Monday, June 30, 2014

Sam Gagner Prime Jersey Card

Sam Gagner already had a bizarre career, starting when the Edmonton Oilers made him the 6th-overall pick 2007 to five consecutive 40-point seasons with many observers thinking he maybe should have produced 20 points more per, to holding or sharing three team records - most points in a game (8, tied with Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey), most points in a period (5, tied with Jari Kurri), and most consecutive points (11) - to 38 points in 48 games in the locked-out season to an underwhelming 10 goals and 37 points in 67 games this past season.

Which might explain why the Oilers felt sending him to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Teddy Purcell was a good thing, but it's kind of disappointing to see that sending him to the Phoenix Coyotes for a sixth-rounder also cost Tampa B.J. Crombeen...

At least he gets a fresh start, and a real shot at a #1 center role.

Here he is wearing the Oilers' mid-00s pyjama-like sub-par blue (home) uniform:
It's from Panini's 2010-11 Luxury Suite set (card #28 in the set, featuring a regular jersey swatch and a ''prime'' one with two colours and stitching, numbered #138/150). It fits well with this Jason Spezza Prime Jersey card...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Glen Wesley Autographed Card

There was a lot of Heritage and ''keeping it in the family'' picks at the 2014 draft, what with Donald Audette's son Daniel going to the Montréal Canadiens (who employ the father...), Ted Donato's son Ryan getting drafted by the Boston Bruins, but the biggest ''hockey DNA'' pick has to be John Wesley, chosen by the Carolina Hurricanes, the team that retired his father's jersey and that employs him as its director of development for defensemen.

Because I'm a Habs fan, I'll always associate Glen Wesley with the Bruins more than the 'Canes, but I understand if he feels differently, especially considering he spent almost two thirds of his career with that organization and just one third in Boston - though Carolina did send him off to the Toronto Maple Leafs once, which I personally would never forgive, but he went right back and signed with the Hurricanes the following summer.

He was recognized as an individual star player while in Boston (All-Rookie team in 1987-88, All-Star Games in 1989 and 1991), losing two Stanley Cup Finals with the Bruins in 1988 and 1990; he won a Cup in Carolina in 2006 after losing another one in 2002.

All told, he played in 1457 regular-season NHL games, scoring 128 goals, with 409 assists, 537 points and 1045 penalty minutes (plus 15-38-53 and 141 penalty minutes in 169 playoff games). He signed this card in blue sharpie for me during the 2006 playoffs:
It's from Pro Set's 1991-92 Series 1 collection (#1 in the set), showing him wearing the Bruins' long-time white (home) uniform.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mike Ribeiro Jersey Card

Every six months, I write a post about Mike Ribeiro, because he's a tremendously gifted hockey player, and because I have a lot of stuff of him... but also because his making the news gives me a reason to feature him. This summer is no exception, as he was bought out by the Phoenix Arizona Coyotes with three years remaining on the 4-year contract he signed just last summer.

It started rather politely, too:
But when questions were asked, answers were given.
Worse still, a parting shot at ''the guy who is seeking help'':

But perhaps his ''antics'' (mostly late-night drinking nowadays, other matters were involved earlier in his career) had finally caught up to him on the ice. I mean, sure, the Coyotes didn't have wingers to put his nifty passes in the net, but his 47 points in 80 games were even down from the 49... from the previous, locked-out 48-game short season with the Washington Capitals (and before you think of it, he was almost never paired with Alex Ovechkin on his wing).

It's harder to practice or play after a night of partying when you're 34 than it was at 21. Perhaps this will serve as a wake-up call. This was, after all, his first season that wasn't close to the point-per-game range or as his team's leading scorer since 2004-05. I still see him as one of the best play-making centers in the NHL, and I could see him proving naysayers wrong with a mid-sized one-year contract, in the $3-4M range.

And so I end this with another blast from the past, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 1 set (card #S-MRi of the Shooting Stars sub-set), showing him with the Montréal Canadiens' white (then-home) uniform and a matching good-sized swatch to go with it:

Friday, June 27, 2014

Ryan Kesler Swatch Card

Apologies to James Neal, but the biggest trade of the day was Ryan Kesler's. And I say this despite the fact that I'd welcome Neal on my hometown Montréal Canadiens more easily than Kesler at present time.

Neal can score 30 goals with any center, and 40 with any pure passer, but Kesler gives the Anaheim Ducks the best one-two punch at center in the Western Conference, and the rarity of having both he and Ryan Getzlaf being right-handed shots; and the Vancouver Canucks got a ton of assets back: Nick Bonino, poised to become a permanent fixture on any team's top-6, Luca Sbisa who at worst is an overpaid #6 defenseman but still has the potential to become a solid #2 or 3 guy, and Anaheim's first-round pick (24th overall) and third-round pick (85th), which they sent to the New York Rangers for Derek Dorsett.

So, a potential 70-point man (at worst a 50-point top-6 guy), a potential #2 defenseman (at worst a #6), a first rounder, and a grinder who happens to be a Stanley Cup finalist - for one Selke winner, with the cap hits almost evening out. A lot of folks are yelling in Vancouver right now, but Jim Benning just laughed this one all the way to the bank. I'm a little skeptical about the Jason Garrison trade, but he had become expendable after Sbisa's acquisition, and he got a top-50 pick for him -  which could turn out ok - in addition to freeing up cap space right now.

Kesler, like everyone on the Canucks, had a pretty disappointing 2013-14 season, though he did manage to net 25 goals; his 43 points are his lowest total since 2007-08, however, and was his second consecutive less-than-50-point season in a row, the locked-out 2012-13 notwithstanding, where he merely played 17 games (13 points) anyway.

