Thursday, December 31, 2015

Charlie Huddy Autograph Card

If the Edmonton Oilers win tonight against the Anaheim Ducks, they will pass them in the standings and be two points out of the final playoff spot in the Pacific Division; if the Winnipeg Jets beat the Arizona Coyotes tonight, they will catch up with the Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division standings.

What those two teams have in common is former star defenseman Charlie Huddy, who was part of all five of the Oilers' Stanley Cup-winning teams, as he is currently an assistant coach with the Jets. He also reached the Cup Final with the Oilers as well as the 1992-93 Los Angeles Kings, alongside fellow former Oilers Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Marty McSorley.

He finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting in both 1982-83 and 1983-84, and finished his career with 453 points (99 goals and 354 assists) in 1017 regular-season NHL games, and another 85 points (19 goals and 66 assists) in 182 playoff games. Not bad for a guy who didn't get drafted.

His big, black mustache screamed "1980s", and so did his play, where his go-to defensive-zone play was to bring opposing forwards closer to the boards to get bad-angle shots, but he had a decent shot, good skating skills and tremendous passing abilities.

Here he is wearing Edmonton's white (then-home) white 1980s uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers collection (card #FI-CH of the Franchise Ink sub-set), with a blue-sharpied autograph that was too large for the sticker they provided him with:
He's wearing a full beard here, so it's probably from the playoffs, either 1988 or 1990. I like that almost all of the 80s' Oilers wore those Jofa helmets.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Jacob Markstrom Autographed Card

About a year and a half ago, I wrote that I believed Jacob Markstrom would become a very good #1 goalie in the NHL; this season, he is by far the best to have manned the Vancouver Canucks' crease, 13 goals-against average points and 8 save percentage points better than former Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller:
He has had 38- and 42-save nights against the Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively, and looked very solid in most games, save for one outing against the Boston Bruins on December 5th, a 4-0 loss where the whole team looked flat.

The Canucks therefore seem set in nets for when Miller's contract comes to an end, following next season. In the meantime, they'll probably have to resort to a timeshare situation, because he's just too good to leave on the bench.

I had mentioned back in April that I'd sent him four cards and he had returned the three featuring him with the Florida Panthers but not the one showing him with the Rochester Americans; that was rectified earlier last summer when I gathered extra mail from my old apartment, which had this card from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set (it's card #168 in the collection, with the mention that he is a ''Rookie''):
It's signed in blue sharpie and looks really nice. I really like the fact that his mask sticks out of the frame - it's simple but effective, design-wise.

Ironically, Miller's also an Americans alumnus, as they have a long-standing relationship with the Buffalo Sabres, with whom he spent twelve years.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Brett Hull Jersey Card

I mentioned a trade last week involving Benchwarmer cards for hockey cards... well, here's the final card that made it my way:
Yes, that's Hall Of Famer Brett Hull, from card #GJ-BH of Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 2 set (part of the UD Game Jersey sub-set with a white game-worn swatch enclosed), showing him in the St. Louis Blues' mid-1990s white (then-home) uniform, when they decided to incorporate red into more their design, as it had only served as a delimiting element previously; it's not the worst uniform they've ever had - I leave that title to the Reebok practice-style piping-heavy jerseys from the mid-00s) - but I prefer when they stay true to their classic colour palette of blue and yellow. I'd featured the away version of this one in this Tony Twist post last October.

The son of Hall Of Famer Bobby Hull and nephew of Dennis Hull, Brett is the epitome is a scoring right winger, his generation's Alex Ovechkin if you will. He is the second-fastest to reach 700 career goals (to a certain Wayne Gretzky) and had the deadliest combo of accuracy and speed in a slap shot the 1980s and the 1990s have known. He ranks third all-time with 741 tallies in 1269 games, with another 103 in 202 playoff games.

Not initially known for anything else than his shot, he did manage to amass more assists than goals in his final years, and during his time with the Dallas Stars even stopped being a defensive liability, often back-checking far into the defensive zone; he won a Stanley Cup in Dallas in 1998-98, and another one with the Detroit Red Wings in 2001-02.

It was with the Blues, however, that he made a name for himself, one that got him in the Hall, with eight 40-goal seasons in 9 years - the one exception being the 29 goals in 48 games he scored during the 1994-95 lockout, third-most in the league behind Jaromir Jagr (32) and Alexei Zhamnov (30). But more than just 40 goals, his three-season run from 1989-90 until 1991-92 were nothing short of astonishing, with goals totals that read: 72, 86 and 70, part of a run of four straight 100-point seasons, followed by one where he posted 97.

Because the Blues (and later the Stars) made the playoffs every year, he didn't get to play for Team USA too often, but when he did, it certainly counted, with a second-place finish at the 1991 Canada Cup, the title at the 1996 World Cup, and Olympic silver in 2002.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Craig Johnson Autographed Card

This year, I treated myself to many things I wanted for Christmas, as an excuse to treat myself to things I wanted. One of these was this magnificent ''Burger King'' card of Craig Johnson's, from trusted collector BG:
It's card #80 from Upper Deck's 1996-97 Series 1 set, an otherwise pretty, foil-rich collection.

Perhaps the worst jersey in NHL history, this Los Angeles Kings abomination was part of the NHL's inaugural ''Third Jersey Program'' in 1995-96. Coming out of the (first) lock-out, the league wanted a way to ''reconnect'' with the fans - and take back some of the money they'd lost by not playing any games from October to December - by bringing in ''state-of-the-art'' jerseys to be used on special occasions.

And, just like they did with Reebok coming out of the year-long 2004 lockout, they let the manufacturer design the uniforms (CCM for these) with zero input from the teams that were selected (other victims of this program were the Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Mighty Ducks). CCM desperately wanted to showcase that their new manufacturing equipment could print gradients - they just forgot that they still had to design something that was nice to look at.

At this point, the Kings were still wearing their beautiful Wayne Gretzky-era white-black-silver uniforms, coming off their purple-and-gold Marcel Dionne-era uniforms; unlike what they did for other teams (the Bs got a yellow uniform with a grizzly bear as a logo, the Pens and Canucks more of less just got some red inserted on theirs, and the Ducks got a cartoon goalie flying off its jersey), the Kings were treated to a mash-up of their colour palette heritage with these white (as they were primarily to be worn at home) jerseys, with the Gretzky-era grey-to-silver, to which they decided to add a purple collar, purple-and-gold numbering and lettering and, of course, the purple-haired ''King'' with the golden crown logo, worn on the heart rather than middle of the chest, soccer-style.

What you want to do when designing a logo is follow two simple rules: as little text as possible, because fonts can get dated very quickly - and text is boring; you also want to avoid human-like drawings, particularly of faces, as the renderings are often too cartoon-y for a major-league organization, and look downright unprofessional. Here, we have proof of how #2 fails miserably. It looks like something an ECHL team would wear once, not something The Great One should ever be forced to put on.

And it got its nickname because it closely resembled the fast food chain's mascot:
So, yeah, totally minor-league-worthy. At least the team scrapped these after the one season, whereas the Bruins and Pens kept theirs for years - Pittsburgh even made them their road jerseys for a few years, though they were the best of the five. The Ducks also retired them after one season, while the Canucks' experiment lasted two seasons.

As for Craig Johnson, born in the American hockey hotbed of Minnesota, he was the St. Louis Blues' first draft pick of 1990, chosen 33rd overall in the second round; they had traded their own first-rounder to the Montréal Canadiens, who picked Turner Stevenson 12th overall.

Johnson suited up for Team USA at the 1994 Olympics (then reserved for amateur players) as well as many World Championships, and made a good enough impression to become the key player going the Kings' way when they sent Gretzky to St. Louis; he made his way West with Roman Vopat and Patrice Tardif and played in L.A. for seven full seasons after the trade.

2003-04 was a difficult year for him, playing for the Ducks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals, and he exiled himself to Europe where he posted decent - albeit fading in time - numbers in Germany, Finland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Denmark.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Cam Talbot: Two Autographed Cards

Another great return from the Edmonton Oilers yesterday (December 26th, 2015), as goaltender Cameron Talbot sent back these two cards that I'd sent out on November 4th, 2015, so a 52-day return for two cards, signed in black sharpie:
Talbot didn't start the season out so well, and there was chatter that he'd lost the #1 job to Anders Nilsson - but he has bounced back of late, with a 2-1-2 streak in his last five games where he twice stopped more than 40 shots.

He's making the case that he deserves some time in front of the crease at least in tandem with Nilsson; unlike the former New York Islanders draft pick, though, Talbot is an unrestricted free agent at season's end, so he's not just playing for ice time, but possibly for his very future in the NHL.

At 28 years of age, he needs to show that his finishing 7th in Vezina voting last year filling in for an injured Henrik Lundqvist was not just a product of playing behind the New York Rangers' stingy defense but also of his own doing.

Over two seasons in Manhattan, he posted a 2.00 GAA and .931 save percentage with 8 shutouts in 57 games - 53 of them starts, 33 of them wins, for 17 regulation losses and just 5 more in overtime.

Since the 2015-16 season started, he's 5-9-2 with the Oilers (who've had a poor start, regardless of his play, and didn't help in any statistical department), with a .905 save percentage and 2.93 GAA in 17 games.

But things are improving. He's making huge saves in bulk, and his losses at least come with points, helping Edmonton stay in contention for a payoff spot. And all the while, he and his wife bring smiles to the tundra as they give their time to the community.

Here are the cards he signed, first wearing the Rangers' blue (home) uniform, on card #535 of Panini's 2011-12 Score set and Hot Rookies sub-set, sporting his rookie number (81):
Then, in a picture that seems identical from that from my post four years ago, card #232 from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Victory set and Rookie sub-set, here he is wearing the white (away) uniform:
So two rookie cards signed, because I didn't have one of his with the Oilers. I think he can be a good fit with them, and I'm glad it's going much better now.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Ryan Pulock Autograph Card

Ryan Pulock is one of the New York Islanders' strong prospects on defense that enabled the team to deal Griffin Reinhart to the Edmonton Oilers for two draft picks last summer.

The right-shooting defender, who was chosen in the first round (15th overall) at the 2013 draft - ahead of Nikita Zadorov (16th), Curtis Lazar (17th), Mirco Mueller (18th), Kerby Rychel (19th), Anthony Mantha (20th), André Burakovsky (23rd), Hunter Shinkaruk (24th), Michael McCarron (25th), Shea Theodore (26th), Marko Dano (27th), Adam Erne (33rd), Zachary Fucale (36th), Laurent Dauphin (39th), William Carrier (57th), Eric Comrie (59th), and Anthony Duclair (80th) - is an offensively-minded defenseman in the same mold as current Isles Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk so, in comparison, he's in the same situation as Nathan Beaulieu with the Montréal Canadiens (behind P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov) or like Ville Pokka for the Chicago Blackhawks (behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook).

So far, he was a point-per-game producer in the OHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings, and is at half that pace with the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers, which is fitting for a kid who is 21. If he were to follow a normal evolution for someone of his pedigree, he could be an NHL regular by 23 or 24, starting with second-unit powerplay time and becoming a first-unit player by 26 or 27, and getting his 30-40 points even in the NHL by then. Barring any injuries, bad luck or attitude issues.

He's won a bronze medal with Team Canada at the 2012 U-18s, but has not competed in the World Juniors, which is rare for a first-rounder.

Here he is wearing the Wheat Kings' black uniform, in card #A-RP from In The Game's 2012-13 Draft Prospect set (and Autograph sub-set, the Silver Version variant):
I reviewed that set last May.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Darnell Nurse Jersey Card

Number 25 for December 25th - good concept, no?

Here's card #SSM-14 from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set (and Game-Used Jersey sub-set), featuring a huge red swatch and matching picture of Edmonton Oilers prospect Darnell Nurse suiting up for the OHL in the Subway Super Series:
Nurse, an Oilers first-round choice (7th overall in 2013), was supposed to be groomed over time and spend at least a full year in the AHL - possibly two - before being brought in with the big club to have an immediate impact; injuries and sub-par play on the main team forced the Oilers' hand, however, and he has appeared in 26 games so far, and played nearly 25:56 in his last one, a 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets. His impact is already being felt.

I like what I've seen from him so far, and I'm excited to see where it will lead.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Jake Allen Jersey Card

I mentioned a trade last night in this Mikael Backlund post, it also involved two jersey cards coming back my way and ten Benchwarmer autographed cards I had doubles of going the other way. One of the jersey cards is this one of Jake Allen, from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 2 set (card #GJ-JA of the UD Game Jersey sub-set):
It shows him wearing the St. Louis Blues' blue (home) current/late-1990s throwback jersey, but the enclosed game-worn jersey swatch is white.

Allen was named one of the stars of the week in early November and hasn't cooled down since, as he is currently leading the NHL in shutouts (5) and is fourth in wins (16), also ranking in the top-10 for goals-against average (2.06) and save percentage (.928).

The knock on him so far has been that he's been pretty good in the regular season but hasn't stolen a game in the playoffs; well, he's stepping up this year and not only bringing consistency in his play, but also raising his game to elite levels; unfortunately, he plays for the Blues, who have a habit of falling short in the postseason. Maybe he's what they need to get over that hump, but playing in the same conference as the Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings means it won't be easy making it to the Conference Finals, let alone the Stanley Cup Final.

Let's see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mikael Backlund Autograph Card

With three points and a +4 showing in his last 4 games, Mikael Backlund is on a hot streak that coincides with that of the Calgary Flames as a whole, with an 8-2-0 showing in their last 10 games. He's getting some ice time with Johnny Gaudreau and is usually playing in the final minute when the other team takes their goalie out of their net, which shows coach Bob Hartley's trust in his defensive game.

Now having to contend with minutes in the middle with the likes of Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett, the play-making genius from Vasteras, Sweden has seemingly found a way to maximize his ice time and contribute on a regular basis, though perhaps not at the level that people such as myself once envisioned - I thought he would hover between 45 and 60 points per season, but his best year so far saw him post 18 goals and 21 assists for 39 points in 76 games in 2013-14.

Then again, it's a different NHL, where the Art Ross winner didn't get 90 points last year, Alex Ovechkin is the only player who is able to score 50 goals, and first-liners and elite players such as Jonathan Toews reached the 70-point mark just once, let alone the point-per-game average. These are unique times in pro hockey in general, with the KHL also being really tough to score in (and where goalies usually have a GAA below 2.00).

That being said, I still traded for this card showing him in the Flames' red uniform, though I'm now looking for one of his with the throwback jersey:
It's card #I-MBA from Panini's 2013-14 Contenders collection (and more specifically, the NHL Ink sub-set). It's signed on-card in thin blue sharpie.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Phillip Danault Autographed Card

Following an off-season hip surgery, Phillip Danault was recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks last weekend and earned his first NHL point (an assist on an Andrew Shaw goal) against the San Jose Sharks on December 20th.

Chosen 26th overall by the Hawks at the 2011 draft, Danault is projected to become a two-way playmaking centre who will play on the second (at best, on a mid-level team) or third line - in the mold of captain Jonathan Toews, with less offensive upside. He's seen as Marcus Kruger's eventual replacement, and it was Kruger's injury that prompted the Hawks to choose him as their call-up despite having only played in 6 AHL games this season.

The Toews comparison is particularly striking because Danault captained his hometown Victoriaville Tigres in the LHJMQ for three seasons before getting traded to the Moncton Wildcats, who were attempting a Memorial Cup run in 2012-13 (the Halifax Mooseheads instead got out of the ''Q'' and ultimately won the championship).

He had a very god season with the Rockford IceHogs last year, finishing fourth in points with 38 and leading the team in goals in the post-season (with 3); he was also a +20 during the season an a team-leading +8 in the playoffs. He didn't win the Guy Carbonneau Award in the LHJMQ without reason...

Here he is wearing the Tigres' white (home) uniform, with the captain's ''C'' visible on his jersey:
It's card #113 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set, which he signed in blue sharpie in 2014 after a game against the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ilya Kovalchuk Jersey Card

So, uh, Ilya Kovalchuk's been acting weird since going back to the KHL, eh? From boycotting the Canadian national anthem at the World Championships to a recent incident where he seemingly took on the opposing team's entire forward line, he seems to have some anger management issues.

Talent-wise, he may very well be the best right-winger not named Alex Ovechkin, but Ovie has leadership qualities and a happy-yet-calming demeanor that Kovy clearly does not possess.

Just putting it out there while showing off this nice card from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Trilogy collection (and card #HS-IK of the Honorary Swatches sub-set):
Though the game-worn jersey swatch is dark blue and could be from either of the Atlanta Thrashers' uniforms, he is pictured wearing the team's white - and best-looking - garbs.

Despite having ''retired'' from the NHL at age 30, he stands seventh among Russians in all-time scoring, with 417 goals, 386 assists and an even 816 points in 816 regular-season games, and another 27 points in 32 games - most of them in a 22-game Stanley Cup Final run with the New Jersey Devils, because the Thrashers were so awful he only played 4 postseason games in his 8 years with the franchise.

He has six 40-goal seasons, two of them being of the 52-goal variety. He has exceeded the 80-point mark six times as well, with highs of 98 (in 2005-06) and 91 (in 2008-09).

He is also a point-per-game producer in the KHL, with 137 points in 135 games.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Louis Domingue Autographed Card

I would like to congratulate Louis Domingue on obtaining his first NHL shutout against the New York Islanders last night, at a time when the Arizona Coyotes really needed it.

It was his first start this season. He'd also won in his first-ever start against the Montréal Canadiens, when he signed this card for me (and two others) in blue sharpie:
It's card #49 from In The Game's 2009-10 Between The Pipes set (and Future Stars sub-set), showing him wearing the Québec Remparts' classic red uniform.

Domingue plays a sound positional game that is made for his size (a smaller-than-his-contemporaries 6'2'', clocking in at 200 pounds of muscle), and he's relatively agile and has quick lateral movements from his strong legs. I foresee him being a starter some day, following in the footsteps of Jake Allen, another former LHJMQ standout currently starring for the St. Louis Blues. Allen was a 2008 draft pick, Domingue was drafted in 2010.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dainius Zubrus: 3 Autographed Cards

Before their game against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, the Montréal Canadiens hosted the ever-boring San Jose Sharks last Tuesday. I didn't have a ticket so I didn't attend it, but I watched it on TV and nearly fell asleep. The whole time.


Had I paid to see that spectacle, I probably would have incited a riot. Or I would've been in a boredom-inspired coma.

But I did get to see Dainius Zubrus in the late afternoon. He did not recognize me from when he used to score on me during summer pick-up games at Brébeuf Arena; in his defense, the last time was ten years ago, and I did put on some 75 pounds since then. I'm not sure if he still lives here in the summer, but he used to, since he's married to Montréal-based model Nathalie Sanschagrin.

The former Philadelphia Flyers first round pick (15th overall in 1998) scored against the Habs, his former team, that night - his first tally of the season, after signing on with the team following a PTO.

He stands as the first Lithuanian to have played in over 1000 NHL games - he currently stands at 1254, with 226 goals, 360 assists, 586 points and 779 penalty minutes in the regular season and 11 goals and 24 assists (for 35 points) in 92 playoff games.

He reached the Stanley Cup Final twice (in 1996-97 with the Flyers, falling to the Detroit Red Wings in a 4-game sweep, and in 2011-12 with the New Jersey Devils, losing 4-2 to the Kings), and the Conference Finals in 2006-07 with the Buffalo Sabres.

He shares the Devils' record for most goals in a game (4) with Brian Gionta and Patrik Elias. He also got a few Selke Trophy votes in 2002-03 when playing for the Washington Capitals.

Which is to say he's had a distinguished career, and will likely bring some much-needed leadership to any team he's on, including the Sharks, unfortunately.

Here are the cards he signed for me, showing him with three different Flyers uniforms from the end of the 1990s, starting with the black one, from Upper Deck's 1997-98 Black Diamond set (card #8 in the collection):
And for the white (home) uniform, here's card #102 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player series:
And though it's mostly a head shot, you can see him wearing the orange one in card #145 from Upper Deck's 1998-99 Series 1 collection:
All three cards contain silver foil, which I thought was cool.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Anze Kopitar Jersey Card

So... last night I went to see the Los Angeles Kings play against my hometown Montréal Canadiens...
Many thoughts went through my head: even if the Habs don't play well, hey, it's the Kings. As long as Milan Lucic doesn't score, I'm good, with Drew Doughty, Tyler Toffoli, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and Marian Gaborik...

Doughty and Gaborik each had a goal and an assist, and Kopitar scored the other one, Toffoli and Lucic each got an assist, and Quick made 45 saves in a 3-0 shutout win. Alex Galchenyuk was the most dangerous forward for Montréal, playing on two lines in the third period, centering his own unit with Lars Eller and Sven Andrighetto, and playing right wing on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty.

It was a very entertaining game, despite clueless idiots booing for the final two minutes as the Habs couldn't buy a goal or even get a shot through Los Angeles' four-man penalty-killing box.

What I like about L.A. is how they're so good, they never have to force anything. They're huge but fast, so they can match anyone's speed and overpower anyone. All they need to do is keep at it, relentlessly, pushing forward, and good things come. That's exactly what Kopitar brings as well. He could easily concentrate on getting 90 points a year and pad up his resume, but instead he plays a sound two-way game where he plays like all the other great two-way centres (Pavel Datsyuk, Patrice Bergeron, Plekanec), stopping the opposition from stacking their own points, taking the puck away, winning faceoffs, getting his 70-plus points and Selke nominations (top-4 finishes in the last three seasons, including runner-up last year) relatively quietly. Oh, and winning Stanley Cups, the whole point of this.

The Kings wore their white, silver and black uniforms on Thursday, but here's a card where Kopitar is sporting their throwback purple one:
It's card #S-AK from Fleer's 2013-14 Showcase set (and Stitches sub-set), manufactured by Upper Deck. The game-worn jersey swatch that's incorporated in it is white, but it doesn't detract from the purple and gold at all.

The only negative point about my outing is that instead of staying to mingle with players after the game, I decided to show my friend, who was visiting from Mexico, the Ring of Honor on the highest wall around the rink; no less than four security guards stopped us to ask us what we were doing, while small groups of drunken frat boys were left alone as they were screaming obscenities while finishing their drinks.

One security guard asked if he could ''help'' us, to which I replied: ''why, sure, you could concur that Doug Harvey is the greatest defenseman of all time''.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Claude Larose Autographed Card

In a long-awaited new installment of my Habs Numbers Project, here stands the first of two representatives of #11 (edit: Ryan Walter is now also online), Claude Larose:
It's card #69 from Parkhurst's 1995-96 Parkhurst Reprints set, the third such set by the revived card brand, this time hypothesizing how a 1966-67 set would have looked like. He signed it in person, in thin blue sharpie, with a very clear signature.

A French-Canadian from Hearst, Ontario, Larose was a heavy power forward who made his mark for most of the 1960s and 1970s with three teams - the Montréal Canadiens, Minnesota North Stars and St. Louis Blues - including two separate stints with the Habs that led to seeing his name engraved on the Stanley Cup five times in ten seasons.

He reached the 25-goal mark with each team, with a high of 29 with the Blues in 1976-77, his penultimate season. He reached the 20-goal mark six times and totaled 226 (along with 257 assists, 483 points and 887 penalty minutes) in 943 regular-season games, and another 14-18-32 and 143 PIMs in 97 playoff games.

He had a knack for making his linemates better, as Ralph Backstrom had his best years alongside Larose, and Danny Gare won the Calder Trophy by his side with the North Stars.

He claims to hold a Canadiens record by scoring 9 goals in 3 games, the first being a 4-goal outing alongside Frank and Pete Mahovlich, the second being a hat trick skating with Jacques Lemaire and Steve Shutt, and the third a two-goal performance in what would eventually be Guy Lafleur's spot with #25 and #22.

His son, Guy Larose, played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins - all Habs rivals - in the 1990s. Claude has been a scout with the Carolina Hurricanes since their days as the Hartford Whalers.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Drew Doughty Jersey Card

So the Los Angeles Kings fell to the Ottawa Senators in Kanata tonight, but remain atop the Pacific Division. After missing the playoffs last year, the Kings made sure they started the season off on the right foot and will not be content to just enter the picture as the 8th seed this time around, thanks to the ever-stellar play of Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty, as well as the timely waking up of Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik.

Ironically, Doughty has been saying his team's trip in the East against the likes of Norris Trophy winners Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban was a chance to show what he can do to members of the press here, and he sounded miffed and perhaps even bitter at times in this piece on, where the two-time finalist talks about wanting recognition for his ''better'' play.

So far, it's 1-0 Karlsson, not just for the 5-3 win, but also, as Doughty has claimed to be better on the defensive side, his -3 showing against Ottawa is a clear message that he might want to check his ego at the door, whereas Karlsson's goal and assist leave him at +1. Subban got the best of Karlsson on Saturday night, and Subban will face Doughty on Thursday.

In my opinion, all three are worth building a team around. They are the best and most complete defenders in the league; Doughty was always pretty much top-notch at everything, and Subban has had to polish his defensive game but always had the offensive flair and hits; Karlsson has the attacking part down pat, but has worked on both his defensive prowess and hitting, which is now a big part of his game.

They will likely each retire with at least one Norris each, perhaps two each (Karlsson's already there), so it's a testament to how they dominate at one aspect either overshadowing the rest or have a level of compete that makes the average of their qualities rank them higher than any other defensemen in the world.

The fact that Subban and Doughty both suit up for Team Canada does give the country an edge in international competitions, though.

Here's the Kings superstar wearing the team's black (home) uniform with a matching game-worn jersey swatch:
It's card #GJ-DD from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 set (and UD Game Jersey sub-set).

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Jake Virtanen Autographed Card

I couldn't attend the Montréal Canadiens game against the Vancouver Canucks on November 16th because I was in Las Vegas with my brother and mother, so I gave my ticket to a friend of mine who was tasked to do one thing: get this 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects card of Jake Virtanen with the Calgary Hitmen (#45 of the set from manufacturer In The Game, part of the CHL Rookie sub-set) signed in blue sharpie, which she did:
He was a -1 in the game, and he stands at one goal and 3 assists (4 total points) in 19 games at the NHL level in his rookie season but is fourth among rookies with 53 hits; he was loaned to Team Canada for the World Juniors in an attempt to win back-to-back gold medals for his home country, this time in Finland, where his father and grandfather were born.

The sixth-overall pick of the 2014 draft will thus have a chance to gain some confidence as the Canucks enter the stretch run to try to make the playoffs in what is so far considered to be the ''worst'' division in the NHL, where only three teams may make the final cut.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Les Deuxluxes Signed CD

I went to a concert on Thursday night at Club Soda, where the headliners were the Quebec Redneck Bluegrass Project, but openers Les Deuxluxes really stole the show in my opinion (though my friends who are huge QRBP fans might disagree).

They were reminiscent of The White Stripes because (wait for it...) they're a two-piece, riff-based blues-rock band (yes, the same criticism I face at nearly every show), and they're a woman and a man as well, so the comparisons are obvious. Too obvious. Too easy.

Here, the drums are played by Étienne Barry - the one with natural facial hair. And it's mostly just the bass drum, as he plays lead guitar as well. He keeps things steady and on pace, and can be aptly described as ''band leader'' or ''maestro'', but the true star is frontwoman singer and guitarist Anna Frances Meyer, whose powerful voice, fine guitar chops and moves just mesmerize.

She is strong, energetic, confident, a terrific crowd leader, captivating, compelling and sexy as all hell let loose.

I met them after the show and purchased their EP, which unfortunately isn't up to par with where they're at in terms of power, energy and presence at this time, and they signed it for me in gold sharpie:
It's not bad by any means, but if we're going with the White Stripes comparison, it's like measuring The Big Three Killed My Baby off their eponymous first album (1999) next to Seven Nation Army (2003) or Icky Thump (2007).

I hope their next release catches their primal intensity a tad better and sounds maybe a little dirtier, in the vein of their newly-released French-language Christmas single (in which Barry sings lead).

And perhaps we can one day share a bill and they can upstage me as well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Vincent Lecavalier Jersey Card

So, Vincent Lecavalier has been a healthy scratch for the past 12 games, yet spent yesterday getting treatment on his back. Is he healthy or not? Is his health part of why he hasn't been traded yet?

In any event, after being bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning, it now appears the Philadelphia Flyers were not the right team for him, as the playmaking center with the soft hands has gotten slower and could never be paired with the right snipers, because they were set up with Claude Giroux or Brayden Schenn.

Some Flyers writers have explained the situation as nothing more than his needing to be utilized better, which I agree with in general. But in the few instances where he was given a legitimate shot at better minutes, he did prove to be inconsistent, whether it can be attributed to rust or age, no one knows for sure.

And for all the flak he gets from Flyers fans, they forget that he still scored 20 goals in his first season with the team in 2013-14, the 13th time in 14 seasons that he had reached that mark - and the one where he hadn't was the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, where he scored 10 goals in 39 games, a pace of... 20 on a full year. Sure, gone are the 100-point and 50-goal days of 2006-07, but we're talking about a former NHL captain, a member of a gold-winning Team Canada and a Stanley Cup champion wth hardware (a Rocket Richard Trophy and a King Clancy), the type of leader you'd pay just so your young players could learn around him, let alone produce at a half a point per game clip as he had prior to this year (he has just one assist in 7 games).

I hope he finds a new home soon. I could see him on the Nashville Predators, Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames. Here he is sporting the Bolts' black (home) Reebok Edge pajama-style rags from 2007-11, from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Series 1 set (card #GJ-VL of the UD Game Jersey sub-set):
It contains a bright/dark blue game-worn jersey swatch from the underarm lining.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Two Nail Yakupov Autographed Cards

At first this season, the Edmonton Oilers were having trouble finding their groove; then, Connor McDavid and Nail Yakupov started clicking, and the team won a few games; now, the entire second line is out with injuries (both McDavid and Yakupov, as well as Benoit Pouliot), and of course losses were initially piling up, but they've now won three in a row, with the stellar play of goalie Anders Nilsson at the forefront.

That's not to say Edmonton doesn't want its three talented forwards back, far from it. The Russian right winger had a seven-game point streak in October and had just collected an assist when he suffered an injury during an awkward ''collision'' with an official (where linesman Matt MacPherson actually pulled Yak down as a reflex when he himself was falling, right at the faceoff).

I could foresee him surpassing the 50-point mark for the first time in his NHL career, that's how good he looked at times.

As a life-long Oilers fan, I tell you, I'm as excited about the current crop of forwards as I was in the 1990s, with Yakupov, McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Jordan Eberle leading the way, followed by the likes of Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

One or two of them might have to be traded for a stud defenseman (hello, Shea Weber) but, essentially, most of them are there to stay and form the next powerhouse team in the Western Conference.

In an attempt to check off both #10 and #64 off my Oilers Numbers Project, I had sent Yakupov the two cards above on October 26th, 2015, and received both of them back on December 8th, 2015 - 43 days later - signed in (fading) blue sharpie. I keep hearing comments like ''the Oilers are terrible signers'', but I'm extremely satisfied with my returns from the tundra; perhaps if collectors took care of the letters they were sending and/or who they were sending them to, and came off as honest, they would get better returns. Or maybe I'm just lucky.

In any event, here is the one who will now count as #64, from Upper Deck's 2014-15 MVP set (card #59 in the set), showing him wearing the team's current/classic white (now-away) uniform:
He had always wanted to wear #10 (his number since his youth), but Shawn Horcoff had it at the time, and since Horcoff was the team's captain, Yakupov waited a full season later to ask for the number, out of respect. So here he is sporting his favourite number (and that of his childhood idol Pavel Bure), wearing the Oilers' classic/current blue (now-home) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2015-16 MVP set (card #58 in the collection):
As you can see, the set didn't change much from one year to the next; there's something to be said about consistency when a brand is doing well and doesn't get wild ideas just for the sake of messing with things. I also did the ''consecutive MVP'' thing with the Calgary Flames' Sean Monahan earlier this season.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Kyle Turris Autographed Card

Kyle Turris, the Ottawa Senators' first-line center, suffered a knee injury last night by falling both over and underneath New York Islanders defenseman Casey Cisikas, who showed tremendous sportsmanship by calling for the trainers to come to Turris as soon as he got up from the fall.

Prior to the injury, Turris had been enjoying a career year, having improved his points total in each of the previous three seasons, starting with 29 points in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season - a total he'd reached twice before but by appearing in more total games - then following that up with 58 points (26 of them goals) in 2013-14 and 64 points last year.

At 11 goals and 22 points in 26 games thus far, he was looking at a third-straight 20-goal season with 30 a real possibility, and flirting with the point-per-game pace, which ranked him 30th in the NHL.

He had signed this card for me about a month ago, in blue sharpie, after the Sens beat my hometown Montréal Canadiens:
It's card #129 from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Series 1 set, and shows him wearing Ottawa's red (home) uniform.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Scott Hartnell Jersey Card

There have been many good story lines this week in the NHL, and I'll get to a lot of them soon, but first, in keeping up with John Tortorella putting his stamp on the Columbus Blue Jackets, Scott Hartnell was a healthy scratch last night, possibly for a costly mistake against the Montréal Canadiens earlier in the week... or just because.

I think it was to light a fire under his ass before tonight's game against his former team, the Philadelphia Flyers, against whom he ended up having a goal and an assist. So, that race for the Jack Adams Trophy, it's between Torts, Paul Maurice and Michel Therrien, right?

The sixth-overall pick of the 2000 draft behind (in order) Rick DiPietro (New York Islanders), Dany Heatley (Atlanta Thrashers), Marian Gaborik (Minnesota Wild), Rostislav Klesla (Jackets), and Raffi Torres (Islanders), the 6'3'', 215-pound power forward would, in retrospect, probably be a top-3 pick of his draft class, along with late selection Henrik Lundqvist (205th, New York Rangers).

More than just a bruiser, Hartnell has reached the 30-goal mark twice and the 20-goal mark eight times, with a high of 37 goals in 2011-12, the year he also reached his highest points total (67). He reached the 60-point mark three times, in 2008-09, 2011-12 and 2014-15.

He reached the 100-penalty minute mark ten times, with a high of 159 in 2007-08.

So, yeah, he was a perfect Flyer, but GM Ron Hextall traded him to the Jackets for R.J. Umberger and a fourth-round pick in an effort to shed contract years off his salary cap-challenged team.

Here is is wearing Philadelphia's current/retro orange uniform, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set (card #GJ-HS of the UD Game Jersey sub-set):
Included is a matching orange game-worn jersey swatch which is much flashier to the naked eye, similar what can be seen in the picture.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Justin Faulk Autograph Card

Honestly, if I was a billionaire who was interested in buying an NHL hockey team, I think I would rather apply for a new franchise via expansion than make an offer on the Carolina Hurricanes.

For starters, a new team is a clean slate; the Canes have been awful for a very long time, and apart from their surprise Stanley Cup victory in 2005-06, they're worse now than they ever were when they were known as the Hartford Whalers.

Also, they come pre-loaded with staff members who have been unable to make anything out of this team despite a salary cap on other teams, decent tax and weather conditions, and favourable draft positions.

Hall Of Fame player Ron Francis has not impressed me as a GM so far, and his hiring of Bill Peters hasn't shown me anything promising down the line either. The only player they have I would like to keep is Justin Faulk (ok, and perhaps Noah Hanifin as well), which means I'd have to ask whoever I put in charge after handing out a large sum in severance pay packages to get rid of 20 NHL contracts, possibly another 20 to 30 minor-league contracts, and instead of starting from scratch at dispersal and amateur drafts, having to go with players who I might not have chosen on the team for the first three to five years.

The team's such a mess, it would seem like buying a building for the land it's on, imploding it, and building on top of the ruins instead of by using the current foundations. It would feel like I was in the Las Vegas hotel industry.

But hey, there's Faulk, the 23-year-old American defenseman who was chosen 37th overall in 2010, behind Taylor Hall (1st), Tyler Seguin (2nd), Erik Gudbranson (3rd), Ryan Johansen (4th), Jeff Skinner (7th), Alexander Burmistrov (8th), Mikael Granlund (9th), Cam Fowler (12th), Jaden Schwartz (14th), Vladimir Tarasenko (16th), Nick Bjugstad (19th), Beau Bennett (20th), Jarred Tinordi (22nd), Kevin Hayes (24th), Evgeny Kuznetsov (26th), Emerson Etem (29th), Brock Nelson (30th), Tyler Pitlick (31st), and Alex Petrovic (36th), and ahead of Christian Thomas (40th), Devante Smith-Pelly (42nd), Ryan Spooner (45th), Tyler Toffoli (47th), Calvin Pickard (49th), Jason Zucker (59th), Max Reinhart (64th), Radko Gudas (66th), Michael Bournival (71st), Teemu Pulkkinen (111th), John Klingberg (131st), Micheal Ferland (133rd), Louis Domingue (138th), Petr Mrazek (141st), Brendan Gallagher (147th), Mark Stone (178th), and Frederik Andersen (187th), among others, so it's safe to say it was a pretty deep draft class, though in retrospect, Faulk, Pickard, Toffoli, Klingberg, Gallagher, and Stone would probably have been chosen in the first round if the draft had been held today.

Faulk fits in with the recent breed of Team USA defensemen, good with the puck, relatively fast, with a decent shot and improvements needed in his defensive game, though he has made huge strides in that department these past few seasons. He is definitely built in the same mold as Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Ron Hainsey, Fowler, Zach Bogosian, and Torey Krug, except he has won gold (2010 U-18s) and bronze (2011 World Juniors, and 2013 and 2015 World Championships) medals.

He's also young enough to be able to learn to play a more complete game. He's already an All-Star, he could eventually perhaps become an All-World defender.

I traded for this 2011-12 Limited card from Panini (#228 of the Phenoms sub-set, numbered 268/299) roughly a month ago:
It contains a blue-sharpied on-cloth autograph (with his then-uniform number, 28, added on top - he now wears #27) inserted into a card that barely shows him and the Canes' former red (home) uniform, one of the few that Reebok got right at inception. Packs of 2011-12 Limited went for $55-65 for all of seven cards, three of which were autographs or memorabilia cards, and four which went to the completion (...) of the 175-card base set.