Friday, June 30, 2017

Jordan Eberle & Devan Dubnyk Jersey Card

Here is a card that features two players who are no longer playing with the team they are featured in on the card, the Edmonton Oilers, Jordan Eberle and Devan Dubnyk:
It's #U-DE from Fleer's 2013-14 Showcase set and Uniformity sub-set by Upper Deck, with blue game-worn jersey swatches from each player. It's the same set as this previously-featured card of Eberle's.

Indeed, Eberle was sent to the New York Islanders for prospect Ryan Strome, in what seems to be both a reaction to Eberle failing to produce in the playoffs and a move to clear up cap space for Connor McDavid's next contract, which will definitely not be a bridge deal and should make him the league's highest-paid player.

For the record, in my opinion, McDavid should be offered a two-year deal paying somewhere in the $7-9M range (per) before surpassing the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin on his next one, if only so he can have another Art Ross- and Hart-winning season to prove he is now the best forward in the league; it's not like $7-9M is bad money, either...

Eberle could very well have a 40-goal season playing alongside Isles captain John Tavares, so this move is an excellent one for GM Garth Snow, who clearly got the best player in the deal, although Strome could make Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli happy by producing alongside either McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. This move ensures Snow qualifies as one of the five best GMs in the NHL in the past five years with how he's improved his team, alongside Steve Yzerman (amazing signings thanks to Florida's tax laws, and shrewd trades), Stan Bowman (the best in the league in managing the salary cap, replacing high-paid players with fine prospects and signing returning veteran free agents to cap-friendly/low-paying deals, though I think he got hosed in the Artemi Panarin trade), Jim Rutherford (sure, he was dealt a great hand by inheriting a contender with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but his cap management and the team's development program combine to take the Pens' dynasty from a "could-have-been" to a "longer-than-it-should-have"), and Dale Tallon (who, after building the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks championship team, built a division winner with the Florida Panthers, only to have it be taken apart by his successor in a single summer, now tasked with building another one a year later).

Dubnyk leaving Edmonton has to do with the team's previous administration's inability to draft or build a defense in a decade of rebuilding, leaving half a dozen goalies helpless in trying to stop odd-man rushes and looking awful in the process, so bad that Dubnyk even spent time with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs when the Montréal Canadiens acquired his rights from the Nashville Predators in an eventful 2013-14 campaign that saw him play for three separate organizations before signing on with a fourth one as a free agent - the Phoenix Coyotes - in the off-season.

Then, at the 2014-15 trade deadline, the Coyotes traded Dubnyk - their best goalie that year - to the Minnesota Wild, enabling them to make the playoffs and immediately turning them into a division-lead contender. In two of the last three seasons, Dubnyk was the second-best goalie in the league, which made him a finalist for the Vezina once (should have been twice, as Carey Price should not have been a finalist this year), finished fourth in Hart voting, and won the Bill Masterton Trophy.

Two award-winning Team Canada alumni that the Oilers had to get rid of to be the playoff team they are today - and the Cup contenders they hope to be for the next decade.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Carl Pavano Autographed Card

It was essentially a no-win for Carl Pavano, one of three players who were sent to the Montréal Expos (with Tony Amas Jr.) in the trade that sent Pedro Martinez to the Boston Red Sox to break the Curse Of The Bambino.

Pavano even took on Martinez' #45 uniform, which makes him the third to wear that number in my Expos Numbers Project with card #481 from Topps' 2001 Series 1 (50th Anniversary) set:
It shows him wearing the Expos' grey (away) uniform, and he signed it in liquid-ink pen on one of the last Expos games at the Stade Olympique in September 2004, while he was with the Florida Marlins.

Pavano stood at 6'5" and weighed 230 pounds, which gave him a good sinker-ball and fast sliders. He had an up-and-down career that saw him as the lead starter of some pitching rotations (good for some 200 innings per summer) but also had some down years following injuries, and his salary history reads like a bad dot-com shares value chart from the late 90s, hovering back and forth between $3M per year to 5 to 1.9 to 8.5...

And it wasn't just "regular pitching injuries" like the elbow tendinitis in his rookie season in Montréal, or the bone fragments in his elbow in his sophomore campaign, tendinitis in a rotator cuff, back problems, a humerus fracture, Tommy John surgery, more bone chips in his elbow...

No, there was also the bruised buttocks, the Porsche crash, and the snow-shoveling accident that ruptured his spleen and nearly killed him.

That doesn't mean we should forget his 2003 World Series win with the Marlins (against the New York Yankees), nor his 2004 All-Star Game nod, nor the time he led the American League while playing for the Minnesota Twins in both complete games (7) and shutouts (2).

It's just that he didn't meet the expectations that had been set upon him. Unfairly.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Justin Schultz Jersey Card

When there's give, there's usually take - then there might be take-back. Take Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz, for example, who came into the league as a sought-after College free agent (after deciding not to sign with the Anaheim Ducks), then became pretty much of a pariah after things soured with the Edmonton Oilers and who, even after a certain redemption with the Pens' 2015-16 Stanley Cup win, had to settle for a one-year deal last summer.

