Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Andrew Shaw: Two Autographed Cards

Andrew Shaw had his first career NHL hat trick tonight as the Montréal Canadiens disposed of the Detroit Red Wings by an 8-1 score.

There have been critics of GM Marc Bergevin's choice to acquire the tough forward from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a couple of second-round picks (which later became Chad Krys and Alex DeBrincat) from day one, but he's been just as advertised: a heart-and-soul guy who can play on the wing on any line, will toe the line and take enough dumb penalties to cost two or three games a year but whose dedication to his teammates will help win five, will get injured quite a bit and, at best, will hover near the 15-to-20-goal range and will get between 30 and 40 points.

He's done all that, and - well, just that, but it's enough.

The two-time Stanley Cup champion has led by example in Montréal so far and helped a highly-neglected team surpass expectations and fight for a playoff spot this year.

He's signed a few cards for me this year while recovering from injuries, but I thought I could feature these two first, starting with #134 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee set:
It shows him wearing the Hawks' white (away) uniform.

There's also card #348 from Upper Deck's 2016-17 Series 2 set, picturing him as a new member of the Habs, sporting the team's classic white (now-away) uniform:
He signed both in blue sharpie, adding his jersey number (65) at the end, which enables me to add him to my Habs Numbers Project.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Mark Stone Autographed Card

How do you feel happy, sad, elated, relieved and disappointed in something that was so obviously going to happen, all at the same time?

Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion completed the tearing down of the team he had helped assemble into a Conference Finalist not even two years ago by sending its top scorer - and most legitimate choice for next captain - Mark Stone to the Vegas Golden Knights for elite defensive prospect Erik Brannstrom, forward Oscar Lindberg and the Dallas Stars’ second-round pick in the 2020 draft.

Where to begin?

I like the Sens. They're just a short drive away, tickets to their games are more affordable than going to see my hometown Montréal Canadiens, and their players are extremely fan-friendly; at least one Senator sends me stuff in any given NHL season either to add to my Sens Numbers Project or just because they know I like how they play and respect who they are as people.

Stone is one of the smartest players in the world, a first-line winger who can play against the opposing team's best line and stifle them, take away the puck all night and score every other game. He was the Sens' second-best winger of all time, behind Daniel Alfredsson and was barely 26 years old.

I wanted Stone in Ottawa. I wanted him to wear the "C". I wanted to cheer him on. I think he'd be a great player to build around.

Lindberg will likely not be re-signed, but Brannstrom will be a terrific defenseman. Second-rounders usually have a 20% shot at making the NHL, and a 10% shot at being impact players (top-six forwards, good goalies, top-four defensemen). But that haul was fine for Stone as a rental; the fact that he immediately agreed to an eight-year deal worth $76M makes it harder to swallow, as the Sens should've at least gotten a first-rounder out of the deal, perhaps even two.

On the other hand, I love the Golden Knights; they are probably my favourite team at the moment. Seeing as their top line is etched in stone, bringing Stone to their second line to play with Paul Stastny essentially removes Max Pacioretty from relevance there (which I don't mind). Or it turns him into the elite player he should've always been but was never going to become in Montréal because media and fan pressure aren't his bag of tea (which is a plus for the G-Knights).

With this addition, Vegas becomes one of the serious Cup contenders out West with the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.

With this subtraction, the Sens' top six scorers from last year (Stone, Matt Duchene, Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Derick Brassard and Ryan Dzingel) have now left the team - four of whom because they refused to sign extensions. And pretty much the entire middle of the line-up as well: Tom Pyatt, Dion Phaneuf, Alexandre Burrows, Nate Thompson, Kyle Turris, Johnny Oduya, and Marian Gaborik.

It's kind of impressive, when you think about it, although head coach Guy Boucher must be pretty pissed off.

Here is a card Stone signed for me earlier this year (luckily, I have more yet to feature):
That's card #198 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 O-Pee-Chee set (a retro variant). It shows him wearing the Sens' white (away) uniform.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Ryan Dzingel Autographed Card

The fire sale is on and everything must go!

Indeed, the Ottawa Senators have traded Ryan Dzingel to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Anthony Duclair and two second-round picks. Dzingel was fourth on the team in points, behind Mark Stone, now-Jackets teammate Matt Duchene and defenseman Thomas Chabot.

