Sunday, November 30, 2014

Reto Berra Swatch Card

Like many of his teammates, Reto Berra has fallen on tough times with the Colorado Avalanche this season, seemingly on the verge of losing his role as the backup to oft-injured Semyon Varlamov to rookie Calvin Pickard, who was slated to spend the season in the AHL.

Berra's statistics this season do lend themselves to some questioning, with a 2-2-1 record in 9 games, a 3.57 GAA and .883 save percentage, adding to his less-than-stellar stats with the Avs from last year. What has to bother GM Joe Sakic and coach/VP Patrick Roy the most isn't his three-year one-way contract, but the fact that he cost them a second-round pick to be acquired from the Calgary Flames.

The reason why the St. Louis Blues draft pick was with the Flames in the first place was that their head coach, Bob Hartley, took his methods Switzerland for a couple of seasons, and from his time over there came back with the impression that Berra was, by far, the best goalie in the league. And Hartley, who won the Stanley Cup with Roy, Sakic, and the Avs was, according the Roy, ''the best Xs and Os coach I've ever had'', so he must have thought the 6'4'' goalie could provide the Avs with a solution pending Jean-Sébastien Giguère's retirement. Goaltending coach François Allaire was also familiar with him through his European goaltending school based in Switzerland.

In his defense, Berra's been stellar when playing internationally, with a 2.20 GAA in 15 mens' games at the World Championships and Olympics with the Swiss National Team. He even led his team to a silver medal at the 2013 Worlds, and his lone loss to a much better team at the 2014 Olympics was by a 1-0 score.

He's bulky and covers a lot of net, but is also extremely athletic, never giving up on a puck or a play, always making third and fourth efforts to stop the puck from going in, throwing his body around like a goalie from the 1970s or 1980s. His lateral movements are among the fastest in the game, with the likes of Jonathan Quick and Carey Price.

The flipside to that is his knock may be his technique. Allaire might be the best goalie teacher in the world, he has a ways to go with Berra, who is on the ice to have fun and feel the thrill of making a spectacular save, but won't be content with the easy ones. It worked for a few guys - Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, Tim Thomas - but it can't work all the time. There's a reason most goalies still base their technique on the butterfly style: stopping 90% of the pucks has to be a starting point nowadays, not the ultimate goal.

Ironically, on this card, his basic positioning is okay - I'd personally guide him towards getting his catching glove out a little further, but everyone has their own comfort zone:
It's from Panini's 2013-14 Playbook set (card #B-RBE of the Breakout sub-set and part of last season's Dual Rookie Class), showing him wearing the Flames' white (away) uniform, with a decent-sized ''event-worn'' red jersey swatch. It's numbered 54/199.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Dougie Hamilton Jersey Card

One thing we have learned during Zdeno Chara's prolonged absence from the Boston Bruins' blue line - apart from the dangers of trading away the largest part of your depth to a team that will end up in first place because of it - is that Dougie Hamilton is ready for a bigger role, at just 21 years of age.

I tend to want to take my time in analyzing defensemen, particularly those who were already 6'5'' and 195 pounds when they were teenagers, but the quick towering defender with the hard shot looks like he's ready to enter the top-4 on a permanent basis, and take it from there to soon enter the top-2. He's definitely earned his powerplay time, and even scored the overtime winner against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

Forever linked the the trade that sent Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the picks the Bruins selected him, Tyler Seguin, and Jared Knight with, we hear a lot about what ''could have been'' for the Leafs, but that's a completely false debate.

First off, I'll always gladly shit all over the Leafs when they deserve it, but that trade brought them more than a fair return, simply because Kessel is currently in his fifth season with the team, is and has been their only actual legitimate first-liner since Mats Sundin left, scored 30 goals or more every single year except the lockout-shortened one, and has been their first consistent ''star'' winger since Wendel Clark in the 1980s.

Secondly, Seguin's gone from Boston, because he was immature and didn't fit with the defense-first, thuggish Bruins style of play.

And lastly, who's to say the Leafs would even have taken Hamilton with the 9th pick in 2011, what with Jonas Brodin (10th), Sven Baertschi (13th), Nathan Beaulieu (17th), Joe Morrow (23rd), Matt Puempel (24th), Vladislav Namestnikov (27th), Tomas Jurco (35th), John Gibson (39th), Xavier Ouellet (48th), Keegan Lowe (73rd), Jean-Gabriel Pageau (96th), Reid Boucher (99th), and Johnny Gaudreau (104th) still being available?

The facts say that Hamilton, in his third season with the Bs, went from playing 17 minutes per game in his rookie season to 19 last year to over 22 this year, contributing 12 points in 23 games so far; his 4 goals are more than half-way that of last year's in just a third of the games played, and he already has 2 powerplay goals, equal the amount of each of his previous seasons.

All this in a year considered ''tough'' by the media and most Bruins fans.

There were comparisons with Chis Pronger because of his size at first, but he hasn't been all that physical as of yet, using his long reach to poke or steal the puck instead. I won't jump on the bandwagon of calling him ''one of the NHL's best defensemen'', but it's easy to see him put up 45-60 points for a decade, with one or two peaks near 70 and earning Norris talk, but let's not forget about the guys who are already in those talks and are still relatively young, such as Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and P.K. Subban, who will earn nominations for a long time, as will Duncan Keith, Niklas Kronwall, Alex Pietrangelo and perhaps even Tyson Barrie.

That being said, Hamilton looks to be a key part of Boston's defense for as long as he wants to stay there, which means this card might even inadvertently have company in my collection in the next few years:
It's card #RF-DH from the Rookie Fabrics sub-set of Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition collection, showing him wearing the Bruins' white (away) uniform, with a black event-worn (photo shoot) jersey swatch.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Lance Pitlick Autograph Card

A rugged, stay-at-home defenseman from Minnesota, Lance Pitlick never even dreamed of playing for the Minnesota North Stars growing up, because he didn't feel he had the skill level to even play in elite leagues. But at every step of the way, there he was, defying the odds, earning a scholarship with the University Of Minnesota Golden Gophers, then being named the Gophers' captain, then getting drafted by the North Stars in the late rounds (180th overall), and spending the better part of a decade in the AHL with the Hershey Bears.

