Saturday, September 30, 2017

Ilya Zubov Autographed Card

Was last year's Game 7 Conference Finals finish a fluke, or are these Ottawa Senators the real deal? Oh, they're real - I even think they'll finish second in the Atlantic Division, ahead of the young Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the best defenseman in the game in Erik Karlsson and support from the likes of Dion Phaneuf, Cody Ceci, Fredrik Claesson, Chris Wideman and rookies Thomas Chabot, Colin White and Andreas Englund, as well as three potential 30-goal scorers on the wing (Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan) and two proven 60-point 1A centers (Kyle Turris and Derick Brassard), plus a fine tandem in nets consisting of Craig Anderson and Mike Condon, Ottawa has one of the most well-balanced teams in the league.

There was a time when the Sens were looking at a young Russian center to one day replace Jason Spezza on the top line, a fourth-round (98th overall) pick at the 2005 draft called Ilya Zubov. Standing at 6' and just a little over 200 pounds, with tremendous speed and stick-handling skills, and the ability to make plays in tight spots, the Sens were convinced he had what it takes to become the next Ryan Getzlaf.

Unfortunately, he does not like playing in traffic, and the North American ice brings about more physical play than the European game, so he was never really able to make the transition right. The third time he was demoted to the AHL's Binghamton Senators to start a season, he requested a trade; the organization instead agreed to let him go back to the KHL, where he has been playing ever since.

He is currently in his third stint with Ufa Salavat Yulayev, producing at nearly a point-per-game pace (1 goal, 9 assists and 10 points in 12 games). He also played parts of five seasons with powerhouse CSKA Moscow (playing alongside the likes of Alexei Yashin and Alexander Radulov), a year and a half with Vladivostok Admiral, and two seasons with Omsk Avangard (with Vladimir Sobotka, Martin Erat, Nikita Nikitin and Alexander Perezhogin).

Here he is sporting the Sens' red (home) uniform on card #50 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Rookie Class boxed set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
He's wearing #53, which is perfect for inclusion in my Sens Numbers Project.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pavel Bure Jersey Card

I just posted my prediction for the upcoming Florida Panthers season, admitting I may have been overly optimistic by placing them 5th instead of 7th in the Atlantic Division, but it is what it is - I mean, I decided on my standings on September 1st, so there's really no going back now.

I could have gone many ways in featuring the Panthers on this blog today, but I decided to go with Hall Of Famer Pavel Bure, who led the NHL in scoring twice while in Florida, with 58- and 59-goal seasons in 1999-2000 and 2000-01, in the heart of the clutch-and-grab Dead Puck Era. He had also led the league in his second-consecutive 60-goal season with the Vancouver Canucks in 1993-94, bringing the team to one win of the Stanley Cup on the strength of 16 goals and 31 points in 24 postseason games.

Upon leaving Vancouver after a contract dispute, he played only four more playoff games - all of them in 1999-2000, his second season with the team. He wouldn't see playoff action in two injury-riddle years with the New York Rangers (2001-03) either, but still managed to score 31 goals and amass 19 assists for 50 points in 51 games on Broadway.

His NHL career was among the most spectacular of all-time:

He also starred and won a lot internationally, first with the Soviet Union, with World Juniors gold (1989) and silver (1990, 1991), World U-17s gold (1988), European Juniors Championship gold (1989) and bronze (1988), World Championship gold (1990) and bronze (1991), and Goodwill Games gold (1990), and also with Team Russia, earning Olympic silver (1998) and bronze (2002) medals.

Here he is sporting the alternate captain's "A" on the Panthers' best-looking red (then-away) uniform, on card #SCS-PB from Topps' 2001-02 Stadium Club set and Stadium Club Souvenirs sub-set:
It features a yellow game-worn jersey swatch that was likely from a stripe on the arms. I traded three Chicago Blackhawks autograph cards from the same brand to obtain this one in 2010 or 2011.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Jim Paek Autographed Card

It could have been a great story that wrapped things up perfectly but, alas, the NHL will not be sending its players to the Olympics this year in Pyeongchang, South Korea. As is customary, the host country will have a team - unfortunately, it will share a division with Team Canada, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, but it's still a feat to have climbed the ranks from 33rd in the world seven years ago to 18th at the moment.

The key to that rise has been naming former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, two-time Stanley Cup winner Jim Paek as head coach, plucking him from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins; the Seoul-born, Etobicoke-raised Paek then picked up another dual-citizen former NHLer, Korean-American Richard Park, as assistant coach, and the duo worked on developping the overall skill set of the 2500 registered hockey players in the country, enlisting the help of Canadian and American expats playing in Asia, particularly those such as Brock Radunske, a former third-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers (79th overall, 2002) who has been a tremendous player for the Asia League's Anyang Halla for ten years and is described by Paek as a "blond-haired, blue eyed Kitchener native".

Although Radunske's currently having a tough season, he's pretty much a lock to make South Korea's Olympic team:
From EliteProspects
Wouldn't it have been a great occasion, though, to showcase the world's best players in a year where the Pens are back-to-back champions, in a country whose national coach was himself a back-to-back champion with the same team?

I don't think Pittsburgh can three-peat (granted, I didn't have them as favourites in either of the last two seasons either), but I do see them winning the Metropolitan Division this year.

Here is a card I got Paek to sign (in blue sharpie) at a card show in Florida in the early 2000s:
It's #192 from Upper Deck's 1993-94 Series 1 set.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dirk Graham Autographed Card

The Chicago Blackhawks are not adverse to making summertime roster changes, and perhaps this summer's moves will require a bit of an adjustment period before bearing all their fruits - not enough for them to miss the playoffs, mind you, but enough to face another tough first-round match-up against the Nashville Predators.

Throughout the years, the Hawks have had some excellent captains, many of whom are Hall of Famers: Dick Irvin (1926–1929), Johnny Gottselig (1935–1940), Doug Bentley (1942-44, 1949–1950), Jack Stewart (1950–1952), Bill Gadsby (1952–1954), Pierre Pilote (1961–1968), Stan Mikita (1976–1977), Keith Magnuson (1976-1979), Darryl Sutter (1982–1987), Denis Savard (1988–1989), Chris Chelios (1995–1999), Tony Amonte (2000–2002) and Jonathan Toews (2008–present).

You may have noticed how I skipped the guy who was in between superstars Savard and Chelios, actually taking over from Savard as he was injured, one of many times head coach "Iron" Mike Keenan made his disdain for his star center public. That replacement captain would be Dirk Graham, a tough, defensively-minded center who taught many of the kids on the team (Jeremy Roenick, Joe Murphy) the merits of playing hard and with a measure of integrity, leading the 1992 edition of the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to Mario Lemieux's and Jaromir Jagr's Pittsburgh Penguins.

Graham didn't talk much, but he led by example, surpassing the 20-goal mark seven times (with a high of 33 in 1988-89), and the 50-point mark four times in 12 NHL seasons, all while attempting to check the other team's best players, which led to his finishing in the minuses five times as well.

In every season where he had a negative +/- differential, he averaged more than a penalty minute per game, going over the 100 mark three times, with a high of 142 in 1986-87 in his last full season with the Minnesota North Stars.

When he inherited the "C", he was considered the first captain of African descent in NHL history, because one of his parents was of mixed race; when Jarome Iginla became captain of the Calgary Flames, Iginla was retconned into the position because one of his parents was Black. In my opinion, Graham came first, he should get the title; Iginla should be content with being the best captain of his generation, and there will be a "full-Black" captain eventually, rendering these race sub-categories even more irrelevant.

My main gripe with Graham is his 1991 Selke Trophy win. He was not among the better defensive players of his time by any means; he got Selke votes in just five of his NHL seasons, twice finishing 7th, once 19th, and once 29th. This is not the type of polite nod that screams "dominant player".

At that time, the best defensive player in the world was without a doubt Guy Carbonneau. He received votes in every season from 1983-84 until 1993-94 and again in his final season, 1999-2000; from 1983-84 until 1988-89, he was on the same line as Bob Gainey, pretty much the guy for whom the award was created, so you'd think that would have played against him, yet in each of those seasons, Carbonneau finished well ahead of Gainey.

As a matter of fact, "Carbo" won it three times, finished second twice and third another time in a seven-year span in which the only anomaly was a fourth-place finish... in 1990-91. That year, both Carbonneau and Graham produced 0.56 points per game, with Carbonneau scoring more goals. The Hawks were a powerhouse, with six players at +20 or better - including two in the league top-5 (Roenick at +38, Steve Larmer at +37) - while Graham was eighth on the team; in comparison, only one Hab was over +10 (Brian Skrudland, +12), as the team struggled to find consistency in the backup role, trying out the likes of André Racicot (7-9-2, 3.20 GAA and .891 save percentage in 21 games), Frédéric Chabot (0-0-1, 3.33 GAA and .867 save percentage in 3 games), and Jean-Claude Bergeron (7-6-2, 3.76 GAA and .862 save percentage in 18 games).

And yet the Canadiens finished with a 39-30-11 record, with Carbonneau facing the likes of Dale Hawerchuk and Pierre Turgeon (Buffalo Sabres), Cam Neely, Ray Bourque and Craig Janney (Boston Bruins), Pat Verbeek, Ron Francis and Kevin Dineen (Hartford Whalers), Lemieux, Jagr, Mark Recchi, Kevin Stevens, Paul Coffey, Joe Mullen and John Cullen (Pittsburgh), Brian Leetch, Mike Gartner and Ray Sheppard (New York Rangers), Pat Lafontaine (New York Islanders), Dale Hunter, Mike Ridley, Dino Ciccarelli and Kevin Hatcher (Washington Capitals), Kirk Muller, Brendan Shanahan, Peter Stastny and Claude Lemieux (New Jersey Devils), and Rick Tocchet, Pelle Eklund and Murray Craven (Philadelphia Flyers) every night.

Also, Graham was invited to play on Team Canada at the 1991 Canada Cup by Hawks head coach Keenan, who mostly chose players he knew extremely well, from then-Hawks Larmer, Graham and Ed Belfour to Tocchet of his former team (Philadelphia) and a grand total of 13 players from the Clarence Campbell (now known as "Western") Conference out of 22 NHLers. The best goalie in the world (Patrick Roy), the best defensive forward of his era (Carbonneau), the youngest captain at the time (Joe Sakic, fresh off two consecutive 100-point seasons), one of the best defensemen of all time (Bourque), former Hawks legend Savard, and the most talented player of all time (Mario Lemieux, allbeit with a bad back) were all conspicuously absent from the line-up, but OHLer Eric Lindros made the cut, as did the likes of Shayne Corson, Russ Courtnall, and stay-at-home defenseman Mark Tinordi.

It was a joke of a line-up, and Graham's Selke is another taint on the aberration that was the 1990-91 season in terms of fair play and common sense.

Which isn't to say he wasn't very good at what he did. I just don't think he was ever the best at it, even for a single season.

Here he is sporting the Blackhawks' white (then-home) uniform, on card #261 from Score's 1991-92 Pinnacle set:
He signed it in (dying) black sharpie at a card show around 2005-2006.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Darryl Sittler Jersey Card

After taking a moment earlier today to predicting they'd finish third in the Atlantic this coming season, I thought I could honor the Toronto Maple Leafs by featuring Darryl Sittler, one of the five greatest players in team history, in a conversation with Dave Keon, Syd Apps, Charlie Conacher, Johnny Bower and Tim Horton, ahead of the likes of his best friend Lanny McDonald, Frank Mahovlich, Turk Broda, Doug Gilmour, King Clancy, Red Kelly, and hundreds more.

Ironically, Keon, Sittler and McDonald all had issues with then-owner Harold Ballard and were essentially run out of town, thrown under the bus, and/or made to suffer by the organization at one point or another.

Sittler, who replaced Keon as captain after Ballard not only decided not to re-sign him but also pretty much forbade any other NHL team to offer him a contract as a free agent (setting up a "compensation fee" so high for the then-35-year-old that it would essentially strip that team of any of its talent), set his sights on a few NHL records, starting by becoming the first Leaf to ever accumulate 100 points in a single season, then scoring the most goals in a single playoff game (5), scoring the game-winner for Team Canada in the first Canada Cup (now known as the "World Cup"), and, of course, the record for most points in a single game (10 points, from 6 goals and 4 assists).

As captain and player representative to management, Sittler was responsible for having coach Roger Neilsen re-hired after a Ballard outburst left him without a job; GM Punch Imlach had issues with the amount of power Sittler had built up in the locker room and inquired with other teams about his trade value, but Sittler had a no-trade clause, which his agent Alan Eagleson said he would waive for half a million dollars. Imlach instead traded his best friend and linemate McDonald to the Colorado Rockies, resulting in Sittler taking scissors and cutting the "C" off of the front of his jersey. Which just furthered his influence among his peers, while Ballard compared the move to "burning the Canadian flag". Canadians consider him a folk hero, as proven by this country song.

Here he is the way he should always be remembered, wearing Leaf blue, with the "C" very visible for all to see, on card #GJ-SI from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Series 1 set and Game Jersey sub-set:
Keon may have won the Stanley Cup, Mahovlich may be the team's highest-scoring winger; Gilmour and Mats Sundin may have instilled hope and inspired a generation of Leaf fans during their respective reigns as captains, but only Sittler combined both talent and leadership to that high a level at the same time. He's the Top Leaf in my book.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Nicolas Petan Jersey Card

I totally expect the Winnipeg Jets to make the playoffs - albeit as the West's Second Wild Card, playing out of division in the postseason - but they are more than ready to take the next logical step and win a game in the playoffs. Because, yes, this current iteration of the Jets has failed to do so thus far.

Part of that lays with GM Kevin Cheveldayoff pulling the trigger on just one major trade since taking the reins of the franchise in 2011 and his inability to secure a true #1 goalie to complement his team (although Eric Comrie has some Junior-league pedigree and I still fully believe Connor Hellebuyck will develop into a high-end netminder), and part of it lies with head coach Paul Maurice's sometimes inexplicable decisions, particularly his obsession with forgiving his players' dumb penalties and favouring heavy players to skilled ones in games where speed might make a difference.

Yes, perhaps that was a bit contrived just to get to 5'9", 2013 second-round pick (43rd overall) Nicolas Petan, who was scratched two dozen times last season on his way to a one-goal, 11-assist, 12-point season in 54 games despite decent AHL production with the Manitoba Moose and two 100-point seasons with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks.

So far in the NHL, he's been playing alongside Chris Thorburn, an honest, hard-working fourth-line grinder whose highest production was the 19 points he put up with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010-11.

However, there were flashes of brilliance, such as when he's tasked with quarterbacking the powerplay, where he can use his centerman's vision, speed and play-making skills to create plays from the point out of thin air. On a team with such talent as Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Mark Schiefele, Bryan Little, and Mathieu Perreault, and blue-liners like Dustin Byfuglien, Dmitry Kulikov and Jacob Trouba on his side, the Jets' powerplay could (and should) be in the league's top-10.

He has suited up for Team Canada three times, earning two gold medals (2012 U-18s and 2015 World Juniors), as well as a disappointing fourth-place finish at the 2014 World Juniors.

Here he is wearing the Jets' white (away) uniform on the Level 1 Jersey insert of card #126 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Trilogy collection and Rookie Premieres sub-set:
The card is from a multi-brand repack with "guaranteed hits" and features a dark blue swatch from a jersey worn in a rookie photo shoot. It's numbered 407/599.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Jason Zucker Autograph Card

I didn't go about writing all 31 of my NHL 2017-18 Standing Predictions posts going in with the idea that the Minnesota Wild would finish first overall; as a matter of fact, I wasn't even sure they'd win their division until I analyzed each team's strength, weaknesses, number of off-season moves and first week of training camp injuries list. Then I predicted they would. Then I looked at all four teams I thought would finish atop their respective divisions (Minnesota, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Edmonton Oilers), thought the Pens might feel the effects of two straight Stanley Cup wins, the Bolts will have fought a deep Eastern Conference, and the OIlers will have fought hard within their division all year as well, so the Wild stood out.

Just like Jason Zucker's $2M cap hit stands out, after piling up 22 goals, 25 assists and 47 points in 79 points last year and looking to build on that total as he's entering his prime years (he's 25 years old).

Of course, he's also entering his contract year in his final RFA season, so if he reaches anywhere between 50 and 60 points, he might be looking at more than doubling his current salary for the next 5, 6, 7 or 8 years.

So far, the 2010 59th-overall pick (second round) has 110 career points, which ranks him 21st of his draft class, way behind Tyler Seguin (428) and Taylor Hall (382), but ahead of forwards Brett Connolly (6th, 83 points), Alexander Burmistrov (8th, 95 points), Joey Hishon (17th, 2 points), Austin Watson (18th, 28 points), Beau Bennett (20th, 64 points), Riley Sheahan (21th, 98 points), Quinton Howden (25th, 17 points), Emerson Etem (29th, 46 points), Tyler Pitlick (31st, 14 points), Brett Bulmer (39th, 3 points), Christian Thomas (40th, 3 points), Devante Smith-Pelly (42nd, 78 points), Curtis Hamilton (48th, no points, 5 penalty minutes), Connor Brickley (50th, 7 points), Calle Jarnkrok (51st, 89 points), Petr Straka (55th, 2 points), Johan Larsson (56th, 48 ponts), and Oscar Lindberg (57th, 48 points), defensemen Erik Gudbranson (3rd, 49 points), Dylan McIlrath (10th, 5 points), Brandon Gormley (13th, 5 points), Derek Forbort (15th, 20 points), Jarred Tinordi (22nd, 6 points), Mark Pysyk (23rd, 44 points), Alex Petrovic (36th, 36 points), Jon Merrill (38th, 36 points), Patrik Nemeth (41st, 15 points), and Martin Marincin (46th, 25 points), goalies Jack Campbell (11th, AHL), Mark Visentin (27th, Austria), and Calvin Pickard (49th), and non-NHLers Jared Knight (32nd), John Mcfarland (33rd), Dalton Smith (34th), Ludvig Rensfeldt (35th), Brad Ross (43rd), Sebastian Wannstrom (44th), Phil Lane (52nd), Mark Alt (53rd), Justin Holl (54th), and Kent Simpson (58th).

I think he's among the Wild's good, young building blocks, along with Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Joel Eriksson Ek, Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, and Jonas Brodin.

Here he is wearing their old red (then-home) uniform, on the signed insert card #SS-JZ from Panini's 2013-14 Score set and Signature sub-set:
I features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph that consists of a big "J", an uncomfortable "Z" and his uniform number (16) in some sort of a cloud/bubble.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Christian Dvorak Jersey Card

The Arizona Coyotes have made a ton of changes this off-season that scream "we are doing everything we can to finally put an NHL team on the ice", and 20 years into the franchise having moved from its previous home as the Winnipeg Jets, and it sure is fishy considering the team is unable to sell season tickets, unable to secure an arena deal anywhere in the state, and was purchased by Andrew Barroway, a hedge fund manager who happens to have personal family ties with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

There is a clause in the Coyotes' minority owners' initial purchase deal that stated the team would be allowed to relocate if it incurred losses of $50M over five years; last year alone, the 'Yotes lost $24M... and I'm fairly certain that what hedge fund managers like to do, first and foremost, is to make money.

The Coyotes cost Barroway, essentially, $150M. The Vegas Golden Knights were one of two teams that applied to acquire a $500M expansion team (i.e. a team with no staff or players) two years ago, along with the potential next iteration of the Québéec Nordiques; no other city will be given an expansion team in the near future out of respect for the time and money Québec has already put in.

However, there is an NHL-ready arena in Kansas City, an NHL-acceptable one in Portland, Oregon that would do until a new one is constructed, two new arena projects in Seattle, and Houston has yet to be utilized properly... You'd think a fully-staffed team with a full stable of terrific young players would net at least $350-400M in this new marketplace...

So, if anything, urgency might be the reason why the team has made all these moves this summer. And they should almost pay off, as I see them finishing fourth in the Pacific Division, ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks... but right outside the playoff picture, with the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets taking the Western Conference Wild Card spots.

Speaking of the Coyotes' young guns, Christian Dvorak was one of three London Knights players drafted by Arizona, with Max Domi and Brendan Burke. He captained the team in 2015-16, leading it to its second Memorial Cup, and also won bronze with Team USA at the 2016 World Juniors.

He has a great shot and combativeness that should enable him to keep piling up numbers at the NHL level while playing in a middle-six role, although he could be teamed with Domi on the first line on occasion a few years down the line, when Derek Stepan is no longer the go-to middleman. Heck, some even see Dvrorak - not Domi - as that eventual #1C.

Here he is on the jersey insert version of card #103 from Upper Deck's 2016-17 SP Game-Used Edition set and Authentic Rookies sub-set:
It shows him wearing the Coyotes' current burgundy home uniform, with a matching jersey swatch he wore in a photo shoot. The card is numbered #67/399.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Bob Sweeney Autograph Card

The 1990s weren't kind to the New York Islanders, as GM Mike Milbury traded away an entire roster of first-round draft picks and quality role players like defensemen Vladimir Malakhov, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Bryan Berard, Eric Brewer, Darius Kasparaitis, Scott Lachance and Bryan McCabe; Olympic goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Tommy Salo; and forwards Olli Jokinen, Todd Bertuzzi, Tim Connolly, Jean-Pierre Dumont, Raffi Torres, and the second overall draft pick from 2001 which became 100-point center Jason Spezza.

That's a pretty impressive cast to just send away at the four corners of the NHL. It was as if Milbury, a Boston native, was still trying to work for the Boston Bruins despite their having fired him four years prior; he single-handedly ran a once-dynastic franchise to the ground for a full decade.

Another Bostonian who played for his hometown Bruins for a long time and ended up with the Isles in the mid-1990s was Bob Sweeney, seen here wearing the infamous "Fisherman" jersey (albeit with the logo airbrushed out because of copyright issues), on the signed insert version of card #26 (therefore known as S26) from Upper Deck's 1995-96 Be A Player set:
He's fighting for rink real estate with a Pittsburgh Penguins player - I want to say Chris Wells, but I might be wrong.

The 1995-96 season was Sweeney's last in the NHL, split between the Isles and the Calgary Flames. He then spent one year in the IHL with the Québec Rafales before spending five seasons in the German League (DEL).

Despite what some folks will have you believe, the present-day Islanders have a good, balanced team (as long as John Tavares remains with them), a work of art and patience built by a savvy, smart and bold GM in Garth Snow, who may have been handed the job in a bizarre manner (slotted in as Rick DiPietro's backup, owner Charles Wang had a talk with him and realized he had detailed knowledge of every team's players, systems and coaches, and ideas on how to make all of them better, Isles included), but the reason he did replace Neil Smith was because he basically delivered a better interview and had better knowledge of current-day players than Smith, who'd been away from the day-to-day operations of running a team for six years.

I believe in Snow, and I believe Snow has built a good enough team to enter the playoffs as the East's First Wild Card team, ahead of the New York Rangers and last year's Atlantic Division-leading Montréal Canadiens.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Luca Sbisa Autographed Card

I wasn't sure what team I'd choose to feature this card for - if any - but I'll go with the Vegas Golden Knights, whom I believe will finish 7th in the Pacific Division, ahead of the Vancouver Canucks - and also ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings.

In recent years, Canucks fans and beat journalists had taken a dislike to Luca Sbisa for his seeming inability to help the puck exit his defensive zone, let alone drive play; what he did, however, was deliver hard hits and help Vancouver kill penalties better than any other defenseman on the team. That's right: he led the team in fewest shorthanded goals given per PK minute played.

Now, many of us - even those who see his admittedly limited qualities - were surprised to see the Golden Knight choose Sbisa in addition to the equally-hard-hitting Alexei Emelin, considering Emelin is also better-rounded in every other aspect of the game save for fighting, but Vegas answered these questions by trading Emelin to the Nashville Predators for a third-round draft pick (and retaining $1.2M of his salary).

Although he was born in Italy to Italian parents, the Sbisas moved to Switzerland when he was one, and he has always suited up for Team Switzerland (or Team Europe) internationally. Although he has never medaled, he did meet his wife, Lauren Anaka Sbisa, while participating in the 2010 Olympics.

Here he is wearing the Philadelphia Flyers' white (away) uniform from 2007-2010, on card #362 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Power Play boxed set:
He signed it in blue sharpie in September 2016 during the World Cup, erroneously adding "42" as his uniform number instead of "47".

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Igor Larionov Autographed Card

The last time the Vancouver Canucks were irrelevant for this long, they were wearing their finest uniforms (the "spaghetti skate"), the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were dominating their division, they had a good group of young players to build around (including captain-to-be and current Team President Trevor Linden) but needed one spark-plug that came in the form of Pavel Bure.

Right now, they have potentially-good youngsters like Bo Horvat, Markus Granlund, Sven Baertschi, Brock Boeser, Troy Stetcher, Olli Juolevi, Thatcher Demko, Jonathan Dahlen, Elias Pettersson and Jacob Markstrom, but I don't see their savior anywhere yet, so I predicted they would finish 8th in the Pacific Division this year.

Two years before the Canucks plucked Bure away from the Central Red Army team, they had already brought him a mentor in Igor Larionov, one of the best players in the world in the 1980s, of whom Wayne Gretzky - the best player of all time and a part-time teammate of Mario Lemieux's on Team Canada - once said was the "best center in the world".

It's easy to see why, too: Larionov won two Olympic gold medals (1984, 1988) with the Soviet Union, and one bronze for Team Russia (2002), but it was at the World Championships that the Big Red Machine really took its domination to the world stage, winning four gold medals (1982, 1983, 1986, 1989), one silver (1987), and one bronze (1985). The Soviet squad also won the 1981 Canada Cup, which was the first time Larionov was paired with Vadimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov to form the "KLM Line". He also played in the 1984 and 1987 Canada Cups, as well as its replacement, the inaugural World Cup of Hockey, in 1996.

Then came his turn in the NHL, starting in Vancouver, where he posted 52 goals, 92 assists and 143 total points in 210 games, followed by a decent stretch with the San Jose Sharks (82 points in 97 regular-season games, plus 27 points in 25 playoff games), the better part of 8 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings (three Stanley Cups, 397 points in 539 regular-season games and 59 points in 105 postseason games) interspersed by 26 games with the Florida Panthers (11 points), and 49 games (11 points) to close off his career with the New Jersey Devils. As a veteran leader on the Wings, he earned the nickname "The Professor".

Of course, with all those championships, he's one of the 27 members (to date) of the famed Triple Gold Club (Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold, a Stanley Cup). Better yet, though, with Joe Sakic, Scott Niedermayer and Viacheslav (Slava) Fetisov, he's one of four Quintuple Gold Club members, which adds Canada/World Cup titles and World Juniors gold to that feat. Sakic and Niedermayer also have Memorial Cups as well.

It was no surprise when he was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008.

Post-retirement, he served as Director of Hockey Operations for SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL) and is now a player agent (notably for Nail Yakupov, for whom he laid out a map for success) and a wine maker.

Here he is sporting the Canucks' superb 1980s white (home) uniform, on card #246 from Pro Set's 1991-92 Series 1 set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
While he mostly wore #8 or #9 in his NHL career, he wore #18 in Vancouver, which fits him perfectly in my Canucks Numbers Project.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Slater Koekkoek Autographed Card

After two unsuccessful turns in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and a decent 29-game showing last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed Slater Koekkoek to a one-year deal over the summer worth $800K.

The 23-year-old, 6'2", 193-pound rearguard was the Bolts' first pick of the 2012 draft (10th overall) was dominant in last year's AHL playoffs and will look to build on that to stick with the Lightning.

What you get from Koekkoek is a bit of everything. He was drafted to be a good second-pairing defender with the ability to quarterback a powerplay, good speed, the cardio to play a high-tempo game, an accurate first pass, good play-making ability and a heavy, accurate shot. He had also captained the OHL's Peterborough Petes and been an alternate captain on a U-18 Team Canada that won gold at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, so there was some leadership to his game.

In last year's Calder Cup Final run with the Syracuse Crunch, however, he added "shut-down defender" and "penalty-kill specialist" to his skill set.

That's not to say he can do all these things against the likes of Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid in the best league in the world, but it cements his potential as a #3 defender, no doubt. And if you factor in the fact that Tampa already has Norris Trophy contender Victor Hedman and added a guy who could win one in the next decade this summer in Mikhail Sergachev, an excellent #3 is just what they need anyway.

I already see them winning the Atlantic Division this year, maybe we should just go ahead and pencil them in for the next five years.

Here is Koekkoek wearing the "C" on the Petes' purple uniform, on card #76 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed it in blue sharpie after a game against his hometown Ottawa Senators during the 2014-15 season.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Vaclav Prospal Autographed Card

It's been a few seasons since the Philadelphia Flyers were considered serious contenders, but I feel they're on the verge of breaking out - not this year, but the way GM Ron Hextall has built his roster and taken his time bringing his players up in a way that he'll be able to keep most of them if not all under the salary cap for a long time, as soon as goalie Anthony Stolarz is ready to take over the #1 job between the pipes.

Since breaking into the NHL 50 years ago, the Flyers have been able to build a Stanley Cup finalist every decade, which is rather impressive. The team from the mid-1990s, starring Hextall for much of it, the Legion of Doom (Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg) up front, Team Canada defenseman Éric Desjardins, Rod Brind'Amour, Paul Coffey and so many more was pretty memorable despite never winning a championship.

One long-time NHLer was drafted to fit right in with that group, in the third round (71st overall) of the 1993 draft: Vaclav Prospal. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as Prospal was traded along with Pat Falloon and a second-round pick for the Ottawa Senators' Alexandre Daigle, in January 1998.

Prospal would spend parts of four seasons with the Sens, with whom he had his first 20-goal and 55-point season (1999-2000), then half a season with the Florida Panthers before getting traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he had his finest seasons in the NHL in three separate stints with the team:
From HockeyDB
As you can see, he narrowly missed being part of the 2004 Stanley Cup-winning Bolts team...

Although he was eventually bought out from the last three years of his final deal with the Lightning, he did play well for the New York Rangers (where he was also an alternate captain) and Columbus Blue Jackets - for two years apiece - after his time in Tampa.

Here, though, in keeping with my theme of featuring the same team on each of my blogs for all of September as I make my 2017-18 predictions public, I will show him wearing the Flyers' white (then-home) 1980s-1990s uniform, making a play along the boards in front of the New Jersey Devils' John MacLean, on card #McD-39 from Upper Deck's 1997-98 McDonald's / Ice set and Ice Breakers sub-set, which he signed in blue sharpie in 2012 or 2013:
I am particularly fond of how the signature does not bleed through his body on the reverse of the plastic see-through card:
He missed the 1998 Olympics because of an injury but did earn a bronze medal with the rest of the Czech Team at the 2006 Torino Games to go with his 2000 and 2005 World Championship gold medals.

He retired in January 2014.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Jake Allen Jersey Card

It's been a tough summer for the St. Louis Blues, as the injuries have been piling up in a way that is reminiscent of last year's Dallas Stars. That is the sole reason why I see them failing to make the playoffs this year, not goaltending, because I do believe Jake Allen has finally "arrived" as a true #1 goalie.

His performance in last year's playoffs was terrific, as he posted a 1.96 GAA and .935 save percentage to go with a 6-5 record in 11 games. If you read that the way you should, his team did not match up in the second round and was swept, giving him an 0-4 record against the Nashville Predators, meaning despite those four straight losses, he was able to let in fewer than two goals a game on average. He's actually the sole reason why St. Louis made it out of the first round.

His play in the postseason was equal to what he'd shown in the past three years in regular-season play, in which he was good enough for the Blues to let All-Star and Jennings Trophy winner Brian Elliott go in the summer of 2016:
From HockeyDB
Now 27 years old, there is no need to worry about him for the next seven years; like any goalie, he will likely have one season of sub-par play, but he'll bounce right back - such is the nature of the beast.

Here he is wearing the Blues' beautiful alternate uniform, on card #GJ-JA from Upper Deck's 2016-17 Series 1 collection and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Karl Alzner Autograph Card

Amid the series of questionable-to-awful-to-terrible moves Montréal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has made this summer, one signing seems out of place for being smart, reasonable and savvy: the free agent signing of former Washinton Capitals defensive defenseman Karl Alzner. It won't be enough for the team to make the playoffs, but it was a very good move.

In Alzner, the Habs get a high-level defensive specialist the likes of which they haven't had since Josh Gorges in his prime. He's a good shot blocker who intercepts the puck well by covering passing lanes in the defensive zone. He's reliable and can kill penalties. In terms of pure skill, he's an upgrade over the loss of Alexei Emelin, tough Emelin's departure leaves just Shea Weber as a capable, physical checker.

What hurts Montréal most is who else left over the summer, because in addition to Emelin's hard-hitting checks, Andrei Markov and Nikita Nesterov both left for the KHL, Nathan Beaulieu was sent to the Buffalo Sabres, and future Norris Trophy contender Mikhail Sergachev was sent to division rivals Tampa Bay Lightning for Jonathan Drouin (whose offense merely replaces that of free agent goner Alexander Radulov). And that's just on defense (well, apart from Radulov). The Habs also lost heavy depth players Brian Flynn, Steve Ott and Dwight King, but they already had 15 fourth-liners, so that hurts less - except for the fact that those are probably guys who would fit better under "new" head coach Claude Julien's preferred style of play.

All told, I expect a difficult season in La Métropole, one filled with growing pains and fan anger, perhaps even (gasp!) not selling out every game. There will be panic-induced trades, and Bergevin might not make it until next season. After all, Patrick Roy's contract with the Colorado Avalanche has now run its course, and he's now free to peddle his services anywhere he wants to. And he really wants to make the Canadiens contenders again. And he still believes in Carey Price, whose $84M, 8-year contract is a no-trade clause by itself.

But Alzner's five-year deal worth $4.65M per season is a good bargain.

Here he is on card #A-Al from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Artifacts set and Autofacts sub-set:
It features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph - and a relatively clear one at that - with his uniform number with the Caps (27) tagged at the end.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Brendan Shanahan Dual Jersey Card

I've been holding onto this card then losing track of it then waiting for the appropriate time to talk about it since 2010:
That's former head of the Department Of Player Safety and current Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, sporting the New York Rangers' classic blue (now-home) uniform, on card #HS-BS from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Trilogy set and Honorary Swatches sub-set.

After predicting the Rangers would finish 5th in the Metropolitan Division but still make the playoffs as the Second Eastern Wild Card team, I figured now would be as good a time as any to feature the Hockey Hall Of Famer.

I've hinted at it in the past, but in my view, Shanahan was an All-Star, but not a Hall Of Famer. He reached the 50-goal plateau twice, both times before the Clutch-And-Grab Dead Puck Era, the second being his lone 100-point season; in both instances, he played on a line with Brett Hull, who had more goals than he did. He failed to score 30 goals eight times in a 21-season career (notwithstanding lockout-shortened seasons), and never won a scoring title of any kind; as a matter of fact, he only finished in the top-5 for goals once, finishing fifth in 1993-94 with 52, his career-high. He only twice finished in the top-10 for points, finishing eighth in 1993-94 (with 102) and tenth in 1996-97 (with 88), yet stands 26th in career points (with 1354) because he played seemingly forever; having suited up for 1524 games, he is not a point-per-game player despite playing eight seasons before the New Jersey Devils made it so that the entire league started playing anti-hockey.

And his three Stanley Cups came before the salary cap, when the Detroit Red Wings spent all the money in the world to ice the likes of Shanahan, Hull and Luc Robitaille in bit roles for the chance of buying themselves at least a Conference Finals finish every season between 1995 and 2005. Prior to that, his Devils, St. Louis Blues and Hartford Whalers never amounted to much, and later in his career, it was more of the same with the Rangers and his second stint in Jersey.

That being said, he's the only NHLer with career stats that include over 600 goals and 2000 penalty minutes, and he has had a few noteworthy postseasons, such as the Cup-winning 1996-97 and 2001-02 Wings teams, where he finished second in points both times, first behind Sergei Fedorov, then tied with Fedorov behind Steve Yzerman.

Again, "star player" material, just not any performances for the ages.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mikhail Shtalenkov Autograph Card

Technically, it was supposed to come next year, but with the pre-season injuries list to the Anaheim Ducks piling on, the Edmonton Oilers have a legitimate shot at winning their division this very season - and I personally think they will.

They have an excellent mix of high-end talent (Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Cam Talbot), mid-to-high-end talent (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Strome), grit (Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Zack Kassian, Eric Gryba), surprisingly good offensive defensemen (Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera), defensive defensemen (Adam Larsson, Kris Russell), youth up front (Tyler Benson, Kailer Yamamoto, Anton Slepyshev), and youth out back (Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear), and after last season, they now have playoff experience as well, having eliminated the San Jose Sharks and pushed the Ducks to seven games.

In many ways, they remind me of the Oilers of the late 1990s, which featured the likes of Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Mike Grier, Ryan Smyth, Josef Beranek, Roman Hamrlik, Todd Marchant, Rem Murray, Janne Niinimaa, Kelly Buchberger and Georges Laraque.

One player who made a brief appearance on those teams was Mikhail Shtalenkov, a former star for the USSR's Moscow Dynamo (1985-92, 2000-02) who went 12-17-3 with a 2.67 GAA and .896 save percentage in 34 games with the Oilers in 1998-99. He wore #35 in Edmonton, which is perfect for my Oilers Numbers Project thanks to the gold signed insert version of card #204 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
It shows him wearing the Oilers' beautiful dark blue (away) turn-of-the-millennium uniform, with the "oil driller" shoulder patches; it is hard-signed in thin black sharpie.

In the NHL, Shtalenkov spent most of his time with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks (five seasons), as well as parts of two seasons (19 games total) with the Phoenix Coyotes, and 19 games with the Florida Panthers, before returning to the Dynamo in 2000-01, for two seasons.

Here are his stats from the Russian SuperLeague and while representing his country, whether it was called the USSR/CCCP, the United Team, consisting of Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Armenia from the former Soviet Republic (1992 Olympic gold) or Team Russia (1998 Olympic silver):
From HHOF/Legends Of Hockey
It's fairly easy to see that he was better at covering his angles on the wider international ice surface than in North America, where his success was limited to the Rookie Of The Year award (Garry F. Longman Memorial Trophy) in the IHL in 1992-93...

Following his playing career, he turned to coaching. There was an odd incident in 2012 where he neglected to come home for two days after his flight landed, and his wife reported him missing...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Brian Hayward: Three Signed Sharks Cards

Remember the good old days when you could count on the San Jose Sharks to not make the playoffs? Well, according to me earlier today, things are looking bad for the boys in teal this coming season, as I see them finishing 6th in the Pacific Division.

It's not that they don't have top-level talent, they do: GM Doug Wilson has built a strong roster with good upper-end players like Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Marc-Édouard Vlasic, who can provide an almost-elite-level 20 minutes per game, plus the 60 games of top-notch goaltending from Martin Jones. Instead, the problem lies within the team's depth and a lack of youth among their prospects, considering none of Danny O'Regan (23 years old, C, point-per-game AHLer), Julius Bergman (21, D), Antoine Bibeau (23, G), Marcus Sorensen (25, LW), or Radim Simek (25, D) are under the age of 20, and some are already in their mid-20s.

It's not as bad as the Sharks' inaugural season, mind you, when a rookie by the name of Pat Falloon, whom many (not me) see as a failed draft pick or, worse, a "bust", led the team in every offensive category with 25 goals, 34 assists and 59 points in 79 games. Those would be half-decent numbers in 2017, but they were extremely low in 1991-92. So low that he was also a -32, which was in a three-way tie (with Jayson Moore and Pat MacLeod) for fourth-worse on the team; indeed, Paul Fenton was -39, current GM and then-captain and All-Star Wilson was -38, and Bob McGill was -34.

In net, the highest save percentage was a tie between Jeff Hackett and Wade Flaherty, at .892; followed future All-Star Arturs Irbe (.868), Team Finland goalie Jarmo Myllys (.867) and three-time Jennings Trophy winner Brian Hayward, whose back gave out from all the flailing around required to stop pucks with that porous a defense (.867, in 7 games). In terms of goals-against average, it ranged from 3.84 (Hackett) to 5.02 (Myllys), with three at 4-or-more in between (Flaherty at 4.38, Irbe at 4.47 and Hayward at 4.92).

It was while injured that Hayward caught the broadcasting bug, as he would serve as colour commentator for Sharks games when he was sidelined, until he retired and the expansion Anaheim Mighty Ducks came calling and offered him to do the job for them... fives times. He declined for a while, wanting to finish his MBA at Cornell University instead.

He did eventually agree and, 23 years later, he's still there, occasionally taking on double-duties with Hockey Night In Canada and on NBC. It was during one of those double-broadcasts in the playoffs that I crossed his path at the Bell Centre, where he took a black sharpie to sign cards featuring him wearing the Sharks' inaugural uniforms.

Let's start with the white (then-home) uniform, for which all players posed with the same, generic #91 jersey, on card #59 from Upper Deck's 1991-92 Series 1 set:
For the teal (then-away) uniform, I decided to go with two cards from the Topps brand:
On the left, possibly in the middle of one of his patented two-legged pad slides, is card #436 from the 1992-93 Topps set, while the picture on the right - also known as card #60 from the 1992-93 Bowman set, of which I have an unopened box for sale or trade, if anyone is interested - is probably from a pre-game warmup. What I like on the Bowman card is that he's two years removed from asking for a trade away from the Montréal Canadiens, but is still wearing Lefebvre pads, hand-made made by then-Habs trainer Gaétan Lefebvre for Patrick Roy and other butterfly goalies. Lefebvre produced these from 1987 until roughly 1995 for close friends and their families, but had already drastically reduced production when Roy started using all-Koho equipment prior to the 1992-93 season.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Marc Denis: Two Autographed Cards

One thing we know about the Columbus Blue Jackets is that they're really good, extremely balanced, and deep at almost every position. We can add that they have a shrewd GM in Jarmo Kekalainen who is as good at signing reasonable contracts with his RFAs as he is good at winning trades, and that's without mentioning that as head scout for the Ottawa Senators and St. Louis Blues, he had the best eye for talent in the league, as he was responsible for the drafting of such stars and sleeper picks as Marian Hossa, Ray Emery, Martin Havlat, Alex Pietrangelo, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, David Perron and David Backes. I predict the Jackets will finish second in the Metropolitan Division this year and should, legitimately, be looked at to win their first playoff series in team history.

Another hockey expert I like to link to the Blue Jackets is their former #1 goalie Marc Denis, who is now the hockey analyst for TV station RDS. In my opinion, he's the best in the business. Sure, he has to say that every Carey Price save is a work of art because his network happens to own part of the Montréal Canadiens, but he is also always insightful, particularly when it comes to the tactical side of the game, as well as defensive positioning and goaltending. It helps that he was the goalie coach for the Chicoutimi Saguenéens at the turn of the decade.

Stylistically, like every Quebecer in his (and my) age range, he was a pure butterfly stopper, emulating Patrick Roy. The initial King of Butterfly Saves, Hall Of Famer Tony Esposito, once said of Denis: "(He) has one of the brightest futures in the game. He has shown the ability to dominate a contest." The year after that quote, Denis appeared in 77 games for the Jackets, setting an NHL record for most minutes played with 4511.

He signed two cards (in black sharpie) from his days in Columbus for me last season, both showing him wearing their then-home white uniform; first, here is card #33 from Upper Deck's 2000-01 Heroes set, showing him receiving shots during a pre-game warmup:
And finally, here is card #68 from UD's 2000-01 Ice set, an amazing see-through plastic card that this scan does not do justice to:
Of course, the back has the reverse of that picture to go with statistics; notice how the signature doesn't penetrate his body:
Year in and year out, Ice and Artifacts are the best-looking and most spectacular cards on the market. I have had this card for years, and I still get happy just looking at it - the autograph just adds to my pleasure.