The 26-year-old is on the last year of his contract, one goal away from his career-high of 23 attained last year, and already with his highest points total (44 in 57 games), with some 20 games left to add to those totals.

His points production has increased steadily in his four NHL seasons, from 9 to 32 to 41 to 44 (and counting), which means a conservative estimate is that he'll double his current $1.8M cap hit and possibly even triple it a GM feels desperate enough to want him to jump to first-unit powerplay duties (hello, Stan Bowman of the Chicago Blackhawks).

He's clearly in his prime, so the key for his next deal will be to not sign him for more than five years at a high salary, because it could be a steep downfall after the age of 32. He should be good for 45-55 points for the next four years with a high of 58-65, though.

I personally really enjoyed watching the Illinois native play with the Sens, but with the Jackets, he goes back to the State where he played College Hockey with the Ohio State University Buckeyes. He may be tempted to re-sign in Columbus at a hometown discount because he knows what to expect and likes it there.

He signed this card for me in blue sharpie last year:
It's #434 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 O-Pee-Chee collection, showing him wearing the Sens' red (home) uniform. With it, he is now immortalized as #18 in my Sens Numbers Project.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jason Botterill Autographed Card

To 1990s card collectors, Jason Botterill, 20th overall pick of the 1994 draft (Dallas Stars), was a prospect whose ceiling would have been as a checking specialist and eventual leader, possibly even a captain - somewhere along the lines of a Dave Scatchard (42nd overall).

So many players from that draft class ended up with better career stats than Botterill's 5 goals, 9 assists and 14 points in 88 games spread over eight seasons that, in retrospect, it seems more than risky of the Stars to have gambled so much on the 6'4" two-way forward, even in the Dead Puck Era: Dan Cloutier (26th overall, #1 goalie), Rhett Warrener (27th, 714 games on defense), Scatchard (42nd, 269 points in 659 games), Curtis Brown (43rd, 300 points in 736 games), José Theodore (44th, Hart and Vezina trophies as a #1 goalie, Team Canada Olympian), Mathieu Dandenault (49th, 203 points in 868 games on the blue line), Patrik Elias (51st, 1025 points in 1240 games and two Stanley Cups in four Cup Finals), Fredrik Modin (64th, 462 points in 898 games), Sheldon Souray (71st, 300 points in 758 games, three-time All-Star and NHL record-holder for powerplay goals in a single season by a defenseman), Chris Drury (72nd, 615 points in 892 games, captain of two teams), Milan Hejduk (87th, 805 points in 1020 games, Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold and bronze medalist), Marty Turco (124th, #1 goalie), Daniel Alfredsson (133rd, 1157 points in 12546 games, Olympic gold and silver medalist, NHL captain), Bryce Salvador (138th, 110 points in 786 games as a defenseman and NHL captain), Tim Thomas (217th, #1 goalie, Conn Smythe and Vezina winner), Johan Hedberg (218th, quality backup and at times starting goalie), Evgeni Nabokov (219th, All-Star goalie), Tomas Vokoun (226th, All-Star goalie), Steve Sullivan (233rd, 747 points in 1011 games), Richard Zednik (379 points in 745 games and Olympian), Tomas Holmstrom (530 points in 1026 games, Stanley Cup champion), and Kim Johnsson (286th, 284 points in 739 games from the blue line).

But Botterill proved to be a good learner and teammate, so he made good enough contacts to climb through the ranks on teams' staffs after retiring:
from EliteProspects
Being a long-time assistant on a team that wins three Stanley Cups with two separate GMs rightfully gives a guy like Botterill a shot at running a show himself, which is what he got when he was named GM of the Buffalo Sabres in May of 2017, inheriting a roster that already included "generational" player Jack Eichel and a stacked prospect cupboard.

He was also savvy enough to trade away bad leaders like Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly, bringing in Marco Scandella and bringing back former captain Jason Pominville.

Here he is in his first of three appearances at the World Juniors, wearing Canada's red (away) uniform, on card #202 from Pinnacle Brands' 1994-95 Score set and World Juniors sub-set:
On it, he's sporting #23, making him a welcome addition to my Team Canada Numbers Project. When he signed it in black sharpie, however, he tagged it with #19, which is the number he wore with the St. John's Flames (1999-2002, it was most likely the latter, the year I got back into watching hockey regaularly).

Friday, February 22, 2019

Semyon Varlamov Dual Jersey Card

Although he had a down year ahead of the 2017 Expansion Draft, Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov has really bounced back in an impressive manner in the past year and a half, even if he's statistically not on the level of his Vezina-worthy 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons:
from HockeyDB
He and the team's top line, comprised of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, have often been the sole bright spots on a team that currently sits tied for last place in its division (yet only four points behind a Wild Card spot, albeit in a gridlock with seven other teams) with 61 points (25-24-11) in 60 games.

The contrast between Varlamov and teammate Philipp Grubauer is also stark:
The two former Washington Capitals were supposed to platoon until the team feels KHL superstar Pavel Francouz is ready to join the main team, but Varlamov seems like he's running with it despite his contract being up at the end of the year.

I strongly feel like he's the Avs' best shot in nets for the next two years, so they might want to re-up him, but if they don't, chances are he'll be traded for a couple of second-rounders to a team that will either lose its own #1 to a trade (Columbus Blue Jackets) or a team (Calgary Flames) whose number one (Mike Smith) is having an inexplicably sub-par season.

I'm a pretty big fan of this card, which showcases Varlamov's NHL history as a member of both the Caps and Avs with a white jersey swatch from each one:
It's card #CL-SV from Upper Deck's 2014-15 SP Game-Used Edition set and Career Legacy sub-set.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Laurie Boschman Autographed Card

Laurie Boschman was a tough player. He was a regular member of the 200 PIM club, and his career fights list officially has 89 entries, yet the player he's faced most often was Dean Kennedy - just four times; he fought against different members of the Los Angeles Kings a total of 13 times.

And yet, he fought only once in his final NHL season, in 1992-93 - his lone year with the Ottawa Senators, serving as the team's very first captain after having been selected in the 1992 Expansion Draft. The Sens bought his contract out that following summer.

That being said, he wasn't just some talent-less goon. He surpassed the 70-point mark in two consecutive years (19893-84 and 1984-85) with the Winnipeg Jets and actually had a run between 1983 and 1988 where he scored over 25 goals four times in five years, with a high of 32 in 1984-85.

And a year after being bought out by the Senators, he played in 7 games with the British Hockey League's Fife Flyers and scored 9 goals with 9 assists for a whopping 18 points and just 6 penalty minutes.

Nowadays, he still resides in Ottawa with his three sons and is part of Promise Keepers Canada, a ministry that combines hockey and religion (Christianity).

He still attends Sens games at times and participates in alumni and "Hockey Legends" events, which he where he signed this card for me in black sharpie:
That black uniform was beautiful. And the captain's "C" displays so well on it. It's card #289 from Score's 1993-94 Score (Bilingual Canadian Edition) collection.

Boschman was the seventh player ever to reach the double-milestone of 500 career points and 2000 penalty minutes (there are currently sixteen now, with most of the power forwards from the mid-1990s having retired). It's an honor to have him as one of the wearers of #16 in my Sens Numbers Project.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Erik Cole Autographed Card

A power forward is typically someone who can score at least 30 goals in a season while throwing his weight around enough to get 100 hits; they also usually get close to or more than 100 penalty minutes and act as a net-front presence to attract attention while leaving the puck-carrier free to roam, and to pounce on a rebound or deflect the puck in the net.

In his 13-season NHL career, Erik Cole surpassed the 25-goal mark four times, hitting 30 with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 and 35 with the Montréal Canadiens in 2011-12. He usually led his teams in hits, hovering between 10th and 20th overall in the category.

He also suited up for the Edmonton Oilers (63 games in 2008-09), Dallas Stars (160 games between 2012 and 2015) and Detroit Red Wings (11 games in 2014-15). He retired after spending two full years away from the game trying to convince his body that his style of play and a certain 2006 hit by Brooks Orpik that broke two of his vertebrae wouldn't be able to stop him from playing the game he loves so much, but ultimately, he failed; at least the Canes - with whom he played for in parts of nine seasons over two stints - offered him a one-day contract to retire as a member of the team, before moving on as a team ambassador.

What surprised me most about his short time in Montréal is how much of a team player he was; he came in rocking a four-year, $18M contract and, although he expected top-line minutes, he never complained that those minutes came with a 22-year-old semi-rookie who was essentially to serve the same role as him on the right flank (Max Pacioretty) and his undersized best friend David Desharnais at center, while the team's best centerman (Tomas Plekanec) was given more minutes but tougher assignments (facing the opposition's top line, second-unit powerplay time, penalty killing) while simultaneously asked to revive all struggling (Lars Eller, Andrei Kostitsyn, Travis Moen, Rene Bourque) or injured wingers (Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta).

Even more impressive was when the team's 2009 first-round pick, local boy Louis Leblanc was recalled from the minors to play in his first game, Cole bought Leblanc's parents plane and game tickets so they could see their son face the Anaheim Ducks in California.

That's leadership, right there. That's the kind of thing that makes you forgive his being a Habs-killer for all those years.

I told him as much when he signed my card in blue sharpie in 2012:
That's card #162 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Victory collection, depicting him wearing the Canes' white (away) uniform.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Bryan Allen: Two Autographed Cards

I was sifting through my signed cards this evening and fell upon these two of Bryan Allen's early days, spanning the years of his being drafted as a high-touted prospect in the first round (4th overall, 1998) by the Vancouver Canucks to his climb in the minor hockey ranks leading to two World Juniors Team Canada berths (silver in 1999, out with an injury in 2000).

Fourteen NHL seasons and 721 regular-season games later, retiring at the tail end of the 2014-15 season having scored 29 goals with 107 assists for 136 points (and 839 penalty minutes), his career not so different from another fourth-overall pick's, Scott Lachance, including the fact that both played for the Canucks and Montréal Canadiens in their careers, both hanging up the blades after half a season in the AHL.

Allen was a solid defensive defenseman who could clear the front of the net and spend some time on the powerplay and penalty kill. His total ice time per game oscillated between 19 and 21 minutes per game in his prime and 16-18 before and after.

Here he is sporting his familiar #5 uniform for the Canadian national team, on card #401 from Upper Deck's 1997-98 Series 2 collection and Program Of Excellence (usually focusing on Canadian Juniors players) sub-set, wearing flip flops and shorts on a snowy hill that I suspect was behind an arena:
And here he is wearing the Canucks' white (home) uniform from the turn of the millennium, on card #478 from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Parkhurst set:
This white uniform is my second-favourite white from the Canucks, behind only the one they wore from 1989 until 1997.

I remember Allen signed these for me in thick blue sharpie, but I do not remember when, though I'm fairly certain it was after the season-long 2004-05 lockout, so likely during his time as an important member of the Florida Panthers (2006-11).

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sam Gagner Autographed Card

Just after trading Cam Talbot for Anthony Stolarz, the Edmonton Oilers went right back at it with another trade, this time sending Ryan Spooner to the Vancouver Canucks to bring back Sam Gagner, the team's single-game points record-holder (with 8, tied with Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey).

You may recall Spooner had been acquired for Ryan Strome, who himself was brought in when Jordan Eberle was sent to the New York Islanders. This corrects two mistakes by former GM Peter Chiarelli, at least providing the Oilers with the second-best player in the sequence (while still having given up the best).

Gagner was mostly phased out to the AHL this year (37 points in 43 games with the Toronto Marlies, not half-bad), but what we need to remember is that he's still just 29 years old and has usually mostly been a 40-50-point player; that may not be ideal for a sixth-overall draft pick (2007), but it's pretty darn good by any other measure:
from HockeyDB
Sure, he needs to be a little sheltered, start in the offensive zone a lot and get some powerplay time to reach those numbers, but the Oilers have Connor McDavid or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to pair him with and pretty much no one else who can actually provide what Gagner can.

That's two wins. Add in getting Spooner out of the picture and you've got three wins in a single one-for-one trade for interim GM Keith Gretzky.

Here he is sporting the Oilers' legendary blue uniform, on card #467 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee collection:
He signed it in thick blue sharpie in 2016-17 while playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Cam Talbot Jersey Card

Changes are underway for the Edmonton Oilers!

In a one-for-one goalie trade, the team sent former #1 goalie Cam Talbot to the Philadelphia Flyers for promising 25-year-old Anthony Stolarz.

For the Oilers, the move frees up cap space right now to bring the injured Andrej Sekera back in the lineup under the salary cap, and adds a younger goalie with the same upside as Talbot but not already bummed out by the way the team has under-performed for two years. Stolarz will also be a restricted free agent this off-season (provided he plays in 10 games before the end of the season), so the team technically still has control over him.

The Flyers, on the other hand, already own the rights to two promising young goalies in Felix Sandström and Kirill Ustimenko, notwithstanding their current #1 Carter Hart, who is barely 20 years old. Talbot becomes an option to back him up next year along with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth - but Talbot has an edge, as he's been training with Hart in the summer for a few years and has already been mentoring him from a distance; Hart called Talbot up for tips the night before his first NHL game a few weeks ago.

Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher has also had success in the past with Oilers reclamation projects, as he's the one who brought Devan Dubnyk to the Minnesota Wild. Ironically, with Fletcher gone, Dubnyk's on a much tighter leash than the rest of the elite at his position (for example, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price), and there is talk that the man who was at the NHL All-Star Game just two weeks ago may no longer be the one to lead the team to the postseason.

But back to Talbot who, just two years ago, was on top of the NHL world, lead the league in games played (73) and wins (42), was third in shutouts (7), and also boasted an incredible 2.39 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. He was second to just Bobrovsky in the "best goalie" talks. Just like Dubnyk, he just needs a reset to get back on track.

The only question is whether he'll get that reset in Philadelphia or elsewhere.

Here he is sporting 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:
It features a blue game-worn jersey swatch.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Anthony Peluso Autograph Card

Anthony Peluso was a sixth-round pick of the St. Louis Blues (160th overall) in 2007. At the time, the Blues were an overachieving regular-season team that consistently failed in the playoffs when play gets tighter and more rugged, so it was thought the 6'3", 225-pound tough guy North York, Ontario would help the Blues' more talented players feel more "protected" if he were in the lineup.

However, in three full seasons with the St. Louis organization, he never suited up once for the team, instead spending the bulk of his time with the AHL's Peoria Rivermen. He was then signed by the Winnipeg Jets, with whom he was a regular on-ice contributor, mostly via fisticuffs, as his 4 goals, 10 assists and 14 points in 142 games in the 'Peg pale in comparison to his 209 penalty minutes. His presence helped alleviate, to some extent, the emotional and physical workload of players like Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Stuart and Chris Thorburn.

Prior to last season, he signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Washington Capitals, although he only played in four NHL games (and 38 more for the AHL's Hershey Bears).

While he did not participate in the Caps' Stanley Cup victory, he may have a chance to do so this year with the Calgary Flames, who signed him to a similar deal last summer., because sometimes lightning does strike twice.

Here he is sporting the Jets' white (away) uniform, on the signed insert version of card #254 from Panini's 2013-14 Select set(and Dual Rookie Class sub-set):
The mostly-silver foil (but also with some gold) card features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

He will be entered as #14 in my Jets Numbers Project.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Michel Goulet Swatch Card

Wayne Gretzky doesn't own all the NHL offensive records; he doesn't even own all goal-scoring records. As a matter of fact, as far as single-season game-winning goals, Gretzky's best season (1981-82) ties for 12th (with the fifth-highest total), with 12.

Russian scoring machine Alex Ovechkin hit 11 three times: in 2007-08, 2010-11 and 2014-15.

The leader this season, with some 25 games (seven weeks) remaining in the schedule, is Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, with 9.

The player with the most pro rated to the fewest games played is Conney Weiland, who scored 14 in just 44 games with the Boston Bruins in 1929-30; as a matter of fact, he had 43 goals and 30 assists for 73 points that year, 12 ahead of teammate Dit Clapper. The Bs led the league with a 38-5-1 record but failed to defend their Stanley Cup Champion title, losing to the Montréal Canadiens in a three-game sweep.

However, only two players share the distinction of having scored 16 game-winners in the same season: Phil Esposito did it twice with Boston (1970-71 and 1971-72), and Michel Goulet with the Québec Nordiques in 1983-84.

This card pays tribute to that achievement:
That's card #RA-MGO from Panini's 2013-14 Crown Royale set and Regal Achievements sub-set; it features a white game-worn jersey swatch and the artistic rendition depicts him wearing the Nordiques' blue (away) uniform.

I got it in a trade in exchange for three or four "regular" Crown Royale jersey cards.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Randy Carlyle Autographed Card

It's finally done.

After a 12-game losing streak earlier this season and riding a current seven-loss streak and losing 19 of their last 21 games, the Anaheim Ducks have relieved head coach Randy Carlyle of his position; GM Bob Murray steps in to fill the vacant slot until the end of the year.

We're talking about a head coach who, in two stints with the Ducks, made the playoffs in seven out of eight full seasons, is the franchise's all-time wins leader (with 384), brought them a Stanley Cup, two other Conference Finals (including one in 2016-17) and had a 111-74-35 record in his second go-round despite having been handed an aging roster that has consistently under-performed in comparison to its salary cap hit.

For instance, this season, none of their leading scorers are close to the point-per-game average, and most are along the 0.5 line:
Corey Perry has missed most of the year and only registered an assist in 5 games; the ghost of Ryan Kesler has 4 goals, 2 assists, 6 points, 29 penalty minutes and a -21 rating in 48 games.

Is the coach to blame, or the players? A bit of both? You can't fault Ryan Getzlaf's presence and will, as he's answering the media after every game saying the team needs to respond and play better, but if he can't rally the troops, maybe he's no longer worthy of the "C" on his chest. He sure can't carry the team's offense on his own anymore, leaving John Gibson to handle the load of the entire team between the pipes.

I'm not certain this was Carlyle's curtain call as a coach, either, because a team like the Philadelphia Flyers may want to return to a heavier style of play, or the Boston Bruins in the future; heck, if the Edmonton Oilers are waiting for Murray to get fired in the summer, who's to say the duo wouldn't get reunited in the tundra?

Regardless of your opinion of Carlyle as a coach, however, the fact remains that he was a very good defenseman in his day. He won the Norris trophy in 1980-81 and captained two teams: the Pittsburgh Penguins (1981-84) and Winnipeg Jets (1989-91).

He retired having scored 148 goals with 499 assists for 647 points with 1400 penalty minutes in 1055 regular-season games, and another 9 goals, 24 assists, 33 points and 120 PIMs in 69 playoff games. He had been drafted in both the NHL (Toronto Maple Leafs, second round, 30th overall) and WHA (Cincinnati Stingers, first round, 7th overall) in 1976.

He also won a silver medal with Team Canada at the 1989 World Championships, playing on a team that included Steve Yzerman, tournament leading scorer Brian Bellows, Kirk Muller, Sean Burke, and teammate Dale Hawerchuk. He tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs after a game against West Germany, but his B sample was found to be clear, so he was awarded his medal.

Here he is wearing the Jets' purple/blue (away) uniform (with a head shot in the white/home jersey) on card #288 from Score's 1991-92 Pinnacle (French-Candian Edition) set:
He signed it in blue sharpie when he was the Leafs' head coach (2012-15).

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Slater Koekkoek Autograph Card

A couple of weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning essentially gave up on trying to find room for Slater Koekkoek int heir lineup, sending him to the Chicago Blackhawks for Jan Rutta. Koekkoek, on the verge of turning 25, had been a first-round draft pick (10th overall in 2012); Rutta is an undrafted 28-year-old Czech star who is proving to be too good for the AHL but who also failed to make the Hawks a decent defensive team.

Ultimately, Koekkoek's failing will have been that he was unable to knock off a veteran from a line-up that included Jason Garrison, Anton Stralman, Andrej Sustr and Braydon Coburn, which morphed into the star-studded current lineup of Norris winner Victor Hedman, All-Star Ryan McDonagh, Stralman, eventual Norris winner Mikhail Sergachev, Coburn and a dependable second-rounder from 2015, Erik Cernak.

Not that he wasn't good. It's just that every time he finally found a roster spot, GM Steve Yzerman (maybe accidentally) added one or two left-handed defensemen that slotted ahead of him, with the  latest instances being former New York Rangers captain McDonagh and former Montréal Canadiens first-rounder Sergachev (actually, both are technically former Habs first-rounders).

It's hard for a young player to fight for ice time on a championship-caliber team - which the Bolts have been for years now - especially a young defenseman. Tampa will likely continue to be the cream of the crop for a few years as well. The Hawks, on the other hand, have big decisions looming with another expansion draft coming and two defensemen (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) with no-trade clauses they'll have to protect unless they can find a way of letting (at least one of) them go before the end of next season.

It may be of little comfort to a guy like Koekkoek who is about to enter his prime and might have had his development stalled a bit by remaining in the stands a tad too long in Florida, but an actual NHL roster spot will be available for him in 2020, in Chicago, Seattle or elsewhere.

Here he is wearing the Bolts' white (away) uniform, on card #152 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Trilogy collection and Rookie Premieres (Level 2) sub-set:
It's numbered #379/499 and features an on-sticker blue-sharpied signature. The scan made it blueish with green highlights, but to the naked eye, it's actually mostly silver with golden highlights.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Darnell Nurse Autographed Card

As is customary during Super Bowl weekend, the Montréal Canadiens hosted matinee games on Saturday and Sunday against the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers, respectively.

You may have heard how much of a trainwreck the Oilers are this year, with the firings of head coach Todd McLellan and GM Peter Chiarelli, Milan Lucic's year-long goal drought, the team's inability to find Connor McDavid a winger (save for second-line center Leon Draisaitl filling in at times), and the litany of bizarre-to-comical roster moves, such as, trading reigning NHL MVP Taylor Hall one-for-one instead of with a draft pick, essentially trading proven scorer Jordan Eberle for a player that was put on waivers, signing a goalie no one wanted to a three-year deal...

One of their smarter moves, though, was signing defenseman Darnell Nurse to a two-year bridge deal worth $3.2M per season; if they keep making smart moves, his next deal should be around $5.4M per before a top-dollar long-term deal is made.

Nurse is one of the team's few, good core pieces, with McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom and Alex Chiasson, in addition to prospects Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Caleb Jones, and Evan Bouchard. That's half the building blocks Stanley Cup contenders have.

Nurse posted two assists in today's overtime loss to the Habs, bringing him to 26 points on the year, in 52 games - the same amount he got in 80 games last year. His next goal, assist and point will be career-highs.

Here he is wearing the Sault-Ste-Marie Greyhounds' red (away) uniform, on card #28 from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed it in thin blue sharpie before the game.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Antoine Vermette Autographed Card

Just a few hours ago, Antoine Vermette announced his retirement from the NHL, having been unable to find a suitor, as he was looking for a job as a checking center on a contending team.

Having already had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup thanks to a short stint with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014-15 (19 regular-season games, 20 playoff games); his postseason run was memorable, as he tallied 4 goals, 3 assists and seven points, with three of his goals being game-winners, two of them coming in the Cup Final. His 58.9% playoff faceoff wins percentage was also dominant, although it may have ironically cemented his transition from the top-line center he was with the Arizona Coyotes to the defensive specialist he ended his career as.

I mention the Coyotes because he was often among the team leader in points in the parts of five seasons he spent in the desert, but statistically speaking, his best seasons came with the Columbus Blue Jackets (27 goals and 65 points in 2009-10) and Ottawa Senators (24 goals and 53 points in 2007-08), but those teams had better rosters than the Yotes.

At his best, he was one of the very good #2Cs in the NHL, but he didn't necessarily have the #1C prerequisite star power. He was instead better left in the shadows, accumulating Selke Trophy votes in four separate seasons and Lady Byng consideration in 2009-10. He was dependable on both sides of the puck and finished with the ninth-highest career faceoff percentage since the league started keeping tack of such things in 1997.

His worth can certainly be felt in the returns teams got for him in trades: the Sens got a #1 goalie (Pascal Leclaire) and second-round pick from the Jackets for his services in 2009; the Jackets got Curtis McElhinney, a second-rounder and a fourth-round pick from the Coyotes for him in 2012; and the Hawks gave away a defensive prospect and a first-rounder to secure his services for that Cup run in 2015.

I actually met him earlier this winter, and he signed a couple of cards for me, but today, I wanted to showcase an old card that reminds me of when it all started to come together for him, on card #83 from Upper Deck's 2000-01 Upper Deck Prospects set, which he signed in blue sharpie in 2013-14:
It shows him wearing the Victoriaville Tigres' white (home) uniform, sporting the alternate captain's "A" that he would also inherit in Columbus and Arizona. He'd scored 30 goals with 41 assists for 71 points in 71 games the previous season and had just been drafted 55th overall (second round) by the Sens, making the LHJMQ's Mike Bossy Trophy as best prospect.