Friday, July 28, 2017

Andrei Markov Autographed Card

Remember a month ago when I lambasted the Arizona Coyotes for their handling of the Shane Doan situation?

Well, huh. It turns out the organization usually considered to be the classiest in the NHL, the Montréal Canadiens, are not beyond reproach in that regard, GM Marc Bergevin going out of his way to make Andrei Markov look bad in what now looks like a one-way breakup between the 16-year veteran and a team that seems to renege on not only its core "family-like" values but also any logical plan.

Indeed, Bergevin keeps repeating he wants defensive depth, yet this summer alone he's let Russian rearguards Markov, Alexei Emelin, future Norris candidate Mikhail Sergachev and Nikita Nesterov, as well as former future Markov replacement Nathan Beaulieu, go. In return, he got emerging star forward Jonathan Drouin and a third-round pick in a weak 2017 amateur draft.

That's after last year's widely panned one-for-one trade of P.K. Subban (an actual Norris winner who still has a decade of play left in him) for Shea Weber. For two years in a row, Bergevin went and got the exact player his team needed, but overpaid both times. Weber has three, maybe four decent years left and is signed until five years after the Apocalypse, whereas Subban just added a new dimension to the Nashville Predators. Weber - a slowing veteran who had just cost the Preds a Game 7 by being -5 in a 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks - was not worth a current Norris contender on the market, regardless of how you slice it. A star forward, perhaps, considering the very same day, Taylor Hall was traded for Adam Larsson, but not a better, younger, faster defenseman signed long-term but for fewer years, let alone one as charismatic as Subban.

For his part, Drouin is exactly the forward the team needs to spark the offense the way Alex Kovalev used to - and he's a local boy to boot. But the Tampa Bay Lightning were about to leave him exposed in the expansion draft, and would have had to offer a lot for the Vegas Golden Knights not to select him. And Drouin, a quick setup man who can stickhandle well and has a decent shot, is not fit to play center, just like Alex Galchenyuk, except "Chucky" already has a 30-goal season under his belt. Drouin for the "struggling" Galchenyuk? Fair to both teams. Sergachev, a young stud defenseman who didn't have to be protected at the expansion draft? That's called a fleecing.

Adding the fact that the Habs also lost Alexander Radulov this summer to free agency this summer and overpaid to keep Carey Price for three more years than necessary, which will hurt the team's cap for half a dozen years, the outlook for deep playoff runs in Montréal looks pretty bleak. Especially with the team's lack of a #1 center.

Taking all of that into consideration, as well as the $8.5M cap space available this coming season (Price's deal will only be effective starting in 2018-19), the Habs could have met most of Markov's salary demands.

To recap, last winter, his ex-wife died of cancer, forcing The General to take his bye week off in Russia to bring his pre-school twins back to Montréal. He calculated he'd need to play two more seasons to raise his three children - he has another with his new wife - without worrying too much about money, perhaps taking a job as an assistant coach when his playing days would be over. His ask was of $6M per, a slight increase from the $5.75M cap hit he carried in his previous contract.

We're talking about a 16-year veteran, an alternate captain and Team Russia's captain in many international events including a World Championship and an Olympic, a guy who played above his salary for just about every year he's been in the NHL, whose subdued and subtle play has earned the likes of Mark Streit, Mike Komisarek, Sheldon Souray and Subban massive contracts - the first three on other teams, at wages they couldn't match production-wise without #79 at their side, two of whom (Komisarek and Souray) retired in shame - and even drew praise for Norris-winner Subban as the "best defenseman on the team" for all the years he's followed hockey, not just as a teammate.

We're talking about the guy who took every single Russian player who came to the team under his wing for over a decade, and non-Russian defenders such as Beaulieu, Subban, Greg Pateryn, Mark Tinordi, Jean-Philippe Côté, Yannick Weber, Mathieu Carle and many others as well.

We're talking about the guy who was the best defenseman on the team in every month last year save for October (Weber had an amazing start that had fans salivating early on), at age 37-38.

It would have been easy for Bergevin to say "we're tight against the cap, how about 6.5 or 7 this year for a one-year deal, and a verbal agreement that on your 39-year-old contract next summer, when you may be falling into a third-pairing role, something along the lines of 3.5?", but instead he offered a one-year deal at $4.25M, in a "take it or leave it" tone.