It remains to be seen who'll play on his wing, though, but I'm fairly confident he'll get his numbers back up, perhaps not to the 70-point level, but probably at least in the 25-goal, 30-assist range. This card, like the one I featured in March, shows him wearing the Canucks' white (away) uniform, though the all-blue swatch could be from the blue (home) uniform:
It's from Panini's 2010-11 Limited set (card #79 of the set, a beautiful foil card numbered 104/199).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Steve Smith Autograph Card

Ironic that I had written a 3-year late post on Steve Smith just last April and that he has now signed to be an assistant coach with the Carolina Hurricanes. Whether he's leaving the sinking Edmonton Oilers ship or if they felt they needed new blood is still left unsaid, but Smith had been an assistant coach there for the past 4 years, and they usually like to employ their alumni in important team capacities.

However, Smith had more impact than just with the Oilers, despite his three Stanley Cups in Edmonton; as a matter of fact, he took the Chicago Blackhawks to the Finals in his very first season there and also played for Team Canada at the 1991 Canada Cup, meaning a significant amount of ''hockey heads'' considered him to be among the six or seven best Canadian defensemen at that time.

And so it didn't come as much of a surprise that In The Game chose to picture him with the Hawks (and the alternate captain's 'A' prominently displayed on his chest) for their 2013-14 Decades - The 1990s set - it's card #A-SSM of the Autograph sub-set, hard-signed in thin black sharpie, though ITG used a low-resolution picture, as they often do:
Still, it's a nice headshot (and fine way to get around copyrights issues), with ample room to sign, and I like that the backs of the cards acknowledges the player depicted on the front:
I split of box of these with two other collectors a couple of weeks ago. I got the three autographs, which may not have been worth what I paid for them monetarily, but totally fit in with my card collecting and blogging, particularly my recent and upcoming posts. Product details and checklists can be found here. We bought ours here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Paul Stastny Jersey Card

The new CBA has brought forth innovative provisions, particularly when it comes to Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs); the past CBA tried a few manoeuvers, namely pushing the free agency date back 6 days (to July 7th), but this time around, they went back to the usual date (July 1st), but with an option where teams can start talking about their interest (and courting players) on June 25th, which was today.

And who is the best forward on the market - or at least the best for potentially the longest time? That would be Paul Stastny, career member of the Colorado Avalanche, and son of Hall Of Famer Peter Stastny, who played for the franchise's previous incarnation, the Québec Nordiques.

I cannot fathom Paul playing for another organization (though he did grow up in St. Louis, a place his father still calls home), unless he ''came back home'' and played for the Montréal Canadiens - sure, they were the Nordiques' fiercest rivals, but they are the last remaining team in the province, and both of Paul's hockey-playing uncles - Anton and Marian - still live in Québec, and he'd be close to his birthplace.

I think for a $1M difference or less per year, he'll choose to remain with the Avs, and continue providing leadership on a team that will only get better. In case he doesn't, though, here is one of the cards I will remember him by with the Avs, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 set (card #GJ-ST of the UD Game Jersey sub-set), featuring a burgundy swatch while the card shows him in the Avs' white (away) uniform:
Of course, it comes complete with deceased UD (former) CEO Richard P. McWilliam's certificate of authenticity:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Yanic Perreault Autograph Card

Might as well combine the opportunities to acknowledge St. Jean Baptiste Day (a.k.a. Québec's National Holiday) and score another one (#94) for my Habs Numbers Project...

It's my third Yanic Perreault post in nine months (with more in the pipeline!), so I might not have anything new to say, but as the Hall Of Fame inductees were named yesterday, I could only be happy that Eric Lindros didn't make it in, for the fourth time.

I make the parallel because both players were drafted in the same year, and both were dominating their own Juniors league - Lindros in the OHL, Perreault in the LHJMQ; but when they were opposed, Perreault usually had the best of Lindros, first at the pre-draft CHL All-Star Game, then in the NHL where while Lindros had three amazing seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, Perreault could shut him down by winning face-offs, as he was the best of his era in that specific category.

Don't get me wrong, I prefer a 100-point producing wrecking ball of fury than a guy who wins 60% of his draws yet passed the 55-point mark only twice. Generally.

Except Lindros came with so many other problems, chief among them his parents, who doubled as his agents. He refused to report to the team that drafted him (the Québec Nordiques), and after being given the Flyers captaincy, held out a whole season because of a contract dispute. He could never bring his team a Stanley Cup, and was below the point-per-game production at every senior international competition (34 in 36 in total despite a 17-point, 8-game World Championship in 1993 when his Flyers failed to make the playoffs), Canada Cup (5 in 8), World Cup (6 in 8 despite being in his prime), and he had a single goal in 6 games in the 2002 Olympics, the only time he medaled in three Olympiads, FOR TEAM CANADA.

And most of his supporters argue that his production is comparable to that of others who were struck with a history of injuries, chiefly Pavel Bure and Peter Forsberg. Except that's just looking at the first number of each stat line:

Bure: 779 points in 702 games, Soviet League Rookie Of The Year, Calder trophy, 2 Rocket Richard trophies, 1998 Olympics best forward award

Forsberg: 885 points in 708 games (171 in 151 playoff games), 2 Cups, Calder, Hart, Lester B. Pearson trophies, 2 Olympic gold medals (4 gold total), 5 silver medals, two-time Triple-Gold Club member, 8th of all time in points-per-game

Lindros: 865 in 760 games (just 53 playoff games), Hart and Lester B. Pearson trophies

Lindros played in 50 more games than Forsberg to get 20 less points. ''Oh, but Forsberg played on the same team as Joe Sakic''. Exactly: both were centers, and both were taking ice time from one another, not feeding each other for easy goals. As a matter of fact, they often had to split the talent level on the wing to try to accommodate both of them and balance things out, whereas the Flyers put their three best forwards on their Legion Of Doom and let them carry the team... to nowhere.

And so it is my opinion that Lindros shouldn't make it to the Hall, though perhaps they could set up a booth where they recall that the Legion Of Doom had a great three-year stint in which they could only be rivaled by the Vancouver Canucks' line of Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund.

And right next to it, a booth showing (all of) Yanic Perreault's face-off wins in a loop. The players weren't durable or consistent enough to warrant entry into the eternal shrine, but some of their feats were.

