Saturday, December 31, 2016

Wallace Johnson Autographed Card

Wallace Johnson was synonymous with the Montréal Expos for much of the 1980s. Not that he was as big of a star as Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Tim Wallach, or Dennis Martinez - far from it - but he fit with the team's blueprint of short hits and speed, and is the team's all-time leader in pinch-hits, with 86.

He had three stints with the team: 1981-83, after which he was traded to (and subsequently released by) the San Francisco Giants, back in Montréal in 1984, in the minors in 1985 and back with the team from 1986-90.

The year he had the most at-bats was 1986, when he had 134 plate appearances and 127 official at-bats with 36 hits (.283), while he actually surpassed the .300 mark (.309) in 94 at-bats in 1988.

I have found two of his cards but want to feature just one today, one of the earliest I have signed - I can tell because it's autographed in ball-point pen:
It's card #192 from Fleer's 1982 Fleer set, which serves as his rookie card for the brand. I think I initially bought the card around $3-5 in 1989 or 1990 so I could have it signed.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Pat Lafontaine Stamp And Swatch Card

I mentioned a Tony Gwynn card from the same 2010 Donruss Americana Century Collection and Souvenir Stamps sub-set by Panini a few years back, and my opinion hasn't changed. This one (#42 in the set, numbered 227/250, featuring a dark blue swatch that could have come from a shirt, a sock or a game-worn jersey from any number of teams or occasions) may well feature Pat Lafontaine - which is why I traded for it - it is still too vague in its description of what you're getting:
Unless you're clear that you're getting a stamp card, first and foremost, and one that has nothing to do with the former member of the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres, except for the fact that he's an American:
The stamp takes up more room than he does! Also, the Hall Of Famer deserves more than a four-cent flag stamp.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Buck Rodgers Autographed Card

I wrote about one former Montréal Expos manager yesterday, not remembering what (useless) uniform number he wore; well, apart from Felipe Alou, Buck Rodgers is the team's manager I remember most (and most fondly), and I can say for a fact that he wore #37, which makes him fair game for my Expos Numbers Project with card #293 from Topps' 1987 Topps set, the first set I ever pulled a Gary Carter card from:
Of course, the card - signed in black sharpie in the early 1990s - lists him as "Bob" instead of "Buck", but you can't win 'em all. And he hasn't. However, as an Expos boss, he mostly had winning records, with a .510 winning percentage over 7 seasons, including his 1987 title as National League Manager Of The Year.

His best record as manager was with the Milwaukee Brewers, with whom he kept a .549 record, albeit in parts of just three seasons. As a matter of fact, both on the Brewers and on the California Angels, he lived through seasons where he started as manager, was replaced, then came back to finish the season - he replaced George Bamberger (preseason heart attack) with the Brewers, and had a replacement with the Angels himself after the team suffered a bus crash.

To this day, he's still an Angels fan, the only team he played for in his younger days; he was their catcher from their inaugural season until his knees gave out, nine years later.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bill Virdon Autographed Card

Bill Virdon was an excellent defensive center fielder who was also decent at the plate, with a career batting average of .267, mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1956-1965, and three plate appearances in 1968), but also with the St. Louis Cardinals (1955, 1956), with whom he was named the NL Rookie Of The Year.

Officially, he could still play in the late 1960s but retired because he wanted to become a manager, which he started doing in the minors before graduating to the majors with the Pirates in 1972, finishing first in the NL East. After finishing third the following season, he had a year-and-a-half stint with the New York Yankees, finishing the 1975 season with the Houston Astros, where he remained until 1982, with first-place finishes in 1980 and 1981, but finishing fifth in 1982, leading to his departure and subsequent hiring by the Montréal Expos for two seasons.

He then moved back to Missouri with his wife, at times joining the Pirates for special occasions, including stints as guest first-base coach during Spring Training. The team had him and Bill Mazeroski appear in the dugout in 2012, but that didn't go over well with the powers that be over at MLB and the experiment was terminated after just a single game.

I don't recall the number he wore when he managed the Expos, so I can't add him to my Expos Numbers Project just yet - and, for the record, I do find it odd and borderline ridiculous that managers have uniform numbers in baseball when they aren't player-managers like Pete Rose was - but I do have a signed card of his that reflects his time in La Belle Province:
It's #516 from Topps' 1983 Topps set, which he signed in blue sharpie during the Expos' final season.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Tyler Pitlick Autograph Card

Just as Tyler Pitlick had become a regular on the Edmonton Oilers' roster, with 8 goals, 3 assists and 11 points in 31 games, his season is now compromised due to a torn ACL in the left knee. The Oilers are now second in the Pacific Division, three points behind head coach Todd McLellan's former team, the San Jose Sharks.

Here he is on card #730 from Panini's 2013-14 Score set and Hot Rookies and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets:
It shows him wearing the Oilers' classic blue (now-away) uniform, and features a blue-sharpied, on-sticker autograph.

You may recognize the picture (used twice here), because Panini used it (twice!) on another card that year, which I featured two years ago to the day (#223 in the 2013-14 Contenders collection, part of the Rookie Ticket and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets):
I wonder if they had to pay royalties once, twice or four times on that picture...

Box Break: 2016-17 Upper Deck Series 1

Going on a pharmacy run now pretty much always means I look in the "electronics" section, between Minion clocks and DVDs of 13 Going On 30 to see if there aren't any boxes of cards.

Lo and behold, there were blaster boxes of Upper Deck's 2016-17 Series 1 cards going at $28 ($32 after taxes) for 12 packs of 5 cards, for a total of 60 cards. First off, the packaging is a tad misleading; sometimes UD don't mention "extra packs" (which is fine), sometimes they do. For some reason, I thought two extra packs meant 12+2 (14), not 12.

There were no doubles in the box, which is a good start.

There were five inserts, divided as follows:

Two Young Guns rookies of kids I like, the Philadelphia Flyers' Ivan Provorov and the Chicago Blackhawks' Gustav Forsling:
There was a gold-and-silver foil Shining Stars card of Evgeny Kuznetsov:
A Superstars Portrait of Sidney Crosby:
And a Canvas card of Jordan Staal:
The Young Guns cards look particularly nice, as does the regular-issue set, which looks like this from the front, with the sharp pictures UD has gotten us used to:
The backs are nice as well, the head shot cut from the picture on the front:
You can see from Roberto Luongo's card that they "only" display the last 12 seasons, as his doesn't show his New York Islanders statistics. You can also see from Alexander Wennberg's card that we shouldn't be surprised at how good he's doing this year, as he already led the Columbus Blue Jackets in assists last year and tied for Team Sweden's points lead with 8 points at the World Championships.

All told, it's a fairly nice set. I would have liked to pay around $20, $25 tops for 60 such cards, but I have a feeling the Provorov might net me half my money back if I put it on Ebay, which would enable me to send out the common cards to be signed at pretty much no cost.

I feel like I prefer the MVP set this year, so I'll give this one a 7.5/10.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Frank Corrado Autograph Card

All Frank Corrado wants for Christmas is a chance to show that he can play at NHL level, despite the fact that he has only suited up for 40 games so far over two full seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs - and only once this year, on November 12th.

Is it that he's not good enough to play? Not really. It's that the Leafs claimed him off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks prior to the start of last season and don't want to lose him the same way if they send him to the AHL, but he's so rusty from never suiting up that coach Mike Babcock isn't comfortable letting him play. Meanwhile, he rightfully feels his career is slowly passing him by, because every year brings a new crops of draftees from Juniors and overseas, as well as U.S. College players - hundreds of guys potentially gunning for his position.

He's 23, a defenseman about to enter his prime, and he hasn't been able to gain experience in the years where he should, i.e. the early 20s. It's poor asset management on the Leafs' part, and it's borderline cruel to the player.

Sure, he's making NHL-level money right now eating popcorn in the press box and practicing with actual NHLers, but not improving may cost him an NHL-level payday as early as next season. If he were/would have been to become a regular top-six defender, or a top-four, that's millions of dollars potentially at stake. One season at half a million for doing less than one feels like they can will never buy that back and definitely is not worth a lifetime of bad blood, resentment and bitterness.

I'm no fan of the Leafs, but this is below even what I initially thought of them. Ironically, it's not entirely below what I think GM Lou Lamoriello can do to a guy who hasn't deserved the favours he keeps handing out to his favourite guys.

I wish Corrado a new team for 2017.

Here he is on the signed insert version of card #742 from Panini's 2013-14 Score collection, part of the Dual Rookie Class and Hot Rookies sub-sets:
It features an on-sticker, blue-sharpied autograph and shows him wearing the Canucks' current blue (home) uniform.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Moe Mantha Autographed Card

It's December 24th, and I thought I could feature someone whose name rhymes with "Santa", Moe Mantha.

Moe Mantha Jr. had hockey bloodlines, though not from George and Hall Of Famer sibling Sylvio Mantha of Montréal Canadiens fame, but from Moe Mantha Sr., a career minor-leaguer who played in Québec leagues (the Québec Citadelles of the OHA and the Montréal Royals of the QHL), as well as the IHL (Cincinnati Mohawks and Columbus Checkers), AHL (Cleveland Barons, Québec Aces, and Providence Reds) and WHL (San Francisco Seals, Seattle Totems, and Vancouver Canucks).

The son, however, was an Olympian, suiting up for Team USA in 1992, and played defense for the Winnipeg Jets and Philadelphia Flyers twice apiece, as well as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, and Minnesota North Stars - and also some of their AHL and CHL affiliates - accumulating a total of 81 goals, 289 assists and 370 points in 656 regular-season games, and a very good 5 goals and 10 assists (15 points) in 17 playoff games, all with the Jets.

His best season was in 1985-86 with the Pens, as he used his sharp passing skills, fluid skating ability, fine stickhandling skills and hard slap shot to put up 67 points in 78 games.

Like many of his contemporaries, he was known to sport a dashing mustache, as can be attested from card # 506 from Score's 1991-92 Canadian Edition set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
It shows him wearing the Jets' early-1990s purplish-blue (away) uniform.

You may recall his name from having replaced Greg Gilbert as the Saginaw Spirit's head coach last season. It was the second time he was named interim head coach of the OHL franchise, the previous time occurring in 2003-04. His record as a coach isn't stellar:
Courtesy of
That's barely three times with a record over .500, and just once advancing past the first round when making the playoffs at all.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Mark Messier Jersey Card

I've debunked the Mark Messier myth on this blog a few times; it's not that I don't respect the man - he was, after all, the centerpiece of the New York Rangers' historic 1994 Stanley Cup run; he also captained the Edmonton Oilers to their only post-Wayne Gretzky championship in 1990, making him the only player in NHL history to captain two teams to the Cup.

But there's no way he gets to second in all-time scoring ahead of Gordie Howe if he doesn't play on the 1980s Oilers. He wasn't even the second-best Oiler on his team - that was Jari Kurri. In that regard, I was doubly happy when Jaromir Jagr surpassed his mark earlier this week.

And that compliment that Gretzky bestowed upon him, "the greatest leader in all sports"? Come on! If he was that great a leader, how do you explain his disastrous run with the Vancouver Canucks, where he was handed the captaincy right off of Trevor Linden's chest and insisted on wearing his usual #11 despite the fact that the team had retired it for deceased player Wayne Maki? The Canucks rightfully failed to make the playoffs in all three seasons he was there, resulting in two head coaches (Tom Renney and Mike Keenan) and one general manager (Hall Of Famer Pat Quinn) losing their jobs in that short span.

He also had a tendency to be mean and dirty, his elbows high and his stick always ready to disappear in someone's rib cage. Not unlike Howe, come to think of it.

But man, the longevity. 25 seasons spread over four decades; 1992 overall games, 1767 of them in the regular season, 11 less than Howe (who played longer in the WHA, hence the discrepancy). Messier was also the last player from the WHA - and last to have played in the 1970s - to retire.

Though he never won a scoring title, he has two Hart trophies and Lester B. Pearson Awards (1990 and 1992) to go with his 1984 Conn Smythe, and was a 15-time All-Star Game participant. He's the only active player to have played in an official Winter Classic/Heritage Classic alumni game (2004).

He almost hit round-number milestones for career goals (694) and assists (1193). Cementing his reputation as a big-game player are his postseason statistics, with 109 goals and 186 assists for 295 points in 236 games, although his teams failed to make the playoffs in his final seven seasons in the NHL, where his least productive years thus did not affect his career totals.

Here's a very special card which first appeared in In The Game's 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s set, as part of the Game-Used Jersey sub-set, which features a fairly large white game-worn jersey swatch
If you look in the top-right corner, however, you will see that mine is a 1/1 Fall Expo 2013 edition. On it, he is pictured as the Rangers' captain.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

David Legwand Autographed Card

It was a long time coming, perhaps even a season late, but former Nashville Predators second-overall draft pick (1998) David Legwand has announced his retirement.

All told, he played 956 regular-season games with the Preds, scoring 210 goals with 356 assists for 566 points - all standing team records. He also suited up in 47 postseason games with Nashville, with 13 goals and 15 assists (28 points) to show for it, including a three-season run where he accumulated 11 goals, 11 assists and 22 points in 28 playoff games.

The Predators traded him to the Detroit Red Wings at the tail end of the 2013-14 season, enabling him to play for his hometown team. He then spent a year each with the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres before calling it a career earlier today.

At told, he retires with 618 points in 1136 games.

Here he is wearing the Preds' early white (then-home) uniform, on card #32 from Upper Deck's 2000-01 Black Diamond set:
He signed it in thin black sharpie when he was with the Sens, with whom he scored 9 goals with 18 assists (good for 27 points) in 80 games, mostly spent centering the third line.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ken Griffey Sr Game-Used Bat Card

Ken Griffey was an exceptional baseball in his own right: All-Star Game MVP (1980), three-time All-Star, and two-time World Series champion.

And here's some perspective: he was an All-Star despite playing on the Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds team that dominated the National League from 1970 to 1979 and included Hall Of Famers Pete Rose (well, former HoFer, but still the MLB's all-time hits leader), Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Pérez, and was supported by Dave Concepción, George Foster, and César Gerónimo.

Their starting fielders were known as the Great Eight. With the All-Star Game being what it is and needing to represent all teams, it was difficult to pick more than three players of a single team at once, so the fact that Griffey Sr. made the cut three times was a testament of how good he was.

He will tell you, however, that his greatest achievement was playing alongside his son, Ken Griffey Jr. with the Seattle Mariners in 1990 and 1991, to finish off his career; they were the first father-and-son duo to suit up as teammates. He also claims Junior was the best player he ever played with, and that only the great Willie Mays can compare to him.

Which seems about right, to be honest. Like Barry Bonds, he had it all and made use of all his DNA-given abilities, but unlike Bonds, Junior played clean.

By the age of 25, Junior had already surpassed his old man's career home run total of 152, clearly on his way to the Hall.

Here's a Game-Used Bat card of Ken Griffey Sr.'s, B-KG from Upper Deck's 2001 Decade 1970s set:
It shows him wearing the Reds' white (home) uniform. It contains a very thin slice of bat, and a very pale one at that.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mark Dekanich Autographed Card

When the Nashville Predators drafted Mark Dekanich in the fifth round (146th overall) in 2006, the idea was that he'd be NHL-ready after he finished university - he played for the Colgate University Raiders for four seasons - and spent a couple of seasons in the AHL; after suiting up for a game in 2010-11, the thought was he may be ready to back up Pekka Rinne.

Unfortunately, 2011-12 was the year where he started switching teams on a yearly basis, save for the two years he spent with the KHL's Croatian team, Zagreb Medvescak, a relationship that did not end well:

This year, he's suiting up for the ECHL's Reading Royals, part of the Philadelphia Flyers organization. He split last season between the AHL's Hershey Bears and the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays in the Washington Capitals organization.

He signed card #650 from Panini's 2011-12 Score Rookies And Traded set and Hot Rookies sub-set in blue sharpie with his number (31) tagged at the end, when he was with the St. John's IceCaps in 2012-13:
It shows him wearing the Preds' white (away) uniform.

Monday, December 19, 2016

David Leneveu Jersey Card

David Leneveu. The goalie the Phoenix Coyotes made the 46th pick at the 2002 draft, ahead of Duncan Keith (54th), Matt Stajan (57th), Jiri Hudler (58th), Johnny Boychuk (61st), Tomas Fleischmann (63rd), Frans Nielsen (87th), Valtteri Filppula (95th), Tom Gilbert (129th), James Wisniewski (156th), Curtis McElhinney (176th), Paul Ranger (183rd), Jaroslav Balastik (184th), Ian White (191st), Maxime Talbot (234th), Dennis Wideman (241st), Yan Stastny (259th), and Jonathan Ericsson (291st).

He won silver at the 2003 World Juniors, backing up Marc-André Fleury, but then fell under the radar on Coyotes teams that featured established veterans such as Curtis Joseph, Brian Boucher and Mikael Tellqvist.

His path led him to the AHL (eight teams, including the Hartford Wolf Pack twice), Austria (twice in non-consecutive years), the ECHL and the KHL. He appeared in 21 games for the Coyotes split over 2005-06 and 2006-07 as well as a period for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2010-11. He was also a backup to Henrik Lundqvist as the New York Rangers made their way to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

Here he is wearing the Yotes' burgundy attire, on card #RT-DL from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 2 set and Rookie Threads sub-set:
It features a white swatch from a jersey that was worn in a photo shoot.

Nowadays, Leneveu is a financial advisor and insurance salesman; he's kept in touch with the game as co-owner and goaltending coach of the BCHL's Nanaimo Clippers.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

David Roberts Autograph Card

David Roberts has NHL blood flowing in his veins, with his father Doug Roberts (419 games played) and uncle Gordie Roberts (the first American to suit up in 1000 games) paving the way. David was no slouch, though, starring for the University of Michigan Wolverines leading to both being drafted by the St. Louis Blues (114th overall in 1989) and a berth on Team USA for the 1994 Olympics.

He could never replicate his point-per-game statistics from the left wing in the NHL, however, although his IHL (211 points in 222 games over four season with the Peoria Rivermen, Michigan K-Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins) and AHL stats (64 points in 59 games over two seasons with the Worcester IceCats and Syracuse Crunch) show his talent didn't disappear completely.

His final three seasons (2001-04) were spent playing in Germany, with the Berlin Polar Bears, with whom he scored 54 goals and posted 71 assists and 125 points in 132 games.

He allows me to check #7 off my Canucks Numbers Project with the signed insert of card #93 from Pinnacle Brands' 1996-97 Be A Player set:
He signed it in thin black sharpie, which is a tad hard to see because the card shows him wearing the Vancouver Canucks' best-looking uniform, the black (away) one from the late 1980s. He had his best season with the Canucks in 1996-97, scoring 10 goals with 17 assists for 27 points and 51 penalty minutes and a +11 rating in 58 games in the heart of the Dead Puck Era.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Byron Dafoe Autographed Card

We're starting to see players get elected in the Hockey Hall Of Fame after short runs of domination, three, maybe four years; players such as Eric Lindros. And yet, either because their good runs were not with the team that drafted them or because they later drifted into obscurity with sub-par teams, others never even get mentioned in the conversation.

Byron Dafoe is one of those guys. We're talking about a guy who was drafted by the Washington Capitals (35th overall, second round, 1989) and saw the Los Angeles Kings into an era of mediocrity (1995-97) before taking the Joe Thornton-led Boston Bruins to the top of the standings on the strength of stellar GAA and save percentage seasons, save for perhaps 1999-2000:
Sure, you can chalk up the low GAA to the Dead Puck Era, particularly the last two on the list when compared to his save percentage, but Dafoe's 10 shutouts in 1998-99 led the league, which means that no only did he get a shutout per each six and a half games, he also did it more than anyone else. That includes Patrick Roy (not a shutout collector), Dominik Hasek (the Vezina winner), and a slew of others, most of whom he dominated by a 2:1 ratio or better:
Unfortunately, injuries took their toll at the turn of the millennium (knee, hamstring, knee - all told, he's had eight knee surgeries), as did aggressive contract negotiations with the notoriously penny-pinching Bruins, which led to his not being able to maintain his All-Star shape, his career ending with the Atlanta Thrashers, as a backup to Pasi Nurminen.

Outside the rink, he became close friends with Olaf Kolzig, his one-time adversary to get the Caps' starting goalie position, whom he fought (literally, as in "in a fight") twice - once in the WHL and once in the NHL. They were best man at each other's weddings.

Post-retirement, he has become a high-end home automation developer and salesman.

To me, however, at least until I can afford to buy one of his products, he'll remain the Bruins goalie from the end of the 90s, in a long tradition of very good Bruins goalies, who dominated in the regular season against most teams but always hit a wall when facing the Montréal Canadiens - particularly come playoff time. His Waterloo came in 2002, when the first-place Bs lost to the bottom-seed Habs and their Hart and Vezina winner that year, José Theodore, in the first round.

Which is why I had him sign a card showing him with the Bruins:
That's card #183 from Topps' 2001-02 Topps set, which he signed in blue sharpie with his number (34) tagged at the end. It shows him stretching during the pre-game warmups,wearing the team's white (then-home) uniform. He was one of very few professional goalies to wear Itech-brand equipment.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Shaun Alexander Jersey Card

Shaun Alexander was kind of a big deal.

2005 NFL MVP, which led him to sign the biggest running back contract in history up to that point. An NFL-record 28 touchdowns and a Seattle Seahawks-record 1,880 rushing yards. Three Pro Bowls. An NFL-record of rushing for over 100 yards in nine straight games against divisional opponents. He holds Seahawks records for career yards rushing (9.429), rushing touchdowns (100) and total touchdowns (112). He made the NFL's 2000 All-Decade Team. He was an impact player.

Then the injuries hit in 2006, and the fans started booing him. Then the Seahawks let him go, leading him to sign with the Washington Redskins in October of 2008, but they almost never used him. Then they let him go themselves.

Nowadays, he hosts a football-and-Christian podcast out of D.C., where he and his family have decided to settle, away from the pressure of being a full-time celebrity in Seattle. They have a farm... and nine children. Who are home-schooled. That's a lot of time in the family circle talking about Jesus, but whatever works to make good people is fine by me.

Here he is on card #IR-SA from Topps' 2008 Stadium Club set and Impact Relic sub-set, which I got in a multi-sport repack around 2010:
It shows him as a member of the Seahawks, wearing the white (away) uniform, with a blue game-worn jersey swatch right in the middle.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mike Fitzgerald: 3 Autographed Cards

As I mentioned a couple of years ago, Mike Fitzgerald was the guy who I most identified as the/my Montréal Expos catcher, not because he was better than Hall Of Famer Gary Carter, but because he was at his best in Montréal, whereas one could argue Carter was nearly as good with the New York Mets as he was in powder blue.

I was lucky enough to stumble upon three other cards I had him sign while he was with the team (more specifically, probably between 1988 and 1991).

First, showing him in the catcher's position wearing the team's classic road uniform, is card #97 from Leaf's 1986 Donruss set:
Then, in what is likely a spring training picture because of the red t-shirt, is card #317 from Fleer's flagship 1987 Fleer collection:
And finally, grounding out or striking out at bat, once more in the classic road uniform, with eye black to reduce the glare from a daytime game, is card #511 from the 1989 Score set by Score, a set I collected while vacationing in Florida with my family at the time:
All three were signed in thick black sharpie, the only ones I could find as a child.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Martin Frk Autographed Card

Nothing has come easy nor normally for Martin Frk.

A European playing in the LHJMQ, he ranked second in scoring on the Halifax Mooseheads in his rookie season in Canadian Juniors, playing his way to being drafted 49th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 2012. The following season, he helped the Mooseheads to the Memorial Cup, finishing tied for second in team playoff scoring with Nathan MacKinnon, behind Jonathan Drouin.

He seemed to have adapted greatly, but the Wings have a tendency to take their time developing their prospects, oftentimes using a hard-line approach that has led Frk to the ECHL in two consecutive seasons, finishing third in goals on the Toledo Walleye last season (with 23) despite only appearing in 29 games.

The way the CBA is written, however, Frk had to go through waivers when the Wings cut him from their roster this October, and he was claimed by the Carolina Hurricanes, who had him appear in a pair of games over a one-month trial during which they mostly kept him as a healthy scratch to not lose him in the same way.

When they concluded that he needed seasoning and assigned him to the AHL, he was re-claimed by Detroit, appeasing the team's fanbase, who had been vocal with their criticism of GM Ken Holland's handling of waiver wire losses in the past two years.

I've seen Frk play in summer camps and shinny games, and he does have talent, but he's shy - both on the ice and in person. I'm not surprised his first pro season in 2013-14 left some underwhelmed; he was basically still a teenager, in a new foreign land (for the second time in three years), surrounded by men who had been playing the game forever and weren't going to just give him their position. He was going to need some time to settle in.

In terms of Wings prospects, I believe Anthony Mantha has a higher ceiling and Tyler Bertuzzi can help out in more different ways, but Frk can play a middle-six, producing forward role, like Oleg Petrov in his day, or perhaps Martin Hanzal or Radim Vrbata nowadays; he's definitely not someone you can build around, but rather someone you hope will bring secondary scoring two out of every three years.

Here's a card he signed in blue sharpie (with his uniform number, 91, tagged at the end), showing him wearing the Mooseheads' red (away) uniform:
It's card #97 from In The Game's 2010-11 Heroes And Prospects set.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tavis Hansen Autograph Card

Tavis Hansen was born in Saskatchewan, but playing Junior Hockey with the WHL's Tacoma Rockets (now the Kelowna Rockets) in the early-to-mid-1990s paved the way for his moving to Seattle upon retiring from hockey in 2007.

Between that, the Winnipeg Jets third-rounder played 34 NHL games with the Jets (1) and Phoenix Coyotes (33), but mostly toiled with the AHL's Springfield Falcons, even climbing the ranks to become their captain.

He also played sparsely for the Hershey Bears after suffering an injury against them that plagued him for much of the 2000-01 and 2001-02 campaigns, before moving onto the San Jose Sharks organization and playing with their AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Barons.

During the 2004-05 lockout, Hansen made his way to the Asia League (nine teams split between Russia, Japan and China, mostly), playing for the Oji Eagles, scoring 21 goals with 18 assists for 39 points in 39 games, then suiting up for two seasons with Austria's Innsbruck HC Tiroler Wasserkraft, who play at the OlympiaWorld Innsbruck complex, site of the 1964 and 1976 Olympics as well as the 2005 World Championships. Today, HC Tiroler Wasserkraft currently employ former NHL prospects Andy Chiodo and Jared Spurgeon, among others.

Here is Hansen from his days in Tacoma, on the signed version of card #14 from minor-league set 1995-96 Draft Day by Signature Rookies, with the team's logo airbrushed out:
It's a card I got in a repackaged box that guaranteed autographs, probably at the beginning of the decade; he signed it in blue sharpie, and it's numbered 2436/4500.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Daren Puppa Autograph Card

Daren Puppa had a decent career that was marred by inconsistency and back injuries toward the end. He was a runner-up for the Vezina Trophy in 1989-90 and had two clear-cut seasons as a #1 goalie, winning 31 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 1989-90 and 29 with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1995-96, leading them to their first-ever playoff appearance.

He is also the only NHL player to have been selected twice in an expansion draft, as the Florida Panthers took him off the Toronto Maple Leafs' roster in the summer of 1993 but had him plucked by Tampa who, like the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks, were allowed to each pick two players from the Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. This was a compensatory selection because it had been deemed that the Ducks and Cats had benefited from better drafting rules than the Sens, Bolts and Sharks in the two years prior.

Here is Puppa with the Bolts, wearing their original black (away) uniform, on the signed insert version of card #281 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
He signed it in thin black sharpie (bottom right).

Nowadays, he is a realtor in the Tampa area.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mike Dunham Jersey Card

If I were to ask you who had been the last New York Rangers goalie - before tonight - to post back-to-back shutouts, surely your answer would have been Henrik Lundqvist. After all, he's one of the best goalies of all time, a career-long Ranger, a veteran.

However, before Antti Raanta accomplished the feat tonight, the last time a member of the Blueshirts had done so predates even King Henrik, as it was none other than Mike Dunham who blanked teams in two consecutive games in 2003.

The Team USA silver medalist at the 2002 Olympics and bronze medalist at the 1992 World Juniors and 2004 World Championships is now the New York Islanders' goaltending coach; the Isles are having a tough year defensively, so chances are his hair is turning white...

Here he is as a member of the Nashville Predators, with whom he had his best seasons:
It's card #GT-MD from Upper Deck's 2002-03 Series 2 set and Goaltender Threads sub-set; it shows him wearing the Preds' white (then-home) uniform, one that wasn't all that pretty at the time but is much better than what they currently wear...

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Jarome Iginla Jersey Card

Jarome Iginla was playing in his 1500th NHL game earlier tonight, but the Colorado Avalanche turned in their worst performance ever and lost to my hometown Montréal Canadiens, 10-1.

People criticized Patrick Roy for jumping ship this summer when he left his head coaching position because he felt he didn't have a big enough say on roster decisions despite also being VP of Hockey Operations, and now we see why: Jared Bednar may have been the best coach in the AHL, the Avs are still stuck in last place in the standings.

Iginla would probably among the players Roy kept, but he surely would have sent hot-dogging Matt Duchene packing in an effort to consolidate team leadership and hopefully bolster the defense.

Now in his 20th season, Iginla has captained the Calgary Flames to within a goal of a Stanley Cup championship, was a Calder Trophy runner-up (to Bryan Berard), is a three-time First Team All-Star and one-time Second Team All-Star, a Rocket Richard Trophy (best goal scorer) and Lester B. Pearson (now Ted Lindsay) Award (most valuable player as chosen by his peers) winner, as well as a King Clancy winner for leadership and humanitarian contribution.

He has 614 goals and 665 assists so far, and is 21 points away from the 1300 mark. He is also a highly-decorated member of Team Canada, having won gold at the 1996 World Juniors, the 1997 World Championships, the 2004 World Cup as well as the 2002 and 2010 Olympics.

Because he played hard but never dirty, his name is the one that sticks out in my mind when people talk about "greatest leader", not Mark Messier's.

Here he is climbing up the Flames' leadership ranks, wearing the alternate captain's "A" on their former black "flaming horse" jersey, on card #107 from Pacific's 2003-04 Prism set and Authentic Game-Worn Jersey sub-set, with beautiful gold foil:
It features a matching (black) game-worn jersey swatch and is numbered 1026/1185.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Jared Cowen: 2 Autographed Cards

2016 hasn't been kind to Jared Cowen...

First he dealt with some injury troubles, then the Ottawa Senators sent him to the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade, and now he's lost his arbitration hearing against the Leafs, meaning he is now a free agent after having been bought out, despite said buyout happening while he was injured.

Though he has yet to hit his prime - some defensemen only hit it around the age of 26, and the bigger ones tend to take longer as they grow into their bodies, and Cowen's 6'5" and 230 pounds - and still young at 25 years old, he's already been bitten by the injury bug and has now also been bought out and traded, meaning two teams have given up on him, none of them Stanley Cup contenders.

It may prove difficult for him to score another contract that pays in the $3.5M range for the next couple of years, despite being a former first round draft pick (9th overall, 2009).

Maybe the Montréal Canadiens should give him a try; he certainly looks good in their colour pattern, as can be attested by card #71 from In The Game's 2009-10 Heroes And Prospects set, showing him wearing the Spokane Chiefs' red (away) uniform, and sporting the captain's "C" to boot:
But I prefer the Sens' alternate uniform, the "Black O" throwback, as seen on card #80 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed both cards in blue sharpie with his jersey number (2) tagged at the end.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Junior Noboa Autographed Card

Junior Noboa was a fine infielder replacement, usually second base but also shortstop and third base, who could be counted on to bat around .250. He also pitched two-thirds of the eighth and final inning in 1990, in a 12-6 loss to the Houston Astros.

He played for the Cleveland Indians, California Angels, Montréal Expos, New York Mets, Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates. He has also been signed by the Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles without ever playing for them.

Upon his retirement, he accepted a front office job with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and still works for the team to this day. He is now its Vice President of Latin Operations and oversees the development and education of the team's Latin American prospects.

He has also acted as batting coach of the Dominican Republic at the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.

Here he is wearing the Expos' classic powder blue (away) uniform, on card #207 from Fleer's 1991 Fleer Ultra set, which he signed with someone else's thick blue sharpie some time in the early 00s:
Fun fact: I had no idea Noboa was going to be present, as he was there as a representative of the D-backs, so I had not brought any cards to sign. I went to the souvenir shop where there were team sets and bought three or four, one of each brand, looking for the years 1990 and 1991; this may have been the only card of his I fell upon that day.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Zachary Fucale Signed 4x6 Picture

When looking purely at his statistics this season, one may be inclined to think Zachary Fucale is having a pretty bad year. Indeed, with the team standing at 9-7-0-3 near last place of its division, Fucale's 3.09 GAA and .887 save percentage don't necessarily scream out "Next Vezina Winner!", although his 6-3-0 record is pretty good.

As a matter of fact, he's the best on the Brampton Beast in every regard, as can be attested by this screen grab from HockeyDb:
Indeed, Andrew D'Agostini and Bryan Pitton seem to be what's bringing the Beast down this year.

It hasn't been easy for Fucale, once seen as Canadian Junior Hockey's best goalie, which forced the Montréal Canadiens to draft him 36th overall in 2013, though the team didn't want to repeat the growing pains of Carey Price, who took seven years to fulfill the promise that made him a top-5 pick in 2005.

Fucale was the youngest ever to reach 100 wins at the Junior level, a Team Canada gold medalist and holder of the country's record for most tournament wins (8) - tied with Stéphane Fiset and Marc-André Fleury - a Memorial Cup winner and tournament All-Star. In short, he's had one of the best Juniors career of all time.

So it was unexpected that he should fall to the ECHL after the Habs signed veteran Yann Danis as an insurance, but it's not like he is the first-ever to do so. Reigning Vezina winner Braden Holtby spent time there, as did Conn Smythe and two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick. Oh, and one Jaroslav Halak.

He spent a lot of the past two summers in Montréal, training with goaltending coach Stéphane Waite. It was here that he signed this photo in thin black sharpie, showing him wearing the Halifax Mooseheads' white (home) uniform:
The kid's 21. I believe most goalies should reach the NHL around the age of 24 or 25. He's still on the right path, he just has Charlie Lindgren - a U.S. College signee from last season - ahead of him on the team's future depth chart to take over after Price's next contract prices him out of the Habs' lineup.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Troy Gamble Autographed Card

Regular readers know I love writing about journeymen players, particularly goaltenders. I always had a thing for goalies, which is why I was one until Juniors, and I probably have a thing for players who go from team to team every year trying to get paid for plying their trade because that's what I seemed destined to become as a goalie - and eventually became as a musician.

There are hundreds of reasons why some players make it to the NHL on a regular basis despite multiple failings (they could be at a level where they will always fit under the cap while the prospect gets his reps in the AHL, à la Anders Lindback) and hundreds more why others don't get as many chances and eventually fade away, as seems to be the case with Dustin Tokarski.

Some get drafted high and take a while to develop (such as Zachary Fucale) while others start off great but fizzle out (like Cam Ward or Jim Carey).

Troy Gamble falls into another category, one closer to that of Darcy Kuemper, who was just about assured of the Minnesota Wild's starting job a couple of seasons ago and held out for a large contract only to see Devan Dubnyk steal his job and post MVP-caliber seasons.

But for Gamble, it wasn't that he gambled on his talent (sorry), but more that after a promising rookie season in 1990-91 where he appeared in 47 games and posted a .500 record (16-16-6), he suffered a massive concussion in an era where such things were dealt with Tylenol and "real men played through pain". All that while the Vancouver Canucks also had Kirk McLean, who was a pretty decent early-90s puck stopper. Semi-elite, sub-Team Canada, kind of like Dubnyk or Cam Talbot.

Which meant Gamble was never allowed to recover from a 4-9-3 record with a 4.34 GAA and .859 save percentage in 1991-92 and was forced to toil around in the minors - mostly the IHL - until he retired after a pretty bad 1995-96 season with the Houston Aeros (16-25-5, 3.83 GAA and .884 save percentage).

We will likely never know how much of his regression was due to the concussion itself, a lack of conditioning after the concussion, a lack of a helpful goaltending coach or just a lack of confidence. Or he may have been surpassed by a new generation that was just too good.

Here he is wearing the Canucks' best white (then-home) uniform, on card #121 from Pro Set's 1991-92 Platinum set, which he signed in black sharpie:
Post-retirement, Gamble remained in the Houston area, eventually becoming the Aeros' colour commentary analyst. He also worked as an executive in the oil industry, even spending a three-year residence in Libya. With that much Texas in him, it wasn't really a surprise that his son Garrett Gamble volunteered to join the Marines and head off to Afghanistan; Garrett died when he stepped on a field mine.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tatum Bell Jersey Card

Tatum Bell was a running back who was good enough to rush for 921 yards in 2005 and 1025 in 2006 with the Denver Broncos, who drafted him 41st overall in 2004. He then spent some time with the Detroit Lions before getting re-signed by the Broncos, after spending three months working at a T-Mobile store. He averaged 5.7 yards per rush in his second stint in Denver, but because he was fourth on the depth chart, he was not offered a contract the following season.

He then made a move towards the UFL, signing with the Florida Tuskers, who later proceeded to release him.

Here he is wearing the team's blue (home) uniform, on card #SHS-TB from Fleer's 2006 Flair Showcase set and Showcase Stitches sub-set, manufactured by Upper Deck:
It features a white game-worn "piece of memorabilia".

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Michael Sgarbossa Autograph Card

Michael Sgarbossa is a 24-year-old center who is now proving to be among the AHL's elite point producers, with 3 goals, 3 assists and 6 points in 7 games split between the San Diego Gulls and Springfield Thunderbirds, in addition to two points in 9 games with the Anaheim Ducks at the NHL lever this year, which explains why the Florida Panthers acquired him two weeks ago, in exchange for Logan Shaw.

Sgarbossa's no stranger to packing and unpacking, as he's currently with his fourth NHL organization, and the Thunderbirds are also his fourth AHL team. He also played for three different teams in the OHL - the Barrie Colts, Saginaw Spirit and Sudbury Wolves. He had gone undrafted, but was signed as a free agent by the San Jose Sharks, who traded his rights to the Colorado Avalanche while he was still in Juniors.

Time will tell if the Panthers made a good move by trading for his rights, as time will let us know whether GM Tom Rowe's decision to replace beloved head coach Gerard Gallant - who led the team to its best regular-season finish just last spring - was wise. This after revamping the entire blue line and while young stars Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau were injured, of course.

In the meantime, here is Sgarbossa wearing the Avs' white (away) uniform with the awful piping, on the signed insert version of card #616 from Panini's 2013-14 Score set and Dual Rookie Class and Hot Rookies sub-sets:
It features an on-sticker, blue-sharpied autograph.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Erik Gudbranson: Two Autographed Cards


I reported last June that Erik Gudbranson had been called "captain material" by the Florida Panthers when they signed him to his current contract, just weeks before trading him to the Vancouver Canucks in a complete overhaul of the team's defense.

Well, Gudbranson did something un-captainlike last night when he was heard saying "Matt Martin is fucking dead" following a rough-and-tumble game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

After growing up with the Cats and helping them reach their best regular-season finish ever, Gudbranson landed in Vancouver, where the team is expected to challenge the Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes for last place, which must be a morale-breaker. On the flipside, missing the playoffs and playing for a Canadian team might earn him an invitation to the World Championships, where he would suit up for Team Canada for the third time, after winning gold at the 2009 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and silver at the 2011 World Juniors.

Here are a couple of cards he signed a little over a year ago, while a member of the Panthers, wearing their white (away) 20th anniversary uniform, first on card #81 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set:
And now on card #254 from UD's 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee collection:
He signed both in blue sharpie and spoke to me in French, as he'd heard me speak to a friend and was polite enough to show his bilingual skills, hailing from Orléans, Ontario, a bilingual town I stayed in a couple of weeks ago as I played shows around Ottawa and caught two Sens games (and a Santa Claus parade) while I was at it.