And then the Ottawa Senators called with the exact need he could fit: that of an older, veteran defenseman who can hit, move bodies from the front of his net, a player who can pass on the tape and if he can't see a good pass to be made, instead of just dumping it away, will take a hit to protect the puck and try again three feet further. He was on the first Sens team to make the playoffs, and the first one to win a round, making even players such as Patrick Traverse look like NHL players, and helping groom Chris Phillips and Wade Redden into All-Stars.

He scored 11 of his 16 NHL goals with the Sens, before moving on with the Florida Panthers for three final injury-filled seasons under Mike Keenan. He was a realist to the end, claiming after his first game to just want ''to play one game and get a hockey card'', and that wish got me this one, from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player set, card #109 in the series, an insert signed on-card in black sharpie, wearing the team's beautiful mid-1990s black (away) uniform:
My favourite anecdote of his is from his days in Florida, in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he was summoned to the point on a 5-on-3 powerplay, lost the puck and cost his team a shorthanded goal, and his coach telling him ''that's why you don't get powerplay ice time''. That's Pitlick for you: humble to a fault, and yet always the first to congratulate every other player on the team. Every team needs a couple of guys like him.

This one also marks my first ''official'' entry in my Sens Numbers Project, now that I know I'm going through with it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Jeff Carter Dual Jersey Card

It's odd to think I have yet to post about Jeff Carter, considering I have many jersey cards of his. Perhaps because he is so closely associated with Mike Richards, having been teammates with the Philadelphia Phantoms, Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings and Team Canada - and the fact that I wrote about Richards often enough, I may have tricked my brain into thinking I'd also written about Carter.

Both players were drafted by the Flyers in the first round (in perhaps the best draft of all time) in 2003 - Carter 11th overall, and Richards 24th. Both came in as strong physically (Richards with more of a mean streak, Carter harder to separate from the puck), reliable defensively from a young age yet able to produce points, and cocky but hard-working; both also had years in Philly where they might have partied a bit too hard, but they've learned from their mistakes and matured, and learned to be professional.

Richards may have been the better playmaker, possibly regarded as more of a leader (having been captain in Philadelphia) and was selected on more championship-winning teams (particularly when representing Canada), but Carter was always the better shooter, able to score from a variety of shots and locations. His 5 points in 6 games at the 2014 Sochi Olympics to lead Canada's crop of forwards sent a clear message that he was for real.

It's no wonder, really, that on a team with Anze Kopitar playing the same position, he still found a way to be second in both points and goals on the Kings this season, behind linemate Tyler Toffoli. His other winger, Tanner Pearson, ranks fourth behind Drew Doughty; the whole trio also lead the team in +/-.

Here he is wearing the Kings' black (home) uniform, on a card which features two black swatches from probably the same jersey:
It's from Upper Deck's beautiful 2013-14 SPx set, card #WM-JC of the Winning Materials sub-set.

28-Pack Break: 2014-15 MVP

Why not a round number, you might ask? Well, I'm kinda glad I didn't fork over that extra couple of bucks, all told, considering. I know I got the ''retail'' packs (5 cards) rather than the ''hobby'' ones (8 cards), which have less chances of pulling ''hits'' than I'd like, but it was a nice way to test what the new season had in store, with the first set of the year, Upper Deck's 2014-15 MVP - and to stack up on base cards featuring more current uniforms for players than last year's sets, should I mail some cards out in the next few weeks.

At $1.25 (plus tax) for 5 cards, it's likely to be the best deal this year, apart from O-Pee-Chee, who lost me with their awful-on-purpose designs.

The cards themselves look fine, with the UD logo switching sides depending on the angle of the picture; here are the base cards, of which I had 118 in total, including 14 doubles:
I also had double Checklist cards of Sidney Crosby:
I had one 3 Stars Of The Month sub-set card, featuring Anton Khudobin, Phil Kessel and Joe Pavelski:
And one 3 Stars Of The Week card featuring Taylor Hall, Semyon Varlamov and Max Pacioretty:
I had 15 Silver Script cards, which look like this:
They include P.K. Subban, Theoren Fleury, Tommy Wingels, Bryan Little, Mikkel Boedker, Matt Niskanen, Jeff Skinner, David Backes, Alexander Semin, Jason Pominville, Brayden Schenn, Brad Marchand, Darcy Kuemper and two of Marian Hossa.

I also had three Rookie cards, one of Calle Jarnkrok and these of Greg McKegg and Vladislav Namestnikov:
As for my hometown team, the Montréal Canadiens, in addition to the Subban Silver Script, I landed Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, and departed captain Brian Gionta.

I like that for its return as a stand-alone set, MVP decided to keep the facsimile autographs to the Silver Script inserts and left the base cards alone for collectors to be able to have signed on their own without them looking weird. The photography is pretty good, but I would have taken less space for the design, and bigger pictures.

I also don't understand why current players aren't enough and I had to pull that Fleury SS and a base card of Joe Sakic. Don't get me wrong - Sakic was my favourite skater growing up, but he retired six seasons ago. I would gladly have taken an up-and-coming second or third liner instead of retired veterans, particularly those who do not need the merchandise licensing revenue to pay their bills.

A double per other pack was also a bummer, and takes another point off my grade; when I posted initially, I thought I would give this product a good 7/10, but with the caveats of player selection, and the fact that Upper Deck's new logo is reminiscent of when the brand made Looney Tunes baseball cards in the early 1990s and looks a tad unprofessional, I had to revise my final note:


Monday, November 24, 2014

Thomas Hickey Autograph card

Thomas Hickey didn't get to the NHL the easy way, though he was drafted 4th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2007; because he was picked ahead of Sam Gagner (6th), Jakub Voracek (7th), Logan Couture (9th), Ryan McDonagh (12th), Lars Eller (13th), Kevin Shattenkirk (14th), Max Pacioretty (22nd), P.K. Subban (43rd), Jamie Benn (129th), Jake Muzzin (141st), and Nick Bonino (173rd), many fans and journalists were quick to label him as a ''bust'' forgetting that defensemen take longer to mature than forwards do, that reaching the NHL in your 20s is perfectly fine, and there isn't much one can do with freak injuries but wait for them to heal, and to get back on the horse when they do.

