Thursday, December 28, 2017

Corey Crawford Jersey Card

In the past few years, one goalie has usually dominated the entire NHL season to the extent where they overshadow the rest (Sergei Bobrovsky last year, Braden Holtby in 2015-16, Carey Price in 2014-15), with Devan Dubnyk usually pulling the short end of the stick; only Bobrovsky has been able to replicate such high-level performances onto multiple seasons, although a case can also be made for Holtby last year.

This year, the goalie towering over everybody else is Corey Crawford.

I mean, it's no surprise, really; Patrick Kane said he deserved the Conn Smythe more than he did himself when the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2012-13 after posting a 16-7 record with a 1.84 GAA and .932 save percentage, but the fact is that "Crow" was just as good when the Hawks won again in 2014-15 on the superhuman play of Duncan Keith with a 13-6 record (he had trouble against the Nashville Predators in the first round, which didn't stop his overall statistics line falling at 2.31 and .924).

And he's been just as good and steady in the regular season, too, with two Jennings Trophies in the past five years and a fifth-place Vezina finish in 2015-16 when he posted a league-leading 7 shutouts (in just 58 games).

This year, he stands second in the NHL for save percentage, and he missed three games to injury earlier in the season, where the Hawks lost all three games; upon his return, they won five in a row. Talk of Hart Trophy nominations should not be off the table for Crawford, especially if the Hawks sneak into the playoffs on his strong play.

They'll need Anton Forsberg to hold down the fort while Crow's injured, though.

Here he is wearing the Blackhawks' white (away) uniform, on card #AS-20 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 SP Game-Used Editions set and All-Star Skills Fabrics sub-set:
It features a decent-sized red swatch that is either from one of the horizontal lines or the team's red jersey.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Box Break: 2017-18 Artifacts Blaster Box

Christmas was very good to me this year, as I received a lot of love, chocolate, spent time with family and friends, my Mom got a friend of mine a job, and I was gifted a blaster box of Upper Deck's 2017-18 Artifacts hockey cards.

Now what struck me first in this box (8 packs of 5 cards each for 40 total cards) was that I got a lot of doubles from my previous one. At first. Then the hits came.

First, though, I fell upon this very funny picture of Jordan Eberle looking like his head is way too big for his body:
Then I got a Buffalo Sabres Rookie Redemption card, which I immediately redeemed, because I know UD can sometimes take months to get the cards back:
But the coolest-looking card is definitely this Ruby variant #100/299 of Connor McDavid:
What a beautiful card!

And this haul is what I meant when I said "I wish you better pulls" in my official review of the set.

I'm still satisfied. As a matter of fact, if that would have been my break the first time around, I likely would have purchased another one by now, possibly even instead of the 2017-18 O-Pee-Chee blaster box I got a couple of weeks ago.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Nikita Kucherov Jersey Card

The NHL landscape is changing, with new stars making names for themselves among the best goalies (Matt Murray), defensemen (Mikhail Sergachev), and goal scorers (Patrick Laine), while others are cementing their positions at the top (Mark Scheifele, Connor McDavid, Vladimir Tarasenko).

Among the latter is a player who started out making up the lost production of oft-injured Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and just never let up when he got back, Nikita Kucherov.

After a 40-goal (good for second overall), 45-assist, 85-point (fifth overall) season in 2016-17, Kucherov is showing that his constant climb in points (from 18 to 65 to 66 to 85) is no fluke, as he's set lofty goals for himself this year, including trying to net 60 goals.

A case can be made that he's been one of the five best players in the game since last season, and his statistics since last February are pretty convincing evidence of that.

Although it's unlikely that he'll keep scoring at a 20% clip, and it's very possible he'll hit a 10- or 15-game slump at some point, he has a legitimate shot at 60 goals, 60 assists and 100 points, all of which are amazing milestones in this day and age where scoring is at a premium.

Here he is wearing the Bolts' white (away) uniform, on the "Copper" variant of the jersey insert version of card #13 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 SP Game-Used Edition set, which I got from a box of repackaged cards from multiple sports last year:
It features a blue jersey swatch that is certified to have been used in an "official NHL game".

Internationally, he has won silver (2012) and bronze medals at the World Juniors, and bronze (2017) at the World Championships, suiting up for Team Russia.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Marc-André Fleury Jersey Card

Anyone who's followed hockey at least semi-closely in the past year and a half is aware of the tough situation Marc-André Fleury has dealt with, from being the Pittsburgh Penguins' first-overall draft pick in 2003 to netting the game gold medal-winning own-goal at the World Juniors, to making the last-second save against Nicklas Lidstrom that won the Pens the Stanley Cup in 2009, to a return to grace with Top-5 numbers to a concussion leading the way to rookie Matt Murray stealing his job to two consecutive Cups, one of them (last year's) which would not have been possible without Fleury's own stellar goaltending in the first two rounds as the Pens' lone good player, to his being chosen at the Expansion Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights.