And so today's card is this 2002-03 Be A Player Signature Series card (#042 in the set, signed on-card in thin black sharpie, a beautiful silver foil card) by In The Game:

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sergei Zholtok Jersey Card

Since I'm quoting 4-year old posts of late, I figured I could revisit the career of Sergei Zholtok (Sergejs Žoltoks in Latvian), particularly with a swatch card from his days with the Montréal Canadiens, from Pacific's 2001-02 Atomic set (card #30 of the Authentic Game-Worn Jerseys sub-set):
The white swatch, probably from the white (then-home) uniform, matches the picture on the front, and comes two years after he posted a 26-goal season to lead the Habs, which is why he's listed (though not pictured) as a member of the Minnesota Wild, even though the Canadiens had sent him to the Edmonton Oilers - for Chad Kilger - midway through the 2000-01 campaign). He did captain the Wild as part of their rotating captaincy of the early 00s; his stint took place in January 2003.

Never a huge NHL point-producer - his best seasons saw him hovering around the 40-point mark - he did post point-per-game statistics overseas, as well as in international tournaments, where he collected 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points in 20 Juniors games with the Soviet and Russian teams, and 32 points (on 21 goals) in 34 games representing Latvia at various World Championships.

A post-mortem tribute (among many) can be found here. A dry recounting of the events that led to his demise can be found here.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bill Ranford Swatch Card

I wrote about Bill Ranford some four years ago with a post that I thought was heartfelt at the time but seems a bit negative in retrospect. I won't go back to re-edit it, because as a child, he did take the place of two of my favourite goalies - Patrick Roy and Grant Fuhr - although, to his credit, he did so with a bang, winning the Conn Smythe trophy and the Canada Cup MVP titles ahead of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky, respectively, so he really took full advantage of his window of opportunity and jumped on it.

But what seems more impressive now than his two Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers (1988 as Fuhr's backup and 1990 with the roles reversed) is his work as the Los Angeles Kings' goaltending coach.

Considering current Colorado Avalanche goaltending guru François Allaire is pretty much the godfather of the position (working through Patrick Roy's three Conn Smythes, Jean-Sébastien Giguère's Conn Smythe and Cup in separate years, now Semyon Varlamov's superb comeback), the top-5 goaltending coaches has to be rounded up by the New York Rangers' Benoît Allaire (it runs in the family) who has worked with Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Biron and Cam Talbot while letting them all keep their distinctive styles; Stéphane Waite (Jimmy Waite's brother), winner of Stanley Cups with two different young goalies (Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford); Roland Melanson (multiple award-winning or -nominated goalies such as Roberto Luongo, José Théodore, Jaroslav Halak, Cristobal Huet, young Carey Price, Jeff Hackett), inventor of the ''one pad down along the goal line while hugging the post when the puck's in the corner'' move, which is perfect for stopping impromptu passes and/or deflections; and Ranford. (For the record, my former favourite was Sean Burke, who has since been promoted to the Phoenix Coyotes' Director of Player Personnel).

Except I rank Ranford second on this list, and perhaps first on the ''last three-to-five years'' list. During his tenure, Jonathan Quick has become a two-time Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner, a Vezina nominee and silver medalist. This season alone, though, two goalies have posted better numbers than Quick, each playing in a quarter of the season - 19 games. Youngster Ben Scrivens went 7-5-4 with an incredible 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage (3 shutouts), while rookie Martin Jones went 12-6-0 with an unbelievable 1.87 GAA and .934 save percentage (4 shutouts). That's 7 shutouts in 38 games, which just add to Quick's 6 in 49, for a whopping 13 shutouts in a single season.

The season before that, Jonathan Bernier posted a 1.88 GAA and .922 save percentage in roughly a third of the Kings' games. And while Bernier had been a fixture on the team since 2010, Erik Ersberg had had the call in 2009-10, also with a 2.40 GAA and .906 save percentage that rivaled Quick's.

As a matter of fact, the difference between the pre-Ranford Kings and just his first season in L.A. is astonishing:

They went from 6 goalies with just one whose GAA was below 3.00 to 3 goalies all under 3.00; they doubled their shutout numbers and their team save percentage was up by over 50 points. And that was just the start, as I've demonstrated before.

And so perhaps Ranford ranks in another category as well: the excellent goalie coaches who had also previously been exceptional goalies, with Burke and, to a lesser extent in regards to his playing days, Melanson. And Roy, who probably does have some input with the goalies as the Avs' head coach.

And so today I pay tribute to Ranford's second Cup win as the Kings' goaltending coach (and subsequent 3-year contract extension) with this card, from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Trilogy set (card #HS-BR of the Honorary Swatches sub-set, with a blue swatch likely from the Oilers' blue away uniform):
It's a pretty basic design, compared to what the Trilogy set would offer in later years, but it works well.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Nikolai Antropov Autograph Card

I don't know if all collectors/bloggers can pinpoint the exact moment or exact card that either brought them back to collecting or made them take it that step farther than they were at before, but in my case, it was this card, from Topps' 2000-01 Stadium Club (#LS5 of their Lone Star Signatures sub-set, signed on-card in thin blue sharpie with his uniform number - 9 - tagged at the end):
Sure, it shows Nikolai Antropov with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team I would repeal from my collection altogether, but it's also the first ''quality insert'' card (autograph or swatch card, not just a ''league leader'' or ''All-Star'' or whatever card) I ever pulled from a pack, and it was at a time where I'd stopped paying attention to hockey (and pretty much all sports) but would still buy a pack or two per year at a dollar store to keep up with where it was and, mostly, for old times' sake and to reconnect with my inner child.

I'd spent a lot of my childhood bringing hockey cards to Montréal Canadiens' games in the hopes of getting one signed, and here was one where someone else had gone through all that trouble for me and all I had to do was open a pack of otherwise beautiful, thick and sturdy cards.

