Saturday, January 31, 2015

Steve Larouche Autographed Card

Steve Larouche was a scoring sensation in Juniors, and a 153-point season with the Trois-Rivières Draveurs prompted the Montréal Canadiens to select him 41st overall in 1989; he proceeded to follow that with a 145-point season and a game with the Canadian National Team in which he scored a goal. He capped his time in Juniors with a 33-point postseason in 1990-91 in just 17 games with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, leading them to a participation in the Memorial Cup tournament won by the Spokane Chiefs.

He was just as prolific in the AHL, posting 56 points in his rookie season, followed by a 27-goal, 65-assist and 92-point season with the Fredericton Canadiens in 1992-93; unfortunately, that was the year the Habs won the Stanley Cup, so there wasn't really room on their team for a top-line center, what with Vincent Damphousse, Kirk Muller and Stéphan Lebeau already in place and Guy Carbonneau as the league's best defensive forward and face-off leader also in the mix, which led Larouche to the IHL, and the Atlanta Knights, as featured on this card from Classic's 1993-94 Pro Hockey Prospects set (card #160 in the collection, with the Blue Chip Prospect mention), which he signed for me in blue sharpie in 2010-11:
That year, he went on to produce 96 points (on 43 goals) in 80 regular-season games, plus 26 more points (16 of them goals) in 14 playoff games, impressing the Ottawa Senators enough to sign him as a free agent. The following season, he played 18 games in the Canadian capital, and gave them 15 points, but he spent the bulk of his time with their AHL affiliate Prince Edward Island Senators, where he was good for 53 goals and 101 points in 70 games.

The next season would be the last in which he spent time in the NHL, but it seems he wasn't given the same chances as before because unlike his nearly point-per-game pace with the Sens, he was pointless in his lone game with the New York Rangers, and was limited to 3 points in 7 games with the Los Angeles Kings.

He spent the next six seasons in the IHL, always finishing among the league leaders in points, both with the Québec Rafales and Chicago Wolves and winning three Turner Cups in the process, but no NHL team was willing to even invite him to a training camp, so he moved to Europe, playing in Germany, Finland, and Switzerland before moving back to his home province of Québec and playing for the semi-pro, goon-friendly LNAH, which is where I met him, as he played for the Trois-Rivières Caron Et Guay in 2010-11.

Nowadays, he's an assistant coach with the Shawinigan Cataractes in the LHJMQ, winning the Memorial Cup in 2011-12.

He's won three IHL championships, scoring titles in both the AHL and IHL, was a First Team All-Star in each (1995 for the AHL, and 1997, 2000, and 2001 in the IHL), and has MVP titles in each league in addition to ''heart and soul'' awards such as the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award (AHL: sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey) and the John Cullen Award (IHL, formerly the Comeback Player Of The Year, for being  a key contributor to his team while overcoming injury, illness, or other personal setbacks); I strongly believe that if there were a minor-hockey Hall Of Fame, he'd be in it.

He averaged nearly two points per game in the 'Q' (both during the season and in the playoffs), had 315 points in 260 AHL games, and 529 points in 416 IHL games (plus 92 more in 80 IHL playoff games), so he was consistently a factor in his team putting pucks in the opposition's net. Which also raises the question as to why a talent-starved expansion team didn't peg him as their second-line center at the turn of the millennium, particularly the Atlanta Thrashers, seeing as he'd starred in the area just a few years prior with the Knights.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Two Jason Spezza Dual Jersey Cards

Regular readers know how I feel about Jason Spezza. He's still among the five best passers in the league (currently in the top-20 for assists while mostly playing with the Dallas Stars' under-performing second line wingers) and has 35 points in 48 games; I predicted he would be able to hit 70-75 points as the second-highest-scoring second-liner in the NHL (behind Sidney Crosby), and he is just one hot streak away from hitting that pace, despite the Stars not currently being in a playoff position.

Which means his year is not totally a write-off, nor a full-blown success. I would be tempted to say ''Spezza-like'', considering what fans always expected of him, both statistically and in a leadership role when he took over as captain for Daniel Alfredsson (actually, many ''fans'' were almost rooting against him from the start, saying he lacked leadership capabilities based on how he was in his early 20s as opposed to at that point in his career), but that would be unfair to a player who, at the beginning of the season, was a point-per-game player both in the regular season (587 in 586 games) and the playoffs (52 in 56). He also has 18 points in his last 16 games playing for Team Canada at the World Championships; his collection of IIHF medals is also complete, with one gold (2012 Spengler Cup), three silver (2002 World Juniors, and 2008 and 2009 Worlds), and two bronze (2000 and 2001 World Juniors).

He's 31, and has given the Ottawa Senators 10 terrific seasons (eight of them great), and had 5 points in 5 games the one year where he was mostly injured. He has 4 or 5 more very good hockey years left in him, maybe a chance at another World Championship gold medal or two if the Stars fail to make the playoffs. I was very happy that the Sens were classy enough to put this video together for last night's game, his return to Ottawa:
And it gives me the opportunity to share these really nice cards of him, each a dual-swatch card, each with one or two gold patches from the Sens' old uniforms, and both showing him wearing the Sens' white (away) uniform with the captain's 'C':
They're from Upper Deck's beautiful 2013-14 SPx collection (card #WM-JS of the Winning Materials sub-set). Usually, when I get doubles of a card, I try to sell one, but for swatch cards, if they have different colour swatches, I keep them.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tyler Toffoli Jersey Card

The Los Angeles Kings' star youngster Tyler Toffoli came back from a bout with mononucleosis last night with a 2-point performance against the Chicago Blackhawks. He was third on the Kings in goals when he got sick in early January, and got right back into the groove with the tying goal in a 4-3 win.

Toffoli, who wears uniform #73, came into prominence during last season's playoffs, as a member to That 70s Line with Jeff Carter (77) and Tanner Pearson (70), whom he is still paired with, but the Kings might want to return Toffoli back to his natural center position at some point to balance their offense out. Then again, maybe not. Stacking two lines with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik on the other one is almost a fool-proof plan.

I don't know if the 47th player chosen in the 2010 draft will become a point-per-game player in the NHL, though he certainly was one in Juniors and in the AHL, but even that doesn't mean he can't be a consistent threat for 30-35 goals, perhaps with a peak over 40, which in itself would be terrific for the Kings, considering Carter is a former 50-goal scorer himself.

Here's a card from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SPx set (#RM-TT of the Rookie Materials sub-set), showing the 22-year-old with the Kings' black (home) uniform, with a purple swatch from a jersey worn in a rookie photo shoot:
It would have been nice of UD to have a swatch that fit the picture, but at least we're certain it's a Kings uniform he was wearing in the photo shoot...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ryan Hamilton Autograph Card

There's a story involving the Edmonton Oilers and the city that shares Ryan Hamilton's last name making the rounds these days, as it's rumoured the team's owner, Darryl Katz, tried to purchase an OHL team to relocate it to the city of Hamilton and take over that arena's lease... as a threat to the city of Edmonton should they not build the Oilers a new arena. It's a fine, in-depth piece of ''actual'' journalism, I suggest you read it.

But back to the original intent of the post: Ryan Hamilton, the hockey player. I won't pretend I knew who he was before I got this card last year, but when I did, I was intrigued and did a bit of research. He went undrafted and was signed by the Minnesota Wild, although he never played a game with them, instead getting traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, where he was one of Dallas Eakins' favourite players on their AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies, which meant he got frequent call-ups (2 games in 2011-12 and 10 in 2012-13) and served as their captain, playing with the Marlies for parts of 5 seasons.

When he became a free agent, Eakins convinced the Oilers to sign him, and he played two games with them last season, spending most of his time with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons. His 16 points in 30 games with the Barons last year weren't much to write home about, but he has emerged a consistent producer this year, with 14 goals and 25 points in 30 games so far this year under Todd Nelson... who now coaches the main club, so there is a chance that Hamilton might join him there before the end of the season.

At age 29, the 6'2'', 220-pound left winger may not have a ton of chances left to impress the head honchos around the league, but if he can show he's an affordable third-liner who can finish once in a while, he might get a shot at being there for the actual ''building'' part of the Oilers' 8-year ''rebuilding process''. All teams need grinders, leaders and undrafted guys who've had it hard; he has a chance at being all three.

In the meantime, he takes #48 off my Oilers Numbers Project list with this card from Panini's 2013-14 Titanium set(#TR-RH of the Titanium Reserve autographed insert sub-set, signed on-sticker in thin blue sharpie):

It shows him wearing the Oilers' classic blue (now-home) uniform.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mike Richards Swatch Card

I know, I posted about Mike Richards twice last summer, defending the Los Angeles Kings for keeping him despite his long-term, high-cap-hit contract because he's a proven winner and captain at all levels (even internationally), and has developed into a dependable two-way player who will always keep his hockey sense even when he's not put in a position to succeed offensively.

Which he wasn't, stuck behind Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter on the Kings' depth chart, and head coach Darryl Sutter refusing to put him on the wing on either of the top two lines despite injuries.

But his $5.75M cap hit (though his actual salary is decreasing from now on) for five more years make his 40-point production seem expensive, until you look closer and see he's playing with fourth-liners and rarely has advantageous offensive-zone starts.

Plus, with the cap increasing even just by $3M per year (and moreso if it goes up by more), he'll quickly be deemed ''very affordable'' even if he remains in that point range, as can be attested by the following players making over $4M and producing half a point per game:
Milan Lucic (6): 25 points in 47 games.
Jaromir Jagr (5.5): 25 points in 43 games.
Eric Staal (8.25): 28 points in 41 games.
Shane Doan (5.3): 25 points in 44 games.
Alexander Semin (7): 8 points in 26 games.
Jeff Skinner (5.75): 19 points in 41 games.
Shawn Horcoff (5.5): 17 points in 42 games.
Travis Zajac (5.75): 16 points in 39 games.
Patrik Elias (5.5): 20 points in 37 games.
David Jones (4): 15 points in 34 games.
Tyler Ennis (4.6): 28 points in 47 games.
Ryan O’Reilly (6): 26 points in 48 games.
Gabriel Landeskog (5.57): 28 points in 48 games.
Matt Duchene (6): 29 points in 48 games.
Martin Erat (4.5): 19 points in 44 games.
Matt Moulson (5): 20 points in 44 games.
Brian Gionta (4.25): 11 points in 34 games.
Drew Stafford (4): 22 points in 42 games.
Chris Stewart (4.15): 15 points in 45 games.
Brad Marchand (4.5): 25 points in 43 games.
Loui Eriksson (4.25): 29 points in 47 games.
Ryan Kesler (5): 30 points in 47 games.
Bryan Bickell (4): 21 points in 47 games.
Erik Cole (4.5): 23 points in 44 games.
Ales Hemsky (4): 18 points in 43 games.
Stephen Weiss (4.9): 14 points in 24 games.
Taylor Hall (6): 29 points in 41 games.
Jordan Eberle (6): 29 points in 46 games.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (6): 29 points in 45 games.
Teddy Purcell (4.5): 20 points in 47 games.
Benoit Pouliot (4): 16 points in 29 games.
Dave Bolland (5.5): 9 points in 23 games.
Tomas Fleischmann (4.5): 13 points in 38 games.
Jussi Jokinen (4): 24 points in 43 games.
Dustin Brown (5.88): 19 points in 47 games.
Mikko Koivu (6.75): 26 points in 46 games.
P-A Parenteau (4): 15 points in 40 games.
Ryan Clowe (4.85): 4 points in 13 games.
Mikhail Grabovski (5): 14 points in 38 games.
Nikolai Kulemin (4.2): 20 points in 46 games.
Milan Michalek (4): 15 points in 42 games.
R.J. Umberger (4.6): 12 points in 48 games.
Joffrey Lupul (5.25): 17 points in 26 games.
David Clarkson (5.25): 14 points in 48 games.
Brooks Laich (4.5): 11 points in 31 games.
Evander Kane (5.25): 19 points in 33 games.
Don't get me wrong - I like a lot of those players, and would take them (those I like) on my team any day, with the same salary. I'm just saying: a case can be made for Richards. Despite his slowing down. And that for many teams not playing in Pittsburgh, Dallas or Los Angeles, he's probably still a better player than whoever they have centering their second line this week. Maybe even the first line, if you're the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So I think he'll report to the Manchester Monarchs just long enough for one team's accountant to make a deal smooth enough on both sides for salary to go each way, and perhaps a defenseman going L.A.'s way. His playing in the AHL will still eat some $4.5M on the Kings' cap, but having that free $900K will allow them to dress a defenseman for every game until the Slava Voynov situation is settled; that has been the Kings' true problem this year, losing their #2 or #3 defenseman and yet having his salary still count against the cap for the time before he was formally tried for domestic abuse. Had that not been an issue, GM Dean Lombardi probably would have kept him on the roster and tried to get his game going again.

So, barring an injury to another one of their top centers, chances are you won't be seeing pictures like this one soon, wearing the Kings' white (away) uniform:
It's card #47 from Panini's 2011-12 Titanium set (part of the Game-Worn Gear sub-set), featuring a large white jersey swatch.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Frank Corrado Autograph Card

Things are going well for Frank Corrado these days: he's already learned he will be counted upon as the Vancouver Canucks will look to him to replace the injured Kevin Bieksa, and now he'll also have the honor to serve as the first official entry in my Canucks Numbers Project, representing #26.

The 150th pick of the 2011 draft, Corrado is a speedy defenseman who can feel free to pinch in offensively because even if he loses the puck, he's fast enough to recover in time to break up the ensuing play. He's been impressive at the NHL level, coming pretty much straight from Juniors to help shut down the San Jose Sharks a year and a half ago (I know, it's the Sharks, but in order for them to choke, they still need to be stifled, and Corrado did just that).

He wasn't a point-per-game defenseman in the OHL nor the AHL, so I don't expect him to be one in the NHL either, but if the 21-year-old can develop into a steady presence and contribute to the tune of 20-30 points while staying in the plusses and eating some minutes on the second pairing, he'll be a very valuable player who might even take a page from Dan Hamhuis' book and play for Team Canada some day (perhaps more at the World Championships than the Olympics, though).

He has 2 goals in 22 NHL games so far, so perhaps borderline players such as fellow right-handed d-man Yannick Weber should watch their backs from now on.

Here he is sporting the Canucks' current/pseudo-retro blue (now-home) uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set (card #TR-FC of the Rookie Signatures and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets), featuring a thin blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph:

Brian Elliott Swatch Card

Despite having featured him last September, I feel Brian Elliott deserved an extra spot this weekend for showing up for duty at the All-Star Game despite getting the call when he was already on vacation, first as a news item, then his wife's Twitter post to see just where it was they were leaving from:

The whole week, we were hearing left and right about players bowing out to take the week off, exaggerating their injuries to avoid the hassle of interacting with fans and sponsors all weekend, in Columbus of all places (not exactly the hot spot for partying with the boys or the wife to go shopping in, if we're going to stick with the hockey clichés), so it was great to see a feel-good vibe coming from some of these guys, particularly Elliott, in his second appearance, and also Carey Price, who despite being a fixture at the event, took it to heart as well, wearing full suits to speak with the press when his peers were in exercise garbs.

Alexander Ovechkin was also having a blast, as were the representatives of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks (even Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews). I won't pretend to have watched the event, but I read enough about it to have a pretty good idea what went on the whole weekend.

I remember I used to love the All-Star Games in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as a kid, with Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Brett Hull and the rest. Apparently, some of these current guys too, and their sharing their enthusiasm is a key component in making these events successful. Mind you, the seasons are longer than ever, and with Olympics and World Cups thrown in here and there, we just keep asking more and more of the elite among them, so it's nice to see those who are happy to be there having a blast.

So, once again, kudos, Mr. Elliott, for putting work before leisure time - and to your wife for coming along and leaving the gorgeous beach and weather to come back to winter time in North America with you.

In tribute, here is a bonus post this weekend, from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified collection, card #TC-BE of the Red ''regular'' Jersey sub-set, featuring a game-worn dark blue swatch from a St. Louis Blues uniform:

It probably doesn't come from the white (away) uniform he's pictured in, though; it's more likely to be from the blue (home) uniform.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ryan Johansen Jersey Card

After holding out in training camp in a game of chicken against the Columbus Blue Jackets, I was almost planning on rooting against Ryan Johansen this year, but he came to reason with his contract demands and then proceeded with what he does best: play hockey. Very well.

At 22 years old, he has 17 goals and 43 points in 45 games so far with the injury-depleted Jackets this year, after leading the team in points last season. He even made the All-Star Game this year, and proceeded to steal the show at the Breakaway Skills Competition.

As it stands now, he's got a good enough hockey sense to be used on the penalty kill (an impressive feat at that young an age), and his speed, passing ability and good shot make him a very good first-line center on a decent team, but once he grows more comfortable and experienced with his 6'3'', 220-pound frame and starts knocking people over, he might even become dominant.

Perhaps not on the level of Evgeni Malkin, who's been there from his first season and might have a decade of it left in him, but probably on a level comparable to that of Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau, and Eric Staal - a very good run.

He already has a silver medal with Team Canada from the World Juniors (2011), but my guess is he'll play in the Olympics before long (provided the NHL keeps sending its players), the World Cup, and maybe a few World Championships in the years where the Jackets fail to reach the playoffs in what is already a very difficult division in the NHL.

I landed on this card last year, showing him in the Jackets' white (away) uniform, with matching dual jersey swatches, each with stitching:
It's card #TS-RJ of Upper Deck's 2013-14 Artifacts set, part of the Treasured Swatches sub-set.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pat Falloon Autographed Card

I skipped three days because I was overworked and rarely home, and I wanted to make it up with something extra special - so I went to my vault of in-person signed cards of minor leaguers and found... one guy who didn't actually play in the minors until he retired from the NHL: Pat Falloon.

It's fitting to feature Falloon the same week his former line mate with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs, Ray Whitney, announced his own retirement, if only because of the contrast in their stories.

Out of the two, Falloon was considered the true ''blue chip'', can't-fail prospect, having won the Memorial Cup MVP award and getting drafted second overall by the San Jose Sharks in 1991 (the same year as Eric Lindros, Scott Niedermayer, Alexei Kovalev and Peter Forsberg). Whitney was chosen 23rd overall by the Sharks, largely as a favor for Falloon.

Whitney retired after 23 NHL seasons, 1064 points in 1330 regular-season games (plus 53 more points in 108 playoff games), one Stanley Cup (2006), two All-Star Games (2000 and 2003) and a spot on the 2012 end-of-season Second All-Star Team. Oh, and 25 points in 30 games for Team Canada at four World Championships.

Falloon had 322 points in 575 games, and 18 more points in 66 playoff games, the highlight of which was a participation in one Stanley Cup Finals with the Philadelphia Flyers. His highest-scoring season was his rookie year, when he accumulated 59 points, 25 of them goals.

After a 12-goal, 26-assist and 38-point 43-game season with HC Davos in Switzerland in 2000-01, Falloon moved back to his family's farm in Foxwarren, Manitoba, and played for the local Foxwarren Falcons in the NCHL, winning team championships and scoring races and all, until 2006-07. He even competed for the Allen Cup, given to Canada's best non-professional team.

I first met him after a game against my hometown Montréal Canadiens at the Forum, in 1992 or 1993, and while he signed a similar card for me at the time, this one was not it - I can tell because it's signed in blue sharpie, which I didn't get until much later that decade:
It's from Pro Set's 1991-92 Series 2 collection (card #558, his rookie card for the brand), showing him in the Sharks' original and super-popular teal (away) uniform.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Jeff Beukeboom Autograph Card

Last weekend, I wrote about perhaps my favourite alternate jersey in sports, the New York Rangers' Statue Of Liberty third jersey from the end of the 1990s. In 1998-99, however, they got greedy and went for a White Liberty uniform, which didn't work nearly as well:
That's Jeff Beukeboom, who I featured as a member of the Edmonton Oilers earlier this fall, hinting that I'd talk about his career with the Rangers later. Now is the time. The card is from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set, a signed insert of card #242 in the set, with a thin black-sharpied autograph.

Mostly partnered with Brian Leetch, Beukeboom was the defensive anchor that allowed Leetch to act as a rover - or fourth forward if you will - because it was understood that #23 would be able to hold off the opposition through his physical presence and stable positioning, and either stop plays by himself or stall them enough for Leetch to have enough time to skate back with his tremendous speed.

They complemented each other so well, most teams went out of their way to try to copy the ''one up front, one out back'' philosophy after over a decade of mostly-similar pairings of defenders who would either attack or defend - not necessarily both at the same time.

His physical play led to his having a few concussions - both directly (out of the contacts he initiated), and indirectly, notably from a sucker-punch by then-Los Angeles Kings forward Matt Johnson in 1998-99, which left him so fragile that the next hit he received, although benign by comparison to what he had withstood in his career, would not only force him to retire, but with lingering post-concussion symptoms that lasted for more than two years.

He has four Stanley Cups to his name, three with the Oilers and the 1994 one in New York. He has been an assistant coach in the OHL and AHL in the past decade.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chad Jackson Jersey Card

Here's a card in honor of the New England Patriots' trouncing of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, from Fleer's 2006 Flair Showcase set (card #SHS-CJ of the Showcase Stitches sub-set) by Upper Deck, featuring a white swatch from an event-worn uniform:

When I got it in a re-pack of cards from multiple sports a couple of years ago, I had to do a double-take, because I thought it was a Chad ''Ochocinco'' Johnson card at first... Alas, it featured Chad Jackson, a wide receiver from Alabama who held the Florida Gators' record for most receptions in a single season as a junior and whom the Patriots drafted in the second round in 2006 (36th overall).

Hamstring injuries and a deep team led to his being scratched for many games with the Pats, including Super Bowl XLII. In 2008, it was believed he'd made the 53-man roster, but he was cut the day after the team submitted its list.

The same thing happened the following year with the Denver Broncos, only this time it was two days later.

He was off the NFL grid in 2009, but signed with the Buffalo Bills in 2010, only to be released prior to playing a single game, and the same thing happened with the Oakland Raiders in 2011, a year where he played for the Omaha Nighthawks in the UFL before retiring at age 25.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Nail Yakupov Jersey Card

Nail Yakupov hasn't had it easy thus far in his NHL career. The pressure of being a first-overall pick in a Canadian hockey market on a lousy team were all losing predicaments, and I'm not certain even Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin could have saved the Edmonton Oilers at that point.

And yet he was tied for most points in his rookie season with the eventual Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau.

But it's been a downward slide from there, statistically, and he's now with his third head coach in three NHL seasons (fourth if you count GM Craig MacTavish stepping behind the bench for a few games between Dallas Eakins' departure and Todd Nelson's actual arrival a few weeks ago).

He has exactly two and a half seasons of experience (well, considering his rookie campaign was a lockout-shortened season, maybe two full seasons would be more accurate), and yet Oilers fans have been clamoring for him to be traded for over a year. And some Montréal Canadiens fans would like to see him reunited with his OHL partner with the Sarnia Sting, Alex Galchenyuk, but I don't see it happening. Though I do have a strange feeling that Lars Eller will finish the season in Edmonton...

The question hockey fans should ask themselves before criticizing him is: Who is Nail Yakupov, as a hockey player?

His favourite player growing up was Pavel Bure, a flashy offensive player who passed the 50-goal mark five times, but was a minus-2 in his 59-goal season with the Florida Panthers in 2000-01. Yakupov isn't as fast as Bure, but he has the same type of flair for the net and good moves (as can be attested by his shootout goal against Roberto Luongo last night).

But like Bure (and Ovechkin in his early days), Yakupov has yet to learn the benefits of playing a sound defensive game to increase the likelihood of having more offensive chances. Keep in mind, he's barely 21 years old and won't turn 22 until next season (late October); some rookies don't make it to the NHL until well into their 20s, and he already has over 150 games of NHL experience.

Even if he turns out to be a Thomas Vanek-type of player who barely enters the defensive zone, there are ways to integrate the way he'd play the game in a system that would adapt, provided he's let loose to score his 40 goals and set up those of the linemates assigned to cover for him without the puck - the Oilers don't have the Daniel Brière/Jason Pominville/Zach Parise-type of player to make that work, though, for one, and at just 21, it's also a tad too early to give up on teaching him the fundamentals of defensive responsibility.

I'm just saying there are ways around his deficiencies if, by the time he's 25 or 26, he still hasn't rounded up his game.

Either way, the Oilers need to acknowledge that he, like Bure, is (potentially) a goal-scoring machine. He had his first hat trick in his first season, one at the U18 World Championships (in a winning cause agaisnt Team Canada), and has a 100% shootout rate.

He's not as complete as Galchenyuk in terms of two-way play and setting up teammates as well as completing their plays, but with a top-level setup man, chances are he'd be on the positive end in terms of goal differentials more often than not - something that hasn't happened too often in Edmonton, relegated to the Oilers' third line or even cut as a healthy scratch. I'm not saying I'm against ''tough love'', but if it doesn't work, perhaps it's time to try spending more face-to-face time actually teaching and demonstrating before another bout of watching the game from the press box.

So far, he just hasn't been put in a position to succeed. Then again, the Oilers can't pair him with his ideal partners, because they don't have them, but if he could play with a terrific setup man who plays a two-way game (a Patrice Bergeron type) and a brute who can protect his fragile frame and get the puck from the tough areas (say, a Milan Lucic type), he'd be an All-Star by now.

We'll see what happens. In the meantime, here he is wearing #64 (6+4=10, Bure's number and the one he's currently sporting) from his rookie season, with the Oilers' classic white uniform (though the swatch included is dark blue, like the Reebok Edge pajama-type uniforms from two lockouts ago):

It's card #RM-NY from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SPx set (part of the Rookie Materials sub-set, the swatch coming from a jersey he wore in a photo shoot).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mike Keane Autograph Card

The Montréal Canadiens are in the midst of a four-game road trip, and all three games so far (Wednesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Thursday against the Ottawa Senators, and tonight against the New York Islanders) featured their opponents wearing their alternate uniforms which, for all except the Isles', are definite improvements over their regular garbs.

Which brings me to this card of former Habs captain Mike Keane, seen wearing the New York Rangers' blue ''Liberty'' uniform - perhaps the best alternate jersey in all sports (the Edmonton Oilers had a great one too):
It's card #101 from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player set, the black sharpie signed insert version of the set.

What a perfect design, keeping the Rangers' classic dark blue as a base and red as its counterpoint, with white to highlight, and the Statue Of Liberty's head as a logo instead of the classic simple RANGERS (or NEW YORK) letters going down the front of the jersey, with the team's logo/shield on the shoulders. It was both modern and classic, also perfect descriptions of their star player at the time, Wayne Gretzky.

Keane has one less Stanley Cup than The Great One, but won it with three different teams: the Canadiens (1993), the Colorado Avalanche (1996, with former Habs and Cup winners Patrick Roy and Claude Lemieux) and the Dallas Stars (1999, with former Habs and Cup winners Guy Carbonneau, Brian Skrudland, and Craig Ludwig).

The Winnipeg native spent the twilight of his career captaining the AHL's Manitoba Moose (his #12 jersey is the only number the franchise ever retired) and now works for the Winnipeg Jets, as their player development assistant. He's a local hero there, almost on the same level as former superstar and Jets captain Thomas Steen.

While he was playing Juniors with the Moose Jaw Warriors, he played on a line with Theoren Fleury and Kelly Buchberger; all three eventually became NHL captains. I'm bound to have another signed card of his from his days with the Habs, in addition to the one I featured last August. Stay tuned, I guess!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Brayden Schenn Swatch Card

You can't say things have gone particularly well for the Philadelphia Flyers this season, but that was to be expected when Kimmo Timonen was lost for the season with blood clot issues; the team was already depth-deprived on the back end (a situation that will get better in the next few years with three solid prospects coming up, but this year and the next will prove difficult, with sub-par talent past Mark Streit and Braydon Coburn, who themselves are no longer quite at their peak).

So the team was going to have to score a lot of goals to win a lot of games - and they just haven't. Many have pointed to certain players (Vincent Lecavalier more often than not, though I still believe he can be useful when cast in the right part), but Jeremy Roenick seems to think the Flyers should trade away their promising young forwards Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn, because they aren't ''consistent''.

A lot of people seem to be expecting more of Schenn in particular, the fifth-overall pick of the 2009 draft - ahead of the likes of Oliver Ekman-Larsson (6th), Nazem Kadri (7th), Nick Leddy (16th), Simon Després (30th), Kyle Clifford (35th), Jakob Silfverberg (39th), Jeremy Morin (45th), Robin Lehner (46th), Brandon Pirri (59th), Tomas Tatar (60th), Tyson Barrie (64th), David Savard (94th), Craig Smith (98th), Marcus Foligno (104th), Sami Vatanen (106th), Mike Hoffman (130th), Gabriel Dumont (139th), and Darcy Kuemper (161st). And they're quick to point out that it's been nearly five years.

Except consistency isn't an issue: he has 10 goals and 27 points in 45 games so far this season, pretty much the exact amount (8 goals and 26 points in 47 games) as in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, and practically the same pace as last season's 41 points (though on 20 goals) in 82 games.

Also, the kid's barely 23 years old - he was born in August, allowing him to be drafted among a class of players much older than he is. 40 points a year not playing on a first line two or three years before hitting their prime (generally ages 25 to 32 for forwards) is pretty impressive to me.

Also, he's barely a minus-2 this season - on the injury-and-depth-deprived Flyers. 29 other teams would want his services should the Flyers decide to pass, even the Los Angeles Kings, who traded him to Philadelphia in the first place (along with Wayne Simmonds, for Mike Richards and Rob Bordson).

He might not have the hardest or most accurate shot, nor the best vision and passing ability, but he skates well and fast, his acceleration is impressive, and he'll plow his way through with force to get the puck where he wants it to, be it on someone's else's stick or behind the opposition's goalie. The more experience, confidence and bulk he gains in the next couple of years, the truer that last sentence will become. I'm not saying he's the next Ryan Getzlaf, but if you can't afford the actual guy (or, considering he's already taken and signed to a long-term contract), getting Schenn won't hurt your feelings so much.

All those reasons explain why I haven't yet traded this beautiful die-cast 2011-12 Crown Royale card by Panini (#18 in the Heirs To The Throne sub-set) despite not having any other ''special'' card of his in my collection (from what I recall):
It features him wearing the Flyers' current/retro orange (home) uniform, with a white game-worn swatch.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bruce Gardiner Autograph Card

The Ottawa Senators were The Law tonight against the Montréal Canadiens, totally dominating the game at the Canadian Tire Center, both in terms of goals, shots, and physical play; had it not been for Dustin Tokarski stealing the show in net for the Habs, the Sens would probably have doubled the 4-1 score (last one an empty-netter).

Ironically, checking-line center Bruce Gardiner played for the Sens in the 1990s and, upon retiring from hockey in 2005, became a police officer; he was charged with harassment and voyeurism in 2009, but the charges were dropped after he agreed to never have contact with the victim again (saving his job in the process).

Though initially drafted by the St. Louis Blues (131st overall in the sixth round of the 1991 draft), the team opted not to re-sign him after a tryout with their AHL farm team the Peoria Rivermen in 1993-94, following a successful 4-year stint with the Colgate University Raiders, so he signed with Ottawa. After two years with the AHL's Prince Edward Island Senators, he finally made the big team, serving as a capable shut-down center who could contribute at times with an opportune goal. He was never in the minuses with the Sens, but once they traded him to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1999-2000, he was never in the plusses again, including in his short stints with the Columbus Blue Jackets (scoring the franchise's very first goal) and New Jersey Devils.

He had his best point-per-game ratio with the Devils, with 3 points in 7 games, but spent most of the year he was in their organization (2001-02) with the Albany River Rats in the AHL, posting 5 goals and 23 points in 45 games in the capital of New York State, before spending a couple of seasons abroad, first in Russia then in Finland.

He finished his NHL career with 34 goals, 54 assists, 88 points and 263 penalty minutes in 312 regular-season games, and 1-4-5 (and 8 PIMS) in 45 playoff games - more than enough to have him represent #25 in my Sens Numbers Project:

It's the signed insert version (in black sharpie) of card #51 from Pinnacle's 1997-98 Be A Player set, showing him in the beautiful Senators' mid-1990s uniform, with their ''original'' expansion-era logo (the sideways legionnaire as opposed to the contemporary straight-facing one), with a white stripe on the arms (the original 1992 jersey had just red and black on the sleeves).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Devan Dubnyk Dual Jersey Card

I know I talked about Devan Dubnyk a couple of months ago, but the Arizona Coyotes have just traded him to the goaltender-depleted Minnesota Wild for a third-round pick.

The Wild desperately needed goaltending help. Josh Harding was playing like a Vezina Trophy candidate last season despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but he has not played since Dec. 31, 2013 because of complications with the treatment of the disease and a broken foot sustained during training camp.
Darcy Kuemper has a .902 save percentage) and Niklas Backstrom is at .887; they are 35th and 40th, respectively, out of 42 qualified goaltenders this season.
So, sure, Dubnyk might solve some of the Wild's woes short-term, but he remains a pending free agent at the end of the season, so not only is this just a stop-gap measure and borderline panic move on the part of GM Chuck Fletcher, but possibly his last hope of saving head coach Mike Yeo's job by the end of the week (and his own by the end of the season).

And while I stand by some of my message-board posts pinning 80% of the Wild's problems on their goaltending and its subsequent taking the wind out of the rest of the players' game, the team's been playing terrible defensive zone coverage of late, leaving gaping 2-on-1s and 3-on-1s too often. That will need to be addressed so that Dubnyk can perform (or at least attempt to perform) the miracle of turning this team's fortunes around.

In any event, unlike the asking price for other goalies Fletcher may have gone for, a third-round pick isn't so costly, though it's one for this year, a supposedly deep draft.

On the other hand, Coyotes GM Don Maloney also got rid of a potential problem, as Dubnyk was outplaying starter (and highly-paid) Mike Smith - and by a wide margin at that. By getting rid of the low-cost free-agent-to-be, he avoids a goaltending controversy... and enters the First Draft Pick derby almost unofficially.

But I'm happy I get to feature another card of Dubnyk's wearing the Edmonton Oilers' beautiful classic white (now-away) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Black Diamond set (#EDM-DD of the Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set), featuring orange and blue game-worn swatches:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Teemu Selanne Jersey Card

It was just a few hours ago that the Anaheim Ducks retired Teemu Selanne's number, in an hour-and-a-half ceremony that was classy, solemn, and yet a tad lengthy (the jersey itself could have taken less than 8 minutes to get to the rafters, for example, even Selanne and his family looked at a loss at some point), but more than his speech or the rising itself, what got to me the most was that both the Ducks and the Winnipeg Jets (not quite the franchise that had drafted him, but its spiritual successor of sorts) wore not just Selanne jerseys, but different ones, with the Jets sporting their early-to-mid-1990s white uniform (with horizontal arm stripes), and some Ducks even sporting the much-maligned Disney third uniform (and too many orange ones from last year's Stadium Series, probably so they could sell whatever's left over):

By now, I'm sure you're aware he's going to be a first-ballot Hall Of Famer. Before even coming to North America, he won the Finnish League's trophies for best goal-scorer, most gentlemanly player and his team (Jokerit Helsinki) won its league championship.

He holds the NHL rookie scoring records with an astounding 76 goals and 132 points, and finished his career with 684 goals (good for 11th of all-time) and 1457 points (15th of all-time) in 1451 games. The only team with which he was far from the point-per-game rhythm was his season with the Colorado Avalanche, where his 16 goals and 32 points in 78 games were a bit of a disappointment.

As a member of the Ducks franchise, he leads the team with 457 career goals, and his 988 points are just short of the 1000 mark. He also had 44 goals and 88 points in 130 playoff games, including 15 points in 21 games in 2006-07 when he won the Stanley Cup.

Both his 500th and 600th goals were scored against the Avs.

Sure, he had four 100-point seasons and two more in the 90s, but his point production that struck me the most were his 80 points in 73 games at the age of 39 in 2010-11. He was also - fittingly - the first recipient of the Maurice 'Rocket' Richard Trophy as top goal scorer in 1998-99, marking the third time he led the league in goals.

He also won a Masterton Trophy and was a perennial contender for the Lady Byng and Hart as well, though he was often a finalist but never a winner of those. He did end up on two end-of-season First All-Star Teams, and two Second All-Star Teams as well, and played in a total of 10 All-Star Games.

Internationally, the Finnish Flash has probably won his own weight in medals despite playing for often-neglected and perennial underdogs Team Finland, often classified behind Canada, the United States, Russia and Sweden if only because Finland has a smaller population. Still, he has a silver (2006) and three bronze (1998, 2010, and 2014) Olympic medals, and his 43 career points at the Games are, indeed, an IIHF record, and he also has silver (1999) and bronze (2008) medals from the World Championships. He was named the MVP of the 2014 Games and the best forward of the 2006 ones, and MVP of the 1999 Worlds.

I wrote to him in April, and I never really expected an answer back - I just wanted him to know how I felt about him as a player and as the classy human that he is. I tried to save up enough money for a trip to his final game in Anaheim, but I just couldn't get it together fast enough. It turned out to be a tear-inducer, though.

I have a couple of jersey cards of his, and I thought I could feature this one today, from Upper Deck's 2000-01 Pros & Prospects set (#TS of the Game Jersey sub-set), showing him with the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim's classic white (home) uniform and featuring a black swatch:
The Finnish Flash retired as one of the most charismatic players in the game; Grandfather Time, Jaromir Jagr, seems poised to take up the mantle, but Selanne will never be forgotten.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Jarred Tinordi Dual Jersey Card

I tried to avoid talking about it, but I just couldn't. It happened in the AHL, but no doubt it'll be another spark in the Fighting Debate at the NHL level as well, so, uh, before getting to verbalizing about it, here's the fight from Friday night's game between the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Utica Comets (which the Bulldogs won 3-0), pitting Montréal Canadiens prospect Jarred Tinordi against Andrey Pedan of the Vancouver Canucks' organization:

Tinordi, the son of former NHLer Mark Tinordi, grew up in the American system, where there are no fights. He only started fighting after being drafted by the Habs (first round, 22nd overall, in 2010), when they pressured him into going to the OHL's London Knights instead of the University Of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, so he could ''learn to play like in the NHL'' and ''be more physical'', which included fighting and ''defending his teammates''.

Pedan is a Russian-born (some sources say Lithuanian, some say he was born in Moscow) heavyweight enforcer who had two seasons of 145 PIMs or more in the OHL, then spent parts of the next two seasons in the ECHL, where he was in the minuses both times. He was traded earlier this season, but in 6 (six) games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers before the deal, he had 51 penalty minutes - and I'm pretty certain those weren't all tripping calls.

It was never going to be a fair fight.

I touched upon fighting in a recent post on Vincent Lecavalier, saying the ''heat of the moment'' fight between he and Jarome Iginla was about two leaders going at it, two tough star players eking out their frustrations, an equal loss and equal spark on both sides.

I also showed how hard the so-called ''goons'' have it mentally in a recent post about Brent Severyn, with the sub-text that everyone knows they wouldn't want to do that job and how self-destructive it is, yet they all turn a blind eye to it.

When polled, players usually overwhelmingly state they'd rather keep fighting (and fighters) in the game, usually as a fraternal move, because everyone hates to see a friend lose their job, especially one who they consider was protecting them.

There as well lies a conflicting underlying message: protect them from what? Inevitably, the answer is ''from dirty hits'', all of which are illegal according to the rule book. So, the second underlying message is: if referees would do their jobs properly, there wouldn't be an issue, but players seem to think they simply can't - whether it's because they're awful, or it's what their bosses - the NHL GMs and owners, through the Board of Governors - ask for is up for debate.

Still, it's clear the players need to be protected from themselves, and staged fights pitting enforcers against one another need to go. Sure, John Tortorella overreacted last year after the Calgary Flames started their five toughest players to start a game, but he wasn't wrong in being pissed off. If he'd started his best players to face them, they were all at serious risk of being injured, whether directly at the face-off, or as soon as Calgary would have lost control of their defensive zone ten seconds later, and any one of the Flames players could have taken a run at any Canucks player. Instead, Tortorella started his five toughest guys, two of which were no match in the melee that ensued.

And if staged fights - the ''before the face-off'' fights, those ''to create momentum'' when a team is trailing, the ''wake-up'' fights when a team is slumping - have to also bring with them the more honorable ''heat of the moment'' fights, then so be it. There are no fights at the Olympics - perhaps the best hockey on the planet; there are no fights in U.S. College games.

It's gotten to the point where any good, legal, hard hit gets a retaliatory fight - and that's not right. It's unsportsmanlike. Hockey is a physical sport, and the dumb, Boston Bruins-type ''you hit my guy, you have to pay by getting your face smashed in'' fights are perhaps the worst thing in the game today. Proponents of keeping fighting in the game are quick to point that it would take the physicality out of the game, when in reality, it's probably closer to the opposite. How many big hits are thrown in football versus the number of fights there?

In a very physical league with no fighting, Tinordi would be a very useful player, a valuable commodity. But because fighting isn't in his DNA (yet), he's in the AHL this year, despite having a better point-per-game average (2 assists in 9 games) than fellow prospect Nathan Beaulieu (4 assists in 26 games) who, as a shorter, offensive defenseman, has never been asked to fight.

I won't solve this issue here, today, by myself. The debate will go on for years. Hopefully Tinordi recovers fully soon, and by then no one will have died.

In the meantime, here's a beautiful card I got last year, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Black Diamond set (#ROOKD-JT of the Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set), showing him wearing the Habs' white (now-away) uniform, with red and blue swatches from a photo shoot:

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Eric Nystrom Jersey Card

The Nashville Predators announced this week that they had put forwards James Neal and Eric Nystrom on injured reserve. The team, currently leading the Central Division, will now face its toughest bit of adversity this season, although having Pekka Rinne in nets still guarantees they will remain competitive in close games.

Nystrom is a former Calgary Flames first round pick chosen 10th overall in 2002, ahead of Keith Ballard (11th), Alexander Semin (13th), Chris Higgins (14th), Alexander Steen (24th), Cam Ward (25th), Duncan Keith (54th), Johnny Boychuk (61st), Valtteri Filppula (95th) and Dennis Wideman (241st). It was a year filled with gritty role players.

Expectation for the 6'1'', 195-pound winger may have been a tad too high in Calgary, though, particularly as he was drafted as ''Bob Nystrom's son'', which comes with hefty postseason expectations. And while ''Calgary'' and ''postseason'' haven't often been said in the same sentence of late, he did score a game-winning goal for the team in the 2008-09 playoffs.

Just like his father, Eric is a hard-working, two-way player with a decent hockey sense and a bit of a mean edge. His goals are harder to come by, however, with 66 so far in his ninth NHL season.

Before this season, his physical play had teetered on a very fine line between ''on the edge'' and ''illegal''; an incident between him and the Edmonton Oilers' Taylor Fedun resulted in the NHL revising its icing rule, and hits on Kris Letang and Daniel Brière got serious media attention as well as calls for suspensions.

He hit the 500-game plateau earlier this season, though, and has seemed very comfortable on the Preds' fourth line this year. Ironically, Nashville is the team against whom he scored his very first NHL goal. He had posted his 100th career point last year.

My favourite YouTube moment of his is when he recreated the famous striptease scene from Slap Shot for a charity event when he was in the AHL:

And my favourite cardboard moment of his is this one, shown either back-checking or about to initiate contact while with the Flames, in their white (then-home) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Ice collection (card #FU-EN of the Fresh Ice sub-set), featuring a three-colour jersey swatch from a photo shoot:
I've seen this one go for less than $5 on Ebay, albeit not of the three-colour variety.