Thursday, July 31, 2014

Peter Mueller Swatch Card

I was hoping to read this news, and actually thought a weaker team would sign Peter Mueller, whom I featured back in February; it turns out he'll be joining his former Colorado Avalanche linemate in the St. Louis Blues organization!

Paul Stastny helped Mueller put up 20 points in 15 games to close out the 2009-10 season, before the concussion issues began the following year. When the lock-out ended, he joined the Florida Panthers, but had to sign in Switzerland for 2013-14, where he posted 46 points (on 24 goals) in 49 games with the Klöten Flyers.

He signed a two-way deal with St. Louis, but if he does well in training camp, I think he'll have a legitimate shot at the first line, which would help keep the Blues' other - and current - lines more or less intact despite the arrival of impact franchise center Stastny. If he has to start the season in the AHL, I'm somewhat convinced he'll be back come playoff time as the Blues try to fend off other top-level teams such as the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks.

In the meantime, here's a card showing him wearing the Avs' burgundy (home) uniform (with a matching jersey swatch), but listing him with the Panthers, from Panini's 2012-13 Titanium set (card #GG-PM of the Game-Worn Gear sub-set):

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yvan Cournoyer Autographed Card

Here's a return that has been puzzling me all evening. I had sent Yvan Cournoyer these four cards on March 17th, 2014, two customs (one I offered he could keep) and two regular-issue cards:
What I received instead today - 135 days later - in addition to the unsigned cards was this beautiful 2001-02 Greats Of The Game card (#25 in the set) by Fleer/Skybox, signed in blue sharpie:
It's such a great, simple design, with classy white borders, and showing him in the Montréal Canadiens' white (then-home) uniform just makes it that much better for autographs. I wonder if he just keeps a stash of these at home for people who send him stuff, or if it was leftovers from a paying signature session. In any event, I am very happy to have it.

I'd been waiting to either hear back from this mailing or give up on it before using another player to cross off #12 off my Habs Numbers Project. I have three others I could have used, but given the choice, wouldn't you have waited out for a Hall Of Famer, six-time All-Star, winner of 10 Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe trophy, three times a 40-goal man and a 25-goal scorer for twelve straight seasons, a man often called the best skater and stick-handler of his generation, whose jersey number was retired by the famed franchise?

Of course you would.

The Roadrunner started as a powerplay specialist, because then-coach Toe Blake wasn't satisfied with the fiery short man's defensive play. A seven-game demotion to the AHL and limited ice time in his first three years built his character, though, enough for Cournoyer to have served as the Canadiens' captain from 1975 until 1979, one of two Habs captains to have won the cup every season the additional 'C' was stitched onto his chest, joining the legendary Maurice 'Rocket' Richard.

And though he had many admirable adversaries in the NHL - and you'd think with 428 goals and 863 points in 968 regular-season games and 127 points in 147 playoff games there'd be ample of those - perhaps his most memorable moments came against one Vladislav Tretiak, both in the 1972 Summit Series - pitting an All-Star cast of NHL stars in Team Canada against Team Russia - and the 1975 Super Series which saw the Habs play (and beat) Moscow's Central Red Army team (which was pretty much 95% of Team CCCP anyway). On both occasions, games were played at the old Montréal Forum, and both had Tretiak and Cournoyer each getting named among the three stars.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pekka Rinne Autographed Card

There were too many abnormal things happening in NHL news this summer, and the fact that the Nashville Predators and their former head coach Barry Trotz were talked about almost daily certainly fits in that category.

No offense, but this is a team that made the playoffs 7 times and won a grand total of 2 series. They have won 19 total post-season games in their 15-year history (it takes 16 in the same season to win a Stanley Cup).

They only have one player who won an NHL trophy while on their team: Steve Sullivan, winning the Bill Masterton for his awesome comeback from injury in 2008-09; and Mike Fisher (one of my favourite players) won the NHL Foundation Award for his contributions to charity in 2011-12. In fairness, Shea Weber deserves to have won a Norris at this point, and Pekka Rinne does deserve one of Martin Brodeur's four unwarranted Vezinas.

Which brings me to the superstar Finnish goalie who seems to have my home team's number. I first encountered him during the 2010-11 season, after a game where he shut out the Montréal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, at which time he signed this 2007-08 Between The Pipes card for me in blue sharpie (#42 in the set, part of the Future Stars sub-set) by In The Game:
It shows him wearing the Preds' AHL farm club Milwaukee Admirals' light blue (away) uniform, which is pretty awful. Notice the MLB's Milwaukee Brewers' logo / patch: the hockey team was purchased by a group that includes the Brewers' minority owner (Mark Attanasio), its assistant GM (Gord Ash) and former pitcher Ben Sheets; they made the Brewers the sole sponsor of the hockey team. Once in a while, the Admirals host a ''Brewers Night'', where they wear uniforms inspired by or referring to the baseball team's history.

Ironically, in baseball, Nashville and Milwaukee have the same affiliation, just reversed, where the country music capital is the Brewers' AAA affiliate.

I'm convinced Rinne will regain his Vezina form this coming season and make everyone forget his injury-plagued 2013-14 campaign. It's Tuukka Rask's throne to lose, though, and I don't see him giving it up easily. But Rinne is coming off a 2014 World Championships where he was named the tournament MVP as he led Team Finland to the silver medal...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Jaroslav Halak Swatch Card

By now you've probably guessed that Jaroslav Halak is my favourite NHL goalie, with Corey Crawford right behind as the de facto favourite Canadian goalie. Things haven't exactly always gone smoothly with Halak, but most of the players I admire often face adversity.

There are many who have waxed poetic about the 2009-10 playoffs he had with the Montréal Canadiens, but truth be told, he was the main reason the Habs even made the playoff three separate times; and his detractors like to point out that it was Carey Price who made the All-Star Game that year, but Halak nonetheless finished 10th in Vezina voting, which is voted on by the league's general managers and based solely on the regular season.

