Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ernest Wilford Sweet Spot Autograph Card

I had mentioned how great I thought these 2004 Sweet Spot cards by Upper Deck (this one is #251 of the Signatures Tier Two / Rookie Signatures sub-set) were in a previous post, and here's proof:

This one isn't just signed in silver sharpie, and it's better than on-card - it's on-inserted mini-helmet! It could have been a card of commissioner Paul Tagliabue (1990s represent!) and I would've thought it was amazing, but to have a legitimate NFL prospect on it is that much better.

Ernest Wilford is 35 and not yet retired, though he hasn't played in the NFL since 2010, during his second stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who had drafted him 120th overall in the 4th round in 2004 after breaking all pass reception records with the Virginia Tech Hokies. He did get into legal troubles in January 2011, and had gone through tough times with the Miami Dolphins (who hadn't?) between his stints with the Jags, but I thought the fact the he could play both wide receiver and tight end might convince a team to sign him as an insurance policy eventually. I was wrong.

This card is about half an inch thick (room for the helmet), and is numbered 152/559.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gary Suter Autograph card

Gary Suter is a polarizing figure in 1980s and 1990s hockey. He won the Calder Trophy as Rookie Of The Year in 1985-86, was a Second Team All-Star in 1987-88, a Stanley Cup winner in 1989 and garnered some Norris votes until the mid-90s, playing in 4 All-Star games in the process. He was part of the edition of Team USA that won the inaugural 1996 World Cup; he also won silver at the 2002 Olympics, wearing the star-spangled uniform seven times in his career.

On the other hand, he was one of the dirtiest players of his era, as can be attested by these four events, three of them related to international competitions, two occurring in the NHL.

He passed the 50-point mark 7 times in his first 8 seasons, all of them with the Calgary Flames. He then had a top-4 role with the Chicago Blackhawks and played his last three seasons with the San Jose Sharks.

So it's no real surprise that In The Game featured him wearing the Flames' classic red (then-away) uniform in their 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s set:
It's card #A-GSU in the Autograph sub-set, signed in black sharpie directly on the card. ITG didn't use a high-resoluton picture, but it works anyhow.

All told, the rugged blue-liner played in 1145 regular-season games, scoring 203 goals with 642 assists and 845 points to go with his 1349 penalty minutes (plus 17-56-73 in 108 playoff games) to play his way into the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Anze Kopitar Jersey Card

As I was unpacking my cards last May, getting ready to post all summer long, I realized the one player I have the most jersey cards of is Anze Kopitar, the two-time Stanley Cup-winning giant center of the Los Angeles Kings.

The best Slovenian player in the history of the NHL has 33 points in 30 games with Team Slovenia (despite not playing alongside players of his level and facing the opposition's best lines) in addition to his success with the Kings. In each of his seasons in the NHL so far, he garnered votes for hardware, first the Calder Trophy, then becoming a staple for the Selke, and for Hart and Lady Byng voters as well. He's that good, and that important in all aspects of the game.

He had left Sunday night's game with an upper-body injury and was a game-time decision to suit up tonight - first it was said he would sit out, then reports indicated he would play. In the end, he didn't, and GM Dean Lombardi was irate for having to play shorthanded due to Slava Voynov's suspension and its impact on the Kings' salary cap.

Unlike the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings managed to win both of their Stanley Cups without even losing a handful of players, but the cost of that was a salary structure that flirts dangerously with the cap and gives very little leeway. Such are the risks, but you'd rather be affected by that type of situation and still have the roster you have in October, rather than in April when the players might be a bit tired.

We'll see how it plays out in the long run, but for now I'm happy to feature Kopitar wearing the Kings' black current-day uniform, from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Series 2 set (card #G2J-AK of the UD Game Jersey sub-set), featuring a big silver swatch, probably from the arm:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Jeff Beukeboom Autograph Card

As the Edmonton Oilers have beaten the Montréal Canadiens tonight, I thought I could revisit my Oilers Numbers Project for a post about #6, Jeff Beukeboom, the first of two about him this Fall.

A member of three Oilers Stanley Cup-winning teams (1987, 1988 and 1990), he was the team's first-round pick in 1983, 19th overall. At 6'5'' and 230 pounds, he was a force to be reckoned with on defense.

He was part of the transaction that sent Mark Messier to the New York Rangers, and both helped the ''New York Oilers'' win the 1994 Cup. His time in the Big Apple made him famous, as he was paired with superstar Brian Leetch on the blue line, and wore the alternate captain's ''A'' for most of his tenure in NYC.

Playing a bruising, hard-hitting game, Beukeboom went the Eric Lindros/Chris Pronger route, though, suffering multiple concussions that ended his career, with the ironic last few coming off hits he himself had initiated.

Still, he has left an indelible mark on two organizations, and today I pay tribute to his time in Edmonton with this card from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers Collections (card #FI-JB of the Franchise Ink sub-set), showing him in the team's classic white (then-home) uniform:
It sports a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph with a scrambled scribble.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Anthony Duclair Jersey Card

After being a healthy scratch two games, Anthony ''The Duke'' Duclair was back in the line-up last night as the New York Rangers faced the Montréal Canadiens; playing in front of friends and family in his hometown, Duclair was named the game's third star, not really having dominated the game, but having played well enough in it, displaying speed and impressive abilities.

As a matter of fact, Duclair's force is that he can make jaw-dropping plays at his amazing speed - not unlike Nathan MacKinnon, whose talent for that has been praised recently. Their paths have crossed many times since they both entered Major Juniors at the same time at the tender age of 16, and their confrontations against one another were memorable even then. Put them on the same line - say in an All-Star context or on Team Canada at a World Championship - and you will see some of the fastest, most beautiful plays ever in adult hockey.

And yet he still fell to 80th overall at the 2013 NHL draft, teams fearing he may have ''behavioral issues'', like so many gifted players from the ''Q'' before him (oh, hello, Mike Ribeiro). But 17-year-olds will be who and what they are; the kid still managed to score 50 goals in 59 games last season, and you can watch them all right here.

I don't want to over-sell him or put undue pressure on his still-frail shoulders (he stands at just 5'11'' and 180 pounds but looks much bulkier on the ice), but in an era where the NHL has never been so quick, he's still one step ahead of almost everyone else. That alone should keep him in the league for the next 15 years.

I had actually pulled the same card as this one in a pack of In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects (#M-26 of the Game-Used Jersey sub-set), but with a one-colour swatch, which I traded for this one - which has additional red and stitching from the sleeve - by adding a couple of extra cards to the deal:
The vertical line in the middle is from the penny sleeve, the swatch itself is pristine.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Vincent Damphousse Autographed Card

Tonight, as a nice gesture of solidarity in honour of the two soldiers slain in separate events in Canada this week, the Montréal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs will band together via video link and observe a simultaneous minute of silence followed by showing the national anthems sung in Ottawa.

I figured I could do my part by featuring a player who had a distinguished career in two of those cities, Vincent Damphousse. I had previously featured Damphousse in 2011 with cards of his with the Habs, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks I'd sent him at the spa facilities he owns; I hadn't sent one of him with the Leafs because I already had this one:
It's from Upper Deck's 1990-91 Series 1 set (card #224) that he signed for me (in thin black sharpie) in the early-to-mid-1990s when he was dating one of my mom's friends... and several other women.

As far as skills go, Damphousse was a heck of a talent. He scored 38 goals or more four times (reaching 40 in 1993-94), hit the 50-assist mark six times (with a high of 61 in 1989-90), reached the 90-point mark four times (with a high of 97 in 1992-93) and the 80-point plateau another two times, including an 89-point season in 1991-92. He played in 4 All-Star Games (1991, 1992, 2001 and 2002) and was the Game MVP at the 1991 on the strength of 4 goals, tying an NHL record.

As far as being a team player, he captained the Habs from 1996 until 1999, and won the Stanley Cup with the team in 1993. He was also on Team Canada at the 1996 World Cup, a depth center behind Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Eric Lindros and Steve Yzerman. Also centers on that team but usually playing out of position were Joe Sakic, Trevor Linden, Keith Primeau, Rod Brind'Amour and Adam Graves.

When he was with the Habs, though - and especially after he got the captaincy - something started bothering me about his play. Despite finishing 4th in Selke voting in 1995-96, I noticed every time he would move on the opposing team's center or defenseman when they had the puck, he would slash them with his stick, right above their gloves, essentially trying to injure their wrists. It wasn't very sportsmanlike, and was probably the main reason why he garnered 559 penalty minutes in 519 games in Montréal. But on a team with historically gentlemanly captains such as Jean Béliveau, Henri Richard, Émile 'Butch' Bouchard and Guy Carbonneau (and, later, Saku Koivu and Brian Gionta), I deemed it unacceptable.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cam Ward Jersey Card

I'd hinted back in August that I thought Cam Ward might finish the season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, reunited with Jim Rutherford, the GM who gave him his current contract, but it hasn't happened so far. Plus, I have another card I can show if and when that happens.

He's currently in his 10th NHL season - all with the Carolina Hurricanes -  and, while he has struggled so far this year on a weak team, he did win the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup in his rookie season, and twice finished in the top-10 in Vezina Trophy voting. On the other hand, that last time was in 2010-11. And his save percentage has been in steady decline ever since, from .923 to .915 to .908 to .898 to .829...

I'm not sure I would trade for him if I was a general manager myself, but I will say this: he's an option I'd consider way before Martin Brodeur if I were a contender in need of an insurance policy as my backup. But I'd call Ilya Bryzgalov first, who would come much cheaper and would be a fun distraction for the media and fans, taking the pressure off my star players.

And so here's card #FE-CW of Upper Deck's 2006-07 Be A Player Portraits collection, part of the First Exposures sub-set featuring a white swatch from a photo shoot-worn jersey; the card shows him in the Canes' original red (away) uniform:

Because he plays on a team that usually doesn't contend come playoff time, he has represented Team Canada at three World Championships, earning gold in 2007 and silver in 2008; Canada lost to Slovakia in the quarterfinals in 2012.

I had written him and sent 4 cards (care of the Hurricanes) in March 2012, but never heard back.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Slava Voynov Autograph Card

The talk of the hockey world of late has been the alleged charges against the Los Angeles Kings' Slava Voynov, his subsequent suspension by the NHL, his lawyer's predictable affirmation that Voynov is innocent, and the media and fan speculation.

I'm one to let the justice system run its course. We'll see when all the facts are out.

In the meantime, we know this much: the 32nd pick of the 2008 draft is a heck of a hockey player. He is a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Kings, and holds the team record for most playoff goals by a defenseman. He was in his fourth season, and had two points in 6 games so far.

I have this on-card autographed insert of his, signed in blue sharpie, from Panini's 2011-12 Donruss Elite set (#252 in the collection, similar to his regular Rookie Card, but with an airbrushed space for him to sign in, with a blue foil border that hints on rainbow-y colours):

We'll see how his situation plays out, but for now, we live in a system where all are equal, and innocent until proven guilty.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mike Ribeiro Jersey Card

What does Mike Ribeiro usually do when facing his old teams? He steals the show. And he was at it again last night, as the Nashville Predators were facing the Arizona Coyotes, who had bought him out then made a public spectacle of it last summer. Have a look:

Ribeiro is by no means a ''complete'' player like Jonathan Toews or Tomas Plekanec; perhaps he isn't even ''elite'' anymore. What he is, however, is one of the best 5 passing centers in the league, perhaps top-15 all positions considered; he is also clutch, and extremely cocky - a mix which enables him to always elevate his level of play when it counts, in this case when playing against a former team.

He's also the type that, when slotted as a second center, will out-perform the first-liner. It has led him to two All-Star Games (one YoungStars), a Team Canada bronze medal, and the scoring lead with the Montréal Canadiens and the Dallas Stars (as well as the whole CHL in Juniors).

