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.

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