Halak also finished 6th in Vezina voting in 2011-12, in his second season with the St. Louis Blues - the year he and Brian Elliott shared the Jennings trophy. And while I openly rooted for Halak, I never became a Blues fan, so when they threw traded him away to acquire Ryan Miller, all I could wish them was a painful elimination. Which they got. And for all the flack that Halak got for having good statistics because he was playing in Ken Hitchcock's defensive system behind a wall of Olympic-caliber defensemen, Miller played behind the same guys on the same team, and the stats speak for themselves:
Halak: 24-9-4 (.686 winning percentage), Miller: 10-8-1 (.556)
Halak: 4 shutouts in 40 games (1 per 10), Miller: 1 shutout in 19 games (1 per 19)
Halak: 2.23 GAA, .917 save percentage, Miller: 2.47 GAA, .903 save percentage
Halak played like a #1 goalie, Miller played like a washed-up career backup. And Miller was even worse in the playoffs, with a 2.70 GAA, a .897 save percentage, and looking so shook up he rattled every single one of his teammates. Granted, injuries have prevented Halak from displaying his poise under pressure in St. Louis, but he still has a 1.73 GAA and .935 save percentage for the Blues in the postseason.

The only thing you can pin on Halak is his small stature (not his fault), that he gives a lot of rebounds (it's his style, he just needs to kick them towards teammates a bit more often), and the fact that while he is virtually unbeatable in pressure situations, he might lose his concentration against lesser teams after having won 3 or 4 unbelievable games.

One thing he has going for him next season (and for the subsequent three if he fulfills his contract with the New York Islanders) is that, more often than not, he will be on the lesser team, and will be facing the better opposition. But with him in nets and John Tavares up front, the Isles just might have the team to cost a few teams a playoff spot, and maybe squeeze into one themselves in a weak Metropolitan Division.

And, as at least one commentator so aptly put it:
(Elliott has appeared solid for the Blues during the regular season, but his playoff record indicates the inability to lead a team to the ultimate goal. Jake Allen may have what it takes, but it isn’t going to come without a learning curve or two.) Fans may soon realize just how good Jaroslav Halak was for the Blues during his time in the gateway city.
I didn't want to overload Halak with too many requests, so my plan was to write to him last year or this year to have him sign cards of himself with the Blues, but with the trade rumours intensifying, I didn't; and now he's on a team that isn't great at getting players their mail. Still, I have this card of him wearing St. Louis' third jersey (their nicest at the moment), from Panini's 2010-11 Dominion collection, #87 in the set (numbered 75/99):
It contains a white swatch that Panini - as is their custom - won't identify as being a jersey, but rather ''game-worn material'', so it could be a sock. (Just kidding, the checklist on their website says it's a jersey.) I'll get to it later, in the coming weeks or months, but I just want to say that Dominion was a much better product in 2010-11 than it was this year. This card looks great, and the back even has a different picture of him, wearing the team's white (away) jersey:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ryan Murray Autograph Card

As I mentioned last week on this Guillaume Latendresse card, I believe Scratching The Surface is the best-looking autograph sub-set in hockey, and while the Latendresse card featured the 2010-11 version, they kept most of the design intact with just a few tweaks for this 2013-14 Crown Royale set by Panini, represented by this Ryan Murray card:
They just added silver borders (which look like dark grey on the scan) and congratulated themselves on a job well done, I guess. Sure, we don't see much of the Columbus Blue Jackets' crest or the white (away) uniform in the picture, but it appears twice on the signature/ice surface, and that's enough.

When the Jackets made Murray the second-overall pick in 2012, the consensus was that he may not be the player with the most ''upside'' (i.e. room for improvement, particularly on offense), but was the most ''NHL-ready'' of the crop; it's too bad, then, that the lock-out and an untimely injury forced him out of pretty much the entire 2012-13 campaign. He still managed to accumulate 17 points in 23 games with his WHL team - the Everett Silvertips - and resumed the captaincy he'd gained the previous year, but it was a bit of a letdown.

For the record, eight players chosen after him now have more NHL experience than he does, and one of them - Tanner Pearson, chosen 30th - even has a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings. But Murray got ''adult'' international hardware before they did, having won the bronze with Team Canada at the 2012 World Championships a month before even being drafted, becoming the second-youngest of all time to dress for Canada at the event, behind Paul Kariya.

The Jackets view him as a potential future captain, but perhaps they'll give it to Brandon Dubinsky first, until Murray has the time to age and mature. He got 4 goals and 21 points in 66 games as a rookie this past year, which bodes well for the future.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Philippe Cornet Autograph Card

I'm a pretty big Edmonton Oilers fan (yes, even to this day) and was surprised this winter when I kept coming up on Philippe Cornet cards in almost every brand I picked up. This guy was either a huge prospect I'd slept on, or the Bob Corkum of his generation. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

He had a semi-distinguished career in Juniors with the LHJMQ's Rimouski Océanic and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, improving every year and going from 21 points to 49 and 77 twice; he was also a point-per-game playoff performer, which probably helped when the Oilers took their 5th-round pick to make him the 133rd draftee of the class of 2008.

His first AHL season with the Oklahoma City Barons wasn't all that spectacular (7 goals and 23 points in 60 games), but his 24 goals in his sophomore year got him both a couple of call-ups to the NHL and an AHL All-Star Game nod.

That year, he showed he could find the back of the net, but also proved he could be a nifty passer against adults at the pro level. It seems every article about Barons games has a mention of his making a perfect pass through three pairs of skates directly on a teammate's stick blade. He also showed some courage and determination, always the first guy to jump in the corner or on the boards to wrestle the puck from much bigger opponents - though not always succeeding.

During his three years with the Barons, he made the playoffs twice, registering 4 goals, 12 assists and 16 points in 31 games - decent numbers, if not star-caliber, which may be why the Oilers chose not to re-sign him last season. Instead, he signed an AHL deal with the San Antonio Rampage (the Florida Panthers' AHL affiliate), who traded him mid-season to the Charlotte Checkers, home to the Carolina Hurricanes' prospects.

The NHL being an Old Boys' country club, though, generally, when a player doesn't make the roster on non-playoff teams, he's soon forgotten about, which may eventually lead to his moving to Europe for a higher level of play, pay, and lifestyle. Cornet arguably has the talent to be very good at a level just one notch below the NHL; where that may be, we'll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I can cross #51 off my Oilers Numbers Project with card #MM-42 of Panini's 2013-14 Titanium set (part of the Metallic Marks sub-set, the Bronze variant), with a thin blue-sharpied sticker autograph with his jersey number included:

I'll say this about the product: boxes like this one, where you get 20 cards in total for roughly $100 (sometimes a bit more) are the main reason why I usually stick to $30 boxes like Score, O-Pee-Chee, Victory and the like; there is no way I would have paid $5 for any of the cards I pulled, though I was happy I got to further my Oilers project along, and I got a few jersey cards of players I like, but could have done without.

What I usually do is get in groups, where, say, 10 or 15 of us will get together and split 5, 10 or 15 boxes (whatever divides ok), and keep whatever interests us the most; people like getting into these groups with me because I won't call dibs on the Crosbys (there are never any anyway), though we usually make a deal where if one very valuable card is pulled, we just sell it on Ebay and split the money.

Anyhow, I'd rather get two autographs and a few hundred ''regular'' cards for $30 than five sub-par ''hits'' with already-bent corners (such as the top-right one on this card) for $100, which is a whole day's work for me before taxes.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Alex Chiasson Jersey Card

Arguably the trade that sparked the rest of the summer's movements, the one that sent Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars and Alex Chiasson and two prospects to the Ottawa Senators changed the dynamic of two divisions. Dallas now has a top-six that rivals that of the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild, perhaps with even more raw talent; the Sens are now in the late stages of their rebuild and ready to climb in the standings, steady in front of the net, with a fine top-3 on defense, and a force on the wings - they might need to solidify their #2 and #3 center positions to rival the Montréal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins in the Atlantic division, though.

I love what Chiasson brings to the Sens - at 6'3'', working on his already-acceptable foot speed, gifted and gritty, he will take a lot of pressure off Bobby Ryan and may become Ottawa's version of Milan Lucic, except with a brain. Hockey's Future even goes as far as saying:
Potential top-six playmaking winger, like a more talented version of Blake Wheeler.
That may be laying it on a bit thick, in my opinion, which you can read in my recent post about Wheeler here. But the fact remains that Chiasson has dominated at every level before the NHL, from Midget AAA to the USHL to the NCAA (Boston University Terriers), and showed All-Star form in his rookie season with the AHL's Texas Stars before getting called up to the NHL and never looking back in 2012-13.

He will be wearing #90 with the Sens, seeing as Milan Michalek already wears #9. I expect him to score 20 goals with some 60 points per year for a decade, and peak around 30 goals and 75 points in maybe three years, hitting one of those numbers 3 or 4 times (he is a better playmaker than shooter at this point, but with his frame, may end up with a dozen powerplay goals a year, which would add to his totals in that category).

And so I was already a fan prior to the trade, which means I was thrilled when this card came out of a pack of Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 cards - it's #RM-AC of the Rookie Materials sub-set, featuring a black swatch from an event-worn jersey. It depicts him with the Stars' white (away) uniform, perhaps the best-looking one since the team moved from Minnesota:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Andrew Brunette: 7 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

As I hinted in yesterday's post about Niklas Backstrom, I got two returns from Minnesota yesterday. Here is the second one:
Never a superstar, Andrew Brunette made the OHL's Owen Sound Platers after having been drafted in the 7th round at the midget draft; he had three relatively successful years with them, improving from 35 to 98 to a whopping 162 points over his three seasons in Juniors, where he played alongside future NHLers Kevin Weekes, Kirk Maltby, Scott Walker, and Jamie Storr, all of which led him to being drafted by the Washington Capitals 174th overall in 1993, in the... seventh round. That pick originally belonged to the Calgary Flames.

This card reflects his time in the OHL, showing him with the Platers' white (home) uniform, from 7th Inning Sketch's 1990-91 7th Inning Sketch set of CHL cards (it's #277):
He would play 62 games with the Caps over parts of three seasons, showing a great deal of promise in the third, with 11 goals and 23 points in just 28 games, leading the Nashville Predators to select him in the expansion draft. He only played one year in Nashville before they traded him to the Atlanta Thrashers for a draft pick, making it the second-straight expansion team he'd play for.

Of his days in Atlanta, I have this keepsake showing him wearing the Thrashers' dark blue (away) uniform, from Pacific's 1999-2000 Omega set (card #9):
He had a pretty good couple of seasons in Atlanta, scoring 23 goals with 50 points in 1999-2000, and reaching 59 points the next year, before making his way to the Minnesota Wild. He played three fine seasons in his first stint in Minnesota, and started making a name for himself in the 2002-03 playoffs, with 13 points in 18 games but, more importantly, all 7 of his goals being of the ''very important'' kind, including a Game-7 overtime series clincher against Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche.

As soon as he became a free agent, the Avs signed him, specifically for his clutch post-season acumen. He did pretty good in the regular season in Colorado as well, with a career year in 2006-07, marking his high point in goals (27), assists (56) and points (83). He would also put up 17 points on 8 goals (including another series clincher) in 19 playoff games with the Avalanche.

I have this memento of his time playing with Joe Sakic, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Parkhurst collection (card #121 in the set):
It shows him wearing their original burgundy (away) uniform, which I have grown to miss.

    (continued in the following post)

Andrew Brunette: 7 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

              (continued from the previous post)

After three seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, Andrew Brunette went back to the Minnesota Wild, signing as a free agent for three seasons. Consistency being a strong suit, he was just as productive in his second go-round with the Wild as he'd been in the first:
2001-02: 21 goals, 48 assists, 69 points (in 81 games)
2002-03: 18 goals, 28 assists, 46 points (in 82 games)
2003-04: 15 goals, 34 assists, 49 points (in 82 games)
2008-09: 22 goals, 28 assists, 50 points (in 80 games)
2009-10: 25 goals, 36 assists, 61 points (in 82 games)
2010-11:  18 goals, 28 assists, 46 points (in 82 games)
As you can see, age was pretty much never a factor, and neither were teammates. Also, he was as durable as they come. He once played in 509 consecutive games, and between 2001-02 and 2010-11, he just missed 3 games in total. I didn't count his last season with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011-12 though he'd only missed 4, nor the three before where he'd only missed 11 in total.

Of his time in the center of the continent, I have four cards; first, here are two of the Wild's white uniform:

The card of the left is from Topps' 2002-03 Total set (card #245) - at that time, the white uniform was used for home games; on the right is card #249 from Panini's 2010-11 Score set, where white is for away games. Notice the alternate captain's 'A'; he also wore the captain's 'C' on 4 separate month-long stints back when the team rotated the title amongst its leaders.

I also have these two ''landscape-format'' cards:

The top card is from Upper Deck's 2002-03 Vintage set (card #130), again in white; the card on the right is #119 from Panini's 2011-12 Score set, showing him with the Wild's green alternate home uniform, but listing him as a member of the Blackhawks, as he'd signed with them as a free agent over the summer.

When all was said and done, he had suited up for 6 different NHL teams, had had his rights switch teams 8 times, he'd played in over 1100 games, scoring 268 goals with 465 assists for 733 points (plus 35 points in 49 playoff games). He was 9th in the league for assists (48) in 2001-02, and got a fair amount of votes for the Lady Byng 7 times; he finished with less than 20 PIMs seven times, including a low of just 4 penalty minutes in 78 games with Chicago in 2011-12.

I had sent him these 7 cards and a fan letter on February 5th, 2014, care of the Wild, where he now acts as a Hockey Operations Advisor; I received them all back, signed in black sharpie with his jersey number tagged at the end (15 for all, except for the Owen Sound Platers card where he's sporting #16), on July 23rd, 2014, good for a 168-day round trip. All told, that brings my 2013-14 totals to 29/74.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Niklas Backstrom: 5 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

I got not one but a couple of tremendous returns today - both from Minnesota, coincidentally! Here's the first one:
How cool is that? Niklas Backstrom was one of the best and most consistent goalies in the NHL from 2006 until the end of the locked-out season in 2012-13. Before crossing the Atlantic, however, the Finn of Swedish descent had dominated the Finnish Elite League, leading his team Oulun Kärpät to two straight championships and winning the best goalie award and playoff MVP title twice in the process.

After winning a silver medal at the 2006 Olympics and bronze at the 2006 World Championships with Team Finland, he signed with the Minnesota Wild as a free agent and started the 2006-07 season as Manny Fernandez' backup, inheriting the #1 mantle when Fernandez fell to injury, and not letting it go until injuries forced him to share duties with Josh Harding in 2013-14, as he was limited to 21 games.

He represented the Wild in an All-Star Game, holds the team's career (189 and counting) and season (37) wins records as well as single-season shutout record (8), was nominated for a Vezina, and won two more bronze medals (2008 World Championships and 2010 Olympics) with Finland, playing behind the best goalie of his generation in Miikka Kiprusoff. He also won the Jennings (best team GAA) and Crozier (best save percentage) trophies in 2006-07.

Backstrom has a near-perfect technique, a blend of the already-excellent stand-up/covering-the-angles style he used in Europe and the improved butterfly he picked up in North America; a fearless, fierce and focused competitor, his only imperfection is the 5-hole (between the legs), which he counters by making up for in positioning.

Here he is in the Wild's red (home) uniform:
The card on the left is from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Collector's Choice (card #74 in the set) and shows him following the puck as it moves from behind the net to the corner, sharp and attentive; the card on the right is from In The Game's 2010-11 Between The Pipes set (#128 in the collection, part of the Stars Of The Game sub-set), and has a great view of the Wild's main logo on his mask - a nice way to get around copyright issues for ITG.

The Wild also have an alternate home uniform, in green, with a College-style cursive font in front, as seen in this 2013-14 O-Pee-Chee card (#478 in the collection) by UD:
I like that OPC tried to re-create similar designs to those of my youth, but the un-matching colour schemes tend to make me nauseous a bit; the light blue could have easily been dark green to fit, or even just plain black.

                                 (continued in the following post)

Niklas Backstrom: 5 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

               (continued from the previous post)

While I used to prefer their red uniform, I am now a bigger fan of the Minnesota Wild's white (away) jerseys; the colour combinations work and complement each other very well, and combined with the white Vaughn  equipment, combines to give goalies a ''totally classic'' look and feel:
  Pictured on the left is a sticker from Panini's 2008-09 Panini sticker book (#218), which shows both the team's logo and a nice angle of Niklas Backstrom's old mask, which carries the team's former shoulder logo on the forehead; on the right is card #125 from Upper Deck's 2010-11 SP Authentic set, an always a sober-looking, white-dominant design that autographs look great on. Notice the different shoulder patches on that one, and the chest patch commemorating the team's 10th anniversary.

It also has a clear view of his usual stance, very modern - the glove facing inwards and completely upwards is a pet peeve of mine, but hey, I haven't been nominated for a Vezina, so whatever works for him is fine by me.

I had sent him these 5 items and a fan letter on March 3rd, 2014, and they took 142 days to get back to me, which brings us to July 23rd, 2014. They were all signed in black sharpie, with his jersey number (32) tagged at the end. He actually re-signed with the Wild last year and has 2 more years left at a cap hit just over $3M per season, just about half of what he earned in his previous deal.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

David Booth Jersey Card

Earlier today, the Toronto Maple Leafs solidified their second line by signing David Booth to an affordable 1-year contract; just a couple of days ago, I had suggested they try someone else who is often asked and expected to play as a power-forward, Guillaume Latendresse, but Booth fills the same type of role (and has the same history of concussions).

David Booth's time with the Vancouver Canucks may well be considered unsuccessful to say the least, what with just 26 goals and 51 points in 164 points, but keep in mind he came in mid-season after a trade with the Florida Panthers, with whom he'd spent all of his career with until that point; the second year was the lock-out, and the third brought in a new head coach in John Tortorella, who completely changed the style and make-up of the team. That makes for a lot of change in very little time.

His career-high for goals (31) and points (60) may no longer be attainable, because I don't think he can warrant top-line minutes like he used to in Florida, if only because talented new rookies have come in each year since 2008-09, but I still stand by what I said about him last March:
(He) would be an ideal second-liner on a playoff-quality team, and a luxury third-liner with powerplay and penalty-killing time on a stacked Stanley Cup contender like the Chicago Blackhawks or Anaheim Ducks (though possibly a first-liner on the stacked-at-center Pittsburgh Penguins).
Meaning I can see him reaching the 45-50-point plateau, ideally with more than 20 goals, perhaps 25.

Here is a card that dates back to his heyday, showing him wearing the Panthers' white (away) uniform, with the aletrnate captain's 'A':
It's from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Series 1 set, and is card #GJ-DA of the UD Game Jersey sub-set, with a black game-worn jersey swatch (though the white uniform contains no black apart from the dreaded piping).

Monday, July 21, 2014

P.A. Parenteau Jersey Card

A lot has been written about the trade that sent Daniel Brière from the Montréal Canadiens to the Colorado Avalanche for Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau right before free agency kicked in three weeks ago; idiots observers talk about how Parenteau's ''puck possession statistics'' we so much better than Brière's, which just goes to show how flawed those statistics are.

The Corsi rating - the most-used ''advanced stat'' - calculates the amount of shots fired at the offensive net compared to the defensive one whilst a player is on the ice to calculate whether that player is ''in the plusses'' or ''the minuses'', which in itself is wrong on at least a hundred and fifty levels, starting with the quality of players on the ice; last season, for example, Brière was always used in fourth-line duties; even when not paired with grinders, the players he was with were either slumping or pretty much grounded by head coach Michel Therrien, and often played less than 10 minutes per game. Parenteau played on the Avs' top two lines, usually paired with Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan O'Reilly, if not with Alex Tanguay and Matt Duchene. That's two of that season's award winners, a gold-winning Olympian, and a former All-Star.

Also, the Corsi, obviously created by a former goalie, totally ignores the basics of a hockey game. An average, tight NHL game will finish 3-2, with 30 shots apiece. Perhaps 50 each counting blocked shots and deflections. That's one per minute, per team, except hockey isn't basketball: the action doesn't go end-to-end for 60 minutes. It goes in 60-to-100-second spurts of momentum, with players who usually get on for 45-second shifts, and in those bursts, most shots will get rebounds, and the first one or two will have missed, so instead of going 1-for-1 or, in a 45-second shift, 2 shots each way, it's likely going to be a 3-0 count that the player himself had little to do with apart from just being in the play or not.

The quality of your opposition says as much as the quality of your line, and none of that indicates actual possession. Recent Detroit Red Wings teams could have the puck on their sticks for 45 minutes per game and only shoot 20 times - and win 4-1; shots directed simply do not demonstrate possession.

Comparing actual statistics is fairly easy though: Parenteau has zero 30-goal seasons, to Brière's four; Parenteau has one 20-goal season on John Tavares' wing to Brière's seven with lesser players. Brière has played in two All-Star Games, and was MVP of one. Brière is a point-per-game career player in the playoffs, and even led all players in 2010 with 30 (in just 23 games) as the Philadelphia Flyers lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. Brière has been an NHL captain twice.

Internationally, Parenteau has a silver medal, with Team Canada at the 2003 World Juniors; Brière has... gold from the 1997 World Juniors, and gold from the 2003 and 2004 World Championships. (He also won gold at the U-18 before it was ''a thing''). Brière is also a point-per-game player on the international stage.

So who do you want to dress for a Game 7?

Speaking of the masters of pressure, it seems Avs head coach Patrick Roy didn't exactly see eye-to-eye with Parenteau, so just obtaining anything in return is considered a win, let alone a ton of leadership come playoff time.

Still, I'm looking forward to seeing a guy who can put the puck in the net playing with Tomas Plekanec on the Habs' second line. I'm hoping for 25 goals, but I really can't tell if that's possible or not. Ironically, I unwrapped a couple of Parenteau jersey cards this winter, and figured I could start with this one:
It's card #AF-PA from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition set (part of the Authentic Fabrics sub-set), and features a big burgundy jersey swatch while showing him wearing the Avs' white (away) uniform.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Guillaume Latendresse Autograph Card

Of course, I have a certain fondness for Guillaume Latendresse. He's a nice enough guy, although that perma-smile can get under the skin of a few people, as does his love of he limelight: he dates singers, accompanies them to red carpet events and, awaiting his official retirement, has become a hockey analyst for RDS, whose parent company (Bell) owns 15 % of the Montréal Canadiens, and half the Toronto Maple Leafs. He loves cameras, and good for him.

I don't think he's good enough for the Habs anymore (they're way too balanced and quick), but he could certainly play on the Leafs' second line tomorrow morning. He was never the fastest guy on the ice, but a shot like his doesn't just go away, despite the concussions and the half-season in Switzerland last year. With Phil Kessel facing the best players the opposition has to offer (and scoring 35-40 goals in the process), Latendresse could easily net 25-35 facing lesser defensive-minded forwards, and with second-unit powerplay time.

As it stands, however, he will be coaching a Midget AAA team next winter in-between commentating gigs; at least he's keeping his skates on the ice.

Here's a card I have been holding on to for a few years, from Panini's 2010-11 Crown Royale set, card #35 of the Scratching The Surface sub-set (numbered #24/100), showing him wearing the Minnesota Wild's white (away) uniform:
What a beautiful sub-set! Possibly the finest hockey autograph sub-set I've seen, and just a notch below the signed-helmet cards from the Sweet Spot football series (which I am just now realizing I have never featured here, despite having a good half-dozen of them).

I love the rink-shaped signing area, the blue-sharpied signature, the team's logo, the fact that they still managed to put a clear picture of his face and a bit of the team's crest... the whole thing!

Oh, and here's something weird: this page has him listed with the Arizona Coyotes...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blake Wheeler: 4 Autographed Cards

The returns haven't exactly been piling up this summer, but what has come in has been pretty cool - and this was no exception.
When all is said and done, Blake Wheeler may be the Winnipeg Jets' finest and most effective offensive weapon; much is said about Andrew Ladd's leadership ability and skills, and Evander Kane's flash and brilliance, but in the three seasons since the NHL moved back to Manitoba, Wheeler finished atop the scoring leaders in points and goals twice each, and not in the same years. The first season, he ranked third in goals (17) but first in points (64), and last season he also led with 69 points - and 28 goals. In the locked-out season before that, he was second on the team with 41 points in 48 games, but led the team with an impressive 19 goals.

A hulking 6'5'' and 210-pound rocket on skates, Wheeler appears to be ready to be the guy on whatever team will have him; he has achieved individual success at every level, from a (multiple-time) team leader in the NHL to having been named the MVP of the 2009 YoungStars game where he registered 4 goals, to as far back as being named the WCHL Final Five MVP in 2007.

He's also probably hungry for team success, having been a member of the 2010-11 Boston Bruins for most of the season before the trade to Winnipeg, as the Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup without him that spring; he has also represented Team USA at the World Juniors (4th place in 2006), World Championships (8th place in 2011) and Olympics (4th place in 2014); he's been stung by defeat enough to want to win at all costs the next time he's put in that type of situation again.

I, for one, think he's good enough to be a first-line right winger on at least 25 teams; unfortunately for him, he'll never be considered the best of his draft class, as 2004 was the year that also brought Alexander Ovechkin (1st) and Evgeni Malkin (2nd) to the NHL, but his being chosen 5th - right behind Cam Barker and Ladd - is pretty much perfect, although in retrospect, perhaps Brandon Dubinsky (60th), Alexander Edler (91st) or Mark Streit (262nd) would likely have taken Barker's spot. On a better team, Wheeler would probably be able to score 30 goals with at least 70 points for the next three or four years, guaranteeing him another spot at the Olympics and perhaps an All-Star Game or two. If I were a GM, he's definitely a player I'd target right now, perhaps even dangling first-round draft picks to obtain him.

I had sent him 5 cards and a fan letter on March 13th, 2014, and received 4 of them back, signed in (fading) black sharpie, with his jersey number (26) included, 123 days later, on June 18th (2014). Oddly enough, my return envelope carried a permanent Canadian stamp (it was sent to the Jets), but was postmarked from West Palm Beach, Florida; I'd like to extend my thanks to the U.S. Postal service for letting it go through.

Here are the cards, first showing him in the Bruins' alternate uniform (too bad the logo crest doesn't show because of his position) from Fleer's 2009-10 Fleer Ultra set (card #15, the Gold variant) by Upper Deck:
Next up are two UD cards of him wearing the Bruins' black (home) uniform:
On the left is card #17 from the 2010-11 Victory collection, while the card on the right is #34 from the 2010-11 Black Diamond set.

And to close it off, one of him with the Jets' dark blue (home) uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Score set (#539 in the series):
I'm fairly certain the card he kept had him wearing the Jets' white (away) uniform, because I'm a jersey nerd and tend to want to send / own one of each, but I can't be certain. I just don't remember. This brings my 2014 totals to 27/74.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Anthony Hopkins Clothing Card

So, uh, here's a bit of a downer. I actually got this card in a re-pack of sports cards, which also contained a golf autograph (since traded) and mostly (common) baseball and basketball cards - obviously not a pack meant for me, unless karma wanted to repay me for a past sin. It's from Razor's 2010 Pop Century collection, which was essentially a six-card box containing three autograph cards and three Celebrity-Worn Wardrobe swatch cards, probably at a ridiculously high price; my card is #SW-6 in the set, and features a piece of clothing (either a dress shirt of the inside of a blazer, in my opinion) guaranteed to have been worn by acclaimed actor Anthony Hopkins:

The Good: Sir Hopkins is an Academy Award-winning actor, known worldwide for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal, and Red Dragon.

The Bad: I'm not a huge fan.

The Ugly: well, the card, overall. It's an awful design - I get the ''actor / theater curtain'' thing, sure, but why blue and not red? And why not a picture? Why so bland?

On the plus side, the celebrity's name is reprinted on the back, so it's not all generic. And my particular swatch has stitching on the side... which I can see because the swatch doesn't even make it to the edge of the hole.

I seriously wonder how little effort went into this sub-set (from images I've seen online, the autograph cards are light-years better), so much so that it makes me doubt the authenticity of the pieces; I don't think a company with so little financial means for a proper card design could be bothered to purchase their ''authentic clothing'' from renowned auctions (Sotherbys?) and instead am leaning towards some garage sale in Dayton, Ohio or a shady Ebay seller with a lower-than ''5'' rating...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mike Ribeiro Autograph Card

Well, congratulations are in order for Mike Ribeiro, who seems to once again have found work centering an NHL team's first line, this time with the Nashville Predators (possibly the last team in the West without a #1 center), where he'll be able to feed James Neal enough perfect passes to once more reach the 40-goal plateau.

The pair had previously been teammates with the Dallas Stars, and a natural passer combined with a natural shooter, both with things to prove, just might be what makes the Preds a playoff-bound team. That, and the play of Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber, of course.

But with the additions of Ribeiro, Neal, Olli Jokinen, and Derek Roy, and with Mike Fisher set to return from injury in December to play along with the young prospects the organization has been grooming, it's safe to say Nashville has never been so deep in their top-6 forwards, despite some being in their twilight years (Jokinen and Roy, particularly).