A couple of years later, the Habs would hold preseason jamborees/fan jams where you could meet-and-greet players of an otherwise forgettable era for the team, which brought that extra spark to my collecting because I realized I still had ''ins'' to get stuff signed throughout the organization (before I got into TTMs) to frame and hang on the walls all over my apartment.

And so it is with great irony that the one card that I can pinpoint to getting the ball rolling in that direction is not only of a Leafs player, but its ultimate Habs-killer in Antropov who would have won Art Ross and Hart trophies if half (or even a quarter) of all Leafs' games were against my hometown Canadiens, with Tomas Kaberle a shoe-in for the Norris.

After obtaining a Canadian citizenship in 2007 and playing for the Winnipeg Jets until 2012-13, Antropov spent the last season with the KHL's Barys Astana, with whom he'd also played during the lockout. He is signed through next season, and plays with other former NHLers Cam Barker, Nigel Dawes, Ari Ahonen, Mike Lundin, and Dustin Boyd.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Guy Lapointe Autographed Card

I'd been waiting for this news for years, and it was announced yesterday: Guy Lapointe will once again be reunited with Larry Robinson and Serge Savard to form the historical ''Big Three''... atop the rafters of the Bell Centre. Indeed, the Montréal Canadiens will retire his #5 (which won't be too much of a problem since it's already retired in honor of Bernard ''Boom Boom'' Geoffrion) some time next season, possibly when the Minnesota Wild - who he currently works for, as the head scout - come visit.

Like Geoffrion, Lapointe had a tremendous slap shot, and like Savard and Robinson, his hip checks were almost deadly, but he also had dazzling speed  - and where Savard had dedication and Robinson had an angry focus, Lapointe had fun and energy.

Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden famously wrote, in his classic book The Game:
In the early and mid-1970s, except for Bobby Orr, Guy Lapointe was the best defenceman in the NHL. He was strong and powerful, an explosive skater with a hard, low shot, but what made him unique was the emotion he could bring to a game. During flat, lifeless stretches, uncalculated, he would suddenly erupt with enormous impatient fury, racing around the ice, daring and inspired on offence and defence, giving the game a new mood; turning it our way. It is a rare ability, and even as Denis Potvin and Robinson matured in mid-decade to push him onto second all-star teams and beyond, it was a skill that even they couldn’t match.
And the praise also came from Savard and Robinson, both of whom have always pushed for Lapointe's number to be retired by the team, and in both cases, they argued in his favour even before their own jerseys were hanging from the rafters.

Then again, a Norris trophy nominee, six-time Stanley Cup winner, member of Team Canada for the 1972 Summit Series (with Savard and despite his wife due to give birth to his first-born), the 1976 Canada Cup and the 1979 Challenge Cup and Hall of Famer in his own right couldn't have made it on sheer luck alone.

I've had this card since I was a kid, possibly from his days as an associate coach with the Québec Nordiques; I remember I got to meet him through a man I considered to be my grandfather, who had been a sports journalist in the 1950s, 1960s 1970s and 1980s:
It's from the 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee set (card #60, noting that he made the end-of-season Second All-Star Team) by Topps, and was signed in thick black sharpie.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cory Stillman Autograph Card

A few years ago, I got a really good deal on a bunch of packs of Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player cards, at least the equivalent of a couple of boxes, and each one contained at least one autographed card. As was my luck, I pulled a Cory Stillman card, showing him wearing the Calgary Flames' red (away) mid-1990s uniform (as opposed to this card, which showed the era's white - home - uniform):
As for most cards in this set, this one (#24 in the collection) shows an on-card signature from a thin black sharpie.

So far, he is still a part of the Carolina Hurricanes' player development staff, though with the staff shake-up this summer (Ron Francis replacing Jim Rutherford as general manager, Bill Peters being named head coach earlier today), that could still change. However, now that Rutherford has landed in Pittsburgh, should Stillman lose his job, I have a feeling he may not be without one for too long.

The 1025-game NHLer, four-time point-per-game pacer and two-time 27-goal man with the Flames could even return to Calgary.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Alexei Yashin Jersey Card

Ah, the much-maligned, enigmatic Alexei Yashin.

Most people remember him from the 10-year contract he signed with the New York Islanders which the team still has a year left to pay from his buyout in June 2007, with $2.204M still owed to him despite his having retired from the sport altogether after a 20-point season in the KHL in 2011-12.

But folks forget his final season with the Isles in 2006-07, though marred by a serious knee injury, had him produce 50 points (on 18 goals) in just 58 games, though he was held scoreless in five playoff games.

All told, the 2nd-overall pick of the 1992 draft (behind Roman Hamrlik) played 850 NHL games, scoring 337 goals with 444 assists for 781 points (but just 11-16-27 in 48 playoff games), finishing as the runner-up for the Hart trophy and being named to the Second All-Star Team in 1998-99.

He is the second-leading points producer of his draft year so far, though you could argue Sergei Gonchar's 797 points are worth even more, his being a defenseman and all, but the rest of the class remains hundreds behind them.

Upon retiring, he was named the general manager of Russia's women's national team, and in his first taste of competition in his official role won the bronze medal at the World Championships. They finished sixth at the Sochi Olympics, though, and Yashin could often be seen partaking in the team's practices, taking hard shots at the goalies; he did try his best to provide his team with the best chance and highest level of motivation possible, but perhaps the pressure of winning on home ice proved to be too much for a team that remains - as the rest of the countries partaking in the sport - lagging far behind Canada and the United States.

And so I've been sitting on this card for nearly a decade, from Upper Deck's (always beautiful) 2005-06 Ice collection (card #FF-AY of the Frozen Fabrics sub-set), showing him in the Islanders' blue (away) uniform from the early-to-mid-00s (and a matching swatch of a game-used jersey):
It could very well be my favourite Isles uniform, too. It has enough of the classic 1980s design but with less cheesy colours, and the sideways stripes on the shoulders look great on it, too. Then again, I didn't completely despise their ''fisherman'' uniform, so that could just be me being weird.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Katie Armiger Autographed 8x10

I don't often dual-post with my regular - more personal - blog, but this seemed like a good opportunity to do so, as I received this beautiful autographed 8x10 picture of Katie Armiger in the mail today:
Katie Armiger definitely classifies as a country singer, with a powerful voice and sexy Southern accent, but her attitude is all rock, which is what you get when you have released 4 professional records in 4 years, played hundreds of shows and met tons of people who were as impressed with your talent as they were your looks - and all that at just 22 years of age.

Don't get me wrong - I will never say a woman's success is only due to her physicality, especially in this day and age (this isn't the 1950s); what I am saying is that when a stunning woman has to deal with saying ''no'' more often than she does ''hello'', it builds character the likes of which men twice her age will never even come close to, and possibly a great deal of self-confidence, too.

And that attitude is reflected in the song I featured as Video Of The Week, Playin' With Fire (which shares a title with my favourite Rolling Stones song, incidentally), where she has that Leelee Sobieski / Jennifer Lawrence look going for her, but mixed with a dirty, ''garage girl'' attire, singing lines like ''I'm already crazy and I feel fine / as I cross this line between wrong and right'', ''I'm already lit and this ain't done yet'' and ''I like the burn''. And there's the look in her eyes in every close-up. And the totally sexual way she cranks up and uses that flame-thrower (in high heels, no less).

She's in control, and not much can stop her. I'd say the sky's the limit, but she can even shatter that if she wants to.

I first came to realize she existed when recording songs at Studio Loco in Montréal, where her Confessions Of A Nice Girl CD laid on a table. I put it on out of sheer curiosity and had expected ballads and cutesy, wholesome songs from the cover, but instead found well-written, beat-driven songs that I instantly connected with. I've been a fan ever since. Here's the cover art in question:
I wrote to her care of her label - Cold River Records - on June 8th, 2014, and received the above 8x10 today, just 10 days later, including shipping, customs and covering the distance between Tennessee and Montréal. It will be framed and hung on my office wall, where people can ask about her and I can turn them on to her music in person, word-of-mouth-style.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Dustin Tokarski Swatch Card

After trading away two of his rookie cards early in the season, and sending him some to sign near the end of it (late March, no reply yet), I was glad to get my hands on this Dustin Tokarski swatch card via Ebay a couple of weeks ago for less than $4:
It's card #09TC-DT from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Black Diamond set and features not one but two swatches of Team Canada game-worn memorabilia - of two different colours, no less!

I particularly love that it shows him wearing the Canadian uniform from the 2009 World Juniors, where he backstopped his country to its fifth-straight gold medal, a tournament in which he showed that unlike many of his contemporaries (Jonathan Quick, Carey Price) who are either on top of their game or playing very poorly with very little middle ground, he can not just win a 2-1 (or 5-1) game, but also 7-4 and 6-5 edge-of-your-seat thrillers while battling everything - his opponents, the puck, even himself - and come out on top.

I was at the Bell Centre for his first playoff game and, though he lost, he got better as the game went on and had won the crowd over midway through the third period after having cast doubts in the first (I, for one, was happy he was in nets):
After all, we're talking about a guy who impressed so much when he won the Telus Cup in Midget AAA that the WHL's Spokane Chiefs reserved his rights, then, in his rookie season in Juniors, split regular-season games with the incumbent starter but played every playoff game; in his second year, not only was his regular season fantastic (30-10-3, 6 shutouts, a 2.05 GAA and .922 save %), but he was the WHL's playoff MVP en route to a Memorial Cup, and Memorial Cup MVP to boot. His final year in Juniors - the year he won World Juniors gold - he went 34-18-2 with 7 shutouts, a 1.97 GAA and .937 save percentage.

His first year with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals was ok (the team failed to make the playoffs though), but he did get two call-ups with the parent Tampa Bay Lightning club; in his second season in Norfolk, he ran away with the starting goalie position, and posted decent playoff numbers (a 2.19 GAA, a.924 save % and a shutout in a 6-game first-round elimination), but it was his third year in the pros that had heads reeling, with his first NHL win (a 3-2, 29-save affair) but also the Calder Cup (AHL championship), with a playoff run that had him post a 1.94 GAA, .944 save % and 3 shutouts in 14 games, going 12-2.

He was traded to the Montréal Canadiens for Cédrick Desjardins in February 2013.

In 2013-14, he played 3 regular-season games with the Habs, registering two wins, a shutout, a 1.84 GAA and stopping 94.6% of the shots he faced, but it was his play in the Conference Finals against the New York Rangers that cemented his fate as the next big-name goaltending prospect not named John Gibson, winning 2 of 5, with a 2.60 GAA and .916 save percentage playing in a high-pressure situation against the Stanley Cup finalists.

More importantly, he hasn't taken himself out of a game at the NHL level yet, despite critics pointing to his lack of size (he's 5'11'' and 185 pounds) and facing sharp-shooters such as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Brad Richards and Martin St-Louis.

With Carey Price comfortably in place and Montréal kid Zachary Fucale in the pipeline, though, I see Tokarski hitting the trade market in the relatively near future, unfortunately. You can easily make an All-Star team out of players the Habs have let go for close to nothing (not counting free agency) who still play in the NHL; I fear Tokarski may yet just be another link in that chain.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Rob Blake Autograph Card

Now's as good a time as any to congratulate the Los Angeles Kings on their second Stanley Cup in three years, and what better way to do so than through a card showcasing Rob Blake, their long-time captain and current assistant-GM.

Blake has had a Hall Of Fame career, with a Norris trophy (1998), a Stanley Cup in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche, captaining both the Kings (twice) and the San Jose Sharks, and winning Olympic gold (2002) and World Championship gold (1994 and 1997) with Team Canada.