According to what his agent, Wade Arnott, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, things will be different this time around:
We took a one-year, discounted deal to come back from last year and build upon what he did. The player took a lot of the risk. The player performed. Now the player should be rewarded.
While I understand what he meant, the tone and the word "rewarded" seems so... entitled. After all, his guy had a three-year, highly lucrative "show me" deal in which he thoroughly and completely under-performed, then he did alright in the playoffs last year and finally was a good return on investment for one season, and now he's using some top-pairing language as if Schultz had been that player all along?

It seems risky to me. It seems like he's asking between $5.5M and $6.5M per season for three-to-five years, which is Andrei Markov money, better than Karl Alzner money, two players who have outperformed Schultz every year since he's been in the league (and then some, in Markov's case).

But Schultz has two Stanley Cups. And he was seventh among points for a defenseman. Then again, Andy Delmore and Michael Del Zotto also had good statistical seasons and never amounted to much when all facets of the game were considered.

Here he is wearing the Oilers' current/retro white (now-away) uniform, on card #RM-JS from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a dark, navy-blue jersey swatch that he wore in a rookie photo shoot.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

René Corbet Autographed Card

Bonne Saint-Jean!

Indeed, what better way to celebrate Québec's National Holiday than by featuring one of its national capital's former second-round draft picks for the second time in just over six months?

Sure, René Corbet didn't put up the same point-per-game numbers with the Québec Nordiques as he did with the Cornwall Aces, nor did he put up spectacular numbers like he did with the Drummundville Voltigeurs (like the 79 goals, 69 assists, 148 points and 143 penalty minutes he posted in 1992-93), but as the kids would probably say these days, "he could hockey" very well.

The former AHL Rookie Of The Year (1993-94) and Stanley Cup winner (1995-96, Colorado Avalanche) spent his final seven seasons in Germany with Mannheim Adler (Eagles), whom he helped to a league championship in 2006-07 alongside other former NHLers Jean-Marc Pelletier, Blake Sloan, Sven Butenschön, Pascal Trépanier, Nathan Robinson, Jason Jaspers, Colin Forbes, Rico Fata, Jeff Shantz, François Méthot, and Rick Girard.

He will no enter as #55 in my Nordiques Numbers Project with card #193 from Upper Deck's 1994-95 Parkhurst set:
It shows him wearing the Nordiques' white (home) uniform. He signed it in thin black sharpie at a card show around 2012.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Shane Doan Autographed Card

Man, the Arizona Coyotes sure don't know how to handle their business in a classy manner.

A few days ago, they announced very publicly that they wouldn't re-sign long-time captain and sole player remaining from the organization's days as the Winnipeg Jets, Shane Doan, and they have now terminated head coach and VP of hockey operations Dave Tippett with three years remaining on his contract.

Tippett coached the team through two bankruptcies, four years without an owner, and a near decade-long rebuild, but that's nothing compared to Doan's contribution to the Coyotes. They straight-up would not be an NHL team today if he hadn't stuck with them through thick and thin, re-signing below market value three times instead.

I'm by no means trying to make Doan into what he was not; we're not talking Alex Ovechkin goal-scoring here, as he's only reached the 30-goal plateau twice in 21 NHL seasons, and we're not talking about a Keith Tkachuk-like power forward, as he's only reached the 100-PIM level twice (one of those being his rookie season in 1995-96), and we're not talking about a two-way forward either, as he's in the minuses ten times, and we're not talking about a player who will produce regardless of who he plays with or makes his teammates better, as he was never a point-per-game player - as a matter of fact, he only came close once, posting 78 points (28 goals, 50 assists) in 80 games in 2007-08.

Still, the guy who has put the team ahead of his own benefit for over a decade - your captain, the guy who has helped sign and attract free agents who did not want to come to such a dysfunctional team and, uh, non-traditional hockey market - should not be kicked out the door with so little class.

The sub-par PR moves made since Andrew Barroway became the team's sole owner - including getting rid of its CEO and minority shareholder Anthony Leblanc, who happens to be the guy who bought the team from the league and "saved" it from relocation or contraction - leave an awful taste in my mouth, reminiscent of the takeover and subsequent cash-grab from the sale of the Montréal Expos in MLB over a decade ago. The fact that he's NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's brother-in-law AND a hedge fund capitalist just adds to that feeling that some small town in Arizona is being pitched a monorail, which will end up in the team leaving town anyway, new building or not.

There are veterans out there for whom I wish a(nother) Stanley Cup: Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla, Jaroslav Halak, Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec. But after this, I won't be angry if Doan can get one as a balm or payback.

Here he is sporting the team's former white uniform, on card #69 from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Power Play set, seemingly fanning on a shot in front of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' Jean-Sébastien Giguère:
He signed it in 2008-09, just like this card I featured three and a half years ago, but upon which I only fell when searching for a Jhonas Enroth card, as detailed in this Olaf Kolzig post.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

David Perron Jersey Card

The Vegas Golden Knights already have a better line-up then the Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes - and not just because they netted a high draft pick for choosing Marc-André Fleury in net (in addition to rising star Calvin Pickard) and built themselves a solid defense. They have also added elite sniper James Neal, middle-six center Cody Eakin, 30-goal surprise Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, but also a player who has scored 18 goals playing on the St. Louis Blues' third line this year and reached the 20-goal mark three times in his career (with a high of 28 in 2013-14 with the Edmonton Oilers), David Perron.

He's not the type of player who can create plays on his own, but he can definitely complement a playmaking center enough to put the puck in the net, both 5-on-5 and on the powerplay.

Here he is wearing the Oilers' white (now-away) uniform, on card #GJ-DP from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 2 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a bright orange game-used jersey swatch.

Don't let the scan fool you, it does say "UD Game Jersey" on the left of the swatch, in silver, it's just a tad too light to appear on this ultra-bright rendering. There's also a "57" (his jersey number) below it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Griffin Reinhart Jersey Card

Last April, I wanted to write about Griffin Reinhart but realized I either didn't have or couldn't find a card of his to feature, so I found this one on Ebay for $2.50:
That's the jersey insert version of card #113 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 SP Game-Used Edition set and Rookies sub-set (gold variant, numbered #34/499), showing him wearing the New York Islanders' white (now-away) uniform, with a matching jersey swatch from a rookie photo shoot.

Reinhart was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, behind Nail Yakupov (1st, Edmonton Oilers), Ryan Murray (2nd, Columbus Blue Jackets) and Alex Galchenyuk (3rd, Montréal Canadiens), so it's safe to say the top talent from that year has yet to fully develop, although some picks have now become impact players, such as Morgan Rielly (5th, Toronto Maple Leafs), Hampus Lindholm (6th, Anaheim Ducks), Mathew Dumba (7th, Minnesota Wild), Jacob Trouba (9th, Winnipeg Jets), Slater Koekkoek (10th, Tampa Bay Lightning), Filip Forsberg (11th, Nashville Predators by way of the Washington Capitals), Cody Ceci (15th, Ottawa Senators), Tom Wilson (16th, Caps), Andrei Vasilevskiy (19th, Bolts), Olli Maatta (22nd, Pittsburgh Penguins), Brady Skjei (28th, New York Rangers), Tanner Pearson (30th, Los Angeles Kings), Colton Sissons (50th, Preds), Joonas Korpisalo (62nd, Blue Jackets), Shayne Gostisbehere (78th, Philadelphia Flyers), two-time Conn Smythe contender Matt Murray (83rd, Pens), and promising goalies Connor Hellebuyck (130th, Jets) and Linus Ullmark (163rd, Buffalo Sabres).

His slow development meant Isles GM Garth Snow was willing to let him go for the right price, so when Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli offered first- and second-round picks in the 2015 draft for his services, a deal was struck.

Unfortunately, Reinhart would only suit up for 29 games with the Oilers and 84 with the Bakersfield Condors over the following two seasons before getting chosen in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, meaning Chiarelli essentially gave up too much for him and lost him for nothing.

On the other hand, that means the Oilers get to keep the likes of Benoit Pouliot, Iiro Pakarinen, Jujhar Khaira, Mark Fayne, Tyler Pitlick, Kris Russell and backup goalie Laurent Brossoit.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Olaf Kolzig Autographed Card

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow collector named Aaron contacted me for a trade; one day was all it took for us to agree on the terms of the trade: I would send him a card of Jhonas Enroth's I'd featured in 2014 for this one of Olaf Kolzig:
That's card #200 from Upper Deck's 2003-04 Victory set, which he signed in blue sharpie.

Upon agreeing to the trade, I set my entire binder of players whose last names start with the letter "E" aside and asked Aaron if he had a story pertaining to the card that I could share when showing it off; it turns out he didn't, he got it in another trade, presumably with the person who acquired the signature, and hadn't thought of asking for specific details.

Still, I have a story with this card anyway, one in which I do not come out in a very positive light and, hopefully, this is just what I need to get the situation corrected.

You see, I set the Enroth card aside, as well as the rest of the binder containing my special cards of Jordan Eberle, among others, yet it has eluded me ever since. I've turned my (relatively small) apartment upside down three times already, and with work (playing music gigs outside of town at night and doing freelance translations by day) and the rest of my life, it's literally been weeks since I promised to send my end of the deal.

I even offered Aaron to just send the Kolzig back right away and the Enroth when I find it - he's actually a fan, and it was my only card of his, so he'd likely have a much better use for it than I would, and he would probably deserve getting it for free anyway - but he has given me more time to look for it.

Here's hoping karma or some other mystic form of goodwill compensation helps me fall onto it soon. This is not a good feeling at all. It dampens my enthusiasm of adding to my Kolzig collection, and I'm certain the former Vezina winner and Conn Smythe finalist wouldn't be proud.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Nathan Beaulieu Jersey card

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a trade!

Indeed, in a move half designed to not lose him in the expansion draft for nothing and half because he does not fit with new/current Montréal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien's conception of a hockey team - as exemplified by the fact that he did not suit up for the team's elimination game against the New York Rangers last month - Nathan Beaulieu was sent to the Buffalo Sabres earlier today, in exchange for the 68th pick at this year's amateur draft.

At first glance, it is a step back to trade a player who was selected 17th overall (2011) for a 68th pick, but Beaulieu was supposed to be Andrei Markov's heir as top-pair defender on the left side and powerplay quarterback, yet at 38 years of age, apart from an excellent October on Shea Weber's part, Markov was - again - far and away the best defenseman on the Habs in 2016-17.

The Sabres get a low-risk, high-reward reclamation project who may thrive under new head coach Phil Housley - whose game Beaulieu seems to have modeled himself on. The Sabres immediately put Beaulieu on their protected list, proving they do plan on giving him a fair shot; this trade likely means Alexei Emelin is on his way out of Montréal and off to the Vegas Golden Knights. Honestly, I'd rather have lost Beaulieu for nothing than Emelin.

Ironically, this means GM Marc Bergevin, who always claimed to want to build via the draft,  has now traded away the team's 2009 (Louis Leblanc), 2010 (Jarred Tinordi), 2011 (Beaulieu) and 2016 (Mikhail Sergachev) first-round picks - all at low value - and is reportedly shopping its 2012 (Alex Galchenyuk) draft pick as well. Panic, much?

Here is a young Beaulieu, wearing his rookie #40 and the team's classic red (now-home) uniform, on card #ROOK-NB from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Black Diamond set and Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set:
It features two matching red jersey swatches that were worn in a rookie photo shoot.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Phil Housley: Two Autographed Cards

Phil Housley is going home, in a way.

Indeed, the former Buffalo Sabres star defenseman was named the team's new head coach, just hours after the Nashville Predators fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the Stanley Cup Final, going back to the franchise that initially drafted him 6th overall in 1982, behind Gord Kluzak (1st, Boston Bruins), Brian Bellows (2nd, Minnesota North Stars), Gary Nylund (3rd, Toronto Maple Leafs), Ron Sutter (4th, Philadelphia Flyers), and Scott Stevens (5th, Washington Capitals), and ahead of the likes of Rich Sutter (10th, Pittsburgh Penguins), David Shaw (13th, Québec Nordiques), Chris Kontos (15th, New York Rangers), Dave Andreychuk (16th, Sabres), Murray Craven (17th, Detroit Red Wings), Ken Daneyko (18th, New Jersey Devils), Patrick Flatley (21st, New York Islanders), Gary Leeman (24th, Leafs), Paul Gillis (34th, Nordiques), Tomas Sandstrom (36th, Rangers), Pat Verbeek (43rd, Devils), Ken Wregget (45th, Leafs), Troy Loney (52nd, Pens), Mario Gosselin (55th, Nordiques), Kevin Dineen (56th, Hartford Whalers), Corey Millen (57th, Rangers), Dave Reid (60th, Bruins), Ulf Samuelsson (67th, Whalers), Mark Lamb (72nd, Calgary Flames), Vladimir Ruzicka (73rd, Leafs), Dave Ellett (75th, Winnipeg Jets), Bob Rouse (80th, North Stars), Alan Kerr (84th, Isles), Brad Shaw (86th, Wings), Ray Ferraro (88th, Whalers), Dean Evason (89th, Caps), Claude Vilgrain (107th, Wings), Randy Gilhen (109th, Whalers), Ron Hextall (199th, Flyers), Tony Granato (120th, Rangers), Bob Sweeney (123rd, Bruins), Doug Gilmour (134th, St. Louis Blues), Dave Brown (140th, Flyers), Mike Hough (181st, Nordiques), and Kelly Miller (183rd, Rangers).

Out of that draft year, you could say the biggest home run was Gilmour, and a few teams drafted particularly well (Flyers, Rangers, Wings, Nordiques and Whalers). If we could go back in time, my top-10 would likely be:
10. Tony Granato
9. Dave Andreychuk
8. Ron Hextall
7. Ulf Samuelsson
6. Murray Craven
5. Kevin Dineen
4. Brian Bellows
3. Doug Gilmour
2. Scott Stevens
1. Phil Housley
Going back to Housley himself, the American defender has a stellar career, posting career totals of 338 goals, 894 assists and 1232 points in 1495 regular-season games, and an additional 13 goals, 43 assists and 56 points in 85 playoff games, the first half against strong Adams Division rivals (the Bruins and Montréal Canadiens each reached the Final twice in the 1980s) and the middle part against the Edmonton Oilers dynasty...

Late in his career, he became a regular on the waiver wire, but during his prime, he was fairly traded for the likes of Hall of Famers Dale Hawerchuk and Al MacInnis, just to give you an idea.

Upon retiring, he turned to coaching - obviously - starting out with nine seasons coaching the Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota, then won a gold medal coaching Team USA at the 2013 World Juniors before spending the last four seasons as an assistant-coach in Nashville, a role he has also held with the American National Team four different times, at the 2011, 2013 (bronze medal) and 2014 World Championships, as well as the 2016 World Cup.

As a player, he has a silver medal from the 2002 Olympics, and was a member of the 1996 World Cup team that beat Canada in the Final in Montréal. He played in seven All-Star Games.

Despite also suiting up for the Sabres, Flames, Devils, Caps, Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, I usually picture him as the blue-line leader for the Jets, sporting the alternate captain's "A", as seen in these two cards he signed in blue sharpie during his Hall of Fame induction weekend in 2015; let's start with the home (white) uniform, on card #440 from Score's 1992-93 Score set and Franchise sub-set, a card that defines him in my opinion, with the Jofa helmet and a Sabres player in the background:
And here he is wearing the blue (away) uniform, on card #276 from Upper Deck's 1992-93 Series 1 set:
Yes, this "A" seems cheaper, like it was made out of tape or a roughly-cut piece of plastic that was ironed on the jersey, typical of the "old" rinky-dink NHL. I love it!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ed Westfall Autographed Card

Ed Westfall may have essentially been forgotten by hockey fans outside of Boston and Long Island, but he was essential to the 1970s NHL.

He kicked the decade off with Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins in 1970 and 1972, making one very under-appreciated "hockey play" right outside the frame of one of the best-known goals of all time, Bobby Orr's "Flying Special" in the 1970 Cup Final: he rotated and took Orr's position on right defense; had Orr lost control of the puck or otherwise missed on actually scoring, the St. Louis Blues would not have been able to get more than a 3-on-2 on the Bs, because Westfall's defensive play - a given in 2017, but not so in 1970 - would have saved the day, positionally anyway.

He also scored the second goal in what stands as the fastest set of three goals in NHL history, a 20-second span that put the Vancouver Canucks in the record books for the wrong reasons.

Westfall was a defensive specialist. He never won a Selke trophy for the simple fact that it hadn't been invented yet, but his defensive play was so widely recognized that he made his way onto the 1971, 1973, 1974 and 1975 All-Star Games despite his most prolific offensive season netting him 25 goals, 34 assists and 59 points (all three being career-highs) in 1970-71.

He was also one of two very good players chosen by the New York Islanders in the 1972 expansion draft, along with a goalie by the name of Billy Smith. Westfall was named the team's very first captain, and he also scored its very first goal.

He helped coach Al Arbour shape the team's identity and work ethic, and although he relinquished the captaincy to Clark Gillies in 1977 and retired just one season before the Isles' first of four straight Cups, his fingerprints were all over it. As a matter of fact, so was his voice, as he was the team's TV analyst from his retirement until 1998.

The team has since then held many events where he and other former players took center stage, including when they first wore "retro" jerseys in 2007, an Ed Westfall Night when he was inducted to the team's Hall of Fame in 2011, and a few other occasions.

It was during one of my pilgrimages to Nassau (I have yet to visit Barclays Center, and I don't plan on doing so either) with the Nordiques Nation that I got him so sign this card of his in black sharpie:
That's card #32 from O-Pee-Chee's 1974-75 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him wearing the Isles' white (then-home) uniform, with the "C" clearly visible. I also had him sign one where he was wearing the blue (away) uniform, but I have since traded it away. I regret it now, and plan on re-acquiring one, as well as (at least) one from his days with the Bruins.

I wasn't born in 1974, but I did buy a bunch of old cards as a kid in the late 1980s, at a flea market where my grandmother sold shoes; most cards were from 1977-1979, but there were a couple of older ones as well. Watching Patrick Roy win the Cup and Conn Smythe in 1986 got me interested in the sport (and wanting to be a goalie), but these couple of hundred cards from the flea market were probably what got me interested in the history of the game. Well, that and having a sportswriter/journalist grandfather who was friends with the 1960s and 1970s Montréal Canadiens, and having those legends show up at many family events and my own games sometimes. Yeah, I guess that helps, too.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Simon Després Jersey Card

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the referees for the second straight Stanley Cup, and to Sidney Crosby and a ridiculously biased short list of 17 newscasters who chose him as the Conn Smythe winner when he was at best the fourth-best choice for the second-straight year, this time behind playoff points leader Evgeni Malkin, rookie points record holder and leading goal scorer Jake Guentzel, as well as Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. Pens goalies Marc-André Fleury and Matt Murray were arguably the best players on the ice in each game, but having split the playoffs, neither of them were legitimate choices.

But I want to take a moment to acknowledge a player whose luck turned when the Pens sent him to the Anaheim Ducks and missed out on both runs, Simon Després.

Després was a first-round pick, 30th overall, in 2009. His development had been slow and steady, and he appeared in two postseason run with the Pens and two lengthy ones with their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He scored his first playoff goal with the Ducks - a game-winner against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014-15, then was limited to 32 regular-season games and 5 more in the playoffs the following year, but 2016-17 really takes the cake, as he suited up in just one game after signing a five-year extension, then was put on long-term injury leave.

And I was told there were chances he'd even be bought out prior to the expansion draft this summer. (edit, June 16th: it is confirmed). Essentially, chances are he'll be making a million dollars per year for the next eight years regardless if he plays hockey or not.

Just a reminder that one's luck can change quickly in Life, often with little having to do with the person on the receiving end of the hardships.

Here he is sportin the Pens' post-lockout white (away) uniform, on card #GJ-SD from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 1 set and UD Game Jerseys sub-set:
It features a black game-worn jersey swatch of the young defenseman, to whom we wish a happy life.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Craig Billington Autograph Card

After featuring Craig Billington with the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche, perhaps it's time I revisited his first NHL trade, one that sent him from the New Jersey Devils to the Ottawa Senators, with card #A-CB from In The Game's 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s set:
Notice the Devil's horns helmet but black jersey, which is the original Sens away uniform.

At first, Billington was highly regarded as a potential #1 goalie, which is why the Devils drafted him in the second round (23rd overall) in 1984, but by the time he finished his career in Juniors (two more seasons in the OHL) and finished developing with the AHL's Utica Devils, making it to the NHL in 1991-92 after spending all of the previous season with the Canadian National Team, the Devils were  had already drafted Martin Brodeur, so they no longer had a need for Billington or Chris Terreri - although it should be noted that the latter eventually turned into Brodeur's backup and retired to become his goaltending coach.

Yet, because every team needs to be represented at All-Star Games and the 1992-93 Devils were so awful, Billington was the representative that was sent to Montréal for the mid-season classic, where he joined the Senators' own rubber magnet, Peter Sidorkiewicz.

That first-year Sens teams were god-awful, finishing with a 10-70-4 record, and its leading scorer was a defenseman, and not a household name either: Norm Maciver, a guy who had been toiling between the AHL and NHL in the Edmonton Oilers organization the previous three years, the Hartford Whalers before that, and the New York Rangers the three seasons before that, so of course their only representative would be their goalie, although considering Sidorkiewicz finished with a 8-46-3 record, 4.43 GAA (which was extremely high even in the high-scoring 90s), and a .856 save percentage.

And so, on Draft Day 1993, just four months removed from both appearing in their lone, semi-controversial All-Star Game, both goalies were traded for one another, with former Rangers prospect Troy Mallette and the fourth-round pick that became Cosmo Dupaul also making their way to the Sens.

With all the shuffling on the Colorado Avalanche staff these past few years, Billington has graduated from player development coach to Director of Player Personnel to VP of Player Personnel to his current position as assistant-GM to Joe Sakic, as well as the general manager of their AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage, although I hear rumblings they may move their players closer to home in Colorado in the near future.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Henry Mateo Autographed Card

Henry Mateo is mostly known as a baseball player. He played for the Montréal Expos/Washington Nationals for parts of six seasons, then tried to get back in the Majors via stints with the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays, to no avail.

While toiling in the minors leagues, he became a wanted man for "criminal conversation in North Carolina", a civil charge that is, essentially, adultery. He has not returned to the United States since, having instead opted to play in Mexico twice, with a stint in China Taiwan in between.

He wasn't much of a threat at bat, with one career home run in 280 plate appearances, and the year he saw the most games was 100 (for a total of 169 plate appearances) in 2003, in which he batted for .240; he batted .273 the following summer, but barely stepped up to the plate 46 times in 40 games, as Jose Vidro was the team's main second baseman... and Jamey Carroll was his principal replacement, although I don't remember him at all.

A noted base stealer in the minors, Mateo only accomplished the feat 15 times in the National League.

Here he is fielding in the pre-season, wearing the Expos' Grapefruit League blue shirt and sporting #62, which slots him nicely in my Expos Numbers Project:
That's card #261 from Topps' 2002 Topps Total set, packs of which I purchased at dollar stores the following winter, which means I likely got the card signed - in blue sharpie - in 2004, the Expos' final season in Montréal, which they split evenly between the Olympic Stadium on the East end of the island and Estadio Hiram Bithorn in Puerto Rico.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Steve Bernier: Two Autographed Cards

When a couple of friends and I last spoke with Steve Bernier in late May, he was telling us that during this past season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, he realized he hadn't felt as good about his scoring ability since his days in Juniors, and we're talking about a guy who's had 31-, 49-, 36- and 35-goal seasons in the LHJMQ, only once appearing in over 68 games (71, in 2002-03, the year he potted 49 with the Moncton Wildcats).

Of course, his comeback season came to an end in late January, after 33 games, in which he had scored 16 goals with 10 assists for 26 points, with 26 penalty minutes and a +13 rating. A labrum tear was the final diagnosis. Still, that didn't stop the New York Islanders from re-signing him to a two-year, two-way contract earlier today.

In the NHL, the former first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks (16th overall in 2003) has reached the 30-point mark three times in two separate decades, the most recent occurrence being with the 2014-15 New Jersey Devils.

He brings a wealth of experience, having been a star growing up (MVP of Canada's Midget AAA tournament, then known as the Air Canada Cup, now the Telus Cup), then in Juniors, and having been a part of the gold medal Team Canada rosters at the 2002 Ivan Hlkina U-18 Tournament and the 2003 U-18 World Juniors, in which he finished second in team scoring with 8 points in 7 games. He also played in the 2011-12 Stanley Cup Final, although some Devils fans might still have outbursts of violence when they're reminded of his 5-minute major during which the Los Angeles Kings scored three goals in the deciding game. Let's be honest, though: the Devils never stood a chance, and were extremely lucky to make it there in the first place.

He signed two cards for me (in blue sharpie) earlier this Spring, both from his days with the Sharks. First, the former home and weirdly-delimited white uniform, on card #67 from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Black Diamond set:
And here he is in black, on card #165 from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Fleer collection:
He tagged both signatures with "16" - the jersey number he currently wears with the Isles, not the one he wore in San Jose (26).

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Luke Glendening Jersey Card

Luke Glendening has been a winner and leader throughout his hockey career, starting with two seasons as the University of Michigan Wolverines' captain, leading them a CCHA title and NCAA Final. He then won the Calder Cup with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins in 2012-13, following a 26-point rookie season in the pros.

After starting the 2013-14 season in the AHL, posting 12 points (5 goals and 7 assists) in 18 games, he was recalled by the Detroit Red Wings, who were facing a ton of injuries, and he hasn't looked back since. Sure, he took a personal step back with just 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists) in 74 games last year, missing the last six because of injuries as the Wings ended a 26-year consecutive playoff streak, but the 28-year-old whose cap hit is below the $2M mark should hover around 10 goals and 20 points per year, and a half-point-per-game average in the playoffs, which makes him a valuable NHLer.

He has a tremendous work ethic and has become a good two-way center who starts most of his team's penalty-killing shifts.

I was extremely happy to pull this card from a raffle/group break last month, showing him in the Wings' red 2016 Stadium Series uniform, which includes the old-school stylized "D" on the chest, although I am not fond of the football-style huge numbers on the arms:
It's card #RW-LG from Upper Deck's 2016-17 SP Game-Used Edition set and Stadium Series Fabrics sub-set, featuring a red swatch worn on February 27th, 2016, as the Wings faced long-time rivals Colorado Avalanche at Coors Field in Denver, a 5-3 Detroit win despite the Avs leading 2-1 after two periods. Glendening had an assist on Justin Abdelkader's 15th of the season, which put the Wings up 3-2.

Glendening was likely to be left available at the expansion draft in a couple of weeks, but an ankle surgery may have the Vegas Golden Knights looking to grab another Detroit player instead.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Brian Barnes: Two Autographed Cards

Brian Barnes was a standout playing baseball at Clemson University (and eventually even made it to their Hall of Fame), the first true steps of a career that saw him play for five seasons in the majors - four of them with the Montréal Expos - and six more in minor-league ball after that.

He completed a game in each of his first two seasons in Montréal, leading the team to believe he had it in him to become a #2 or #3 pitcher in the rotation at some point; indeed, he went 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA with a veteran group in 1990 - his first game coming on my birthday, September 14th - then went 5-8 with a 4.22 GAA in 1991 as the team went through a rebuilding phase centered around Delino DeShields, Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker.

He became a reliever and an injury-replacement pitcher in the rotation for 1992 and 1993, then couldn't find a permanent spot in stints with the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994.

He helps me check off two different boxes in my Expos Numbers Project, starting with #47 on card #73 from Topps' 1992 Topps set:
He also wore #41 in his final year in Montréal, which is where card #289 from Pinnacle Brands' 1994 Score set comes in:
He signed both cards in thin blue sharpie in 2000, when he was playing for the Calgary Cannons, the AAA affiliate of the Florida Marlins.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Matt D'Agostini Autographed Card

Have you lost track of former Montréal Canadiens draft pick Matt D'Agostini? As I had predicted, he made his way to Switzerland, where he was nearly a point-per-game player for powerhouse Genève-Servette for two seasons, but had trouble adapting to a mediocre team in HC Ambri-Piotta this past year:
Courtesy of HockeyDB
Still, if you would have asked me prior to the beginning of 2016-17, I would have said a return to the NHL was likely, seeing as his coach with Team Canada's 2015 Spengler Cup-winning team was current Ottawa Senators bench boss Guy Boucher, and Boucher brought fellow team member Tom Pyatt along. And D'Agostini's the one who scored the Cup-winning goal.

The Director of Player Personnel for that team? Current Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee...

Perhaps he'll get a tryout with either team. In any event, here is his rookie card, #523 in Upper Deck's 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set and Marquee Rookies sub-set, wearing the Habs' classic "bleu-blanc-rouge" (now-home) uniform:
He signed it in blue sharpie - tagging his jersey number (36) at the end - most likely in 2009-10, a season he spent hovering between the Habs and their AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs, before being sent to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

P.K. Subban Dual Jersey Card

So, uh, he delivered on his guarantee...

Indeed, the Nashville Predators won Game 3 and P.K. Subban, of course, played a pretty big role, part of a four-man unit (with Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis) that reduced the Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby to a grand total of... zero shots on goal. He got Malkin to lose his cool and Crosby to say something worth Subban distorting it to create a minor controversy.

And that's the thing about Subban: he's as good as the best in the league with his on-ice play. He can hang in there and dominate games like Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Duncan Keith, and the Drew Doughty and Dustin Byfuglien types of recent years - but once he's confident that his game preparation is tight enough, he also has that cockiness and edge to try to take some opponents off their game, yet also the leadership to calm his troops down and turn a 2-0 series deficit into a 2-2 tie, by calmly stating facts like "we're nearly unbeatable on home ice", and "we've got a great group of guys", "well coached", "terrific goaltending that's the backbone of this hockey club" all while never giving the Pens any locker room billboard fodder, not even mentioning the Preds had outplayed Pittsburgh in those two games.

The 2017 playoffs have shown and confirmed to the entire world - stubborn media types in particular - that Subban (particularly how he handled Jonathan Toews in the first round, but also his play against the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks) and Karlsson (who skated circles around the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and even the Pens most times) are now the complete deal, that their positioning, defensive play and, heck, even hitting game is on par with their offensive prowess. They are on top of the game. The Hockey News even went so far as saying that Karlsson may now be on par with Crosby and Connor McDavid as the best player(s) in the game.

Here's Subban on the dual swatch insert version of card #77 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Artifacts set:
It shows him wearing the Montréal Canadiens' white (now away) uniform, with two matching game-worn jersey swatch. It's numbered 87/125, and I feel I paid fair value for it on Ebay at $8.50 ($4.99 plus $3.50 shipping).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

2016 World Cup Figurines Review

Last September, I purchased three 2016 World Cup of Hockey figurines by Imports Dragon, and I must say I was let down a bit. I mean, I get that they didn't have a lot of time to produce and market them, but still, some of their flaws show a definite drop in quality from the ones I'd purchased years ago from McFarlane Toys.

Back in the day, McFarlane made awesome sports-related toys, as well as film-related and music-themed ones; I had Slash from Guns N' Roses, Angus Young from AC/DC, Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, all of Metallica, Freddie Kruger from the Nightmare On Elm Street films, Little Nicky from the Adam Sandler movie, Michael Myers from the Halloween series, Eric Draven from The Crow, Samuel L. Jackson as Shaft from the remake, Edward Scissorhands, but the highlights were my hockey figurines, including four of Patrick Roy (red and white Montréal Canadiens uniforms, and burgundy and white Colorado Avalanche uniforms), a couple of Wayne Gretzky (black Los Angeles Kings uniform, white Edmonton Oilers with the Stanley Cup), P.K. Subban (Habs red), Miikka Kiprusoff (red Calgary Flames uniform), Saku Koivu (Habs white), Mats Sundin for some reason (Toronto Maple Leafs blue, with a crooked pin under his skate), four of Joe Sakic (white Avs uniform, burgundy and alternate as well, and Québec Nordiques blue), Cristobal Huet (Habs red), Chris Chelios (Canadiens red), and Jose Theodore (Habs red, which I had him sign the base of).

Most of them were stolen, so I tried moving on, although I have purchased smaller ones of comics/film characters Batman and Black Widow in the past couple of years, which got me started again. My favourite of the three hockey ones is, of course, that of my favourite goalie (and by far the best of the tournament), Jaroslav Halak, sporting Team Europe's white (away) uniform, in a butterfly/glove save stance:
One thing I don't like is they are too rigid to change positions, yet fragile enough that you feel they might break if you tried, so I left his glove arm bent towards the back:
I'm not certain how realistic his waist size is, here... And here's the back:
Where I have the biggest issue, however, is with the otherwise pretty Tomas Plekanec (wearing the Czech Team's red uniform) and Andrei Markov (Team Russia white):
Their faces are their own, but the bodies come from the exact same mold, they just painted different uniforms and numbers on them:
McFarlane had a habit of re-using a player's mold for different teams and/or uniforms - OF THE SAME PLAYER; they didn't recycle them on their entire line.

Also, the Plekanec is missing his captain's "C":
And here's the Markov on its own:
They're worth it for how nice the uniforms are on their own, basically Adidas versions of their usual international jerseys, but decent ones. However, the toys themselves don't compare favourably to their predecessors, although I will readily admit that even McFarlane's quality had gone down when they started making too many per year.

McFarlane series 1-10: 9/10
McFarlane series 11-33: 8/10
Imports Dragon World Cup: 6.5/10

Edit, June 9th, 2017: According to the pictures on this Beckett Hockey page, they seem to have five player molds and three goalie molds. It's still incredibly lazy.