Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Seth Jones Jersey Card

I boldly predicted the Columbus Blue Jackets would beat and eliminate the Tampa Bay Lightning late last night, and Seth Jones' powerplay game winner continued his clutch play for his team as the first of four steps in in that direction.

It'll be a long and hard-fought series, but the Bolts - who this year tied the NHL record with 62 regular-season wins - have never faced an adversary like this. Don't get me wrong, they've played against great teams - last year's Stanley Cup-winning Washington Capitals, for one, and the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2014-15 Final - but this team is a different beast altogether.

You've got no less than five key players (star winger Artemi Panarin, star center Matt Duchene, skilled winger Ryan Dzingel, defenseman Adam McQuaid, and the only active two-time Vezina-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky) performing to earn their career-defining contracts on July 1st; a top-quality defense that nearly matches Tampa's, with Jones as the centerpiece, accompanied by McQuaid, 2012 second-overall pick Ryan Murray, All-Star Zach Werenski, Team Canada alumnus David Savard, and as depth pieces, former second-rounders Adam Clendening and Scott Harrington; also a forward corps that includes legitimate first-liners Pierre-Luc Dubois and (captain) Nick Foligno, heart-and-soul checker Brandon Dubinsky, 40-goal man Cam Atkinson, rising star Oliver Bjorkstrand, tough rookie Alexandre Texier, and a bunch of solid soldiers; and last but not least, head coach John Tortorella.

There is simply no other coach like Torts. Oh, there are far better tacticians, but no better motivator when he actually has enough time to get to know his players. It's not just manipulation on his part (like, say, Guy Boucher), nor tough-for-toughness'-sake like Claude Julien or Ken Hitchcock; no, Torts has his players' trust that he will defend them if he senses a will to sacrifice towards the team's goals, and he rewards effort. And he makes speeches like these:
That's after the first period, which saw Tampa build a 3-0 lead. Full disclosure: I stopped watching the game live at that point.

Again, he's a different beast.

And when Jones plays like the guy who finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting last season, the Jackets know any game's within hand.

Here he is wearing the magnificent Blue Jackets' alternate uniform, on card #GJ-SJ from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a white game-worn jersey swatch. I found this card so pretty that I paid $5 for it on Ebay (plus shipping).

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Jason Pominville Jersey Card

He was a second-round draft pick in 2001, selected 55th overall following a 113-point season (in 71 games) with the LHJMQ's Shawinigan Cataractes; he followed that with 121 points in just 66 games with the Cataractes. Because he holds a dual citizenship (Canadian and American), he was often passed over for the Canadian teams, including during his three years of eligibility at the World Juniors (Team USA usually favors players from the College ranks to fill their rosters).

Still, he spent three full seasons in the AHL with the Rochester Americans before earning a full-time gig in the NHL, including the franchise's best season ever, a 112-point performance in 2004-05 on a team that also featured Chris Taylor (79 points in 79 games), Thomas Vanek (42 goals in 74 games), Derek Roy (61 points in 67), Paul Gaustad (43 points in 192 penalty minutes), Daniel Paillé, Chris Thorburn, Jeff Jillson, Jason Botterill, and Ryan Miller in nets.

He was also with the Buffalo Sabres during that magical 2006-07 season (113 points and a second straight Conference Final), alongside Daniel Brière (95 points in 81 games), Vanek (43 goals and 84 points in 82 games), Chris Drury (37 goals in 77), Roy (63 points in 75), Maxim Afinegenov (61 points in 56), and Jochen Hecht (56 points) up front, Brian Campbell (48 points), Dmitri Kalinin, Teppo Numminen and Jaroslav Spacek out back, and Miller and Martin Biron between the pipes.

He also captained the Sabres in 2008 and 2011-13, and is so far ranked 10th in team history in goal scoring.

I am, of course, talking about Jason Pominville, at age 36 who just played out a five-year deal that was paying him on average $5.6M per and may once again be forced to leave the city he calls home as it tries to get out of a funk that has seen its hockey team miss the playoffs for eight straight seasons.

None of which is Pominville's fault, mind you, as he finished fourth on the team with 16 goals and seventh with his 30 points despite averaging just 12:30 ice time per game; he was fourth (16 goals) and fifth (34 points) last year, and scored a goal in what may be his final home game on Thursday, and had another assist in the last game of the season in Detroit a few hours ago.

He's a good veteran to have around, a true leader, a player who has always put the team ahead of himself, who was never jealous of other players getting more ice time and never complained about who he was playing with.

The type of guy you keep at a hometown discount, but that you respect enough not to undersell; I'd sign him on a series of one-year deals at $3M apiece until he decides to retire with a no-trade clause so he can decide if and where the team sends him if they're in danger of missing the playoffs at the trade deadline, so he can have a shot at a championship.

Here he is wearing the Sabres' white "Buffaslug" jersey from last decade:
It's card #AF-JP from Upper Deck's 2009-10 SP Game-Used Edition set and Authentic Fabrics sub-set; it features a beautiful dark blue jersey swatch.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Nicolas Deslauriers Autograph Card

When the Montréal Canadiens traded for Nicolas Deslauriers, they expected to receive a hometown boy who would hover between the fourth line and the AHL - which is essentially what they got.

They were also lucky enough to get a career-high 10 goals from him in 2017-18 (in just 58 games), as well as a points-collecting pace (14 points) that was unseen in his three-plus seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, and a steady array of fighting majors and tough guy penalties that was expected from the 6'1", 220-pounder.

This year, after starting out on injured reserve following a tough preseason fight against the New Jersey Devils' Brandon Baddock, he came back to a changed team, one that was surprisingly fighting for a playoff spot instead of draft lottery placement as many pundits had predicted.

That meant he no longer had leeway to make defensive mistakes under head coach Claude Julien, but also that Julien would likely scratch him altogether from time to time to instead dress two centers on the fourth line. Julien's one of those old-school unforgiving coaches who thinks he'll outsmart the opposing coach using baseball relief pitching tactics instead of the best possible lineup.

So, in 2018-19, Deslauriers only dressed in 48 games, all told, with 2 goals and 3 assists (5 points) and 22 penalty minutes to show for it, after going 10-4-15 with 55 PIMs last year. Oddly enough, when his mind was at ease, he was a +7 playing on a bottom-feeder last year yet is -12 playing for a team that'll finish in ninth-place in the Eastern Conference this year.

I'll try to get him to sign stuff in a Habs uniform next year, but for now, let's contemplate what he looked like wearing the Sabres' white (away) uniform, on the signed insert version of card #275 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 SP Authentic set and Future Watch sub-set:
It features a blue-sharpied on-card autograph. It's numbered #483/999.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Ryan Strome Autographed Card

When historians sit down to write the story of the 2018-19 hockey season, a few story lines will stand out:

- It's the year the Columbus Blue Jackets went all-in.
- It's the year Shea Weber started noticeably regressing.
- It's the year Roberto Luongo's injuries became a bigger story than his on-ice performances.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning's regular-season domination.
- Nikita Kucherov joined the "best player" conversation.
- The CWHL announced it was ceasing its operations, just a week after the Calgary Inferno beat the Montréal Canadiennes in the Clarkson Cup Final.
- The Chicago Blackhawks' offense finally retained (Alex DeBrincat) and acquired (Dylan Strome) offensive talent instead of trading it away (Teuvo Teravainen).
- The Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers redefined "rock bottom".

That last point is where I want to look to shed yet another light on how bad GM Peter Chiarelli's tenure was, via oft-maligned former 5th overall (2011, New York Islanders) draft pick Ryan Strome.

After four seasons of Juniors hockey, Strome finished the 2012-13 season in the AHL (7 points in 10 games), and spent the following year bouncing up and down between the Isles and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers before posting a 50-point season on Long Island in 2014-15.

After two sub-par seasons in the 30-point range, Chiarelli acquired his services in exchange for Jordan Eberle, a move that was supposed to be lateral in terms of offensive production (it was thought that playing alongside either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would re-launch Strome), at half of Eberle's salary for a few couple of seasons, as Strome is younger.

Unfortunately, Strome was only able to put up 36 points in 100 games over a season and change in Edmonton, prompting them to send him packing to the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan Spooner, a player they would put on waivers just a few months later.

In Manhattan, Strome has put up 31 points in 60 games, a 42-point pro-rated production on an entire season, which is an improvement, particularly considering the Rangers are in full "rebuild" mode, although there is concern that his luck may run out at some point, as his underlying numbers are unsustainable.

The Rangers are in fairly good hands for their rebuild, with young veterans Mika Zibanejad (25 years old) and Chris Kreider (27) leading a pack comprised of Pavel Buchnevich (23), Jimmy Vesey (25), Brady Skjei (24), Vladislav Namestnikov (25), Filip Chytil (18), Brendan Lemieux (22), Fredrik Claesson (25) and goalie Alexandar Georgiev (22). Add a lucky middle-of-the-pack first-rounder or two, or a top-three pick in the next couple of years and you've got yourself a team that's fighting for the playoffs again.

Where does Strome fit in there? Well, he may not, unless he keeps producing. His brother Dylan's turning his career around in Chicago, though, so everything's still possible.

Here is Ryan playing for the OHL's Niagara IceDogs:
It's card #69 from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set, which he signed in blue sharpie last December.