He ended his storied NHL career with 240 goals, 537 assists, 777 points and 1679 penalty minutes in 1270 games (plus 26-47-73 and 166 PIMs in 146 playoff games) and was immediately thrust into important behind-the-scenes roles, starting as Brendan Shanahan's assistant in the department of player safety (technically ''Hockey Operations Management'') before moving to team managerial positions, first as assistant-GM with the Kings where he won the Cup in his first year replacing Ron Hextall, and last May as the actual GM for Team Canada at the World Championsips (Canada finished 5th).

Here is a card from just about when his career was getting into gear, from Upper Deck's 1995-96 Be A Player set (card #S113, meaning it is the signed insert version of card #150, autographed on-card in thin black sharpie):
You'll notice there is only a mention of the city where he plays but no team name, logo or uniform; that's because UD didn't have an NHL license for this particular product, so they made do with their NHLPA one; in other instances, such as on this Yanic Perreault card, the player is shown in an action shot, but in a position where the logo is hidden; there are also instances, such as on this Pierre Turgeon card, where it is simply airbrushed out.

Another sign that times have changed: back in the 1990s, ''premium'' products such as this one were usually printed on thinner card stock than the regular-issue cards, usually to give it a glossier feel, but also to make them more fragile and worth more over time as pristine copies become rarer as the years go by; nowadays, there are over-the-top sets where a pack of 5 cards costs over $100, but because a lot of them have pieces of jerseys inside them, the bulk of those sets is printed on heavier and thicker card stock, so as to not be too obvious about which pack contains what type of card.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Louis Leblanc Autograph Card

It was bound to happen, and it did: after forcing him into as many bad decisions as they could, the Montréal Canadiens have traded their first-round pick of 2009 to the Anaheim Ducks.

Indeed, upon being drafted, Louis Leblanc was headed to Harvard for a fine education and what his hockey career needed the most: a concise schedule, and a lot of off-ice time in the gym to bulk up his 6'1'', 170-pound frame.

Instead, the Habs insisted he play his Junior hockey in the LHJMQ, where his odds of playing at the World Juniors would be greater (he had been cut from Team Canada after his first NCAA season despite having previously been its best player at the U-17 Ivan Hlkina Memorial Tournament the year before when it won gold). In that respect, it worked, because he made the 2011 silver-medal team and finished fourth in scoring (including a short-handed goal) with 7 points in 7 games, but many viewed his 58-point season (in 51 games) in the Q as disappointing for a first-rounder.

2011-12 was a better year for him, personally, as he tallied 11 goals, 11 assists and 22 points in 31 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs, leading to a call-up with the Habs for the bulk of the season, where he compiled a 5-5-10 stat sheet in 42 games, mostly in fourth-line duties.

But a new management and coaching staff was brought in for 2012-13, both at the NHL and AHL levels, and a training camp injury mixed with the lock-out gave every other prospect in the organization a better chance at impressing their bosses. Also, the Habs' brass thought he'd have a better chance of reaching the NHL on a more permanent basis - at least with their own team - if he were to become a two-way, third-line center than be used in an offensive role, so they asked Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre not to give him the best offensive minutes, leading to a bit of a clash in philosophies between the two.

Like any huge corporation, the Habs are run in an ''old school'' manner that will be very difficult to change. They want a first line that can put points up on the board, a second line that can chip in two nights out of three, a third line to counter the opposition's top line, and a fourth line made up of grinders.

In today's NHL, however, where there are very few 80-point players and where those who do reach that milestone rarely can in consecutive seasons, you're better off having a top-9 who can all play both ways for 18-20 minutes a game and all have the potential to reach 55-75 points year in and year out (and maybe 90 once or twice if the stars are aligned) - like the Boston Bruins, the Los Angeles Kings, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Anaheim Ducks, the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers.

Not just that, Montréal's first-liners are 60-point men (granted, one's a 39-goal scorer) and the team's best center plays second-line minutes, usually paired off with third-liners - yet still outscores or equals the ''first-liner''.

And that's why a 5th-round pick for Leblanc is a nice gamble for Anaheim. He's now listed at 186 pounds, has the flair to create offense, has learned how to defend a bit better, and he'll be pissed off and focused to try to prove the Canadiens wrong, all in the shadow and under the protection and watchful eye of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, François Beauchemin and maybe even Saku Koivu.

And to put his ''disappointing'' AHL totals of the past two years in perspective, his 10 goals in 2012-13 were good for second on the team (despite missing 20 games to injury, and playing fourth-line duties upon his return); he ranked 5th in goals, 6th in points and 7th in penalty minutes in 2013-14. And he made the All-Rookie Team at nearly every level he played at.

And so, when I got this 2013-14 Team Canada insert by Upper Deck (the same as the regular #150 card but with a sticker autograph signed in blue sharpie), I was delighted:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Lana Turner Swatch Card

Where do you begin with Lana Turner? Not only was her life pretty much an open book, her daughter Cheryl Crane even wrote an autobiography in which Turner plays a huge part without having been present for much of it - a feat she couldn't duplicate even in her films.

Discovered at 16 years old while buying a Coke after ditching school, she started off playing the part of the innocent, pure and often naive object of romantic affection in films such as They Won't Forget (1957) and Love Finds Andy Hardy (1958).

Tremendously beautiful (think Charlize Theron), she became a hugely popular pin-up model during World War II, which heightened her popularity and got her to star in four consecutive movies with the era's highest-regarded leading man, Clark Gable.

It was in 1946, with The Postman Always Rings Twice, that she switched the tables around and started playing the femme fatale - she who rather than answer to a leading man becomes the very reason for all of his actions. And, thus, meatier and better parts, and a wider recognition of her actual acting talent.

1947 was a huge year for her, as she starred in Cass Timberlane, Green Dolphin Street, and Homecoming (a Turner-Gable reunion) and was not only MGM Studios' biggest star, but also one of the highest-paid women in the United States.

