Wednesday, March 30, 2016

David Desharnais Autographed Card

So I was lucky enough to witness a rare feat last night: a Montréal Canadiens win in the 2015-16 season:
There were moments when it was boring (the shots were still 1-1 seven minutes in), but all told, there was enough action to make the evening worthwhile. The Habs were up 2-0 after one, the Detroit Red Wings had made it 3-2 in their favour by the second intermission, Montréal had a goal disallowed for a phantom goalie interference call after a coach's challenge, and yet still rallied to win 4-3 in regulation, preventing the Wings from obtaining a single point as they battle the Philadelphia Flyers for the last wild card spot with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

The three stars were Max Pacioretty, Sven Andrighetto and Pavel Datsyuk, but if I had had a say, Paul Byron would have gotten the first star, as he was everywhere on the ice, finishing with a goal and an assist while Pacioretty may have scored two, but he was softer than a pillow for the first half of the game, often hovering at the red line instead of helping his teammates out in the defensive one, as he has been prone to do since December.

Goaltender Mike Condon also had a pretty good game, stopping 39 of 42 shots with a few impressive glove saves thrown in for good measure. Andrei Markov (an assist, +2 and nearly 30 minutes of play), Tomas Plekanec (an assist while keeping Henrik Zetterberg pointless), and Alex Galchenyuk (two assists, +3 rating) also had a fine game.

David Desharnais didn't factor in so much, but he was the home team's only center who won more faceoffs than he lost, with a success rate of 80%. That was enough for me to decide to feature him today, with card #45 from Panini's 2013-14 Prizm set (the Silver variant), which he signed in black sharpie with his jersey number (51) tagged at the end:
DD has a year left on his 4-year deal, which carries a reasonable cap hit of $3.5M. Unfortunately, with Galchenyuk seemingly ready to take on the #1 center role, Plekanec solidly in place at #2 and a wealth of others who can play the position in the organization (Michael McCarron, Charles Hudon, Michaël Bournival and Gabriel Dumont in the prospect pool, Lars Eller, Torrey Mitchell, Bryan Flynn, Phillip Danault, Byron and Jacob De La Rose on the current squad), he could be on the outside looking in at this point and might have to move to Europe to close out his career afterwards.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Alexandre Daigle Autograph Card

When word got out this weekend that Nail Yakupov had requested a trade from the Edmonton Oilers, I found it hard to believe, considering he was doing well with Connor McDavid earlier this year and had found his game last year alongside Derek Roy as well; it turns out the main reason would be his relegation to third line duties and lack of decent playing time, so we'll see how that develops.

But the comments section on many websites were getting rather mean, going to great lengths to insult him; one such comment was that he was "the biggest choke job since Alexandre Daigle", which I thought was disingenuous for more than one reason, attacking two players who did not deserve it.

Let's compare a bit, shall we?

First off, let's go on "pure stats":

Daigle: 129 goals, 198 assists and 327 points in 616 games. Got a fair amount of Lady Byng votes in 2003-04. Not numbers that scream "First Overall Pick", and not close to the second pick of the 1993 draft, Hall Of Famer Chris Pronger, but still a player I'd choose ahead of the third pick, Chris Gratton. Thus, NHL material, for sure. Add to that 166 points in 164 Swiss League games and 71 points in 72 AHL games, and the fact that his entire NHL career took place in the Dead Puck Era (1994-2004) and you've got a case that he isn't the worst pick one could make, though he's not a game changer per se.

Yakupov, so far: 48 goals, 59 assists and 107 points in 248 games. He's barely 22. He was chosen ahead of the likes of Ryan Murray (2nd), Alex Galchenyuk (3rd), Morgan Rielly (5th), Hampus Lindholm (6th), Mathew Dumba (7th), Jacob Trouba (9th), Slater Koekkoek (10th), Mikhail Grigorenko (12th), Cody Ceci (15th), Teuvo Teravainen (18th), Olli Maata (22nd), Mike Matheson (23rd), Malcolm Subban (24th), Colton Sissons (50th), Dalton Thrower (51st), Joonas Korpisalo (62nd), Shayne Gostisbehere (78th) and Matt Murray (83rd).

And, no offense to all of these guys who have already achieved more in hockey than I ever did, but I don't see any of them knocking on the Hall Of Fame's doors, save perhaps for Murray if he keeps improving and dominating at every level.

So Yakupov was part of a weak draft, which means his being the #1 pick isn't entirely his fault to begin with.

In terms of first-overall busts, one might be more inclined to look at Patrik Stefan, however, the first pick in 1999, whose career stats in the NHL read: 64 goals, 124 assists and 188 points in 455 games, numbers that Yakupov could surpass in two decent years or three average-to-mediocre ones.

And just to dig further in, here are five others from the Class of 1999: Daniel Sedin (2nd), Henrik Sedin (3rd), Martin Havlat (26th), Mike Comrie (91st), and Henrik Zetterberg (210th). That's three Hall Of Famers and two All-Stars. Those are mistakes a GM pays for dearly. In this case, Don Wadell was given the chance to mess the franchise up again, enough to only make the playoffs once in its entire history, but also to get pretty much nothing in return for Marian Hossa to ensure they never make the post-season ever again. He now works in the upper echelons of the Carolina Hurricanes' parent company, so he'll have a chance to move a second team to Canada in a matter of weeks (or months).

But back to Daigle, whose trade value went from Pat Falloon and Vaclav Prospal to Andrei Kovalenko to Alexander Selivanov to cash. He became a decent two-way player under Jacques Lemaire with the Minnesota Wild, even leading the team in scoring with 51 points (20 goals and 31 assists) in 2003-04.

He has suited up for Team Canada three times: twice at the World Juniors (1993 and 1995, with 16 total points in 14 games, winning gold both times) as well as the 2009 Spengler Cup (2 goals on a team that was ousted by the champs Minsk Dinamo in the semifinal), an event he'd played in previously three times with HC Davos, with whom he also won three Swiss league championships.

Here he is wearing his country's white ("home") uniform from the 1995 World Juniors, from Upper Deck's 1995-96 Be A Player set (and World Class sub-set):
It's card #S188, the signed insert version of card #188, which he autographed on-card in black sharpie.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Saku Koivu Swatch Card

I still find it hard to believe we are in Year Two of the post-Saku Koivu era in hockey, if only because after the Montréal Canadiens decided not to re-sign their long-serving captain following the disaster that was the Centennial 2008-09 season, Montrealers were already hearing less about him than we were used to, as he was now playing alongside his friend Teemu Selanne with the Anaheim Ducks; both Finnish legends retired following the 2013-14 campaign.

Koivu managed to not only make Team Finland following the Habs releasing him, but win yet another Olympic bronze medal - his third, to go along with his silver from 2006 - on Canadian soil, no less. He captained his national team from 1998 until 2010, despite also having Selanne, Jari Kurri, Kimmo Timonen, Jere Lehtinen and younger brother Mikko Koivu on that team at various points. He was invited to take part - and presumably hold the captaincy once more - in 2014, but declined, the official reason being that he was recovering from a concussion, though many believe it was to not force the team into playing a 39-year-old on the first line and let younger players have a go at it.

Because that's the kind of leader Koivu was: not the screaming, "rah, rah" type, but the wise, lead-by-example kind of guy who makes a difference and plows through anything that may come his way. That's why Quebecers loved him as one of their own, and why the Habs didn't wait until the presses had dried on his career being over to celebrate his career post-retirement in a lavish ceremony.

I hadn't yet featured him as a Duck; it wasn't out of spite or anything, I just didn't have anything that had the aura, class and simplicity I was looking for until I bought this card on Ebay last year:
It's #LE-SK from Panini's 2013-14 Playbook series and Limited Edition sub-set (numbered 37/99, I would have preferred #11, but you take what you can), showing him wearing Anaheim's white (away) uniform, with a matching jersey swatch at the bottom, with a nice picture, with a full view of his alternate captain's "A" and the team's 20th anniversary patch.

All told, injuries will have stopped him from reaching the 1000-point mark, leaving him at 255 goals, 577 assists and 832 points in 1124 NHL regular-season games, plus another 18 goals, 41 assists and 59 points in 80 playoff games. But with four Olympic medals, a second-place finish at the 2004 World Cup and at a hat trick of World Championship medals (gold in 1995, silver in 1994 and 1999 and bronze in 2008), he's a shoe-in for the IIHF Hall Of Fame.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Terry Francona Autographed Card

I was watching the Boston Bruins' video tribute to head coach Claude Julien last night, commemorating the fact that he became the team's all-time leader in wins, which is pretty impressive considering the Bs' 92-year history.

In case you missed it:

Sure, hockey personalities (Lindy Ruff, Mike Babcock, Ken Hitchcock - his partners on recent editions of Team Canada) offered their congratulations, but it was nice to also see his counterparts from other sports such as the New England Patriots' Bill Bellichik and the Boston Celtics' Brad Stevens, as well as former Boston Red Sox (and current Cleveland Indians) manager Terry Francona, who inspired me this little walk down memory lane...

You see, before turning to managing, Francona was a decent baseball player in his own right, finishing with a career batting average of .274 in ten seasons. He had originally been a Montréal Expos draft pick (first round, 22nd overall in 1980) and played with the team for five seasons, though I was a tad too young to remember him playing in powder blue. Which didn't stop me from acquiring some of his cards in the early 1990s... because he'd been an Expo. He was also a regular visitor at the infirmary, but he was a good player.

By the end of that decade, he was the Philadelphia Phillies' manager, and he signed this card for me prior to a game:
It's card #374 from Topps' 1986 Topps set (the one with Don Mattingly's rookie card), which is signed in fading blue sharpie. Again, I didn't start collecting baseball cards seriously (as in at least a pack per week) until the following year, so this is a card I bought in a 10-cent commons bin in either 1990 or 1991, in the heyday of my passion for the hobby.

Francona won two World Series managing the Red Sox (2004 and 2007); the Montréal connection remained alive and well both times, as fellow former Expo Pedro Martinez was in the rotation the first time, and Montrealer Éric Gagné was in the bullpen in 2007.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ben Maxwell Autographed Card

Since leaving North America in 2013-14, Ben Maxwell has split his time between the Finnish League's Oulun Kärpät and the KHL's Khanty-Mansyisk Ugra and HC Sochi.

While he helped Oulun to consecutive Finnish championships in 2013-14 and 2014-15, his regular-season production dipped, so he tried his hand at the KHL for more of the same; he posted 32 points in 52 games with Sochi this year and was blanked in three playoff games.

And though he may never become the offensive threat he once was projected to be as a second-round pick (49th overall in 2006), he plays a physical game and still has enough flair to make a decent third-line center, theoretically.

He's still just 27 years old and hasn't had all the opportunities that a guy like Lars Eller had; I think Maxwell could do well in the Swedish or Swiss leagues as well.

He was the first player to wear #80 for the Montréal Canadiens, which means he fits right in on my Habs Numbers Project with card #346 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Power Play set:
He signed it in blue sharpie in 2012-13, while he was suiting up with the St. John's IceCaps while in the Winnipeg Jets organization.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Orestes Matacena Autograph Card

Here's a fun card to celebrate an historic event: Cuban character actor Orestes Matacena plying Spanish Dignitary in the 1999 big-budget flop Wild Wild West, the Will Smith movie that Kevin Smith inadvertently wrote a scene for when he thought he was writing a Superman script for Tim Burton:
It's card #A-10 from Fleer/Skybox's 1999 Wild Wild West collection (and Autograph Series sub-set), with a close-up of Matacena's face and an on-card signature in black sharpie.

You may also know him as Niko from the 1994 Jim Carrey film The Mask.

I got this card in a re-pack of "Celebrity" cards.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Daniil Markov Autographed Card

Daniil Markov was a steal by the Toronto Maple Leafs when they drafted him 223rd overall at the 1995 draft after the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season in which he had played alongside Pavel Bure and Alexander Selivanov on the famed Moscow Spartak team.

He was an okay point producer - 147 points in 538 regular-season NHL games, 14 more in 81 postseason games, and 36 points in 208 regular-season games in Russia, 8 more points in 34 playoff games in the old country - but his main strength was his defensive play and the fact that he was a total team player, willing to drop the gloves against much bigger and stronger opponents and blocking shots in an era where it wasn't a wide-spread practice.

But like many of Pat Quinn's Leafs (I'm thinking of Shayne Corson, Darcy Tucker, Dave Andreychuk, Ed Belfour and Gary Roberts in particular), he had a pack mentality where he felt much tougher than he was because he knew that any of the other 20 brutes playing on his team could step up if he ever got in trouble.

Which is why many mostly remember his time in Toronto for this move:

Sure, it's hard to imagine these days when he's the affable Father Time and the feel-good story of the post-Teemu Selanne years, but Jaromir Jagr was once considered a bit of an egotistical brat, a show-boater, and a bit of a dick; his post-goal salute enraged many, and Markov was one of them. What happened in the video above was that Jagr had tied the game - the series clencher - at the end of the third period and did his salute; the Leafs wanted to make him pay, and Markov made sure the move didn't go unnoticed. (Note to "Danny": if you have to repeat the move three times, the main effect has been lost).

What had to happen next did: the Leafs were eliminated in the next round by the Buffalo Sabres, a sight their fans may get more and more familiar with in the next few years. As we all know, Toronto has a knack for beating the Ottawa Senators up in the postseason and, well, little else. They haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1967 - the final season of the Original Six era, and the NHL's 50th anniversary; the league's gearing up for its 100th, next year.

Markov played with the Leafs for four seasons and did well there, as I've mentioned, but it was in his next two seasons, with the Phoenix Coyotes, that he was a force, one of the best shut-down defenders in the West. He could not repeat the recipe for the rest of his time in North America, suiting up for the Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings in the next three seasons before returning to Russia, where he would play until 2013-14.

Here he is, wearing the Leafs' late 1990s blue (away) uniform with the 1998-99 patch commemorating the closing of Maple Leaf Gardens (the team moved to the Air Canada Centre mid-season), in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at what was then known as the Skyreach Center:
It's card #148 from Upper Deck's 1999-2000 SPX set, one which I hadn't purchased a pack of but fell upon some cards in repacks in 2002 or 2003.

Markov has won Olympic bronze (2002) and World Championship gold (2008) medals; it was at the 2008 Worlds in Québec that I would have had him sign it in blue sharpie, with his uniform number (55) tagged at the end. It's a beautiful all-foil card, save for the fact that it's a Leafs card.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Brad Richards Jersey Card

Let's not kid ourselves: Brad Richards is no longer the point-per-game player he was five times in his career and will likely not win another Conn Smythe Trophy like he did in 1994 nor be invited to another Team Canada - so his odds of capturing another World Cup title (2004) or bronze medal (2000 World Junior Championships) are slim to non-existent - but winning the Stanley Cup for the second time last year as an add-on to an already strong Chicago Blackhawks team means his clutch experience (he had also won it in 2003-04 with the Tampa Bay Lightning) is something teams value nowadays.

That is why the Detroit Red Wings signed him to a bonus-heavy contract last summer. Sure, he may not be used in the role that was meant for him when he signed, but he's picked up his points output a bit and currently stands at 23 points (9 goals) in 58 games on the low-scoring Wings. He's eighth on the team in points despite having missed 15 games, and among those players, is one of only four with a positive +/- with Dylan Larkin, Pavel Datsyuk, and Tomas Tatar. Yes, even captain Henrik Zetterberg, the team's leading scorer with 44 points in 72 games, stands at -6.

The NHL has pretty much reached parity and all playoff-bound teams will be competitive; it won't be an easy road to either Conference Final, but the usual ingredients for success remain: good goaltending (half-check, as both Wings goalies can be very good but do not have the pedigree of a Ben Bishop or a Henrik Lundqvist), going in healthy (check, what with Niklas Kronwall returning), good coaching (check), good leadership (check), and luck (we'll see).

And Richards is a part of that leadership group, with Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Kronwall. The Wings are one team I never wish ill to though I do not straight-up root for them; they're an Original Six franchise who seems respectful of its players, its fans and its opponents - they seem like a classy organization. I respect them, but I will root for the Montréal Canadiens, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Hawks, Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers before them.

Here's Richards wearing the Bolts' black (then-away) uniform from the pre-lockout era, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 1 set and Shooting Stars sub-set featuring a white game-worn jersey swatch:
It's card #S-BR in the series.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Chris VandeVelde Autographed Card

Chris VandeVelde was suspended for two games yesterday for elbowing Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. The Edmonton Oilers' fourth-round pick (97th overall) in 2005, he now suits up with the Philadelphia Flyers, who play a physical style closer to what his own skill set is.

An offensive center in the NCAA, his statistics didn't translate to the AHL, let alone the NHL, where he projects to be the kind of player Zenon Kenopka and Paul Gaustad are: physical centermen who don't make too many defensive mistakes, win a lot of faceoffs, but are mostly just huge, strong, relatively quick and can deliver punishing checks.

Not that I don't want one or two of those on my team, but they're likely not the difference between a Stanley Cup championship or a Conference Finals; heck, they're probably not the difference between a playoff and non-playoff team in these super-competitive times.

VandeVelde skated in 72 games with the Flyers last season and had appeared in 69 so far this year, registering 13 points on a playoff bubble team that got rid of Vincent Lecavalier around the Holidays.

He looks like a natural in orange, which was also a big part of the Oilers' uniform. Here he is seen wearing their current/retro blue-and-orange garbs, which checks off #54 from my Oilers Numbers Project at the same time:
It's card #CS-SV from Panini's 2012-13 Certified set and Certified Signatures sub-set, with a blue-sharpied, on-sticker autograph that seems to spell Cav-Vl, which might be his Kryptonian name (notice that it's probably pronouced Cavill). It's a beautiful silver foil card that helps the Oilers' colours stand out.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Pierre-Marc Bouchard Swatch Card

After a season where he led his team - the Swiss NLA's Zug EV - in scoring and winning the league's MVP award, former Minnesota Wild standout Pierre-Marc Bouchard has decided to retire at age 31 from post-concussion issues.

He had only just begun to fill out the promise of being an impact player (I used to compare him to Mike Ribeiro, a terrific playmaker who had decent hands enough to make nice plays and deke - not the best shot, but perfect for setting up a teammate) when he suffered his first concussion, which took him a year and a half to recover from; he had suffered it in the very first game of the 2009-10 season and came back in December of the following year, posting a decent 38 points in 59 games in 2010-11.

After two more injury-filled seasons with the team that had picked him 8th overall in 2002, he signed with the New York Islanders for the 2013-14 season, but after posting just 9 points in 28 games, he was sent to the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers, where he found his game and produced at a rate of 17 points in 20 games... before the Isles gave up on him and traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks, who also parked him in the AHL, this time with the Rockford IceHogs, with whom he had 20 points in 24 games.

That wasn't enough to convince faint-hearted NHL GMs to take a chance on him, and he signed with Zug, whom he led in scoring in both years he was there, first with 51 points in 49 games, and 67 points in the same number of games last year.

I have more cards of his to feature in the future, but I'll start with this odd one, which isn't necessarily a jersey swatch, showing him in the Wild's green uniform, on card #SS-PB from Fleer's 2006-07 Flair Showcase collection and Showcase Stitches sub-set, by Upper Deck:
It could be a piece of a jersey, or a fight strap, or part of the inner lining - or a sock. The back of the card just vaguely calls it "memorabilia", but what he know for sure is that it's got enough holes to see the glue inside the card, and that the hole it's sticking out of is shaped like an "S".

All told, Bouchard retires with 356 points (110 of them goals) in 593 NHL games (plus 4-5-9 in 21 playoff games) on a defensively-minded Wild team, mostly. He had Selke votes in 2006-07 and Lady Byng votes three times, finishing fifth in voting in 2006-07.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jonathan Huberdeau Autographed Card

Jonathan Huberdeau and the Florida Panthers were in town on Tuesday, plowing through the Montréal Canadiens by the score of 4-1. They led in every category, from shots (36-28) to face-offs (winning 61%) to the powerplay (1 in 4).

Al Montoya was terrific in nets, Jaromir Jagr got an assist to keep on padding his career stats line, Vincent Trocheck had a goal and an assist, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad scored, and Huberdeau assisted on Barkov's 23rd of the season. Aaron Ekblad had an assist as well.

Alex Galchenyuk, Andrei Markov and Mark Barberio were pretty much the lone bright spots for the Habs.

The 2012-13 Calder Trophy winner Huberdeau (ahead of Brendan Gallagher, Brandon Saad and Galchenyuk) currently has 13 goals, 35 assists and 48 points in 65 games this season, his fourth in the NHL; he may very well surpass his career-highs from last season, when he went 15-39-54 in 79 games.

Playing on a line with Barkov and Jagr, it's safe to say the third-overall pick of the 2011 draft has arrived and will be a first-liner for a long, long time.

He signed this card in blue sharpie, which looks nice with his Saint John Sea Dogs' white (home) uniform; he made sure to tag his jersey number at the end:
It's card #51 from In The Game's 2011-12  Heroes And Prospects set.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Brandon Bollig Autograph Card

Brandon Bollig is a Stanley Cup champion; he won it while with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012-13, and went on to have a 7-goal, 14-point season with the team in 2013-14, which prompted the Calgary Flames to acquire him over the summer to solidify their bottom-six.

While the Flames were likely hoping he'd be a third-liner more than "just" an enforcer (off his previous season's expanded role in Chicago), he's done an honest job on the fourth line, and his leadership helped the team's young players reach the playoffs last year, though most are feeling the sting of failing to repeat this time around.

He's exactly what Flames President Brian Burke used to look for in a player when he was GM: American-born, big (6'2", 223 pounds), rugged, tough, and a winner.

This is what he looked like in the Hawks' white (now-away) uniform:
It's card #SS-BO from the Social Signatures insert sub-set that spanned many Panini products; it came from a pack of 2013-14 Titanium. It was signed on-card in blue sharpie and includes both his uniform number (52) and Twitter handle.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Aaron Gagnon Autograph Card

The Phoenix Coyotes chose Aaron Gagnon with the 240th pick of the 2004 draft in the now-defuct eighth round; he never signed with the team, instead signing a three-year entry-level deal with the Dallas Stars in 2007, followed by a one-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets organization. After six years of mostly minor pro leagues (and 38 NHL games in which he amassed 5 points - 3 of them goals - and 2 penalty minutes, averaging about 8 and a half minutes of ice time per game), he opted to play in Europe, signing a two-year deal with the Swedish League's Jonkoping HV71 before transferring to the Finnish League's Rauma Lukko, where he just had a 25-goal, 48-point season (in 60 games).

I recall a defensively-savvy forward who is a bit on the small side (5'10", 170 pounds) for a center nowadays, who had a decent shot... and this is what he looked like:
It's card #A-AG from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Artifacts series (and Autofacts sub-set), showing a close-up of him wearing the Jets' white (away) uniform. It has a blue-sharpied sticker autograph attached to it.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Carter Camper Signed Cloth Card

Carter Camper played in three NHL games with the Boston Bruins in 2011-12, scoring his first goal in the process. He was then traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and signed two straight one-year, two-way deals with the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals organizations, never getting a call-up with either team, which is understandable with the Caps, considering they're one of the best teams in the league.

Camper is a crafty, skilled, short winger who probably went undrafted because he stands at just 5'9" and 170 pounds and isn't the super-speedy type. He spent four years in the NCAA leading all American scorers and with choice positions in the Miami RedHawks organization, ranking second all-time in points and assists, and seventh in goals.

Upon being traded, he finished the 2013-14 season with 4 goals, 16 assists and 20 points in 19 games (plus 5 more points in 5 playoff games) with the Springfield Falcons, and had a respectable 15 goals, 37 assists and 52 points in 75 games last year with the Binghamton Senators.

This year, he was on a slower pace with the Hershey Bears, with 8 goals, 24 assists and 32 points in 55 games so far, behind Chris Bourque, 29 years old (25-40-65 in 58 games), Riley Barber, 21 (21-25-46 in 59), Travis Boyd, 21 (18-25-43 in 61) and Sean Collins, 26 (14-20-34 in 60). I would assume the youngsters are being groomed to be with the Caps long-term, so they're probably getting the more favourable minutes, making Camper's statistics even more decent if he's facing tougher opposition and getting less favourable zone starts.

For some reason, I fell on a few of his cards a couple of years ago, including this one, #207 from Panini's 2012-13 Limited set and Phenoms sub-set (numbered #95/299):
It contains a blue-sharpied on-cloth autograph inserted into a card that barely shows him and the Bruins' white (away) uniform.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Chris Owens Autograph Card

Here is a signed card of actor Chris Owens as Jeffrey Spender from The X-Files, an FBI agent who definitely is the son of the Cigarette-Smoking Man and alien abductee Cassandra Spender, and possibly main protagonist Fox Mulder's half-brother:
It's card #A-5 from Inkworks' 2005 The X-Files Connections set; however, I have never purchased a pack of cards from this set - instead, these come from a "Celebrity Repack" by card company Razor and was in a sealed top loader with a sticker that said "Authentic Uncirculated", like this:
Apart from playing in The X-Files, Owens has had bit parts in many other TV series and small parts in the films Cocktail starring Tom Cruise (1988), The Recruit starring Al Pacino and Colin Farrell, (2003), The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth and William Hurt (2008) and RED with Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Mary-Louise Parker (2010).

I have yet to watch the current X-Files season, because I like to buy the DVDs/Blu-rays and binge-watch, so I'm always a season late on everything, but at least I don't have to deal with either commercials or  having to wait one to four weeks for the next episode.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Paul Pierce & Carmelo Anthony Jersey Card

As I have said before, I know very little about basketball, and I'm not a huge fan of the game. I usually get basketball cards as add-ons in trades or in guaranteed-hit repacks, which is also where I got this card, #CM-PG from Upper Deck's 2009-10 SP Game-Used Edition set and Combo Materials sub-set (numbered 441/499):
It features game-worn swatches of both players - both of them green, and here is why:
I thought it was fitting to talk about this card, as there are trade rumours involving Carmelo Anthony swirling around New York City these days.

I know of Anthony because he was drafted second third in his class (2003), when LeBron James went first overall.

I didn't know if either was going to be The Real Deal, but LeBron is now referred to by his first name, which puts him right up there with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in my book, and Anthony is a nine-time All-Star and six-time All-NBA player who won the scoring title in 2013, so he's no slouch either; he spent most of his career with the Denver Nuggets but now plays for the New York Knicks.

Paul Pierce is more of a mystery to me. He had only played for the Boston Celtics from 1998 until 2013, but has since suited up for the Brooklyn Nets (Jay-Z's old team, right?), Washington Wizards (Jordan's old team, right?) and now the Los Angeles Clippers (which used to be the laughingstock of the league, right?).

I learned today that Pierce was a Finals MVP and champion in 2008 and a ten-time All-Star; that's more than Anthony, though he has played five more years.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Yann Danis Autographed Card

I wrote about Michael Leighton recently, who made AHL history by surpassing Johnny Bower for the most career shutouts; Yann Danis, however, made Albany Devils history this season, and fittingly represented the Capital District in the 2016 AHL All-Star Game.

He was also called up by the New Jersey Devils recently, after an injury to starter Cory Schneider. The former Brown University Bears standout had a 25-9-5 record with a 2.25 GAA and 6 shutouts with the A-Devils and may very well see some action for the offensively-challenged team.

Since turning professional in 2003-04, he has only had two sub-par seasons that combined a GAA over 3.00 and a save percentage under .900: in 2007-08, his final season in the Montréal Canadiens organization, where he went 11-19-4, 3.28 and .893 on a team where the three players with over 40 points were Corey Locke, Matt D'Agostini and Jonathan Ferland, and in 2013-14 with the Adirondack Phantoms where he went 9-11-4, 3.82 and .881 on a team where Jason Akeson was the lone player with over 40 points.

He's also part of the "first shutout in his first NHL game" club, a feat he accomplished with the Habs against the Atlanta Thrashers in October 2005.

I had featured him wearing the Hamilton Bulldogs' red (away) uniform back in 2009, after a trade with Calgary collector KC; here he is wearing their white (home) uniform, on card #36 from In The Game's 2006-07 Heroes And Prospects set, which he signed in blue sharpie roughly seven years ago:
You can check out his current Devils mask here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Pierre Turgeon Swatch Card

As the Montréal Canadiens beat the Dallas Stars last night, we were reminded of the Bell Centre's 20th anniversary nearly to the day, marking the closing of the mythical old Forum and the passing of the torch to the new building, in somewhat literal terms:

That final honorary face-off between then-current captain Pierre Turgeon and the last one to have won a Stanley Cup wearing the "C" in Montréal, Guy Carbonneau, still sends shivers down my spine, as does the seemingly never-ending standing ovation for all Habs legends of the past, with the longest one going to Maurice Richard:

It wasn't just so-called "regular" fans cheering, but past and current players, as well as freaking Canadian Prime Ministers.

The Habs won that one, too.

Pierre Turgeon didn't last too long in Montréal, a weird sacrifice from GM Réjean Houle, who thought having three gifted offensive centers (Turgeon, Vincent Damphousse and a young Saku Koivu) on the same team was somehow problematic, sending #77 to the St. Louis Blues for, essentially, Shayne Corson. After sending Roy and former captain Mike Keane to the Colorado Avalanche for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko; and prior to trading Mark Recchi to the Philadelphia Flyers for Dainius Zubrus; and Damphousse, the following captain, to the San Jose Sharks for a second-rounder and a fifth round pick... Oh, Réjean!

Since last season, there has been much debate about letting Eric Lindros in the Hall Of Fame, particularly after admitting Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg in recent years. Here's how they stack up:

Lindros: 372 goals, 493 assists, 865 points in 760 games. A Hart Trophy and a Canada Cup win (1991). Important part of 1992 silver medal Team Canada Olympic team, bit piece in 2002 Olympic gold team.

Sundin: 564 goals, 785 assists, 1349 points in 1346 games. Captain of the gold medal 2006 Swedish Olympic team and on the 2002 Olympic All-Star Team. Seven World Championship medals, including three gold.

Forsberg: 249 goals, 636 assists, 885 points in 705 games. Two Stanley Cups. Another 225 points in 214 Swedish League games. Two Olympic gold medals, including the 1994 game-winning goal. Five World Championship medals, including two gold. Art Ross, Hart and Calder trophies.

Lindros is clearly a step down from both these players.

Now, consider Pierre Turgeon: 515 goals, 812 assists, 1327 points in 1294 games. That's right - over 500 goals, over 1300 points, more than a point-per-game average - and he's not even in the conversation...

I don't know. I'd at least put him ahead of Lindros.

Which brings me to card # from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set:
It features a matching red game-worn jersey swatch.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Colton Sissons: 2 Signed Cards

Lost in the pre-trading deadline frenzy was the fact that Colton Sissons signed a brand-new three-year deal with the Nashville Predators in late February.

At 22 years of age, the former Kelowna Rockets captain is looking to parlay a successful stint in juniors and decent AHL run with the Milwaukee Admirals (including a captaincy there as well this season) into a permanent third-line center role in the NHL, not unlike Phillip Danault, now of the Montréal Canadiens.

I thought it was a good time to show these two cards, which are essentially different signed versions of the same card from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set:
On the left is the regular-issue card (#124 in the series) which he signed in person in silver sharpie after a game against the Ottawa Senators in 2013-14; on the right is the signed insert version of the card (#A-CSI in the Autograph sub-set), featuring a black-sharpied on-sticker autograph. It's the same design, and the same picture of the Rockets' red uniform with the captain's "C" on his chest.

I also like that his signature is identical, down to the tagged jersey number (15) at the end, which shows that he takes even the at-times tedious obligatory card company signings as seriously as face-to-face encounters with fans. In this day and age, I find it impressive that a young sports star isn't jaded.

The backs were also different, in the same order:
Also fitting: as the go-to call-up for the Preds this year, he was brought back two days ago to fill in for the injured Paul Gaustad, who, like Sissons, is also a face-off beast.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Corban Knight Jersey Card

Corban Knight was drafted by the Florida Panthers with the 135th pick of the 2009 session, but didn't sign with the team, eventually signing with his hometown Calgary Flames, who employ his father as chaplain, as do the CFL's Calgary Stampeders. (Officially, it was a trade, but that's the gist of it anyway, everyone knew he wanted to play in Calgary and the Panthers recouped a fourth-rounder for their troubles).

Except Knight was mostly an AHLer in his time in Calgary, only appearing in 9 games at the NHL level, with a single goal to show for it; however, Panthers GM Dale Tallon wanted him enough to offer Calgary Drew Shore (the 44th overall pick of 2009) in exchange for the young Knight, who dressed for the team's record 12 straight wins earlier this year.

It sure seems like he's got a future in Florida.

He had a terrific season in the AHL last year, with 8 goals and 12 points in 22 games with the Abbotsford Heat and another 8 goals and 24 points in 36 games with the San Antonio Rampage; this season, he had 7 points in 30 games with the Panthers, and 3 points in 15 games with the Portland Pirates, but that's factoring in a serious injury.

At 25, he looks like he can be a full-time NHLer for the near future.

This is what he looked like wearing the Flames' current alternate uniform:
It's card #RPM-CK from Upper Deck's 2014-15 SPX set and Rookie Inaugural Materials sub-set, which includes an enclosed rookie photo shoot-worn piece of red jersey.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Tim Scott Autographed Card

After a full day of Spring Cleaning, what better way to dream of the summer than by thinking back to the 1994 Montréal Expos... and checking #54 from my Expos Numbers Project with this card that relief pitcher Tim Scott signed in disappearing blue sharpie:
 It's card #265 from Leaf's 1994 Donruss set.

Scott spent parts of 1993 and 1996 and the entire 1994 and 1995 seasons with the Expos. His 1993 and 1994 stats with the team were similar in most categories:
1993: 32 appearances, 5 wins, 2 losses, 1 save, 19 walks, 35 strikeouts, 3.71 ERA
1994: 40 appearances, 5 wins, 2 losses, 1 save, 18 walks, 37 strikeouts, 2.70 ERA
Notice the discrepancy in the ERA and you have one of the reasons why the Expos had the best record in the Majors when the players went on strike. One that led to the team losing a bunch of money, and its first official fire sale, with the likes of Larry Walker, John Wetteland, Marquis Grissom and Delino DeShields leaving a team who could no longer afford to keep them.

Scott himself was traded to the San Francisco Giants with whom he was unable to replicate his Montréal numbers; and it was more of the same in 1997 with the San Diego Padres (7.85 ERA in 14 games) and Colorado Rockies (10.13 ERA in 3 games), forcing him out of the MLB altogether at that point.

He played in the minors until 2001.

Maybe it's the humidity, maybe it's the water, maybe it's the ladies and the strip clubs or the fact that alcohol flows freely in La Belle Province - but there was something about baseball in Montréal that made players perform better here than they had been able to elsewhere, where the team may very well have given the Oakland Athletics a run for their money in the yield-for-spending department, year in and year out, before either fizzling out elsewhere or becoming recognized as the very best in their profession (Wetteland and Pedro Martinez come to mind).

That 1994 team stays alive in my heart and mind, but with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera now retired, I now know a grand total of zero ball players currently playing. I cannot for the life of me root for the Toronto Blue Jays, and while every year I feel it'd be natural for either the New York Yankees or the A's to win, I never even bother to try to find out.

And, for the record, no, I do not think having a baseball team play in Montréal is viable in this day and age. We have the Montréal Impact in the MLS and the Montréal Alouettes in the CFL struggling to survive on their own terms, and the NHL's Montréal Canadiens filling the sports landscape all year round, even when they fail to make the playoffs - which may be the case this season.

The only other league that could probably make money here would be the NFL, but Montréal now being a second-rate city, if Toronto doesn't get one, we sure as hell never will.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Ron Hextall Jersey Card

Ron Hextall was perhaps the most polarizing goalie of his generation. He had his ups - a Vezina Trophy in his rookie year and two other top-10 finishes, a Conn Smythe in his rookie year - and downs (GAAs over 3.00 in eight consecutive seasons, and a career save percentage of .895 despite playing six seasons in the Dead Puck Era). He, uh, also had a bit of a temper:

The Philadelphia Flyers have had very good goalies pass through their ranks, Bernard Parent being perhaps the "best" one - and Pelle Lindbergh leaves you with a definite "what if?" feeling - but Hextall is the quintessential Broad Street Bully in that there were seasons where he was among the elite and he was aggressive as fuck, a prison riot onto himself. As a matter of fact, he has eight seasons in which he accumulated more than 30 penalty minutes, including three consecutive over the 100-PIM mark.

Just look at his stance, with his shoulders leaning forward making him slightly off-balance but also challenging the puck-handler who knows Hextall's as likely to try to stop the puck as he his to literally attack the shooter:
It's card #GJ-RH from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 1 collection and Upper Deck Game Jersey sub-set, showing him wearing the Flyers' black (mid-1990s away) uniform with a white game-worn jersey swatch inserted in it.

He spent 11 of his 13 NHL seasons manning the net in Philadelphia, with his fiercest opponents being the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Montréal Canadiens, Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils; it's fitting that the two other teams he played with shared those rivalries, the Québec Nordiques being the Habs' regional foes and the New York Islanders having the same issues with the Rangers and Devils.

Unlike others, he was actually more focused when his anger was "on". But he was also more than just a raging bully; like Patrick Roy, he was among the best skaters on his team and showed youngsters (and minor-league coaches) how not putting the worst player in nets could actually contribute to a better transition game.

He was the best stick-handler of his time, and the first goalie to score in both the regular season and the playoffs. He even came up with a customized Victoriaville stick that I used for a couple of years (before reverting back to the more classic John Vanbiesbrouck model) which had a curve in the shaft for the glove hand to have a better grip and shoot harder.

What's weird is that he's now one of the best general managers in the NHL, a position in which one has to keep their cool in both tough and great times and never overreact, because just one bad decision can sink your team for years, perhaps even decades. He has a Stanley Cup under his belt as an executive (he was the assistant GM with the Los Angeles Kings), making up for the two Cup Finals he lost as a player (1987 and 1997).

Since taking over GM duties on May 7th, 2014, he has gotten rid of most of the Flyers' bad contracts that his predecessor Paul Holmgren had straddled the team with, all while stacking up the deepest defensive prospects pool in hockey, highlighted by the likes of Samuel Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim - and perhaps even Mark Alt, Robert Hagg and Mark Friedman.

Hextall was the second third-generation NHLer (and, thus, NHL grandson), his grandfather Bryan Hextall being a Hall Of Fame player with the Rangers and his father, Bryan Jr., and uncle Dennis Hextall also having played in the league; his son Brett Hextall was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes, and should he play, he will become only the second fourth-generation NHLer (after the Howie Morenz - Bernard "Boom Boom" Geoffrion - Dan Geoffrion - Blake Geoffrion connection).

Friday, March 4, 2016

Patrick Wiercioch Autograph Card

Patrick Wiercioch was the Ottawa Senators' second-round pick (42nd overall) in 2008. The 25-year-old defenseman had looked terrific at times, playing a huge part in last season's run to the playoffs (the Hamburglar saga) on the team's second pairing. He was mobile, huge (6'6", 190 pounds), with a very good defensive hockey sense and decent hands. With a few years' seasoning, it was safe to assume he would eventually replace Marc Methot as the team's top two-way defender.

But he's seemingly still working on his consistency, because his post-Christmas play has declined a bit, so much so that newly-re-signed Chris Wideman has been taking his spot alongside Mark Borowiecki... on the third pair.

Beat reporter Bruce Garrioch sure seemed to think he was on the outside looking in, for one, and GM Bryan Murray didn't sound like Wiercioch's biggest fan when he explained why he hadn't traded him at the deadline.

The thing with a defenseman like Wiercioch is that he played University hockey and therefore wasn't eligible to play in the NHL until he had turned 21; give or take a few years in the AHL, he has to be treated like an American defenseman even though he was raised in B.C. and, thus, has to be given until age 27 to see if he'll ever get that consistency at the NHL level or if he's more of a limbo player; the problem is, he's signed - and will have to be qualified - at $2.7M, which is both expensive for a poor (and cheap) Sens team to not have play and a decent amount of pressure on a kid who is in the midst of his development.

But the current NHL contractual rules make it so that teams rush their young players in the league and lose their rights to them just as they reach their peak, where they hit a big payday. Very few GMs have the long-term vision to let them develop in the minors and keep them "up" for more of their top years than their developing years - and that leaves a whole bunch of guys falling out of favour with a whole bunch of teams, just like Jarred Tinordi had for the Montréal Canadiens this season.

I believe last year was a good indication of how he'll play from ages 27-35.

What better time to check #46 off my Sens Numbers Project, with card #99-PW from the 1999 Skybox insert sub-set of Upper Deck's 2012-13 Fleer Retro collection:
It shows him wearing Ottawa's white (away) uniform.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Ben Bishop Jersey Card

It's been a good week for Ben Bishop...

A day after being named to Team USA for September's World Cup, Bishop was in net for the Tampa Bay Lightning's team record eighth-straight win - against his former Ottawa Senators team, no less - making 33 saves in a 4-1 win in the process. His record against the Sens? 9-0-3...

Then again, all three of my favourite goalies made the World Cup's initial rosters: Bishop for the Americans, Corey Crawford for Team Canada, and Jaroslav Halak for Team Europe...

How good is Bishop? In October, the Vezina nomine became the Bolts' all-time wins leader in just his third full season with the team, surpassing Stanley Cup winner Nikolai Khabibulin... with 84. I'm not sure how much Tampa is committed to Bishop with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Kristers Gudlevskis in the pipeline, however, at 29 years old, entering his prime, he could reasonably be expected to win at least 35 games per in the next five seasons, which would lead him close to 300, the kind of number most franchise goalies get to.

In the NHL game series, I usually choose the Montréal Canadiens in Be A GM mode, and my first move is usually to grab Bishop and Alex Killorn for Carey Price, and start winning some Stanley Cups.

Here he is, with his Tron-inspired mask, wearing the Lightning's blue (home) uniform, on card #GJ-BI from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 1 collection and UD Game Jersey sub-set, featuring a matching game-worn jersey swatch:
The line that appears on his blocker side is from the penny sleeve of another card I scanned at the same time and didn't realize was overlapping.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Philipp Grubauer Autograph Card

For a long time, the Washington Capitals had plenty of goaltending prospects in the pipeline but, because of a lack of a clear #1 under whom the others could start as understudies, strong goalies the likes of Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth didn't take the pole position quickly enough for the team and were sacrificed, with Braden Holtby eventually grabbing the reins.

And now that Holtby is among the NHL's elite, his backup is posting numbers that are just as good; indeed, Philipp Grubauer's season and career numbers are impressive:
His save percentage is pretty consistent throughout, despite having yet to record a shutout (something I can definitely relate to).

There are only 30 starting gigs in the NHL, so the 24-year-old may have to wait a bit to catch on somewhere permanently, though there will eventually be spots opening up, notably with the Florida Panthers as Roberto Luongo turns 37 next year. The Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes and Dallas Stars might also likely need a boost on the back end at some point in the near future.

In the meantime, here he is wearing the Caps' #31 red (home) uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Score set and Hot Rookies and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets:
It's the signed insert version of card #619, featuring an on-sticker autograph in blue sharpie.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Alex Tanguay Jersey Card

Well, general manager Joe Sakic made some moves for the Colorado Avalanche at the trade deadline. What he really needed to do was shore up his defense, and maybe he did that by acquiring Éric Gélinas from the New Jersey Devils for a third-round pick; then again, maybe not.

Getting Shawn Matthias and Mikkel Boedker up front does nothing to change the perception that the Avs will need to win games 5-4 while relying on goalie Semyon Varlamov way too much.

And Boedker did cost two unsigned prospects (Kyle Wood and Connor Bleackley) as well as Alex Tanguay, a former teammate of Sakic's and head coach Patrick Roy on the 2001 Stanley Cup-winning team.

And though it can be argued that Tanguay was on a down slope with just 4 goals, 18 assists and 22 points in 52 games with the Avs this year, he had scored 22 just last season, finishing third on the team with 55 points. Also, most of the non-points metrics favour him over Boedker big-time, and even Bodker's regular stats line is inflated by the fact that he was playing nearly 19 minutes per game on the team's first line and still could only post 39 points in 62 games (third on the team, 9 points behind defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and just a single point ahead of Shane Doan who has appeared in 8 fewer games), with a team-worst -28 to go with it.

And with Sakic having repeatedly said in the past that he's open to Tanguay retiring as an Avs player, perhaps it opens the door to re-signing him next summer as a free agent, maybe closer to the league's minimum wage than the $3.5M he made this year.

Though he has played with the Montréal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, I have trouble picturing him not suiting up for either the Avs or the Calgary Flames.

Speaking of which, here's a card that depicts him with both, showing him wearing the Avalanche's white (then-home) 1990s uniform (with a beautiful blue game-worn jersey swatch inserted therein) but listing him as a member of the Flames, on card #J-AT from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Black Diamond collection and Black Diamond Jersey sub-set:
Tanguay had 400 points in his first 450 games in Colorado, and all told currently stands at 488 in 589 games with the team; he also has 284 points in 342 games in Calgary, 41 in 50 games in Montréal, and 37 in 80 games in Tampa, for a grand total of 850 points in 1070 NHL games so far, plus another 59 in 98 playoff games, including 21 in 23 games in that Cup run.

He also scored just three days ago in Colorado's Stadium Series game against the long-time rival Detroit Red Wings. It was his final goal as an Av, wearing their finest uniform this year. Fitting, really.