juniors gold medals, though he didn't play much as the team's seventh defenseman.

One thing's for sure, his is one of the next two Habs jerseys I'm buying, along with Alex Galchenyuk's.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Donald Audette Autograph Card

I made my predictions for the first round of this playoff season on my regular blog, and I followed my heart for all of the series except one (I'm rooting for the Detroit Red Wings against the Boston Bruins, who I believe are a stronger team with a much better goalie). That means I'm rooting for the Los Angeles Kings in their series against the San Jose Sharks, so I thought I'd feature a card that referenced them:
It's from In The Game's 1999-2000 Be A Player Millennium Signature Series (card #121 in the set), a beautiful silver foil autographed insert card signed in thin black sharpie of Donald Audette, one of the consistent 25-30 goal scorer of the Dead Puck Era.

Oddly enough, in the year and a half he spent in L.A., he had a great impact, finishing second on the team in both goals and points in his lone full season with the team in 1998-99 despite playing in only 49 games. His 18 goals were a long way from Luc Robitaille's 39 (in 82 games), but two ahead of Glen Murray's total of 16 (in 61 games); his points total of 36 was far behind Robitaille's 74, but one ahead of Rob Blake's 35 (in 62 games) and two ahead of Jozef Stumpel's 34 (in 64 games).

He would have his best offensive output with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2000-01, with 32 goals, 39 assists and 71 points in just 64 games, which was his second-highest games total, behind only the 77 he played with the Buffalo Sabres in 1993-94. He never once played a full season.

All told, he finished his career with 735 NHL games played with 6 different teams (two stints with the Sabres), 260 goals, 249 assists, 509 points and 584 penalty minutes in the regular season. He also has 21 goals and 48 points in 73 career playoff games. He wasn't a Hall Of Famer, but his All-Star Game appearance (in 2001) wasn't a fluke either, he was a solid performer for most of his career.

These days, he's an amateur scout for the Montréal Canadiens, and I sent him a fan letter (through the team) earlier this season.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Jacob Markstrom: 3 Autographed Cards

Jacob Markström is a 24-year-old Swedish goalie who already comes with an impressive pedigree, having dressed for Team Sweden 5 times thus far: at the U18 once (4th place), the World Juniors twice (silver in 2009 when he was also named the tournament's top goalie, bronze in 2010) and the World Championships twice (gold in 2013, bronze in 2010) - and probably another appearance at the Worlds this year.

He has a good butterfly and the perfect size (6'6'' and just under 200 pounds) for his style, a good glove hand, good agility and covers his angles well. With a proper goaltending coach to look for the best angle to put his legs in, he'll be able to cover up the five-hole and reach the space next to the post accurately enough to only have to work on his blocker-side and lateral push for the next decade or so.

The first player selected in the second round in 2008, he was the third goalie drafted but already has achieved a lot more than the two chosen ahead of him, Chet Pickard (18th) and Thomas McCollum (30th); as a matter of fact, Jake Allen (32nd), Braden Holtby (93rd), Dustin Tokarski 122nd), Kevin Poulin (126th) and Anders Lindback (207th) are the only other goalies in his draft class to have made the slightest impact in the NHL so far.

Like all of them, Markström has proven to be too good for the AHL (his save percentage in the minors is above .920 over 4 seasons) and just needs to find his groove behind a capable NHL defense, which his original team - the Florida Panthers - could not provide. He was traded from the Panthers to the Vancouver Canucks on March 4th (with Shawn Matthias) for Roberto Luongo and Steven Anthony, but it remains to be seen if the Canucks can rebound and provide him with better stability.

Ironically, if nothing changes in front of the crease, he'll be sharing the net with Eddie Lack, who served as his back-up in 2009-10 when both were with Gävle Brynas IF.

I had sent Markström a fan letter and four cards on March 17th, 2014 and received three back, signed in black sharpie, on April 16th (2014), a 30-day return. He kept the card showing him with the Rochester Americans, but sent back the three of him with the Panthers.

I'll start with the best-looking uniform, the newest version of the red (home) one, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set (card #83):
And now, the white (away) uniform:
The card on the left, from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Series 1 set (card #122) shows the Reebok Edge version of the white uniform, with the ugly blue piping in front, whereas the one on the right, from Panini's 2012-13 Score set (card #213) shows the jersey as it always should have been.

Though it would have been nice to have him in the Americans' uniform, I'm more than happy with this return as is. If anything, I'll try him again in a couple of years with cards of him with the Canucks. This brings my reception total for letters sent in 2014 to 12/70.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Darryl Sutter: 2 Autographed Items

Darryl Sutter was a heck of a hockey player, and is proving he's also a heck of a coach, losing in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Calgary Flames in 2003-04 and winning the Grail with the Los Angeles Kings in 2011-12.

Born the same year my mom was (1958) and drafted the year I was born (1978), Darryl Sutter spent his entire career with the Chicago Blackhawks, whom he also coached for three seasons. He played parts of 8 seasons with the team, captained it from 1982 until 1987 (with Bob Murray taking over for 30 games while he was injured in 1985-86), and finished his career with 161 goals, 279 points and 288 penalty minutes in 406 regular-season games - and an even better 24 goals and 43 points in 51 playoff games.

I had sent Sutter a fan letter and two cards (one wearing each of the Hawks' uniforms, home and away) on March 30th, 2014, care of the Kings (the team he's currently coaching), and got one back, signed in red sharpie, along with a signed index card, on April 16th (2014) - a 17-day return. The card he returned is the one depicting him in the Hawks' red (away) uniform, from Topps' 1985-86 Topps set (card #100):
It shows him getting ready for a face-off, with the same stoic face he still has today. After Brent (once and twice) and Ron, he is the third of the first-generation Sutters I have gotten to since starting this blog; I also have a swatch card of Brandon's (Brent's son), who is part of the second generation of hockey's Royal Family.