But what goes up must come down, and between the tabloids having a field day of her eight marriages (and same number of divorces), her dating life in-between marriages, a two-year hiatus from filming and a few unwise film choices upon her return, the 1950s were not kind to Turner. It culminated when her daughter (who had previously repeatedly been sexually abused by one of Turner's ex-husbands, Tarzan actor Lex Barker) killed Turner's violent mobster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato in self-defense.

Hollywood loves a happy ending and redemption story, though, so that year ended with an Academy Award nomination for her leading role in Peyton Place. She slowed her pace from that point on, though, and from 1962 to 1980 only appeared in 7 films, as well as bit parts in three TV shows.

A long-time smoker, she died on June 29th, 1995, at the age of 74, from complications linked to throat cancer; she had previously won a battle against the illness in 1992, but it came back with a vengeance.

I have this card of ''The Sweater Girl'' (a term coined after her very first film and that she hated throughout her career, kind of like how Madonna despises being called ''The Material Girl'') to remember her by:

As is customary with recent Panini products, this swatch card is the same as the regular #14 card of the 2011 Americana set's Matinee Legends sub-set, but with a hole cut in the design to accommodate the piece of clothing, which Panini guarantees has been worn by Lana Turner at the bottom of the back of the card. The swatch cards are limited to 499, and just like for this Ginger Rodgers card, I have #130.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

David Desharnais: 4 Autographed Cards

I think I'll score this one a home run, as it fits both in my Habs Numbers Project as well as makes for another fine return from my 2013-14 mailings.

Today's hero is David Desharnais. The diminutive center (5'7'', 170 pounds) hasn't exactly had an easy time since I last featured him two and a half years ago; back then, he was in the midst of a 60-point season in the middle of Erik Cole and a surging Max Pacioretty.

Desharnais and Pacioretty had already been inseparable with the Hamilton Bulldogs, and both even went to play in Switzerland during the 2012-13 lockout, albeit on separate teams. When NHL play resumed, Pacioretty went back to his usual ways (39 points in 44 games, some streaky production followed by periods of not much happening), but Desharnais had trouble adapting the first-line opposition, though coach Michel Therrien tried his best to shelter him by giving him very few defensive-zone face-offs and starts, almost all-offense minutes, and first-unit powerplay time. Still, he managed only 28 points in 48 games.

Worst still, the duo combined for just one point in 9 playoff games - a Desharnais assist - as the Montréal Canadiens were eliminated in just 5 games by the surprisingly physical Ottawa Senators.

2013-14 started off on the same foot, with both players under-performing just about until the Holidays, the pair even getting separated for a while; even newly-elected Montréal mayor and mascot-shaped food enthusiast Denis Coderre tweeted his discontent. However, Patch-man publicly defended his friend, instilled confidence in him, and the pair were off and running again, with Desharnais finishing with 52 points (on 36 assists), and Pacioretty 60 (on 39 goals, most of them coming off multi-goal games in the last month of play).

Desharnais also amassed 8 points in 17 playoff games this season, after having only had two assists in his first 10 post-season games spread over two seasons. His size will always be an issue whenever he hits a cold streak - particularly in the era of the ultra-quick-yet-huge Los Angeles Kings - but his will and skill can never be questioned. He has been an MVP and All-Star at every level before the NHL, and has proven to be creative and great at controlling the puck in the offensive zone - even in high-traffic areas - in 4 seasons so far.

At still just 27 (28 when next season begins, as he was born on September 14th, same as me), he will have no trouble reaching the 60-point mark for the duration of his contract (the next three years), particularly if always paired with Pacioretty; they seem to share a brain, and each's skill set complements the other exactly, like Batman and Robin, or Laurel and Hardy.

I had written him and sent in 4 cards on February 4th, 2014, and he returned all of them, signed in black sharpie with his jersey number (51) tagged at the end, on June 12th (2014), good for a 128-day return. Here's what they look like:
On the left is a 2012-13 O-Pee-Chee card with a retro look; it's #475 in the set by Upper Deck. On the right is a sleek UD 2013-14 Series 1 card (#10 in the collection), which you might remember from my box break last December. Both show him wearing the Habs' white (away) uniform.

Also in white is this custom card I made, from my own Hell's Kitchen 2013-14 Series 1 set (card #18 in the collection), where he is battling for position in front of/with the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist (an omen?):
And finally, a card showing him in the Habs' red (home) uniform, celebrating a goal (with Alexei Emelin right behind him), from Panini's 2013-14 Score (#262 in the set, the Gold variant):
I can't decipher his signature, but it's been consistent for years. As long as he, his agent, his bank manager and the team's GM do, though, I guess it's all good.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Henrik Lundqvist Jersey Card

I wanted to keep this card in case Henrik Lundqvist was named the Conn Smythe winner on Friday (I predicted the Los Angeles Kings would beat the New York Rangers in 5 games), but his 40-save performance in the only game the Kings had dominated so far convinced me to revise my initial plans. Kudos, King Henrik.

An Olympic gold medalist (Sweden 2006), the Rangers' backstopper has now reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time of his career, at age 32; sure, New York is a powerhouse and a well-balanced team, but there are 4 serious contenders year in and year out in the East, so who knows when, or how, or in what capacity - or even if - he will get to the main stage again.

He has endured more than his fair share of doubts and criticism, particularly early in the season, but he went back to his old ways soon enough and took the Rangers from the bottom of the Eastern standings to the Cup Finals, despite the offense not performing up to par.

And so, after showing him with the Rangers' regular jersey with the 85th anniversary shoulder patch, and in the 2012 Winter Classic uniform, here he is wearing the team's white (away) jersey, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 set (card #GJ-HL of the Game Jersey sub-set), featuring a fairly-decent-sized blue swatch:
With, of course, this season's certificate of authenticity, brought to you by UD CEO Richard P. McWilliam, who died a year and a half ago:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mike Richards Jersey Card

Mike Richards scored his first goal in 10 games last night, which happened to be the clincher in a 3-0 win that gave the Los Angeles Kings an eponymous 3-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Finals. It was a beautiful if lucky goal, coming off a 2-on-1 where New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh cut the pass Richards attempted only to have it bounce right back on the Kings' center's stick for a goal on Henrik Lundqvist.