Markov came back accepting a one-year deal, only to be told it was no longer on the table after the low-cost signature of Streit, who was the Pittsburgh Penguins' #8 or 9 defenseman on their Stanley Cup drive. If - and that's a pretty big if - the Pens have a better defense than the Habs, it isn't by much; Streit won't go from a #8 to a #2, he'll be a #6 at best, ideally a healthy scratch at times, considering he's actually a year older than Markov and never had his skill-set to begin with.

This move/decision is both a PR nightmare and a horrible hockey decision. A few weeks ago, Bergevin said "if you want loyalty, buy a dog"; good luck signing free agents with that kind of thinking made public.

Last year, I compared the Subban/Weber trade to the one that sent Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, an event that made me stop watching regular-season NHL hockey for seven years, and follow only the Avs and Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs. I boycotted the Habs for the entire season last year, and went to see the Ottawa Senators three times instead, buying my Mom a Craig Anderson jersey while I was at it.

The Markov situation just adds sadness to my frustration. It's not just that they sell you these guys that you learn to love watching, it's that they throw them out like they're nothing afterwards and are already selling you the next one before you've even got your head around it, yet the team just keeps circling the same drain, one year adding five defensemen during the season because "you can never have enough depth", the next adding "weight and toughness" in the guise of (Shea) Weber, Steve Ott, Andreas Martinsen and Dwight King, yet not retaining half of them when the team gets ousted in the first round by the Wild Card New York Rangers.

So I'm done with the Habs. At least until Bergevin's fired, but perhaps even longer.

I was keeping this card for Markov's 1000th game, which may never come now that he'll be suiting up in the KHL until Bergevin's gone, remaining stuck at 990, with 572 points (119 goals and 453 assists) to show for it, good for second on the Canadiens' all-time list, behind Larry Robinson and tied with Guy Lapointe; it's card #125 from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him wearing the team's best alternate uniform, the "reverse-red into white" one from 1944-47 that the team brought back during its centennial celebrations:
As a matter of fact, one can notice the Centennial patch on Markov's right shoulder in the picture.

He signed the card in blue sharpie during the 2015-16 season.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mika Zibanejad: Two Autographed Cards

As mentioned yesterday, there were numerous signings on July 25th, enough that I had to push back talking about Mika Zibanejad's to today. Which isn't to say it was the least important one; the New York Rangers signaled their intent on making him their first-line center following the Derek Stepan trade by signing him to a five-year, $26.75M deal that will count for $5.35M per season on the team's salary cap. It's the cap hit he was looking for in arbitration on a one-year deal - while the Rangers were aiming at paying him $4.1M - but extending the term to five years made it reasonable to both sides.

The question is, for many Rangers fans, whether Zibanejad has what it takes to carry that load and bear that pressure, and I think the former Ottawa Senators first-round pick (6th overall in 2011) does, indeed. After all, he's improved his points-per-game ratio in every single season so far, and already has two 20-goal campaigns under his belt. He doesn't get penalized much, only once reaching the 20-minute plateau, and he had a 0.66 PPG average last season, a year in which only seven players reached the 80-point mark. Only nine had a PPG average over 1.0, and that includes Steven Stamkos' 20 points in 17 games.

He also comes with tremendous pedigree, having scored the game-winner (and lone goal) in the 2012 World Juniors final, securing gold for Team Sweden against Team Russia. He has also won silver at the 2011 U-18 World Championships, and bronze at the 2010 U-17 Worlds, where he finished tied with current Rangers teammate J.T. Miller for fifth in tournament points with 9 in 6 games, behind American Rocco Grimaldi (14) and Russians Alexander Khokhlachev (13), Mikhail Grigorenko and Anton Zlobin (10 apiece).

The Rangers are particularly strong on left wing, with Mats Zuccarello being able to post some 40+ assists and 60-some points, and both Chris Kreider and Rick Nash having the potential to score 30 goals; on right wing, Michael Grabner scored 27 goals last season, Jesper Fast scored 15 in just 68 games and Pavel Buchnevich is looking to break out and has the potential to become a player similar to Artemi Panarin, meaning 30 goals and 70 points per season are not out of the question in his case. And the aforementioned Miller should also fit somewhere in there as well.

All of this is to say that playmakers such as Zibanejad and new acquisition David Desharnais - as well as returning third-line center Kevin Hayes - should have a blast this year.

Here he is from his Senators days, first wearing the white (away) uniform, checking Washington Capitals forward D.J. King in his lone 2011-12 game (with just 6:58 of ice time), on card #335 from Panini's 2012-13 Score set:
And here he is wearing the Sens' beautiful black "O-logo" jersey, on card #124 from Fleer's 2014-15 Fleer Ultra set, manufactured by Upper Deck:
He signed both in blue sharpie, tagging his jersey number (93) at the end, during the 2015-16 season.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mark Streit Autographed Card

There were three news-worthy stories in the NHL yesterday, and I went with the Robin Lehner contract signing first because, well, it happened in the morning while I was on my laptop. But there were two other signings yesterday, namely Mika Zibanejad and Mark Streit.

I'll get to both this week, but let's start with one that is local to me, Streit returning to the Montréal Canadiens after winning a Stanley Cup as a #8 defenseman with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Indeed, the veteran defeseman and former captain of the New York Islanders inked a one-year deal with a $700K cap hit, which is similar to what he used to earn in his first turn with the Habs, back when it wasn't clear if he could earn a permanent spot on an NHL defense corps. With the same coach as during his rookie season, Claude Julien.

Streit's come a very long way since the 2005-06 season, however. He exploded with 13 goals and a career-high 62 points playing alongside Andrei Markov in 2007-08, enabling him to sign a lucrative free agent contract with the Isles, with whom he had four very productive seasons, including a career-high 16 goals in 2008-09, the year he led the team in points with 56, well ahead of Kyle Okposo (39), Doug Weight (38), and Frans Nielsen (33), all of whom are forwards.

He then went on to have two very productive seasons as the Philadelphia Flyers' best defenseman, finishing fifth in team scoring in 2013-14 (with 10 goals and 44 points) and third in 2014-15 with 52 points. His age caught up to him in the last two seasons, and while he was no longer worth his $5.25M cap hit per se (though having surpassed his worth for the first two seasons, the end result is a wash, in my opinion), his production did mirror his actual salary and he did find ways to be useful.

Indeed, experience made him a better all-around defender, and his play in his own zone has greatly improved from his rookie season, going from being a liability to above-average and sliding back down to average, now that he's not as quick as he used to be. He can be a third-pair guy and not cost his team too many games. As a matter of fact, he did garner two assists in three Conference Finals games for the Pens against the Ottawa Senators and was a -1, so he contributed more than he cost.

GM Marc Bergevin had better come to terms with Markov, though, because Streit simply cannot replace him - not even on the powerplay.

Here's one from Streit's days on Long Island, wearing the team's classic blue (now-home) uniform, the captain's "C" in full display, on card #463 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 O-Pee-Chee collection:
He signed it in blue sharpie at last year's World Cup, as he suited up for a Team Europe squad that played their exhibition games at the Bell Centre.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Robin Lehner: Two Autographed Cards

A lot of hockey fans follow their local or favourite team and little else; they'll try to keep up with their team's former players, but not work too hard at it, usually just reading a couple of newspaper articles a few times a year when they're facing their former teammates.

Therefore, many Buffalo Sabres fans did not realize how serious - and seriously good - a guy like Robin Lehner is. Many lambasted then-GM Tim Murray for sacrificing a first-rounder and adding the expensive cap hit of David Legwand to acquire Lehner's services from the Ottawa Senators, but he's proved time and time again to having what it takes to be a #1 goalie in the NHL.

He's fiery, hates to lose, doesn't accept when his teammates don't give it their all, is prone to violent altercations or just intimidating opponents, was a second-round draft pick (46th overall in 2009) and won the Jack A" Butterfield Trophy (as the Playoff MVP) when his Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup in 2011.

Sure, he's had a few injuries - including concussion issues - since then and at one point had to share the net with Team USA alumni Craig Anderson and Ben Bishop in Ottawa, but he was always good enough to be a starter in the best league in the world.

He proved it once more last year, by posting top-10 numbers (.920 save percentage, 2.48 GAA, 1758 saves in 3418 minutes played over 59 games) on a team "boasting" one of the worst defenses in the league. I mean, have a look, it's a veritable "who's that?" of minuses and disappointment:
The offense was nothing to write home about either, as only Jack Eichel even came close to a point-per-game performance, while the likes of Evander Kane, Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart produced sub-par seasons at the same time.

Which makes the one-year, $4M contract Lehner signed today exactly what both sides needed: a "show me" deal to prove to new management that he can get the job done behind an improved team, and a salary worth his accomplishments so far that also fits perfectly under the salary cap.

In his honor, here are two cards from his days with the Sens, first wearing the white (away) uniform, on the "Retro" variant of card #408 from Upper Deck's 2011-12 O-Pee-Chee set:
And here he is wearing their red (home) uniform, on card #361 from Panini's 2013-14 Score set:
He signed both in blue sharpie after a Sabres-Sens game in February 2015. Both cards catch him in his usual "eyeing the puck while it moves" stance, checking with his stick that he's covering the right angle, ready to kneel down in a butterfly move should a shot come.

He celebrated his 26th birthday yesterday, so this will be a good week for the Lehner household.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cody Hodgson Jersey Card

Cody Hodgson.

Leading scorer at the 2009 World Juniors where he helped Team Canada capture gold, the Vancouver Canucks' first-round pick (10th overall) in 2008, the guy the Buffalo Sabres gave a six-year contract to only to buy him out of it after two seasons, and the guy the Nashville Predators took a risk-free flyer on ($1M one-year deal) that lasted only half the season.

I do not use the word often, nor do I take it lightly, but having disappointed three NHL franchises - two of which were struggling and needed him to develop into a good player - he retired prior to last season, after failing to land a contract, at age 26, making him a "bust", despite respectable numbers for "a player" (64 goals, 78 assists and 142 points in 328 career games), just not worthy of a tenth-overall pick.

He's now affiliated with the Preds' "youth program", although I'm not certain how even that will pan out. I mean, it's not the best example to have, someone who can honestly say "I had enough talent to be a top-line player in the best league in the world but coasted through and made millions by not trying hard enough and not impressing my coaches!"; the Preds wouldn't have made a worse move by handing the position to alcoholic and former drug addict Mike Ribeiro, who has accomplished far more on the ice and is just as bad of a role model.

Here's Hodgson wearing the Sabres' recent/retro blue (home) uniform, on card #BUFF-CH from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Black Diamond collection and Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set:
It features two matching game-worn jersey swatches.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Anthony Stolarz: Two Autographed Cards

When the Philadelphia Flyers selected Anthony Stolarz with the 45th overall pick (second round) in 2012, the plan was to let the first New Jersey-born NHL-quality goalie slowly develop into a #1 goalie. Whether it was going to take seven years to become a top-level puck stopper (Carey Price) or nine (Jake Allen), GM Ron Hextall was not going to throw him to the wolves sooner than necessary.

Five years in, he saw his first 7 games of action in 2016-17, winning the first one, earning a shutout in the second, ending up with a 2-1-1 record, .928 save percentage and 2.07 goals-against average, easily the tops on the team ahead of Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason.

That being said, his season in the AHL had its ups and downs, with a 2.92 GAA and .911 save percentage that ranked him behind Alex Lyon. So when Hextall extended both Lyon and Stolarz earlier today, it sent a clear message that Stolarz is not ready to be an NHL backup yet in his general manager's eyes. He'll need to dominate consistently in the AHL before getting that chance, which explains why Hextall also signed free agent on-again, off-again starter Brian Elliott for two years on July 1st.

I look forward to watching the 6'6" goalkeeper's development throughout the years. For now, however, here's a look at the uniforms he wore with the OHL's London Knights, starting with the black "away" one, with a throwback to the team's 1970s logo, on card #33 from In The Game's 2012-13 Between the Pipes set and CHL Prospects sub-set:
And here he is wearing the white alternate home uniform with the KNIGHTS downward wordmark, on card #12 from ITG's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed both in blue sharpie, tagging his jersey number (43) at the end, during the 2014-15 AHL season, after a Lehigh Valley Phantoms game against the Hamilton Bulldogs.

The cards show his goaltending stance very well: he's a tall, butterfly goalie who hasn't learned to keep his stick blade stuck to the ice and uses the "patting glove hand" method that cuts out some of the angles but reduces occurrences of reflex stops, particularly the middle two feet of the left post. I usually prefer when my students extend their hand outwards a little more to the left and not so much to the front - I'd rather their stance say "try me" than show fear and play safe, which I also call "play dead". But I've never played in the NHL, and Stolarz will one day star in it.

Fun fact regarding the cards: they do not agree on where he was born:
For the record, he was born in Edison and raised in Jackson.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Curtis Lazar Autographed Card

After trading for him earlier this spring and protecting him in the expansion draft, the Calgary Flames followed the expected route with prospect Curtis Lazar by signing him to a two-year "show me" contract whose cap hit is just below the $1M mark.

For a while there, we were using his achievements in the minors as promises that he'd likely be able to produce at the NHL level as well (with feats such as breaking Steven Stamkos' and Sidney Crosby's Canada Winter Games points records, winning a 2012 Ivan Hlinka tournament gold medal with Team Canada and captaining the Canadian team to gold again at the 2015 World Juniors on home soil in Montréal and Toronto), but after the trade, he did accumulate three points (a goal and two assists) in four games with the Flames, as well as suit up for one game in the playoffs.

It can be hard for youngsters to come in and learn a new system and get acquainted to new teammates in just a few weeks and make their mark enough to dress over guys who've been there all year.

He'll be a regular next season, in a line-up that will include such high-profile young forwards as Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Spencer Foo, Micheal Ferland and Freddie Hamilton, as well as veterans Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan and Kris Versteeg.

He'll be 24 by the time his contract expires, about to enter his prime, and considering he was drafted to be a cross between Milan Lucic and Mike Fisher by the Ottawa Senators (17th overall in 2013) following a fine WHL career with the Edmonton Oil Kings, that could be a huge deal for the newly-rebuilt Flames.

Speaking of the Oil Kings, here is what their white uniform looks like, on card #92 from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set and CHL Rookie sub-set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during the 2014-15 playoffs.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Marian Hossa Jersey Card

When all is said and done, Marian Hossa will enter the Hockey Hall Of Fame as one of the best two-way players of all time, the prototypical player of the 2000s and 2010s, a three-time Stanley Cup Champion and five-time finalist, and a guy who should at least have a Selke Trophy to his name but was robbed of one because of the position he plays. Indeed, wingers rarely get the honor, and some centers (Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Pavel Datsyuk) - despite being great players in their own right - have at least one too many.

It was learned last month that he will miss the entire 2017-18 season due to a skin disorder that some have equated to an allergic reaction to his hockey equipment, but as someone who suffers from a similar condition, I can say it's much more than that. In my case, it's not body-wide, instead concentrating on the patches of skin binding the legs and groin area, and my underarm on just one side. Rashes appear when in contact with a significant quantity of sweat, salt water, and/or extended friction, as well as some cheap, perfume-y deodorants. It burns so much it can cause the nerves in those areas to extend to create a forced movement, limiting the ability to continue whatever one's doing despite the pain, as the body can react without the brain's consent to change its condition.

Throughout my life, I've mostly dealt with this issue with my skin in contact with t-shirts and boxer shorts, so I can't imagine someone having that reaction while wearing hockey equipment that absorbs sweat on a permanent basis that you keep putting back on, nor can I fathom dealing with that on a larger scale than what I have - and if he's getting medical treatment for it, I assume he has it either in more open areas or has it on a larger proportion of his body.

Sure, some are complaining about his time off coming at age 38, when he's about to enter a four-year span where his salary will be $1M with a cap hit of $5.275M that goes off the books if he is on the long-term injury list; however, those folks need to remember that Hossa was still an important player on the Chicago Blackhawks last season, finishing fifth in team scoring with 45 points (26 goals and 19 assists) in 73 games with just 8 penalty minutes, used as the team's top penalty killer.

The Hawks could definitely still have used his services, and he still has enough skill to be an effective NHLer. As a matter of fact, the Hawks could very well miss the playoffs in his absence, now that they've traded away Artemi Panarin's 31 goals, 43 assists and near point-per-game production. Brandon Saad can almost replace one of Hossa and Panarin, but certainly not both of them.

We'll see how it works out in the end, and there's a small chance he could be back next year (though, at age 39, with a full year out of game shape, those chances are extremely slim), but for now, let's watch him wearing the Hawks' beautiful alternate old-school jersey on card #AF-MH from Upper Deck's 2010-11 SP Game-Used Edition collection and Authentic Fabrics sub-set:
It features a rather large red game-worn jersey swatch.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Rick Tocchet Autograph Card

Rick Tocchet.

I wasn't a huge fan of his during his playing days, when he was a power forward comparable to Wendel Clark, Dino Ciccarelli, Brian Bellows and Ray Sheppard, a notch below the pre-eminent one of the 1980s (Cam Neely) and the perfected versions of the 1990s (Eric Lindros, Todd Bertuzzi).

That being said - and even when contextualizing that his best seasons took place between 1987 and 1993, at the height of NHL scoring prowess and right before the Dead Puck Era - one has to give him his dues: fans and head coaches loved him, as can be attested by his four (1989, 1990, 1991 and 1993) All-Star Game appearances; he reached the 40-goal plateau three times, twice with the Philadelphia Flyers (45 in 1988-89 and 40 in 1990-91) and once with the Pittsburgh Penguins (48 in 1992-93, which ranked third on the team behind Mario Lemieux's 69 and Kevin Stevens' 55); he surpassed the 100-point mark in 1992-93, one of four members of the Pens to do so that year, with Jaromir Jagr's 94 just shy of making it five; he won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1991-92; and he holds the Flyers' career mark for Gordie Howe hat tricks (with 9), as well as the entire NHL's (with 18).

He also surpassed the 200-PIM mark four times during his career, and had at least 150 penalty minutes nine times.

He played for the Flyers (twice), the Pens, two half-seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and the same with the Boston Bruins and Phoenix Coyotes while I stopped actively following hockey, before going back to Philly to bookend a career that saw him score 440 regular-season goals with 512 assists for 952 points in 1144 games, with 2972 penalty minutes around all that production.

His playoff contributions amounted to 52 goals, 60 assists and 112 points with 471 penalty minutes in 145 games. He reached the Conference Finals twice with the Flyers, in 1987 and 2000.

After his playing career, he became an assistant coach (to Wayne Gretzky) with the Coyotes. His tenure was most notable for having been named the leader in a gambling ring that put Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones, in the spotlight in 2006.

He followed that up with a head coaching stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning, missing the playoffs twice with terrible records:
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Keep in mind those teams included Martin St-Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos up front both years, and Alex Tanguay on left wing and Victor Hedman on defense the second...

And yet, now that he's helped the Pens to consecutive Cup wins as an assistant to head coach Mike Sullivan, he interviewed for many teams this summer, eventually finding a fit back to a two-time stomping ground - the Arizona Coyotes. None of the articles I've read mention how long his contract is for; then again, he's already the franchise's 18th head coach, the 7th since its move to the desert.

Speaking of which, here he is wearing the team's "Peyote Coyote" jersey design ("dark" away version), on the silver signed insert version of card #105 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
I miss those uniforms...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ondrej Pavelec Jersey Card

In just one trade, the New York Rangers took definite steps back at two of hockey's most important positions, sending their #1 center, right-handed shot Derek Stepan, and the perhaps-ready-to-start backup goalie Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes for prospect Anthony DeAngelo and the 7th-overall pick in this year's draft, which turned out to be Swedish forward Lias Andersson.

DeAngelo has two years remaining on his entry-level deal, while Stepan has four years remaining at a $6.5M cap hit, which might have had something to do with the trade, but the Blueshirts are definitely a weaker team now than they were a month ago. And that was before they signed disgraced Winnipeg Jets $5M minor-leaguer Ondrej Pavelec to stand between the posts whenever Henrik Lundqvist will require a day off, which should be relatively often considering he's already 35.

This is what Pavelec's stats line looks like since the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg:
From his HockeyDB page
There are just too many instances of a GAA over or near 3.00 in there and save percentages too close to .900 to maintain a prominent role in the NHL, let alone appear in nearly 300 games in that span. His lone good recent season was 2014-15.

And for a while, I was part of the chorus that would say things like "Have you seen him play? He makes the difficult stops look easy!", but there were just too many soft goals going in to counterbalance that, so much so that he couldn't even maintain overall average stats. The truth is, all told, he is 10% worse than any other goalie appearing in over 5 games per season - and that's an incredbly high margin for someone playing the Last Man Standing position.

The perfect example for that is the picture on card #GJ-OP from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set, showing him wearing the Jets' dark (home) uniform:
The stance is near perfect, with the glove at the height I love - although it should be facing outwards by 10 degrees more, to cover more of the empty space on his left; with the positioning of his pads, you can tell he's moving, but essentially, his butterfly is ready to pounce, so that's fine; his stick blade is flat on the ice to cover the five-hole; his 6'3" frame is ready to cover the bottom third of the net, the entire middle, leave no room on the blocker side and leave two tiny, very stoppable holes on the glove side.

Except that, even when accounting for the camera not being directly in the shooter's angle, he's not covering the entire net; he should be moving forward to do so, at the very least. You an almost tell this situation is becoming too cerebral and not reflexive enough for him, and if I were the shooter, I'd go five-hole or very low on the glove side because I know he's concentrating on positioning his body so much he'll be caught off-guard if the shot isn't going where he's expecting it to (my guess is he's hoping for a shot in the chest and preparing for one in the top corner). At least he knows he's done his leg movement so much that his pads will fall right.

And this is the guy who'll give The King a week-long break in February when the games start to get tougher.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Laurent Dauphin: Two Autographed Cards

Needless to say, the Chicago Blackhawks have become masters at dealing with the salary cap after championship runs, but that fact also means losing players fans had been attached to. Many times, those players have come back years later, either to finish their careers with the team on low-paying salaries (Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, Patrick Sharp) or in trades that raise more questions than they answer.

One trade that may eventually make sense from a hockey standpoint was the one that sent Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin. As it stands, casual hockey fans see this as a salary dump mixed with a D-for-D trade, noting that Murphy had become a staple of the Coyotes' blue line last year, posting career-highs in assists and points at the age of 24.

However, the hidden chip in that trade - and the reason why I would have also done it in GM Stan Bowman's shoes - is the 22-year-old Dauphin.

You see, a couple of years ago, when the Hawks were winning championships every other season, their depth was as much of a reason they won as their offensive star power (Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane), stellar goaltending, except when facing the Nashville Predators (Corey Crawford) and, of course, elite play by defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Hjalmarsson.

But the third-line center spot was held down in recent years by the dependable Marcus Kruger, who had a heir apparent in Phillip Danault. The problem with Kruger was that he came with a $3M cap hit; the problem with Danault, whom the Hawks rightfully knew was going to come into his own and be able to produce at the NHL level, was Kruger was ahead of him, so he was traded to the Montréal Canadiens at the 2015-16 trade deadline. Danault posted 40 points with the Habs in 2016-17, playing in a first-line role he isn't suited for; Kruger was traded twice this summer.

Which leaves an open spot at the 3C position, one that was destined for Danault for years. Dauphin's statistics with the LHJMQ's Chicoutimi Saguenéens (186 points in 170 games) mirror those of Danault with the Victoriaville Tigres (251 points in 243 games), and his progression in the AHL (going from 0.25 points per game to 0.36 to 0.74) is even sharper than Danault's (from 0.36 to 0.54 to 0.33).

At 6'2" and 185 pounds, he just needs to add some 10 pounds of muscle to his frame to be a dominant third-liner like Jordan Staal and Nick Bonino have been in recent years. He isn't lights-out in any skill set, but he has no weaknesses either. He's a workhorse with good speed, good hands, terrific hockey IQ, good vision, and is already an above-average setup man. And he's sound defensively.

Here he is wearing one of the prettiest hockey uniforms of all time, the Sags' white (home) garbs, first with card #38 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set and CHL Rookie sub-set:
And here's an even better view of it, on the all-foil variant of card #58 from ITG's 2012-13 Draft Prospect set:
He signed both cards for me in blue sharpie in early May when he was in Montréal, tagging his jersey number (27) at the end.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Émile Poirier Autograph Card

Amidst all the free agent news, the expansion and amateur drafts, and subsequent rookie camps, I wouldn't want to miss a human interest story about a young man who admitted he had a problem and asked for help: the Calgary Flames' 2013 first-round pick (22nd overall) Émile Poirier admitted earlier today he'd been struggling with alcohol addiction, which kid of explains his personal leave from the Stockton Heat earlier this Spring.

Rookies such as Matthew Tkachuk have used Poirier's step back as a springboard to the NHL, but the 22-year-old Montréal native hasn't said his last word and should be a key component of a very talented Flames team for years to come.

Here he is wearing the team's red uniform on the signed insert version of card #184 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 O-Pee-Chee Platinum set and Rookie Auto sub-set:
It's a card made entirely of foil. You might notice he's sporting #28 instead of the #57 I last featured him in, worth a second induction in my Flames Numbers Project.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Alexander Radulov Jersey card

Coming off a terrific comeback season with the Montréal Canadiens, Alexander Radulov will go from a team that has Jordie Benn in its top-six on defense to the team that got rid of him as their seventh guy but is captained by his brother (Jamie Benn), the Dallas Stars. Indeed, the former Nashville Predators first-round draft pick (15th overall, 2004) has just signed this summer's most lucrative free agent deal, a five-year, $31.5M deal that carries a $6.25M cap hit.

It's a mixed summer for Habs GM Marc Bergevin, as he signed the Washington Capitals' best defensive defenseman (in my opinion, the best of the second-tier guys who do what he does, behind the top-four of Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Marc Methot, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm), but lost his team's best forward last season in Radulov, is playing hardball with one of the organization's best defensemen of all time in Andrei Markov, and looks primed to sign goalie Carey Price to the team's highest-paying contract of all time, likely top in the league by over two million per season (edit: actually by $3M, and since most of the money is in the form of signing bonuses, cannot reasonably be bought out to minimize the cap hit, as signing bonuses are guaranteed money), which will handicap the team's chances of building a contender for eight years. It's like he's hockey's Donald Trump, doing his best to get fired.

Oh, and he followed the league-wide trend of signing veterans to $1M/one-year contracts, but instead of opting for, say,  Michael Cammalleri (Los Angeles Kings), Patrick Sharp (Chicago Blackhawks), Scott Hartnell (Predators), Nail Yakupov (Colorado Avalanche), David Desharnais (New York Rangers), Dominic Moore (Toronto Maple Leafs), Kyle Quincey (Minnesota Wild), Jussi Jokinen (Edmonton Oilers), Brandon Bollig (San Jose Sharks), or Benoît Pouliot (Buffalo Sabres), he went for injury magnet Ales Hemsky.

The Stars' Jim Nill, however, is looking to build a contender, after missing the playoffs entirely due to shaky goaltending following a first-place finish in the Central Division. Antti Niemi was bought out, Ben Bishop was brought in via trade-and-sign, and Kari Lehtonen will back him up for one season. The aforementioned Methot was acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, and the team still boasts Tyler Seguin, Benn and Jason Spezza on offense, in addition to signing Martin Hanzal, who could be Nill's mistake of the summer, as he's shown with the Minnesota Wild last season to be slow and unable to make those playing with him better.

Because of that, I envision the Benn/Seguin first-line pairing to remain intact, I expect Spezza to hit 50-60 points playing with guys who can finish his plays a small portion of the time (Antoine Roussel and Mattias Janmark) and Radulov to take Hanzal on his back and get him to some 40-50 points, which should also get casual fans thinking "Radu" is having a disappointing season while Hanzal's producing at his expected rate, when in fact the Toothless Russian will have carried him all season long. Case in point: Phillip Danault, who I like a lot, but whom Radulov got to the 40-poin mark despite his having never even reached that production level in the Chicago Blackhawks' AHL system and had obtained a grand total of 10 NHL points in his previous 53 NHL games spread over two seasons. Hey, this type of situation made Phil Kessel turn Nick Bonino into a "prized free agent" and two-time Stanley Cup winner...

As a reminder, Radulov is not only one of the hockey players that is most difficult to knock off the puck and an adept playmaker and scorer, but also a two-time World Championship gold medalist with Team Russia (2008 and 2009), a Gagarin Cup winner with Ufa Salavat Yulaev (2011) and Memorial Cup champion with the Québec Remparts (2006), as well as the KHL's second all-time leading scorer behind Sergei Mozyakin.

Here he is wearing the Preds' former home uniform, on card #HM-AR from Fleer's 2007-08 Hot Prospects by Upper Deck:
It features a matching white game-worn jersey swatch.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Ryan Strome: Two Autographed Cards

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the Edmonton Oilers sent Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for former first-round pick (5th overall in 2011) Ryan Strome last week, mostly as a salary cap move to free up space for Connor McDavid's upcoming contract, but also because Eberle was disappointing during the 2016-17 playoffs.

But was this a move backwards in terms of it being a "hockey trade"? Yes and no. Strome may never live up to being a fifth-overall pick - and he's technically the second "failed Islanders prospect" Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli has taken off Isles' GM Garth Snow's hands, after Griffin Reinhart last summer, who will now continue his career as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights - but Strome might be able to jump in and fit in right away in Edmonton, as his ability to play either center or wing should give him reps alongside both McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, in addition to occasionally spending time with another decent player in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

A pretty-much guaranteed top-six role means he will be able to aim at a 50-70-point season like he achieved in 2014-15 (17 goals, 33 assists, 50 points on the nose) because he'll have a John Tavares-esque player next to him regardless of how he slots in the lineup, which should get him back into the  2013-14 AHL groove, when he posted 49 points in 37 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and at one point even led the league in scoring (a call-up to the Isles "cost him" a scoring title, but that's one move most players would make).

And we're talking about a guy who has posted 106- and 94-point seasons in Juniors with the OHL's Niagara IceDogs and won the bronze medal suiting up for Team Canada at the 2012 World Juniors, posting 9 points in 6 games.

Speaking of which, here is a close-up of the IceDogs' black (away) uniform, on card #169 from In The Game's 2010-11 Heroes And Prospects set:
And here's a sideways and more global view of the uniform, on card #34 from ITG's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed both cards in black sharpie in January 2015, while the Islanders were in town to face the Montréal Canadiens. I have to say that I already found him to be NHL-ready when I saw him stand at 6'1" and 190 pounds, and he's since added ten pounds of muscle to his frame that should give him an entirely new dimension in the Western Conference.