Keep in mind that Gagner (with an Edmonton Oilers record of 8 points in a single game on his resume), Eller (a 4-goal game and long stretches where he looked like a #1 center), and Subban (a Norris trophy as the league's best defenseman) have all, also, been subject to much criticism from both the media and fans on social networks.

Hickey was chosen by the Kings to be the guy who had the Juniors career he had post-draft: a leader, point-per-game defenseman who was a key player in two Team Canada gold medals at the World Juniors - the latter as team captain, on a team that included John Tavares, Subban, and Zach Boychuk.

He had some adjusting to do in the AHL, except for those first 7 games at the tail end of the 2008-09 season where he was riding the wave from the World Juniors to producing almost two points per game in the second half of the year with the Seattle Thunderbirds, and having the Manchester Monarchs give him all the ice time he needed to contribute to the tune of 7 points in 7 games.

And though his point production normalized in the AHL to some 25 points per 75 games, he was seen as enough of a presence to warrant being named alternate captain. He led the team in +/- statistics in 2011-12 and was a ''Black Ace'' for the Kings' Stanley Cup run. The lock-out and depth on L.A.'s blue line got him invited to the team's mini-training camp for the shortened season, but when he didn't make the cut and had to clear waivers, he was claimed by the New York Islanders, and he's been a steady presence on their blue line ever since.

He averages around 19 minutes of ice time with the Isles, despite the team having acquired Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy at the beginning of the season, helping the team's defense (with Jaroslav Halak in goal) quality equal that of its offense, for the first time since the early-1990s.

The team is currently tied for first in the Metropolitan Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins (who have a game in hand), and whom the Islanders beat twice over the weekend. The Pens' resident cheap-shot artist Steve Downey laid a dirty hit on Hickey in the second game, grabbing a minor penalty in the process and forcing Travis Hamonic to intervene.

I thought I had a card of Hickey's with the Monarchs, but I can't find it; still, it's even better to have one of his with the team he's found his niche with - and has become an important part of - the Islanders:
It's from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Authentic set (card #SOT-HI of the Sign Of The Times sub-set), signed on-card in blue sharpie, and showing him in the Isles' current/retro white (now-away) uniform.

He's yet another example of good defensemen reaching maturity in their mid-20s, and their peak from ages 28-32. The first rule of drafting is being patient. If you trust a player enough to select him instead of thousands of other candidates, have faith that he will develop well if you lead him down the right path.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Julien Demers Autograph Card

As the San Jose Sharks sent defenseman Jason Demers to the Dallas Stars for Brenden Dillon on Friday, I got to thinking about another defenseman the Sharks had in the pipeline with almost the same name, Julien Demers.

Both were drafted by the Sharks in 2008, 40 spots apart: Julien 146th, and Jason 186th. Julien, however, never played in the NHL despite a promising career in Juniors with the Ottawa 67's, whereas most people who follow hockey are aware of Jason's ability and, perhaps, failings, as the Sharks' blue-line scapegoat.

They are not related. Julien played in two OHL All-Star Games, and captained the 67's in his final year in Juniors, in 2009-10, on a team that also included forward Tyler Toffoli, defensemen Tyler Cuma and Cody Ceci, and Petr Mrazek between the pipes. He was particularly dominant in 2008-09, with 42 points and 60 penalty minutes in 61 games, and an even more impressive 11 assists in 7 playoff games.

I thought he might develop into a good, physical defensive defenseman, a 5th or 6th d-man who would excel shorthanded and might be able to lend a hand on the powerplay once in a while with decent passes, but after playing Juniors, he went by way of the University Of Ottawa, and didn't play in North American professional leagues.

This custom card by Ottawa-area collector BG for his 2010-11 Hot Prospects set / Future Watch sub-set, signed in blue sharpie, might be the last I'll hear of this former prospect:
He's seen wearing what may have been the finest Sharks uniform - apart from the jersey number on the right of the chest, the colour combination and design really is the best thing they've ever had.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Devan Dubnyk Autograph Card

I had written Devan Dubnyk last March, sending him 4 cards (including two customs), and haven't heard back yet, but I still wanted to write about him and his terrific start to the 2014-15 season with the Arizona Coyotes, what with a 4-0-1 record in six games, a 2.25 GAA and .925 save percentage, slowly but surely stealing starts away from Mike Smith. He even dominated his former Edmonton Oilers this week, in a 33-save, 2-1 win.

People who don't know much past the obvious about goaltending will point to his ''lack of consistency'' as the main knock against him, but that isn't accurate at all. Before last season, his save percentages in Edmonton (apart from his rookie season) were .916 (in 35 games), .914 (47 games) and .920 (38 games). These statistics point to him being among the elite of backups, or a starter who needs a game off per 7-10 days to remain effective, capping him at perhaps 55 games per year (the way 85% of goalies should play anyway).

But it's not really inconsistent, is it, to hover between stopping 91.4% and 92% of pucks headed your way. That's actually pretty consistent, and borderline excellent. The thing with Dubnyk, in my opinion, is he has relied on his size (6'5'' or 6'6'' depending on the source, 210 pounds) and rebound control to excel in lower levels, and his actual technique doesn't rank among the 30 best in the world, and neither does his glove hand, nor his stick control.

So when a goal that he wouldn't have let in at lower levels does get past him in the NHL, he might get discouraged and let it affect him for the next few minutes, until he can redeem himself with a big save; looking for the big save, however, usually leads to losing focus and forcing the play... and ultimately to another bad goal. And that's where the public perception of ''but he played GREAT the last two games'' comes in, and the critics pounce, particularly in Canadian markets where the press is aggressive. And a bad game or two at the NHL level, where everyone has dominated at some level before, for a goalie, can mean a week or two of riding the pine instead of standing between metal posts.

Keep in mind we're talking about a guy with Spengler Cup gold and World Juniors gold, and a perfect 6-0 record for Team Canada at the World Championships where, playing against some of the best in the world, he holds a 1.27 GAA and .935 save percentage.

In a salary cap world, what would you say if I gave you this choice of two Olympian goalies:
GOALIE AA: $6.5M per year, 2.49 GAA, .917% for 65+ games
      + token goalie at $1M, 2.35 GAA, .910% for 25 games
GOALIE A1: $4M per year, 2.50 GAA, .917% for 55 games
   + Dubnyk, $800K per year, 2.35 GAA, .917% for 35 games
Personally, I'd go with the cheaper tandem who stop a consistent amount of pucks, and take the nearly $3M I'd save and put it on an elite defender or improve my second-line from a 15-goal to a 30-goal scorer. Particularly since the goalie I have in mind is a proven playoff performer.

I didn't believe Dubnyk would make his way onto the Montréal Canadiens' roster when they acquired him last season, and I think Arizona might actually be a perfect fit for him.

I hereby check him off my list as #40 in my Oilers Numbers Project, with this card from Panini's 2013-14 Crown Royale set, #SO-DDU of the Sovereign Sigs sub-set, showing a nice close-up of his mask:
It's signed on-sticker, in thin blue sharpie, with his uniform number (40) below it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Jordan Sigalet Jersey Card

In a post about Andrew Raycroft last week, I mentioned the unevenness of the Boston Bruins' goaltending position since the departures of Andy Moog and Réjean Lemelin in the early 1990s, mentioning they had really good ones that did pan out, some that should have but didn't, and kids they'd burnt out before they got started. I omitted one because I knew he would be the next one up: Jordan Sigalet, whom the Bs drafted out of high school, 209th overall (in the 7th round) in 2001, and who would be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a couple of years later, when playing in the NCAA for the Bowling Green (State University) Falcons.

He played with the disease kept secret for a year and a half, but upon going public with it, he garnered widespread support from adversaries and teammates alike; other schools' teams sent signed jerseys, and he was the first goaltender to be named captain at Bowling Green.

He played with the AHL's Providence Bruins for three seasons, posting a .905 save percentage and 2.49 GAA in 81 games - 46 of them wins - earning a call-up with Boston, who had him on the ice for the last minute of a 6-3 win in 2005-06.

It may have been his only NHL appearance, but after having been told he'd have to retire altogether in the near future, it was more than a kid's dream come true, it was beating impossible odds. Josh Harding knows what that's like, now, but Sigalet had no role models to speak of when he was coming up - all he had was his NHL-caliber technique, a decent glove hand, and the strength to battle through anything that would come his way.

After his playing career ended with a stint in Austria with the Vienna Capitals, Sigalet became the goaltending coach of the WHL's Everett Silvertips for two years, then for the AHL's Abbotsford Heat, and after Clint Malarchuk's departure, now holds that position with the Calgary Flames, where he can count on the support of assistant coach Jacques Cloutier, who also held the position back with the Colorado Avalanche's Stanley Cup-winning days.

I don't know if he ever knew he'd make it back to the Big Show, but he has. And the Flames' goalies are playing remarkably well this season.

Here is card #HM-SI from Fleer's 2005-06 Hot Prospects set, from the Hot Materials sub-set, manufactured by Upper Deck, featuring a black swatch from a jersey worn in a photoshoot:
Upper Deck loves to hype their inserts with lines like ''we hope you're happy to hold this part of hockey history in your hands'' and such, but in this case, that's really as close as it gets to having been a part of Sigalet's NHL career.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jonathan Rheault Autograph Card

One thing I won't miss for the next while of Upper Deck's monopoly in NHL hockey cards is companies' endless quest for the ''best'' and ''most unique'' rookies possible, often resulting in cards of players who wouldn't have donned cardboard some 20 years ago - or at the very least who wouldn't be included in highly-collectible and expensive sub-sets, such as this 2013-14 Contenders card (#156 of the Rookie Ticket autographed sub-set) by Panini, signed on-card in blue sharpie:
Don't get me wrong: Jonathan Rheault - for having been drafted 145th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009 and never having signed with them, instead earning his way from success in the AHL with the Abbotsford Heat to an NHL contract with the Florida Panthers, and playing 5 games with them in 2012-13 - deserves all our respect, even if he was held off the score sheet at the top level. He still made it there, and didn't even register a number in the minus column.

But did that warrant inclusion in the much-hyped Dual Rookie Class category with Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Galchenyuk and Nail Yakupov? I'm not sure.

Here's what I do know: he's shown wearing the nicest-looking jersey the Panthers have ever worn, their current red (home) uniform. Had he been three inches taller, the 5'10'', 200-pound speedster would probably still be in the NHL instead of playing in Germany with the Mannheim Adler, because he can pass, doesn't shy way from traffic, and is responsible defensively. He had been a consistent goal scorer in minor leagues, but I could see him net maybe 10 goals per year on a third line in the NHL, 7 or 8 in fourth-line duties, earning penalty-killing minutes; he'd probably get between 20 and 30 points a lot of the time, and either be a minimum-wage player for 7 or 8 years, or a millionaire for 5.

An American who played for the Providence College Friars, he scored 56 goals and totaled 105 points in 142 games spread over 4 seasons in the NCAA's best division, and he had to dominate in the ECHL to earn his way up from the start.

That's the type of resilience and inner strength that brought Alexandre Burrows to NHL stardom. I'm not saying Rheault has that kind of game in him, but if I was in the bottom-10 of the standings and possibly in salary spending as well, he's one guy I'd look at for a bottom-six role, or 13th forward.

In the meantime, he has 16 points in 18 games so far in Germany.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Scott Laughton Jersey Card

Philadelphia Flyers fans were ecstatic when the team announced they had called up Scott Laughton to fill in for injured captain Claude Giroux tonight against the New York Rangers - although that was before Giroux decided to play, so I'm not sure how that turned out, other than the Blueshirts having won 2-0, and Laughton playing less than 10 minutes after getting called on a tripping penalty.

Laughton was slated to play on a fast and offense-minded third line in between Vincent Lecavalier and Pierre-Édouard Bellemare. It was his first NHL game in two years, as he already had 5 games under his belt from 2012-13 when he was still junior-aged; he spent all of last season in the OHL, and had 11 points (5 goals) in 13 games with the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms so far this year, as the Flyers expected when they chose him with the 20th overall pick in the 2012 draft.

His 40 goals and 87 points in 54 games in Juniors with the Oshawa Generals last year with 72 penalty minutes were a clear sign that if he adds 15-20 pounds to his 6'1'', 180-pound frame, he will become the type of player the Broad Street Bullies have always loved to have: speedy, smart, gritty and talented. I see him developing as a Mike Richards-type of player, perhaps a little less talented offensively - a second-line center on an average team, a third-line center on a Stanley Cup contender.

I knew when I pulled this card from a pack of Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition some six months ago that if I didn't pull any more of his cards or got any signed by him that it would at least make for good trade bait, as he may the most prized prospect the Flyers have had since since Giroux; it's card #RF-SL of the Rookie Fabrics sub-set:
It shows him wearing the Flyers' current/retro white (away) uniform that's somewhat rare on cards, with a black swatch from the sleeves of a jersey worn in a photoshoot.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Doug Weight Autograph Card

I'm a romantic at heart, and I often transpose my idealism to areas of my life where it may seem like a long-lost value, such as sports. As such, when I have tremendous respect for an athlete who gives his all for his team over an extended stretch (more than a decade), I generally want them to retire as members of that team, with perhaps 2 or 4 of those per decade.

Doug Weight was one such player when he was with the Edmonton Oilers. Though he was drafted 34th overall in 1990 by the New York Rangers (who have strong ties with the Oilers, for one, and only used him for parts of two seasons), Weight played for 8 and a half seasons in Edmonton, and was their leader for a large part of those years, registering 577 points in 588 games as an Oiler, including a 25-goal, 79-assist and 104-point season in 1995-96.

He captained them for a few years, too, but was let go because as a pending free agent, it was believed he would be out of the team's price range, and they decided to at least get something in return, as they sent him to the St. Louis Blues essentially for Marty Reasoner and Jochen Hecht. He played in St. Louis for three and a half years in his first stint with the Blues.

As he was about to reach free agency once again, he was sent to the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2005-06 trade deadline, going on to win the Stanley Cup with them, against the Oilers, in a thrilling 7-game series. Weight himself was injured in Game 5, the result of being sandwiched between Raffi Torres and Chris Pronger.

After the Finals, Weight re-signed with the Blues, with his family still living in St. Louis, so when he was awarded his day with the Cup, he spent it there rather than in his native Michigan or in Carolina.

He finished his career with stints with the Anaheim Ducks and New York Islanders, whom he also captained and who now employ him as both assistant coach and assistant general manager.

He ended his playing career with 278 goals, 755 assists and 1033 points (good for 5th all-time for American-born players) in 1238 regular-season games, and an additional 23 goals, 49 assists and 72 points in 97 playoff games. He has a King Clancy Trophy to his name for his leadership and humanitarian contribution, and once finished 6th in Hart voting. He played in 4 All-Star Games throughout his career.

He also suited up for Team USA on numerous occasions, having won the initial 1996 World Cup, and silver at the 2002 Olympics. He was also impressive at the World Juniors in 1991, leading the tournament in scoring on the strength of 5 goals, 14 assists and 19 points in just 7 games.

And so I couldn't have been happier when I pulled this from a pack of 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s from In The Game (#A-DW in the set of Autograph inserts, signed on-card in thin black sharpie), featuring a nice headshot of him with the Oilers' mid-1990s blue away uniform:
It also checks off #39 in my Oilers Numbers Project.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Steve Ott Jersey Card

Full disclosure: I traded 5 cards for this one, not because that's how big a Steve Ott fan I am, but because I want as many cards as possible of alternate uniforms, and I'm a huge fan of the Dallas Stars' so-called ''uterus'' jersey:
What a sight! Red, black and green works very well in this context, and if it wasn't for the bull's horns peering downward / forward, they might still be wearing it today instead of having it be a relic on a 2005-06 Series 1 card from Upper Deck (#J-SO1 of the UD Game Jersey sub-set), with a swatch from their black-and-green uniform.

Ott - the 25th pick of the 2000 NHL Draft, ahead of Justin Williams (28th), Niklas Kronwall (29th), Ilya Bryzgalov (44th), Jarret Stoll (46th), Antoine Vermette (55th), Paul Martin (62nd), Lubomir Visnovsky (118th), Travis Moen (155th), Henrik Lundqvist (205th), Matthew Lombardi (215th), and Paul Gaustad (220th) - has evolved into the type of player everyone wants on their team.

It wasn't always that way, of course, because when he started out, he was all about annoying opponents (he learned to tell guys off in pretty much each language spoken in the NHL) and delivering questionable hits to injure them, often leading to suspensions. He accumulated 279 penalty minutes with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs in 2004-05, though that was far from the team record held by Dennis Bonvie (522 in 1996-97).

He has seven seasons with more than 100 PIMs in the NHL - most of them over 150, all of them from his time in Dallas. He had two 90-PIM seasons with the Buffalo Sabres (granted, one was during the 48-game, locked-out 2012-13 season, and he only played 59 games the next year), but though he displayed a knack for grandiose hits, he stayed on the right side of the fine line he's asked to tread.

As a reward for his new-found respect for opponents, the Sabres named him an alternate captain in 2012-13, then bestowed him with the actual captaincy (shared with Thomas Vanek) in 2013-14, though both would be traded before the season was over. I had predicted those moves in an earlier post.

And so he and Ryan Miller were sent to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline, though only Ott was retained last summer, signing a two-year extension. He brings the Blues a solid two-way game, leadership, toughness, and the ability to shut down the opposition's second line on a nightly basis while giving his own team's top two lines some well-deserved rest.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Seth Martin Autograph Card

Ask anyone who has played with him, against him, or even just watched him play: Seth Martin was among the best of all time. Vladislav Tretiak credits him as ''hid idol'' and the one whose style he emulated; Hall Of Famer Glenn Hall, who just played one season with him with the St. Louis Blues marvels at his skills, and even asked his teammate to build him a mask; Ken Dryden says ''everyone knew about Martin'', though he kind of had to, because the two questions the Russians had for Team Canada during the 1972 Summit Series were ''Why is Seth Martin not on the team?'', and ''Is Dryden as good as Martin?'', which might be hard to fathom for folks born after 1980.

Martin played amateur hockey with the Trail Smoke Eaters, and helped them reach the actual IIHF World Championships four times, winning gold once and bronze twice, and three times being named best goalie and to the All-Star team. Back then, professionals weren't allowed at the Worlds nor the Olympics, so Canada was represented by the best amateur club that year, usually the same one that won the Allan Cup (best Senior-level team in Canada). Except the Russians were considered amateurs, so they had an unfair advantage.

The Smoke Eaters also represented Canada at the 1964 Olympics, finishing 4th. During those five times representing his country abroad, Martin made a huge impression on Europeans, the Russians and Czechs especially.

He made it to the NHL with the Blues, in their inaugural 1967-1968 season that finished in their being swept by the Montréal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals. After the season, at 35 years of age, a backup with perhaps few good years left ahead of him, he was faced with the dilemma of re-signing or moving back to British Columbia, and playing amateur hockey while going back to his career as a firefighter.

It came down to dollars and sense, in the pre-millionnaire days: the NHL pension kicked in at 210 games played, and he'd played 30; he needed six more seasons at the same level just to qualify. He already had 12 years invested in his fireman pension, and would end up with triple that.

Thirthy games isn't enough to qualify for the Hockey Hall Of Fame in Toronto (a.k.a. the NHL Hall Of Fame, a.k.a. The Old Boys' Club), but his success on the international stage did get him elected to the IIHF Hall in 1997. Journalists from Trail also say he was a terrific person.

He died two months ago. He had colon cancer, but it was a heart attack that got the best of him while he was in intensive care. He was 81 years old.

Since then, this card has meant even more to me:
It's card #A-SM from In The Game's 2011-12 Between The Pipes set (the 10th Anniversary of the brand), from the Authentic GoalieGraphs and International Pioneers sub-sets. ITG are generally very good at making their on-sticker autographs fit with the design of their cards, and this one here is no exception; they could, however, have used a picture of his from any other season he played than his lone NHL one, considering they are celebrating his ''international'' feats. Here is a crop from the classic, original picture:
Still a great card of a great goalie, signed clearly in black sharpie.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Two Andrew Raycroft Authentic Fabrics Jersey Cards

After the Boston Bruins got demolished by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, many thought Tuukka Rask would get a chance to redeem himself the next day against the Montréal Canadiens, but because they've certainly got his number, he had to sit out the 5-1 correction the Habs gave the Teddy Bears.

That brought memories of this great video of one of my favourite goalies growing up, Andy Moog:

And it got me thinking both about the Bruins' fluid - to say the least - goaltending situation over the last 30 years, how they've had flash-in-the-pan, one-year-and-out successes, two Vezina winners, a few #1s who'd had success elsewhere and yet failed in Boston, and a slew of young guys they just burned along the way.

And I will feature some from each category in the near future, starting with 2003-04 Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft.

In 57 games in 2003-04, Raycroft posted a 29-18-9 record with a 2.05 GAA and a terrific .926 save percentage. He won Rookie Of The Year honors ahead of the Habs' Michael Ryder, who was the leading scorer among rookies with 25 goals and 63 points in 81 games. Raycroft also finished 5th in Vezina voting that year (Miikka Kiprusoff, who had a 24-10-4 record, 1.69 GAA and .933 save % deserved it, but it went to Martin Brodeur; Roberto Luongo finished third with a 2.43 GAA and .931 save % on a lowly Florida Panthers team that for all his heroics, he could only bring to a 25-33-14 record).

The following season was the NHL lockout, so Raycroft couldn't build on his first year, and instead signed in Sweden (where he didn't play) then in Finland, appearing in just 11 games. When NHL play resumed, like many NHL goalies, he was rusty and slumped through the first few month, allowing Tim Thomas to take over the starting role, and even falling behind Hannu Toivonen at some point.

In the summer of 2006, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for... Rask. It has been said the Bs would have taken Justin Pogge in return, but the Leafs chose to send Rask instead, because Pogge was taller (at that point), a year further in his development, and was a Team Canada alumni at the World Juniors.

Raycroft's time in Toronto was marred by fan and journalist criticism, and while he was no Curtis Joseph or Ed Belfour, he did manage to tie Belfour's team record of 37 wins in a single season (granted, Belfour achieved this prior to shootouts taking away the possibility of a tie, and in fewer games; he did however, have a much stronger team in front of him, comprised of half a dozen potential or since-inducted Hall Of Famers, so in my opinion, both achievements are equal).

Following that, he finished his NHL career as a backup with the Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks, and Dallas Stars, before playing a season each in Italy and Sweden. He announced his retirement following a shootout win last April.

I bought a lot of Upper Deck's 2005-06 SP Game-Used Edition packs and boxes back in the day, and I have two of these jersey cards featuring Raycroft wearing the Bruins' black (away) uniform, which is #AF-AR in the set, from the Authentic Fabrics sub-set:
I like that I have both a black and a white swatch to show for my impulse-buying nearly a decade ago; it'd be nice to have a yellow one, too, to complete the set at least, considering I was never a huge fan of his, being a Habs supporter and all.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jordan Schroeder Autograph Card

The Minnesota Wild hired a lot of home-grown players who hadn't panned out with the teams that drafted them this summer, and Jordan Schroeder is the latest to have been called up, what with getting credited with 11 points in his first 12 games with the AHL's struggling Iowa Wild.

