Sunday, January 27, 2019

John Klingberg Jersey Card

Much has been said about the Dallas Stars' disappointing season, but one of the players providing exactly what was expected of him is defenseman John Klingberg, who was one of the best defensemen in the league last year - and three years ago, when he led the entire league for Team Goals While On Ice (with 132).

This season, in just 31 games played (he missed five weeks due to an injury), he's already at 6 goals scored - two fewer than the 8 he scored in 82 games last year - and 25 total points. That's good for fourth on the team, despite playing in 17 fewer games than two of the three teammates who are ahead of him:
There's little doubt that Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov are also having fine seasons, as is rookie defender Miro Heiskanen. I do agree with the Stars' VP Jim Lytes that Jamie Benn could have better numbers, though; until he's 34 (so for the next four-to-five years), Benn should always be flirting with the 40/45-goal mark and the point-per-game ratio - not only does his salary command that, he also actually is that good and important to the Stars, and his power forward style of play is still effective in today's NHL.

Adding star goalie Ben Bishop (currently at 16-12-2 with a 2.37 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 31 games) and second-line center (and former Ottawa Senators captain) Jason Spezza to the mix, Dallas absolutely should be able to make the playoffs year in and year out if their support staff does the bare minimum. It just hasn't in the past couple of years...

Klingberg's already 26, entering what should be the prime of his career. If he didn't live in the Age Of Erik Karlsson, along with Victor Hedman, Drew Doughty, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mark Giordano, Kristopher Letang, Brent Burns, Seth Jones, and Dustin Byfuglien, I'd say he was the Norris Trophy-winning type, but there is tremendously stiff competition these days.

Hopefully the team helps him reach some level of success.

Here he is sporting the Stars' white (away) jersey (with matching game-worn swatch) on card #GJ-JK from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
I pulled it from an unopened pack in an Upper Deck Mystery Box a couple of weeks ago. He made a Make-A-Wish kid's dream come true with the rest of his teammates around the same time.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Rick Tocchet Autographed Card

(team and product links go to sponsored Amazon products, player links go to related pages on my blog, news links go to source pages)

I thought we could take the opportunity, during the NHL All-Star break, to look at Rick Tocchet's job as head coach of the Arizona Coyotes midway through his second season - possibly midway through his tenure, who knows?

Last season, the Coyotes finished with a 29-41-12 record, "good" for the eighth and final spot in the Pacific division. This was whiz "fancy" stats kid GM John Chayka's second full season with the team - a second major overhaul.

This year, so far, the team stands at 23-23-4, in sixth place in the league's weakest division, just one point ahead of the Edmonton Oilers, and six ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. Its leading scorer is sophomore Clayton Keller who, at 35 points in 50 games, places 90th in the league, meaning there are on average three players (an entire line!) per other team ahead of him. Keller is also -14, one better than star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (-15). That puts Keller 598th in the NHL, and OEL 806th. Out of 825 players who have suited up for at least a game this season.

Star goaltender Antti Raanta is out for the season having just played 12 games (5-6 record with a 2.88 GAA and .906 save percentage, middling backup numbers anyway), leaving Darcy Kuemper and Calvin Pickard to shoulder the workload.

Compared to the two teams within their reach - the Vancouver Canucks with Jacob Markstrom and the Anaheim Ducks with the best goalie this year in John Gibson - it seems like the 'Yotes are bringing a plastic spoon to a gun fight.

I'm not sure if Tocchet has what it takes to compete with the best head coaches in the business - the likes of Barry Trotz, Jon Cooper, Peter Laviolette, Ken Hitchcock, Claude Julien, John Tortorella, and Guy Boucher, heck even the unemployed Alain Vigneault and Darryl Sutter, or the KHL-exiled Bob Hartley - but I do feel like he's not given the best tools to give it his best shot, unlike his days coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning when he had a Hall of Famer (Martin St-Louis) and three perennial All-Stars and award-winners (Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and a young Victor Hedman).

We'll see in due time how he fares.

In the meantime, here's a blast from the past, Tocchet wearing the alternate captain's "A" while playing for the Prince Of Wales Conference at the 42nd All-Star Game in Chicago:
That's card #311 from Pro Set's 1991-92 Series 1 set (the entirely French Canadian version). Those were nice All-Star Game uniforms!

Of note, Tocchet had a goal (assisted by Pat Verbeek and Joe Sakic) and an assist (on a goal by Kevin  Stevens) in an 11-5 loss to the Clarence Campbell Conference in that game, which was his third of four All-Star Games (1989, 1990, 1991 and 1993).

Friday, January 25, 2019

Mark Giordano: Three Autographed Cards

It had been a few quiet years on the "Mark Giordano deserves a Norris Trophy" front - since 2014-15, actually - and it has been given to players who didn't actually deserve it in their winning year of late: Drew Doughty wasn't the best defenseman by a long shot in 2015-16 (Erik Karlsson was, and Kris Letang was second), but he hadn't won one yet, which went against his reputation as one of the best defensemen in the game, so he got the nod; Brent Burns was handed the award in 2016-17 on the strength of his 29 goals and 76 points, but in terms of best defenseman, Karlsson, Victor Hedman and two-time winner Duncan Keith had better all-around numbers and metrics; so Hedman was given the award in 2017-18 despite posting 9 fewer points than the previous year, to make up for losing it then, when a case could have easily been made for P.K. Subban, a now-defensively-capable John Carlson, an MVP-like season for Seth Jones, "fancy stats" winners John Klingberg and Roman Josi, or even Doughty, who may have had his best season ever.

That's Oscars-level legacy recognition, or even worse, Martin Brodeur-level belated and overblown history revising.

If Giordano wins it this year, however, it will be out of merit, not just because he missed out on the final quarter-season of play in 2014-15 when he was away ahead of everyone else in the field. He and Letang are the only two defenders who rank in the top-six in the league in each of the following categories (among defensemen who have logged more than 500 minutes): goals, points, shots, shot attempt share, goal differential, and scoring chance share.

Both post those impressive numbers while consistently playing against the opposition's best five players, which is something Karlsson/Burns and Subban/Josi don't have to do, as they rarely play together and, thus, one is often playing against second-liners.

Both Giordano and Letang play on what is essentially a two-horse show this season, Giordano sharing the spotlight with possible MVP candidate Johnny Gaudreau while Letang is playing with a rejuvenated Sidney Crosby who is playing his most "complete" game ever, which excludes him from MVP and scoring leaders talk but has him in consideration for the Selke Trophy; what separates the two is that the Calgary Flames were supposed to be a bubble playoff team relying on a rookie goalie yet stand atop the Pacific Division, while the Pittsburgh Penguins are perennial Stanley Cup contenders who are stuck middling around the Wild Card race.

Giordano's impact on his team is simply much greater than Letang's, this year. The only thing that stands in their way of being the 1-2 picks is the Toronto-centric hockey media - which votes on these awards - and their craving to have a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs finally get his hands on an individual award, and their voting en masse for Morgan Rielly, who in my view comes far behind (in order) at least Giordano, Letang, Karlsson, Burns, Carlson, Hedman, and Jones, maybe even Thomas Chabot, Josi and Mattias Ekholm.

Time will tell, but the Flames' captain has put himself in position to contend, which is pretty much all he could do.

He was in town with the Flames facing the Montréal Canadiens in October, and signed these three cards in blue sharpie for the occasion, first wearing Calgary's classic uniform on the "Gold" variant of card #64 from Panini's 2013-14 Score set, getting in a shooting lane:
Another classic red picture with the prominent alternate captain's "A", this time carrying the puck up the ice on card #474 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 O-Pee-Chee set:
And finally, the captain's "C" clearly visible, looking for someone to pass the puck to, on the "Canvas" card #C132 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 2 collection:
Although undrafted from Juniors, he's definitely making a dent in NHL history as a two-time All-Star, a six-year captain, two-time World Championship silver medalist (2007 and 2010), Spengler Cup winner (2008), and 2015-16 NHL Foundation Award winner. Add a Norris or two, some playoff success, and maybe you're looking at a Hall of Famers; he'd be the second-most prominent undrafted player in my lifetime (after Adam Oates) to make it.

These signed cards will replace his jersey cards as the entry for #5 in my Flames Numbers Project.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Paul Fenton Autographed Card

All the talk surrounding the search for a new General Manager for the Edmonton Oilers got me thinking about one perennial candidate who is no longer in the hunt, Paul Fenton.

A veteran of 411 NHL games over eight seasons, Fenton was a tireless worker who didn't have the most talent in the world but willed himself into a 20-goal season with the Los Angeles Kings in 1988-89 and a team-leading 32 goals with the Winnipeg Jets in 1989-90 (Thomas Steen had missed half the season with an injury).

The Jets probably would have liked to keep him around for his leadership skills, but his trade value was so high that he and top-two defenseman Dave Ellett were bundled and sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs for 40-goal scorer Ed Olczyk and checker Mark Osborne at the beginning of the 1990-91 season. It was the beginning of a busy moving season as he was then bundled with enforcer John Kordic and sent to the Washington Capitals for a fifth-round draft pick (Alexei Kudashov) two months later, and flipped to the Calgary Flames the same day for defensive defenseman Ken Sabourin; come August, the Flames sent him over to the Hartford Whalers for the draft pick that became Joël Bouchard, and the Whalers sent him to the San Jose Sharks when the season started, where Fenton provided much-needed leadership and guidance to the first-year franchise. Going the Whalers' way was Mike McHugh, who never played for the team.

He also suited up for Team USA twice, at the 1985 and 1989 World Championships, totaling 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) in 19 games.

A funny/ironic thing about Fenton is that while playing for the Boston University Terriers, head coach Jack Parker told him he should "look for a job outside of hockey", i.e. coach talk for "you're not very good", which never came to be, as Fenton kept gravitating around rinks even after his retirement, spending eight years as the Nashville Predators' Director of Player Personnel, then twelve as Assistant-GM. He was a natural fit for former Preds owner / current Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold to fill his team's vacant GM position last summer. after choosing not to renew Chuck Fletcher's contract.

Here he is sporting the Jets' classic "modern" Rangers-like blue uniform, on card #92 from Upper Deck's 1990-91 Series 1 set:
If memory serves correctly, he signed it in black sharpie at the 2009 All-Star Game held in Montréal (or a Preds game really close to that date).

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Magnus Pääjärvi: Four Autographed Cards

As is the case every other year for the Edmonton Oilers, it's time for an organizational re-haul... after replacing perennial not-winning coach Todd McLellan with Edmonton native Ken Hitchcock earlier in the season, the Oilers will (likely, hopefully) remove General Manager Peter Chiarelli from his position today.

I will still defend the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson deal (although a first-rounder should have also went the Oilers' way in that deal), but Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome for Ryan Spooner for, uh, waivers is unforgivable, as was never solidifying the defense or the goaltending position.

Chiarelli inherited the draft pick that became Connor McDavid, who blossomed into the best player on the planet in just his second season; one can forgive playing into McDavid's hand by foregoing the bridge deal between the rookie salary cap and the MVP-like contract he ended up getting, but there was no reason to also do so with Leon Draisaitl. Now, these two superstars account for roughly a third of the team's overall cap, which should fit 23 people. Doing so seriously limits the supporting cast you can surround your stars with, as the Pittsburgh Penguins noticed in the near-decade between their 2009 and 2016 Stanley Cups.

And one of the people under that cap is $6M Milan Lucic, he who hath scored 15 goals in the last year and a half and is under contract until 2022-23.

The three main things the Oilers have been doing wrong in the past decade have been picking some of the wrong guys in the first round, never picking up supporting pieces in the later rounds, and/or not developing their prospects into viable NHL players.

Case in point: Karl Magnus Svensson Pääjärvi, now known simply in NHL circles as Magnus Pääjärvi.

A star player in Sweden who had already medaled twice at the World Juniors (silver in 2008 and 2009) when he was drafted tenth overall (he would add a bronze medal in 2010), he was chosen ahead of the likes of Ryan Ellis (11th), Calvin De Haan (12th), Dmitri Kulikov (14th), Nick Leddy (16th), Chris Kreider (19th), Kyle Palmieri (26th), Ryan O'Reilly (33rd), Jakob Silfverberg (39th), Robin Lehner (46th), Richard Panik (52nd), Tomas Tatar (60th), Tyson Barrie (64th), Cody Eakin (85th), David Savard (94th), Craig Smith (98th), Mattias Ekholm (102nd), Marcus Foligno (104th), Sami Vatanen (106th), Mike Hoffman (130th), Gabriel Bourque (132nd), Marcus Kruger (149th), Anders Lee (152nd), and Erik Haula (182nd).

Now, at 6'3" and 206 pounds with speed and good hands, of course he's worth taking a chance on, same as Kreider. Ahead of talented defensemen like Ellis, Kulikov, Barrie and Ekholm, I'm not sure; ahead of a blue chip goalie like Lehner, perhaps; ahead of hard-working probable point-per-game players like O'Reilly and Hoffman, again, not sure.

But what you do when you land a talent like that is nurture it. That means powerplay time, offensive zone starts, not benching him at every defensive mistake; instill a discipline, a taste for physical effort, a taste for using his body - not necessarily through hard checks (although if he wants to, sure), but at least as a means to protect the puck and carry/shield it to and in the offensive zone.

It's a process that takes years. Five to seven years on someone his size.

The Oilers gave him three years before losing patience, but they still landed a valuable asset in David Perron when they traded Pääjärvi; the St. Louis Blues, on the other hand, never trusted him enough to give him the "candy" minutes, more often than not leaving him on the ice for fewer than 12 minutes per game, then crying about his lack of offensive contribution and unfit defensive zone play.

The Blues ended up waiving him, and the Ottawa Senators pounced on him. They even re-signed him to an affordable one-year, $900K deal over the summer (the type the Oilers should be looking at right now, what with their limited cap space), with GM Pierre Dorion saying:
“We’re happy to have Magnus back in Ottawa. He showed us last season that he can play the game with speed, which fits with the style of play we want our team to exhibit. Magnus is a versatile player who will be able to provide us productive minutes in many situations.”
Speed. Following the team. Productive minutes. In many situations.

Sure, he had six goals in 35 games with the Sens last year and five in 40-some games this year, but as a left winger, he's behind Ryan Dzingel, Brady Tkachuk and Mikkel Boedker at his position, on par with Zack Smith; so the Sens are giving him minutes where they can, including shorthanded, usually with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who is shaping up to have a Sean Couturier-like career trajectory. One of his goals was a short-hander. One was on a breakaway against Jusse Saros. He even wiped out after a goal last weekend.

He's fun to watch. He'd probably be a lot more fun to watch playing alongside an even faster McDavid.

Here he is wearing the Oilers' ugly practice-like uniform from after the season-long lockout, on card #78 from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Victory set:
And here he is sporting the team's classic white (now-away) uniform, on card #198 from Panini's beautiful 2013-14 Score set:
And here he is wearing Edmonton's classic blue uniform, possibly one of the ten best hockey jerseys of all time:
The card on the left is #192 from Panini's 2011-12 Score set, while the one on the right is #124 from UD's 2011-12 SP Authentic collection.

He signed them in blue sharpie in October 2018, prior to a home game against the Montréal Canadiens. These cards cement him as #91 on my Oilers Numbers Project.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Jason LaBarbera Autographed Card

Former journeyman goaltender Jason LaBarbera is currently in his third season as the WHL Calgary Hitmen's goaltending coach. My first reflex would be to say that that's the type of consistency that has eluded him in his professional career, considering he played for 13 teams in three leagues in 16 seasons (plus three teams in four WHL seasons in Juniors), but the truth of the matter is he had two relatively solid residencies, the first with the New York Rangers organization (though mostly with their AHL affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack), which was a five-year relationship from 2001 until 2005, and the second with the Phoenix Coyotes where he was the main NHL backup for four straight seasons under the tutelage of Sean Burke, yielding three fairly good seasons:
from HockeyDB
That's twice with save percentages above .920, three times with a GAA under 3.00, with 2009-10 being particularly spectacular at 2.13 and .928.

As a matter of fact, his AHL statistics are pretty impressive overall, with a 162-121 record, a 2.33 GAA and .922 save percentage. These two seasons are impressive regardless of caliber:
That is dominance right there, which is why I mostly have memories of him playing for the Wolf Pack, like on this card, which he signed in blue sharpie in 2013-14:
That's card #33 from Pacific's 2003-04 Pacific Prospects - AHL Edition set, showing him wearing Hartford's beautiful blue (away) uniform, based on the Rangers' "Liberty" jersey.

He won the AHL awards for best goalie twice (2004 and 2007) - earning First Team All-Star nods both times - as well as the league MVP award in 2004, and the trophy for lowest goals-against average in 2004 and 2007.

Time will tell if he'll be successful following in Burke's footsteps - so far, eight goalies have crossed his path with only one signing with an NHL team - but these young men will have a wealth of experience to learn from, including how to handle the long bus rides and earning your way to the NHL.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Ryan Callahan Jersey Card

Fresh from pulling it in a recent Upper Deck 2018-19 Mystery Box, I figured I could talk a bit about Ryan Callahan via card #AF-RC from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition collection and Authentic Fabrics sub-set:
It shows him wearing the New York Rangers' white (now-away) uniform and, although the scan doesn't do it justice, features two lines of stitching - one below the "n" and one below the "c" of the word "Authentic". If you look closely at the picture, you'll also see he was the team's captain at the time (2011-14), between the reigns of Chris Drury and current Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Ryan McDonagh.

An American from Rochester, NY, it felt like a perfect fit when the Rangers selected him 127th overall in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL draft, one of the best "value" picks of the later rounds (3-9) with Brandon Prust (70th overall, 486 games played, 1036 penalty minutes), Andrej Sekera (71st, 683 games, 232 points), Alexei Emelin (84th, 456 games, 81 points and lots of hard-hitting checks), Alexander Edler (91st, closing in on 800 games and over 350 points from the blue line), Johan Franzen (602 games, 370 points, a Stanley Cup and World Championship gold), Kris Versteeg (134th, 643 games, 358 points), Mikhail Grabovski (150th, 534 games, 296 points), Roman Polak (734 games and counting, 132 points and 599 penalty minutes so far), Anton Khudobin (206th, career GAA of 2.47, save percentage of .916 and currently a league leader in both categories), Troy Brouwer (214th, 351 points and 569 penalty minutes), Matt Hunwick (224th, 523 games), Pekka Rinne (258th, a Vezina Trophy and a Cup Final in consecutive years), Mark Streit (786 games, 434 points, captain of two teams and two-time Swiss Olympian and captain), Daniel Winnik (265th, 798 games) and Jannik Hansen (287th, 626 games).

As a matter of fact, if I had to re-do the 2004 draft, my first round would likely go as follows (half-knowing what I know now, following the development curb these players had, but notwithstanding injury occurrences, and accounting for the fact that I would normally advise against drafting a goalie in the first round, despite there being three here):

1. Alexander Ovechkin
2. Evgeni Malkin
3. Blake Wheeler
4. Rinne
5. Streit
6. Alexander Radulov
7. Franzen
8. Andrew Ladd
9. David Krejci
10. Mike Green
11. Edler
12. Callahan
13. Brandon Dubinsky
14. Alex Goligoski
15. Ladislav Smid
16. Emelin
17. Travis Zajac
18. Brouwer
19. Grabovski
20. Wojtek Wolski
21. Versteeg
22. Sekera
23. Drew Stafford
24. Devan Dubnyk
25. Andrej Meszaros
26. Bryan Bickell
27. Blake Comeau
28. David Booth
29. Carl Soderberg
30. Cory Schneider

Callahan had a few injury-laden first few seasons, but broke out in 2007-08 with 22 goals, good for third on the Rangers, then was named alternate captain the following year, posting roughly the same amount of goals and points as the previous season.

He missed some 20 games by breaking his hand to block a shot in 2010-11, which didn't stop him from posting career-high offensive totals for goals (23), assists (25) and points (48). He also suffered a broken ankle from blocking a Zdeno Chara shot - who held the record for hardest/fastest shot at the time - at the end of the season, earning the team's captaincy with his compete level and effort. He was the first Rangers captain to have been born in the State.

He followed that with 29 goals, 25 assist and 54 points in 2011-12, also suiting up for 20 playoff games (posting 10 points) en route to the Conference Final.

Contract talks stalled with New York, however, as the team wanted to add more offensive firepower to an already well-oiled machine, offering Callahan $36M for six years (at a $6M per season cap hit), while Callahan's camp remained first at $6.5M; at the 2013-14 trade deadline, the Rangers sent their captain, the first-round pick who became Josh Ho-Sang, the first-round pick who became Anthony Beauvillier and the seventh-round pick who became Ziyat Paigin to the Lightning for the remaining two seasons of disgruntled captain and superstar Martin St. Louis' deal and a second-rounder (Oliver Kylington).

It was such a blockbuster deal that both teams benefited from it immediately, facing off in the Conference Final, with Tampa winning in seven games.

He has been plagued by injuries ever since, however, as he was limited to 18 games in 2016-17, 67 in 2017-18 and 40 so far in 2018-19 with just 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists), ranking 16th on the team, behind four defensemen and Adam Erne, a rookie who has only suited up in 34 games. His ice time has mostly been below 10 minutes per game this year.

Many feel he will be ripe for a buyout this summer (provided he's not injured during the team's window to do so), but some Rangers commentators would like to see him come back home - at a fair price.

Either way would be fine for the romantic in me - finishing his career as the Rangers' two-time captain, or playing on Cup-contending teams with fellow former Rangers McDonagh, Anton Stralman, J.T. Miller and Daniel Girardi. Plus, as the Los Angeles Kings showed us with Mike Richards, having an experienced, dependable checker who can fill in in other roles temporarily is a plus come playoff time.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Robin Lehner Autograph Card

Earlier today, one of the ten best goalies in the NHL this year shut out the Vezina frontrunner's team, as the New York Islanders' Robin Lehner blanked John Gibson's Anaheim Ducks 3-0. Gibson's having a season for the ages, where he is solely responsible for 90% of the Ducks' cumulative points this year, but Lehner currently ranks second in both GAA (2.02, behind Laurent Brossoit's 2.01) and save percentage (.930, behind Jack Campbell's .931). Yes, only a pair of backups are ahead of Lehner, mostly because he has played more games than both of them combined.

Rounding out the "best goalie" conversation are Ben Bishop (2.37 and .921 on a Dallas Stars team that has trouble scoring two goals per game), Marc-André Fleury (2.49 and .911, to go along with a league-leading 27 wins), the two-headed Boston Bruins monster comprised of Tuukka Rask (2.43, .919) and Jaroslav Halak (2.47, .919), Andrei Vasilevskiy (2.50 and .925 playing for the league-leading and nearly flawless Tampa Bay Lightning), surprising Calgary Flames sophomore David Rittich (2.49 and .917), last year's winner Pekka Rinne (2.51 and .913) and the Toronto Maple Leafs' Frederik Andersen (2.54 and .922).

One thing that sets Lehner apart is his own admission of being ten-months sober from alcohol and sleeping pills right before the regular season started, as well as bouts fighting bipolar disease and depression.

It took major balls to look deep inside himself and tell the world that while we could all see his level of talent and competitiveness, the reason why he was let go by the Buffalo Sabres was himself, and the reasons why he lost the #1 goalie job on a team that's poised to make a huge bounce in the standing in the next few years come from within.

He's now seemingly dealt with his demons and gotten his career back on track, and now all he needs to do is keep walking that line and forging ahead. Should he not win the Vezina, he'll likely get strong Masterton Trophy consideration and a new, more lucrative deal for the future, two more reasons to keep at it.

Here he is at the beginning of his NHL career, on card #39 of the NHL Ink sub-set from Panini's 2011-12 Contenders set:
It is a beautiful, relatively thick, sleek and clean card, with lots of blank space for him to sign in blue sharpie. It shows him sporting the Ottawa Senators' very best jersey, the black "O" throwback uniform, stopping a puck behind his net.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Kirk Muller Autographed Card

A cool nickname, "Captain Kirk". The second-overall pick of the 1984 draft. Captain of the New Jersey Devils and Montréal Canadiens. Stanley Cup winner. All-Star. Had he had his say, that's the way the story would have ended for Kirk Muller, a path that may have led him to the Hal of Fame.

Instead, after assurances from GM Serge Savard that he would not get traded - and that if he were to be, that it be to a contending team - he was sent to the New York Islanders on April 5th, 1995, along with Mathieu Schneider and Craig Darby.

What had changed? Isles GM Don Maloney felt his team needed to add grit and a hard work ethic to his team, and made captain Pierre Turgeon - a French Canadian star - available, for one; also, the Habs needed to get rid of Schneider after a fistfight with star goalie Patrick Roy in Philadelphia in a personal matters issue that was never going to be resolved. Schenider's value didn't match Turgeon's, so the Habs added their own captain and a prospect to the deal, and the Isles added Vladimir Malakhov, an extremely talented but enigmatic (and perhaps lazy) defenseman, on their end.

But Muller wanted nothing to do with the Islanders. So much so that he didn't report to the team. At first, Maloney offered him to take some "personal time" to get his "affairs in order", but when it looked like he was never going to report to the team, Maloney had to promise to try to trade him over the summer, after which Muller suited up for the team's last 12 games of the season.

Then the team introduced its "Fishstick Fisherman" jersey, and half the team wanted out. I don't know what it took to get Muller to smile here, but I bet it had something to do with the photographer telling him he was probably never going to have to wear it on the ice:
That's card #115 from Topps' 1995-96 Topps set, which he signed in blue sharpie in his first stint as a Canadiens assistant coach.

When the 1995-96 season came along, Muller's trade value had plummeted, with every GM in the league knowing full well he wanted out and trying to short-change the Islanders in a deal. Muller flat-out stopped trying and was sent home in early November to await a trade, with his full salary. Due to his inability to deal with the issue, Maloney was fired on December 2nd, replaced by "Mad" Mike Milbury, who sent him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in January, with veteran goalie Don Beaupre, in a three-team swap that netted the Isles Martin Straka, Bryan Berard and Ken Belanger.

He had a bit of a resurgence with the Leafs, posting 25 points (9 goals, 16 assists) in 36 games, but the following season it became clear he had lost a step and could no longer contribute as a second-liner. He would play two and a half years with the Florida Panthers (to little fanfare) before joining fellow former Habs leaders Guy Carbonneau, Craig Ludwig, Mike McPhee, Mike Keane and Brian Skrudland with the Dallas Stars, where he spent his final four seasons.

And how do Isles fans feel about his short time on Long Island? Here's an interesting take:
We've heard about French Canadian players avoiding signing with the Habs because of the pressure their fans will put on them. Take my word for it, that's a good problem to have. It means the players understand exactly what will be expected of them and, if they're not up to the challenge, you probably wouldn't want them anyway.
Players avoiding the Islanders is a horse of a different colo(u)r, though. They're usually borne from not understanding, or wanting to understand, what the hell's even going on over there on Long Island. This is a much larger problem to have. And until it's fixed for good, every big-time player could potentially fill Kirk Muller's old unwanted jersey.
Which was number 9. Which was Clark Gillies' number. Who is still a god on Long Island. Which is yet another reason to hate the piece of shit prick Muller.
It's the complete opposite in Montréal, where Muller is one of two non-French-speaking coaches (with McGill University alumnus Mike Babcock) fans would accept as head coach of the storied Canadiens - and that's saying a lot.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Two Shean Donovan Autographed Cards

Shean Donovan spent more or less his entire NHL career a victim of his physique. Drafted 28th overall (second round) by the San Jose Sharks in 1993 after a 53-poiint season, he exploded for 84 points in his final OHL season with the Ottawa 67s, not unlike their current star player Tye Felhaber.

Of course, at 6'3" and 225 pounds with terrific speed, Donovan qualified as a power forward and would have needed at least five to seven years to develop, but the Sharks lost patience after four seasons and sent him to the Colorado Avalanche, where he had trouble getting ice time on a team that also included such All-Stars as Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay, Chris Drury, Adam Deadmarsh, Brian Rolston, and Claude Lemieux, so he was eventually dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers, claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and traded to the Calgary Flames.

It was the Flames who took a long look at his skating ability ahead of his size and made him into a second-liner instead of a checking winger, and it paid off with a terrific 2003-04 season where he scored 18 goals (second on the team), collected 24 assists (third) and posted 42 points (third).

The season-long 2004-05 lockout got the best of him, however, as he only played 12 games overseas with the Genève-Servette HC, collecting 8 points but also 30 penalty minutes. Playing on a checking line for ten seasons in the NHL had instilled bad habits in his game, and the rule application in Europe and when he made his way back to North America in 2005-06 was such that he essentially had to be relegated to a checking line once again as he played one year for the Boston Bruins and three more with the Ottawa Senators.

He retired after the 2009-10 season and began coaching in 2013-14, first as an assistant and development coach with the 67s, then adding the Sens starting the following season. He is still in that position for the Senators, splitting his time between Ottawa and their AHL affiliate in Belleville.

He signed the above cards for me in blue sharpie during his penultimate season, in 2008-09. Card #60 from Upper Deck's 2005-06 MVP set sees him wearing the Flames' red (then-away) uniform:
And here he is sporting Calgary's white (then-home) uniform, on card #29 from UD's 2005-06 Series 1 set, celebrating after a goal:
He tagged both cards with #10, his number on the Sens, rather than #16, his number with the Flames.

He has won gold medals twice playing for Team Canada, at the 1995 World Juniors and 1997 World Championships.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Nikita Scherbak Autograph Card

The 26th overall pick of the 2014 NHL draft, Nikita Scherbak was waived by the Montréal Canadiens on December 1st and claimed by the Los Angeles Kings the next day, marking the seventh of eight first-round picks that have yet to work out in Montréal, the exception being current rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi, with a thought for elite defenseman-to-be Mikhail Sergachev, traded for Jonathan Drouin.

He scored a goal in his first game in L.A. but produced nothing in the next seven, which prompted the Kings to assign him to their AHL affiliate Ontario Reign, where he again has a lone goal in four games.

He has NHL-level size, skill, speed, hands, shot and overall ability, but so far has refused to put in an NHL-level effort in practices and games. It seems like he feels he should be able to glide on talent alone, like Thomas Vanek a decade ago, with a disdain for good defensive positioning.

Maybe we're looking at an Evgenii Dadonov-type of situation, where he needs to post good numbers in the KHL to develop a thirst for more and come back to North America wanting to surpass himself.

Still, it adds to a pretty uninspiring list of first-round failures (in terms of helping the team, not sheer talent) for Montréal, with all of these players now playing elsewhere at various levels or just plain retired from the game: Mike McCarron (25th overall, 2013), Alex Galchenyuk (third, 2012), Nathan Beaulieu (17th, 2011), Jarred Tinordi (22nd, 2010) and Louis Leblanc (18th, 2009). For the record, Galchenyuk already has a 30-goal season under his belt and I foresee at least five years in the point-per-game range for him starting in a couple of years; I also see McCarron posting a couple of 30-goal seasons, a few 50-point seasons with a peak at around 60-65. They will not all be busts.

It's hard to predict what will come of Scherbak, however.

Here he is sporting the Habs' red (home) uniform, making his entry as #38 in my Habs Numbers Project with the signed insert version of card #91 of the Rookie Premieres (Level 2) card from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Trilogy set:
It's a nice mix of silver (blue on the scan, silver to the naked eye) and gold foil, with a sticker autograph, signed in blue sharpie with his jersey number tagged at the end; it's both tacky and spectacular. This card is numbered 201/349. The NHL's 100th Anniversary patch is displayed below the right shoulder, attesting that the picture came from a regular-season game.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Greg Nemisz Autographed Card

The last time we checked up on Greg Nemisz, he had been traded by the Calgary Flames to the Carolina Hurricanes, then sustained a season-ending knee injury after posting 14 points in 21 games for the AHL Charlotte Checkers.

While rehabbing his knee at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, he accepted an offer from the Oshawa Generals to be their video coach; after realizing he would never fully recover from his third major injury in three seasons, he put an end to his playing career and became a full-time assistant coach with the Generals, a position he still holds today.

I met him in 2016-17 when I was scouting Generals goalie Jeremy Brodeur, son of Martin Brodeur, and he was kind enough to sign this 2012-13 Score card (#99 in the set) by Panini for me, in blue sharpie:
It shows him wearing the Flames' classic red (now-alternate) uniform.

So far, the undrafted Brodeur looks like he'll be a career minor-leaguer; his older brother Anthony, a former throwaway pick of the New Jersey Devils, is having a heck of a revival playing for the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Yves Racine Autographed Card

Yves Racine was chosen 11th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1987 NHL Draft, ahead of Joe Sakic (15th), Andrew Cassels (17th), John LeClair (33rd), Jeff Hackett (34th), Éric Desjardins (38th), Mathieu Schneider (44th), and Theoren Fleury (166th).

He was a blue-chip prospect and proved it by posting 94- and 108-point seasons for the LHJMQ's Victoriaville Tigres after being drafted, then went on to post two 40-point seasons with the Wings before getting traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, where he had a career-high 52 points in 1993-94.

He then made his way to the Montréal Canadiens as a free agent, unfortunately landing on his hometown team the year it parted ways with legendary GM Serge Savard, Stanley Cup-winning coach Jacques Demers and the best goalie of all time, Patrick Roy. To add insult to injury, the Habs already had offensive-minded defensemen on the roster (Schneider, Patrice Brisebois, Jean-Jacques Daigneault, fellow former first-rounder Bryan Fogarty), which meant his skill-set was overly redundant, particularly on a team that lacked on-ice chemistry and defensive acumen.

He had short stints with the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning (in his third turn with Demers as coach, after Detroit and Montréal), but his reputation was already too tarnished to continue playing in the NHL as he turned 30, so he exiled himself to Europe, playing one season in Finland and four more in Germany before returning home to play in the LNAH for the Thetford Mines Prolab for a couple of years.

He then went into business with the Prolab's owner, Réal Breton, investing and obtaining a huge return in the building and selling of condos. Nowadays, he owns and operates a hardware and lumber company, Fixatech. He still suits up for the Habs' alumni team for charity events, a dozen or so times a year.

Here is is sporting the Wings' red (then-away) uniform, on card #287 from Fleer's 1992-93 Fleer Ultra set, which he signed in black sharpie during his time in Thetford Mines:
I should also have a few of him in Flyer orange and the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge as well, somewhere.

Monday, January 14, 2019

2018-19 Parkhurst Hockey Blaster Box Break

Well, they've finally made the Big Time!

I usually buy this series as a means to acquire many cards that I can get signed, but the 2018-19 Parkhurst set by Upper Deck finally feels like a quality set: the cards are thicker than in the past, the design drifted from the usual green-based contour, the player selection remains decent and the sub-sets are original!

What an improvement!

First off, here is what the regular-issue cards look like:
They're reminiscent of old Victory or Topps Total sets, just a tad glossier.

Among the usual sub-sets, I pulled twelve Rookie cards: Maxime Comtois, Brady Tkachuk, Isac Lundestrom, Tomas Hyka, Dylan Sikura, Anthony Cirelli, Casey Mittelstadt, Robert Thomas, Oskar Lindblom, Henrik Borgstrom, Maxim Mamin and Brett Howden:
I also landed six All-Star Game cards, of Anze Kopitar, Pekka Rinne, Jack Eichel, Braden Holtby, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid:
I found it a bit weird that the All-Star cards showed the same five years' worth of basic statistics as the regular-issue cards when they could have shown All-Star Game stats instead, but I guess UD had other things in mind.

More, uh, original inserts included Original 6: Past, Present & Future, of which I pulled Jonathan Toews:
Don't get fooled by the scan, this one is actually a silver foil, not predominantly blue, as is the Parkhurst Permits series (again, Toews):
There was another sub-set of rookies dubbed Prominent Prospects, of which I lucked into Eeli Tolvanen, Brady Tkachuk and Dillon Dube:
For these as for the rest of the set, whenever a card also has a picture on the back, it's the same picture as the front, but with a different crop.

One set that looks cool but is just a pretext to feature the same stars in different angles is View From The Ice, although the signed versions (which I didn't pull) look even better:
These would feel at home in Upper Deck's Tim Hortons sets... That's an extra card of Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and Auston Matthews.

The most original insert is Tis The Season, as can be seen on this Auston Matthews card:
There are also two Checklist cards (and I got both); they feature Ovechkin and Matthews.
You probably see where I'm going with this...

Pro: great hand feel.
Con: too glossy.
Pro: great player selection.
Con: awful collation, as can be attested by all the Toews and Ovie cards (and way too many Matthews cards).
Pro: finally worth $30 for 120 cards (12 packs of 10 cards).
Con: 220 total cards in the regular set, so why bother with TWO checklists?

It's a terrific buy. If I had $30 to spend on more cards this year (and just $30, not a multiple of $30), this is the box I'd spend it on. It exceeded my expectations and, in doing so, surpassed Artifacts and O-Pee-Chee as the affordable set to buy. This is a solid 8.5/10.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

2018-19 Upper Deck Hockey Mystery Box Break

I've got to admit, this Upper Deck 2018-19 Mystery Box was compelling, at $45. A Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin/Evgeni Malkin, Mario Lemieux or Leon Draisaitl signed card? A Wayne Gretzky or Connor McDavid signed jersey? A premium pack? A coin worth $99?

Of course, I landed none of that, but I did get at least one of every "regular" pack shown on the box, namely a pack of the 2015-16 Series 1 set:
A pack of the 2015-16 Series 2 set:
Two packs of 2016-17 Series 1:
One pack of 2016-17 Parkhurst:
One pack of 2016-17 Team Canada Juniors/Women cards:
Two packs of the 2017-18 Series 1 cards:
And my guaranteed "Hobby" pack, from the 2016-17 CHL set:
I had fun opening the packs and landed a few inserts.

There is a Young Guns Canvas card of Nick Cousins:
A Parkhurst silver parallel of Daniel Sedin and two rookies:
Two UD Portraits cards from different sets:
And my CHL pack landed me 12 young players including this Milos Roman rookie card:
But the two best were this 2017-18 Game Jersey card of John Klingberg:
And this gold variant (#25/38) jersey card of Canadian Olympian Halli Krzyzaniak's:
The guaranteed "hit" card was this Authentic Fabrics jersey card of former New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan from the 2013-14 SP Game-Use Edition set:
The only truly disappointing pull was the fact that the guaranteed rookie card is in terrible shape; it's Auston Matthews' Top Rookies card from the 2017-18 MJ Holdings Hockey set but has three banged corners, nearly half the left side of the cardboard lifted off and cutting lines on top and on the right:
Considering it should probably be the box's most valuable hit, it's a huge disappointment. I probably would've been able to make a Toronto Maple Leafs fan very happy via trade with this one, but I can't see anyone going out of their way trying to acquire it from me.

I'll contact Upper Deck and see if they can replace it for me, or perhaps explain that the entire run of MJ Holdings cards are this way. If it stands as is, I'll have to rate this one a 6.0/10.