It's been a wild ride, but through it all, it has emerged that he is, quite simply, the best teammate in hockey. I always respected him as an individual, he's done great things in the community in Pittsburgh as well as back home in his native Montréal suburb of Sorel.

He's also emerged as my third-favourite NHL goalie (behind Jaroslav Halak and Corey Crawford), which led me to update my jersey collection last September:
If they get James Neal to re-sign, my dark Vegas jersey will be of him. Both former Pens played crucial roles in the Golden Knights' 2-1 win over the reigning Cup champions last night.
I hadn't featured Fleury with the Pens before, so I thought today might be a good time for that, with card #AS-24 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 SP Game-Used Edition collection and 2015 All-Star Skills sub-set:
It shows him wearing Pittsburgh's black (home) uniform with a large matching swatch that was presumably worn at the 2015 All-Star Game skills competition, although the back of the card simply states it was worn during an "official NHL game" (not "regulation" nor "playoff", so it's vague enough to mean whatever you want it to).

I'm glad he's found a home, and I'm extremely happy "my" Knights are doing great.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Box Break: 2017-18 O-Pee-Chee Blaster Box

Yeah, I should really stop buying blaster boxes if I want inserts like autographs and jersey cards, but at least with O-Pee-Chee, I know I'm getting affordable, (mostly) current cards that are easy to get signed because they don't come over-coated, instead offering a matte finish reminiscent of cards from the 1970s and 1980s.

Which brings me to this box break for 12 packs from Upper Deck's 2017-18 O-Pee-Chee set.

Not only are they great cards to get signed but, this year, the design is actually nice and modern, no longer a parody of the odd-coloured sets of old, as can be attested by these two base cards:
Of course, there were nausea-inducing parallel cards mimicking eras past (find below Oliver Bjorkstrand and Mitch Marner, but I also landed Zach Branford, Riley Nash and Cam Atkinson):
I was also treated to three regular-issue Marquee Rookie cards, Valentin Zykov, Dan Renouf and Mike Vecchione:
And there was one Marquee Rookie card that mixed both, featuring the very talented Tyson Jost:
There are the regular checklist cards, a staple of my youth:
But there were also Team Checklist cards, which are more reminiscent of Panini stickers from when I was a kid:
My box was very Carolina Hurricanes-heavy, including both of my foil parallels, Joakim Nordstrom and Brett Pesce (they look blue here but are silver to the naked eye):
I was also thoroughly impressed with how awful the translation was on this Ryan Suter card (it should have read Meneurs De La Ligue (the French translation of League Leaders), not Les Dirigeants De La Ligue (which stands for League Executives):
Of course, one of the coolest insert sets OPC has put in its boxes these last couple of years is the Playcard variants, of which I landed Patrick Kane:
And this year, they added Mini Cards (reminiscent of the late-80s League Leaders mini-set, or of recent Champs sets), of which I landed young stars Mark Scheifele and Matt Murray:
I hope I get those signed!

Another OPC staple is the fact that they usually re-print two of the set's cards on the reverse side of their boxes - which also shows potential customers what the cards look like.

This year, however, they even went out of their way to include different pictures on the back than inside the packs, as can be attested by the Connor McDavid one:
12 packs of 8 cards each - 96 cards in total - for $29.92 plus tax(es), so roughly $35.

I would have ranked this a 9 or 9.5/10 had it been $20 plus tax, it comes at ten cents per card higher than ideal, but I truly do love the set anyhow.

I'll give it a solid 8/10.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Jordan Subban Autographed Card

Jordan Subban hit the 50-point mak twice in Juniors with the OHL's Belleville Bulls, and has now posted two straight 36-point seasons with the AHL's Utica Comets. He must not have been one of head coach Travis Green's favourite players, however, because Green now coaches the Comets's parent team - the Vancouver Canucks - and not only did he not keep Subban up in the NHL, the team actually traded him to the Los Angeles Kings earlier today.

Now, all three Subban brothers will be playing in the Southern U.S., with Malcolm Subban taking on a front-line role with the Vegas Golden Knights and Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban earning his keep with the Nashville Predators.

All Jordan needs to learn now is California's State slogan (hint: he listed Florida's):
Here he is wearing the Bulls' white (home) uniform, on card #12 from the team's 2013-14 Belleville Nissan-sponsored team set:
Of note, the Bulls became the Hamilton Bulldogs when the AHL team of the same name (affiliated to the Montréal Canadiens) moved to become the St. John's IceCaps for two years before moving to a Montréal suburb last summer to become the Laval Rocket.

If you remember the IceCaps as being the Winnipeg Jets' affiliate, they (re-)became the Manitoba Moose when the Habs moved their so-called prospects out East.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Brayden Schenn Autograph Card

Last summer, Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall made an unexpected move when he traded 26-year-old center Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera and two first-round draft picks (and possibly a third-rounder as well).

By usual standards, Schenn, coming off a second consecutive 25-goal season, was either a year into his prime or about to enter the most productive years of his career, but he had also never reached the 60-point mark, and he played center - a position the Flyers were strong in, with captain Claude Giroux in need of easier starts, Sean Couturier requiring more ice time to take on the #2C role he was groomed and drafted for, and second-overall pick Nolan Patrick also playing the position and being counted on to make the team.

Thus, the perhaps-overrated Schenn (whom Hextall had drafted while an assistant-GM with the Los Angeles Kings in 2009) was deemed expendable, and the haul was impressive. It's the type of return fit for a #1B center like Matt Duchene or Kyle Turris and, in all honesty, Schenn wasn't there yet.

But he is now. After scoring a hat trick against the Montréal Canadiens last night, he stands at more than a point-per-game average so far this season, with roughly a third of the year having passed. Sure, it helps to play with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, but Schwartz is also posting career-best numbers so far, so the fit was right on all sides for the St. Louis Blues.

Schenn even allowed himself a late hit on former teammate Couturier in November.

He's looking like an All-Star so far, and his plus/minus is close to his points total, which marks a big departure from his being a powerplay specialist in Philadelphia. If he keeps it up, he could finish the season upwards of +50.

Here he is sporting Team Canada's white (home) uniform, on the signed insert card #US-BS from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Ultimate Collection set and Ultimate Signatures sub-set, featuring a blue-sharpied on-card signature with his jersey number (10) tagged at the end:
He's worn the maple leaf on multiple occasions, winning gold medals at the 2008 World U17 and U18 Championships and the 2015 World Championships, and two silver medals at the World Juniors (2010 and 2011), and another one at the 2017 World Championships. He was also on the squad that finished fifth at the 2014 World Championships.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Martin Gerber Jersey Card

Martin Gerber was a mainstay in nets for Team Switzerland during the 00s, appearing in two Olympic Games (2002 and 2006) and no less than eight World Championships.

He played his best game ever in what is widely considered the crowning achievement of Swiss hockey, a 49-save shutout of Team Canada at the 2006 Games. The only other NHLers on the Swiss team were captain Mark Streit and backup goalie David Aebischer, while Canada had a stacked roster (Martin Brodeur, Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Chris Pronger, Wade Redden, Todd Bertuzzi, Shane Doan, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Vincent Lecavalier, Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Ryan Smyth, Martin St. Louis and Joe Thornton, among others), yet, that result made it so that Switzerland finished sixth and Canada seventh.

In the NHL, however, Gerber couldn't make his way into anything more than a backup, be it with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers. Oh, there was that 60-game season with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06, but he lost his job to rookie Cam Ward four games into the first round while Ward took the team to the Stanley Cup.

He also had a decent run with the Sens, one during which he started out with an all-black mask while his "real" one was getting painted, but he didn't want to risk cursing his season with bad luck, so he stuck with the "Darth Gerber" look all year, which is immortalized on card #GJ2-MG from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Series 2 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a red game-worn jersey swatch that could either be from his days in Ottawa or in Carolina.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Mathias Niederberger Autograph Card

After three seasons on this side of the pond, goalie Mathias Niederberger went back home to Germany, playing for his hometown Duesseldorf Eislauf-Gemeinschaft (EG) for the last three years to boot.

He had been named the OHL's Goalie Of The Week in 2012 when he posted two consecutive shutouts for the Barrie Colts, then was given an AHL contract with the Manchester Monarchs, but opted to move back to Germany after playing in the ECHL more often (9 games) than the AHL (6 games) in an injury-plagued 2013-14 season.

He was named the DEL's Goaltender of the Year in 2015-16. Chances are he'll represent Team Germany at the 2018 Olympics, like his father has done four times.

Here he is wearing the Colts' white (home) uniform, on card #A-MN from In The Game's 2012-13 Between The Pipes set and Authentic Goaliegraph sub-set:
It features a black-sharpied on-sticker autograph with his uniform number (35) tagged underneath.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Josh Hennessy Autographed Card

Josh Hennessy finished his Juniors career with three straight 80-point seasons (84, 82 and 85, actually) with the LHJMQ's Québec Remparts, then went on to produce 63 points (24 goals and 39 assists) in 80 games with the AHL's Cleveland Barons, leading the team in every offensive category.

He then was part of a three-team trade that saw him transit by the Chicago Blackhawks (with Tom Preissing, for Mark Bell) before landing with the Ottawa Senators (with Preissing, Michal Barinka, and a second-round pick, for Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski).

While he failed to secure a spot in the Sens' NHL lineup, he continued to do well for their AHL affiliate Binghamton Senators, putting points on the board nearly every game. What probably interested the Sens as much as his dazzling speed and ability to set up teammates was the fact that while playing in the "Q", the American had learned French, and as his grasp of the language increased, he took on a bigger leadership role on the team, first as alternate captain, then as captain. He was fluent by his last season in Québec.

After four seasons during which he wasn't truly given a shot at the NHL level, having been surpassed on the Sens' depth chart by the likes of Ilya Zubov, Martin Saint-Pierre, Zack Smith and Peter Regin, he opted to sign with Switzerland's famed HC Lugano for the 2010-11 season, then returning to North America in the Boston Bruins organization the following year.

Having played in only three games for the Bs, Hennessy opted for Europe as his long-term plan, with the NHL lockout looming, first in the KHL for three years with a stint in Switzerland thrown in for good measure, then four seasons with Sweden's Vaxjö Lakers, including a championship win in 2014-15.

This year, he's back playing for the Providence Bruins, and he has 5 points (two goals and 3 assists) so far in 12 games.

Here he is wearing the Barons' beautiful white (home) uniform, on card #388 from In The Game's 2005-06 Heroes And Prospects set, which he signed in blue sharpie when the Sens played against the Montréal Canadiens in 2008:
What a great design. Who would have thought the Sharks' theme and colours could work so well on a jersey? I'm a huge fan of the history of the Barons, by the way.

The original Barons played in the AHL from 1937 until 1973, winning ten divisional titles and nine Calder Cups, which was a league record until the Hershey Bears won their tenth in 2009. The team moved to become the Jacksonville Barons in 1973-74, only to fold unceremoniously after season's end. I am related to Roger Bessette who played on that team (goalie, 1946-1949).

Meanwhile, in the NHL, the California Seals were founded in 1967, bearing the same name as a team from the Western Hockey League, quickly becoming the Oakland Seals (1967-70), then the California Golden Seals (1970-76). The NHL wasn't ready, however, for a team with painted skates and white gloves, and California wasn't ready for NHL hockey either, so to give it a final chance of succeeding, the franchise was moved to Cleveland in 1976, taking on the Barons mantle. Despite some level of success, the team folded in 1978 - the year I was born - and some of its players were assigned to the Minnesota North Stars when that team was purchased by George and Gordon Gund, former minority owners of the Seals and future founding owners of the Sharks.

The final professional iteration of the Barons was the one Hennessy played for, which was in Cleveland from 2001-06. That franchise started out as the Kentucky Thoroughblades (1996-2001), then went on to become the Worcester Sharks (2006-15) and are now known as the San Jose Barracuda (2015-present).

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Tommy Salo Jersey Card

Tommy Salo's a bizarre case. It can be said that during his time with the New York Islanders, he was among the lower tier of NHL starters, yet it's also true that he was the team's best goalie of the 1990s. Because they were a shitty team that made shitty decisions, one of which was to acquire goalies who were past their prime (Ron Hextall, Félix Potvin) or just plain bad (Tommy Soderstrom), Salo's main competition as "the guy" of the decade would be perennial backups Glenn Healy, Mark Fitzpatrick and Jamie McLennan.

Also, because the Isles were so terrible, he got to play in many World Championships with Team Sweden, more often than not displaying amazing poise under pressure:
- 1994: bronze medal:3 games, 3.33 GAA, .846 save %
- 1997: silver medal: 10 games, 2.00 GAA, .918 save %
- 1998: gold medal: 9 games, 0.77 GAA, .951 save %
He was also spectacularly good at the 1994 Olympics, helping secure gold for the Swedes against Team Canada, especially when he stopped Paul Kariya on a penalty shot.

Of course, this being the 1990s Iles, GM Mike Milbury tore into him at an arbitration hearing, then traded him to the Edmonton Oilers, where he would be a workhorse, finishing in the top-8 for games played four straight times, and finishing top-10 in Vezina voting three times.

His Vezina votes were reminiscent of those of the 1980s, as he wasn't dominant or anything, but he just played so many games; his record for those three seasons reads as follows:
from HockeyDB
Two of those seasons, he was barely a game or two over .500, and the other season, his save percentage was a full ten points lower than the other two, and his GAA was more than 20 points higher than the following year.

He again played in multiple World Championships during that period, four of them as a starter, three of them earning bronze medals:
- 1999: bronze medal: 8 games, 1.84, .921%
- 2000: 7th place: 6 games, 1.67 GAA
- 2001: bronze medal: 8 games, 1.94, .920%
- 2002: bronze medal: 7 games, 1.96, .919%
And, of course, this happened while he was representing Sweden at the 2002 Olympics:

He was never the same after that, and he'd only represent Sweden as a backup from that point on, albeit on a silver medal-winning team at the Worlds in 2003 (3 games, 4.15 GAA, .861 save %) and a disappointing fifth-place finish at the 2004 World Cup (one game, 2.00 GAA, .895 save %).

I traded for a card of his with the Oilers a little over a year ago:
That's card #V-TS from Upper Deck's 2002-03 Mask Collection set and View From the Cage sub-set. It shows him wearing Edmonton's turn-of-the-millennium white (home) uniform, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch (that could also very well be from his days on Long Island).

His goaltending style was also reminiscent of that of the 1980s, as he mostly just stood up, waited for a shot to be taken, and would use his reflexes to get to the puck. It was crowd-pleasing, for sure, but it probably worried his coaches more than they care to admit. And his off nights were, thus, extremely off, because he couldn't rely on odds and statistics like butterfly goalies, who are set to block 83-89% of shots just by kneeling and keeping still.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Brandon Watson Autographed Card

When Brandon Watson was drafted by the fledgling Montréal Expos in the ninth round in 1999, there was some level of excitement, because he's the godson of former Cincinnati Reds star Eric Davis.

It didn't turn out that way, and he eventually toiled around in the minor league systems of the Florida Marlins, Reds, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Los Angeles Dodgers.

He did play in the Majors - with the Expos' descendants, the Nationals, no less - appearing in 40 total games over three seasons between 2005 and 2007. His career batting average stands at .198.

He does have a minor-league record, however, having hit in 43 consecutive games in the International League with the Columbus Clippers in 2007.

Here he is sporting the Expos' #20 - which he never wore in an actual game - on card #321 from Topps' 2003 Bowman collection and First Year Card sub-set, identifying it as his rookie card:
He signed it in blue sharpie, on top of the silver facsimile autograph on the card.

He wore #00 with the Nationals.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Buster Davis Autograph Card

Buster Davis was a star linebacker from his high school days at Mainland High School in Daytona Beach (Florida) all the way through his All-American residency with the Florida State University Seminoles.

He was drafted in the third round by the Arizona Cardinals, but was released just months later, only to be picked up by the Detroit Lions. He spent the 2007 season in Detroit, before hitting the waiver wire in August of 2008 and getting claimed by the Indianapolis Colts, even getting re-signed at the end of the 2008 campaign... only to get waived by them in March.

In 2009, the Houston Texans decided to play around with his psyche, signing him to a one-year deal on April 3rd, waiving him on September 5th, re-signing him to the practice squad on October 8th and releasing him again on October 13th.

After that, he toiled around in minor leagues with the Hartford Colonials (2010, UFL), Las Vegas Locomotives (2010, UFL) and Jacksonville Sharks (2011-2012, AFL), before calling it quits.

In 2012, he wa named head coach at Duval Charter of Jacksonville, but was let go after 7 games; in 2013, he took on the same job at St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut prior to spring practice but left that job four months later. 

In 2014, he was named head coach at McArthur High School, saying:
Some people only look to tomorrow. But some people like myself need to have a vision that goes past tomorrow, past two weeks from now. We really feel that in the next two to three years that our program is going to be one everyone talks about and players at other schools will want to come play for.
He resigned after going 0-10.

In 2015, he took on the head coaching position at Port Orange Atlantic... resigning in August, two days after the beginning of Fall training, without ever coaching a single game with the team.

I wouldn't hire him to renovate my home... or probably anything else, for that matter.

Here he is wearing the Cardinals' red (home) uniform, on card #X-BD from Upper Deck's 2009 SPX set and X Factor Signatures sub-set:
It features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.
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Monday, November 20, 2017

Fredrik Olausson Autographed Card

When I think of the best defensemen of the first iteration of the Winnipeg Jets, three names come to mind: Phil Housley, Teppo Numminen, and Fredrik Olausson. Obviously, Housley has since been named to the Hall Of Fame, but the latter two were also important in making the Jets one of the three best teams in the Clarence Campbell Conference.

Unfortunately for them, the best two - the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames - also played in the same division, so the Jets were, essentially, doomed to never have playoff success, and their defensemen were doomed to finish in the minuses, despite having boasted some of the best offensive talent of all time in the likes of Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne.

Although I associate Olausson and Numminen mostly with Winnipeg, the former did play for many more teams, having also suited up for the Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Mighty Ducks (three stints for parts of five seasons in total) and one year with the Detroit Red Wings, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2001-02.

He also played in the Swedish League, winning championships with Karlstad Farjestads BK (1985-86) and Jonkoping HV71 (2003-04). He returned to his original team, Farjestads BK, in 2006-07, but was forced to retire due to a failing liver, which required two operations and a transplant.

He returned to HV71 for the 2009-10 season as an assistant coach.

Internationally, he won a silver medal with Team Sweden at the 1986 World Championships and was part of the team that finished fifth at the 2002 Olympics.

Here he is wearing the Jets' 1990s blue (away) uniform, on card #264 from Pro Set's 1991-92 Series 1 collection:
He signed it in blue sharpie, which should place this signature as being from the 2002-03 season.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Theoren Fleury Jersey Card

As is becoming a yearly tradition for me, I took a look at the Hall Of Fame-eligible players this year and was totally underwhelmed. Once again, someone's going to get in who will bring the level of merit down.

In the past, in my opinion, too many "just stars" made the cut, when it's supposed to be the elite of the elite, the world-class, the best of the best, the Immortals. By that, I mean the likes of Mats Sundin, Ed Belfour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Dave Andreychuk, Doug Gilmour, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, and particularly Mike Gartner.

In the meantime, Rogatien Vachon had to wait 25 years too long to be appointed to his rightful place and Jean-Claude Tremblay and a few others who defected to the WHA are still waiting. And Pat Burns had three chances to be inducted while he was alive but was passed over until he passed on. And people seem to have forgotten just how good Doug Wilson was - much better than Murphy, that's for sure; the fact that he hasn't won anything as the San Jose Sharks' long-time GM shouldn't be a factor in remembering how dominant he was on defense.

Some players absolutely deserve to get in, this year: Boris Mikhailov - the 1970s and 1980s Russian Mario Lemieux - Martin St-Louis, Daniel Alfredsson.

Then there are players that will probably get in that I don't really mind but also wouldn't mind of they didn't, such as Alexander Mogilny; he started out great but didn't keep that pace up throughout his career like Pavel Bure, Teemu Selanne or even Peter Forsberg.

There are players who may get in but in my opinion fall into the "stars, not supertars" category: Sergei Zubov, Curtis Joseph, Jeremy Roenick, and Keith Tkachuk. Alex Kovalev, the first Russian first-rounder and first on the Stanley Cup, had a better career, albeit perhaps not one as consistent - but his peaks were much higher.

Then there's those who just shouldn't even be considered, based on the fact that they accomplished very little on their own, but somehow, perhaps ironically, people have been making campaigns to put in the Hall for years, like Chris Osgood. That's fucking ridiculous. Joseph comes in way before Osgood, and José Theodore comes before any of them with his Hart, Vezina, and success with four different teams. And if Joseph gets in, then you have to consider Sean Burke as well. For me, Theodore and Burke fall short, Joseph falls way short, and Osgood shouldn't even be in the conversation.

Which brings me to players who probably won't get in but kind of should seeing as similar players are in, such as Pierre Turgeon. Theo Fleury is probably tops of that class in my opinion.

455 goals, 633 assists, 1088 points and 1840 penalty minutes in 1084 regular-season games, 34 goals and 45 assists for 79 points in 77 games (with 116 penalty minutes), his name engraved on the Stanley Cup with the rest of the 1989 Calgary Flames, two hart Trophy top-five finishes, and tons of medals with Team Canada  - gold at the 1988 World Juniors, 1991 Canada Cup and 2002 Olympics, and silver at the 1991 World Championships and 1996 World Cup.

All of this, of course, while a "raging alcoholic lunatic" due to suffering sexual abuse at the hands of his former Juniors coach Graham James, with whom he later bought stakes in the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, just to give you an idea of the Svengali grasp James had on his victims.

And, let's not forget, that three years after retiring from the NHL, he came back to competitive sport and was named the UK's Elite Hockey League's Player Of The Year while with the Belfast Giants, posting no less than 22 goals, 52 assists and 74 points (to go with 270 penalty minutes...) in... 34 games.

Fleury was a tremendous player with a ton of heart and matching talent who scored 51 goals in 1990-91, twice more reached the 40-goal plateau, twice exceeded 100 points (plus a 96-point season), and whose worst NHL season deep in the thralls of depression, substance abuse and the Dead Puck Era, consisted of 33 points in 54 games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2002-03 - or decent second-line numbers by modern accounts.

There are, without a doubt, many lesser players in the Hall.

Here he is sporting the Flames' turn-of-the-millennium red (away) uniform, on Frankencard #GJ-TF from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a blue game-worn jersey swatch that likely stems from his days with the New York Rangers (1999-2002). It was while with the Blueshirts that he struck Wayne Gretzky enough to have The Great One - Canada's GM - invite him along for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics despite Fleury's drinking and cocaine problems becoming increasingly public. Out of respect to "99", Fleury - who claims to have failed 13 consecutive NHL drug tests but wasn't suspended because he was a star player - went "dry" for the entire tournament.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tyler Cuma Autograph Card

Many judge an NHL amateur scouting staff by number (or percentage) of players selected that play "at least one game at the NHL level", which is usually the standard by which Montréal Canadiens head scout Trevor Timmins keeps his job every year, because most of his first-round picks do end up playing in the league, but few of them become impact players, and even less get to fulfill the promises he makes for them - "future captain" is a title he has bestowed upon the likes of Mike Komisarek, Chris Higgins, Brendan Gallagher, Kyle Chipchura, Matt D'Agostini, David Fischer, Ryan McDonagh, the first two being players he hadn't even drafted.

If the same applies to other teams' scouts, then the Minnesota Wild should count Tyler Cuma's lone NHL game as a "win", despite the 23rd-overall pick of the 2008 draft playing in Austria since the 2014-15 season. Last season was the first time he broke the 10-point mark (11, in 41 games) with the Vienna Capitals.

Everything was going well for him until he suffered a knee injury incurred during Team Canada's 2009 World Juniors selection camp ruined everything for him. He felt its effects throughout his four seasons in the AHL.

He was in every card set in 2012-13, so I landed a few of his cards.I thought I'd start out by featuring this one, #223 from Upper Deck's 2012-13 SP Authentic set and Future Watch sub-set, numbered 308/999:
It's hard signed, on-card, in blue sharpie.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Kyle Baun Jersey Card

Following decent seasons, statistically, in lower-level Junior leagues such as the OJHL and the CCHA, Kyle Baun took his talents to Colgate University where his size and versatility proved more and more important as the years passed, leading to the Chicago Blackhawks signing him to a two-year entry-level free agent deal in 2015, which included a 3-game showing to finish off the 2014-15 season.

He got two more reps in the NHL the following year, but spent the majority of his first full professional season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs, posting 1 goal and 8 assists for 9 points in 43 games.

He more than tripled that production last year, finishing second on the team with 14 goals, 20 assists and 34 points in 74 games last year and was traded to the Montréal Canadiens for Andreas Martisens in early October, meaning that the trade that sent talented forward Sven Andrighetto to the Colorado Avalanche at last season's trade deadline was a complete flop, as was Habs GM Marc Bergevin's entire strategy of adding heavy players last year, seeing that only Shea Weber remains from his "bulk increase"/Claude Julien-friendly moves, as no one among Martisens, Steve Ott, and Dwight King remain with the organization just 30 games later.

Baun, however, is on pace to have his best career numbers yet, with 9 points (2 goals and 7 assists) in 16 games so far with the Laval Rocket. The 6'2", 210-pound 25-year-old is developing into the power forward many saw in him, and even if he platoons as a half-point-per-game player in the AHL, that kind of skill can still be translated to a bottom-six role in the NHL.

In other words, he's doing alright. As long as the current administration doesn't ruin him, as the Bergevin/Julien duo seems to be able to do rather quickly these days.

Here he is sporting the Hawks' classic red (now-home) uniform, on the "Copper" variant version of card #181 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 SP Game-Used Edition collection and Authentic Rookies sub-set:
It features a small matching event-worn jersey swatch from a rookie photo shoot, and is numbered 377/399.

He is the grandson of former Toronto Maple Leafs star defenseman and Toronto Toros head coach Bobby Baun, who is in the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Josh Labandeira Autographed Card

Josh Labandeira played professional baseball until 2008, mostly in AAA ball, appearing in 7 MLB games with the Montréal Expos in 2004, with 14 plate appearances and 4 strikeouts. I met him at that time, in September 2004, as the team was ready to fold, playing its final games at the Stade Olympique. That's probably when he signed this rookie card, #216 from Topps' 2004 Bowman set and First Year sub-set, in blue sharpie, although I do not specifically recall it:
While it doesn't show him wearing the #1 uniform from his regular season games, it does show him wearing #73, from Spring training, which slots him perfectly in my Expos Numbers Project.

Following his retirement, he moved to California and became an assistant coach for the Reedley College baseball team, until the Boston Red Sox came calling and signed him as their Western California scout.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Shawn McEachern Autograph card

Shawn McEachern had an interesting career, twice scoring over 30 goals per season (31 in 1998-99 and 32 in 2000-01), twice coming close (28 goals in 1992-93 and 29 in 1999-2000), and suiting up for two stints each with the Pittsburgh Penguins (the team that drafted him 110th overall in 1987) and his hometown Boston Bruins.

His history with the Pens alone is worth looking into, as it took him four years to join the team after being drafted, playing with the Boston College Terriers for three years then Team USA at the 1992 Olympics (a fourth-place finish in Albertville), but after he scored his 28 goals, Pittsburgh sent him to the Los Angeles Kings for Marty McSorley in August 1994, only to trade back for him the following February, with Tomas Sandstrom, in exchange for... McSorley and Jim Paek.

That being said, as a Montrealer who was looking for other options to satisfy my hockey cravings other than via the Montréal Canadiens, it's his six seasons with the Ottawa Senators that defines the speedster for me: 142 goals, 162 assists and 304 points in 454 games right in the Dead Puck Era, on a team that would regularly finish with over 100 points per season (before the loser points came into effect).

The turn-of-the-millennium Sens were serious contenders, flying high with their skill during the season, but usually falling flat come playoff time, when the bullying Toronto Maple Leafs would just play dirty and knock them out, in more ways than one.

McEachern represented that team extremely well and was an accurate reflection of it: quick, opportune, and mostly getting the job done by giving his best effort. But something was missing - that finishing touch. As quick as McEachern was, as many goals as he's scored - 256 in the NHL, all told - his signature play was taking the puck in the neutral zone and zoom past a defender with a clear path to the goalie, sometimes on a two-on-one, as most of the team was made up of equally-fast and skilled players with good offensive instincts; except it didn't matter, because McEachern was going too fast for his own puck control ability, and he'd get tunnel vision, not seeing his teammate, not seeing any other move than to shoot right at the goalie. Sometimes it'd go in, and sometimes a rebound would go to a teammate, but the deeper in the postseason it got, the more the opposing goalies would just pull it in, stop play and erase the menace.

He was like the 1990s' Russ Courtnall that way, and where Courtnall was a member of Team Canada's 1991 Canada Cup victory, McEachern was on the American squad that won the inaugural 1996 World Cup.

And now he'll be immortalized as #15 in my Sens Numbers Project, with the silver signed insert version of card #248 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
It shows him wearing the Sens' best-looking, original garbs, sporting the alternate captain's "A".

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mike Reilly Jersey Card

Although Mike Reilly was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets (fourth round, 98th overall, 2011), the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers alumnus always wanted to wait the Jackets out and sign with his hometown Minnesota Wild upon becoming a free agent prior to the 2015-16 season. His father being a minority owner of the team was just another factor in the equation.

It took him his entire two-year ELC to get acquainted with the professional game, but he's suited up in 13 contests so far this year and has 5 assists so far on a strong team that is playing .500 hockey and should hit its stride soon enough - especially now that starting goalie Devan Dubnyk seems to have found his concentration, with two shutouts in recent games.

Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon may each have 10 points from the blue line thus far, but they're also at -4 apiece, whereas Reilly stands at -1. He was playing 14 minutes per game a couple of weeks ago, a number that's gone down to 11 or so of late, but on a Bruce Boudreau-coached team where Suter's ice time is counted in half-hours, that's fine for a 24-year-old making $750K.

Internationally, he won a gold medal suiting up for Team USA at the 2013 World Juniors and earned bronze at the 2015 World Championships.

I joined a group opening of a box of Upper Deck's 2016-17 SP Game-Used Edition cards and called "goalies" (I had third pick, and "center" and "right-shot defensemen" were taken), hoping to land a Corey Crawford, Marc-André Fleury, Dubnyk, Jaroslav Halak or Pekka Rinne for my collection or a Carey Price to trade or sell, but was blanked; another participant called "left-handed defensemen" and was disappointed with his Reilly pull, so I made him an offer and landed card #RS-MR in the series:
It's part of the Rookie Sweaters sub-set, numbered 183/499 and features a small red swatch from a jersey that was worn in a photo shoot.

I think the card's design is a bit clunky, with both the picture and swatch being so small compared to the "dead air/dead ice" of light blue all over. It's like UD hired a graphics team whose College final exam was to design a box for an Apple product but ultimately failed to work for the tech giant.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Chris Butler Autographed Card

Although he's been with the St. Louis Blues organization since 2014-15, Chris Butler had more NHL reps with the Buffalo Sabres (155 games over three seasons) and Calgary Flames (194 games over three seasons) earlier in his career.

In the four seasons since, he's seen his games per year totals go from 33 to 5 to 1 and 0 this year despite being signed to his hometown team. It's not that he's particularly bad, he's just very unspectacular. He plays decently in his own zone but doesn't take the puck away every time, his 6'1", 196-pound frame has become part of the lower-average size for current-day defenders, he doesn't take many penalties, he's not super quick, and he makes a decent first pass without sending forwards on breakaways.

In many ways, he reminds me of Greg Pateryn.

Except that Butler wore #44 in Calgary, which makes him eligible for my Flames Numbers Project, with card #70 from Panini's 2013-14 Score set:
He signed it in blue sharpie - tagging his jersey number at the end - after a game against my hometown Montréal Canadiens in the winter of 2014. In typical Chris Butler fashion, he had one shot on goal and blocked another in 25 shifts (19 minutes) that night, going pointless in a loss.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Drew Stanton Rookie Jersey Card

As was the case with this Robert Meachum card, this one of Drew Stanton (from the same 2007 Bowman Sterling set and Authentic Player-Worn Jersey sub-set from Topps, card #BSRR-DS in the series) is a tad unclear as to when and where the jersey was worn:
As his de facto rookie card, it's fair to say chances are the swatch is from an event-worn jersey, seeing as Stanton hadn't played a single NFL game prior to the 2007 season.

He was, however, a star College quarterback - ranked second in the country - albeit one with a substantial injury history, as he'd suffered significant damage in 2005 and 2006, which probably explains why he fell to the second round and the Detroit Lions.

He suffered a season-ending injury at the Lions' 2007 training camp in August and missed the entire 2008 preseason with a sprained thumb. He did get his first start in Week 16 of the 2009 season, and in 2010, led the Lions to their first road win in over three years (yeah, Detroit was pretty bad at football for a while).

2012 saw him split his time between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts, but upon losing the starting job to Andrew Luck, he chose to sign with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013, backing up the oft-injured Carson Palmer.

In 2014 alone, Stanton suffered a concussion, an MCL sprain and an infection. He didn't play much in 2015 and 2016, but was crowned the new starter three weeks ago when Palmer went down with another injury. Except Stanton himself sprained his knee and could miss a couple of games.

Football's a tough sport, after all.

Here's wishing him a speedy and complete recovery.