Monday, August 31, 2015

Niklas Kronwall Jersey Card

How do you replace Nicklas Lidstrom, the greatest defenseman of the past 20 years and one of the best of all time?

If you're Niklas Kronwall, you just keep doing what you do. You come in in 2003-04 alternating on the third pair as a #7 defenseman that's full of promise, then spend a year in the AHL with the Grand Rapid Griffins and win the Eddie Shore Award as best defenseman, then come back to the Detroit Red Wings and try to keep improving.

Then, as the years pass, trades and retirements make way for you to be an essential component on the second pairing, and finally you graduate to the top unit and top powerplay crew. You have fulfilled the promise of a first-round draft pick (the Wings chose him with the 29th-overall choice in 2000) with your perfect balance, strong skating, booming shot and knack for open-ice hits, which have now been named after you (search "getting Kronwalled" on YouTube, you'll squirm on your seat as if you were watching videos of baseball pitchers getting hit in the nuts with line drives).

It's easy to forget his smallish stature (in comparison to the force of the impact on the hits he delivers) because he plays like a giant, and his personae and aura reflect much larger than he actually is.

He won the Stanley Cup with the Wings in 2008 and is part of the Triple Gold club thanks to his Olympic gold (2006) and World Championship gold (2006) medals, and he also won silver at the Olympics (2014) and Worlds (2003) with Team Sweden. With Henrik Zetterberg and Mikael Samuelsson, he's part of the trio who own the distinction of having acquired the Triple Gold title the fastest - in just over two years' time.

He has played in 674 NHL regular-season games so far - all with the Wings - and stands at 339 points and 426 penalty minutes. He averages roughly the same types of statistics in the postseason, with 46 points and 81 penalty minutes in 104 playoff games.

Here he is wearing the Wings' classic red (now-home) uniform, with a matching game-used jersey swatch, from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 1 set:
I bought it on Ebay last year as a test, to see if I'd like the design and feel of the cards before spending money on an actual box. I did.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mike Komisarek Signed 8X10 Picture

In the last decade or so, there have been two universal truths about the Montréal Canadiens:

1. If a defenseman played alongside Andrei Markov, he would look so good that he would eventually leave as an overpaid free agent. Case in point: Sheldon Souray (to the Edmonton Oilers), Mark Streit (to the New York Islanders).

2. If a player was deemed such a powerful leader that he'd be viewed as ''the next captain'', he would be moved before that would happen, as was the case with Christopher Higgins (traded to the New York Rangers), Craig Rivet (shipped to the San Jose Sharks), Kyle Chipchura (sent to the Anaheim Ducks), and Josh Gorges (who refused a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs to later accept one to the Buffalo Sabres).

Enter Mike Komisarek, who fit both bills.

The seventh-overall pick of the 2001 draft - behind Ilya Kovalchuk (1st), Jason Spezza (2nd), Stephen Weiss (4th), and Mikko Koivu (6th), and ahead of Pascal Leclaire (8th), Tuomo Ruutu (9th), Dan Hamhuis (12th), Ales Hemsky (13th), Chuck Kobasew (14th), R.J. Umberger (16th), Alexander Perezhogin (25th), Derek Roy (32nd), Michael Cammalleri (49th), Jason Pominville (55th), Peter Budaj (63rd), Tomas Plekanec (71st), Craig Anderson (73rd), Patrick Sharp (95th), Jordin Tootoo (98th), Christian Ehrhoff (106th), Kevin Bieksa (151st), Mike Smith (161st), Dennis Seidenberg (172nd), Ryan Clowe (175th), Marek Zidlikcy (176th), Andrew Alberts (179th), Cristobal Huet (214th), Johnny Oduya (221st), Marek Svatos (227th), Martin Gerber (232nd), and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (264th) - played in the 2009 All-Star Game, held in Montréal, where Alex Kovalev stole the show. It was the same year he finished 17th in Norris Trophy voting (Markov finished 6th, while Streit was 13th).

Judging from that list of draft picks above, some are clearly out of place, as Plekanec, Anderson and Sharp should probably have been picked in the first round, possibly in the top-10, but Komisarek's pretty much where he should be, in my opinion.

Sure, Markov had a hand in making him look good, but it was his steady and physical play that complemented his partner's style perfectly, freeing him to concentrate on exiting the zone and creating offense, then coming back to defend with speed and positioning while Komisarek cleared the front of the net and intercepted cross-ice and through-the-paint passes. He even led the league in blocked shots once.

In any other city, it's a thankless and anonymous job, but luckily, having been drafted by the Habs and playing in front of the knowledgeable Montréal crowd, the gentle affable giant became a star defensive defenseman, the Scott Stevens of the post-lockout era.

And over time, the smiling behemoth American took on a more vocal role on the team, became a trusted veteran and a reliable presence. Which meant the Leafs had to have him. And they did, and they ruined him.

That's not entirely fair nor true. He wasn't "ruined", he was just a little slower than he used to be, and wasn't put in a position to succeed in the same way he'd been with the Canadiens. Plus, he never really fully recovered from a fight against the Boston Bruins' Milan Lucic - and was a lesser physical presence for the remainder of his career.

He finished said NHL career with one season playing with the Carolina Hurricanes and a failed try-out bid with the New Jersey Devils. He then returned to finish his degree at the University of Michigan, and currently acts as an assistant coach for the Wolverines.

He has suited up for Team USA five times in total.

Here he is with the Habs, during better and brighter days (though his left eye might disagree), wearing the classic bleu-blanc-rouge uniform prior to a face-off:
He signed it in blue sharpie, mid-picture, on top of the blue line on his jersey. It may have shown more had he signed it on the red part of the jersey of on the ice between his legs. Still, it's a beautiful picture of one of the toughest customers to wear #8 in my lifetime (with Brandon Prust being a close second).

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Radek Bonk Jersey Card

Ah, Radek Bonk.

Sure, when he was chosen third overall at the 1994 NHL draft, expectations were high on the Czech center. Chosen after Ed Jovanovski (1st) and Oleg Tverdovsky (2nd) and ahead of the likes of Jason Bonsignore (4th), Jeff O'Neill (5th), Ryan Smyth (6th), Jamie Storr (7th), Brett Lindros (9th), Jeff Friesen (11th), Mattias Ohlund (13th), Ethan Moreau (14th), Éric Fichaud (16th), Wayne Primeau (17th), Dan Cloutier (26th), Stanislav Neckar (29th), José Theodore (44th), Mathieu Dandenault (49th), Patrik Elias (51st), Fredrik Modin (64th), Sheldon Souray (71st), Chris Drury (72nd), Milan Hejduk (87th), Vaclav Varada (89th), Marty Turco (124th), Daniel Alfredsson (133rd), Roman Vopat (172nd), Shane Hnidy (173rd), Frédéric Cassivi (210th), Tim Thomas (217th), Evgeni Nabokov (219th), Tomas Vokoun (226th), Steve Sullivan (233rd), Richard Zednik (249th), Mike Peluso (253rd), Sergei Berezin (256th), Tomas Holmstrom (257th), Dick Tarnstrom (272nd), and Kim Johnsson (286th).

Among those chosen in the top-5, it's hard to argue he shouldn't have been in the top-3. In retrospect, when considering the players drafted in every round, he's still a definite first-rounder, and still a top-10 pick for me, as my order would probably be:

1. Alfredsson
2. Hejduk
3. Smyth
4. Elias
5. Theodore
6. Tverdovsky
7. Thomas
8. Vokoun
9. Drury
10. Bonk
11. Jovanovski
12. Souray
13. Ohlund
14. O'Neill
15. Nabokov

And he may not have become a leading scorer (though he did have a 70-point season as well as a couple where he put up 60 and 59, part of a streak of four consecutive 20-goal seasons), but playing alongside Marian Hossa on the Ottawa Senators for seven seasons really cemented his abilities as a two-way center, which led to his earning Selke Trophy consideration five times, including twice with nearly the same number of votes as Hossa.

However, there came a point where the expectations of high production in Ottawa became too lofty, and he was part of a three-way trade that sent him to the Montréal Canadiens, where head coach Claude Julien was quick to cast him into a defense-first role where 10 to 15 goals and 25 to 30 points were going to be acceptable, and for a couple of seasons he thrived in Montréal. So much so that he eventually signed a free agent contract with the Nashville Predators, before a one-year stint in the KHL and a return to the Czech Republic.

Here he is wearing the Habs' white (now-away) uniform, from Fleer's 2006-07 Fleer Ultra set by Upper Deck, card #U-RB of the Ultra Uniformity sub-set, featuring a red game-worn jersey swatch:
You might remember him from his mullet in his early years, but this is him as he is ingrained in my brain.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Patrick Marleau Autograph Card

Well, another season is upon us, and as always the San Jose Sharks seem like they're in complete turmoil. Both disgraced former captains (Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton) are back, as is GM Doug Wilson despite his calling Thornton out and his star center's reply to "shut his mouth".

Tomas Hertl has to rebound from his sophomore slump, head coach Todd McLellan has moved on to coach the Edmonton Oilers after winning gold at the World Cup with Team Canada, and choke-master extraordinaire Peter DeBoer has replaced him behind the bench.
"Peter is a well-respected leader who possesses all of the characteristics we were looking for in our next head coach," general manager Wilson said in a team statement. "He's an extremely intelligent and innovative individual who likes to play an aggressive system. Peter has a track record of extracting the most out of his players and is willing to make tough decisions that are based on achieving team success. We're extremely excited to have him leading our group."
Yes, he's exactly what the Sharks need: a coach who has never won the Stanley Cup and isn't afraid to make unpopular decisions, such as McLellan's stripping Thornton of his captaincy and yet not replacing him, then strapping an "A" to his chest as part of a "leadership group". Tough decisions. Stupid, but tough. And yet, he wasn't able to tell Martin Brodeur to stay on the bench when he clearly became a liability that ultimately cost him his job with the New Jersey Devils. So how come he didn't make THE tough decision?

That's why it seems to me like more of the same for the Sharks: a finish outside the playoff picture, having handed the goaltending duties to Los Angeles Kings backup Martin Jones with Alex Stalock (who couldn't wrestle the #1 gig away from Antti Niemi) as the fall-back plan.

Also - and maybe that stems from my being from Montréal - but when the banners on the ceiling of your arena are just for winning division titles, you've never achieved anything. Only Cup banners are worth hanging in the rafters, and yet:
"There is a tradition here of winning and a challenge to go deep into the playoffs," said DeBoer. "That is my expectation and that is Doug's expectation as well."
Uh huh. Riiiiight.

And all respect due to Marleau, he'll be caught in the crossfire, no longer the star player he once was, therefore unable to carry the team on his shoulders, but too good to be cast aside for an unproven rookie if DeBoer truly wants to win, with an unmovable contract to boot.

He's currently at 988 career points (in 1329 games), so he'll at least get to pass the millennium mark within the first couple of months of play, maybe even in October if he continues his career trend of strong early starts, but his 57 total points last year are a clear sign of his overall decline.

Here he is back when he wore #14 (he now sports #12), from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set, card #120 of the signed insert sub-set (the gold variant), handling the puck and looking at it, so probably in the neutral zone:
He's pictured with the Sharks' teal (then-away) uniform, one that I never understood why it got so much love; I'm a far bigger fan of the garbs they wore from 2007 until 2013, save for the jersey numbers on the front, which are an aberration and a crime against hockey tradition (and good taste, and fashion).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thomas Vanek Dual Jersey Card

Thomas Vanek with the Buffalo Sabres... those were the days!

Many criticized his play with the Montréal Canadiens in 2013-14, particularly come playoff time, but without his 15 points in 18 regular-season games, who's to say the Habs would even have made it to the postseason?

But Minnesota Wild fans were certainly expecting much more than 21 goals (a career low in a non-lockout season, as he'd scored 20 in 38 games in 2012-13) and no back-checking from him when GM Chuck Fletcher shelled out $19.5M and a no-trade clause for the exclusive rights to have him wear the uniform and loosely redefine the meaning of the words ''play'' and ''compete''.

But with the Sabres, Vanek was a star, a nearly point-per-game player with two 40-goal seasons on his resume, the role of captain for that final year, a true leader. I'm fairly confident he can return to that level if paired with players who do, actually, play at both ends of the ice and let him be creative and help them rack up points.

Here he is looking good in the retro-modern white garbs, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Artifacts set, card #TS-TV of the Treasured Swatches sub-set:
It featured a yellow and a dark blue game-used jersey swatches, seemingly from the ''turd burger'' jersey, but not so. Honestly, the Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks should just return to their 1980s or 1990s uniforms and stick with them instead of trying to "innovate" every other year by coming up with worse atrocities every time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Robert Kron Autographed Card

Robert Kron was an important member of the Czechoslovakian hockey team at the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, participating in three straight World Junior Championships and winning two consecutive bronze medals at the World Championships in 1989 and 1990 before making the team for the 1991 Canada Cup.

In the NHL, he was a Vancouver Canucks fifth-round draft pick (88th overall) in 1985, and made his way across the pond to post 32 points in 76 games in his rookie season in 1990-91.

He was moved to the Hartford Whalers at the trade deadline during the 1992-93 season, and would post two 20-goal seasons with the franchise (both in 50-point seasons) and remained with the team as they became the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997-98, remaining all the way until the summer of 2000, when the Columbus Blue Jackets chose him in the expansion draft. He would play in Columbus for two seasons before playing in Finland for one year.

He is now the European director of amateur scouting on the Canes.

He also fits the bill as #58 in my Canucks Numbers Project, with this card that he probably signed in his final season, a.k.a. the year I got back into following hockey:
It's card #225 from Upper Deck's flagship 1991-92 Series 1 set, signed in blue sharpie (which tells me it probably doesn't go back to my teen years) and shows him wearing the Canucks' quintessential black (away) uniform, with the skate logo that they will bring back for one game this coming season. It's a hundred times better than their current blue-and-green retro monstrosities, and stands as my favourite Canucks uniform (ahead even of the admittedly less-tacky Markus Naslund-era from the turn of the millennium).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mark Giordano Swatch Card

The captain will be back!

The Calgary Flames have indeed re-signed star defenseman Mark Giordano to a reasonable six-year, $40.5M contract that includes a full no-trade clause for the first four years and a 20-team one for the last two.

At the time of his injury last season, he was leading all defensemen in points and his play at both ends of the ice helped push the Flames into a playoff spot; he was the heavy favourite for the Norris Trophy and would have been a consensus pick because he usually qualifies as ''not just an offensive defenseman'', unlike, say, Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban, albeit erroneously at this point in their careers for those two.

I won't pretend that $6.5M per year isn't a huge payday, but in the ''elite-gets-paid-first'' NHL cap world, many expected him to be looking for an eight-year deal at $9M per, but instead he went and did the sensible thing and asked for a reasonable amount - enough to be the highest-paid on the team at his position for the next couple of years - but leaving ample room for management to bring back other players who will also deserve raises, and set the tone as the leader of the group and what type of character is required to play for that team. It really reflects what the Flames had shown us all year, with their grit, toughness, all-business, no-nonsense, fair and equal style.

Colour me impressed.

And so here's a card showing him wearing the captain's ''C'' in the team's red home uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Playbook set (card #LE-MGI of the Limited Edition sub-set, numbered 76/99), featuring a red game-worn material swatch enclosed:
He's also usually the team's leader in blocked shots and takeaways. He does it all, plain and simple.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Christian Thomas Autograph Card

When Marc Bergevin signed Alexander Semin to a one-year, $1.1M contract earlier this summer, it signaled a bit of a lack of confidence in the Montréal Canadiens' youngsters who are vying for a roster spot on the right wing for a chance to play on one of the bottom-three lines (Brendan Gallagher is pretty much set on the top unit, though he'd probably be more at home on a second trio).

Among them, Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas, two high-scoring right wingers in Juniors and decent producers in the AHL who have yet to contribute anywhere close to the same level in the NHL (though Thomas was used the most, albeit usually in fourth-line situations, while Andrighetto, a victim of his size, has impressed when called upon but has not gotten that call often enough).

All of Thomas' games have involved the Habs, from his initial game with the New York Rangers against Montréal to the other 20 with the bleu-blanc-rouge; he has one goal to show for it, which he scored last February against the Edmonton Oilers.

Here's a card combining both, showing him in the Rangers' classic white (now-away) uniform while listing him as a member of the Canadiens after a mid-summer trade:
It's card #A-CT from Panini's 2013-14 Prizm set, featuring a blue-sharpie sticker autograph; it's the silver variant of the signed insert version of his Dual Rookie Class rookie card.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Marc-André Gragnani Autographed Card

Oh, what a difference four years make...

When I last featured Marc-André Gragnani, the Montréal native was well on his way to NHL stardom, about to win the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's best defenseman, full of promise for the Buffalo Sabres' system.

But after four seasons of being called up and never staying in Buffalo on a permanent basis, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks, who didn't retain his services after a half-season. He then went on to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes, spending the bulk of his time with their AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers.

He then spent two seasons in Europe, first with the KHL's HC Lev Praha, and SC Bern of the Swiss League last year, posting an impressive 37 points in 49 games. He is slated to come back to North America this season, having signed a two-way deal with the New Jersey Devils in July.

I met him after his ''fourth rookie season'' in the summer of 2012, as I was a goaltending teacher at a hockey school and he came back to town for his off-season training. He signed this 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee card (#555 in the collection manufactured by Upper Deck, part of the Marquee Rookies sub-set) for me in blue sharpie:
It's ironic that such a gifted offensive defenseman would sign with the Devils, who are particularly deep at that position - and that position alone. It seems he didn't put himself in the best situation for easy NHL access, but then again, he probably did weigh his options and decided this one was best for him. I honestly don't see how he couldn't make it as a third-unit defender and first-unit powerplay specialist, particularly on teams such as the Canes, or the Phoenix Coyotes, or Toronto Maple Leafs, or a second-unit PP guy on teams such as the San Jose Sharks, Canucks or Boston Bruins.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Darryl Sydor Swatch Card

I have featured Darryl Sydor twice already, including once with the Dallas Stars' best white (then-home) uniform, but the news today that he'd been charged with DUI and aggravated counts of endangering a child (his 12-year-old son) and blood alcohol levels over 0.16 (actually at 0.30) dampened my spirit a bit today.

You can never take away his two Stanley Cups nor his other three Cup Final appearances, nor his 1992 Memorial Cup with the Kamloops Blazers (which he now partly owns), but his relapse a year after checking into rehab and tattooing his index and thumbs to remind himself never to drink again is a sad day for his fans, and more so for his friends and family.

It may also mean the end of his tenure as the Minnesota Wild's assistant coach in charge of defensemen and penalty kill. Great mugshot, though.

I sincerely hope he beats his demons.

Here he is wearing the Stars' awful post-lockout white (now-away) uniform, the one that just says DALLAS with the jersey number in front, football-style:
It's card #GG-DSY from Panini's 2013-14 Titanium set and Game-Worn Gear sub-set, featuring a green game-worn jersey swatch.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Georges Laraque Autograph Card

I almost featured this one last night after he'd started following me on Twitter during the day, but opted to go to bed early instead. And when news broke of former enforcer Dale Purinton getting arrested for burglary and breaking and entering, it was really a cue to write about all-around good guy and idealist Georges Laraque, despite having done so a little over a year ago when I penciled him in as #17 in my Habs Numbers Project.

If you don't recall from my previous post, Laraque was pretty much always honest with his job as an enforcer in the NHL - he didn't like to fight, though he was willing to protect his teammates and act as a deterrent from opponents taking too many liberties on them, and to this day he still feels it's a crucial role on a hockey team.

He even admitted to fearing what could happen in a fight, the injuries he could sustain, and knowing his adversaries felt the same way (which is understandable considering he was the most feared tough guy in the league for a while, despite following a strict code of not fighting unwilling opponents nor starting fights for no reason).

Post-retirement, his work as a pillar in the community has been impressive, from advocating a vegan lifestyle to trying to affect change by running for the Green Party at the federal level to meeting with inner-city kids to volunteering his time in Haiti to advocating for animal rights and overall equality online and in the media.

Honestly, knowing how much he loved the Alberta capital when he played with the Edmonton Oilers and knowing he had a weekly radio show there, I thought he would relocate out West when he hung his skates, but I'm glad he didn't; his voice being heard here is an asset, and everything he says and does is genuine and comes straight from his heart - both when he's right, and wrong.

He has never won a Stanley Cup but went on three very deep runs: Cup Finals with the Oilers (2005-06) and Pittsburgh Penguins (2007-08), and the Conference Finals with the Habs in 2009-10, all built on the strength of good teamwork, good youngsters with veteran leadership to surround the core with, and tremendous goaltending from Dwayne Roloson, Marc-André Fleury and Jaroslav Halak, respectively.

Here he is sporting the Oilers' turn-of-the-millennium blue (then-away) uniform with the Oil Driller shoulder patch, in this card from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers Collection (it's card #FI-GL of the Franchise Ink sub-set, featuring a blue-sharpie on-sticker autograph with his Habs jersey number - 17 - tagged at the end):
Injuries may have forced him to retire at a lower level than he and his fans had been accustomed to, but his time with the Oilers will forever be remembered as not only when he was the NHL's top pugilist, but also a decent hockey player, what with a 13-goal season in 2000-01, a career in the pluses in +/- stats, over 100 points in just under 500 games in the Dead Puck Era, a unique closeness to the fans, and tons of moments of tremendous respect for his brethren such as this one:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Daniel Brière Swatch Card

It's official; Daniel Brière has now officially announced his retirement. If you understand French at all, I urge you to read the piece he wrote to announce it to his hometown newspaper Le Droit, it's honest to the bone.

If you don't, here the gist of it: though his last season with the Colorado Avalanche didn't go as planned (8 goals, 4 assists, 12 points in 57 games, used sparsely on a team that failed to make the playoffs), it was more the fact that he was away from his kids who stayed behind in Philadelphia that took its toll and weighed the most on his decision to retire, with 307 goals, 389 assists and 696 points in 973 regular-season games and another 53 goals, 63 assists and 116 points in 124 playoff games, holding the Philadelphia Flyers' record for most points in a single postseason (30, in their 2010 failed Stanley Cup run) and playoff-leading 8 goals in 2011-12.

He ranks in the top-10 in Flyers history for career goals and points, captained the Buffalo Sabres (and ending a rotation of the title in the process), and even with his lowly statistics with the Avs last year still got some Lady Byng consideration along the way.

I would have liked for him to get a better shot with the Montréal Canadiens when he signed here as a free agent two summers ago, more ice time with better players, not being confined to the fourth line, but Michel Therrien did give him some chances that he couldn't take advantage of before going back to using players he knew better and knew what to expect from.

And so my only card of his sporting the Habs' uniform is this 2013-14 Titanium card from Panini, #GG-DBR of the Game-Worn Gear sub-set:
While it contains a white game-used piece of material, he is pictured wearing the team's classic red (now-home) uniform.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Bryan Little: 5 Autographed Cards

For some reason, I'd written off this package, after it reached the one-year mark without a return, as I'd sent it on April 1st, 2014, but lo and behold, 503 days later, on August 17th, 2015, I received all five cards I'd initially sent Bryan Little, care of the Winnipeg Jets, all signed in black sharpie:
Little was the Atlanta Thrashers' first-round pick in 2006, going 12th overall, ahead of Claude Giroux (22nd), Semyon Varlamov (23rd), Nick Foligno (28th), Jeff Petry (45th), Steve Mason (69th) - and right behind Jonathan Bernier (11th), Michael Frolik (10th) and James Sheppard (9th). His size (5'10'' at the time, 5'11'' and 185 pounds nowadays) may have had a role in his not making the top-10, but his production surely didn't, as he'd just the registered the first of two consecutive 100-point seasons in the OHL with the Barrie Colts at the time.

Against kids his own age, he was a fast, powerful skater with a booming shot, terrific determination and two-way abilities, which led to his being a part of Team Canada's gold-winning 2007 World Juniors team.

When it came time to play in the AHL a bit, he didn't look out of place, and now, at the NHL level, as the Jets' de facto first-line center, he's earning Selke consideration while posting decent statistics, with three 50-point seasons (with a high of 64 in 2013-14) as well as one of 48 and one of 46 in the last six full NHL seasons (plus 32 points in 48 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season).

He's also had four 20-goal seasons, with a high of 31 in 2008-09. He's as reliable as they come, and an asset to his team. I don't think his production would suffer if the Jets would add another center of his caliber to become a true contender, though they may already have that player in Mark Scheifele.

I sent him cards of him wearing five different uniforms, so let's start with those of the Thrashers:
On the left, wearing the team's first alternate which went on to become their home uniform for their final five seasons, is card #6 from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Victory set; the card in middle shows him wearing the team's white (away) uniform, from UD's 2010-11 Victory set (card #9), while the card on the right, from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Black Diamond set (card #55 in the collection) shows him in their awful alternate football-style red uniforms, devoid of the team's primary logo on the front, instead opting for the jersey number and stylistic font. Notice how he added his uniform number (10) at the end of each signature (though the middle one has a tentative 18).

As the team moved to Winnipeg to become the Jets, he changed numbers, and is now sporting the #18 jersey:
On the left, wearing their white (away) digs is card #474 from Panini's 2011-12 Score set, while the card on the right, #485 from the 2012-13 Score set by Panini, shows him wearing their dark blue (home) uniform.

As a jersey nerd and hockey fan, I am extremely pleased with this return, long though it may have been. And I'm happy that Little now plays in Winnipeg, a town that can appreciate his talent and effort level on a nightly basis.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rick Wamsley Autographed Card

Part of the stash of cards I received at my old apartment earlier this summer was this terrific card of Rick Wamsley's, the current goaltending coach of the Ottawa Senators:
It's card #201 of O-Pee-Chee's 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee eponymous set, which he signed in blue sharpie. He had won the Jennings Trophy for having the lowest GAA in the league just two years prior (2.75, with two shutouts), the same year he finished fifth in Vezina and sixth in Calder voting, and had just played the bulk of the games (46 out of 80) for the Montréal Canadiens, with Richard Sévigny and Mark Holden splitting the rest in 1982-83.

He'd go on to have moderate success with the St. Louis Blues before winning the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames (more on that here), and played his final 11 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs as Félix Potvin took over duties there.

Of note, the two jersey numbers he wore with the Habs ended up being retired for players who'd worn it before him - 29 (Ken Dryden) and 1 (Jacques Plante).

He wore #30 in St. Louis, a number also worn there by Plante, Michel Plasse, John Davidson, Michel ''Bunny'' Larocque, Vincent Riendeau, Jon Casey, Chris Osgood, Tom Barrasso, Ben Bishop and Martin Brodeur - all decent goalies... who played better on other teams, save for Riendeau.

The same can be said for the #31 sweater he wore in Calgary, a number he shares with Pat Riggin, Réjean Lemelin (who was as good with the Flames as he would be with the Boston Bruins, honestly), Rick Tabaracci, Ken Wregget, Grant Fuhr, Curtis McElhinney, Curtis Joseph, and Karri Ramo.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Wade Redden Autographed Card

For a while there, I was afraid that Wade Redden would remain stuck at 994 NHL games because the New York Rangers had buried his contract in the AHL with the Connecticut Whale, where he was the team's captain and best player, just not worth the $6.5M the Blueshirts had bestowed upon him.

Although that can be argued, to an extent, seeing as he had garnered serious Norris Trophy consideration in six of his previous eight seasons (three top-10 finishes among them despite playing on the same team as Zdeno Chara) prior to their signing him as a free agent.

He was the Ottawa Senators' alternate captain and anchor on the blue line, so much so that the Sens opted to let Chara walk in free agency so that they could afford to keep Redden - and it paid off at the time.

He may have gotten grief for his huge contract with the Rangers, but we're talking about a guy who retired a year and a half ago with 109 goals, 348 assists and 457 points from the blue line in 1023 regular-season games with a +160 (his +35 led the league in 2005-06), and another 49 points (from 13 goals) in 106 playoff games, twice reaching the 10-point mark in the postseason.

He's had way too solid a career to earn such disrespect. At least he got some of it back when he retired a year and a half ago.

With his extensive international resume, having suited up for Team Canada seven times and medaling in four (2004 World Cup, gold at the 1995 and 1996 World Juniors and silver at the 2005 World Championships where he was also voted best defenseman), I could definitely see him as part of a selection team for Canada at some point in time, when the current Boys' Clubs of Steve Yzerman and Kevin Lowe step down.

Here he is sporting the Sens' beautiful original white (then-home) uniform manning the offense from the point, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Victory set (card #139), which he signed in black sharpie:

Friday, August 14, 2015

Matt Stajan Swatch Card

I mentioned a couple of years ago how I thought Matt Stajan's ideal role on a team was where he was used as a secondary source of offense, and in that role he could be counted on to provide 30-some points and steady play.

Well, with the emergence of Sean Monahan and other young centers on the rise with the Calgary Flames, that's exactly where he is now, the glue keeping the team together, just a tad removed from the spotlight he once held with the Toronto Maple Leafs, though with today's metrics measuring zone starts and quality of opposition, he's receiving some of the praise he deserves.

And so it was fitting that after terrible hardships, he was the one who eliminated the Vancouver Canucks a few months ago, enabling the Flames to reach the second round with yet another come-from-behind win, the first time in 11 years Calgary had made it past their first playoff challenge. And, as a former Leaf, he'd only seen three postseason games in his career before that.

At 6'1'' and 192 pounds, he's not a giant by any means, but he's fairly solid physically, as can be attested by his leaving Corey Perry limping after an accidental contact. And so it's fitting that this card would show him bracing for an upcoming collision:
It's card #TC-SJN from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set and Red Jersey sub-set. It features a game-worn red jersey swatch, and depicts him with the team's white (away) uniform.

He's just 31 years old, so I envision his staying consistent in his point production if he can stay healthy and lucky enough to play at least 65-70 games per season. He's still got the qualities and drive to fill in on top lines for a short while, but he just may have found his niche on this current Flames squad letting the kids take control and just stepping in at clutch times to show them how the Hockey Gods reward hard-working players.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Jean Béliveau Autographed Card

When Jean Béliveau passed away last December, I went through boxes of signed cards in my closet looking for some I knew I had of his, in vain. I would guess I'm not dumb enough to leave my best cards in storage and just bring the fringe players with me when I move, but so far, they're MIA. They're not even in the box of early-alphabet cards I fell upon earlier this Spring.

I was reminded of this fact upon hearing the news that another former Montréal Canadiens alumnus, Bob Fillion, the oldest living former Hab and winner of two Stanley Cups with the team, had died, earlier today.

Both players share the distinction of having played with ''The Rocket'', Maurice Richard, and winning Cups alongside him. Béliveau, of course, as one of the all-time greatest players, has won more often (10 Cups as a player, seven as a Habs executive, mostly as vice-president).

He has also won a ton of individual awards, including the inaugural Conn Smythe Trophy in 1964-65. Add to that an Art Ross (1955-56), two Harts (1955-56 and 1963-64) and six other Hart top-five finishes including three as runner-up, a team-record 10-season captaincy (Saku Koivu ties him in years with 10, but technically held the title for 9 active seasons, as he lost one to the 2004 lockout), six First Team and four Second Team end-of-season All-Star selections as well as thirteen All-Star Game appearances. He led the league in goals twice, which in this day and age would have given him a Rocket Richard Trophy each time as well.

All this while playing on teams that went from the 1954-55 edition starring The Rocket, Jacques Plante, Bernard ''Boom Boom'' Geoffrion, Doug Harvey (for my money the best defenseman of all time), Dickie Moore, Émile ''Butch'' Bouchard, Bert Olmstead, Guy Rousseau, Dollard St-Laurent and Jean-Guy Talbot to the 1970-71 edition with Ken Dryden, Serge Savard, Ralph Backstrom, Pierre Bouchard (Butch's son!), Henri Richard (the Rocket's younger brother), Yvan Cournoyer, John Ferguson, Terry Harper, Réjean Houle, Jacques Lemaire, Frank and Pete Mahovlich, Marc Tardif, Jean-Claude Tremblay and Rogatien Vachon. That's A LOT of star power to spread awards to and split votes with.

Having retired at the end of the Cup-winning 1970-71 season with a 25-goal, 76-point season (in 70 games), good for points leader on the team, he was inducted into the Hall Of Fame in 1972; as for Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky in my time, there was no reason to mess around with formalities when it came to the classiest player to wear skates in recorded history (and in the NHL era), so they didn't wait the usual four years after retirement in his case.

And yet he was never one for high honors, particularly those that were awarded without votes; he declined two separate offers to be a Canadian Senator and one to be Governor General (i.e. the person in the highest position of power in Canada, as the representative of the Queen of England, who supersedes even the Prime Minister, technically, in the Canadian political food chain), and only reluctantly accepted the titles of Grand Officer of Québec and Companion to the Order of Canada.

In his later years, he had beaten cancer and suffered two harsh strokes before nature took its course and took him where we'll all end up. I had sent him cards on many occasions between 2007 and 2012 then let him be; I received all of them back earlier this summer, unsigned. I had first met him at my grandfather's funeral (he'd been a sports journalist from the 1950s to the 1970s) in the mid-1990s but, obviously, didn't have him sign anything at the time. He was very respectful and polite, even to a child such as myself, treating me basically as an adult though I was (very) far from it. He made an impression, every single time. There was an aura about him that you didn't feel around others, a calming, reassuring yet serious presence.

I knew he would probably never sign cards again about two years ago, so at the time I started looking around for deals - and lost many an Ebay auction in the process. I began looking a little more closely upon his passing, and absolutely wanted to have him be the bearer of #4 in my Habs Numbers Project, so in the event that I wouldn't find my own cards, I acquired this one from trusted Ottawa-area collector BG:
It's card #580 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set (and Legends sub-set), signed in beautiful silver sharpie. It features a reprint of a classic team picture where he is wearing the team's classic and eternal bleu-blanc-rouge uniform.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Henrik Zetterberg Swatch Card

You may recall from my post two years ago that I'm a pretty big Henrik Zetterberg fan. The Detroit Red Wings captain, winner of the 2015 King Clancy Trophy for his humanitarian work, a perennial Selke, Hart and Lady Byng candidate, is still producing at nearly a point-per-game pace (786 points in 836 regular-season games so far, 296 of them goals) and at age 34, still has a few good years left in him, despite pundits claiming he and teammate Pavel Datsyuk are nearing an age of steep decline which will bring the Wings closer to the depths of the NHL's standings.

Not only do I not share that opinion of Zetterberg, but Wings GM Ken Holland has a knack for having his next generation of players graduate from the AHL at exactly the right moment to take over from the previous generation's stars; after all, Datsyuk and Zetterberg took over from Steve Yzerman, Tomas Holmstrom and Brendan Shanahan. They're going for their 25th straight playoff appearance, with no wane in sight. They are the perfect example of consistency, always remaining relevant with a three-to-five year window of actual Stanley Cup contention every decade.

Zetterberg was actually a key member of Detroit's last Cup team, as he won the Conn Smythe Trophy along the way as the playoff MVP in 2008 and led the Wings to the Final the following season against the Pittsburgh Penguins as well.

And though they lost to the eventual Cup finalists Tampa Bay Lightning in a hard-fought seven-game series last year, Zetterberg shouldered the blame for his team's lack of offense, despite the fact that a lot of that had to do with Ben Bishop playing like the second coming of Patrick Roy late in the series as the pressure mounted.

I foresee another 20-goal, 70-point season for the Wings' captain this year, with the addition of a true second-line center in two-time Cup winner Brad Richards providing more stability in managing line combinations.

Here's a really neat card of his, from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set (it's number CL-HZ of the Clear Cloth sub-set, featuring a game-worn red jersey swatch, but more impressively, with his picture being part of a see-through plastic sheet inserted mid-card):
It's numbered 52/100, and shows him wearing the Red Wings' classic white (now-away) uniform. It's a beautiful insert (I really miss Panini at times like these).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Marc Bergevin Autographed Card

I'd like to acknowledge Montréal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin's 50th birthday today by featuring him... wearing a Tampa Bay Lightning uniform. Which is weird, considering they're the ones who eliminated the Habs this last postseason, but still, Bergevin played for eight NHL teams and his hometown Canadiens weren't one of them, so I do what I can:
It's card #363 of Pinnacle Brands' 1993-94 Score (Canadian Version) set, which he signed in blue sharpie. It depicts him wearing Tampa's inaugural black uniforms, attempting a slap shot from the point, possibly during a pre-game warmup.

All told, Bergevin played in 1191 regular-season games (with 36 goals, 145 assists, 181 points and 1090 penalty minutes to show for it, and 80 more playoff games (3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points and 52 PIMs). He finished in the minuses in both.

He was a fringe player.

Upon retiring, he became part of the Chicago Blackhawks' management team, first spending three seasons as a pro scout, then one as an assistant coach, then two seasons as the Director of Player Personnel (winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 in the process), before being named assistant general manager, a position he held for 11 months until he signed on with the Habs. When filling out his staff with the Canadiens, he picked former Hawks staff members Rick Dudley (assistant GM) and Martin Lapointe (Director of Player Development) to help get his vision across.

Bergevin's put his stamp on the team, although the three main core pieces (Carey Price in nets, P.K. Subban on defense and Max Pacioretty up front) as well as the veteran leadership group (Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov) were inherited from previous regimes.

This summer alone, he signed Mark MacMillan, Noah Juulsen and Daniel Audette to entry-level deals, RFAs Alex Galchenyuk, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Michaël Bournival, Christian Thomas, Greg Pateryn, Brian Flynn, Morgan Ellis and Gabriel Dumont, his own free agents Jeff Petry and Torrey Mitchell, as well as unrestricted free agents Alexander Semin, local kid Mark Barberio, Joel Hanley, George Holloway, and Ryan Johnston to contracts. He also traded fan favourite Brandon Prust for Zack Kassian. That's what I call keeping busy!

The NHL's getting tighter each year, with many teams from the bottom improving and few teams actually regressing, save for your Toronto Maple Leafs and Arizona Coyotes, which means the Habs will once again challenge for the top seed in the Atlantic Division, all the while fighting off some good teams who will fall just short; I envision six teams seriously vying for the four available playoff spots: the Habs, the Bolts, the Detroit Red Wings (another former team of Bergevin's), the Boston Bruins, the Ottawa Senators and the Florida Panthers in a tight race. My heart's with Montréal, Ottawa, Florida and the Wings, but Tampa Bay will boot one of them out for sure, possibly the Sens.

It's a tough league, but the Canadiens are set with their management team, which clearly ranks among the best in the business. And Marc Bervein's smack-dab in the middle of it, dancing the night away.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Jordan Eberle Jersey Card

It was a pretty big possibility that the Edmonton Oilers would have yet another disappointing season last year, which can mostly be attributed to a weak blue line and defensive system. One thing I had not envisioned, however, was that Jordan Eberle would have his lowest goals total in a full season since his rookie year, with 24.

He'd reached 34 in 2011-12 and got close to that rate again with 16 in 48 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, but followed that one up with 28 before sliding again this past year.

In his defense, the team was a mess under initial coach Dallas Eakins, the ship was kind of steered right by Todd Nelson, but scoring was spread out more evenly - good news for Nail Yakupov, who reverted back to form while playing with Derek Roy, but a small dip for Eberle.

You might recall Eberle was my choice for captain of the team back in 2013, though they ultimately went with free agent signing and Stanley Cup winner hometown hero Andrew Ference (a fine choice at the time) and instead gave Eberle and Taylor Hall the alternates' ''A'', and now that Connor McDavid is in town, he might be next in line in two or three years, provided he lives up to at least 85% of the hype gone his way.

I'm not yet sold on having Cam Talbot - he of 53 career NHL games - being anointed the starting goalie to lead the franchise out of the depths of the NHL's standings, so perhaps there will be more Eberle trade rumours further down the line, though if I were GM, I'd be more inclined to move Hall of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who will soon be expendable as a center with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the pipeline) to shore up the blue line with a true #1 or #2 defenseman, perhaps even as a conversation starter in Shea Weber talks.

Keep in mind, with Jordan Eberle, you're eyeing this guy:

And so, in all his splendor, here he is sporting the Oilers' retro-current blue uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Fleer Showcase set (card #S-JE of the Stitches insert sub-set):
It includes a game-worn jersey swatch, albeit from their god-awful dark blue Reebok Edge lockout-era monstrosities.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Jason Demers Autograph Card

When the Dallas Stars sent 6'4'' hard negotiator Brenden Dillon to the San Jose Sharks for Jason Demers last November, they were letting go of some size and youth for a proven right-hander who can contribute to the tune of roughly 30 points per season on a second pair, a regular-season-winner who could help instill a culture of winning to his new organization.

The Dorval, Qc native went undrafted in his first two tries but was chosen by the Sharks in the 7th round in 2008, though they could have used that pick on an 18-year-old and invited him to their rookie camp as a free agent anyway.

And yet by the 2009-10 season, he was playing in 51 games for San Jose, registering 21 points and earning the nickname ''Daddy''...

He isn't shy about body-to-body contact and prefers having the puck in the other team's zone, which he can help happen with nice passes and decent skating skills. He's so well-rounded that he often goes unnoticed, but he usually makes his defensive partner better - which in the case of Jordie Benn last season, was noticeable.

The only thing he seems to do half-assed is sign cards, apparently, though it's unclear if this one is at the tail end of a run of 1000 in the same day:
It's card #A-JD from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Artifacts set and Autofacts sub-set, and has a blue-sharpied sticker autograph that is basically a ''J'' and a line. I found this card along with another one from the same sub-set in a box a couple of months ago; I guess I'd stashed them because to me, they don't have the visual quality I usually expect from the Artifacts sets, as the head shots are a bit bland and show very little of the jerseys (my pet peeve), with a busy-and/yet-slightly-tacky overall design.

But I was glad to pull a Demers, who I really like as a defenseman.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sean Monahan Jersey Card

How does one follow up a 22-goal rookie season that ends with some Calder Trophy consideration? With a 31-goal, 62-point year ending fifth in Lady Byng and 20th in Selke voting, of course, leading the Calgary Flames to their first playoff series win in 11 years. If one is Sean Monahan, of course.

The sixth-overall pick of the 2013 draft (behind Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Drouin, Seth Jones, and Elias Lindholm), Monahan has helped bring the Flames back to respectability, but unlike captain Mark Giordano who is already in his 30s, will now be tasked to continue and hold the mantle for the foreseeable future.

Offensively, the Flames are counting on Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett and Max Reinhart to be at the center of their resurgence.

Because of how tight the league is, Calgary might miss the playoffs entirely in 2015-16, but I still feel they are an elite-level goaltender away from being perennial Stanley Cup contenders for a long while. I mean, I like Jonas Hiller, but his best years are probably past him and he'll probably end his career in Europe when his contract expires at the end of next year, and Joni Ortio may very well be the guy to take the Flames deep in a few years, but a top-level goalie right now would go a long way into putting them in the same conversation as the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings as the top teams to watch out for, ahead of the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Montréal Canadiens.

I've been following the Flames closely since the days of Jarome Iginla, and of their bruising-meets-speed style that Darryl Sutter instituted early in the new millennium;  I'm even more optimistic about where they're headed now than when they had the best goalie in the world - Miikka Kiprusoff - between the pipes.

Here's a card of Monahan's featuring a black event-worn jersey swatch from a photo shoot:
It's card #RM-SM from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SPX set, and is part of the Rookie Materials sub-set; it shows him wearing the Flames' red (home) uniform.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Brady Vail Autographed Card

Brady Vail is an American hockey player; some sources have him born in Hendersonville, NC, while others peg him as hailing from Palm City, Florida, but his family has moved along with him every step of his hockey career, from the time he was 13 with the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors organization to the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL to his time in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires, whence he was drafted by the Montréal Canadiens (fourth round, 94th overall, in 2012).

 His head coach in Windsor, former NHLer Bob Boughner, had this to say ahead of his being drafted: "He's a player that I can use in a lot of different situations. He's a player I have a lot of trust in. He can play top-end minutes, he's in very good shape and a great skater. That allows him to play heavy minutes. I think he's responsible in his own end and plays against top lines in a shut-down role. He also has offense to his game."

More objective scouts hinted that he might be more of a long-term project because while he was "good at everything", he didn't "excel at anything". As someone who was billed a "tireless worker", I was expecting the 6'1'', 190-pound center to have the edge of a Brendan Gallagher, but that's not what I saw in the handful of games and rookie camp scrimmages I did see. Still, I was surprised - as were a few Habs bloggers - when the Canadiens opted not to sign him to an entry-level deal last summer, leading to his signing an AHL deal with the Toronto Marlies and spending most of the season with the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears, with whom he registered 15 goals 14 assists, 29 points and 33 penalty minutes in 64 games (plus 4 goals including a game-winner in 5 playoff games).

Maybe he'll develop into a fourth-line checking specialist who can contribute a little offensively at the NHL level, though we seem to be a far cry from the 83-point season he had in the OHL in 2013-14 at this point. He carried a reputation for not being in the best possible shape, but the Habs usually give their kids a few chances to make up for rookie mistakes, so maybe they saw something that made them shy away from him, or didn't have the patience to have him make his way up from the ECHL to the AHL to the NHL over a long stretch.

Here he is wearing the Spitfires' red uniform, from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set (it's card #227 in the collection):
He signed it while finishing off the 2012-13 season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, in blue sharpie.