Thursday, August 29, 2019

Marian Stastny: Three Autographed Cards

Marian Stastny has had an eventful life, let alone hockey career.

Born in Bratislava in the 1950s, Stastny, like the vast majority of Slovaks, existed in a time where he and his family had no space: Czechs and Slovaks had seceded from the Austro-Hungarian empire in the beginning of the century (1918) but did not have time (or did not feel the need) to fully divide the land and form independent governments before the Nazis took them over in the late 1930s; when the Soviets eventually "freed" them from German rule, they simply took over as the "new boss", sending their army in whenever people complained (the biggest show of force being the Prague 1968 invasion, but there were other power plays as well, notably in 1948, 1955, 1960 and 1988).

It took the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 to give them enough breathing room to first remove "communism" as the State's official way of running things (and from the country's name), to becoming a federacy in 1990 and finally holding democratic elections in 1991. By 1993, peaceful secession was adopted and two countries that should have always existed were finally born: the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, when Marian and his brothers Peter Stastny and Anton Stastny were playing professional hockey, being in favour of Slovak independence was passible of jail time with two levels of governance being strongly opposed to it: the majority Czech government, and that of the U.S.S.R. Essentially, Slovaks were "owned" by the Czechs who were "owned" by the Russians. They were sub-people, tax payers with little rights.

Hockey is an international sport, however, and the Stastnys were so good that they often faced Team Canada deep in tournament play, and they got to learn how things worked in North America.

During a tournament in Austria in 1980, Peter made a phone call that would change all three brothers' lives, to Québec Nordiques President Marcel Aubut, telling him he and Anton wanted to defect; they didn't invite Marian to come long because he was married with three children, and it was deemed too risky:
The next day, Nordiques President and CEO Aubut and director of personnel development Gilles Leger arrived in Innsbruck, Austria. They began planning immediately to get Anton, Peter and Peter’s wife, Darina, who was eight months pregnant (with their first child, a daughter), to the Canadian embassy in Vienna to apply for political asylum.
Faced with determined Czechoslovakian agents, who quickly realized what was happening, the group needed the help of not only the embassy, but also the Viennese police, Canadian Minister of Defence Gilles Lamontagne, Canadian Immigration Minister Lloyd Axworthy and Hockey Canada’s Douglas Fisher. After a tense dash to the airport, they boarded a flight to Amsterdam and freedom. A connecting flight brought them to Montréal. Peter’s daughter, Katarina, would be born in Canada. 
That version of the story omits a few actual yet unbelievable facts, however, such as an escape through a field to meet up with a car driven by Léger with Aubut in the passenger's seat, all Stastny family members riding in the trunk with covers to avoid detection at checkpoints, and Canadian officials waiting at the airport with the trio's belongings...

The Czech and Soviet governments didn't take too well to the daring escape, so they had Marian followed constantly, his phone lines were tapped and he was barred from both practising law (his would-be day job) and playing hockey, despite being a better-than-point-per-game player in league play and having two World Championship gold medals and a bronze to his name.

Had Peter, Anton and the Nordiques not smuggled money to him, he and his family would have been homeless and bankrupt.

Seeing no other issue, they applied for Canadian citizenship via the legal channels only to see the Czechoslovakian government deny them, so he too called Aubut. To evade the patience of their followers, the family's trip included stops in Hungary, Yougoslavia, and Austria before boarding a flight to Canada.

As the 1981-82 season got under way, the Stastnys became the third trio of brothers to play on the same team at the same time, but with Marian's 35 goals and 89 points, Peter's 46 goals and 139 points and Anton's 26 goals and 72 points in just 68 games, they are clearly the best and most effective band of brothers of all time.

When he was named to the 1983 All-Star Game with Peter, they became just the sixth brother combination to do so. He also assisted on Anton's 100th goal.

Following his five-year NHL career, Marian took a coaching job in Switzerland for two years before moving back to Québec, where he still lives to this day. He sold the golf course and hotel he operated last summer (his Parkinson's has gotten too intense to run a business day-to-day), though he has yet to get paid for it. He's received awards for his business acumen in recent years, too.

And earlier this month, the City of Québec unveiled a, uh... "statue" honoring the legacy of the Stastnys:
It's reminiscent of 1980s table hockey figures, yes, but I feel they deserved something less tacky, less cartoony. We're talking about five adults, three kids and one child-in-womb risking their actual lives and freedom to become the most impactful name of a city and franchise, and here they are with exaggerated traits and inaccurate equipment colouring.

We're a ways away from this:
Still, what a beautiful uniform! That's the Nordiques' classic blue (away) garbs, of course. The card on the left is #295 from O-Pee-Chee's 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set, while the card on the right is #121 from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Parkhurst collection. The OPC is his rookie card.

You may have noticed up-top that there was a third card featured... that'd be #292 from OPC's 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set:
You might also notice that's Anton, wearing his usual #20 uniform. It's one of those classic O-Pee-Chee errors!

Marian was a good sport and signed all of them at the unveiling in thin blue sharpie, tagging HIS number (18) at the end.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Pierre-Olivier Joseph Autographed Card

Quebec-born players were part of many of the bigger trades of the summer and, for my money, the one who has the best chance at making an impact with his new team is Pierre-Olivier Joseph, a potential powerplay quarterback who joined Alex Galchenyuk in going from the Arizona Coyotes to the Pittsburgh Penguiins in exchange for Phil Kessel and Dane Birks.

I mean, for an offensive defenseman, joining a team that may still have the likes of Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin two years down the line is a fine recipe for accruing points while pursuing one's development, particularly as injury-prone defensemen like Justin Schultz and Kris Letang keep getting older.

Joseph was selected by the Coyotes in the first round (23rd overall) in 2017, and the major point of concern in his case will likely always be his bulk, because at 6'2", with his slickness, skating fluidity and passing skills, as well as an ever-improving shot and take-away skills, it's his 168 pounds that scare his coaches every time he races to the boards to retrieve a puck.

However, he's showing well against professionals at his summer shinny sessions in Montréal with the likes of Anthony Duclair, Jeremy Davies (a.k.a. the Quebecer who was traded for P.K. Subban this summer), and Mathieu Joseph, P-O's brother who plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It's where he signed card #123 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 CHL Hockey card in blue sharpie:
It shows him wearing the Charlottetown Islanders' white (home) uniform. It's funny, because so much of this picture looks photoshopped, from the blurry referee on the right who doesn't seem like he's part of the original photo - the bronze set border that stops at pant-height doesn't help - to the difference in contrast between that ref and the coach behind him to the green and white pixel lines in front of the kid's face between the referee's head and Joseph's to the black puck-like line next to Joseph's helmet (his right, our left).

The more I look at it, the more it looks like each part doesn't belong with the one next to it.

And, yes, the Islanders' bottom part of their logo looks a bit like the New York Islanders' wordmark on their infamous Fisherman jerseys from the mid-1990s, with the wave-type pattern going in the same direction.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Mark Hunter Two Autographed Cards

Mark Hunter was mostly known during his playing days as a journeyman checking line winger, save for the three season she spent with the St. Louis Blues (1985-88), where he made the most of his accrued playing time on the first line with Bernie Federko to post career highs in points (74, 69 and 63 points, respectively, good for second, this and fourth on the team).

He also had a more famous older brother, Dale Hunter, who captained the Washington Capitals. The pair purchased the OHL's London Knights in 2001 and instantly turned the team into one of Canada's best hockey programs, producing an unparalleled number of NHL first-rounders - among them Patrick Kane, Sam Gagner, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Evan Bouchard, Max Domi, Bo Horvat, Michael McCarron, Jarred Tinordi, Matthew Tkachuk, Nazem Kadri, and Nikita Zadorov.

Mark's been in the Toronto-centric news more often of late as the Toronto Maple Leafs' co-interim GM then assistant-GM, until he left the team when his partner Kyle Dubas was chosen to replace Lou Lamoriello.

He's since been named as Team Canada's GM for 2019-20, which includes the World Juniors and National Junior programs. He hired Dale to join him, which will surprisingly be the first time he's gotten the nod despite two Memorial Cup championships as head coach.

Despite Mark's career not having the individual highs of Dale's, he was drafted and spent his first few seasons in the Mecca of hockey, playing for the Montréal Canadiens for four seasons. Then came the St. Louis stint, followed by two and a half seasons with the Calgary Flames (including the 1989 Stanley Cup win against the Habs), a year and a half with the Hartford Whalers, and a short seven-game trial with the Washington Capitals in 1992-93.

The Whalers weren't a very good team, usually contending for the last position in the Adams Division, but they were a staple of my youth, and their uniforms are classic.

Here is Mark wearing their white (home) uniform, on card #156 from Score's 1991-92 Score (Canadian Edition) set:
And here he is wearing the green (away) uniform, which is still one of the NHL's five best-selling jerseys today, on card #253 from Score's 1991-92 Pinnacle (French Canadian Edition) set, complete with head shot:
He signed both in blue sharpie as a member of the Leafs organization, likely in 2016 or 2017 after a game in Montréal.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Antoine Bibeau Jersey Card

Antoine Bibeau was a sixth-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013 but has spent most of his time plying his trade at the AHL level, including the last couple of seasons with the San Jose Barracuda. He's been quoted as saying this summer that his goal coming into training camp is to force the San Jose Sharks to keep him as Martin Jones' backup in the NHL, despite not having played as well as 21-year-old Josef Korenar last season:
Courtesy of HockeyDB
Still, the previous season, in his age 23 season, he represented the Barracuda in the AHL's All-Star Game, finishing with a 2.39 GAA, .919 save percentage and five shutouts in 43 games. He certainly still has potential, and his NHL-level statistics (a win, a loss and a 1.99 GAA in two games) do inspire some kind of confidence.

Bibeau has the rare distinction of having played for four (!!) different teams in the LHJMQ - the Lewiston MAINEiacs, Prince Edward Island Rocket, Charlottetown Islanders and Val d'Or Foreur - in his for seasons of Juniors. As a mater of fact, today's card shows him wearing the Foreurs' green (away) uniform, but contains a blue game-worn jersey swatch from his days in PEI:
That's the Silver Version of card #GUM-06 from In The Game's 2013-14 Between The Pipes set and Game-Used Jersey sub-set. He won the Hap Emms Trophy as the Memorial Cup's best goalie just months after this card was issued.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Joe Mullen Swatch Card

During his playing days, there was talk that Joe Mullen was the best American-born hockey player of all time, with defenseman Chris Chelios in the mix as well. After all, Mullen was the first American to score 500 goals and to reach the 1000-point mark; Chelios kept collecting All-Star nods, Norris trophies (despite his longevity meaning he was a contemporary of Denis Potvin, Ray Bourque, and Nicklas Lidstrom) and Stanley Cups.

As the 1990s came rolling, however, a slew of high-scoring U.S.-born forwards made their way to the NHL, including Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte, Bill Guerin and Doug Weight - although a case could still legitimately be made that Mullen was better than all of them in most areas.

One player was most definitely a better scorer, because his release is almost second to none in any era: Brett Hull, who also holds a Canadian citizenship. His father Bobby and Alex Ovechkin make up the rest of the top-three NHL snipers/shooters of all time, regardless of origin.

Phil Kessel, also an American, also has a tremendous shot, as well as set-up abilities, but his total disregard for defensive play and inability to lead a team to greatness will forever hurt his all-time rankings.

There's also the fact that the 2010s have given us Patrick Kane, probably one of the NHL's 100 best players of all time, one of the best forwards of his generation, and a three-time Stanley Cup champion (like Mullen!). In my view, Kane is the most talented American hockey player ever.

My top-10 American skaters (i.e. no goalies) would probably go as follows:
1. Kane
2. Mullen
3. Chelios
4. Modano
5. Hull (dual: also Canadian)
6. Brian Leetch
7. Pat Lafontaine
8. Mark Howe (dual: also Canadian)
9. Phil Housley
10. Neal Broten

And of those, because of his being part of the 1980 Team USA known for the Miracle On Ice, Broten may actually be the most important, paving the way through American systems to make it to the Big Show and continue producing at a high level once there (unlike most of the rest of that gold medal team). Chelios went through the 1984 Olympics before securing a spot with the Montréal Canadiens and helping the team win the 1986 Stanley Cup.

Ironically, Mullen not playing on the 1980 American squad likely helped create the "us against the world" team spirit that led it to victory.

Here is Mullen on card #TD-JM from Panini's 2012-13 Limited collection and one of my favourite sub-sets, Limited Travels:
It shows him with his first NHL team (St. Louis Blues, the 1970s blue - away- uniform) and last (Pittsburgh Penguins, the mid-1990s black - away - uniform with the city's name across the chest and logo on the shoulders), with a game-worn jersey swatch from each, showing his evolution from rookie to Cup-winning veteran.

The Blues' yellow swatch is probably from the same away jersey, but the Pens' white swatch was probably from their home garbs. It is numbered #151/199.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Tomas Tatar Jersey Card

Initially thought of as a throw-in in the Max Pacioretty trade (where the Montréal Canadiens also grabbed top prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-rounder - Samuel Fagemo - from the Vegas Golden Knights), Tomas Tatar outplayed the former Habs captain - on a far weaker team - in almost every statistical category, from the standard goals (25 vs 22), assists (33 vs 18), points (58 vs 40), +/- (+21 on a team that failed to make the playoffs vs -13 on a team that had gone to the Stanley Cup Final the previous season), Corsi For (59.6 vs 53.5) and Corsi For Relative (7.9 to -1.9).

And to anyone wanting to make the assessment that Pacioretty missed many games to injury, the points-per-game ratio is still very uneven at 0.73 vs 0.61 in favour of the Slovak.

They are very different players. Tatar is reserved, quiet, as most smart two-way forwards are, while Pacioretty has been nurtured like a superstar for his entire career. Over the years, Pacioretty has both become more selfish (oftentimes spending an entire penalty kill in centre ice waiting for a breakaway pass instead of helping out defensively, when he used to be very good in his own zone in the past) and shown an inability to withstand pressure - such as the captaincy and playoff expectations in Montréal), so signing a huge contract as soon as he got to Vegas was bound to choke him up.

The advantage of that came in the postseason: paired with elite two-way players like Paul Stastny and Mark Stone, his trio was seen as the "second line" behind that of Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson, which eased their workload and expectations. They were able to take advantage of weaker competition and dominate the San Jose Sharks, who had to cheat their way into a series win.

Tatar is more consistent, like a left wing version of Tomas Plekanec. Except for one exceptioonally poor season in 2017-18, he'll get you at least 45 points, sometimes up to 55-60, and score 20-25 goals. He won't make many mistakes eitehr in the offensive zone or defensively, but he'll be so methodological it'll almost be boring. His goals will come via bulk - his shot % is usually along the lines of last season's 12.5% - and will rarely be "sniper"-type shots.

But boring and effective has been Montréal's motto since they failed to land Vincent Lecavalier in 2008, so it's a perfect match.

Here he is wearing another classic Original Six uniform, that of the Detroit Red Wings, on card #67 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 SP Game-Used Edition set:
While he's shown wearing Detroit's white (now-away) uniform, the game-worn jersey swatch may very well be from the red (home) jersey, although no one really knows for sure.

So far in his career, Tatar has won the Calder Cup in the AHL as well as two silver medals, one at the 2012 World Championships, representing Team Slovakia, and another at the 2016 World Cup, with Team Europe.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Michael Frolik Autographed Card

Despite a summer full of rumours, the Calgary Flames have yet to trade T.J. Brodie and Michael Frolik, even though their names came up in hockey news circles almost daily, mostly due to salary cap concerns.

Frolik is a middle-six forward who drives the play forward and can be accounted for 35-45 points (usually 42-44) per season. He's 31 years old and only had a down year in 2017-18 (10 goals, 15 assists, 25 points and -19 in 70 games) but reverted back to his norm in 2018-19 with 16 goals (his career average), 18 assists, 34 points and a +26 rating in just 65 games.

And that's where his age might be catching up with him; his point production and two-way play have remained mostly steady, so if he did lose a step from his early 20s, he's made up for it with experience and Hockey IQ, but he's only played three full 82-game seasons in his 11-year career, and his last four seasons read more like the ages of a golf foursome in Florida than a list of games played: 64, 82, 70 and 65. I'd count on him to miss ten games per season if I were running a team.

He has mostly played in red uniforms throughout his career (Flames, Florida Panthers, Chicago Blackhawks) save for a two-season stint with the Winnipeg Jets, won the Stanley Cup with the Hawks in 2013 and has a handful of bronze medals with the Czech Team on his resume, from the U-18 Championships (2004 and 2006), World Juniors (2005) and World Championships (2011 and 2012). A team that is aspiring to a Cup, like the Flames, would do well to keep his experience within its ranks, in my opinion. He has a pretty clear idea as to what they are missing to win it all.

And he looks pretty good wearing their uniform, too, as can be attested by card #273 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie in February (adding his uniform number, 67, below the signature), after a game versus the Ottawa Senators. He is perfect for inclusion in my Flames Numbers Project.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Nick Fotiu Autographed Card

From tough guy Craig Berube to a former amateur heavyweight champion, I thought we could take a minute to talk about Nick Fotiu, a payer who started skating at the age of 15 after going to his first New York Rangers game in the nosebleeds at Madison Square Garden, who had already earned accolades in soccer and was two years from a local boxing championship.

How did he make up for lost time to compete against guys who had a ten-year head start?
I’d go anywhere where I could get ice – Coney Island, Long Island, anywhere. I’d go at 3:30 in the morning three times a week so I could get extra ice time. And I took the ax because I was 15-16 years old and didn’t have anyone to take me anywhere. I had to do it all by the subway system, so coming home at 11-12 o’clock, I needed something for protection. People don’t even want to get on the train at 6 o’clock much less (past) midnight.
He also put time in summer camps, which is where he met Rangers GM Emile Francis and Blueshirts superstar Rod Gilbert, both of whom would help him reach the lower tiers of the Rangers' system, until a call from the WHA's New England Whalers came, to have him released to play in a WHA postseason run.

He spent two years with the Whalers, then re-signed with the Rangers in the summer of 1976. He was a fan favourite at MSG, not just as the first NYC-born Ranger but also due to his thunderous checks and relentless play (which involved a lot of "sticking up for his teammates", to the tune of 1754 total major-league penalty minutes. He was so appreciated that he was claimed in the expansion draft three years later... by the Whalers. They eventually traded him back to the Rangers, with whom he played for parts of five additional seasons.

He was sent to the Calgary Flames for the 1985-86 season - which had them fall to the Montréal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final; says Fotiu:
Calgary traded for me at 34 years old for a sixth-round pick (in 1987) because they thought I was one of the ingredients to beat Edmonton. And it turned out they were right. We outscored (Wayne) Gretzky’s line, beat them in the playoffs and then lost to the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final. That was pretty neat.
Flames Assistant-GM Al Coates goes further in his analysis of the 1986 Final:
If Nick hadn’t gotten hurt, we may well have beaten Montreal in the finals. (Habs tough guys) John Kordic and Chris Nilan weren’t afraid of Tim Hunter. They were terrified of Nicky.
After another year in Calgary, Fotiu spent the 1987-88 season with the Philadelphia Flyers - themselves a year removed from the 1987 Cup run - and 1988-89 with the Edmonton Oilers, a season sandwiched between two Cup-winning Oilers teams... the year the Flames won theirs. So close.

Here he is on card #26 from Topps' 2001-02 Topps/O-Pee-Chee Archive set, wearing the New England Whalers' white (home) uniform:
He signed it in black sharpie during his time as an assistant-coach with the the Rangers' AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack (2002-05).

One thing that comes to mind when I think of Fotiu - apart from the near-Cup misses - is the fact that he'd throw or shoot puck into the cheap seats after each home pre-game warm-up, a nod to the only place where he was able to afford tickets as a kid, a wish to have less economically-fortunate folks have a chance at being close to the action, and taking a chance that it might one day inspire a kid to lace up the skates. This is partly why he was named the recipient of the Fan Club Favourite Award for most of his years in Manhattan.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Craig Berube Autographed Card

I wasn't Craig Berube's biggest fan growing up, because he played on teams I didn't like back then (Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals), but there's something to be said about a player with 61 goals and 159 points in 1051 NHL games that makes you respect his body of work.

Then again, it could be the 3360 career penalty minutes (3149 in the regular season, plus 2511 in 89 playoff games) on a 6'1" frame for 205 pounds of angry beef.

Nowadays, I look at his playing resume and see an undrafted player who spent 17 seasons in the NHL on five different teams, including two stints each with the Flyers, Calgary Flames and Caps. I see determination and certainly respect and dedication to his teams and teammates.

He stands 7th on the all-time penalty minutes list and is short-listed for two other impressive feats, including being only the second interim head coach (after Larry Robinson) to win a Stanley Cup. He also made history with Ted Nolan on November 21, 2013 when they became the first pair of coaches to face off to be of First Nations descent, Berube being part Cree and Nolan being of Ojibwe descent.

Here he is wearing the Leafs' best-looking uniform, the 1980s white (home) uniform, on card #495 from Pro Set's 1991-92 Series 2 set, which also lists him as a member of the Flames:
 He signed it in blue sharpie in the early 00s, when he was coaching the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Meghan Agosta Autographed Card

In many regards, Meghan Agosta is very representative of "minor professional" Canadian team sports, by which I mean professional-level leagues with little financial means and few teams where high-talent athletes compete for a recognized championship, like the CFL or - in this case - the former CWHL.

She started off decently by winning gold with Team Canada at the 2007 World Championships, posting four points in five games, although those statistics are a tad deceiving: she had two assists against Switzerland and Germany to pad up her stats line, on a team where Hailey Wickenheiser had 14 points, Danielle Goyette had 11 and Sarah Vaillancourt, 6.

Still, she made her mark and climbed her way up the depth chart to the point where she became part of the elite herself, making her mark at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics - on home soil - as her third Olympic hat trick became a record; she kept that level of play up to be named to the Media All-Star Team, as well as the tournament's MVP and Best Forward.

In 2011-12, while with the Montréal Stars, she broke Jayna Hefford's single-season scoring record (69 points) by a wide margin, eventually ending up with 80 points, on the strength of 41 goals and 39 assists... in just 27 games. The Stars were stacked that year, with ten point-per-games players in their ranks. They won the league championship, of course.

Still just 32, the Vancouver policewoman probably has another Olympic run in her, in my opinion, as well as a few seasons of part-time play if the women's leagues can get their house in order and actually find a way to play.

She also enters my Team Canada Numbers Project as the wearer of jersey #2 with card #38 from In The Game's 2007-08 O Canada set and National Women's Team sub-set, showing her wearing Canada's red (away) turn-of-the-millennium uniform:
She signed it in blue sharpie while playing for the Stars, probably in 2013.

To date, she has three Olympic gold medals (2006, 2010 and 2014), one Olympic silver (2018), two World Championship gold medals (2007 and 2012) and six silver WC medals (2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2017). An Ontario native, she grew up rooting for the Detroit Red Wings.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Alex Galchenyuk Jersey Card

25 years old and on his third NHL team in three seasons, such is the life of Alex Galchenyuk.

The third overall pick of the 2012 draft has one 30-goal season under his belt and will surely be looking for more now that he was traded, essentially, for Phil Kessel, as the Arizona Coyotes needed to add scoring and the Pittsburgh Penguins needed to get rid of a long-term contract with a high cap hit.

Now, Galchenyuk finds himself with a once-in-a-lifetime chance, the possibility of getting some ice time with Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin to pad up his stats sheet before hitting free agency next summer. Another 30-goal season would go a long way into securing a long-term, high-paying deal.

A terrible season would likely relegate him to middle-six opportunities at best, possibly on one-year offers, perhaps less than he'd make playing in Europe. To put it simply: he's at a crossroads, and he needs to pick himself up and turn into a star, even if only for one year.

Here he is when the sky was the limit for him, wearing the Montréal Canadiens' classic bleu-blanc-rouge sweater, on card #GJ-AG from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a small white game-worn jersey swatch, likely from the team's away uniform.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Ariana & The Rose Signed Merch

Maybe you've seen Ariana DiLorenzo acting, talking about fashion or performing at Pride Parades with her synth-pop act Ariana & The Rose - or maybe you have not.

If you haven't, know that I've been sold on the group on the first two EPs Head vs Heart (2014) and Retrograde (2017), but it is my honest opinion that their brand of some of the smartest pop out there goes beyond the stratosphere on Constellations Phase 1, which was just released in July.

Like, holy fuck.

Today's pop scene is shock-full of emotional teens with tattoos across their faces, or wearing clothes that are so baggy they can fit in it with all their insecurities and the other feelings of anguish and angst that fill their songs.

Ariana doesn't need the artifices, because she's the real deal - and it doesn't come truer than on Constellations Phase 1.

I was lucky enough that she sent me signed memorabilia along with this release, in a terrific, hand-printed silky wrapping paper:
It included a postcard of my astrological zodiac sign:
With this amazing personalized message on the back:
There was also a poster-sized version of the album art:
In case you can't tell, it's also signed, in silver sharpie, top-right; here's a close-up:
I've been in music for over 20 years (I started out pretty young...), and care packages this thoughtfully put together are rare in this day and age, usually reserved for top-dollar contributors to Patreon-type sponsorship/benefactor sites.

That Ariana would go through this much trouble for me shows how much she values those who value her craft.

And, honestly, she's worth it. Check out the video for You Were Never My Boyfriend, directed by Scarlet Moreno:

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Robin Lehner Autographed Card

Man, Robin Lehner just can't get any respect.

After years of posting decent numbers with the Ottawa Senators (a career 2.88 GAA and .914 save % in 86 games, including twice posting NHL save percentages over .935), the Buffalo Sabres took a chance on him, making him their starter for three even better seasons (2.77 GAA and .916 save % in 129 starts, including two seasons with a save percentage at .920 or better), but they let him go the minute he had a sub-par season and instead opted to go with two unproven entities between the pipes only to miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season.

We now know the cause of Lehner's down year: struggles with mental health and addiction (alcohol and pills). Instead of falling prey to his demons and letting everyone around him down, he sought help and overcame his demons, ending up a finalist for the Vezina trophy and sharing the Jennings with teammate Thomas Greiss, helping the New York Islanders to a division title and ther second round of the playoffs.

And his acceptance speech was powerful:
I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean mentally weak. I took that first step, got help and that was life changing to me. It’s something that we’ve gotta keep pushing for and we’ve gotta end the stigma.
Still, the Isles wouldn't offer him the deal he wanted, instead signing veteran Semyon Varlamov to a four-year deal, forcing Lehner to sign a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.

But even the NHL's engraver messed up his trophy's plaque, identifying him as a member of the New York... Rangers:
He can never catch a break.

Here's hoping he finds better luck in Chicago, where he'll be sporting this mask:
Here he is wearing the Sens' throwback black "O" uniform on card #281 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie last Spring, in late March, after a game against the Montréal Canadiens.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Edward Pasquale Autographed Card

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Cody Ceci Autographed Card

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Alex Chiasson Jersey Card

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Kevin Klein Jersey Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

Anton Stralman Autographed Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Cam Talbot: Two Jersey Cards

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Kyle Turris Jersey Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 9, 2019

J.T. Compher Jersey Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Mario Gosselin: Two Autographed Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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