Here's another blast from the past, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 2 set (card #J2-MR of the Game Jersey sub-set), showing him wearing the Habs' white (then-home) uniform, accompanied by a red swatch;

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Daniel Brière Autographed Card

I had meant to write Daniel Brière last season, when he was a member of the Montréal Canadiens, but as early as New Year's Day the trade rumours began due to the limited ice time he was getting from head coach Michel Therrien, and I didn't want the mail to get lost in the shuffle should he indeed have to change teams again. Also, I had already knocked off #48 from my Habs Numbers Project with Jean-Jacques Daigneault and James 'J.T.' Wyman, so I felt I could wait a bit.

The trade came this summer, and I wrote about my feelings toward it here. We'll see how he fares with the Colorado Avalanche, but for now head coach Patrick Roy is trying to give him top-9 minutes by slotting him on the right wing, although he'll be counted on for leadership more than his total points; chances are he'll see more ice time in the playoffs in Denver than he did in Montréal, though.

The Avs were in Montréal last weekend, and I had the chance to tell Brière my appreciation of his patience while he was in town; I didn't have anything for him to sign, but he did remember having signed for me back in his days with the Philadelphia Flyers, so I thought I could feature that card here:
I didn't have a card of his with the Flyers at the time (it must have been in his first year with the team in 2007-08), so instead I brought this 2002-03 Rookie Update card by Upper Deck (#15 in the set), showing him in his first season with the Buffalo Sabres, wearing the team's white (home) turn-of-the-century uniform. He signed it in blue sharpie.

A first-round draft pick (24th overall) of the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996, Brière had been a star player in Juniors with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, racking up seasons of 123 points (including 51 goals, in 72 games) in 1994-95, 163 points (on 67 goals, in 67 games) in 1995-96, and 130 points (thanks to 52 goals, in just 59 games) in 1996-97.

He spent the 1997-98 season with the AHL's Springfield Falcons, scoring 36 goals and adding 56 assists for 92 points in 68 games, then spent the following three seasons hovering between the AHL and the NHL, finally settling with the Coyotes in 2001-02 (with 60 points in 78 games), but the team dealt him to Buffalo at the tail end of the following season.

He had tremendous success with the Sabres, with 230 points in 225 games in the Dead Puck Era despite his diminutive stature (5'10'', 180 pounds), sharing the team's captaincy with Chris Drury from 2004 until 2007.

Both left in the summer of 2007, being the highest-coveted free agents that summer; Drury signed with the New York Rangers, while Brière went to Philadelphia. With 283 points in 364 games with the Flyers and an 'A' on his jersey, Brière was definitely an impact player in the City of Brotherly Love; he was even more of a monster come playoff time, with 72 points in 68 post-season games with the team, including a league-leading 30 in their 2009-10 Stanley Cup bid, which was also a team record.

He also has four gold medals in four tries with Team Canada. That's winner and clutch, right there. I wish him the best with the Avs, and here's hoping he's found enough stability for me to write to him this year...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ryan Kesler Swatch Card

Ryan Kesler might be on a new team this year, but he still gets people talking; this time, it was for a dirty/late hit at 19:59 of the third period of the Anaheim Ducks game against the Minnesota Wild:
He didn't get suspended because he glided those 25 feet across, and delivered a shoulder-to-shoulder hit, but the Wild's Zach Parise - an Olympic teammate of Kesler's with Team USA - called it ''stupid'', and I tend to agree in this case.

I think it's too early in the season to try to pick up on trends regarding teams, such as winning or losing streaks, or individual players' statistics - I usually wait 10 to 30 games before passing judgement. But there is a trend towards less supplementary discipline than in years past, as many moves that were borderline legal but showed a clear malicious intent have not been further punished, when just one game would have sent the message that the league's at least paying attention; instead, Milan Lucic got fined for simulating masturbation because, well, the kids, I guess.

But going back to Kesler, the one positive about his end-of-game check is that I get to feature this card, from Panini's 2011-12 Titanium set, #24 of the Game-Worn Gear sub-set, showing him in the Vancouver Canucks' white (away) uniform, with matching jersey swatch:
I'm not the biggest fan of blue-meets-green in general, but the thing I dislike the most about the Canucks' uniforms is the word VANCOUVER on them. If they just had the logo, it probably wouldn't be so bad. Though I preferred their uniforms from the mid-1980s and all of those from the 1990s.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jaden Schwartz Autograph Card

One of last year's most expensive set on a per-card basis was without a doubt Panini's 2013-14 Playbook set, with packs going for $85-100 for three cards (many stores have since discounted them to $75, which still makes for a whopping $25 per card, made out of cardboard, without any gold or diamonds encrusted in it). There was no way I could afford or justify spending that kind of money on paper, but a dealer was offering to get in on his opening a case (12 packs, 36 cards in total) provided he could keep the jersey cards of superstars and all booklet cards - and I was fine with that.

Arguably my ''biggest pull'' was this card of the St. Louis Blues' Jaden Schwartz, #FD-JSC of the First Draft sub-set:
Schwartz was chosen with the 14th overall pick in 2010, ahead of teammate Vladimir Tarasenko (14th), Beau Bennett (20th), Jarred Tinordi (22nd), Brock Nelson (30th), Justin Faulk (37th), Tyler Toffoli (47th) and Brendan Gallagher (147th). All told, a wise pick by the Blues.

He'd been breaking records and awing onlookers since his bantam years, leading his school to a Saskatchewan championship, then in midget when he broke Vincent Lecavalier's 39-goal record, as well as Brad Richards' 72-assist mark.

He was either a Rookie Of The Year or scoring leader until he reached the NCAA, where he still led his team in scoring - just not the league - in both years he played.

He also dressed for Team Canada twice at the World Juniors, with a silver medal in 2011 and bronze in 2012; he was the captain of the 2012 squad.