A first round pick of the Vancouver Canucks - 22nd overall in 2009, ahead of Simon Després (30th), Ryan O'Reilly (33rd), Alex Chiasson (38th), Jakob Silfverberg (39th), Jeremy Morin (45th), Robin Lehner (46th), Brandon Pirri (59th), Tomas Tatar (60th), David Savard (94th), Gabriel Bourque (132nd), and Gabriel Dumont (139th) - Schroeder spent the end of last season in John Tortorella's doghouse; one would think after both the coach and GM were fired, players would get a chance to redeem themselves, but he was let go instead.

The Wild pounced on the former University of Minnesota Gophers star in mid-July, signing him to a two-year, two-way contract. Like them, I jumped on this 2013-14 SP Authentic card (#280 of the Autographed batch of Future Watch sub-set cards) by Upper Deck:
It is signed on-card in thin blue sharpie, with his jersey number tagged at the end (45), and is numbered 771/999. It shows him wearing the Canucks' current white (away) uniform; I traded for it (and a couple of LHJMQ and OHL jersey cards, including this one of Anthony Duclair) by giving away a few WHL and LHJMQ jersey cards.

Schroeder is a very smart and determined small-stature player (5'8'' and 175 pounds) who feels and thinks the game as well as any third liner in the NHL, but who plays best with second-liners. His vision allows him to set his wingers up for beautiful, almost-easy goals that take the defense by surprise.

Sure, he has yet to translate his skill-set to the NHL level thus far (6 goals, 9 assists and 15 points in 57 games), but perhaps playing in a system where blocking shots isn't a priority over scoring goals will be good for his development.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Alexei Zhamnov Autographed Card

I waxed poetic about Alexei Zhamnov last month, and I found another card I had him sign at those Winnipeg Jets pretend camps in the mid-1990s:
Clearly I didn't know about pre-erasing the first (few) layers of gloss off cards back then, and I used someone else's sharpie (mine were thicker back in the day) for this one. It's from Pinnacle Brands' 1994-95 Score set (card #154 in the series) and is signed in black sharpie. He is shown sporting the team's purplish-blue (away) uniform, with the Goals For Kids patch I mentioned in this old post on Thomas Steen.

He had just come off his second straight season where he was a better-than-a-point-per-game player, with 51 goals and 143 points (and 120 penalty minutes) in 129 games for both years.

It was by chance that I fell on this card when coming home from the Montréal Canadiens hosting the Jets two nights ago - a Habs shutout win - looking through a box of cards for something else.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kari Lehtonen Jersey Card

Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff said last weekend that Kari Lehtonen had to step up and steal some games; he did just that in his very next outing.

Many observers were counting on the guy who finished 8th in Vezina voting last year to once again display the dominant and consistent form he's been known for (provided he stay healthy, I added), and while he hasn't been downright awful so far this season, his .906 save percentage ties his career-worst from his rookie year, and he had never been below .911 since, usually hovering between .916 and .919, with a career-high of .922 in 2011-12 (his 4 games in 2003-04 notwithstanding).

His 2.95 GAA is reminiscent of his days with the lowly Atlanta Thrashers though. I had featured him in Atlanta's white (then-home) uniform years ago, and thought I could do so again today with their so-awful-it's-hilarious alternate blue jersey, with pastel equipment:

It's card #UU-KL from the Ultra Uniformity sub-set of Fleer's 2009-10 Fleer Ultra set, by Upper Deck, featuring a dark blue game-used jersey swatch which could be from any of the three uniforms they wore then. I kind of dig the mask, too, what with the ''iced Thrasher'' logo on the forehead.

His masks usually feature a film, TV or video game character, and they're fun to watch evolve from one year to the next.

The second-overall pick of the 2002 NHL draft has also had a successful run representing Team Finland, perhaps the country with the best top-4 goalies in the world in the past decade. He has gold (2000) and silver (2001) medals from the U-18 World Championships, Olympic bronze (2014), World Championship silver (2007), World Cup silver (2004), and World Juniors silver (2001) and bronze (2002 and 2003).

And yet, on the verge of turning 31, he has perhaps 4 or 5 more good seasons in him.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Henrik Lundqvist Jersey Card

... And he's back.

After another one of his legendary slow starts, Henrik Lundqvist is back in form, finally over the .900 save percentage barrier, on the strength of a .941 showing and 1.62 GAA in his last three games, including a would-be lop-sided loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night that he kept in the 2-1 margin; the Oilers completed the score with an empty-netter. He made 30 saves on 32 shots, a lot of them spectacular, such as this one:
The Rangers will need him playing like King Henrik if they want to make another post-season run, especially after losing out most of their bottom-6 forwards and defenseman Anton Stralman to free agency. I still stand by my pre-season prediction that despite injuries, they will hold on to a guaranteed playoff spot, but it won't look easy all the time.

Here's a miniature card of Lundqvist's, from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Champ's set (#MT-HL of the Threads jersey sub-set), featuring a tiny blue game-worn jersey swatch matching the Rangers' classic blue uniform from the black-and-white picture:
It's small, but the swatch is pretty much regular-size.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Brad Winchester Signed Jersey Card

As a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, I do try to keep track of their alumni, particularly those who I thought would be impact players - not necessarily just first-liners, but also players like Brad Winchester, a grinding giant (6'5', and nearly 230 pounds) whose first NHL goal was a playoff game-winner on the road against the top-seeded and heavily-favoured Detroit Red Wings, paving the way to an unsuccessful Stanley Cup run that ended in a bitter Game 7 defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.

