Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Brian Elliott Jersey Card

Yesterday, I touched briefly on the fact that the St. Louis Blues added Bob Gainey as a consultant, and considering the puzzling moves made by general manager Doug Armstrong, they actually probably could use his help - particularly when it comes to handling goalies.

It was bad enough that they traded Jaroslav Halak for former top-notch goalie Ryan Miller at last year's trade deadline, leading to a predictable playoff collapse, but they didn't even try to re-sign Miller, therefore pretty much admitting they'd made a huge mistake.

And how did they fix that mistake? By deciding to give the net to prospect Jake Allen, but not without inking good-guy Brian Elliott (who signed 5 cards for me 18 months ago) to a three-year extension. There's nothing wrong with signing a guy who twice posted a GAA below 2.00 in the past three seasons and holds the NHL record for best save percentage in a full season (.940), but it's iffy - to say the least - when the same guy had a 1.90 GAA and .919 save percentage in 6 playoff games in 2012-13 and yet wasn't allowed to play a single minute against the Chicago Blackhawks last year when Miller imploded.

Either you trust him to man the net or you don't - there are no two ways about it.

Not only does it reek of bad improvisation, it stinks of not having an actual plan. For all his faults as general manager with the Montréal Canadiens (over-paying for Carey Price and trading three #1 goalies to make room for him is one, having 13 players turn UFA at the end of the same season is another, a knack for always betting on the wrong free agents can also be one), Gainey always had a plan. It may not have been the right one, but it was a plan nonetheless.

And so the Blues enter 2014-15 with a new uniform that is reminiscent of their old ones, a new consultant who's from the old school, and the same backup goalie they've had for the past three seasons, ready to split time with the latest flavour of the month. With an actual top-line center like Paul Stastny, however, they now have their best forward in over a decade, and therefore have a shot at staying in the conversation with the top teams in the West - your Blackhawks, your Los Angeles Kings, your Anaheim Ducks and your Dallas Stars. And the Minnesota Wild, should they solve their own goaltending issues.

But a lot of the Blues' hopes will be riding on Elliott, who reminds me a lot of another goalie from my childhood, Ron Tugnutt; both were able to play the best game of the decade, had relatively consistent amazing statistics (Elliott even beats Tugnutt on that front), both were ''default'' additions to All-Star Games, and neither was ever considered in the top-20 of their time.

Of course, the Blues will have to protect Elliott better than they have in the preseason thus far. Here he is, wearing the team's white (away) uniform with matching game-worn jersey swatch, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition (card #AF-BE of the Authentic Fabrics sub-set):

Monday, September 29, 2014

Turner Stevenson Autograph Card

With the news of Bob Gainey joining the St. Louis Blues as a consultant to Ken Hitchcock and Doug Armstrong, I decided to knock off #23 from my Habs Numbers Project with... Turner Stevenson.

It's not that I'm boycotting Gainey for having been a so-so general manager with the Habs or for firing coaches uselessly, but I wrote him in February 2012 sending three cards and he never answered, so I decided to go another route.

Stevenson was the Montréal Canadiens' first-round draft pick (12th overall) in 1990 - one of the deepest drafts in modern hockey history - ahead of All-Stars Keith Tkachuk (19th), Martin Brodeur (20th), Bryan Smolinski (21st), Félix Potvin (31st), Doug Weight (34th), Geoff Sanderson (36th), Mikael Renberg (40th), Vyacheslav (Slava) Kozlov (45th), Alexei Zhamnov (77th), Gilbert Dionne (81st), Sergei Zubov (85th), Roman Turek (113th), Robert Lang (133rd), Peter Bondra (156th), Jaroslav Modry (179th), Espen Knutsen (204th), and enforcers Gino Odjick (86th), Enrico Ciccone (92nd), and Craig Martin (98th).

After accumulating 29 goals and 61 points in 62 games (but more importantly 276 penalty minutes) with the Seattle Thunderbirds, the Habs continued their 1980s and 1990s streak of drafting heavy Western Canadian players who would end up not being impact players at the NHL level (or not even playing at all), hoping they'd found that huge power forward who could score a ton of goals for a long time and defend their teammates. Like Tkachuk or Renberg.

Instead, they got a slow, heavy winger who could play 10 to 13 minutes per game and whose highest goals total in Montréal was 10, in 1998-99. He would score 14 in 2003-04 with the New Jersey Devils, with whom he made it to the Stanley Cup Finals twice, losing to the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 and winning the prized trophy in 2003.

But you can't fault a guy for being who and what he is, and Turner Stevenson was a player who would suit up in 644 NHL games, scoring 75 goals and tallying 190 points in the process. He didn't ask to be a first-round pick, and he finished with his name engraved on the sport's ultimate trophy.

Here he is waiting for a pass, wearing the Canadiens' white (then-home) uniform, from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player set (card #181), an insert card signed in thin black sharpie with his uniform number added (23):

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Steve Sullivan Jersey Card

Steve Sullivan has had a storied and fulfilled NHL career that could have gone even better were it not for injuries, especially back injuries. He played in 1011 games, scored 290 goals and accumulated 747 points while playing a complete decade in the Dead Puck Era. He had eight straight 20-plus-goal seasons including two in the 30s (34 in 2000-2001 and 31 upon returning from the lock-out in 2005-06), and seven straight 60-point seasons (with highs of 75 in 2000-2001 and 73 in 2003-04).

He won the Bill Masterton trophy after coming back from a 23-month absence in 2008-09, and led the league in shorthanded goals (with 8) in 2000-01, garnering a lot of Selke votes in the process. He's had a few Lady Byng votes in his time as well.

Originally drafted 233rd overall by the New Jersey Devils, they traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Doug Gilmour; six years later, when sent from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Nashville Predators, his trade value had dropped to two second-round picks (Michael Blunden and Ryan Garlock). Still, he played in 6 seasons with the Preds, tallying 263 points in 317 games and made them improve from a basement team to a playoff contender.

After signing one-year contracts with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Phoenix Coyotes, he was traded back to where it all began - New Jersey - making for the third-longest length of time between two stints with the same team in NHL history.

And because he's constantly had to battle through adversity (from the injuries and his 5'8'', 160-pound frame) while putting up decent numbers, the Arizona Coyotes felt he was the best person to be their new player development coach.

I didn't have a card of his with the Coyotes, but I do have this jersey card of him in the Predators' dark blue (away) uniform with matching swatch, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 2 set (card #J2-SS of the Game Jersey sub-set):
He was an alternate captain for most of his tenure in Nashville.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Jacob Markstrom Autograph Card

Despite a rumoured 4 teams having shown interest, Jacob Markstrom cleared waivers today, meaning the Vancouver Canucks can now assign him to the AHL's Utica Comets.

I had had a 3-card return from Markström in April, where I talked about how often he'd represented Team Sweden internationally despite his young age, and assumed he'd also dress for them at the 2014 World Championships... it turns out I was wrong. Sweden won bronze on the terrific play of New York Islanders goalie Anders Nilsson, and the backup, while also a member of the Canucks, was Joacim Eriksson.

It is therefore pretty safe the say the past 6 months haven't been especially kind to the young goaltender, but he's still just 24, and I still stand by what I said in April:
He has a good butterfly and the perfect size (6'6'' and just under 200 pounds) for his style, a good glove hand, good agility and covers his angles well. With a proper goaltending coach to look for the best angle to put his legs in, he'll be able to cover up the five-hole and reach the space next to the post accurately enough to only have to work on his blocker-side and lateral push for the next decade or so.
We're talking about a guy who's possibly ranked between the 50th and 70th in the world at his position, and a few very slight tweaks could bring him up to top-15 level in just months.

I do have a suspicion as to why teams allowed him to go through waivers, though: the Montréal Canadiens still have Dustin Tokarski in camp, and he could be made available for trade or via waivers in the next few days as well, and teams really liked how he handled the pressure of not just playing in Montréal, but performing well in the Eastern Conference Finals while handling the toughest job in the NHL.

I'd like to think Markstrom has a higher potential ceiling than Tokarski, but Tokarski is currently ahead in his development curve. We'll see how this plays out in just a few days anyway.

In the meantime, I thought I could feature this card from Panini's 2013-14 Crown Royale set (#SO-JM of the Sovereign Sigs sub-set), featuring Markstrom with the Florida Panthers' white (away) uniform, but mostly a great view of hs mask - and an on-sticker blue-sharpied autograph:
The foil on the crown and text is actually golden in real life, while the print at the bottom is silver/grey, just as the scan shows. The top of the card is die-cut, which adds to the coolness of the set.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Olaf Kolzig Jersey Card

In The Game has a thing for Olaf Kolzig, I guess, seemingly always featuring him in their sets of game-worn jerseys - and I sure won't complain. In the case of their 2003-04 In The Game-Used set, this card (#GUJ-32 in the collection) shows him in his prime, with the Washington Capitals' dark blue (then-away) uniform with the Capitol building logo and a matching swatch:
I prefer the Caps wearing red, but this was a decent jersey nonetheless, though the gold/bronze stripes didn't look as good on players' equipment as it did on the uniform.

Kolzig spent 16 years in the Caps' system, upon being drafted in 1989. If it wasn't for 8 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008-09 in which he obtained just 2 wins, he would have spent his entire career with Washington.

He has a Vezina to his name as well as a King Clancy and a First-Team All-Star nod, two All-Star Games, another Vezina top-5 run, Hart votes in two seasons, and a Stanley Cup Finals loss on his NHL resume to go with a Butterfield trophy (playoff MVP) and Hap Holmes award (best GAA) in the AHL, and a league championship in Germany during the 2004-05 lockout.

He was the Caps' goaltending coach last year, but asked to be re-assigned this season to player development coach; he will also serve as part-time goalie coach, but will no longer have to be on the road with the team at all times, so he can spend more time with his family.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jarred Tinordi Jersey Card

As I mentioned a few days ago in my post about Nathan Beaulieu, he and Jarred Tinordi are involved in a three-man race (with Greg Pateryn) as the Montréal Canadiens' 6th and 7th defensemen behind Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, P.K. Subban, Tom Gilbert and Mike Weaver. Magnus Nygren has also impressed at camp so far, but he started as a man on the outside looking in.

Then again, Tinordi hasn't had that great a camp, but he has shown what he can do despite his young age in 30 regular-season and 5 playoff NHL games so far, as well as in two seasons in the AHL. At still just 22 years of age, I wouldn't mind seeing Tinordi go back with the Hamilton Bulldogs for one more season, and take on the role of #1 defenseman, perhaps even hone his leadership skills on a team that promises to not finish at the bottom of the standings for once. He has captained the U.S. Development Team as well as the OHL's London Knights, his Juniors team, after all.

Let's not kid ourselves, though, like his father Mark Tinordi, Jarred is a shut-down defender who can hit hard with his 6'6'' frame and 225 pounds (which may go up to 235 in time), and players of his type take longer to develop and rarely become 40-point producers, but a year manning the powerplay and penalty-kill in the AHL may improve his shot accuracy and passing skills, which would only help at the NHL level.

He has already represented Team USA twice, going medal-less at the 2012 World Juniors but winning gold at the 2010 Under-18 tournament. In both cases, he had a goal and an assist.

Some fans may have been hoping for a Chris Pronger-type of player when the Habs chose him with the 22nd pick in 2010, because he has the size and decent speed considering, but if he can develop into a tougher Hall Gill/faster Zdeno Chara (or somewhere in between), that'll still be a very worthwhile pick.

I'll have plenty more cards of his to showcase this year, but since I also went with the 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition set by Upper Deck (#RF-JT of the Rookie Fabrics sub-set) for Beaulieu's, I figured the Tinordi post could use the same treatment, so here he is wearing the Habs' white (away) uniform with an all-red swatch from a photo shoot:
It's interesting to note that in his rookie season, Tinordi wore #42; he has since switched to #24, and should the team retire it for Chris Chelios (which I doubt, considering he spent the bulk of his career elsewhere and only won one Stanley Cup and Norris here, out of three each in total), he'd be the last to have worn it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Guillaume Latendresse (Dual) Jersey Card

Guillaume Latendresse concurred with Rick Nash in today's La Presse, in an article that essentially talked about the fear of getting back into the thick of things after a concussion when it seems opponents are deliberately trying to re-injure you - or worse.

It's rare that an active star player will be as candid as Nash was in an interview earlier this week. As a retiree, Latendresse went even further, accusing the Minnesota Wild's doctors of sending him back in a game despite his head hurting so much he would cry between periods.

Now seemed like as good a time as any to feature this 2006-07 Ultimate Collection card from Upper Deck, #DJ-GL of the Ultimate Debut Threads (numbered #99/150) sub-set that I got in a trade earlier this summer:
I like the encyclopedia feel the left side of the card has, and the fact that both swatches  - although white, i.e. ''bland'' - match the uniform he's wearing on the card. I also like the foil team logo and classy design. It's probably not worth much to the ''average collector'' anymore, but I liked Tender, and feel his statistics were fine for his playing time. I put him above the ''bust'' category, for sure.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Matt Dumba Swatch Card

Mathew Dumba is one of almost too many prized prospects coming up the ranks in the Minnesota Wild organization. The 6-foot, 185-pound defenseman chosen 7th-overall in 2012 - ahead of Jacob Trouba (9th), Filip Forsberg (11th), Mikhail Grigorenko (12th), Cody Ceci (15th), Tomas Hertl (17th), Teuvo Teravainen (18th), Scott Laughton (20th), Olli Maata (22nd), Malcolm Subban (24th), and Tanner Pearson (30th) - comes with an impressive resume, having captained Team Canada at U-18 tournaments and winning a bronze medal with the team.

We're talking about the almost-perfect current-day NHL defenseman: booming slap shot, dazzling speed, and a knack for open-ice ''big'' hits. All he needs is to put on maybe 25 to 30 pounds and he'll be all he can be. Whether that happens with the Wild's stacked defense remains to be seen, though...

Because he played 13 games last season, he still qualifies for all rookie honors, but is now considered in his second contract year. While with the Wild, he was loaned to the Canadian team for the World Juniors, but the team finished in fourth place; he was also traded from the Red Deer Rebels, with whom he'd spent his previous 4 WHL seasons, to the Portland Winterhawks, with whom he was a point-per-game player from the back end.

Here he is with the Wild's green alternate uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Titanium set (card #RG-MDB of the Rookie Gear sub-set, part of the Dual Rookie Class), with a matching event-worn swatch:
I like that almost every single picture he's in shows him with stoner eyes. I had made custom cards to have signed by him last year, I forget if I sent them or not.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Magnus Paajarvi Autograph Card

Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson remains an enigma for many fans and general managers, but it's easy to see why he was drafted 10th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2009: at barely 23 years of age, the 6'3'', 210-pound rocket has impressed at every single level he has played at, usually at a much younger age than all of his peers; he made Team Sweden's Under-16 team at just 14, enabling him to earn three World Juniors medals (silver in 2008 and 2009, bronze in 2010), and two World Championship medals (bronze in an incredible 2010 season, silver in 2011). He was the youngest Swede ever to make the team, then medal at the World Juniors.

And it's not like he was a passenger on either the Junior or Men's teams: he has 41 points (on 16 goals and 25 assists) in 30 games in Juniors, and 7 goals, 9 assists and 16 points in 18 games with the adult teams, making the 2010 Worlds All-Star team in the process.

And that's not counting Sweden's win at the 2008 Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament. In North America, the Oilers didn't have enough players of his level on the team for him to shine, and their AHL affiliate wasn't much better, though he did accumulate 11 goals, 24 assists and 45 points in 72 games over two seasons with the Oklahoma City Barons.

He has improved his defensive play, and because of that may become relegated to third-line duties, which really shouldn't be his spot, because putting him in a long-term defensive capacity may lead him to grow tired of not using his skills and eventually to some laziness. He has all-world speed, all-world hands, and all-world moves; he loves making spectacular plays; he has size and back-checks - he belongs at least on a second line, and second-unit powerplay.

As a power forward, I expect him to enter the 20-to-25-goal stage of his career this season, and to be a threat for 35-to-40 from ages 26 to 31. Ironically, what hurt him in Edmonton - lack of able bodies to surround him - is no longer the case with the St. Louis Blues, where the team's depth may force the them to start him with less playing time than he'd require.

And so this may have been my favourite pull from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers Collection (#FI-MP of the Franchise Ink sub-set), featuring a blue-sharpied autograph (with his Oilers jersey number - 91 - tagged at the end) on a sticker:

It therefore checks #91 off my Oilers Numbers Project, and makes me 28-for-78 in collecting autographed cards of ''used'' Edmonton numbers.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Paul Bissonnette Jersey Card

NHL enforcer and Twitter superstar Paul Bissonnette (a.k.a. Biz Nasty) may have found a new home with the St. Louis Blues, as the Stanley Cup contenders have extended him a invitation to their training camp.

You may remember him from the best and most epic Ice Bucket Challenge of the summer:

Even if he doesn't make the team, at least he'll get to showcase his skills during camp and perhaps another team will come calling should the Blues release him.

That said, I've been waiting all summer to feature this 2013-14 Totally Certified card by Panini (#TC-PBI in the red ''regular'' jersey sub-set) - a set that for $70 gave you 20 cards, including one autograph and three jersey cards; this particular card features a big burgundy swatch with some white stitching hanging from it, and shows Bissonnette wearing the Phoenix Coyotes white (away) uniform:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Nathan Beaulieu Jersey Card

Out of the three prospects battling for the 6th and 7th defenseman spots on the Montréal Canadiens, Nathan Beaulieu is the one with the most offensive upside, while Jarred Tinordi is the hulking tower and Greg Pateryn is the stable defensive guy.

He even played in 7 playoff games in the Habs' trip to the semi-finals, posting two assists while leading the rush on many occasions against the New York Rangers. His 4 total assists in 23 NHL games so far do not reflect his potential in any way: the 17th-overall pick in 2011 will be a 40-point man in the NHL for a long time. Perhaps not in the same category as Ryan McDonagh, but definitely as valuable as Ron Hainsey was for the better part of a decade.

He is a swift skater and nifty passer who has a decent shot and vision; he will manage the point on a first-unit powerplay within three years' time, the only question is whether that's with Montréal or elsewhere.

Unlike other prospects, however, his international experience isn't all that full of glory: one bronze meal at the World Juniors with Team Canada, and 3 meager assists in 11 total games of teenage hockey.

I figure I will be featuring a lot of his cards this coming season, so I might as well start with this 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition card by Upper Deck (#RF-NB of the Rookie Fabrics sub-set), showing him wearing the Habs' classic red (home) uniform with a matching swatch from a photo shoot:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Craig Muni Autograph Card

Before his NHL career really took off with the Edmonton Oilers, Craig Muni played 19 games over 4 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs (who had drafted him 25th overall in 1980), wearing four different uniform numbers.

He will mostly be remembered for his time in Edmonton, though, having played there for 7 seasons and posting the best plus/minus statistics in three seasons, while winning three Stanley Cups in his first four seasons. He was the team's top shut-down defender with Kevin Lowe, a master at blocking shots and open-ice hits.

Of course, between the time the Oilers signed him and his first game with the team, he was traded three times in a 48-hour span, from Edmonton to the Buffalo Sabres to the Pittsburgh Penguins back to the Oilers, just so he could avoid falling to waivers. It cost Glen Sather some ''future considerations'', but all things considered, was for the best.

He finished his career by playing for five teams in five seasons - Buffalo (160 games) and Pittsburgh (64 games) both being in the mix, along with the Chicago Blackhawks (18 games), Winnipeg Jets (25 games), and Dallas Stars (40 games).

So I was happy I could add him to my Oilers Numbers Project (accounting for #28), with this card from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers Collection, which is #FI-MU of the Franchise Ink sub-set:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Kimmo Timonen Jersey Card

When I received these four signed cards of Kimmo Timonen last June, the future was still up in the air; since then, he re-signed with the Philadelphia Flyers for one year, and - more importantly - was diagnosed with blot clots, which puts not just his season (and career) but his very life in jeopardy.

I waxed poetic about his career in my last post, so I won't be doing a repeat episode just quite yet, but it'd be sad if this were how it ended for him, and 2013-14 had been the final season for three of the biggest Finnish hockey legends (not named Jari Kurri), considering Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu just retired.

However, Timonen and the Flyers admitted earlier today that his chances to ever play again were ''very slim'', considering he may be on blood thinners for the rest of his life - like his mother and brothers; if on blood thinners, he won't be able to play, because the slightest cut could result in tremendous loss of blood.

And so I present this card of him wearing the Flyers' black (home) uniform from a few years back, from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Series 1 set, card #GJ-KT of the Game Jersey sub-set featuring a white game-worn swatch:
Here's to his leading a long, happy and healthy life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Omar Jacobs & Charlie Whitehurst Jersey Card

This card comes from a pack of Upper Deck's 2006 Sweet Spot (#SPD-JW of the Sweet Pairings sub-set) football cards I must have bought in 2009 or 2010:

Granted, neither of these quarterbacks has become a superstar, but they aren't in jail either, which is a small victory for the NFL these days.

Omar Jacobs is the type of QB who is a superstar at lower levels (Arena Football MVP and playoff MVP titles) and in College (GMAC Bowl MVP), but just hasn't been able to move past the practice squad at the NFL level on three separate teams - the Pittsburgh Steelers (who drafted him 164th overall in the 5th round in 2006), Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs.

He has moved from minor league to minor league, and played for the Wichita Falls Nighthawks of the Gridiron Development League (GDFL) in 2013... but the team folded mid-season. His longest tenure with the same team was with the AIFA's (Arena Football) Jacksonville Sharks, from 2010 to 2013.

Charlie Whitehurst, on the other hand, has been on active NFL rosters since he was drafted in the third round (81st overall), also in 2006. Being the son of a former NFL QB keeps a few doors open that way. His first game as a member of the San Diego Chargers, ironically, was against the Tennessee Titans, who now employ him. All told, he spent 6 seasons with the Chargers in two stint, and may have had his best games in his two seasons with the Seattle Seahawks (2010-2011).

He is nicknamed ''Clipboard Jesus'' because he is a career back-up and has long hair.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Gilbert Dionne: 6 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

Gilbert Dionne has always - unfairly - been compared to his older brother, Marcel Dionne. I mean, sure, they share parents, but they're 19 years apart, and the elder brother is a Hall Of Famer - that's putting undue pressure on the youngest.

Not only did they not have the same playing styles, but Marcel was short at 5'8'' and 185 pounds, while Gilbert was a tall and lanky 6'1'' and 190 pounds. And while Marcel won the Art Ross trophy, the Lester B. Pearson award, two Lady Byngs, was second of all time in goals, assists and points when he retired and holds the third-most 100-point seasons in NHL history (behind Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux), played in 8 All-Star Games and was on four end-of-season All-Star Teams, won three World Championship bronze medals (1978, 1983 and 1986) and one Canada Cup with Team Canada, one trophy he could never get his hands on was the Stanley Cup; Gilbert won it with the Montréal Canadiens in just his second season, in 1992-93.

He had also had a fine rookie season, making the All-Rookie Team and finishing second among rookies in powerplay goals despite having played less than half the season in the NHL; indeed, he had 21 goals and 34 points in just 39 games with the Habs, after spending the first half of 1991-92 with the AHL's Fredericton Canadiens.

I do have this card from his days in Fredericton, from Classic's 1992-93 Pro (Hockey) Prospects set (card #87),  wearing an identical replica of the Habs' classic red uniform:
For comparisons' sake, here he is wearing the Habs' regular uniform, with the NHL's 75th Anniversary patch thrown in for good measure, on card #92 from Pro Set's 1992-93 Pro Set collection:
Eerie, right?

Pro Set also produced these two cards of his wearing the Canadiens' white (then-home) uniform, from the 1992-93 Parkhust set (French Canadian Edition):
On the left is his regular (Rookie) card, #313 in the set; on the right is his League Leaders sub-set card as the rookie with the best shooting percentage, which is #447 in the collection.

The last three also count towards fulfilling #45 of my Habs Numbers Project.

             (continued in the following post)

Gilbert Dionne: 6 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

        (continued from the previous post)

Gilbert Dionne's true rookie card, however, is this one, from Upper Deck's 1991-92 Series 1 set (card #448, part of the Star Rookie sub-set), showing him not just wearing the Montréal Canadiens' white (home) uniform, but also #22, which he has never worn in an actual game:
I had written him at home on March 3rd, 2014, and received all cards back on September 15th, 2014, a cool 195 days later, signed in black sharpie, with his uniform number (45) tagged to each - even the cards where he's sporting #22. This brings my 2013-14 statistics to 34/74 cards returned.

I respected him so much as a member of the 1993 Stanley Cup-winning Habs team that I even went to see him play with the IHL's Cincinnati Cyclones in the late 1990s.

He played three full seasons and bits of two others in Montréal, scoring 60 goals and 130 points in 196 games; he was part of the infamous trade that sent Éric Desjardins and John LeClair to the Philadelphia Flyers for Mark Recchi, but barely played 22 games with the Flyers over two seasons, not scoring a single goal and just having seven assists to show for it; he finished his NHL career with the Florida Panthers, going 1-2-3 in 5 games to finish off the 1995-96 season before settling in the minors and dominating at the AHL and IHL levels. His last two seasons of pro hockey were played in Germany, where he was almost a point-per-game player in his early 30s.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Taylor Hall Jersey Card

Taylor Hall is a tremendous hockey talent; he wasn't chosen first overall in 2010 (ahead of Tyler Seguin) without reason. He's also a kid of a generation who has to learn to mature under intense scrutiny and at times over-bearing cameras and attention - in his case, from the general public as well as the media.

Because of that, every time he slams a water bottle and sprays his coach - or every time he knees another player - the story will make the news for a longer period than when he's breaking one of Wayne Gretzky's records.

He's well on his way to becoming a true NHL superstar, with two point-per-game seasons in four years, two top-10 finishes in points and assists, a top-5 finish in powerplay goals and three career hat tricks.

It's hard to believe he's barely 22 years old. He has finally grown into his 6'1'' frame by topping the 200-pound mark, which should help him down the line.

Internationally, he has won four medals with Team Canada thus far: silver at the World Juniors (2010), and gold at the U-17 Worlds (representing Team Ontario), as well as the U-18 Worlds and Ivan Hlinka Memorial U-18, all held in 2008.

He and Jordan Eberle are key to making the Edmonton Oilers contenders again. Both have proven to be leaders in lower levels, with Hall leading his Windsor Spitfires to two Memorial Cups, with two tournament MVP titles to go with them.

I couldn't complain when I pulled this card from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition set (card #AF-TH of the Authentic Fabrics sub-set), showing him with the Oilers' classic blue (home) uniform, with a big orange swatch:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tim Raines: 5 Autographed Cards

I usually post personal stuff on my birthday, and this year I'd planned on doing the same as last year: feature Tim Wallach, who shares a birthday with me. Unfortunately, I haven't unpacked those cards yet, but I did find a dozen or so of Tim Raines, my favourite baseball player of all time. I chose to feature the following five cards first because, judging by the pen and signature, they may have been from the same period; I never get more than two signed at a time in person unless I know the person, or know it's totally cool - particularly if I plan on going for, say, three straight days, which may have been the case here in 2001. So here they are:
The Rock may very well have been the second-best lead-off hitter of all time; unfortunately for him, he was a contemporary of Rickey Henderson's, undoubtedly the best of all time, and the only player in Raines' career who could even come close to him in the stolen bases department.

Which hinders him when it comes to Hall Of Fame voters, obviously. There are, however, sites using advanced metrics to make a strong case for him. I'll tell you, 808 stolen bases, and a stealing percentage of 84.5% - second-best of all-time for players with at least 500 attempts - bests even Henderson. 2605 hits, 430 doubles, 170 home runs, 980 RBIs, 1330 walks for 966 strikeouts...

From the very beginning, in the strike-reduced 1981 season, Raines proved he was for real: sure, he was second for the Rookie Of The Year award, but he also garnered some MVP votes on the strength of 71 steals in just 88 games - the National League record was 75, by Benny Kauff, in a full season. His 27 steals in his first 27 attempts remains a record, though. In the American League, he set a record with 37 straight stolen bases in 1995.

The seven-time All-Star Game participant will be remembered for one of them in particular - in 1987 in Oakland - as he went 3-for-3, and produced both of his team's runs in a 2-0 victory with a two-out, 13th-inning triple against Jay Howell.

My own defining Raines moment came in the 1990s, when he must have been nine feet away from first base, in a stealing attempt, and the pitcher pretended four or five times to throw to the first baseman to get him out; not only wouldn't Raines budge, but he stared straight into the pitcher's eyes, not just daring him to, but pretty much defying him to throw the ball, and there probably was a beating going his way of he did. The pitcher eventually threw to home plate, and Raines stole second.

Raines got used to sliding into second head-first from the beginning, because he was a pretty big cocaine addict in 1982 (his stats did slip noticeably that year) and kept his vial in his back pocket, because had he kept in in his locker, he could have gotten caught; sliding feet first gives the runner the advantage of leading with his shoe, which strikes the fear of some pain in the second basement - but Raines had his drugs to protect, and was quick enough that he didn't need the extra intimidation that sliding cleats would have provided.

He also voluntarily checked himself into rehab following the season - after spending upwards of $40,000 on cocaine that summer (those are 1982 numbers, by the way).

Gary Carter was a legend, Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero were the purest raw talents, but Tim Raines, to me, defined the Montréal Expos. And, like Carter, he eventually came back in his twilight years. The Expos did him a favour by trading him to the Baltimore Orioles at the tail end of 2001 so he could play with his son, Tim Jr.

He won two World Series with the New York Yankees (1996 and 1998), and batted for .299 with them in three seasons of part-time work (a high of .321 in 1997, a high of 109 games in 1998).

He also played with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and 98 meaningless games with the Florida Marlins.

There are many ways I could get into the specifics of the cards - all of them signed in blue sharpie - but I decided to go my usual route and separate them by uniform, starting with the Expos' classic powdered-blue (away) uniform:
The card on the left is from Fleer's 1988 Fleer set (card #193), probably showing him during pre-game warm-ups or between innings; in the middle is card #40 from Score's 1989 Score, showing the ambidextrous hitter in his most common plate position, hitting lefty; on the right is a card from Leaf's 1990 Donruss set (card #BC-7 of the MVP insert sub-set).

Card companies rarely sent photographers to Montréal, probably because they were afraid of summer snow, igloos, and us not having electricity (or Doritos) and only speaking French; that's why when the powdered-blue uniform wasn't chosen on cards, it'd usually be the red t-shirt from Spring Training, which took place in Florida:
The card on the left is from Fleer's 1987 Fleer set (card #328) in an obvious ''pose for the camera, Tim'' shot, while the one on the right is from Leaf's 1988 Donruss (card #345) in another ''official team photo'' type of pose.

By the way, check out the consistency/lack of originality of the Donruss backs, two years apart:
If it wasn't that he gained 15 pounds and had two more career highlights to speak of, it'd be the exact same back; same design, same ''last five seasons'' statistics, same font...

I have never visited the (Baseball) Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown. And I don't plan to, any day soon. That might change if they come to their senses and induct Tim Raines.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ryan Suter 8x10 Autograph Card

I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of an important American hockey player, Bob Suter, a member of the 1980 Miracle On Ice team, brother to Gary Suter, and father of star defenseman Ryan Suter and up-and-comer Garrett Suter.

He had won an NCAA championship with the Wisconsin Badgers, and was one of the rare players on the 1980 Team USA who didn't go to University of Minnesota or Boston University.

He was a scout for the Minnesota Wild at the time of his death, with whom his son Ryan now plays. I didn't have a card of Bob's, nor one of Ryan with the Wild, but I have this 8x10 insert, signed in black sharpie on a sticker, from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Be A Player Portraits set (#SP-RS of the Signature Portraits sub-set):
It is from the same set from whence the jersey card of his I featured in May came; it also shows him in the Nashville Predators' former blue uniform which, all things considered, may have been their best-looking by a fair margin.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Stéphane Quintal Autograph Card

I wanted to take a post to congratulate Stéphane Quintal, who was officially appointed as the NHL's new discipline czar earlier this week. He was originally an assistant to Brendan Shanahan when he held the position, and had replaced him for the playoffs in an interim role.

As chief disciplinarian, Quintal will oversee all actions that, in his playing days, would have resulted in his dropping the gloves to defend his teammates - only this time, he will punish culprits with suspensions and fines.

The 14th-overall pick of the 1987 draft (one spot ahead of Joe Sakic) had a decent career as a stay-at-home defender, spanning 16 seasons and 1037 regular-season games in which he scored 63 goals, was credited with 180 assists (good for 243 points) and totaled an impressive 1320 penalty minutes; he also played in 52 playoff games, in which he 'only' spent 51 minutes in the sin bin with two goals and 12 points in total.

Seven of his 16 seasons (and 507 games) were spent with the Montréal Canadiens, including his 1000th NHL game. He also played with the Boston Bruins (who had drafted him), St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets, New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks; he played on two-thirds of the Original Six teams.

Here is a card showing him with the Habs' classic red (then-away) uniform, from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player set (card #94), an autographed insert signed in black sharpie:
I had originally featured him in the Habs' white (then-home) uniform five years ago, in the second-ever post on this blog. Back then, I wasn't trying to tie my show-and-tells with the news...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mike Fitzgerald: 2 Autographed Cards

Mike Fitzgerald started his career with a bit of pressure: drafted by the New York Mets, he hit a home run in his very first at-bat, then became the first rookie catcher ever to lead his position in field percentage, in 1984. Following that tremendous rookie campaign, he was traded to the Montréal Expos for future Hall Of Famer (and fan favourite) Gary Carter, which left the starting catcher's job wide open for Fitzgerald to fill.

And he filled in admirably. You could count on his fielding to be impeccable, he helped pitchers to wonderful seasons, he could be counted on for a decent .250 average (and had a career-high of .282 in 1986), was among the National League leaders in stolen bases against, (fewest) errors, double-plays and pretty much all areas of fielding.

He stayed with the Expos until he became a free agent, playing his final season with the California Angels in 1992. He must have signed a dozen cards for me from 1988 to 1991, mostly in ballpoint pen or black sharpie; for some reason, these are the two I'm left with, both signed in blue sharpie. I know why I held onto them, though: they show both of the team's classic uniforms.

First, a rare feat on a brand-name baseball card, sporting the Expos' white (home) uniform, from Leaf's 1987 Donruss set (card #345), showing him between pitches in full catcher regalia:
And from Topps' 1988 Topps set - perhaps my favourite baseball set of all time - here is card #674, showing him in the team's powdered-blue (away) uniform, probably warming up for his next at-bat:
I've seen Carter play before him - and he was amazing; I've seen Nelson Santovenia, Darren Fletcher and Michael Barrett after him; but Fitzgerald will always be my Expos catcher. He'd definitely make my All-Time 40-Man Roster:

C: Gary Carter, Mike Fitzgerald
1B: Andres Gallaraga, Al Oliver
2B: Jose Vidro, Delino DeShields, Ron Hunt
SS: Spike Owen, Wilfredo Cordero, Tom Foley
3B: Tim Wallach, Bob Bailey, Larry Parrish
LF: Tim Raines, Moises Alou, Warren Cromartie
CF: Andre Dawson, Marquis Grissom, Ellis Valentine, Rondell White
RF: Rusty Staub, Larry Walker, Vladimir Guerrero
Rotation: Pedro Martinez, Steve Rogers, Dennis Martinez, Bill Lee, Pascual Perez
Closers: John Wetteland, Tim Burke
Other Pitchers: Mel Rojas, Ugueth Urbina, Jeff Reardon, Jeff Fassero, Ken Hill, Carlos Perez, Dennis 'Oil Can' Boyd, Claude Raymond, Mark Langston, Woodie Fryman

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mikko Koivu Jersey card

I thought I had another Saku Koivu jersey card to feature, to coincide with the announcement of his retirement, but I can't seem to find it; I debated whether to instead feature another Montréal Canadiens first-round draft pick, or the player who I think will take his place as the clear #1 center, or another soon-to-be Finnish star.

But I went with another choice, Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu, Saku's brother, and possibly Team Finland's next full-time captain (he did captain them to a gold medal at the 2011 World Championships). Mikko had kind words for Saku in the Star-Tribune.

Mikko Koivu was also a first-round pick, the sixth-overall player chosen in 2001, but he's more physically imposing than Saku at 6'3'' and 222 pounds. He also produces a little less offense in the points-per-game department, though he's the Wild's all-time leading scorer for the time being. One thing he has over Saku is recognition for his two-way play (he always gets Selke votes and even finished fourth in 2008-09) - and he's much more disciplined, particularly in the offensive zone.

The Wild now have a powerhouse team that can take on any other team in the league and contend for the Stanley Cup for at least the next three years, in part because Koivu and Zach Parise are exactly on the same talent and effort levels in the #1 and #2 center spots, and both are proven leaders who have worn the 'C' on their chests and who have shown they were good choices for it.

What started out as a boring, middle-state expansion team has grown into a team that's hard not to respect and even admire (unless you're a fan of the natural rivals Chicago Blackhawks, I guess), and the transformation happened with Koivu at the helm of that dressing room, under his watch. And there's a reason why management chose to retain him while they added and changed the talent around him: he's that good.

And so here's a card from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition set (card #AF-MK of the Authentic Fabrics sub-set), showing him with the Wild's white (away) uniform, with a big green swatch:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Josh Gorges Jersey Card

The Montréal Canadiens had a dozen good reasons to trade Josh Gorges this summer, such as his cap hit and contract length, his limited offensive capabilities, wanting to change the leadership group in the dressing room (and take letters away from players who, while dedicated and hard-working, contribute less on the scoreboard than their extreme vocal-ness in the locker room would require), and the lack of room on a defense that already also includes P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Mike Weaver (who does Gorges' defensive on-ice job at a third of the price), Tom Gilbert (who will be an improvement on the second powerplay unit), Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi - and possibly Francis Bouillon.

He, however, still doesn't understand, as he told reporters from his off-season home in Kelowna. And that's a bit of an issue, too: he hasn't embraced the city enough to live here full-time, let alone learn the local language. So, after refusing a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was sent to the Buffalo Sabres.

I have no complaints about Gorges' time in Montréal. He got here at the tail end of 2006-07 and barely played because no one was familiar with what he could bring to the table, and he hadn't been factored into the team's system. But from 2007-08 on, he did his very best and improved - and impressed - enough to sport the alternate captain's 'A' for the past few years. He would also be one of the few players to face the media after almost every game.

He was a good soldier, just not sergeant material. He will, however, forever be a Hab in fans' hearts.

And so I bid him farewell for now, with this card from Panini's 2010-11 Zenith set (#JG in the die-cut jersey series), featuring a white swatch but showing him in the Habs' classic red uniform:
I had written him and sent 3 cards in November 2010, but never heard back. I wish him - and his family - the best in Buffalo.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Jim Nill Autograph Card

Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill apparently likes to work hard in the summer; he made the biggest splashes of the last two off-seasons, first trading for Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley from the Boston Bruins in 2013, and trading for the Ottawa Senators' Jason Spezza two months ago.

He's bold, he's smart, and he's learned well after spending nineteen years as assistant-GM under Ken Holland with the Detroit Red Wings. He won 4 Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008) as an executive - and put himself in contention for one as a team builder, taking the Stars from the pits of the NHL to the top of the talent pool in just two seasons.

What few people of this generation know is that Nill was actually a player before that, having played 524 games over 9 seasons with five different teams, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals once (Vancouver Canucks, 1982), but spending the longest stints with the Winnipeg Jets (4 seasons) and Wings (3 NHL seasons plus one in the AHL within the organization).

His 58 goals and 145 points in the high-scoring 1980s are one clue as to how he was used, but his 854 penalty minutes paint the clearer picture of the tough-as-nails grinder who didn't fear dropping the gloves. He also had 203 PIMs in 59 playoff games, which amounts to four fights per five games.

It is as a member of the Jets that In The Game chose to feature him for their 2013-14 Enforcers II set (card #A-JN of the Autograph sub-set), in their 1980s away uniform - purplish-blue with white sleeves:
Hopefully, like New York Islanders GM Garth Snow, his tendency to take risks and make bold moves will not get him fired too soon. The NHL needs guys who make things interesting.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Jason Spezza Jersey Card

Obviously, the biggest trade this off-season was the one that sent Jason Spezza from the Ottawa Senators to the Dallas Stars, giving Dallas two current-day #1 centers. Playing second fiddle to rising star Tyler Seguin puts Spezza out of contention for the 90-point mark he reached twice and approached two other times (including as recently as 2011-12 where his 34 goals, 50 assists and 4th-in-the-NHL 84 points got him to finish 6th in Hart voting), but 75 points seems totally feasible.

He will likely be feeding his masterful passes to Ales Hemsky, who had 17 points in 20 games playing with Spezza in Ottawa to finish out last season. Erik Cole or Antoine Roussel could complete their line on the left side, or Shawn Horcoff (a former teammate of Hemsky's with the Edmonton Oilers) could be moved from center to wing to accomodate.

As it stands, the Stars' line-up on paper is the best they've had since their days of contending for Stanley Cups and Presidents' Trophies, by far.

And whatever your opinion of Spezza might be, as it stands, he is a point-per-game player both in the regular season (587 in 586 games) and the playoffs (52 in 56). He also has 18 points in his last 16 games playing for Team Canada at the World Championships; his collection of IIHF medals is vast, with one gold (2012 Spengler Cup), three silver (2002 World Juniors, and 2008 and 2009 Worlds), and two bronze (2000 and 2001 World Juniors).

I purchased the following card of his on Ebay earlier this summer because I didn't yet have one of him in the Sens' classic black uniform; it's from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Sweet Spot set, and is #SS-SP of the Sweet Stitches sub-set, numbered #156/2000, and the black swatch matches the jersey in the picture:

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tyson Barrie Autograph Card

Congratulations to the Colorado Avalanche who, by signing Tyson Barrie to a two-year bridge deal come into training camp with a full roster and no unsigned free agents. Congrats to Barrie for cashing in on his team-leading (among defensemen) 13-goal season, and here's to hoping he can continue to develop and help the Avs go deeper in the playoffs this year.

The son of former Edmonton Oilers draft pick (and for a short while part owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and currently in litigation in at least 10 court filings) Len Barrie, Tyson Barrie was the Avs' third-round pick (64th overall) in 2009. His minor-league career was nothing short of impressive, having won silver at the 2011 World Juniors and played in WHL, CHL and AHL All-Star Games.

He had 38 points in just 64 games from the point last year - plus 2 assists in 3 playoff games - and is the type of player who could be a regular 50-point contributor in the NHL on an offense-minded team like Colorado, perhaps peaking with 65 or 70 and a Norris nomination or two.

I have therefore started collecting his cards, starting with this insert from Panini's 2013-14 Score (#SS-TB of the Signature sub-set), a blue-sharpied signature on a sticker, with his jersey number (41) added for good measure: