Thursday, June 30, 2016

Scott Gomez Autographed Card

As you can imagine, there has been a hot debate online to rank yesterday's Montréal Canadiens trade for Shea Weber (which sent P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators, in case you hadn't heard) in the wider context of the team's 108-year history. Sportsnet ranks it as possibly the worst.

In my opinion, the one that sent Patrick Roy and then-captain Mike Keane to the Colorado Avalanche for Jocelyn Thibault, Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky ranks first because it put the Habs at the bottom of the standings for a decade and single-handedly eliminated the largest season ticket waiting list in sports to the point where the then-Molson Centre even had empty, unsold seats during home games, a feat that hadn't been achieved since the early 1940s.

Others put the Chris Chelios for Denis Savard trade first, but I won't, because the Habs still won the Stanley Cup in 1993. It wasn't an amazing trade by any means, but it didn't hurt that much.

And yet some classify the trade that sent projected future captain Chris Higgins, future star defenseman Ryan McDonagh, the just-as-taented Pavel Valentenko and Doug Janik for Tom Pyatt, Mike Busto and Scott Gomez as the worst, because it gave the New York Rangers their captain (McDonagh), rid them of their cap troubles, and because Gomez eventually went over a full calendar year without scoring a single goal, which eventually led to the Canadiens buying him out. Remember, Gomez was Plan B after Montréal failed to complete a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning for Vincent Lecavalier - with strong rumours of Gary Bettman blocking the deal so the Bolts could more easily find themselves a new owner when those in place stopped agreeing.

My brother gave me his card collection last year, which included some cards I had originally given him myself, including this one of Gomez wearing the Habs' white (now-away) uniform with the Centennial patch on the right shoulder:
It's card #179 from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Be A Player set, which he signed in black sharpie.

It also enshrines him as #91 in my Habs Numbers Project. My friends in the service industry liked him a lot - he's a great tipper.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Shea Weber Jersey Card

Like, seriously. No.

It's been what, like eight hours, and I'm still reeling about the trade, which I liken to the one that sent Patrick Roy from the Montréal Canadiens to the Colorado Avalanche - giving the star goalie two more Stanley Cups and sending the Habs into a ten-year abyss of mediocrity (and putting my passion for hockey on hiatus for some seven years).

And no offense to Shea Weber, a still-good defenseman who at one point may have been one of the two or three best in the league; unfortunately for him, Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara and Duncan Keith were around, so all he got were top-three finishes. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

And now he gets traded one-for-one for P.K. Subban, the Princess Bride, if I may continue with the wedding metaphors.

Just as most of the good stuff you want in a defenseman was synonymous with Weber until, say, 2013, that's pretty much when Subban decided he wanted to be a dominant force in the NHL and started to improve his defensive play. By this I mean Subban's pretty darn close to a Drew Doughty with more offensive upside nowadays, whereas Weber still has his booming slap shot, his huge heart and his leadership skills... and that's pretty much it; he has slowed down a lot.

He was third on the Preds in ice time last year, and his play in Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks single-highhandedly eliminated his team - which isn't very becoming of a captain... that's signed until 2025. Roman Josi's been the go-to defender on Nashville's blue line for at least two years now, and he got a few Norris votes himself this year.

I mean, c'mon:
On the bright side, I know he's still got a good year or two in him; knowing the Montréal crowd, however, they will turn on him soon enough, and he'll probably have to be bought out after four or five seasons, leaving the Habs with a $25M cap hit to spread over eight or ten seasons. I hope he realizes it's not his fault, it's just that people loved Subban, who will be better for longer.

Here he is wearing the Preds' white (away) Reebok Edge uniform, from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Series 1 set, featuring a small blue game-worn jersey swatch:
It's card #GJ-SW from the UD Game Jersey sub-set.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mikko Koskinen Autograph Card

Slowly but surely, Mikko Koskinen is fulfilling what many scouts - and particularly the New York Islanders' - saw in him when he became the first goalie drafted in 2009, at the 31st spot.

Though he left North America as the 2011-12 season began to return to the Kuopio KalPa ("Kalevan Pallo") and later the KHL, where his statistics are pretty much off the charts; he finished the 2014-15 season with a 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage with SKA Saint Petersburg to end the regular season, and followed that up with a 1.61 GAA and .936 save percentage in 22 playoff games to help his team capture the Gagarin Cup.

In 2015-16, his regular-season stats were closer to average (2.42, .915%), but come playoff time, he did even better than last year, with a 1.47 GAA and .949 percentage.

He also claimed both Best Goaltender awards (by tournament organizers and the press) at the 2016 World Championships and made the All-Star Team as Team Finland captured the silver medal; Connor McDavid was the lone Team Canada player to score on him in the Final.

I think he certainly qualifies as one of the 60 best goalies in the world, probably even top-30 - which means should he want to return to the NHL, he'd probably find a suitor.

In the meantime, the only team he's ever known are the Isles, and he does look good in their blue (home) uniform, as can be attested by card #128 from Panini's 2011-12 Dominion collection:
It's signed on-card in blue sharpie and is numbered 60/199.

Here he is making a spectacular knob save:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Tomi Kallio Jersey Card

By not following hockey from pretty much 1997 until 2002, I missed out on a few things, such as having any sympathy for Todd Bertuzzi, having any sympathy for Eric Lindros, and realizing how decent Tomi Kallio's career was.

After a 53-point 1999-2000 season (in 50 games) with his hometown TPS Turku, Kallio made his way to the Atlanta Thrashers, after they plucked him from the Colorado Avalanche at the 1999 expansion draft. The Avs had made him a fourth-round draft pick in 1995.

He had a decent rookie season with the Thrashers, scoring 14 goals with 13 assists for 27 points in 56 games in 2000-01 in the heart of the Dead Puck Era and followed it with a 22-point outing in 60 games in 2001-02 before suiting up for three teams - Atlanta, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Philadelphia Flyers - in 2002-03.

That was enough uncertainty for him, and he made the move to the Swedish League, where he would play for the next 13 seasons - nine with the Frölunda Indians and four with the Växjö Lakers. He scored the winning goal in the Indians' 2013 league championship game.

He went back to Finland for the 2015-16 season, again with Turku, leading the team with 44 points in 60 games, ahead of former NHLers Éric Perrin (third, 34 points), Henrik Tallinder (sixth, 21 points), and Petteri Nummelin (seventh, 19 points).

He is a decorated international skater, having won three silver (1999, 2001 and 2007) and two bronze (2000 and 2006) World Championship medals with Team Finland; he also played for his country at the 2002 Olympics.

Here he is in the Thrashers' best-looking uniform, the dark blue (away) garbs from their early days, on card #1 from Pacific's 2002-03 Exclusive set and Authentic Game-Worn Jerseys sub-set:
It features a red game-worn jersey swatch that matched the jersey's arms and hips.

I hear he was a fast skater who liked to shoot more than to pass and liked playing in traffic in front of opponents' nets, but he may have lacked the sniper's finishing touch that would have been required for him to be the impact player at least four NHL teams had hoped he'd be. Still, his 211 goals and 464 points in 637 Swedish League games are a decent total, particularly when you add his 34 goals and 87 points in 108 playoff games. His Finnish totals are also good, as he posted 176 points in 266 regular-season games and 31 points in 45 playoff games in his native country.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Jay Tibbs Autographed Card

Jay Tibbs was a pitcher who was best used as a middle reliever and sixth/backup starter. Many times, he could keep the opposition within reasonable distance, as can be attested by the four and a half times his ERA was below the 4.00 mark.

He only had two winning seasons (out of seven), but his two summers with the Montréal Expos - 1986 and 1987 - were close to that, as he posted 7-9 and 4-5 records, respectively, pitching a career-high 117 strikeouts in 1986.

He signed this 1988 Topps card (#464 in the collection by Topps) for me in thick black sharpie in the summer of 1988, when his Baltimore Orioles visited the Toronto Blue Jays - as did I:
(please forgive the cat hair that made its way onto my scan, and the checkmark that was on the penny sleeve)
He represents #50 in my Expos Numbers Project.

Fun fact: he played one of Ty Cobb's teammates in the 1994 biopic starring Tommy Lee Jones, in one of his finest performances.

Oleg Saprykin Autographed Card

When I wrote about Marc Savard yesterday, I briefly touched upon the trade that sent him from the New York Rangers to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Jan Hlavac, omitting the exchange of draft picks; with the 11th selection in the 1999 draft, the Flames selected Oleg Saprykin, who would go on to be a key piece of the team's failed 2004 Stanley Cup run, scoring an overtime goal in the Final.

He had his best point production as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes and came close to the point-per-game average while playing in the KHL, but he never really fulfilled the potential he had shown in Juniors, scoring 77 goals with 82 assists for 159 points in just 114 games spread over two seasons with the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds.

He did prove to be durable, however, as he still played this past season, with the KHL's Yekaterinburg Avtomobilist (with 6 points in 18 games) and Ufa Salavat Yulayev (one point and 10 penalty minutes in 15 games in the regular season and a point and 35 penalty minutes in 10 playoff games).

He signed this card for me in blue sharpie as a member of the Ottawa Senators in 2007 (after a game against the Montréal Canadiens), which now allows me to slot him into the #61 spot of my Flames Numbers Project:
That's card #193 from Upper Deck's 1999-2000 Series 1 set, showing him in Calgary's white (then-home) turn-of-the-millennium multi-geometric uniform; it also serves as his rookie card in the set and for the brand.

He reached his second Final in 2007 with the Sens before leaving for the KHL. He has also suited up for Team Russia twice at the World Championships, winning gold in 2009. He is also a KHL All-Star and won the Gagarin Cup in 2010-11 with Ufa.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Marc Savard Jersey Card

Marc Savard hasn't played a single NHL game since the 25 he suited up for in 2010-11, but that hasn't stopped his rights from moving from the Boston Bruins to the Florida Panthers last season, and from the Panthers to the New Jersey Devils a couple of weeks ago.

Savard had fine beginnings, spending a season and a half with the New York Rangers before being traded to the Calgary Flames, where he quickly yet subtly became part of team's core, finishing fourth in scoring in his first season (Valeri Bure was first) and second (behind Jarome Iginla), in his second season, posting 65 points. In 2001-02, he finished fifth in team scoring with 33 points despite dressing in just 56 games. That's when he first caught the injury bug, however.

Shortly into the 2002-03 season, the Flames sent him to the Atlanta Thrashers for KHLer Ruslan Zainullin; playing with Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley (and later Marian Hossa) both cemented his reputation as a tremendous play-maker, but also as perhaps someone who was merely producing because he was paired with superstars.

But coming out of the 2004-05, he posted a whopping 97 points with the Thrashers in 2005-06, good the ninth in league scoring, and repeated the following year with 96 points as a member of the Bruins, with whom he'd signed as a free agent.

Then the injuries really started to add up in 2009-10: a foot broken twice, an MCL tear in his right knee, and the first significant concussion - on an awful Matt Cooke hit that changed the NHL rule book. A (much lessser) hit by Matt Hunwick ten months later was the final contact he would receive in the NHL, and he is still reeling from post-concussion symptoms to this day, which is why his contract, expiring at the end of the 2016-17 season, is still being shopped around as a commodity, seeing as it counts for $4M on the salary cap but actually only costs $575K in salary. When it expires on July 1st, 2017, he will be able to properly retire - probably as a member of the Bruins, who have treated him well.

I was never a huge fan - and by that I mean I wouldn't buy a jersey of his, cheer for him specifically, or strongly voice my opinion for his inclusion on a national team - but his 706 points in 807 NHL games (plus another 22 in 25 playoff games, and an All-Star Game game-winning goal), half of them in the Dead Puck Era, deserve respect and recognition, at the very least.

I think he'll always be a Bruin to me - which might explain my position towards him - but here he is with the Flames' white (then-home) uniform, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch, on card #J-MS from Upper Deck's terrific 2001-02 Ice set (and Jersey Card sub-set):
It'll temporarily stand as #27 in my Flames Numbers Project (until an autographed card replaces it); it's one of those awesome see-through plastic cards that Ice specializes in.

Friday, June 24, 2016

André Lacroix: Two Autographed Cards

Here's one to fit with the Saint-Jean Baptiste, Québec's national holiday: Lauzon, Québec-born André Lacroix may be the most productive player in the history of the WHA. After all, he does hold the career marks for assists (by nearly two hundred) and points (by over a hundred) and posted six consecutive 100-point seasons. That's 251 goals, 547 assists and 798 points in just 551 WHA games (plus 14-29-43 in 48 playoff games) and 79 goals, 119 assists and 198 points in 325 NHL regular season games (plus 2-5-7 in 16 playoff games).

After playing for the Québec Aces in the AHL for three and a half seasons, he made the Philadelphia Flyers on a "French Line" with Jean-Guy Gendron and a rotation of Richard "Dick" Sarrazin and Simon Nolet, but at 5'8" and 175 pounds, he was a bit small for the Broad Street Bullies, despite having what many people later described as Wayne Gretzky-like hands.

He did get around, though, through no fault of his own; after a season with the Philadelphia Blazers who moved to Vancouver, he was traded to the New York Golden Blades, who became the New Jersey Knights halfway through the season and became the San Diego Mariners after relocating, with whom he won his second scoring title and was the second pro player ever to hit the 100-assist mark (after Bobby Orr).

He then played one year with the Houston Aeros before joining Gordie Howe and sons Mark and Marty with the New England Whalers, who then merged with the NHL, becoming the Hartford Whalers.

Here are two identical cards of his I got in a repackaged "guaranteed-hit" envelope a few years ago, both signed in silver sharpie and consecutively numbered (883 and 884) to 1972:
They're from Pacific's 2004-05 WHA Autographs and WHA Legends sub-sets, showing Lacroix wearing the WHA's All-Star uniform.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Robbie Ftorek Autographed Card

The Québec Nordiques will probably not be an NHL hockey team in the next two seasons barring a surprise relocation, but that won't stop me from checking off #7 in my Nordiques Numbers Project with this beautiful old-school card of Robbie Ftorek:
It's card #267 from O-Pee-Chee's 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him in the team's inaugural blue (away) uniform, back when they had a white logo - a better view of which can be seen on the player standing right behind him in the picture, obviously taken during a pre-game warm-up.

Many people remember Ftorek for his helmet, but he was also quite the hockey player. After failing to crack the Detroit Red Wings for a couple of seasons, he made the move to the WHA where, after a decent first season in 1974-75 with the Phoenix Roadrunners (31 goals and 68 points in 53 games), aligned four 100-point seasons, with two each of First Team All-Star and Second Team All-Star nods, complete with the 1976-77 Gordie Howe Trophy (formerly known as the Gary L. Davidson Trophy) as league MVP. Not bad for a skinny 155-pound speedster.

He was the most productive American player of the 1970s - and Team USA's best forward and points leader at the 1976 Canada Cup. He also made the 1981 team, but Minnesota North Stars teammates Neal Broten and Steve Christoff were the team's unquestionable offensive leaders at that point.

Following the WHA folding, Ftorek signed with the Nordiques and had two nearly point-per-game seasons culminating in a sixth-place finish for Selke Trophy voting in 1980-81 and being named team captain, replacing local star Marc Tardif.

The captaincy may have proved too big a burden to bear, however, as Ftorek was limited to a single goal and 9 total points in 19 games to start the 1981-82 season, prompting the team to trade him to the New York Rangers along with the draft pick that became Brian Glynn for Pat Hickey and Jere Gillis.

I first got familiar with him when he coached the Los Angeles Kings at the end of the 1980s as Wayne Gretzky got traded to California, but more so when the Nordiques made him an assistant coach in that awful 1990-91 season where they only won 16 games despite Joe Sakic posting 109 points.

Fans of the New Jersey Devils will remember this outburst:

He had two decent years coaching the Boston Bruins to begin the millennium, but I got him to sign that card in blue sharpie during his time with the AHL's Albany River Rats, which dates this as between 2003 and 2006, when he won two AHL Coach Of The Year awards.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Drew Doughty Jersey Card

Look, yes, Drew Doughty was probably due to win a Norris Trophy at this point, but as Puck Daddy puts it, Erik Karlsson kind of got robbed at last night's NHL Awards - kind of like when Phil Kessel was robbed of the Conn Smythe by Sidney "we have to make him the legend we billed him as" Crosby - except worse.

Voters - journalists who are often accused of having an "East Coast" bias they had to prove wrong - deliberately did not vote for certain elite defensemen who had excellent seasons (Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban, Marc-Édouard Vlasic), and some who had terrible seasons got some nods (Ryan Suter, François Beauchemin) just to ensure Doughty ended up with more tallies than Karlsson, who already has two Norrises, one of them considered to be solely due to his point production and not his overall skill-set (which has, to be honest, improved a lot).

This is the exact same situation that made Martin Brodeur retire with four Vezinas while Patrick Roy - who is in the conversation as one of the best goalies of all time - has three. And that made Miikka Kiprusoff - the best goalie on earth for a full six-year span - end up with as many as José Theodore (a terrific goalie who has had an unbelievable season and at least three more excellent ones, but probably not a Hall Of Famer): one.

If we're following the "deserving" list, Victor Hedman, Shea Weber and Mark Giordano should probably get the Norris nominations next year...

But, hey, Doughty won. It's done.

Here's hoping he helps the Los Angeles Kings make a deep playoff run next year, as we look at him wearing the team's white (away) uniform, on card #GJ-DD from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch:
Chances are he'll add a World Cup title to his resume in September, though I won't be rooting for his Team Canada; I'll probably be more interested by the two made-up teams, the North American Young Stars and Team (Rest of) Europe.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Jonathan Toews Autographed Card

This probably qualifies as my BIGGEST return ever...

I had sent Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews two cards of his - one each of the team's classic red and white uniforms - probably two years ago, and received both of them back today - one signed in black sharpie. First, here's the one he didn't sign, in red:
And, the pièce de résistance, the one he did sign, an action shot of him in the Hawks' white (away) uniform, on card #SOG-JT from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Victory set and Stars Of The Game sub-set:
A three-time Stanley Cup winner (and 2009-10 Conn Smythe winner), two-time Olympic gold winner, the man who should always wear the "C" when playing for Team Canada, a perennial Selke candidate (he even won it in 2012-13), Toews will likely not be the player who'll make you win your office pool (although he shouldn't make you lose either); however, he's probably the guy you want to build a franchise around, because he makes everyone around him better - and not just on his own line, and not just the other top lines because he'll have gotten the opposition's best checkers off of them, but also because as Captain Serious, he's an inspiring player to want to follow.

As one of the most quiet and charismatic NHLers today, the consummate professional nearly has as many international hockey medals (six gold, one silver) as he does NHL seasons played (nine), despite being on a perennial contender.

He and Corey Crawford make rooting for the Hawks in the West come playoff time a natural occurrence come Spring. Well, I mean, them and the über-talented Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Artemi Panarin, of course, but Toews and Crawford rank among my favourite players.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Tom Pyatt: Two Autographed Cards

The Ottawa Senators announced in late May the signing of depth forward Tom Pyatt to a two-way contract for next season. He'd played in Switzerland (for Genève Servette) for the past two years, where Sens coaches Guy Boucher, Marc Crawford and Rob Cookson had also plied their trade in that time span.

Pyatt is a speedster with a good hockey sense that makes him perfect for a third-line role in today's NHL; he can also fill in on the second line once in a while but isn't the type to put up a surprising amount of points while doing so; he had 29 points in 42 games in the Swiss League last year and has 54 in 245 games with the Montréal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning in five NHL seasons.

Speaking of the Habs and Genève, he was teammates with Robert Mayer and Matt D'Agostini last year, as well as Quebecer Matthew Lombardi. They probably had a lot to talk about...

I really liked him on the Habs, and he signed two cards for me in 2010-11, in blue sharpie, both showing him with the Canadiens' classic bleu-blanc-rouge uniform with the Centennial shoulder patch.

First, here's card #268 from Panini's 2010-11 Score set which celebrated the brand's 20-year anniversary with the NHL with a nod to its 1990-91 set:
And here's card #99 from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Series 1 collection:
That was a nice set from UD, letting the picture speak for itself with little in the way - short borders at the bottom, subtle logo - with an additional head shot at the bottom, usually wearing the team's uniform not featured in the main picture.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Andy McGaffigan Autographed Card

As a kid, I generally preferred my baseball cards to be action shots, but this one of Andy McGaffigan's - from Topps' 1988 Topps set (card #488), which he signed in black sharpie - always makes me happy, firstly because of his terrific mustache, but also because of the look on his face, which shows a sense of humour:
McGaffigan holds the distinction of having played twice for both the Montréal Expos and San Francisco Giants and having also belonged to the Cincinnati Reds twice - they'd initially drafted him in 1974, left him unsigned, and traded for him in 1984.

He was a dependable reliever who could fill in as a starter on a whim, which was extremely helpful to managers.

He also had some decent dodging moves, as can be attested by this video:

He's also a welcome addition to my Expos Numbers Project, filling in at #27.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cam Fowler Autograph Card

What's old is new again for the Anaheim Ducks now that Randy Carlyle is back as head coach...

He claims he will be more patient with younger players, which much come as a relief for Cam Fowler, who was often in his doghouse in his rookie year in 2010-11.

The Ducks were one head coach away from a deep run this season... I'm just not certain that coach was Carlyle. We'll see.

Here's a bust shot of Fowler on card #A-CF from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Artifacts set and Autofacts sub-set, which has a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph:
Fowler's a big part of a young, strong and balanced defense in Anaheim, with the likes of Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Shea Theodore and Nick Ritchie. There may not be a clear "future Norris winner" in the lot, but all five definitely have top-2 material potential.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Zigmund Palffy Jersey Card

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on their fourth Stanley Cup victory. They deserved it, although I feel the Conn Smythe should have gone to (in order of deservedness) Phil Kessel, Matt Murray, Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks, Kris Letang or Brent Burns (also of the Sharks) - not Sidney Crosby. But the NHL has a legend to build and a story line to justify having pre-written, so Sid it was.

Which brings me to Zigmund Palffy, a Slovak national who had terrific seasons with the New York Islanders (331 points in 331 games including three 40-goal seasons) and Los Angeles Kings (340 points in 311 games, the result of five point-per-game seasons in five years), and played his final NHL season accomplishing the same feat with the Pens in 2005-06.

After initially retiring from hockey, he came back in the Slovak league for a final five seasons with Hokejový Klub 36 Skalica, posting ridiculous totals from 2007 until his retirement after the 2012-13 season, including league records for goals (52) and points (99) in 2008-09. In 53 games.

He also suited up for Team Slovakia on numerous occasions, earning a gold medal at the 2002 World Championships, bronze at the 2003 Worlds, leading the Olympic tournament in assists and points in 1994 and being a veteran member on the awesome 2002 Olympic team that finished fourth.

He was also old enough to play for then-Czekoslovakia, 1991 and 1992 World Juniors (winning bronze at the former) and also the 1991 Canada Cup.

Here he is with the Pens, on card #AF-ZP from Upper Deck's 2005-06 SP Game-Used Edition set and Authentic Fabrics sub-set:
It shows him wearing the Pens' white (now-away) uniform, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

The 26th overall pick of the 1991 draft also finished fifth in Lady Byng voting in 2000-01 while with the Kings, and is often thought of as underrated at best or underappreciated by a lot of folks. Perhaps it's because his story line hadn't been pre-written. We're talking about a guy who was a point-per-game player and a 40-goal man in the Dead Puck Era. Had he not played on Long Island and on the West Coast for most of his career, he definitely would have won some hardware and appeared in more than just three All-Star Games.

Here's a video montage of a few of his goals with the Kings:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Joe Thornton Autograph Card

I know I'd predicted/hoped the Pittsburgh Penguins would win in six games against the San Jose Sharks, but before Game 5, I was hoping they'd get it over with; however, Martin Jones deserved to have people talk about his performance for another two days, so I'll be content if they get it done this weekend.

Joe Thornton had another assist in the Sharks' 4-2 win, putting him at 3 goals, 18 assists and 21 points in 23 games in these playoffs, after an 82-point (19 goals, 63 assists) regular season. His career playoff point totals aren't awful (121 in 155 games), but they mostly pale to his regular-season play, and he usually can't seem to make his teammates better or stand up when it counts.

Which didn't stop Team Canada from adding him to their World Cup roster for September two weeks ago, because when he's surrounded by game-breakers, as can be attested by his 2010 Olympic gold medal and his 2004 World Cup title on teams led by Jonathan Toews and the Tampa Bay Lightning trio (Martin Saint-Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards), respectively, he doesn't ruin his team's chances either; he's usually just a towering non-factor that makes few mistakes.

Here he is wearing the Boston Bruins' alternate jersey from the turn-of-the-millennium, on the signed insert version of card #9 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
I wasn't very fond of these jerseys; yellow isn't my thing. But now that we have the Nashville Predators doing even worse with it, these don't look half as bad. The card looks much better to the naked eye: there are nice shades and the thin black-sharpied signature stands out a lot more.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Radim Vrbata: 3 Autographed Cards

I had a pleasant surprise in the mail today, my sixth return out of seven packages sent this season, one of four sent on November 10th, making for a 212-day return:
That's pending free agent Radim Vrbata, coincidentally the 212th player selected at the 1999 NHL draft, as the Colorado Avalanche selected him in the seventh round. In terms of "past-the-second-round" picks, that puts him with regular NHLers Niclas Havelid (83rd), Mike Comrie (91st), Chris Kelly (94th), Brian McGrattan (104th), Ryan Malone (115th), Fedor Fedorov (182nd), Ivan Rachunek (187th), Martin Erat (191st), Tom Kostopoulos (204th), and Henrik Zetterberg (210th).

If he plays in some 70 games next season, he will hit the 1000-game milestone, and he's 56 points away from 600, though after a season in which he scored just 13 goals with 14 assists for 27 points in 63 games, I would understand any doubt that he could hit those marks.

However, he's still just one season removed from a 31-goal and a career-high 63-point output, the goals total being his second-highest career total behind the 35 he put up with the Phoenix Coyotes in the not-so-distant 2011-12 season. There is still some buzz around him, particularly if he's willing to take the same $5M cap hit he had these last two seasons... or less.

At this point, we have a clear idea of what he can bring to a hockey club: though he's 6'1" and roughly 200 pounds, he plays like a small, skilled winger; he can be counted on for some 20-25 goals, and if he reaches 30, that's just a pleasant bonus. He gets just as many assists as he does goals, so on the offensive front, the puck is likely to move towards the right direction when he has it on his stick. He's best suited to play on a skilled team's second line.

He's 34, however, so that leaves teams with two options: sign him to a short-term deal before he starts slowing down, or sign him to a three-or-four-year deal before he reaches the fatal age of 35, where players can no longer retire or change leagues while taking their cap hits with them (see the Pavel Datsyuk situation with the Detroit Red Wings).

In the meantime, let's reflect on the recent past, first with these two cards of him playing in Arizona:
On the left is the gold variant of card #362 from Panini's 2012-13 Score set, showing him wearing the Coyotes' burgundy (home) uniform; on the right is card #388 from Panini's 2013-14 Score set, showing him wearing the 'Yotes' white (away) uniform, complete with alternate captain's "A" on the chest.

He signed both in black sharpie with his jersey number (17) tagged at the end, just like he did on card #45 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 MVP set:
On it, he's wearing the Canucks' full-retro/alternate blue uniform with the awful "stick" logo. He'll join Bill Muckalt and Ryan Kesler as representatives of #17 in my Canucks Numbers Project.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Guy Lafleur Board Certified Card

Guy Lafleur is a very opinionated man - always was, always will be, but that's exactly why journalists and members of the public keep asking him questions; we know he'll provide a quip that will reflect exactly how he feels at that moment, the truth as he sees it, with no sugarcoating. He was at it again, calling the San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton's and Brent Burns' playoff beards "a disgrace to hockey", saying P.K. Subban should be on Ritalin (and adding Yvan Cournoyer said back in their day, he'd have gotten smacked with a stick), reiterating that Brendan Gallagher is the heart of the Montréal Canadiens but changing his stance on captain Max Pacioretty from a couple of seasons ago, saying he can be the best player on the ice "when he feels like it", as opposed to when he called him a choker in the past.

Of course, the main reason why he gets away with it is because he was arguably the best forward of the 1970s - the Habs' career leader for assists (728) and points (1246, one of just three to reach the millennial mark with the team with Jean Béliveau and Henri Richard), and the second in goals with 518, behind only Maurice "The Rocket" Richard. Oh, and he has five Stanley Cups with the team he grew up dreaming of playing for, so he knows a thing or two about the team's legacy and fans' expectations.

His six 50-goal seasons are also a team record; Stéphane Richer holds second place with two, and four others have had one such season: The Rocket being the first NHLer to do so, Bernard "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, Steve Shutt and Pierre Larouche being the others.

He shares the team record of most goals in a single season with Shutt (60), and holds the single-season team points record (136, in 1976-77). It was also that season that he set the team consecutive point streak record by having his name on the score sheet for 28 straight games.

So, yeah, Lafleur could hockey pretty well.

Because of that, many sets still include him in the modern era even though he retired following the 1990-91 season - often with special edition cards.

Here's one from Fleer/Skybox's 2001-02 Greats Of The Game set and Board Certified sub-set:
With the Joe Louis Arena closing in a couple of years, this piece of memorabilia will be even more rare. And Lafleur looks so natural in the Habs' classic red uniform.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

David Oliver Autographed Card

I guess now's as good a time as any to show off the fifth of a five-card package I received in a trade close to two weeks ago, with a card that slots David Oliver as the entry for #42 in my Oilers Numbers Project, #269 in Upper Deck's 1994-95 Series 1 set (and Star Rookie sub-set):
It shows him wearing the Edmonton Oilers' classic white (then-home) uniform, and he signed it in silver sharpie, with the number 20 tagged at the end, which means he could have signed it when playing in Edmonton (1995-97) or when he was with the Phoenix Coyotes (1999-2000). He only wore #42 in pre-season games.

Oliver started his career extremely well with the Oilers, finishing fifth in Calder Trophy voting in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season with 16 goals, 14 assists and 30 points in 44 games, which he followed with a 20-goal outing the following season.

But things went downhill from there, as his 3 points in 17 games to start off the 1996-97 season led the team to put him on waivers, and the only time he reached double digits in points after that was when he posted a surprising 12 points in 36 games with the Dallas Stars while only averaging 9:51 of ice time per game in 2003-04.

He also played in the British League, in Germany and in Sweden, retiring after playing the 2006-07 season with the Ängelholm Rögle Bandyklubb. (Rögle BK for short).

He finished his NHL career just short of a few milestone marks, with 49 goals, 49 assists and 98 points in 233 regular-season games.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Beau Bennett Autograph Card

Beau Bennett may not have played much in these Stanley Cup playoffs, but he's ready should an injury occur, as was almost the case when Bryan Rust became a game-time decision ahead of Game 2. He last played in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Pittsburgh Penguins don't need to make any changes, as they're currently leading the Cup Final 3-1 against the San Jose Sharks, with Matt Murray and Phil Kessel leading the charge.

Bennett's the highest born-and-raised Californian ever drafted in the NHL (20th overall in 2010), but injuries have marred his career so far, as the 24-year-old has only played in 129 regular-season games (registering 26 goals, 29 assists and 45 points in the process) spread over four seasons, only the first of which being one where he spent significant time in the AHL.

Here he is wearing the Pens' white (away) uniform, with the signed insert version of card #176 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Trilogy set (and Level 1 Rookie Premieres sub-set), the front of which is almost all silver foil, though it appears blue in the scan:
It has an on-sticker blue-sharpied autograph.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Jeff Friesen Autographed Card

Well, the San Jose Sharks won Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final yesterday, which seems like as good a time as any to feature this card of Jeff Friesen's from Upper Deck's 1999-2000 MVP set (it's card #175 in the collection, showing him with their turn-of-the-millennium terrible practice-style teal away uniform), which he signed in black sharpie, probably in 2002:
Friesen had three 60-point seasons in San Jose, and another one in which he reached 57 points, including one in which he scored a career-high 31 goals in 1997-98. But team success wouldn't come when with the Sharks, although he did win the Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003.

He officially retired in 2011, after playing in the German League (for the Berlin Eisbären, a.k.a. Polar Bears) for two seasons. His final NHL stats line reads: 893 regular-season games (218 goals, 298 assists, 516 points and 488 penalty minutes) and 84 playoff games (18 goals, 15 assists, 33 points and 48 penalty minutes).

He also suited up for Team Canada on a number of occasions, winning gold at the 1994 and 1995 World Juniors as well as the 1997 and 2004 World Championships, and silver at the 1996 Worlds.

He received some Calder votes in 1994-95, finishing fourth, and a few Selke votes in 1997-98 (finishing 18th) and 2002-03 (14th).

Friday, June 3, 2016

Erik Gudbranson Jersey Card

Honestly, I don't know what the hell is wrong with the Florida Panthers. Now that GM Dale Tallon has built a successful team, he's promoted so that someone else can either reap the spoils or rip the team to shreds... which is seemingly what is happening, particularly in light of how they traded dependable defenseman Erik Gudbranson to the Vancouver Canucks for an underachieving rookie (Jarred McCann) and an exchange of draft picks... just days after firing their scouting director - you know, the one guy who's seen all the prospects play in their draft year.

And the shake-up continued as some trainers left, and assistant coach - and former Stanley Cup-winning NHLer - John Madden and director of hockey operations Mike Dixon were also shown the door.

And they've now unveiled new uniforms - the home one looking like a Stadium Series jersey, the away (white) one just looking ridiculous and unprofessional. I wanted to say KHL-like, but no, the KHL has some really nice ones (start from the middle of the page for the nicer ones).

I was really getting into them, and now they're seemingly tearing it all apart.

The Gudbranson trade really baffles me, especially after they'd just signed him to a one-year deal and called him "captain material".

Here he is on card #RM-EG from Upper Deck's 2011-12 SPX set (and Rookie Materials sub-set), featuring a black photo shoot-worn jersey swatch:
It shows him wearing the Cats' former (and better) white (away) uniform.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Dillon Fournier Autographed Card

Dillon Fournier was a highly-regarded prospect for the Chicago Blackhawks, having been chosen with the 48th overall pick at the 2012 draft and signed to a three-year entry-level deal in the summer of 2014.

Unfortunately, injuries have slowed his development, as he was limited to 36 games with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in 2013-14 (picking up 32 points in the process) and 9 in total in 2015-16 split between the AHL's Rockford IceHogs (2 games, -2 rating) and the ECHL's Indy Fuel (7 games, 1 assist, 8 penalty minutes, +2 rating).

His speed, hard shot and tape-to-tape passes made him an offensive force in the "Q", but he has yet to translate that production to the professional game, where he is asked to bulk up and perfect his defensive game; he'd been good at keeping an excellent offensive and defensive gap with his assigned forward in Juniors, but it does require an adaptation period to get acclimated to the stronger play in the pros.

I wouldn't throw the towel on a talented 22-year-old defenseman, but chances are he's further down the depth chart at this point than both he and the Hawks expected just a couple of summers ago.

Here's the fourth of a five-card package I received recently, showing him wearing the Huskies' pink (breast cancer awareness) uniform, on card #107 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set:
It was signed in blue sharpie.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Joe Mullen Autographed Card

I predicted the Stanley Cup Final would be decided in six games, with the Pittsburgh Penguins getting the best of the San Jose Sharks. And they're off to a 2-0 start that makes me so giddy I can't sleep, because I know that teams that get a 2-0 lead in the Final have a 33-3 record - for a .917 winning percentage.

Which brings me to this card of Joe Mullen, third in a series of five of a recent trade, from his days in Steeltown:
It's card #488 from Score's 1991-92 Canadian English set, showing him wearing the Pens' black (then-away) uniform. Half-unrelated: when I was a kid, I had a signed card of his with the Calgary Flames; I no longer do. I'd be willing to trade for one or two.

He was the first American-born player to score 500 career goals - the milestone goal scored on none other than Patrick Roy - and 1000 points, retiring as the all-time highest-scoring American player; his 1063 career points now rank him sixth, behind the likes of Brett Hull (1391), Mike Modano (1374), Phil Housley (1232), Jeremy Roenick (1216) and Keith Tkachuk (1065).

His brother Brian Mullen also played in the NHL, posting 622 points in 832 games, but he didn't have Joe's resume or pedigree. Joe has also won the Stanley Cup three times: in 1989 (with the Flames) as well as 1991 and 1992 with the Pens. He also played for Team USA on five occasions, registering 12 points in 15 games, including a Canada Cup semi-final (1984) and final (1991).

After six seasons of coaching in the Penguins organization, he switched to cross-state rivals Philadelphia Flyers in 2006-07 and has been there for the past nine years. He is a two-time Lady Byng Trophy winner (1986-87 and 1988-89) and was inducted in the Hockey Hall Of Fame in 2000.