And it's a cheap group, too, with Ribeiro out to make $1.05M, Roy $1M, and Jokinen $2.5M.

So it's a great time to feature this signed insert from In the Game's 2001-02 Be A Player Signature Series set (card #237, his First Signature Card as stated on the back, signed on-card in thin black sharpie with his jersey number - 71 - tagged at the end), showing him in the Montréal Canadiens' white (then-home) uniform:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chris Pronger Jersey Card

I mentioned a trade I made recently on yesterday's Don Beaupre post, which was two cards for one, with Frank from Frank's Hockey Autograph Blog. The second player going my way in the trade was Chris Pronger:
It's card #J-CP from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Series 1 collection, featuring a black jersey swatch to match with the picture of the towering defenseman, then suiting up for the Anaheim Ducks. The design is a little simplistic, and the card's corners are a little worn out, but I don't care.

I used to really not like Pronger. He started off with the Hartford Whalers, who picked him second overall in 1993. Perhaps it had to do with the team he was on, but he looked lost on the ice back then, like a deer in the headlights. And he had a multitude of off-ice problems, including bar-room brawls and DUIs. He only played in Hartford for two seasons before getting traded to the St. Louis Blues.

It was while in St. Louis that I really started to dislike him. He was thuggish, mean, and pretty much just evil, using his 6'6'' frame and 220 pounds to attempt to injure opponents rather than just take the puck away from them and try to get it in the opposing net. He played for Team Canada at the 1998 Olympics alongside other brutes like Eric Lindros, and I was happy when they choked, though I was sad for Wayne Gretzky and Joe Sakic. He was eventually made the Blues' captain and won the Hart and Norris trophies - three titles I think should have gone to teammate Al MacInnis instead.

He was traded to the Edmonton Oilers prior to the 2005-06 season, and was selected for the Olympics for a third straight time - and second major choke job, finishing in 7th place. But something special happened in the playoffs, where Pronger actually, magically, for a two-month period, became the best player in the NHL, putting up 21 points in 24 dominant games as the Oilers came up one goal short of the Stanley Cup, losing it to the Carolina Hurricanes in 7 games.

He would win the coveted salad bowl the next season... as a member of the Ducks, after having requested a trade out of the tundra and perpetual snow. I didn't follow him as much in Anaheim, but I had stopped hating him as a player, because he seemed to concentrate on actually playing the game, rather than always going for the kill.

His trade to the Philadelphia Flyers in June 2009 made a whole lot of sense, seeing as the Broad Street Bullies had an identity he fit right into, were contenders every other year (and a playoff-bubble team the next), and loved tough-playing giants with some talent. Unfortunately for them - and him - karma happened, and not only was his vision impaired after a high-stick to the eye by Mikhail Granovski, but a career of bone-crushing hits caught up to him in a (normal, hockey-play) collision with Martin Hanzal, leaving him with post-concussion issues that all but ended his career.

In the grand scheme of things, I think he would have deserved to play out his contract for having cleaned up his game of late, but it's also hard to cry for a guy who's won a Cup, a Norris, a Hart, Olympic gold, captained two teams, and made millions of dollars while injuring dozens of his peers. The Hall Of Fame will likely come calling, possibly even as a first-ballot inductee.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Don Beaupre Autographed Card

I agreed to a trade months ago, but because both the people involved were in the process of moving, we waited until last week to actually pull the trigger. I sent him one of these two Jamie Benn cards I featured last year, and he sent two cards my way, the first of which is this Don Beaupre autographed card:
It's card #310 in Upper Deck's flagship 1992-93 Series 1 set, and comes neatly signed in thin blue sharpie, which looks awesome on top of his red (away) Washington Capitals uniform (and red-white-and-blue Vaughn Legacy 2000 blocker). I had successfully written Mr. Beaupre a little over two years ago and he'd signed the three cards I'd sent him.

He was one of the most consistent goalies in the NHL from 1985 until 1994, getting the most starts on his teams with a good wins-loss record (save for one season where the Minnesota North Stars were pretty bad), with two All-Star Game appearances and finishing in the top-5 for goals-against numerous times, and first in shutouts once.

He probably was just as good even after that, but playing for the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs only got you the league lead in losses at that time (25, in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, playing in 38 of the Sens' 48 games)...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ryan O'Reilly Swatch Card

Ah, the curious case of Ryan O'Reilly. The 33rd pick of the 2009 draft, ahead of Robin Lehner (46th), Brandon Pirri (59th), Tomas Tatar (60th), Tyson Barrie (64th), David Savard (94th), Stanley Cup winner Linden Vey (96th), Gabriel Bourque (132nd), and Gabriel Dumont (139th) already has NHL hardware - he won the Lady Byng trophy this summer after notching just two penalty minutes all season, for playing with a broken stick no less - but is also entering his second contract dispute with the Colorado Avalanche in less than two years.

He signed an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames a year and a half ago, a trap if there ever was one, considering he made $1M (with a 2.5M signing bonus) the first year, and a whopping $6.5M the second, meaning as a Restricted Free Agent, the team who would own his rights (be they the Flames, the Avs or any team he would have been traded to) had at least match the final year's worth just as a qualifying offer, or lose him to Unrestricted Free Agency. Of course, since then, teams were awarded the right to bring a player to arbitration and lower their salary - which they have applied for, and both sides enter the next couple of weeks a little on edge.

And there was that thing with O'Reilly's dad, angry at the organization for not having named his son captain, his Twitter rants, and his attack on how the team views character.

Except character isn't about crying the minute you don't get what you want, it's about getting up when you're down, manning up to your shortcomings, and doing what's best for the group, not yourself. O'Reilly led the team with a lowly 55 points in 2011-12 as the Avs failed to make the playoffs, and he thought it was a good idea to get paid more than 10% of the team's cap - higher than its actual first-liners - hindering their chances at adding outside help; they finished last in their conference the following year, obviously.

To me, those are signs of a mercenary, and those guys don't deserve a letter on their jersey, least of which a "C". They are those you use while your prospects develop, then send to places where folks would rather watch NASCAR than hockey, or in a desert on an always-bankrupt team, or a teal-coloured ''perennial contender'', or in frigid Manitoba. You forget they ever existed, save for the three draft picks they got you when you set them free.

But maybe I'm just a romantic when it comes to Colorado. Maybe I've been spoiled by Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy and Milan Hejduk, and maybe I believe Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are made of the same cloth.

And yet, after saying all this, I didn't hate it when I unpacked this 2012-13 Certified card by Panini (#FOG-RO of the Fabric Of The Game sub-set, numbered /49/299), showing him in the Avs' dark (home) uniform with a white jersey swatch:
The silver foil actually looks better scanned than in real life, which is pretty rare. I wouldn't mind white swatches so much if the picture on the card at least depicted the player having some on him... not doing so just tells me they buy those because they're cheaper, which is likely because it looks bland, or else it'd be on the card. Unless three wrongs make a right...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Louis Leblanc Jersey Card

The Anaheim Ducks signed former Montréal Canadiens prospect Louis Leblanc to a one-year, two-way contract earlier this weekend, probably as a means to really show what he can do in their own system, and be assessed by their own staff rather than look at the raw stats and read dumb comments like ''what a bust'' from anonymous internet bloggers who have never seen him play.

Every single one of his statistics can be used in a positive and negative light: he played 8 games with the Habs last year, without registering a single point - but he played less than 10 minutes a game and was a +1; he only scored 13 goals for the Hamilton Bulldogs this past year - it was the 4th-best total on the team despite being the third-line center (behind Martin St. Pierre and Gabriel Dumont); he only scored 13 the year before - yeah, but that ranked second on the team, despite missing 20 games with a serious injury.

To me, all of that shows promise, and how a difficult context can hinder one's progress. Of course, he'll have to either put the past behind or use it as motivation, but he can't solely focus on the time he's lost with the Habs, because that might lead him the Angelo Esposito route and have him play in second-tier Italian leagues in no time.

This won't be his last chance to play in the NHL by any stretch of the imagination, but it could be the last time someone offers him a legitimate chance at proving he can be a  long-time quality second-line player.

And so this should be my last post on Mr. Leblanc until he scores his first NHL hat trick or something; what better way to do it than with this beautiful 2012-13 Artifacts (card #141) by Upper Deck, numbered #11/125, featuring two swatches - one of them a two-colour one - of him playing for Team Canada:
He medaled twice for Canada, having won gold at the 2008 U-18 / Ivan Hlinka tournament, and silver at the 2011 World Juniors, posting 12 points in 11 games in those tournaments, finishing first and fourth in team scoring, respectively.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Marcel Hossa Jersey Card

I miss Marcel Hossa.

After failing to secure an NHL contract on favorable terms, he has now spent seven seasons in the KHL, four of them in three separate stints with Dinamo Riga. He actually was the league's leading goal scorer in 2009-10, with 35 goals in 56 games. Apart from a sub-par season in 2012-13 with the lowly Lev Praha, he has been a point-per-game player (or close) in the KHL - a rare feat - including posting 41 points (off 22 goals) in 50 games this past year.

At 32 years old and coming off his third straight Olympics with Team Slovakia, and a silver medal at the 2012 World Championships - so after both individual and team success, and having matured
 - I think he could be a terrific middle-six forward in the NHL, a second-line winger on a playoff-bubble team, or a third-liner with some powerplay time (up to a minute per game) on a deep team that doesn't use its third line exclusively as a checking and grinding line.

Just because he won't turn out to be another Marian Hossa doesn't mean he can't be his own man, and that that wouldn't be enough. Even on this side of the pond, he participated in the YoungStars game, and when the New York Rangers put him on their top line for a month, he responded with 8 goals and 18 points in 11 games. It was after an injury and when he was relegated to a lower echelon (from the first line to the third) that things went sour, eventually leading to his being traded to the Phoenix Coyotes - a lose-lose situation if I've ever seen one - and subsequent fall from grace in North America.

Speaking of his good things he's done while in the NHL, here's a card from Topps' 2002-03 Bowman set (card #FFJ-MH from the Fabric Of The Future sub-sub-set of the YoungStars sub-set, featuring a big white jersey swatch that fits with his Montréal Canadiens' home uniform from the picture):

Notice he's wearing jersey #81, which would be what he'd use for pretty much the rest of his career, except when his brother Marian's also on the team, in which case Marcel would switch to #88 to 18; the first time I met Marcel, he signed two cards where he was sporting #36 with the Habs.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Brandon Dubinsky Jersey And Stick Card

Looks like Brandon Dubinsky has earned himself a nice payday: he signed a 6-year, $35.1M contract extension earlier today with an annual cap hit of $5.85M. Sure, that's a lot of money for a guy whose highest points total (54) was in 2010-11, but let's not forget the cap went up to just over $69M for the upcoming season and should increase by a minimum of 2.5 per year for the next five or six, meaning his cap hit in percentage will have decreased a lot when his contract comes to an end in 2021.

And while the two-time 20-goal scorer who was the 60th overall pick of the 2004 draft via the New York Rangers may not be a offensive dynamo, he was my choice to be the next captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets last year. His leadership qualities are obvious, and he's more productive come playoff time than in the regular season - his 23 points in 37 games are a decent average against better teams, and his 6 points in 6 games against the Pittsburgh Penguins while contributing to annoy Sidney Crosby two months ago were also impressive.

He knows when to step up his game, as can be attested by his career-high 10 hits in a single game occurring during a Winter Classic (2012, against the Philadelphia Flyers); he was also the MVP of the YoungStars game in 2008 and recorded a hat trick at the World Championships suiting up for Team USA.

I alluded to this card last month, which I got in a trade for a dozen (mostly common) Score Hot Rookies cards (and some extras); it's from Panini's 2011-12 Luxury Suite set (card #15), featuring a game-worn white jersey swatch with a piece of game-used stick on which you can decipher the bottom of the 'R' from the Bauer logo on top: