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.

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.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Jacob Trouba Autographed Card

After acquiring Jacob Trouba in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets in mid-June, the New York Rangers have now signed the restricted free agent to a fair $56M seven-year deal worth $8M against the salary cap, avoiding arbitration.

They now have a legitimate top-tier defenseman who, at age 25, is set to enter his prime - unlike their prized 2017 free agent Kevin Shattenkirk, who has seemingly and prematurely just stepped out of his, although in fairness, Shattenkirk should never have been considered any higher than a #3 defenseman.

This leads me to the right side of the Rangers' defense, which now consists of the following players and cap hits:
Trouba, $8M
Shattenkirk: $6.5M (10-team no-trade list)
Brendan Smith: $4.35M (15-team no-trade list)
Adam Fox: a maximum of $1.75M if all bonuses are reached.
That's to go with the left side, made up of:
Brady Skeij: $5.25M
Marc Staal: $5.7M (full no-move clause)
Libor Hajek: $833K
Keep in mind the salary cap is $80.5M, a team needs 12 forwards in uniform (and this one has $11.64M man Artemi Panarin), one or two more as reserves and a pair of goalies. Oh, and the Rangers have one of the best of the millennium in Henrik Lundqvist, a luxury which comes with a $8.5M hit.

The Blueshirts have four remaining unsigned restricted free agents (forwards Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Lemieux and Vinni Lettieri, and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo), none of whom are likely to break the bank this year, but the Rags already being over the cap by a couple of million only complicates things.

The most obvious solutions include trading one of the defensemen (with or without retaining salary to sweeten the deal), or trading pending UFA forwards Vladislav Namestnikov and/or Chris Kreider, who are both on affordable and good-value deals at $4M and $4.5M respectively, but in the straight "dollars-and-cents" perspective coupled with trade value, may be easiest to move.

It's a puzzle, that's for sure, but that's when GM Jeff Gorton will have to prove he's got what it takes to justify making the big bucks. He's definitely got the foundations of a Stanley Cup contender on his hands, maybe not to take a run at it this year, but they should have a decent window in two or three years.

Here is a card Trouba signed for me in February:
It's #394 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 O-Pee-Chee collection, showing him wearing the Jets' white (away) uniform.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Paul Holmgren Three Autographed Cards

Paul Holmgren has had prominent roles with the Philadelphia Flyers for over 40 years at this point, so many always assume he's one of the all-time greats alongside Bobby Clarke, Bernard Parent, Ron Hextall and Eric Lindros.

That is absolutely not the case.

In 500 games with the Flyers, Holmgren's 309 points don't stand out as much as his 1600 penalty minutes, and he wasn't part of one of the two championship teams, having come in to play a single game in 1975-76, a full year after Philly's last Stanley Cup.

He only surpassed the 20-goal mark twice, scoring 22 in 1980-81 and 30 in 1979-80, and even that was only good for fith on the team, behind Reggie Leach (50), Bill Barber (40), Brian Propp (34) and Rick MacLeish (31). That was a weird season in Philadelphia, as captain Clarke not only posted 69 points (good for fifth on the team behind Ken Linseman, Leach, Propp and Barber) but was also in his first of three seasons as assistant-coach on the team. He played two years past his three-year stint as assistant-coach... not that's a legend.

In case you were wondering where I was going with this, Holmgren resigned as the team's President earlier today and joined the ranks of "advisor" alongside Clarke, his predecessor both as GM and President.

Unlike Clarke, however, "Homer" made a lot of questionable moves that greatly backfired, such as trading young (and heavy-partying) core players Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to make room under the salary cap to sign the second-best available free agent goalie on the market, Ilya Bryzgalov, to a nine-year, $51M contract, a deal that was bought out in the summer of 2013 after two seasons and that will be on the Flyers' cap until 2027. (For the record, I don't think Richards and Carter get the wake-up call that turns them into two-time Cup champions if they don't get traded, so at least there's that).

Oh, and to make room for him on the roster, he traded Sergei Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a second-round pick and two fourth-rounders; Bob, of course, would go on to win two Vezina trophies as the league's best goalie in Columbus and is the only active goalie who can make such a claim. (And yes, Henrik Lundqvist is till playing and just has one to his name).

By the way, the best free agent goalie on the market the year Bryz was signed? That was perennial All-Star Tomas Vokoun, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.5M.

Holmgren is also the one who traded playoff best and projected 30-goal forward James van Riemsdyk (he would hit the mark twice and come close another two in the following six seasons) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defensive defenseman on a down slide Luke Schenn.

Was he also able to trade away valuable draft picks, you ask? How about the first-rounder who became John Carlson for defenseman Steve Eminger (man, does he ever love those stay-at-home defensemen!), who played a total of 12 games in Philadelphia (0 goals, 2 assists, 8 penalty minutes) before being shipped out?

Then there was the free agent signings of Nikolay Zherdev and the trade for Andrej Meszaros which put the team over the cap, forcing them to trade away a contract - namely that of fan-favourite and playoff hero Simon Gagné, a two-time 40-*goal scorer and one opf the most prolific scorers of the Dead Puck Era - for (you guessed it!) defensive defenseman Matt Walker, who played the final 8 games of his 314-game career with the Flyers. Gagné reached the Cup Final the following season with the Tampa Bay Lightning and won the Cup with Richards and Carter on a mighty Flyer-heavy 2012 Los Angeles Kings squad.

A trade of pests? Sure! Effective checking winger and semi-power forward Scottie Upshall for dirtbag and suspension magnet Dan "Carbomb" Carcillo comes to mind...

And yet he kept failing upwards. Until as team Preseident, he hired Hextall as GM, who did an admirable job stocking up the cupboards with blue chip prospects and getting rid of Holmgren's terrible contracts. Hextall was assitant-HGM on the Cup-winning Kings of 2012 and 2014, so he was more than familiar with the Flyers' roster; it was a marriage that lasted for four seasons, until last Christmas, when Holgmren decided Hextall wasn't bold enough and took his place to finish up the season, until he found his replacement in the form of Chuck Fletcher, the man who saddled the Minnesota Wild with so many bad contracts that they were never good enough to make a dent in the post-season despite carrying not one but two (Ryan Suter and Zach Parise) players on identical 13-year, $98M contracts.

Of course, the first few things Fletcher did was get rid of a third of the defense and, most importantly, sign Kevin Hayes - a middle-six center who had only reached the 50-point plateau once, and that was last year - to an albatross seven-year, $50M contract that includes a no-movement clause that guarantees he will have to take up a protection spot for next season's expansion draft.

Bold. Extremely stupid and ill-advised, but bold.

So, yeah. Holmgren.

This is what he looked like when patrolling the ice in a Flyers uniform, collecting penalty minutes the way some folks do frequent flyer miles:
The card on the left is #105 in Topps' 1981-82 Topps set, while the one on the right is #434 from In The Game's 2004-05 Franchises: U.S. East collection. Both feature him in the classic 1970s orange (away) uniform.

A Minnesota native, Holmgren started out his professional career playing for the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints for most of the 1975-76 season, and he returned to his home state at the tail end of his career, suiting up with the Minnesota North Stars for 27 games spread over two seasons, as seen on card #100 from O-Pee-Chee's 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set:
He's wearing the team's amazing 1980s green (away) uniform. I miss those so much.

All three were signed in black sharpie in February 2018 when the Flyers were in Montréal.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sebastian Aho Jersey Card

It's now official: the Carolina Hurricanes have matched the Montréal Canadiens' offer sheet, ensuring Sebastian Aho's rights remain in Carolina for up to five more years, at an average of $8.45M per.

It is widely believed that the front-loaded deal was a no-brainer for the Canes to match because the compensation (a first-rounder, a second-rounder and a third-rounder next season) was almost inevitably going to land the team lesser players and that the team valued the cost certainty of securing their young superstar's services until the youngest possible age at which he would be able to become an unrestricted free agent (the major caveat for them in the deal, the other one being that Aho will be making $21M of the total $42.27M in less than a year, because most of it is structured as signing bonuses).

Had the Habs offered between $1000 more and an extra million and a half per, the compensation would have been two first-rounders, a second and a third - which may have given the Canes more of a reason to reflect on that.

Aho himself was a second-round pick (35th overall) from a strong 2015 draft class that has already produced these NHL players: Connor McDavid (the best player in the sport, 1st), Jack Eichel (the Buffalo Sabres' cornerstone, for better or worse, 2nd), Dylan Strome (3rd), Mitch Marner (this summer's prized RFA, 4th), Noah Hanifin (5th), Pavel Zacha (6th), Ivan Provorov (7th), Zach Weresnki (8th), Timo Meier (9th), Mikko Rantanen (10th, one-third of the best line in hockey last year), Lawson Crouse (11th), Jake DeBrusk (14th), Mathew Barzal (16th), Kyle Connor (17th),  Thomas Chabot (18th and already Erik Karlsson's replacement with the Ottawa Senators),  Evgeny Svechnikov (19th), Joel Eriksson Ek (20th), Colin White (21st), Ilya Samsonov (22nd, star KHL goalie), Brock Boeser (23rd), Travis Konecny (24th), promising defenseman Noah Juulsen (26th), Anthony Beauvillier (28th), Christian Fischer (32nd), Brandon Carlo (37th), Daniel Sprong (46th), Roope Hintz (49th), Jordan Greenaway (50th), Rasmus Andersson (53rd), Vince Dunn (56th), Anthony Cirelli (72nd), goaltending prospect Samuel Montembeault (77th), Austin Wagner (99th), Denis Malgin (148th), Christian Wolanin (107th), Dominik Simon (137th), Christian Jaros (139th), and Markus Nutivaara (189th).

I like Aho's progression, from a 49-point rookie to a 65-point sophomore to a 30-goal, 83-point third-year player at 21 years of age, showing he just got better as he garnered more attention from the opposing team's best checkers. I'd rather have an $8.5M Aho than a $10M+ Marner on my cap for sure.

Here he is wearing the Canes' plain red uniform, on card #GJ-SA from Upper Deck's 2018-19 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set (sorry for the cropped scan, the actual card is roughly three millimetres longer at the bottom):

It features a white game-used jersey swatch.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Brayden Schenn Jersey Card

For a while, it seemed that Brayden Schenn was more of a talented trade chip than a player teams wanted to build around; the Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers (each team with Ron Hextall as one of the top two decision-makers) both moved him while seemingly building contenders - the Kings went on to win two Stanley Cups, the Flyers were slowly being built into a potential powerhouse when Hextall was fired.

After a career year in 2017-18 where he accumulated 70 points (11 more than his previous best), Schenn reverted back to his mean by posting 54 points in 2018-19, taking over second-line duties while Ryan O'Reilly took the ice time on the top line. Schenn slowly and steadily plowed through, like the rest of his teammates, starting the New Year in last place and winning the final game of the NHL season.

That's right: Brayden Schenn, Stanley Cup champion. Before his former Flyers teammates.

And he celebrated in style, riding through Saskatoon on top of a firetruck with his father:
Now seems like a good time to feature him wearing the St. Louis Blues' garbs, more specifically the blue (home) uniform, with matching game-worn jersey swatch:
That's card #GJ-BR from Upper Deck's 2018-19 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set. The scan doesn't really do it justice though, as both the picture and swatch are much darker to the naked eye, and the yellows are much sharper as well. It's truly a great-looking piece I was glad I landed.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Artemi Panarin Jersey Card

The best player available via free agency this season was without a doubt Columbus Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin. At 27 years of age, he's smack-dab in the meat of his prime years, with an estimated five more years of top-notch production ahead of himself.

His journey for the past six seasons has been exceptional going from a 20-goal scorer to a 1.2-point-per-game player in the KHL to being groomed in the NHL by none other than the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane - hitting the 30-goal mark in consecutive seasons by his side - to emerging as a star in his own right by eclipsing his Hawks numbers in Columbus with 82- and 87-point seasons.

And while most of Planet Hockey speculated that he was headed to the Miami suburbs to sign with the Florida Panthers alongside fellow Russian and Jackets teammate Sergei Bobrosvky - based mostly on the fact that the pair now share the same agent - Panarin instead caught Big City Fever and signed with the New York Rangers instead, signing an $81.5M deal for seven seasons; his $11.64M cap hit is reportedly lower than the Jackets' final offer as well as what the New York Islanders had offered him.

In just a couple of weeks, the Rangers acquired top-pairing defenseman Jacob Trouba via trade, drafted Kaapo Kakko second overall and signed Panarin, accelerating their rebuild by two or three seasons. They'll still be a long-shot to make the playoffs in 2019-20 in a stacked Metropolitan Division, but the following five or six years should be aimed at a Stanley Cup bid.

Speaking of which, here's a nice card I acquired via trade last month, #DA-AP from Upper Deck's 2018-19 Artifacts set and Divisional Artifacts sub-set:
It features Panarin wearing the Blue Jackets' blue (home) uniform, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch.