Thursday, December 28, 2017

Corey Crawford Jersey Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 25, 2017

Box Break: 2017-18 Artifacts Blaster Box

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Nikita Kucherov Jersey Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 15, 2017

Marc-André Fleury Jersey Card

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll give it a solid 8/10.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Jordan Subban Autographed Card

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Brayden Schenn Autograph Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Martin Gerber Jersey Card

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Mathias Niederberger Autograph Card

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

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

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

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