And so the Kings are a single win away from their second Cup in three years (and a Conference Finals last year), with most of their players under contract until the end of the decade (and currently under 30 years of age). I'd be saying the word ''dynasty'' (well, I kinda have, haven't I?) if they weren't in the same conference as the Chicago Blackhawks...

They have exactly the type of team a coach and GM need to plow through the grind of an 82-game schedule and still be fresh and ready to then play two and a half months of methodical, systematic, physical, grinding, team-oriented hockey that could topple even an Olympic team. Then again, their roster includes a who's-who of 2014 Olympic stand-outs (Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter from Team Canada, Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown from Team USA, Anze Kopitar from Team Slovenia, and Slava Voynov from Team Russia) as well as 2010 Olympians Richards (Canada, gold) and Marian Gaborik of Team Slovakia (4th place).

This is the first Mike Richards game-worn jersey card I have featured so far (I have previously featured photo-shoot cards here and here), and the first one of him with the Kings, as both previous ones showed him as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. It shows him wearing L.A.'s white (away) uniform, with a matching swatch, from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Series 1 set (card #GJ-MR, part of the Game Jersey sub-set):
I would like to reiterate that he is the player who has the most team championship wins of all time, with a Memorial Cup, World Juniors gold, Calder Cup (AHL), Stanley Cup, World Championship gold, and Olympic gold. All he needs to complete the collection is a World Cup and maybe a Presidents' Trophy (NHL regular-season championship) to have every team trophy available to North American players.

Additionally, he also has one of each NHL Conference title, having won the Prince Of Wales trophy as Cup Finalist with the Flyers, as well as the Clarence Campbell trophy every time his Kings advance to the Finals.

He's not among my favourite players, but it's pretty hard to argue against those credentials.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Mats Zuccarello Jersey And Stick Card

I should have kept that Derek Stepan jersey and stick card... I would now have four of those - all of them New York Rangers players.

In tonight's 3-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, giving the California team a 3-0 Stanley Cup Finals lead, the Rangers' best forward was Mats Zuccarello - though he did give away the puck a bit in the first period, he finished the night with 4 of his team's 32 shots on Jonathan Quick, none of which penetrated the net.

Undrafted, the Norwegian forward has made a mark for himself, with 93 points (on 30 goals) in his first 144 NHL games in parts of 4 seasons. He was a point-per-game player in the AHL as well as in the Swedish elite league, and this year he had 19 goals, 40 assists and 59 points in 77 games in New York. At 26 years of age, he has grown into his own, though you could argue growing into a 5'7'', 161-pound frame isn't all that hard.

And yet, in these playoffs, he has shown grit, maturity, and a willingness to play in high-traffic areas guys much bigger tended to shy away from.

And so I bring you this card, from Panini's 2011-12 Luxury Suite set (card #14), featuring a game-worn white jersey swatch with a piece of game-used stick:
I got it in a trade for 15 Score Hot Rookies cards (different years).

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Two Martin Hohenberger Autograph Cards

Sure, Martin Hohenberger is an obscure player to most hockey fans, but to Montréal Canadiens fans, he's a draft pick bust that hurts. You see, the Habs chose him in the third round of the 1995 draft, with the 74th overall pick - a pick that used to belong to the Philadelphia Flyers, that they sent along with Mark Recchi for John LeClair (a future multiple 50-goal scorer and First Team All-Star), Éric Desjardins (a regular for Team Canada in international competitions who would also captain the Flyers for a while), and Gilbert Dionne (a three-time 20-goal scorer with the Habs). In other words, he needed to be great to make the trade anywhere close to even.

Still available at the 74th spot were Sami Kapanen (87th),  Marc Savard (91st), my former teammates Benoît Gratton (105th) and Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre (179th), the best goalie of his era Miikka Kiprusoff (116th), Hohenberger's Prince George Cougars teammate Chris Mason (122nd), Jan Hrdina (128th), Brent Sopel (144th), Stéphane Robidas (164th), and P.J. Axelsson (177th).

The 1980s and 1990s were a time where the Habs usually failed with their first-rounders, usually because they'd choose a big player from the WHL (''fat Western beef'' was their nickname in these parts) to try to bulk up their line-up, but the guys who'd actually make the team would instead be late-round or undrafted Quebecers or Europeans.

Martin Hohenberger was a bit of both. An Austrian center who was already 6'1'' at age 17, he had played his Juniors career in the WHL, so he ''played big'' despite weighing less than 190 pounds. He would bulk up to 207 later in his career when he moved back to Austria after the 1998-99 season.

He never played with the Habs but did play 9 games with their AHL affiliate Fredericton Canadiens; he spent the rest of his North American professional career in the ECHL, with the New Orleans Brass, scoring 11 goals with 11 assists for 22 points in 66 games spread over two seasons.

He did become a point-per-game player upon returning to Austria, and even played for the national team in the 2000, 2002 and 2003 World Championships, as well as the 2002 Olympics. Unfortunately, that didn't help Montréal.

He stopped playing after suiting up for 7 games (no points, 18 penalty minutes) with the Graz ATSE in 2010-11 at age 34.

These two cards found in repackaged boxes show him wearing the Cougars' New York Rangers-inspired white (home) uniform in a photo shoot:
They were both manufactured by Signature Rookies and signed on-card in blue sharpie - probably the same one, seeing as the card on the right, from the 1995-96 Draft 96 set (card #9, numbered 1218/4500), bears an almost-transparent autograph; the card on the left is from their 1995-96 Draft Day set (card #15, numbered 266/4500).

You'll notice the team's logo was airbrushed out, because the card manufacturer didn't purchase the rights to show them - and didn't want to get sued; instead, they used a Rangers-type font to spell out the city's name. Here's what the logo looked like back then:
And here's what it looks like nowadays: