Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ben Scrivens Jersey Card

Halloween: candy, orange, black, masks and disguises. Ben Scrivens, dressed as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, checks off two of these (orange and mask), so what better way to celebrate the last day of October than by featuring this card of his from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Ice set:
It's card #FZF-BS of the Frozen Fabrics sub-set and shows him in the team's retro blue (home) uniform, with his mask a throwback-coloured logo and his equipment matching his jersey and, therefore, beautiful.

I was never entirely sold on Scrivens because he started out with the Toronto Maple Leafs (i.e. never believe the media hype around their players), and then when he played for the Los Angeles Kings, he was pretty much sheltered by that stingy defense.

There's an element of self-confidence that borders on bravado and ego when you're a goalie; it comes with being the last line of defense against all opponents and from even unsuccessful goalies knowing they're doing the right move more than 88% of the time. That kind of explains why this summer, as the Oilers brought Cam Talbot to the fold, Scrivens reached out to and welcomed him... then told the media he was fighting for the #1 job.

By the time training camp was over, Scrivens was sent to the AHL's Bakersfield Condors, where he is currently the backup to Laurent Brossoit, having lost his only game while giving up 5 goals (5.03 average, .848 save percentage) while Brossoit has started 5, has a 2-2-1 record, a 2.96 GAA and a .912 save percentage to go with the 2.00 GAA and .961 save percentage from his lone NHL game with the Oilers last season.

It's got to be hard on a guy, missing the good old days of playing for the Leafs...

Friday, October 30, 2015

Peter Bergeron Autograph Card

Peter Bergeron played for the Montréal Expos in five of their final six seasons of existence (he spent the summer of 2003 playing exclusively in the minors, in AAA ball with the Edmonton Trappers, but was in the Expos' system from 1999 until relocation in 2004), and like the rest of the team, was an inexpensive can-do-the-job, middle-of-the-pack lead-off hitter with decent speed but a batting average below .250.

He also didn't get that many walks, but at a quarter million per year, he was basically all the team could afford, as the fans had stopped coming after all the fire sales and the certainty of the team skipping town when owner Satan Jeffrey Loria bought out all the minority stakeholders.

He never played another MLB game after his stint with the Expos, despite siging free agent contrats with the Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates. In his final season in 2007, he played in AA (for the Altoona Curve) as well as the independent Atlantic League's York Revolution.

Upon calling it quits, he ran and was an instructor at former teammate Michael Barrett's baseball school, Barrett Baseball; he also started scouting for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

Honestly, those last few years of the Expos are a blur. It was painful seeing them get reduced to a low-level team whose good players would be given away even before they were due to get paid, and the owner didn't care about putting a decent product on the field, or selling decent products at the stadium, let alone stop it from falling apart. I still wish him the best... of what torture has to offer.

Not so for Bergeron, though, who signed this card for me in thin blue sharpie at some point:
It's card #WW6 (of 15) of the Who To Watch subset of Fleer/Skybox's 2000 Fleer Tradition set, and shows him in the team's beautiful grey/final (away) uniform. Ironically, he's seen wearing #33 (which he wore from 1999 until 2001, but finished wearing #11), the number previously worn by Carlos Perez, whom he had been traded for.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Jarome Iginla Jersey Card

Unbeknownst to most hockey fans, Jarome Iginla just played in his 1400th NHL game; he's now also 8 goals shy of 600, and 63 penalty minutes shy of 1000. Oh, and 6 game-winners away from the 100 mark.

His 5 points in 8 games so far this year aren't bad at all, especially at 38 years old, but watching Colorado Avalanche games, I get the impression that perhaps he's not all that comfortable playing with Matt Duchene; it only seems like they're half-clicking.

Still, the Avs need better defensemen to get the puck out of their own end and get the play moving to the other side; those star forwards can only work their magic when they have the puck, and apart from when two of Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson and François Beauchemin are on the ice, that puck is staying deep in the Avs' defensive zone.

I was happy when Iginla signed with the Avs two summers ago, and while he's probably better off than with the Pittsburgh Penguins or Boston Bruins, Colorado isn't looking like a Stanley Cup contender these days.

Here he is from his days as captain of the Calgary Flames, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 1 set (card #J-JI of the UD Game Jersey sub-set), showing him wearing the team's red jersey:
Ironically, all of my Iginla swatch cards don't have the matching jersey swatches/jersey in picture; this one's black, for instance.

Still, he's one of my favourite players, and a sure-shot first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tony Twist Autograph Card

With the rash of injuries the St. Louis Blues have suffered (even forcing them to sign free agents Martin Havlat and Dainius Zubrus to PTOs), perhaps they will think of turning to familiar old faces.

No, not Brett Hull. Tony Twist, who is still around the team as a hockey radio analyst. With 1121 penalty minutes and merely 28 total points (and a minus-23 in +/-) in 445 NHL games, Twist's role was pretty much solely as an enforcer, but he gave it his all and was usually a crowd favourite, in both his stints with the Blues and with the Québec Nordiques in between.

That role inspired many, including hockey fan, former Calgary Flames co-owner, Edmonton Oilers third-jersey designer and comic book creator Todd McFarlane, who named a Spawn character after him (Antonio ''Tony  Twist'' Twistelli) in a tribute that ended up costing McFarlane $5M dolalrs and bankrupted his company.

It's not like the bruising left winger was about to get Nike, Wheaties and Care Bears endorsements and the character was ruining his chances, nor that the adult-themed comic would get kids to think badly of the ''real'' Tony Twist; it was a hurt ego taking an opportunistic shot at someone five years after his NHL career had been cut short by an injury, and killing an art-producing independent company along with it. It was a bit selfish and juvenile.

What he should have done is ask for a likeness-usage rights deal that paid him per comic sold, and for subsequent movie/TV deals, and cash in in the long run instead, and acknowledge that McFarlane, a true hockey fan, had acted in misguided good faith.

I miss Spawn. I stopped reading the books when I bought the HBO series on DVD - which I still binge-watch once a year. Maybe I'll start reading it again; the storytelling was getting better every year, the drawings were spectacular, and the pacing was perfect.

Unlike, say, the Blues' mid-1990s uniform (which I'm weirdly a tad nostalgic for despite red being all kinds of wrong for the team's palette):
It's weird to think such great players as Wayne Gretzky, Hull, Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger donned that jersey. This is the signed insert version (on card in blue sharpie) of card #63 of Panini's 2012-13 Classic Signatures set.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Andrew Ladd Jersey Card

Andrew Ladd proved his leadership earlier today by responding to Evander Kane's allegations that he wasn't welcome with the Winnipeg Jets (and requested trades out of town for three straight seasons) by telling him to move on (subtext: grow up).

For a while, the Jets' captain and two-time Stanley Cup winner was a decent and consistent performer with second-line-type numbers (50 points per year), but he's upped the ante since the locked-out season in 2012-13, where he had 46 points in 48 games, followed by 23- and 24-goal seasons, culminating in 62 total points last year. Keeping with that pace, he currently has 6 points in 8 games this season.

He regularly gets Selke and Lady Byng votes, though as a winger, he's less likely to ever win one - and probably has Marian Hossa and Max Pacioretty ahead of him at his position anyhow, although there's nothing wrong with being the third-best two-way left winger in the world.

There's something to be said about head coach Paul Maurice's Jets, where if you'd asked me five years ago only had one star player (Dustin Byfuglien) and a fine supporting cast that included Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler, but that so-called supporting cast has actually developed into a fierce and strong first-line-caliber unit.

I've really taken a liking to this Jets team; they really seem to be built around Ladd types as well, so I hope they re-sign him (he and Buff are unrestricted free agents at season's end).

Here's Ladd wearing the team's white (away) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition set (card #AF-AL of the Authentic Fabrics sub-set), featuring a game-worn dark blue jersey swatch:
I see the Jets remaining in playoff contention all season long; though I think Ondrej Pavelec is a decent goalie and Michael Hutchinson is a capable backup, the crease might be the one spot where they're weaker than a lot of their competition (the Chicago Blackhawks' Corey Crawford, the Nashville Predators' Pekka Rinne, and the Colorado Avalanche's Semyon Varlamov in particular).

Monday, October 26, 2015

Leland Irving Autograph Card

The Calgary Flames' goaltending situation this season is bleak. They are one of the few teams who don't currently have a Vezina nominee manning the nets, and both of their regulars, Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo, have been disappointing, leading head coach Bob Hartley to use Joni Ortio last game and, though he played well, the results were the same - a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders.

Of course, losing the best goalie of his generation (Miikka Kiprusoff) to retirement leaves a huge gaping hole, and neither of his two understudies (Henrik Karlsson and Leland Irving) are still with the team.

But Life has a sense of irony, and after two years in Europe - the first an extremely successful run with the Finnish League's Helsinki Jokerit in 2013-14 that saw him post a 23-18-12 record with a 2.14 GAA and .922 save percentage with 3 shutouts in 55 games, and a less successful run with the KHL's Ufa Salavat Yulayev (3.35 GAA and .883 save percentage in 20 games), Irving's back in North America, having signed on with the Iowa Wild after the Minnesota Wild invited him to their training camp on a PTO.

His statistics in the AHL so far? Oh, just a 2-0-1 record with a 1.60 GAA and .951 save percentage with one shutout in three games.

At 27 years of age, Irving's entering the prime of his career, and is possibly ready to live up to having been the Flames' first-round pick (26th overall) in 2006, the year before he won gold with Team Canada at the World Juniors backing up Carey Price, who also finally seems ready to live up to his promising talent.

I realize Ortio's the guy the Flames want to bet the farm on, but maybe a call to Minnesota to inquire about the cost of bringing Irving - a semi-local boy from Barrhead just outside of Edmonton - in to back him up wouldn't hurt. Just a thought.

In the meantime, here's how he looked with a flaming ''C'' on his mask, from Panini's 2013-14 Crown Royale set (Card #SO-LI of the Sovereign Sigs sub-set):
It shows him wearing Calgary's white (away) jersey, and has a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

David Desharnais: 2 Autographed Cards

David Desharnais got a lucky goal tonight and almost got an empty-netter as well, as he now has 7 points in his first 9 games - all of them Montréal Canadiens wins.

How good are the Habs so far this year? Goalie Carey Price (the league's reigning Hart, Lindsay and Vezina winner) cannot be accused of stealing a single game so far, the team has 5 players over the point-per-game range (Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov and Brendan Gallagher), and Desharnais has been playing and producing on the third line with Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise.

The only two Montréal skaters who have yet to register a single point are defensemen Tom Gilbert (+3, 2 penalty minutes) and Alexei Emelin (+5, 10 penalty minutes). Both Price (7-0) and rookie Mike Condon (2-0) are undefeated, have GAAs under 2.00, and save percentages over .940.

Yes, there is a caveat: they have faced the expected-to-tank Toronto Maple Leafs twice and the Buffalo Sabres once, as well as frequent Habs victims the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, so one could argue those were ''gimmies'', but that's still a hell of a way to gain some momentum and get the ball rolling. Tonight's game against the Leafs may have been their hardest-fought game.

I crossed paths with Desharnais after the game as he was going to meet with media types for interviews, and he signed two cards for me in black sharpie, with (what he probably thought was the) corresponding jersey number on each.

First, from In The Game's 2005-06 Heroes And Prospects set comes card #309, showing him wearing the Chicoutimi Saguenéens' beautiful white (home) uniform, where he correctly identified his number as 15:
Next is card #43 from In The Game's 2009-10 Heroes And Prospects collection showing him wearing the Hamilton Bulldogs' white (home) uniform (of which I already had a signed copy), where he ended his signature with 51 despite wearing #36 on the card:
I strongly believe that the fact that he was able to find some chemistry with Fleischmann enabled coach Michel Therrien to keep Plekanec on the top line with Pacioretty, which in turn convinced GM Marc Bergevin to keep his best two-way center for two more years.

I really like the make-up of this team, where everyone is slotted in the right spot thanks to the addition of Jeff Petry on defense and switching Alex Galchenyuk from wing to center and Lars Eller from center to wing.

17-Pack Break: 2015-16 Upper Deck Tim Hortons

You may recall my review of my first 13 packs of Upper Deck's 2015-16 Tim Hortons Collector's Series cards, which I posted nearly two weeks ago. Here's what I got in my next 17 packs...

There were already cards I had doubles of, now I have some in triple (Michael Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, and Jonathan Bernier). There are even inserts I have doubles of, such as these three die-cut cards of Bernier, Andrew Ladd and Vladimir Tarasenko:
But as far as this inset sub-set is concerned, I did get 4 news ones of Carey Price, John Tavares, Erik Karlsson and Steven Stamkos:
I also got these four Season Highlights/Checklist cards of James Van Riemsdyk (which I already had), Bo Horvat, Ondrej Pavelec and Karlsson:
I also got my second 3D Franchise Force card, this time of Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller:
There were also these two Shining Futures cards, of Filip Forsberg which I already had, and Sean Monahan:
And last but not least, the beautiful, see-through, plastic Above The Ice cards, of which I now have a double of Karlsson's but added Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane for good measure:
No Sidney Crosby autograph, but very pretty cards nonetheless.

Which brings me to the main set. Thirty packs in, and I'm not super-close to finishing.

I am still missing these: 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 31, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 54, 56, 59, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65, 68, 70, 71, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 83, 86, 87, 92, 93, 97, and 98.

Which means I have these:
2: Eric Staal
3: Andrew Hammond x2
7: Kyle Turris x2
10: Corey Perry x2
14: Jamie Benn
16: Ladd
17: Radim Vrbata
18: Ryan Strome x2
19: Jonathan Toews
21: JVR
26: Blake Wheeler
28: Claude Giroux x2
30: Henrik Lundqvist x2
32: Jonathan Quick
33: Henrik Sedin x2
40: Henrik Zetterberg
41: Jaroslav Halak
43: Adam Henrique
45: J. Bernier x3
53: Jeff Skinner
55: Roberto Luongo
57: Drew Doughty
58: Kris Letang x2
61: Rick Nash
66: Brian Gionta x2
67: Max Pacioretty
69: Kyle Okposo
80: Ryan Johansen
81: Phil Kessel
82: Plekanec x3
84: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins x2
85: Steve Mason
88: P. Kane
89: Tyler Seguin
90: Stamkos x2
91: Tavares
94: Corey Schneider
95: Tomas Tatar
96: R. Miller
99: Dustin Byfuglien
100: Cammalleri x3

Which, in turn, means that 30 packs in (at $2 apiece), I am still just at a 41% completion rate. In comparison, one can ''redeem'' their purchased packs for online packs on Tim Horton's website, and I'm at 74% there, because they auto-trade your doubles.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Matt Duchene Swatch Card

So... Matt Duchene.

Calder Trophy candidate in 2009-10, after being drafted third overall the previous summer by the Colorado Avalanche, the team he rooted for as a kid and whose captain was Joe Sakic, his childhood hero - now his general manager.

He followed his rookie season with a 27-goal, 67-point effort in 2010-11 before a serious injury detailed his third season, leaving him with merely 28 points in 58 games.

His next two seasons were excellent: 43 points in 47 games in the locked-out 2012-13 season, and 70 points (on 23 goals) in 71 games in 2013-14, and three assists in two playoff games. But he had another sub-par season last year, with 21 goals but just 55 total points in 82 games, and is off to an awful start this year with a lone goal (no assists) in 6 games so far.

Which brings the question: which is the real Matt Duchene? And with Nathan MacKinnon playing wing when he could be the team's #1 center, is it time to either slot Duchene in another role or - gasp! - consider trading him?

Reasons to keep him include his wealth of gold medals: 2008 U-17 Worlds, 2008 U-18 World Championships, 2008 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, 2012 Spengler Cup, 2014 Olympics, 2015 World Championships; most of which he was part of a support group on strong editions of Team Canada rather than the centerpiece.

Three seasons where he was close to a point-per-game pace; and yet, two very underwhelming ones as well.

At 5'11'' and 200 pounds, he's a little undersized in the Western Conference, which he would need to make up for with added intensity.

You could argue that he's perhaps just a little snake-bitten, as can be attested by Cam Ward's save from last night.

I haven't completely lost faith in him yet, but my patience is wearing a little thin. On a team with MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog as youthful building blocks and solid veterans like Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla, offense shouldn't be an issue. (Then again, a deeper defense corps who can make good passes would go a long way in helping the forwards keep the play in the offensive zone).

That being said, he's still just 24 years old. And here he is wearing the Avs' white (away) uniform, with a matching game-worn swatch, from Panini's 2011-12 Titanium set (card #49 of the Game-Worn Gear sub-set):
Can't wait to find out where this leads.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Duncan Keith Jersey Card

I talked about my keeper pool a few days ago in this Dustin Brown post, and I thought I could share a bit more about my team now that one of my star defensemen, Duncan Keith, is out with a knee injury.

First off, here are the rules: points count as one, regardless of who gets them, or whether they're goals or assists. Defensemen, however, have their minuses count against them. Goalies get two points per win and five per shutout.

Each team has three centers, six wingers, six defensemen and three goalies. The top two centers, four wingers and four defensemen count, as well as the top goalie count for each team.

Each year, we keep two centers, four wingers, three defenders and a goalie, and draft the rest; players on their entry-level deal are exempt from being dropped.

This year, after trading Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry for Henrik Lundqvist and Jakub Voracek, I elected to keep the following players:

C: Jason Spezza, Alex Galchenyuk
W: Voracek, Marian Gaborik, Valeri Nichushkin, James Neal
D: Erik Karlsson, Keith, Cam Fowler
G: Lundqvist

Which means I dropped the following players:
C: none
W: Jason Pominville, Cory Conacher
D: Jack Johnson (for the third time in four years), Dmitri Kulikov (for the fourth time), Andrej Sekera
G: Semyon Varlamov, Roberto Luongo, Jake Allen

And I stocked up on the following:
C: Sam Bennett
W: Artemi Panarin, Sergei Plotnikov
D: Noah Hanifin, David Savard, Shane Gostisbehere
G: Craig Anderson, John Gibson

So, yeah, I think I'll have a pretty competitive team. Also, because Keith fell to long-term injury, I was allowed to pick up Jay Bouwmeester from waivers, so hopefully it won't hurt so bad (though he was a minus-2 in his first game on my team).

As you can see from my previous posts, I mostly draft players I like; this year, I had targeted Panarin, Bennett and Anderson above all (I had the third pick of each round), and I would have been fine with taking either of my goalies from last year back.

I've been trying to get my hands on P.K. Subban as well, to have the top trifecta on defense, but I'm also fine with Karlsson, Keith and Fowler.

Keith, you'll recall, was the beast who played an ungodly 30 minutes per game in last year's playoffs on route to securing the Conn Smythe Trophy and helping the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup for the third time in six years.

He was already elite, with two Nicklas Lidstrom-era Norris trophies on his resume, but adding the Conn Smythe will cement his place in the Hall Of Fame when he retires.

You can imagine how delighted I was to fall upon this card of his in a group opening of Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 cards last year:
It's card #GJ-DK of the UD Game Jersey sub-set, and shows him wearing the Hawks' white (away) uniform, with a black game-worn jersey swatch incorporated into the card.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Eric Tangradi: 3 Autographed Cards

With my PC down, I can't tell exactly when I had sent Eric Tangradi these three cards, nor if I'd sent more; all I remember is I sent them early last season, care of the Hamilton Bulldogs, fully confident he'd play around 20 games for the Montréal Canadiens, who had picked him up at the end of training camp from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for Peter Budaj.

It turns out he played in 7 NHL games with the Habs, with 17 penalty minutes to show for it; he did have 14 goals and 31 points in 47 games with the AHL's offensively-challenged Bulldogs, though, so when the Canadiens didn't re-sign him in the summer, the Detroit Red Wings took on The Big Dog, giving him a one-year contract. He has 2 points in 4 games with their AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins so far, and with the Wings' luck when it comes to injuries, could be called up to fill in in a middle-six role some time this season.

I remain confident that he can have a decent impact in today's NHL, where the middle-six is counted upon to play a stable and methodical brand of hockey and support the first unit's point production; scoring has remained stable in the past five years, but the Art Ross winners went from having 100-point seasons to being under the 90-point mark, with the runner-up at 80, meaning the secondary scoring units have stabilized and can all be counted upon for 45-60 points apiece.

A 6'4'', 220-pound, 26-year-old speedster can be one of those players, not unlike the New York Rangers' Chris Kreider or the Jets' Blake Wheeler, even if at a lower threshold.

Here he is from when he was a promising prospect, first with a card showing him with the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, from Choice's 2011-12 AHL Top Prospects set (card $49):
Next up are his two most common NHL rookie cards:
On the left, showing him with the Pittsburgh Penguins' white (away) uniform, is card #538 from Panini's 2010-11 Score set (and Hot Rookies sub-set); the card on the right is #244 from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Victory set (and Rookie sub-set).

All three cards were signed in (fading) black sharpie and received on October 20th, 2015.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Gabriel Bourque Autograph Card

Not many people outside of die-hard Nashville Predators fans know who Gabriel Bourque is, and even those who follow the team relatively closely seem puzzled by his points production at times.

Here's the gist of it: yes, the 5'10'' power forward that the Preds took 132nd overall in 2009 was a point-per-game player in Juniors for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, but at that level his physical strength was too much for late teens and young adults to handle.

In the NHL, sure, he can dig the puck out of the corner, he is among the fastest forwards on his team and he's a terrific forechecker, doubled with a sound player defensively - but he will rarely line up with the type of sniper who will provide him with the ''hard work'' assists that someone like Brendan Gallagher might obtain, as the snipers who could help him are already playing with the elite passers anyhow, so Bourque is relegated to shut-down duty and penalty-killing ice time.

His 11 goals in 34 games in 2012-13 were a bit of fluke; he does not have the type of hands to lead anyone to expect him to put up 25 goals, let alone score another 10 in a single season.

His tenacity, however, should ensure he stays in the NHL for a long time, because as we have seen this summer, top-six forwards who don't find work are rarely given a shot as bottom-six players, whereas all teams can use low-pay bottom-six grinders with huge hearts. Which accurately describes Bourque, who will make less than $900K this season. In the salary cap era, that's priceless.

Here's a headshot of him wearing the Preds' white (away) uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Crown Royale set (card #SO-GB of the Sovereign Sigs sub-set), featuring an on-sticker blue sharpie autograph:
Like the others, it's die-cut, which adds to its charm.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Brendan Gallagher Jersey Card

It's been roughly a year and a half since I last featured Montréal Canadiens pest, leader and sparkplug Brendan Gallagher; he's since been given an ''A'' as an alternate captain, and earlier tonight scored his first goal of the season - a game-tying tally against the Detroit Red Wings - becoming the tenth Habs forward to score this season.

A three-time 40-goal man in Juniors, Gallagher still stands as the Vancouver Giants' all-time goals (136) and points (280) leader; keep in mind, that puts him ahead of the likes of Milan Lucic, Gilbert Brûlé, Cody Franson, Lance Bouma, Evander Kane, and Jordan Martinook.

At the NHL level, he cracked the 20-goal mark last season, finishing with 24, and now has a goal and 4 assists (5 points) in 6 games so far this year, playing on the Habs' newly-formed top line with fellow alternate Tomas Plekanec and new captain Max Pacioretty.

For most of his first three seasons, he'd played alongside Alex Galchenyuk (now converted into a center), with centers ranging from Plekanec to Jan Bulis Lars Eller to Torrey Mitchell to whoever was available and needed a bit of a youthful boost.

To have an idea as to how consistent and surly he's been, former star winger and current team ambassador Guy Lafleur has been pushing him as captain for the last couple of years now.

I think he's the kind of player that ultimately becomes replaceable over time, as a combination of his body wearing down, teams looking for the type of leadership he brings, and an equally hungry and determined youngster coming up in the minors create a marketable value that is hard to ignore.

In the meantime though, me and my fellow Habs fans will continue to encourage him and cheer for him every chance we get. The way he always puts in maximum effort and goes all-out is reminiscent of all the players we're used to cheering, from legends as Maurice ''The Rocket'' Richard and Patrick Roy to stars like Saku Koivu to grinders like Chris Nilan, Francis Bouillon, Steve Bégin, and Bob Gainey.

Here he is in the team's white (now-away) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Black Diamond set (in card #ROOK-BG from the Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set):
Because it is also his rookie jersey card, the two matching white jersey swatches incorporated into the card are from a photo shoot, not an official NHL game.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Derek Grant Autograph Card

It's time to check #57 off my list for my Sens Numbers Project with young prospect Derek Grant, the Ottawa Senators' fourth-round pick (119th overall) in 2008.

In 25 games spread over five seasons in the Sens organization, he merely posted 2 assists and 4 penalty minutes, but was mostly used in a limited role, playing an average of 9:23 per game, mostly under coaches who were trying to save their own asses and thus relied on veteran players almost exclusively. The Calgary Flames signed him as a free agent over the summer, and GM Brad Treliving had this to say about him:
He’s a big body. He plays a real NHL-, pro-style game. He’s versatile - plays the wing, can play centre. Smart. Intelligent. He’s coming here, and he’s going to battle for an opportunity. I think he gives us more depth, which you can never have enough of.
When we do our organizational assessments of each team, this is a player our scouts wanted to acquire for a long time. So to be able to get him (Wednesday), it was a happy group.
To make room for him, the Flames parted way with such prospects as second-round pick Sam Reinhart and first-rounder Sven Baertschi. Granted, they had been drafted under a previous regime, but they were nonetheless considered the cornerstones of the team's future at that point, perhaps their lone bright spots.

This season, Grant has started the season in the AHL, playing with the Flames' new affiliate Stockton Heat; he currently has scored 3 goals in his first 2 games.

Here he is wearing the Sens' red (home) uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Titanium set (on card #TR-DGR of the Titanium Reserve and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets):
It features a blue-sharpied sticker autograph.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Dustin Brown Jersey Card

I had my annual keeper pool draft tonight, and it's always a great time talking with fellow hockey nerds. I will admit that while I was ahead of the curve three and four years ago (I finished second three years ago, first two years ago), some folks' knowledge of the game has surpassed mine in terms of age of players, cap hits, and potential of certain rookies.

It felt like I was on the wrong side of the die in some cases (though I chose pretty much almost all the players I had initially targeted), and in some respects, that made me think of Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown.

He hasn't scored 20 goals in a single season since 2011-12, often relegated to the team's third line, and hasn't even reached the 30-point mark since then; truthfully, he did get 29 points in 46 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, but only 27 points the past two years as the Kings either entered the playoffs as the final seed or missed them entirely.

L.A.'s thing was that they could turn their game ''on'' at any time and just plow through the opposition when need be, but last season served to show it wasn't a foolproof plan. This year again, they're struggling out of the gate, going 0-3 with superstar goalie Jonathan Quick's goals-against average standing at 3.70 and his save percentage at .861. Brown himself only has a lone assist.

Then again, three games is not even 5% of a season, it's one week. Out of a possible 20. There is no need to panic. Except there wasn't last year, either, and it didn't end well. And the team's playing like crap.

It could be the beginning of Darryl Sutter fatigue, or the team's reaction to how Dean Lombardi threw Mike Richards under the bus after getting rid of his cap hit.

Whatever it is, it better get fixed soon, because it's extremely ugly.

That being said, here's the captain sporting the Kings' black and purple uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Black Diamond set (card #LAK-DB of the Black Diamond Jerseys sub-set):
It features two white game-worn jersey swatches of the same size.

Despite his slowing down, I anticipate he will suit up for Team USA in next year's World Cup, as he has in the last two Olympics.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Andrei Markov Jersey Card

After four games and a full week of play, who leads the entire NHL in plus/minus?

None other than Andrei Markov, one of my favourite players in the entire world, perhaps the most underrated defenseman of the past decade.

The General has captained Team Russia on a couple of occasions, and has won gold once (at the 2008 World Championships in Québec and Halifax), silver at the 1998 World Juniors and bronze three times (1997 World Juniors, as well as at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships).

He's a quiet leader who chooses his words very carefully, which has long made him an underdog in talks of being the next Montréal Canadiens captain; the only Russian player ever to hold that title has been Alexei Kovalev, and the flamboyant forward only did so when Saku Koivu was out of commission. But Markov's not in it for the awards or the glory.

An old-school Russian, he plays hard, facing only forward and not stopping until the final buzzer sounds, preferably in a win. No matter how the win is acquired, as long as he knows he's done his best and that the end result is satisfactory.

It ts that mentality that got him to become the premier passer from the blue line despite being a contemporary of Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer. He's as happy watching someone else score off a one-timer from one of his through-four-pairs-of-skates passes as he would be sending it himself past the opposing goalie.

It's what makes him an ideal candidate to wear the ''A'' on his jersey, the fact that everything is always so meticulously calculated, so precise, like a game of chess - whether it's what happens on the ice or what he tells the media in post-game scrums. He takes the time to reflect, pauses, then goes for the kill in one short stroke. Ten seconds later, he's made his point.

Because he speaks so little and because English is his second language, some journalists have had a hard time deciphering his true intentions, reading way more into his words than he'd intended to let on - but that's not his problem.

More often than not, though, everyone's just content with the way he lets his play speak for itself. Chances are P.K. Subban will also make the Habs' all-time list of great defensemen, but in my opinion, Markov ranks right up there on the second step of the pedestal, alongside Serge Savard, Larry Robinson and Chris Chelios; Doug Harvey stands alone on the top row, while Jean-Claude Tremblay, Émile ''Butch'' Bouchard and Guy Lapointe are on the third step of the podium.

Here is #79 blasting one towards the net, on card #GJ-AM from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Series 1 set (part of the UD Game Jersey sun-set):
He's wearing the team's white (now-away) uniform, and the card includes a blue game-worn jersey swatch - presumably from the Habs' red (home) jersey.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mark Cundari Autograph Card

Under head coach Bob Boughner, the Windsor Spitfires have produced NHL-eligible talent for years, notably Ryan Ellis, Zack Kassian, Brady Vail, Kerby Rychel, and Josh Ho-Sang. Now an assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks, Boughner has brought along one of his stalwart defensemen from the Spitfires' consecutive Memorial Cup-winning teams (2009 and 2010), Mark Cundari.

Undrafted at the NHL level, Cundari spent three seasons in the St. Louis Blues system as a free agent signee before being involved in the trade that sent fellow Blues prospect Reto Berra and the first-round pick that became Émile Poirier to the Calgary Flames for Jay Bouwmeester.

Far from an offensive force or physical specimen such as Bouwmeester, he's more of a Francis Bouillon type: 5'9'', 205 pounds, solid defensively, a tough checker who isn't afraid of rugged play and a guy who can complete a decent first pass most of the time. He rarely gets beat one-on-one, and does have 3 points (1 goal) in 8 NHL games, so if given the chance, perhaps he can become a regular contributor as a #5 guy with third-unit powerplay duties - like Bouillon.

Here he is sporting the Flames' white (away) jersey, from Panini's 2013-14 Crown Royale set (and Rookie Royalty sub-set):
It's the signed insert version of card #216 (numbered 197/499), and features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph. I liked this set's the die-cut crown shape over the years.

13-Pack Break: 2015-16 Upper Deck Tim Hortons

Let me get this out of the way: yes, at $2 a pack for three cards (two base, one insert), Upper Deck's 2015-16 Tim Hortons Collector's Series cards are way too expensive. But they're also very beautiful.

I recently got my hands on 13 packs, for 39 total cards; each pack also comes with a ''redemption code'' good for a random pack of online-only cards, where my collection currently stands at 32 cards; I'm not a fan of these because they do nothing but remain hosted on the Tim Hortons website until they deem fit to stop, and I'll never get my hands on them. If anything, they stand as a visual checklist of the many cards I still need to complete my collection, should I ever want to.

Out of 13 packs, I only got 3 doubles: Kris Letang, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Michael Cammalleri. The base cards are very pretty, all foil and molded textures; here is what the front and back look like:
As far as the inserts go, my favourite one is this thick 3D Franchise Force card of Alex Ovechkin:
I also fell on a James Van Riemsdyk Season Highlights checklist card:
Another insert I got just one of is this Shining Futures card of sophomore Filip Forsberg:
I got three silver-gold-and-black semi-foil Platinum Profile cards of Steven Stamkos, Guy Lafleur and Darryl Sittler:
While on I'm on the subject of Stamkos, he was also featured in the Above The Ice inserts which are made of plastic that is see-through (like some of the best Ice cards), as was Erik Karlsson:
And I got five beautiful die-cut cards of Andrew Ladd, Jonathan Toews, Jonathan Bernier, Henrik Lundqvist and Vladimir Tarasenko:
I might try to get the Ladd one signed, but the rest are up for trade and/or Ebay. I think the last two look really great, though, the colour scheme works really well.

If you buy a drink at a Timmy's, the first pack comes at $1; if all packs were that price, it'd be a more palatable set; as it stands, it's got some of the best UD designs in a long time, but the thinness of the cardboard combined with the cards costing roughly 67 cents each is not something that I think will end up being valuable.

I'm happy I get these new base cards, which are reminiscent of Black Diamond sets but with clearer pictures and brighter colours. This is the type of set that, at a lower price, would have gotten a near perfect grade from me.

As it stands, though, it ranks a 7/10.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Damian Rhodes Autograph Card

As the Montréal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators were facing each other tonight with each of their starting goalies playing in their first NHL game (a first since the Los Angeles Kings' Wayne Rutledge faced the Philadelphia Flyers' Doug Favell in 1967), my thoughts were with Sens goalies, past and present.

I could have gone back to Craig Anderson, but I figured I'd have plenty of time and opportunities for that throughout the season and instead opted to check #1 off my Sens Numbers Project by featuring Damian Rhodes, with card #202 from Pinnacle's 1996-97 Be A Player set (a signed insert he signed in black sharpie):
Hailing from the fertile hockey grounds of Minnesota but coming up at a time when there was no NHL hockey in the state (between the North Stars and Wild), Rhodes played his College hockey with the Michigan Tech Huskies, and was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round (112th overall) in 1987.

He was part of a three-way trade that sent him and Wade Redden to the Sens, Kirk Muller to the Leafs and Bryan Berard and Martin Straka to the New York Islanders. It was with the Sens that Rhodes would have his finest moments, with a 2.56 goals-against average over parts of four seasons with the team, posting 11 of his 12 career shutouts in the black, red and white. The black uniform he's sporting on the above card is my favourite one of Senators, with the sideways-facing legionnaire, black as the main colour, and red and white arm bands.

Following his time in Ottawa splitting time nearly 50/50 with Ron Tugnutt, he was with the Atlanta Thrashers, where he mostly played second fiddle, first to Norm Maracle (granted, Maracle played more because Rhodes suffered a serious knee injury), then to Milan Hnilicka. It got so bad that he ended his career in the ECHL, going 2-8-2 with the Greenville Grrrowl.

He now operates a goaltending school in Cleveland, Ohio and mostly lives in the shadow of his wife, TV host and former newscaster Amanda Jahn; she is also a former model, having represented Missouri at the 1997 Miss America pageant.

It's odd to think that a goalie who scored goals both in the NCAA and in the NHL got so little recognition and got tossed aside so quickly once his career was over.

Box Break: 2015-16 Upper Deck MVP

I went to the pharmacy last night and as I purchased my meds, I walked around to see if they were also selling hockey cards, because this is the time of year where they might. And lo and behold, in the electronics section, sandwiched between alarm clocks and photo albums was a tiny stack of Upper Deck's 2015-16 MVP blaster boxes, which this year contain 24 packs (20+4, they say) instead of the 12 (10+2) of years past.
So I grabbed one, and this is what I came up with the following:
Total price: $30 for 120 cards

Rookie cards: these four (Nick Shore, Stefan Noesen and Mackenzie Skapski), one of which is also a Silver Script insert (Luke Witkowski):
Silver Scripts: these two additional ones of Tomas Plekanec and Derek Stepan, plus one of Jiri Hudler:
An insert I'd never seen from UD, NHL Territories: this one featuring Brandon Dubinsky, which is as dark as a Black Diamond card:
Retired: one card of Hall Of Fame goaltender Terry Sawchuk:
Montréal Canadiens (my home team): 5: the above-mentioned Plekanec Silver Script, plus these four (Plekanec's regular-issue card, new captain Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher and David Desharnais):
 Here is what the backs look like:
All told, it's a similar-looking set from that of last year, which is a good thing, particularly if they plan on having it keep its identity as they do with Black Diamond or Victory; they once again left the facsimile autographs to the Silver Script and Gold Script (numbered /100) inserts and concentrated on showing action shots of players where their complete silhouette shows up on the card, give or take a pair of skates.

I was also happy that the Checklist cards use a different picture from the player's regular-issue card; case in point, Jonathan Drouin:
Once again, I didn't get an autograph nor a jersey insert card, but I did get over 100 decent-looking pseudo-classic cards that I can eventually get signed or trade away.

I'm not sure if it's me getting old or if my expectations are lowered from last year, but I'll give this set a 7/10.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Francis Bouillon Jersey Card

In a move that flew under the radar around the NHL, Francis Bouillon announced his retirement last month, after three stints with the Montréal Canadiens interspersed with two with the Nashville Predators.

He may have stood small at 5'8'', but his 200 pounds of pure muscle ensured he would never be taken lightly in his own zone; he was a decent talent offensively with an okay shot and accurate, sharp passes, but it was his flawless defensive play and hard, clean hits that ensured him of a job at the top level for the better part of 15 years, in addition to his last year in Switzerland and the minor-league hockey in the IHL and AHL before he was an NHL mainstay.

He's the type of hard worker that Montréal fans respect while they play (he was never booed by the tough hometown crowd) and revere when they retire. This guy will always be welcome with standing ovations at the Bell Centre and will never have to pay for a meal or drink when going out on the town.

He played for head coach Michel Therrien four times, starting with the 1995-96 Granby Prédateurs, the mid-to-late-1990s Fredericton Canadiens, and the Habs both at the the turn of the millennium and from 2012-14. They were perfect for each other, with their rugged, no-nonsense approach.

Here he is wearing the Canadiens' white (away) uniform with both Centennial shoulder patches, from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Series 1 set (card #GJ-FB of the UD Game Jersey sub-set), featuring a blue game-worn jersey swatch:
He wore #51 for most of his tenure in the NHL except the last two years with the Habs, as it was taken by David Desharnais, ironically as a tribute to Bouillon, who had inspired him when growing up; for those two seasons, he wore #55. He has an arena named after him in my area, in Montréal's East end, where I sometimes volunteer as a goaltending coach to youth teams.