Having played his College Hockey with his hometown University Of Wisconsin Badgers, the Oilers chose Winchester 35th overall in 2000, ahead of Ilya Bryzgalov (44th), Jarret Stoll (46th), Antoine Vermette (55th), Paul Martin (62nd), Lubomir Visnovsky (118th), Travis Moen (155th), Henrik Lundqvist (205th), Matthew Lombardi (215th), and Paul Gaustad (220th), notably.

Apart from two All-Stars chosen late and who, in retrospect, should probably have been taken in the first round, the order seems about right to me.

Winchester hasn't played in the NHL since his stint with the San Jose Sharks ended in 2012, and from a statistial standpoint, it kind of makes sense.

Even in the AHL, his point production is erratic and changes dramatically from one season to the next, and the only time he was a point-per-game player was with the 2005-06 Hamilton Bulldogs, where his 26 goals and 40 points in 40 games came on a stacked team that included not only the Oilers' top prospects but also those of the Montréal Canadiens.

In the NHL, his output could go from 21 points in 64 games (2008-09 St. Louis Blues) to 10 points in 67 games (2011-12 Sharks). Because of his size, he's often put in a fourth-line energy role, and his statistics suffer because of it. That last year in San Jose, he averaged just 7:48 of ice time per game.

At 33 years of age, it would probably be unfair and unwise to expect him to completely turn his career around, but I always believed he could be efficient and get some 25 points per year by playing 10 to 12 minutes per game, with perhaps 30 seconds of second-unit powerplay time once in a while as a sign of appreciation for his efforts, where his job would be to park himself in front of the goalie and maybe get a garbage goal here and there.

The best coaches change their lines often nowadays, and having him hover between the third and fourth lines would probably be the best way to use him in the NHL, where he could hit, provide energy and perhaps fight with the grinders, and maybe produce a little with the checking line.

So far this year with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals (the Anaheim Ducks' affiliate), he has 7 points and 29 penalty minutes in just 11 games. He ranks second on the team in points and assists, and fourth in penalty minutes (they're a very truculent team).

I may now check #26 off my Oilers Numbers Project with this card, from Fleer's 2005-06 Hot Prospects set by Upper Deck:
It's card #238 of the Prized Prospects sub-set, and is numbered 18/50. It shows him wearing the Oilers' white (then-home) turn-of-the-century uniform, with the ''oil driller'' shoulder patch; it features a sticker autograph (signed in blue sharpie) and an orange swatch from a jersey worn in a photo shoot - too bad they placed it right in the chest, hiding the team's logo.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Cory Conacher Autograph Card

Cory Conacher is currently suiting up for his 4th NHL team in three NHL seasons, or at least he was, until the New York Islanders scratched him last night. And won. Against the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

There's a reason why he went undrafted, and when he started off brilliantly with the Tampa Bay Lightning, some attributed it to his diminutive stature, standing at just 5'8''; at that time, his name rang a bell, and I looked him up to find he did, indeed have the hockey genes and pedigree I expected, being a relative of three Hall Of Fame players, Charlie, Roy, and Lionel Conacher. He also tore up the AHL, playing in their 2012 All-Star Game (and has 114 points in 118 games at that level).

He's also an underdog because his diabetes is so severe that he has a permanent insulin pump attached to his hip whenever he's not playing. You're kind of supposed to root for him.

But he fell out of favor in Tampa, who traded him to the Ottawa Senators (for Ben Bishop, and because they already had Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner). Who put him on waivers, where the Buffalo Sabres - the worst team in the league last year - took a chance on him before letting him walk.

And yet there was hope on Long Island, as he started the season playing alongside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo on the first line... until gradually taking the route to the press box.

Hockey culture is big on pride and hiding your injuries, but if it's his disease that's causing him to have ''down'' moments, he should be open about it and not be uselessly criticized. It's a lot better for a player to be seen as ''useful for 60 games a year'', rather than ''a nuisance for 30''.

I'll take a guy with lot of heart on my middle-six forwards before one who produces the equal amount of points but shows up in only a third of the games. In just over two NHL seasons, I'm still not sure where I'd classify Conacher, though. I want to put him in the ''heart-and-soul'' category, what with battling health issues, and his size, and his never having been drafted, I want him to be that character guy, but I honestly don't know.

I pulled a lot of his cards last year and got this card of his in a group break a few months ago:
It's from Panini's 2013-14 Contenders collection, a Rookie Ticket autograph card (it's #269 in the set), showing him with the Sens' white (away) uniform. It's signed on-card in blue sharpie.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dustin Brown Autographed Card

Los Angeles Kings' captain Dustin Brown celebrated his 30th birthday in grand fashion two nights ago when his second goal of the season was the game winner for his team's first road victory of the year, as the Kings overpowered the Dallas Stars, prompting their head coach Lindy Ruff to publicly call out his players for playing ''pond hockey''.

Brown looks shorter and lighter than his 6'0'' frame and 215 pounds on the ice, because he plays a bit crouched forward and plows through and gets very physical with players much bigger than he is. But when I ran into him about a year ago as the Kings came to blank my hometown Montréal Canadiens, he was almost my height and looked like an adult who could handle himself. He signed this card in thin black sharpie:
It's from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Series 1 set (card #93 in the collection) and shows Brown wearing the Kings' then-white (home) uniform, with purple on the shoulders; I also have a card of his with that era's away (black) uniform that I featured in 2010.

The first American Kings captain, two-time Stanley Cup champion, silver-medal Olympian and All-Star won the Mark Messier Leadership Award last year; past winners include Sidney Crosby, but also players who were thought to never be leaving their teams (Jarome Iginla with the Calgary Flames, Daniel Alfredsson with the Ottawa Senators, Mats Sundin with the Toronto Maple Leafs) who ended up doing just that.

The half-season in 2012-13 (due to the lock-out) saw him score 18 goals in 46 games, coming just short of a sixth-straight 20-goal season; he only scored 15 in 79 games last year, but being on a deeper team means he's getting close to 3 minutes less ice time per game than he used to. I'm sure he prefers Cups to goals, though.