He decided to forgo his final two seasons of College hockey to play with the Blues immediately after signing his entry-level deal in March of 2012, and scored on his first shot, in his first NHL game. He seems to be the perfect fit for the Blues' system, as a dependable two-way forward who can be counted on to eventually crack the 30-goal barrier (he had 25 last season in his second full year), and he should crack the 60-point on a regular basis (he had 56 last year).

He's quick and has a great set of hands; he just needs to bulk up a bit to be more effective in the long run and come playoff time, when opposing defensemen use their size and the lax application of the rule book to their advantage.

He took a while to sign his most recent contract with the Blues, but eventually agreed to a two-year bridge deal with the team; he currently has 7 points in 4 games so far in 2014-15, including his first career hat trick last night.

You'll notice on the card his hard-signed autograph, in thin blue sharpie, with the number 9, which was his jersey number until this season; he has since changed for 17, in honor of his late sister Mandi, who wore that number at Yale.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

P.A. Parenteau Swatch Card

There are a lot of story lines heading into tonight's NHL games and events that transpired in recent ones, but I decided to go for one of the more positive ones, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau's first regular-season home game with the Montréal Canadiens against his former team (Colorado Avalanche) and former coach (Patrick Roy).

Parenteau scored twice in his home debut against the Boston Bruins last Thursday, and his line with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais - another long-time minor-leaguer - has been on fire to start the season. The Habs' newest winger has two goals and three assists for 5 points in 5 games so far.

Like the card I featured earlier this summer, this one sees him wearing the Avs' white uniform, and showcases a burgundy swatch:
It's from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set (#TC-PAP in the red ''regular'' jersey sub-set).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Delone Carter Swatch Card

Delone Carter was considered a top running back prospect at the 2011 NFL Draft, and yet dropped to 119th place as the Indianapolis Colts took a chance on the diminutive (5'9'') and bulky (232 pounds) tough runner.

Carter ranks third of all time in rushing with the Syracuse Orange, with 3104 yeards, and played in the NFL with the Colts for two seasons, and a few games with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year. He had been a free agent until last week, when he signed with the CFL's Hamilton Tiger -Cats, who are in a playoff race with my hometown Montréal Alouettes at the moment.

If he stays out of trouble, he could make some serious damage on the field.

I didn't know much about him when I pulled this 2011 Certified card by Panini (#274 in the set, part of the Freshman Fabric sub-set, numbered 4/50) in a multi-sports re-pack last year, but it fit right in to start the weekend:

When a card mentions ''MVP'' twice in the same paragraph, you've got some skill. Also, notice in the fine print how while they mention the swatch is from an event (NFL Rookie Premiere), they specify the exact date it was worn; I really like that about football cards, they're specific and accurate.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mark Stone Autograph Card

When the Ottawa Senators drafted Mark Stone in the sixth round (178th overall) in 2010, they saw him as a ''project''. He was already huge (6'3'' and 200 pounds as an 18-year-old), with deft hands and a good shot, and liked to get dirty in the corners to retrieve the puck. He also had a history of leading his teams to finals, from Midget AAA to Major Junior. Injuries were a concern, but his foot speed was the main reason why he wasn't picked in the first three rounds.

He was part of Team Canada's bronze-medal 2012 squad at the 2012 World Juniors, leading the team with 7 goals and 10 points.

And now here he stands, entering the final year of his entry deal, playing on the Sens' first line with Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur, scoring his first goal of the season with his father in attendance against the Tampa Bay Lightning's Ben Bishop.

He'll probably never win a race for the puck against Blake Wheeler or Nathan MacKinnon, but he can score a bunch of goals from the slot, like a cross between Michael Ryder and Guillaume Latendresse. I can see him scoring 30 some day, in the right context.

Here he is in a close-up shot, sporting the Sens' white (away) uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Crown Royale set (card #SO-MST of the Sovereign Sigs sub-set, die-cut and signed on a sticker in thin blue sharpie):

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Simon Gagné Jersey Card

Congratulations are in order for Simon Gagné, who signed a one-year deal with the Boston Bruins yesterday. You'll recall he'd been on a training camp try-out offer...

A long-time member of the Philadelphia Flyers and part of the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup-winning team in 2012, Gagné is no stranger to aggressive and bruising teams with black uniforms, so he should fit in nicely with the Bruins, provided they forgive him for netting the series-clinching goal in 2010, when the Flyers came back from a 3-0 series deficit to eliminate the Bs.

The former two-time 40-goal scorer will start on the fourth line, but may get powerplay time - and might move up should rookie Seth Griffith falter on the first line; however, Gagné just wants to play:
''My conversation with (the team) was: whatever it takes; I'll be whatever. If I have to be the extra guy, if I have to be on the fourth line or a guy that will replace others when things aren't going well, or injuries, playing the penalty kill, the power play - whatever it takes. I'm here to help the team win, and I'm really happy that I have a chance to get back into the League with a good team. So I'm open to everything.''
He'll make yet another good leader on a team that already has plenty; he's also good buddies with Patrice Bergeron, so that helps.

This news gives me a chance to feature him wearing a pre-Reebok Flyers black (away) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Ice set (card #CT-SG of the Cool Threads sub-set), with a white game-worn jersey swatch and simple, effective design:
Year in and year out, Ice provides some of the best bang for your buck, because even if your pulls are disappointing, the designs are terrific.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rick Nash Jersey Card

In perhaps an unprecedented move on Sunday, New York Rangers forward Rick Nash left the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the third period to be with his wife, who was expected to give birth. Her water had broken in the afternoon, and Nash had been questionable to even dress for the game, which ended up being a blow-out loss.

I like the values of hockey players and hockey teams: family comes first. It's how a team works best, because then the work group becomes an extended family, and stick together through thick and thin. And it keeps guys grounded, which makes their interactions with fans easier as well.

The only thing I found weird about a player leaving at two-thirds of a game is, essentially, it's akin to giving up. A three-goal lead is surmountable - particularly against the lowly Leafs defense - and Nash is a capable scorer. He'd scored in that game, and is off to a fine start this season with 4 goals and an assist through three games so far.

Of course, Nash having won the Rocket Richard Trophy in just his second NHL season with 41 goals - his career high - in 2003-04 might have put unfair expectations on him. He scored 26 in 65 games last year, so 30 isn't out of the question, and the five-time All-Star has attained it 7 times in 11 seasons so far. He never has too many assists (never reached 40 in a single season) and thus has only flirted with the point-per-game plateau three times, but in his defense, he did spend most of his career as the only legitimate first-line forward with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I don't think I ever would have built a team around the 6'4'', 213-pound gentle giant, but as an add-on to an already solid line-up, he can definitely be put in a position where he will enjoy success, as can be attested by his resume with Team Canada internationally: three gold medals (2007 World Championships, 2010 and 2014 Olympics), and three silver (2002 World Juniors, 2005 and 2008 World Championships). He had a goal and 2 assists in 7 games with the Junior team, and has 26 goals and 54 points in 60 games with the men's teams.

He hasn't enjoyed so much success as a team leader, though, having captained the Jackets in tough times, and Canada to a fifth-place finish at the 2011 Worlds.

Despite his size, he plays more of a skilled game than as a power forward. He's quick and has deft hands, and his deking abilities are phenomenal. He also has less than a penalty minute per game in his career.

So when I pulled this card from a pack of Upper Deck's 2013-14 SPX (card #WM-RN of the Winning Materials sub-set), I had mixed feelings: I do consider him a star player of high caliber, but just a notch below elite and ''superstar'' status; I don't think he has much trade value out there, and would maybe have preferred a more ''common'' player from one of my favourite teams instead. Still, it's a nice card:
It shows him wearing the Rangers' white (away) uniform, but both swatches are black. Because the back of the card specifies it was worn in a NHL game, I have to assume it's from the Blue Jackets' alternate uniform from the 2003-07 era, the only one he's worn that has black on it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Brent Severyn Autograph Card

I wrote about enforcer Trevor Gillies last night in my post about William Carrier, and went so far as to call him a ''goon''; with what he's done in the past apart from fighting - the dirty hits that resulted in suspensions - I still think he deserves it.

And I still feel ''staged fights'' don't belong in hockey, nor players who are just there to do just that. I have nothing against tempers flaring up and two superstars and captains like Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier going at it, but the days of having designated fighters take up a roster spot should be done.

And it's not just the damage done, and the brain disease from concussions, and the suicides of Wade Belak and Rick Rypien, and the drug addictions that took the lives of Derek Boogard, Bob Probert and John Kordic; it's also about the increasing frequency of tell-all autobiographies like that of Dave Morrisette a few years back, or in this case, this Sports Illustrated article about and interview with Brent Severyn.

It contains too many gems of truth, including these:
It was my dream to be playing in the NHL and I was willing to do anything to stay there. Being an enforcer was the toughest job I had to do. Protecting your teammates by fighting is a physical and mental battle waged daily with opponents and within your own head. The actual fight on the ice is not the worst part. It's thinking about the fight. A mental vise grips you at training camp and doesn't let go until the end of the season. Fighting permeates every aspect of your thoughts. A slow boil of fear is always under the surface of your life.
Fighting was not enjoyable, but it had always earned me respect and room on the ice.(...)

(During training camp), I had to fight a couple of times and I sensed players on other teams would use me to make an impression on their coaches. I felt their eyes burning the back of my head during the warm-up skate before games.(...)
An enforcer must also have a feel for how a game is unfolding and continually take stock of his team's emotional state. Are the guys skating well? Do they seem up? If they need a wake-up call, you fight. If the other team has the emotional edge, you fight. The score also determines when you apply your trade. The minute the other team gets a two-goal lead, it's time to dust off your knuckles as your coach may put you in to stop your opponents' surge. Up three or more goals, you get more ice time as you have to be out there to keep the peace.
Being an enforcer was exhausting emotionally. I was always mentally taking note of my upcoming dance card - the guy I had to fight next. I lay awake at night and tried to remember what he did in our last fight, his strengths and weaknesses, and how to protect myself.(...)
A typical road trip scenario from my years as a fighter: I'm on a plane to Toronto. Their enforcer is Tie Domi. He throws both hands and loves to chirp. Man, he's so strong. If I release my grip too early, I'm done. I've got to throw for his chin as he has a very hard head. After Toronto, we play Ottawa and Dennis Vial: unpredictable, a big-time gamer. Then it's two games from hell. In St. Louis, Kelly Chase challenges anyone and will not tolerate anything out there. Tony Twist is big and strong with devastating punches that can cave your face in a second. After that, Detroit: Bob Probert (legendary tough guy with stamina, strength and power) and his sidekick Joey Kocur, whose right hand is the size of an anvil. Didn't he break some guy's helmet in two?
Sitting on the bench during those games, a sick feeling washed over me. My stomach churned with fear, anxiety and anticipation. I felt my teammates' expectations as they looked at me. They knew I was going to stand up for them, and I had a sense of pride in my role and responsibility.
Once the gloves are off, the pressure, tension and mental energy explode in a huge release of violence. Your instincts and strategy take over. I fought so often that I could feel my adversary's movement and tell you what hand he was throwing, I didn't have to look. When your punch connects, you feel it in your hands and through your body. I also knew if I was throwing wildly. (...) Sometimes when I really got tagged I would see a bright starburst in my head, almost like lightning. I thought I was soft and it was a sign of weakness until I interviewed Ultimate Fighting champion Matt Hughes years later and he said he felt the same thing when he was hit hard.
If I lost a fight, I felt terrible that I let the team down. Embarrassed and pissed off, I'd stew in the penalty box. I'd hear it from friends at home. My mom would call to make sure I was all right. But coaches, the other players, and management aren't concerned that you just got your ass handed to you. It doesn't matter that you have a broken nose and lacerations on you cheek. You're expected to smile and like it. Your job is to keep everyone else up and it makes no difference if your hands are busted up so bad that you can't hold a soda can.
If I really beat up a guy, I was happy I got away unscathed, but I felt bad. I knew he'd have to handle the same embarrassment and dirty looks from his coaches and teammates, and hear from fans about how he'd had his clock cleaned. I felt oddly emotional if my opponent had to be carted off because he was injured. We fight as part of our living, but we do not want to interrupt or ruin anyone's career. It's a crazy fraternity.
In 1998, I was with Anaheim when we played Dallas and tensions were rising to a boiling point. Defenseman Craig Ludwig took out his frustration by running our star, Teemu Selanne, in a 5-1 game the Stars were leading that was essentially over. I heard our coach call my line and took the ice with our other ruffians. We lined up for the face-off in Dallas's end of the ice. I looked at who Dallas had sent out and tried to get their coach's attention - I knew he did not recognize what was about to happen and had the wrong lineup on the ice.
The puck dropped and we launched our attack. I got paired with Stars defenseman Darryl Sydor, but that didn't matter to him. He was a warrior in his own right. I threw him to the ice and tried to find their enforcer. Darryl got up and jumped on my back. I got him off and fired one of the hardest lefts I have ever thrown and it hit the side of Darryl's head. The fight was over. Darryl was helped off the ice and the game came to a merciful end with only two players left on the benches. To this day, people in Dallas approach me and want to discuss that fight.
I sat on the bus after the game and thought about what I had done. I'd lost it and hurt someone. I was literally sick to my stomach. I can still see and feel that punch connect. I did not sleep well for several nights. Still, I could not let anyone know how I felt. I followed up to make sure that no permanent damage had been done to Darryl and prepared for my next bout.
As fate would have it, I played for Dallas the next season (1998-99) and my seatmate on our plane was Darryl. In your first introduction after something like that, you smile, make light of it, say you're sorry, but it hurts you. The memory of our fight made me feel even worse when I got to know what a great guy he is. The person you try to beat on one occasion becomes your teammate and friend the next. It's a crazy job!
 I was a bit of an enforcer myself, in Juniors, as the third-string goalie on a team of ruffians. I only got thrown in to start fights before a face-off, which is probably why I can't find myself on HockeyDB or Hockey-Reference: technically, I may have had over 150 penalty minutes, but I played in zero regulation minutes - I don't exist in time. Yet the coach never once asked if I was up for it, or even how I was doing that day. You get the tap, you go and ''protect your teammate'' or ''exact revenge on the guy who hurt your teammate''.

