Friday, August 16, 2019

Edward Pasquale Autographed Card

Edward Pasquale has posted very good statistics at every level, yet at best remained an NHL third-stringer, which is likely why he signed on with the KHL's Barys Nur-Sultan this summer, a move I hinted at back in 2014.

We're talking about an OHL All-Star, a Calder Cup (2017) and Hap Holmes Award (2019) winner in the AHL, and now a goalie who's won 67% of his NHL starts - all against Original Six teams, as he's won against the Detroit Red Wings, lost to the Montréal Canadiens and won the Tampa Bay Lightning's final game of this past season against the Boston Bruins, the win that tied the NHL record for most regular-season wins in a single season with 63. Thus, even in the NHL, he's played important games.

But there was no more room left with the Bolts, after the team re-signed starter Andrei Vasilevskiy to an eight-year, $76M deal, signed excellent backup Curtis McElhinney, and traded for AHLer Mike Condon... all while still having 2018-19 backup Louis Domingue on the books. Something had to give.

In my opinion, a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs could have used his services to relieve Frederik Andersen once a week.

Here he is sporting the OHL's Saginaw Spirit's beautiful white (home) uniform, on card #93 from In The Game's 2009-10 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed it in blue sharpie after the game he lost to the Habs last April, nearly five years to the day after I received my first signed cards of his by mail. I wish him the best in Kazakhstan.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Cody Ceci Autographed Card

It's been an interesting summer for Cody Ceci, to say the least.

For the Ottawa native whose entire career thus far had been with the Ottawa Senators, it started off with a trade to heated rivals Toronto Maple Leafs, a Canada Day mini-blockbuster that saw the Sens acquire defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, 20-goal scoring forward Connor Brown, and minor-leaguer Michael Carcon in exchange for blueliners Ceci and Ben Harpur as well as minor-league forward Aaron Luchuk and the Columbus Blue Jackets' third-round pick in the 2020 draft.

Then came the signing of his contract with the Leafs, a $4.5M, one-year deal that had the fan base all riled up, and he is now being sued by a woman who claims to have suffered burns at the hands of Ceci's wife. But Canada doesn't operate like the U.S. in those matters, so this will likely end in the defenseman's favour.

While Ceci's play has been decried of late - especially last year, when he was essentially asked to fill Erik Karlsson's shoes as the Sens' "best" right-handed defender - he still compares to guys who have the same first-round draft pick pedigree, like Olli Maatta:
via The Hockey Writers
He also did pretty well the year the Sens made it to the Conference Finals:
The Leafs just have to make sure they put him in a position to succeed, even if that means putting him on the second pair with Jake Muzzin, despite his high cap hit.

Here he is on the "Retro" variant of card #180 from the 2015-16 O-Pee-Chee set by Upper Deck:
It shows him wearing the Senators' beautiful throwback black uniform. This should be their permanent home jersey, in my opinion. He signed the card in blue sharpie, with his number (5) tagged at the end, possibly during the 2016-17 season.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Alex Chiasson Jersey Card

Five years ago, I predicted Alex Chiasson would be a consistent 20-goal scorer in his prime who might even hit the 30-goal mark once.

It took longer than I expected, but he hit that mark last season, although many attribute it to playing with the Edmonton Oilers alongside Connor McDavid, even though McDavid's most frequent linemate was 50-goal scorer Leon Draisaitl - not Chiasson.

The Oilers will likely have a better group of wingers this year, as James Neal, Swiss two-way star Gaetan Haas, former blue-chip prospect Mikael Granlund, grinder Josh Archibald, and rookie Tyler Benson look to earn spots alongside McDavid, Draisaitl and/or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to get the team out of the league's basement; at least a couple of them are convinced he can do a better job of putting the puck in the opposition's net than Chiasson and Zack Kassian, and at least one of them is likely correct. And that's not factoring in Jesse Puljujarvi and/or the return he may provide if traded.

Still, I remain convinced the 20-goal plateau is within Chiasson's reach for three more seasons as he plays out his prime, whether that's on the first or second line.

Here he is sporting the Dallas Stars' white (away) uniform on card #URJ-AC from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Ultimate Collection set and Ultimate Rookie Jersey sub-set:
It features two black swatches from an event-worn (rookie photo shoot) jersey. The swatch on the left has a white line going through it, looking a little like chalk or wear-and-tear.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Kevin Klein Jersey Card

In case you missed it, former NHLer Kevin Klein announced his retirement in March, after two seasons as the alternate captain of the Zurich ZSC Lions of the Swiss league, which itself followed a retirement from the NHL's New York Rangers, a move that was decried at the time as being cap circumvention, as he was due $2.9M in the final year of his contract, which would have counted as "dead money" against the cap due to his supposed back spasms but would have stopped him from playing elsewhere, whereas by retiring, his entire cap hit was off the Rangers' books and he was free to pursue a career in Europe.

He did pretty well in Switzerland, too, with 22- and 24-point seasons (in 45 and 47 games, respectively) from the blue line. In his first year in Zurich, the team won the Swiss championship, but failed to make the playoffs in 2018-19.

Injuries were a constant in Klein's career; he has never suited up for a full 82 games, finishing with 81 twice (both times with the Nashville Predators), then 77, then 69. He had his best seasons in New York, however, hitting the 26-point mark twice in a row, in 2014-15 and 2015-16; his next best season was a 21-point output in 2011-12.

In his prime, he was fine playing 18 to 20 minutes on a second or third defensive pairing.

Here he is wearing the Rangers' beautiful white 2014 Stadium Series uniform on card #SS-KK from SP Authentic's 2014-15 SP Game-Used Edition, by Upper Deck:
It features a fairly big matching white game-worn jersey swatch.

The Rangers have iconic jerseys, and I like the care that goes into making original yet classic-feeling new ones for the outdoor cash grabs games, be they Winter Classics or Stadium Series.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Anton Stralman Autographed Card

One of the more puzzling moves this summer was the Florida Panthers signing defenseman Anton Stralman - to a three-year deal averaging $5.5M per, no less - when there were clear signs he has been regressing.

After all, the 33-yar-old missed 35 games in 2018-19 due to injury, and you would need to add his points total of the past two years (6 goals, 29 assists, 35 points in 127 games) to equate his final prime season (9 goals 25 assists and 34 points in 73 games in 2015-16). His possession metrics were also under 50% for only the second time in his twelve-year career, despite playing on one of the best teams of all time, the record-breaking Tampa Bay Lightning (63 regular-season wins). His plus/minus was also fifth on the team at +12, way behind his replacement, 21-year-old Erik Cernak (+25), and even farther from team leader Ryan McDonagh (+38).

A better contract would have had him at $4M a year for no more than two years, which would have better represented what he can do and how long he can do it for on the cap, allowing GM Dale Tallon more flexibility in tweaking the roster if needed, managing fan expectations, and making new head coach Joel Quenneville's job easier, too, by not having reporters raise uncomfortable questions when he's parked on the third pairing or even in the stands.

There is no way that current-day Stralman can aspire to dethrone any of the Panthers' top three defensemen (Mike Matheson, Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle) in total ice time, although turnover machine Yandle could benefit from seeing his five-on-five minutes diminish; then again, Yandle is the only one in that group who is a lefty. Matheson, Ekblad and Stralman all shoot right-handed. Ruh-roh.

There is also the "force of habit" factor... 2019-20 will be the first time Stralman will be playing in red. Whether it's for Team Sweden, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers or the Bolts, he's always just worn blue.

Speaking of which, he's a card from his days in Manhattan, wearing the Rangers' white (now-away) uniform on card #291 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during the 2015 playoffs when the Bolts defeated the Montréal Canadiens.

All that being said, regardless of his cap hit and how troublesome it will be in Year Three, he is probably an upgrade over what they had on the third pairing. Sergei Bobrovsky is a definite upgrade over an aging, injured and now retired Roberto Luongo. Quenneville is one of the three best coaches in the NHL - another upgrade. The Cats already boasted a solid attack and core. After missing the postseason in six of the last eight seasons (with both playoff berths being division-winning teams), they are a good bet to enter the Spring Dance in April.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Cam Talbot: Two Jersey Cards

One of the most bizarre situations in the NHL free agent market this summer was the Calgary Flames/Edmonton Oilers goalie switcheroo, where Cam Talbot, disgraced Oilers starter, signed with the Flames, while Mike Smith, the on-the-outs starter for his second straight team, made the reverse choice.

Yet the Flames still technically have a question mark in nets, with sophomore David Rittich acting as the incumbent #1 and Talbot a sort of wild card, having finished fourth in Vezina voting (he should have finished second to winner Sergei Bobrovsky - and Devan Dubnyk third - ahead of official finalists Braden Holtby and Carey Price) in 2016-17 but been on a downhill slope since then due to a mix of being overplayed and playing behind a sub-par defense in a system that either did not take defense into consideration or that players were not following at all.

Which Talbot are the Flames getting, at this point? It's extremely hard to tell, but they're hoping he'll be good-but-not-great so they can keep building Rittich into their next go-to guy, but not average enough that they need to play the young one more than 55 games.

Talbot aims to play well enough to earn a starting job anywhere in the NHL, which would also come with the additional perk of doubling the $2.75M cap hit he'll take in 2019-20, on a one-year show-me deal. I was honestly surprised anyone gave him a deal with the same salary as safe bet Jaroslav Halak is getting with the Stanley Cup finalist Boston Bruins, especially since the Flames are a team whose players pay no provincial taxes and get to keep more of their paycheck.

Here are two cards of Talbot's wearing the Oilers' beautiful white (now-away) uniform, on card #GJ-CT from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set, with blue game-worn jersey swatches:
Regular readers who feel they've seen this card before are right, as I featured a third identical card last February. I am obviously open to trading at least two of these.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Kyle Turris Jersey Card

It's been an interesting first decade into the career of Kyle Turris.

He started off as the third-overall pick of the 2007 draft, behind Patrick Kane and James van Riemsdyk, and ahead of Thomas Hickey (4th), Karl Alzner (5th), Sam Gagner (6th), Jakub Voracek (7th), Logan Couture (9th), Brandon Sutter (11th), Ryan McDonagh (12th), Lars Eller (13th), Kevin Shattenkirk (14th), Max Pacioretty (22nd), Mikael Backlund (24th), David Perron (26th), P.K. Subban (43rd), Aaron Palushaj (44th), Wayne Simmonds (61st), Evgeny Dadonov (71st), Yannick Weber (73rd), Alex Killorn (77th), Robert Bortuzzo (78th), Nick Palmieri (79th), Alec Martinez (95th), Colton Sceviour (112th), Matt Halischuk (117th), Jamie Benn (129th), Jake Muzzin (141st), Patrick Maroon (161st), Carl Hagelin (168th), Nick Bonino (173rd), Paul Byron (179th), Carl Gunnarsson (194th), Justin Braun (201st) and Paul Postma (205th).

It wasn't too long before he essentially asked out of Phoenix, however; indeed, as soon as his ELC ended, he asked for $4M per season so the Coyotes would balk at the offer, and said "trade me or pay me double my market worth for me to stay", so he was sent to the Ottawa Senators, where he was pretty much the go-to centre for his tenure, particularly starting in 2014-15, following Jason Spezza's departure.

Another contractual impasse led to his being sent to the Nashville Predators via the Colorado Avalanche in a three-team trade in November 2017, and he promptly signed a six-year, $36M deal ($6M per) to remain in Nashville as their 1B/#2 centre.

He did well enough - albeit not exceptionally well, but he did have to get used to new surroundings, new teammates and a new playing system - in his first season in Music City, with 42 points in 65 games to finish up his old contract, but his 7 goals, 16 assists and 23 points in 55 games last season can only be described as unbecoming of a $6M contract.

At 29 years of age, there should still be at least three more seasons of high-end, second-line hockey left in the fluid-skating, swift-passing Turris, and his two-way smarts and hockey sense should carry him over to potent checking-line centre in the final two years of his deal... if all goes well.

The main problem with him throughout his career is that almost every time he was set to take on a larger role in an organization, or as soon as people started realizing the good he was doing, or if he was relied upon too lead like- let's say - in the playoffs, he would enter a long slump that would mess everything up. Not just for him, usually for the team as well.

Case in point: as the Preds made their way to the second round in 2017-18 - a year removed from a Stanley Cup Final when the expectations were that they would go on another long run - he couldn't score a single goal and could only muster up 3 assists in 13 games. Same thing this past Spring, where he was limited to a goal and an assist in 6 games.

And the Preds have two such overpaid/under-performing middle-of-the-lineup centermen with Bonino, not to mention another underachieving $8M first-line centre in Ryan Johansen, who has reached the 70-point mark only once in his career - and never with Nashville. It's a problem the team will have to address, and at some point, one they'll have to stop trying to address by sacrificing very good defensemen (Subban, Samuel Girard).

Here is Turris from his days in Arizona, wearing their white (away) uniform on card #RJ-KT from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Be A Player set and Rookie Jerseys sub-set:
It is numbered #20/299, with a fairly big burgundy jersey swatch, although UD is using double-speak to try to pass this event-worn jersey for a game-worn one on the back of the card:
That is some bullshit if I've ever seen any: "Game-used" and "been used in a rookie photo shoot". I guess those Upper Deck photo shoots have real stakes that no one knows about.

Friday, August 9, 2019

J.T. Compher Jersey Card

Some of the RFA deals this summer have been reasonable, a few have been head-scratchers in terms of why they're just a tad too high, and pundits still expect those that are left to break the bank.

J.T. Compher falls in the second category now that the Colorado Avalanche have signed him to a four-year extension worth $14M in total, or $3.5M per season against the salary cap.

Avs GM Joe Sakic mentions:
J.T. has been one of our most versatile forwards over the past two years. He plays on our power play, kills penalties and has played up and down our lineup. He has scored some big goals late in games and we are counting on him to have an even more expanded role moving forward. We are excited to have him under contract for the next four seasons.
Some things are definitely true in there: Compher has, indeed, completed his second full NHL season, his third straight year in the NHL (he only suited up for 21 games in 2016-17). And he did spend 1:53 of every game killing penalties, and 3:07 on the powerplay (on a team that boasted offensive talent like Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie), and still only finished with 16 goals, 16 assists and 32 points in 66 games in 2018-19. Not on the powerplay... in total.

Granted, the 2013 second-rounder is just 24 years old, but seven players in his draft year already have 200 career points (one of them, Seth Jones, is a defenseman) while Compher has 60. But he did beat out Alex Kerfoot for the third-line centre job in Colorado, so there's that.

It's just that his output, at best, warranted a $2.5M cap hit - even if only on a two- or three-year bridge deal - not nearly double that. In terms of comparables, two players signed around roughly the same time as him: Kasperi Kapanen (23 years old) and Andreas Johnsson (24) with the Toronto Maple Leafs; Kapanen had 20 goals and 44 points last year and signed for $3.2M for three years, and Johnsson had 20 goals and 43 points, signing at $3.4M for four years. Better production, lower cap hits, in a city where they pay 10% more taxes.

Here he is sporting the Avs' white (away) uniform, on card #RM-JC from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 2 set and Rookie Materials sub-set:
It features a burgundy jersey swatch with unclear origins if you are just going by the back of the card:
We now know these as "event-worn", but sometimes UD uses vague language to try to trick collectors into thinking they've got something more special than it actually is.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Mario Gosselin: Two Autographed Cards

As a kid, my first "full-on" contact with hockey - apart from the occasional Saturday night game on TV at a relative's or getting up at 4 AM for mandatory practice at ages 3-4 was the 1986 Stanley Cup Final. Watching Patrick Roy play so well that to this day folks still refer to him as having single-handedly stolen the Cup despite playing on a team stacked with Hall of Famers made me want to take up the sport again after quitting it abruptly - between the pipes, to boot.

But Roy's impact was so huge that in the time of just one summer, seemingly my entire elementary school went from wearing "normal" clothes to Montréal Canadiens attire and jerseys kind of made it uncool for me to follow suit - I was more of an independent spirit, a rebel, even at eight years old - that I still kept Roy as my favourite player and single greatest influence, but my allegiance switched to his hometown team, the Québec Nordiques, who also had a goalie who wore #33: Mario Gosselin.

While Gosselin was a star in Juniors (literally a First Team All-Star in the LHJMQ), and an Olympian with Team Canada at the 1984 Sarajevo Games, that is pretty much where the comparisons with Roy stop; Gosselin was, for a time, one of the best back-ups in the league, but his one season as a starter was the first of many terrible years for the Nordiques - the first time in eight seasons the club missed the playoffs. Roy was winning Vezinas and Jennings trophies in the meantime.

As the Nordiques went through a rough rebuild, they traded away such legends as Peter Stastny and Michel Goulet to make room for the next guard; Gosselin was part of the purge. He would move on with the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings, earning his first win in his first game, which happened to be the one where Gretzky tied and beat Gordie Howe's 1850 career points record, scoring the overtime winner in a 7-6 contest.Gosselin also managed to lose a game that season without even having surrendered a goal, as starting goalie Kelly Hrudey had been taken out of the game and Gosselin himself pulled for an extra skater, except the Edmonton Oilers scored what ended up being the winning goal while he was on the bench (the Kings scored another one to get within one, but couldn't tie the game).

After stints in minor leagues with the Phoenix Roadrunners and Springfield Indians, Gosselin got another chance in the NHL, this time with the Hartford Whalers, a team he'd beaten in two playoff series while playing for Québec. It was the Sean Burke/Frank Pietrangelo era in Hartford, however, and Gosselin was relegated to third-string duties.

Still, he'll always be one of the proud bearers of #33 in my Nation's Capital, as can be attested by these two cards, showing him wearing the Nordiques blue (away) uniform, possibly my favourite hockey jersey of all time:
The card on the left is #250 from O-Pee-Chee's 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee set, while the one on the right is #173 from OPC's1988-89 O-Pee-Chee collection. He signed both for me in black sharpie in the 1990s, when he was just contemplating opening a hockey school (he runs it now, pretty much as a part-time job) and I was finding my own game, navigating through Juniors and national team programs.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Jordan Eberle Jersey Card

The New York Islanders made a superb deal when they signed Jordan Eberle to a five-year extension that brings him to the end of his prime years (and perhaps a couple of years beyond that point); of note, it carries a lower cap hit ($5.5M instead of $6M) than his previous deal, which got him traded by the Edmonton Oilers - a move Oil fans regret to this day.

He's had his ups and downs throughout his career, dropping from a 30-goal player to 25 then 20 in Edmonton, and reviving his career with 25 goals two winters ago on Long Island, to falling to just 19 (and only 37 points) this past season, although he made up for it with his finest playoff performance to date, with 9 points in 8 postseason games as the Isles made it to the second round.

I just thought I'd mention it while I fell upon a double of this card I'd already featured on here:
It's card #AF-JE from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition set and Authentic Fabrics sub-set, showing him wearing the Oilers' iconic blue-and-orange uniform and sporting the alternate captain's "A", with a nice, big, dark blue swatch encrusted in it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Jason Spezza Autographed Card

One of the better free agent deals of the summer may prove to be Jason Spezza's one-year, league-minimum ($750K) contract with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, solidifying their depth down the middle.

Now, granted, his final two seasons with the Dallas Stars have seen him relegated to mostly a defensive role, as his points totals of 26 and 27 points are far behind his 62, 63 and 50 of the previous three years and light yeras away from his 90-point, All-Star Game heyday, but he led the league in face-off percentages last season (58.2%) and managed some clutch goals down the stretch and in the playoffs to keep his team's chances alive when it seemed like captain Jamie Benn was unable to spark himself up.

He was also a leader in the room who now sits at 915 career regular-season points (in 1065 games), so he may require two more years to hit the 1000-point mark - and I hope he does.

He sent me this card (#312 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 2 set) in the mail a couple of summers ago, before my most recent move:
It shows him wearing the Stars' beautiful green (home) uniform and is signed in blue sharpie.

I hope he gets some second-unit powerplay time with the Leafs, to pad up his stats line in the twilight of his career on a team that has some decent offensive weapons.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Jayna Hefford Autographed Card

A few days ago, in the wake of the CWHL's demise, Mike Murphy from SB Nation's The Ice Garden compiled a list of the league's greatest players by position - a.k.a. the First Team All-Stars - and for perhaps the first time ever, I agreed 100% with someone else's list.

In the next few days, I'll feature a few of the outstanding athletes I was fortunate enough to see play in the few years I had season tickets to Montréal Stars / Les Canadiennes games. Today's spotlight shines on Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford, whose 20-year career includes 12 World Championships (seven gold medals, five silvers) to go with four Olympic gold medals (and one silver). As a matter of fact, she, Hayley Wickenheiser and Caroline Ouellette are the only women to win four consecutive Olympic gold medals in hockey, a feat that will become increasingly difficult to match, particularly now that there are three superpowers in the women's game (Canada, the U.S. and Sweden) and that other countries are improving as well.

Just about a year ago, the retired player and then-current University of Toronto assistant-coach took on the reins as CWHL interim commissioner (following the sudden departure of Brenda Andress after a ten-year tenure in the position) and had hoped to "increase the (league)'s visibility and popularity" via her own profile but also marketing its stars better, and showcasing their talent.

It wasn't to be, as her reign ended abruptly - she dissolved the league earlier this summer when she saw that despite Andress' best efforts to expand from four to six teams, into the U.S. and China, and having a TV deal in place with Sportsnet, none of it meant added revenue streams. In fact, the league's finances were so dire that not only did it have to fold, but it asked its players to send back the jerseys they wore and trophies they'd won so they could be sold at auction; many of the players' families as to re-buy the cherished memorabilia so the player could keep what would technically - ethically - been rightfully theirs.

The Hall of Fame would wind up buying out the rest so it wouldn't get thrown away. We are still in the infancy of the women's game, and there was no way having two separate professional leagues was ever going to work. The players have now formed a union, so that last-minute surprises like the league shutting down should never happen again, as the next league's finances should be more accessible to those trying to bring the game to the next level. And maybe Hefford's wife, former U.S. Olympian and CWHL co-founder Kathleen Kauth will have her say in the next step forward as well.

Hefford was the league's first scoring champion and points leader, and three years after she retired, became the namesake for the award handed to its most outstanding player as voted by the players.

That kind of respect doesn't come undeserved.

Here she is sporting Team Canada's red uniform, on card #72 from Upper Deck's 2014 Team Canada Women set:
She signed it in black sharpie three or four years ago at a league benefit, adding her jersey number (16) at the end.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Caroline Ouellette: Two Autographed Cards

A few days ago, in the wake of the CWHL's demise, Mike Murphy from SB Nation's The Ice Garden compiled a list of the league's greatest players by position - a.k.a. the First Team All-Stars - and for perhaps the first time ever, I agreed 100% with someone else's list.

In the next few days, I'll feature a few of the outstanding athletes I was fortunate enough to see play in the few years I had season tickets to Montréal Stars / Les Canadiennes games. Today, I'll shine the spotlight (once more) on the player with the most achievements, the Maurice "Rocket" Richard of women's hockey, Caroline Ouellette. Most of the following facts come from Murphy's original post.

The CWHL's career points record holder - with a staggering 315 points in 184 games - is the cream of the crop. Only three skaters managed to post 60-point seasons, and she's the only one with two. She's the only career 125-goal scorer, the only 125-assist skater, and the league's sole 300-point getter. With two MVP titles and four Clarkson Cups (2009, 2011, 2012 and 2017), she collected both personal and team accolades in her nine-year career.

How incredible was her production? Her 184 assists alone would make her the league's fourth-best in career points. Even better: in an era where players come up younger and younger each year, where pundits start talking about "wrong side of 30" to speak of declining production, Ouellette mutes those voices all by her lonesome, considering she joined the league at age 29, technically past what would nowadays be considered her "prime" (though I tend to disagree with tha notion, because while point production is usually highest between the ages of 23 and 26, overall play and impact is best served from 25 to 32, in both the men's game and women's).

I always like to point out the fact that she is one of the rare players who got to play meaningful, in-season games in an arena bearing her name, a tribute usually given to retired or deceased athletes.

Then again, few team sports athletes get to win four Olympic old medals, six World Championship gold and six more WC silver medals to go with her league championships.

For all those reeasons, she was always one of my favourite hockey players.

Here are a couple of signed cards where she's wearing a pink Team Canada uniform from the 2007 World Championships in Winnipeg, paying tribute to the first Worlds just over 25 years earlier (1990, Ottawa):
That's card #23 from In The Game's 2007-08 O Canada set and National Women's Team subset, which she signed in blue sharpie. I'm open to trading one of them, but I'm not adamant about it either. She will be in the Hall Of Fame someday.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Julien Gauthier Autographed Card

As I mentioned earlier this year, I went to Place Bell to see the Laval Rocket play the Charlotte Checkers during the Holidays and witnessed a game the Checkers dominated and where one goalie (Laval's Étienne Marcoux) and two skaters (one from each team) were clear standouts, in a nine-goal game won 5-4 by Charlotte. The Rocket's best skater was Michael McCarron, while the Checkers' (and the entire game's) best player was Julien Gauthier.

Still just 21, Gauthier just completed his second AHL season, nearly doubling his production, going from 16 goals and 25 points in 2017-18 to 27 goals and 45 points in 2018-19 as the Checkers won the AHL's Calder Cup championship.

He'd been a relatively quiet point-per-game player in the LHJMQ mostly suiting up with the Val d'Or Foreurs save for a playoff stint with the Saint John Sea Dogs, but posting 7 points in 7 games at the 2017 World Juniors - helping Team Canada secure a silver medal - justified his being a 2016 first-round pick.

A quick look at the Carolina Hurricanes' roster for the coming season shows there likely won't be room for him in the top-9 for the coming season, especially with almost all of the team's forwards being versatile:
Sebastian Aho, 22, C/LW, $8.454M cap hit through 2023-24
Jordan Staal, 30, C/LW, $6M through 2022-23
Teuvo Teravainen, 24, RW/LW, $5.M through 2023-24
Nino Niederreiter, 26, LW/RW, $5.25M through 2021-22
Ryan Dzingel, 27, C/LW/RW, $3.375M through 2020-21
Andrei Svechnikov, 19, LW/RW, $3.6M ELC through 2021-22
Erik Haula, 28, C/LW, $$2.75M for one more year
Brock McGinn, 25, LW/RW, $2.1M through 2020-21
Jordan Martinook, 27, C/RW/LW, $2M through 2020-21
Martin Necas, 20, C, $1.4M ELC  through 2021-22
What you want is to bring kids up in a way to maximize their chances of success. I could totally see Gauthier getting seasoned for another year while, say, Haula's contract runs out, then trying him beside Necas and Svechnikov - except maybe at that point Svechnikov is so good he plays with Aho and Teravainen full-time. It's a bit of a puzzle, to be honest.

But like most of the Canes, he is comfortable playing on either wing, and you can bet the 6'4", 225-pounder will just keep improving every year and getting in better and better shape; he is, after all, part of Canada's most physically fit family: his father is a former Mr. Canada, his uncle Denis Gauthier played in the NHL for 13 seasons, and his grandfather's generation spawned fitness kings and wresters the Rougeau Brothers, three athletes who spent decades performing in the then-WWF as a side job, like their fathers before them.

Maybe it's the fellow Pointe-Aux-Trembles native in me or maybe I just know something obvious when I see it, but I'm betting on this kid becoming an elite power forward from the ages of 24 to 32. Heck, I'm 6'2" myself, and my playing weight was around 210-220 pounds as a hard-nosed goalie, but even at my current near-300-pound state, having this kid in front of me  -again, this 21-year-old kid, I'm 40 - made me step back a bit, give him respect and space, when he signed this card in blue sharpie:
It's #12 in Upper Deck's 2017-18 Team Canada Juniors set, which means I can slot him in my Team Canada Project as a representative of jersey #12.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Curtis McElhinney Autographed Card

Curtis McElhinney is the epitome of a journeyman goaltender; when he signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 1st, the Bolts became his eighth NHL team since first suiting up in 2007-08 with the Calgary Flames.

He's also played for (in order of most recent) the Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Coyotes, and Anaheim Ducks.

And yet, my first thought when he signed wasn't about potential McElhinney fans and family having to shell out money for yet another jersey with his name on the back but more about how many teams missed their opportunity to improve themselves by adding him this summer.

The Coyotes and Ducks are set in nets, but the Canes could have used him again, as could the Leafs and Flames - he'd be better options than those currently slotted in the #2 spot on all three teams; he'd be a known quantity that's safer than the unknowns for both the Jackets and Sens; he'd be a better option for teams like the Montréal Canadiens, and a team like the Florida Panthers, having just moved on from both Roberto Luongo and James Reimer and signed Sergei Bobrovsky, could have left youngster Samuel Montembeault acquire some reps in the AHL instead of sitting on a NHL bench until the team's 2019 first-round draft pick Spencer Knight is himself ready to surpass him.

Why him, you might ask if you aren't of the hockey nerd brethren? Well, he just finished the playoffs with a .930 save percentage and 2.30 GAA on a Canes team that surprisingly reached the semi-final; before that, he'd posted an 11-5-1 record, .934 save percentage and 2.14 GAA in 18 games in Toronto, and save for a poor 2015-16 in Columbus, had some of the best backup stats in the entire NHL since the 2011-12 season (granted he only played two games that year).

Here he is with the Flames, on card #31 from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Rookie Boxed Set / Rookie Class set:
He was already 24 when he posed for that picture in Calgary's red (now-home) uniform. He signed the card in blue sharpie while playing for the Leafs, so between 2016 and 2018.

My Sens Numbers Project: An Introduction

Has it really come to this, a gimmick worth repeating many times over, after my initial Habs Numbers Project and my Oilers Numbers Project?

Actually, it's more that I realized I had a lot of this one down already: so far, I have featured 42/70 numbers used in previous posts:

1: Damian Rhodes: check!
2: Lance Pitlick and Jared Cowen: heck!
3: Zdeno Chara: jersey card check!
4: Chris Phillips: check (and once more)!
5: Christoph Schubert and Cody Ceci: check!
6: Wade Redden: check!
7: Randy Cunneyworth: check!
9: Milan Michalek: check!
10: Brandon Bochenski: check!
11: Daniel Alfredsson: check!
12: Mike Fisher: check (and once more)!
14: Andrej Meszaros and Colin Greening: check!
15: Shawn McEachern: check!
16: Laurie Boschman, Brian McGrattan, Bobby Butler, Clarke MacArthur, and Mark Stone: check!
17: Jody Hull: check!
18: Ryan Dzingel: check!
19: Jason Spezza: check! (also wore #44 and #39)
21: Dennis Vial: check!
22: Shaun Van Allen: check!
24: Stéphane Da Costa: check!
25: Bruce Gardiner: check!
26: Bob Kudelski: check!
27: Janne Laukkanen: check!
30: Brian Elliott: check!
31: Peter Sidorkiewicz: check! (also Alex Auld)
33: Jakob Silfverberg and Pascal Leclaire: check!
38: Erik Condra: check! (also wore #22)
39: Matt Carkner: check!
40: Robin Lehner: check! (also Jeff Glass and Patrick Lalime)
41: Craig Anderson: check!
43: Roman Wick: check!
44: Jason Spezza: check! (also wore #19) (also, Jean-Gabriel Pageau)
46: Patrick Wiercioch: check!
47: André Benoit: check!
53: Ilya Zubov: check!
57: Derek Grant: check!
59: David Dziurzynski: check!
61: Mark Stone (twice): check!
62: Eric Gryba: check!
65: Erik Karlsson: jersey card check!
74: Mark Borowiecki and Steve Larouche: check!
89: Cory Conacher: check!

Captains: Boschman, Cunneyworth, Alfredsson.

I'll reiterate that I'm looking for collectibles - ideally signed cards, but also signed pictures or, at the very least, jersey cards of players from every possible Sens jersey number that has been worn.

Here are examples of things I'll be featuring soon - or am looking to add to the list:

13: Peter Regin, Vinny Prospal or Ted Drury I remember
20: Antoine Vermette and Marek Svatos are players I followed
23: Kaspars Daugavins' number
28: neither Zenon Konopka nor Matt Kassian replied to my TTMs
29: I could totally go for Martin Gerber and his black mask here
32: only Rob Ray and Daniel Berthiaume have ever worn this number
34: only Darren Rumble and Shane Hnidy have worn this one
35: only 5 goalies have worn this one, including Auld, Tom Barrasso and Mike Bales
36: only Josh Hennessy wore it for more than a few games
37: only Dean McAmmond wore it for more than one calendar year
42: Julien Vauclair would be cool for a goalie nerd like myself
45: only worn by Denis Hamel or Alexandre Picard
48: Jared Cowen wore it briefly
49: Michel Picard or Francis Lessard
51: Derek Smith
52: Colin Greening had it for a short spell
55: Sergei Gonchar never replied to my TTM, but Brian Lee also works
56: Lance Pitlick
58: Cody Bass, briefly
60: Mark Stone (who also wore 61)
68: Mike Hoffman
71: Nick Foligno
73: Guillaume Latendresse or Jarkko Ruutu
76: Radek Bonk
77: Joe Corvo
78: Pavol Demitra
82: Martin Straka
83: Ales Hemsky, very briefly
90: Alex Chiasson
91: Alexandre Daigle
93: Mike Zibanejad
94: Stan Neckar
97: Matt Gilroy

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Marc Savard Autograph Card

Marc Savard was a terrific hockey player. In Juniors, he collected points at the same rate as any future superstar, with two 130-point seasons sandwiching another one at 87... in just 47 games. He was a point-producing machine for the Oshawa Generals, and even holds the franchise's points record (413, in just 238 games); notable Generals alumni include the likes of Eric Lindros, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Delvecchio, Ted Lindsay, Bobby Orr, John MacLean, Derek King, Jarrod Skalde and John Tavares.

It was the mid-to-end of the 1990s, when the New Jersey Devils and their god-awful, anti-hockey trap ushered the NHL into the Dead Puck Era of clutching and grabbing the best players to not let them pick up any speed nor give them room to make plays. It was the age of the 6'3", 220-defenseman who was allowed to do just about anything short of murder to stop any forward from even coming into their defensive zone.

It was a time when a natural talent like Savard could fall to the fourth round (91st overall, New York Rangers) because he was "just" 5'10" and 170 pounds.

The top five draft picks that year were Bryan Berard (6'2", 195 pounds, Ottawa Senators, 323 career points in 619 games), Wade Redden (6'2", 210 pounds, New York Islanders, 457 points in 2013 ganes), Aki-Petteri Berg (6'3", 216 pounds, Los Angeles Kings, 85 points in 606 games), Chad Kilger (6'4", 215 pounds, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, 218 points in 714 games), and Daymond Langkow (5'11", 185 pounds, Tampa Bay Lightning, 672 points in 1090 games). None have won a Stanley Cup.

The top five career points leader from that draft are Jarome Iginla (11th overall despite being 6'1" and 210 pounds, 625 goals, 675 assists and 1300 points in 1554 games, one Cup Final as team captain), Shane Doan (7th overall, 6'1" and 220 pounds, 402 goals and 972 points in 1540 games, decade-long reign as captain of the Phoenix Coyotes and Team Canada captain as well), Petr Sykora (18th overall, 6'0", 190 pounds, 323 goals and 721 points in 1017 games, two Stanley Cups in five Finals), Savard (706 points in 807 games, a Stanley Cup), and Langkow.

Although Savard had fine numbers in his "true" rookie season with the Rangers (45 points in 70 games in 1998-99), he was still sent to the Calgary Flames where he had an even better output (three straight seasons with point-per-game ratios of 0.59 or better with a high of 0.84, i.e. 65 points in 77 games in 2000-01) and even then was moved to the Atlanta Thrashers for the rights to Ruslan Zaynullin, who never played an NHL game.

In Atlanta, head coach and fellow Franco-Ontarian Bob Hartley told him he was going to give him a chance, and that if he seized it, his talents would forever be recognized and no one would be able to take it away; true to his word, Harley paired him with a duo of superstars in Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk, and Savard went on to have a 1.16 point-per-game average in 2003-04 (with 52 points in 45 games), but it was coming back from the locked-out lost season that he posted a 97-point season that was good for eighth in the league.

Following that, the Thrashers would be unable to meet his salary demands as a free agent, and he signed a four-year deal with the Boston Bruins, with whom he continued his top-ten point-racking for three more years.

Until The Hit by the coward Matt Cooke:

Want to hear him talk about it?
I wish I could give you my perspective on the hit that changed my life, but I don’t have a perspective. I have no memory of the actual event. Anything I tell you would just be me going off of the same YouTube clip that everybody else has seen. Even when I watch the video now, it’s like the hit is happening to a different person. 
I was out cold for 29 seconds. Or at least that’s what my trainer told me when I came to and asked him what had happened. My head hurt, bad. My vision was cloudy.
The only only memory I have is of being taken off the ice on a stretcher, and then realizing that my kids were at home watching the game. So I put my hand up to let them know that Dad was O.K.

I wasn’t O.K.
I had experienced three or four minor concussions before, but nothing like this
It took him a while, through dark times, at times punctured with suicidal thoughts, sleeping all day with blinds to shut the sunlight out, getting up at 11PM with pounding headaches and off-balance to survive until the next day, exhausted and aching all over, but he came back.

The thing that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy is the moment when you know that it’s all over. Everything you’ve worked for since you were a kid … it’s really over, and you can’t fool yourself anymore.
For me, that moment came in Colorado on January 22, 2011.
I was coming down the wing at full speed. Matt Hunwick leaned in and hit me clean. Unfortunately, he caught me just right, and my head whiplashed off the glass. Back then, Colorado’s glass was seamless. It was notoriously unforgiving.
I immediately dropped to my knees. I had my eyes wide open, and I couldn’t see anything. Everything was black. I shut my eyes, and then opened them again. All black.
That’s when I started to panic. Because I knew it was over. I just knew. I remember hearing the voice of our trainer, Don DelNegro, asking me what I felt.
And I just kept saying, “Why me? I don’t understand, Donny. Why me?”
My teammates escorted me to the dressing room, and I had a tough couple of minutes in there. I was sobbing. I remember my coach, Claude Julien, coming in and trying to console me. But I couldn’t be consoled. I knew I had just played my last game in the NHL. I kept thinking: “I have kids. I have a family to worry about. I’m only 33. What am I going to do? I can’t go through this pain again. I can’t go through these dark days. Again.
33 years old, a second near-death experience, the inability to compete in any type of sporting event ever again, perhaps not even exercise ever again. And six months later, his Bruins won the Cup. He had to watch it on TV, sound muted, brightness at "0".

It had to be bittersweet. Yet it's never the first thing people think about when he comes up in a conversation, and it's never the first question he gets asked; it's always about the Cooke hit.

I'll let him have the final word on his playing days:
It was an honor (to be an NHL player) for 14 years. Then one night, it was over. Maybe right now, a lot of people remember me for that night in Pittsburgh.
But you know what?
Every time someone looks at the Stanley Cup, for the rest of history, they will see a name engraved along with the rest of the 2010–11 Boston Bruins.
That’s forever.
Indeed it is. And I wish I had a card of his from his days with the Bs, but I can't find one at the moment, so here's one where he's sporting the Thrashers' best-looking uniform, the dark blue barbs, on card #I-MS from Fleer's 2006-07 Flair Showcase set and Showcase Inks sub-set by Upper Deck:
It features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

About a week ago, Savard - who had been doing analysis for Sportsnet and NHL Network - accepted a job as an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues where he will focus on special teams.

Best of luck.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Pavel Buchnevich Jersey Card

The New York Rangers dealt with one of their more pressing issues by signing RFA Pavel Buchnevich to a two-year, $6.5M deal worth $3.25M per season on the salary cap, which amounts to more than triple his salary from the previous three seasons.

While his points-per-game average has improved in each of his first three seasons (from 0.49 to 0.58 to 0.59), his possession and shot differential stats have fallen quite a bit (50.1 CF to 48.6 to 47.4), showing that previous head coach Alain Vigneault had sheltered him at first and that perhaps current Blueshirts bench boss David Quinn can live with a few defensive lapses on his part if he can also produce at the other end of the rink.

While it's been a surprisingly reasonable summer for RFA contracts, the Rangers still currently sit at $4M above the cap with only 20 of 23 players currently on the roster after the signings of Buchnevich, Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin.

Common wisdom is they'll be shopping around forwards like Chris Kreider or perhaps even Buchnevich himself, but the smarter deal would be to find a way to rid themselves of an overpaid defenseman with some sort of no-movement/no-trade clause (like, say Kevin Shattenkirk or Brendan Smith) ahead of the Seattle expansion draft, or else they won't be able to protect the right players.

At age 24, we should get to see Buchnevich evolve into a flashy, consistent top-six forward who produces some 50 points per year for the two years of his bridge deal, then in the 60-70-point range on his next contract.

In the meantime, here's a jersey card from #89, card #RS-PB from Upper Deck's 2016-17 SP Game-Used Edition set and Rookie Sweaters sub-set:
It shows him wearing the Rangers' classic blue (now-home) uniform with a matching jersey swatch from a rookie photo shoot, and is numbered #499/499. I got it in a trade a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sam Bennett: Four Autographed Cards

Done deal: Sam Bennett has signed a two-year bridge deal with the Calgary Flames that comes with a $2.55M cap hit - enough to show him the respect of his first-round pedigree, and enough of a message that he has yet to develop into the consistent producer the team would prefer him to be.

After all, he just played his age 22 season - his fourth full-time NHL season - and had his second-highest points-per-game average at 0.38; it was during his rookie season that he posted his best statistics, however, with his highest goals (18), assists (18) and points (36) totals in 77 games, for a points-per-game rate of 0.47.

Both the team and player were happy to avoid an arbitration hearing, as both sides know what the other expects of them, and both are still willing to put forth the effort to get there. Neither side needed to hear the other's gripes.

It's not all dire, however, as he's found a comfortable niche playing alongside Mikael Backlund and Mark Jankowski as an efficient checking line, but the fact that Backlund has remained a 20-goal, 45-55-point player means his wingers should be able to come close to those numbers as well.

The Flames seem to be in a cap crunch, however, and a mid-level salary may have to leave town before the season starts, and the usual suspects are top-six forward Michael Frolik and top-four defenseman T.J. Brodie. Both disappointed in Calgary's five-game elimination to the Colorado Avalanche a couple of months ago, but Brodie was a 24/25-minute defender from 2013-16 and a 23-minute man from 2016-18 and fell to 21:28 last year, which was still the second-highest on a deep dfensive team, but there is reason to believe he either no longer has his coaches' confidence, or may be past his peak (a conclusion I'm not yet ready to get to in his case, considering he just played in his age 28 season).

All that is to say that Bennett may be given a look on the second line a few times next season, and his statistics may improve just from getting ice time with the likes of Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan.

I got him to sign four cards for me in black sharpie when he was in town with the Flames last October. Let's take a closer look at them, starting with the two where he's sporting the team's red (home) uniform:
On the left is card #7 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 National Card Day (Canadian Edition) set and Canada's Rookies sub-set, while the one on the right is from UD's 2016-17 Series 1 collection (and is #31 in the set).

There are also two where he's sporting the white (away) uniform, as seen below:
On the left is card #34 from Upper Deck's 2016-17 Artifacts set, while the one on the right is #132 from UD's 2017-18 MVP collection.

He tagged all of them with his current jersey number (93), which makes him an easy addition to my Flames Numbers Project.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

My Team Canada Numbers Project

Well, I have Numbers Projects for so many teams now (my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project my Sens Numbers Project, my Canucks Numbers Project, my Nordiques Numbers Project, my Flames Numbers Project and my Expos Numbers Project), I figured why not make one for Team Canada as well?

It'll be easier in some regards with all the national teams at all the levels (including but not limited to the World Juniors, the World Championships, the Spengler Cup, the Canada/World Cup, the Summit Series, and the Mens and Womens Olympic teams), but I'm again at a loss for #99 (Wayne Gretzky) and likely will be for my entire life.

The plan is to stick to hockey, but who knows, maybe I'll get to add some from other sports as well; it might be my only shot at a #99.
So far, I have featured 31 players representing a total of 24 jersey numbers.

Here they are:

1: Braden Holtby: check!
3: Eric Brewer: check!
4: Thomas Hickey and Chris Phillips: check!
5: Bryan Allen and Samuel Morin: check!
10: Brayden Schenn and Charles Hudon (also wore #16): check!
11: Zachary Boychuk: check!
12: Julien Gauthier: check!
13: Caroline Ouellette: check (and check again)!
14: Thomas Hickey (also wore #4): check!
16: Kerby Rychel, Jayne Hefford and Charles Hudon (also wore #10): check!
17: Marcus Foligno: jersey card check!
19: Alexandre Daigle: check!
20: Guillaume Latendresse, Jason Ward and Louis Leblanc: check!
22: Frédérik Gauthier: check!
23: Jason Botterill, Rob Niedermayer and Daniel Audette: check!
24: Patrice Brisebois and Logan Couture: check!
28: Nathan Beaulieu: check!
29: Marie-Philip Poulin: check!
30: Dustin Tokarski: jersey card check!
31: Geneviève Lacasse and Olivier Roy: check!
32: Charline Labonté: check!
37: Patrice Bergeron: jersey card check!
51: Ryan Getzlaf: jersey card check!
97: Joe Thornton: jersey card check!

Captains: Poulin, Hickey

Saturday, July 20, 2019

James Neal Swatch Card

It's now official: the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers have swapped problematic contracts, with James Neal going to the Oilers and Milan Lucic headed to Calgary. Both power forwards on the decline have close to $6M left per year until the end of the 2022-23 season, although Lucic's contract is considered buyout-proof, what with being essentially a minimum-salary deal with signing bonuses while Neal's is a straight $5.75M per year in salary.

This is Neal's fourth team in four seasons, and while the optics on that aren't great, especially considering his reputation as a bad teammate (he may have told goalie Mike Smith to "stop the fucking puck once in a while" last season), one has to keep in mind the actual facts in his case: two of those teams - the perennial division-winning Nashville Predators and first-year expansion team Vegas Golden Knights - both reached the Stanley Cup Final with him in tow. The Flames, for their part, won their division with him last year with a six-point cushion over the San Jose Sharks.

Also, last year was the first time in his 11-year NHL career that he failed to reach the 20-goal mark - and that includes the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

Here's what you get when you acquire Neal: a 6'3", 215-pound guy who can skate, has a very good shot (not "great", not "elite", but just below that, still in the 85-89th percentile) and a terrible temper. Enough that most players won't try to get on his nerves to draw a penalty, because he's mean enough to go so hard that he'll earn a suspension. Some call him the dirtiest player in the NHL, although I wouldn't go so far because the league still employs the likes of Brad Marchand, Corey Perry, Radko Gudas, Ryan Kesler (technically), Lucic and Nazem Kadri, but he's definitely Philadelphia Flyers/Boston Bruins/Anaheim Ducks material...

In the off-season, Neal usually trains with... Connor McDavid. The thing with Edmonton is they technically have three top-line centers in McDavid (the best player in the world), Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. All three possess all-world skill and speed, although Nuge is less bulky and, thus, more fragile. Still, any one of those guys can put up point-per-game statistics with a 25-goal scorer by their side, a number Neal's reached five times in his career (with a high of 40 in 2011-12), including in 2017-18 on the Golden Knight's second line.

Here he is from his 40-goal days, sporting the Pittsburgh Penguins' white (away) uniform on card #GG-JN from Panini's 2012-13 Titanium set and Game-Worn Gear sub-set:
It features a black game-worn jersey swatch that I assume must be from his days in Pittsburgh but could also have come from his time with the Dallas Stars.

He also has international experience, having won a gold medal at the 2007 World Juniors and silver at the 2009 World Championships with Team Canada.