But look at those paragraphs again: the fear taking over the fighter's life, the sleepless nights, the anguish, the deception and humiliation of defeat, yet the churn of stomach and depression of victory. There's a lot more in the SI article, including the recollection of a game against Georges Laraque and the Edmonton Oilers - look it up.

Some of these guys go overboard, but most of them are just trying to cling to their dream of playing in the NHL. They are physically and mentally broken by the end of their playing careers, and play in just half the games their more talented counterparts do, and yet many of them don't regret a thing and would do it all over again. Because The Dream.

Severyn got out at the right time for him, his body was too worn down for his head to have enough time to turn to mush, so his brain seems to work properly. He now owns and operates Severyn Sports, a Dallas-based company that provides training to amateurs and professionals who want to get into sports of all kinds: hockey and MMA of course, but also figure skating.

As a Québec Nordiques (and later Colorado Avalanche) fan, I had been under the impression that he'd played more than 35 games in Québec, because of his 3 years with their AHL farm club Halifax Citadelles. He played for 6 NHL teams and belonged to 8 in all, and he won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1998-99, though he did not suit up in the playoffs.

All told, he played in 328 NHL games and scored 10 goals, with 30 assists and 40 points, and a whopping 825 penalty minutes, plus 8 playoff games (and 12 PIMs). His AHL stats are even more incredible: 297 games, 46 goals, 112 assists (158 points not bad) and 899 penalty minutes. He accrued no penalties in 3 IHL games, and he seemed less aggressive in his two years in Germany, with 8 goals and 26 points in in 74 games as a stay-at-home defenseman... with 155 penalty minutes, which amounts to barely a minor penalty per game.

And so In The Game featured him in their 2013-14 Enforcers II set (card #A-BS of the Autograph sub-set), showing him with the Nordiques' classic blue (away) uniform:
I wish I had more cards of his.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

William Carrier Jersey Card

William Carrier played his first professional game on Friday, one in which his team won 6-1. But folks will remember it because Trevor Gillies - the former New York Islanders goon, now playing with the AHL's Adirondack Flames - slammed his head on the ice after he refused to fight him. Gillies got 27 penalty minutes on the play, and an automatic one-game suspension.

Gillies once was suspended for 9 games in the NHL for an elbow to the head of Eric Tangradi. In his first game back, he tried to break Cal Clutterbuck in half by cross-checking him head-first into the boards, which resulted in another 10-game suspension. He obviously hasn't learned his lesson.

Ironically, the Flames are, obviously, linked to the NHL's Calgary Flames, whose President is Brian Burke. While a fan of rough, tough hockey and ''truculence'', Burke is also the man who once said: ''I think it's a marginal player going after a superstar with a headhunting hit.'' He was then referring to Steve Moore's hit on Markus Naslund, which later prompted the Todd Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore. And Moore was less ''marginal'' than Gillies, no matter how you slice and dice it.

I'm happy Carrier seems fine at first glance, protected by his helmet and visor. He's a fine prospect, which the Buffalo Sabres acquired in the trade that sent Steve Ott and Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues at last year's trade deadline. At 6'1'' and 200 pounds, the point-per-game producer in Juniors could end up being a 60-point, 35-goal power forward in the NHL. He likes playing in the slot, and is good at getting the puck in the corners, not afraid to take a few bad hits in the process; this has caused him a few injuries so far, and is the main reason why the Blues picked him 57th overall when he was slated to be a first-round pick.

I wrote to him last March (with 4 custom cards I made) care of his new Juniors team Drummondville Voltigeurs, but haven't heard back. I was hoping to start collecting him more seriously, around this card, from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set (card #SSM-27 of the Subway Super Series Game-Used Jersey sub-set):
It shows him wearing the CHL Stars' white uniform, with the LHJMQ logo in front, as each regional league faced a group of junior-aged Russian players.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Derek Roy Swatch Card

The season started out ok for Derek Roy, as he recorded an assist in his first game with the Nashville Predators. The former Buffalo Sabres captain looks poised to produce at the same rate as he had with the Sabres and Dallas Stars (0.75 points per game), rather than with the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues (0.5).

When a team's general manager says his $1M contract offer is your ''last chance at getting top-6 ice time'', like David Poile did in July, one must feel at least some amount of pressure. Playing with Colin Wilson and Craig Smith gives the diminutive and skillful Roy (5'9'', 184 pounds) a playmaker and a shooter to manage and match his own skill set with, and it could very well lead to great things for him personally.

For a guy who had four straight 20-goal seasons (with a peak of 32 in 2007-08) and four straight 60-point seasons (peaking at 81 the same year), getting back into point-producing mode after a sub-par 9-28-37 season in the defensively-minded Blues' system will be a relief.

He has two silver medals playing for Team Canada internationally, one at the World Juniors, and one at the World Championships. At 31 years of age, it would require quite the rejuvenation (coupled with an early playoff exit) for him to be able to represent his country again in the future.

During his time in Buffalo, it seems like the team was changing uniforms on a yearly basis; the one depicted on this card is a decent one - except for the logo/lettering - inspired by their original 1970s/1980s garbs:
The card is from Panini's 2011-12 Certified set (card #20 of the Fabric Of The Game sub-set, numbered 74/399), and features a seemingly black swatch (at least in person), which would mean it's from the team's turn-of-the-millennium away uniform.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Brian McGrattan Autographed Card

No one will ever confuse Brian McGrattan with Brendan Shanahan, let alone Brett Hull, but he's not as bad as his possession numbers might lead one to believe.

I'm not fond of reading things like:
He isn't an NHL player and he probably never has been one.  He remains in the league because he can fight and he is a good guy who gets along with his teammates.  (He) is a prime example of a player who shouldn't be in the NHL.  He was the worst puck possession player in the NHL last year and there is no reason to expect things to get better in the future.
It's not even that his main job is to protect his teammates and be there for them should he dress or not - like George Parros last season for the Montréal Canadiens. If he costs close to minimum wage, gets along with all of his teammates, can jump on the ice for a few seconds here and there while the star players catch their breath and not cost a goal, then he is very valuable.

Someone who doesn't see that, nor doesn't see that he isn't asked to keep the puck, or take it from one end to the other, or push the play forward, then that observer knows very little about modern-day, salary cap-era hockey.

I'd rather have one guy who is loved by all, can step on the ice at $750K for 30 seconds and enable my $7.5M player to have a few extra shifts and play more than 20 minutes a game than have a $3M troublemaker take 5 minutes from every other line and still perhaps cost more goals than he provides (no offense to players like Evander Kane).

McGrattan doesn't have good possession statistics because his job - apart from fighting, of course - is to clear the puck out of the zone via the glass, sending the opposition back 150 feet away, forcing them to waste time and energy bringing the puck back up the ice, tired, while a big gun (Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Matt Stajan) steps on the ice, refreshed, poised to win an uneven battle against exhausted opposition.

I can't believe how some bloggers are so obsessed with ''fancy stats'' that they forget to think the game, which is what the head coach's job is. Who would think a coach would purposely dress the worst possible player in his line-up when his own job depends on winning hockey games?

Also: the worst player in the NHL, be he McGrattan or anyone else, remains an NHL player: an adult who has devoted anywhere from 75-95% of his life to his sport, and currently playing in the best league on the planet. And still, that's beside the point.

As a former goalie, I do realize the +/- statistic is flawed in its essence, because powerplay specialists are at a disadvantage, penalty-killers are protected to a certain extent, and guys playing in the final minute of a 1-goal game are either over-compensated or fucked, depending on what side of an empty-net goal they're on, which is, more often than not, purely a matter of luck.

Still, McGrattan is only a -9 in his entire 310-game career. And I'd like to remind everyone that he spent 3 of the last 4 seasons playing for the Calgary Flames, perennial bottom-feeders in this day and age - and the last two without Miikka Kiprusoff to perform miracles in net, with 3 goals (and 49 PIMs) in 19 games and a -4 in 2012-13, and 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, 100 penalty minutes and another -4 in 76 extremely truculent games last season. And judging from recent Flames' practices, they expect a lot more truculence in the immediate future.

Having a guy like McGrattan sacrificing his body - on the ice - also helps young kids accept their new roles within an NHL team, where they might be brought in slowly to build a team for the future when they may have been used to being superstars at lower levels; having had sacrificed his body off the ice as well with the substance abuse problems he has overcome can also help steer the same kids in the right direction. That's called leadership, and usually comes at a premium; having it be provided by a guy making less than a million per year is yet another bargain.

He holds the AHL record for most penalty minutes in a single season, with an astonishing 551 while suiting up for the Binghamton Senators; that same year, he had 2 points (assists) in 6 playoff games, where he added 28 more PIMs.

I try not to buy autographed cards because I don't want to encourage people taking advantage of hockey players' generosity, particularly as a guy who asks for some myself. But when I purchased a few from a ''trusted'' (in ''authenticity'' terms) seller who makes his own custom cards a year or two ago, I made sure I had one of McGrattan's with the Ottawa Senators:

It's from BG's 2008-09 Ottawa Senators set he made (he's from the Ottawa region), has a fun picture of McGrattan wearing the Sens' red uniform and pretending to take a picture himself, with a terrific gold signature. It's a really neat design, well rendered.

I plan on writing the Flames enforcer this season, the last one of his most recent contract.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tomas Plekanec Jersey Card

All summer, I've been hearing nonsense on Montréal Canadiens forums, like ''he's awful'', ''he has slowed down'', ''he won't score 10 this year'', ''I'm glad he isn't the captain'', ''trade him'', and ''he's no Patrice Bergeron''... and yet here stands Tomas Plekanec, atop the league scoring leaders, with 3 goals in 2 games - a game-winner, and a game-tying goal.

Sure, playing with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher finally gives him capable offensive wingers rather than restrict him to just playing defensively, but that kind of talent doesn't just disappear anyway. Plus, he's always been great internationally with the Czech Republic, shining alongside Jaromir Jagr, at times even captaining the team.

It won't last, because nothing ever does, and no one has ever scored 100 goals (and Wayne Gretzky's record of 92 will stand for a long time still). I just hope no team makes it difficult for GM Marc Bergevin to hold on to him for a long time by offering a solid top-6 forward and two top-60 draft picks to obtain him this season - he still has another year left on a contact that carries a reasonable $5M cap hit.

Among the current crop of Habs players, he and Andrei Markov are the two I really, absolutely want to see retire as Canadiens - with P.K. Subban (and eventually maybe Galchenyuk) as (a) strong candidate(s) as well.

It was a no-brainer for me to accept a trade with another collector this summer for the following card, a beautiful, extra-thick jersey card from Panini's 2010-11 Dominion set (card #53, numbered 2/99) featuring a nice picture of Plekanec wearing the Habs' classic ''bleu-blanc-rouge'' uniform and a decent-sized blue swatch from the same home jersey:

Unlike last year's set, the 2010-11 Dominion collection was classy, sober, understated and clear. Like the player depicted on the card.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Raphael Diaz Autograph Card

Congratulations to Raphael Diaz, who signed a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames after a training camp try-out. He'll also fit in perfectly with #61 of my Habs Numbers Project...

The Montréal Canadiens originally signed him as a free agent, after he'd played seven seasons with EV Zug in the Swiss League. The Habs dressed him for about half their games for parts of three seasons, and he showed some offensive upside by gathering nearly half a point per game in that span.

As a fine puck-moving defender with a booming shot and good foot speed, but just 5'11'' in stature (and not looking anywhere close to his listed 200 pounds), you can guess why John Tortorella only dressed him six times and played him for less than 16 minutes each time, on average, after the Vancouver Canucks acquired him. He will not clear the front of the net nor hit, and ideally wouldn't have to block shots - if only because he could break in half.

What you need to do is have him man the powerplay, even if only the second unit most of the time. But playing behind Jason Garrison, Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler and Dan Hamhuis with the Canucks, he didn't see much 5-on-4 action.

The New York Rangers didn't have much room for him either after acquiring him at the trade deadline - essentially as a depth player in case anyone in their top-4 got injured in the playoffs, to not ask too much of their 5th and 6th defensemen, at least offensively - so they had to let him walk as well.

With the Flames, he might not be surrounded by top-notch finishers, but at least he'll get the ice time to show he can shine, and perhaps even impress a team who could really use a right-handed shot on D (say, the Detroit Red Wings).

He looks good in red, as can be attested by this card, from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Ultimate Collection set (card #117, part of the Autographed Ultimate Rookies sub-set), wearing the Habs' classic red (home) uniform, signed on-card in blue sharpie and numbered 15/299:
It's a fairly simple design, reminiscent of the Daniel Sedin jersey card from the same set, in gol  rather than silver. Advanced statistics made Diaz look like Montréal's fourth-best defenseman these past three years - I wouldn't go that far, but definitely roster-worthy.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Eric Tangradi Autographed Card

I learned of the trade between the Montréal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets after I'd posted about Alexei Zhamnov yesterday, so I waited until today to go searching for my Eric Tangradi autographed card, who comes to the Habs in return for Peter Budaj and Patrick Holland.

To make matters worse for good-guy backup Budaj, the Jets waived him today so they could send him down to the AHL's St. John's IceCaps, which will make him the second former Habs and Colorado Avalanche netminder to play for the team in three years, after David Aebischer.

But back to Tangradi, a 6'4'', 230-pound speedster who can shoot and pass well. He was a point-and-a-half per game player in the OHL, a prorated 30-goal man and All-Star in the AHL, but failed to make an impact in the NHL. Despite what the advanced-statistics geniuses say are good numbers. Why? Bad luck and bad timing.

Originally a second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, he was sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins with Chris Kunitz for Ryan Whitney. Kunitz having won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007, he was immediately paired with Sidney Crosby, who could set my grandmother up to score 30. Tangradi should have been paired with Evgeni Malkin on a giants line - he has the size, skill and speed to keep up. But maybe he wasn't ready in time; in any event, it did work a few times, including in two playoff games in 2011-12, and once more the year before; he's yet to lose a post-season game. Unlike the Pens, who have lost a lot more than they've won since that Cup run...

A concussion on a dirty elbow shot by Colton Gillies ruined one season for him, then he was sent to the Jets for a sixth-round pick. One of the problems with the Jets' depth chart is that two of their only three reliable top-line forwards are both left wingers: Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane. Blake Wheeler's the top man on the right. And even the center's thin on talent (with Bryan Little and, say, Mathieu Perreault in the top two slots this year).

Which leads to two things for Tangradi: less ice time - and less quality ice time at that - but more importantly, less talent to play with. Thus, a 3-goal, 3-assist season in 55 games last year.

While he can grind it out on the fourth line (and possibly take Travis Moen's spot with the Habs), he's made for second-line / middle-six minutes and post-season play. I meant to write him last season and never got around to it; I'll make up for lost time this season, and maybe get another opportunity to meet him in person, as I did in 2011-12 at an Ottawa Senators game, getting this card signed in blue sharpie:
It's from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Victory set (card #244 of the Rookie sub-set), showing him in a photo shoot, wearing the Penguins' black (home) uniform, #78, with the card specifying he wears #56 (he's also worn #26 and #25 with the Pens).