Monday, September 30, 2019

Dustin Byfuglien Swatch Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Winnipeg Jets would finish fifth in the Central Division in 2019-20).

It's looking more an more like Dustin Byfuglien is at the very least pulling a Mike Fisher and taking a break until the trade deadline, if not full-on retiring. After the losses of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot, losing Byfuglien would possibly be the final blow into the Winnipeg Jets' unlikely implosion.

They still have a very dependable goalie who is just entering his prime and one of the best offenses in the league, but losing two-thirds of a blue line is an impossible hurdle to overcome without a magic trick or a major trade up one's sleeve.

And Byfuglien is no ordinary defenseman; he's one of a handful of game-changers/game-breakers at his position in the entire league (with Brent Burns, Victor Hedman, P.K. Subban and Erik Karlsson) who can take control of a game by himself with crushing hits, end-to-end rushes, an opportune goal - many times all at once.

There's a reason why the Chicago Blackhawks used to have him play forward on powerplays and when they needed to come from behind: he has the ability to be unstoppable.

He's also a very valuable leader on that Jets team, one with the Stanley Cup-winning experience the team needs to go further in the postseason.

He technically has a contract that is still valid until the end of next season, so if he rediscovers a flame for the game, it's likely Winnipeg will take him back right away, despite having been forced to suspend him for administrative reasons (so his salary doesn't count against the salary cap).

Here he is wearing the Jets' white (away) uniform, on card #GG-DBY from Panini's 2013-14 Titanium set and Game-Worn Gear sub-set:
It features a beautiful dark blue jersey swatch that could be from the home or away uniform.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Éric Dazé Autograph Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Chicago Blackhawks would finish sixth in the Central Division in 2019-20).

You may recall I featured a similar card of Éric Dazé back in 2015, #179 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player collection, showing him in the team's classic red (then-away) uniform, signed on-card in black sharpie:
The scan is actually a poor reflection of the various shades of silver and gold alternating throughout the foil, with silver being the dominant colour, but you can tell it's different from the one from four years ago because the "accent aigü" on the final "é" of "Dazé" is farther away from his left leg.

Dazé was one of the lone bright spots of a decimated roster on the Hawks from the mid-1990s to the early 00s, before back pain cut his career short and limited him to 20 games in 2003-04 and 2005-06; he actually retired at age 30 after playing 11:56 in the opening period of the opening game in October 2005, when it was clear that he couldn't sustain the pace of NHL-level action despite five surgeries for a herniated disc.

That being said, the Montrealer was one of the best shooters of his era, ending his career with 226 goals in just 601 games and a shooting percentage of 14.1% in the Dead Puck Era, when the Rocket Richard Trophy was often awarded to players who didn't even hit the 50 mark. He tallied four 30-goal seasons (with a high of 38 at the age of 26 in 2001-02), and never had fewer than 22 even when playing in just 54 (2002-03) and 59 (1999-2000) games.

It was the era of the power forward, and the 6'6", 220-pound behemoth was right in his element. If only he didn't have to carry the offensive load by himself...

He suited up for Team Canada three times, winning gold at the 1995 World Juniors, where he was named to the tournament's All-Star Team.

It's a shame that a bad back and a season-long lockout (2004-05) robbed hockey fans of Dazé's prime. He was destined for great things and had already been a runner-up for the Calder and was starting to collect Lady Byng votes as well.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Mikko Rantanen Jersey Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Colorado Avalanche would finish second in the Central Division in 2019-20).

Mikko Rantanen has signed a six-year deal worth $9.25M per season to remain with the Colorado Avalanche - and on Nathan McKinnon's wing. With captain Gabriel Landeskog, they are probably the best three-man line in hockey.

Rantanen is entering his age 23 season - a couple of years yet until his "true prime" kicks in - and already has two 80-point seasons under his belt, and having improved on his goals totals every single season he's been in the NHL, going from 20 to 29 to 31.

He may start off a little bit slower for having missed the entire training camp, but by mid-October, he should be off and running again, especially when playing alongside the most valuable player in the league in MacKinnon, not just for what he brings to his team, but also for his now-below market $6.75M per year.

You might think Rantanen's just lucky to be there, a skilled playmaker playing alongside a superstar - and you may be correct for the moment, as his shot isn't yet hard enough to warrant a 30-goal production on his own - but do not sleep on the fact that he's a 6'4", 215-pound young adult who currently plays with grace. If he ever gets tired of playing nice and starts using that body like a power forward, you might start seeing some Eric Lindros-level physical dominance and it might be MacKinnon who starts riding his larger teammates' coattails.

In any event, the Avs are blessed by the fact that they can suit both up every game; it gives them instantaneous credibility and respect, and the status of an elite team.

Here is the young forward sporting the Avs' piping-heavy burgundy (home) uniform from the Reebok Edge days, on card #RM-MR from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 2 collection and Rookie Materials sub-set:
It features a matching event-worn (photo shoot) jersey swatch. I traded for it last season, helping a fellow collector finish his set with missing rookie cards in exchange for a jersey card of a player I try to draft in all of my hockey pools.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Artturi Lehkonen Autographed Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Montréal Canadiens would finish fifth in the Atlantic Division in 2019-20).

Artturi Lehkonen scored 18 goals in his rookie season in 2016-17, then 12, then 10. Did his ice time diminish? No, it was below 14 minutes in his rookie year, spiked to 16:29 in 2017-18 and was at 15:53 last year, and he was playing with Jesperi Kotkaniemi, a player many pundits seem to feel had a great year but in my opinion still needs to bulk up, gain experience and learn to play better defensively.

No, I think it's more of a coaching thing: for the last two years, Claude Julien has been behind the Montréal Canadiens' bench, and he does not know how to come up with a system that creates offense; he can shut down the opposition ok, but every time the Habs score the first goal of the game to gain a lead, it mostly feel like luck or at least as if offensive-minded talents found a way outside the system to be creative and were rewarded.

Former head coach Michel Therrien had his flaws (terrible communicator, had clear favourites, waited until the intermission to make any adjustments, changed his lines too often), but he felt the game a lot better than Julien does; his line-ups would look like a gambler's long shot, but the oddest element in it usually found a way to make his decision end up being the right one, and he knew how to put players in the best situation to excel.

Lehkonen has been playing on the Habs' third line since he came to North America. He got the bulk of his starts outside the defensive zone, which is not a habit of Julien's, for whom, traditionally, a third line plays against one of the opposition's top two lines with the sole goal to stop them from scoring.

After signing a two-year deal this summer worth $2.4M on the cap, he spent the summer working on his shot and asked for a chance to play an offensive role when he got to training camp. We'll see if he does when the real season starts - especially if Jonathan Drouin keeps getting locked in Julien's doghouse.

Here he is sporting the Canadiens' classic red (home) uniform, on card #108 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie at the team's golf tournament last month. He slots in perfectly as #62 in my Habs Numbers Project.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Jonathan Marchessault Autographed Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Vegas Golden Knights would finish first in the Pacific Division in 2019-20).

To think Jonathan Marchessault went undrafted because of his size... he'd been a point-per-game player in Juniors, even in the playoffs, and had been named CHL Player Of The Week in the playoffs, even, but no, even in 2010, a Quebecer who stood at just 5'9" (if that...) wasn't going to be given the benefit of the doubt, despite the success of Martin St-Louis.

And so he plowed through, producing five near-point-per-game seasons in the AHL before the Tampa Bay Lightning gave him a chance to shine, and even then, as a contending team, they didn't want to "waste" a roster spot on a young player who needed some fine-tuning, so they let cross-state rivals Florida Panthers snag him up, and Gerard Gallant's coaching made him into a 30-goal player.

And after Gallant was abruptly fired by the Cats and promptly hired by the Vegas Golden Knights, the expansion team did well to secure his rights for their top line in their inaugural season, and he didn't disappoint, scoring 27 goals and posting 75 points in 77 games; and although he "just" had 25 goals and 59 points last year, his line was still considered the "top" line for Vegas, playing against the opposition's top line and freeing the just-as-potent second line to face weaker competition and bring home similar if not higher production. It should be more of the same this season.

I knew from the start that the Golden Knights selected themselves a winning, post-season ready roster, I just thought they got rid of too many excellent experienced defensemen (Alexei Emelin, Marc Methot) and kept questionable ones (Deryck Engelland), but the talent level up-front, the depth, the youth, the coaching and the fact that they had one of the ten best goalies in the league (Marc-André Fleury, who has actually been more like a top-5 in Vegas so far) made them better than half the league from the get-go.

And their uniforms are great as well, as can be attested by card #229 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Parkhurst set:
Were the California Golden Seals ahead of their time with the white equipment, or did the Golden Knights just have much better designers? In any event, that's their away uniform, and Marchessault signed the card for me in blue sharpie early in the summer when he passed through town before going on vacation. I believe he attempted to tag his jersey number (81) at the end.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Kris Letang Jersey Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Pittsburgh Penguins would finish third in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20).

Every season where the Penguins fail to reach the Stanley Cup Final is considered a failure, and each time the insane rumours take over the off-season: the Pens needs to change their core, Evgeni Malkin and/or Kristopher Letang will be traded for cap relief and/or a new player who will bring depth and/or a breath of fresh air in the locker room.

And it's not like nothing ever came of it: former #1 goalie Marc-André Fleury is now helping the Vegas Golden Knights win their own first Cup, and just this summer, super-sniper Phil Kessel was traded for Alex Galchenyuk in one of those "clear the air" deals. Both Fleury and Kessel deserved serious Conn Smythe consideration in the last two successful Pens Cup runs, and Kessel was robbed of the 2016 trophy by petty hometown journalists who wanted Crosby to tie Malkin and run their own narrative while punishing the media-avoiding Kessel; every voter that didn't come from Pittsburgh had Kessel first and Crosby no higher than third, and many times Letang was ahead or in lieu of Crosby on their ballots as well.

But I digress.

The 2019-20 season will soon begin and Letang will once again line up on Pittsburgh's blue line in his familiar #58 when it does. And when he retires, they will take his number out of circulation and he'll have been the only player in team history to wear it in a regular-season game.

And the way Norris voters seem to go, it's pretty obvious that the next year in which he suits up for 75 games or more, he'll get the award for Best Defenseman as well, having finished in the top-10 six times already, including finishing 6th l;ast season despite suiting up in just 65 games (during which he found enough time to collect 16 goals, 40 assists, 56 points, a +13 rating and 48 penalty minutes, while driving the play forward in a nearly 54% proportion - by far the best on the team.

He's also been on the end-of-season Second All-Star Team twice, a huge deal when bridging the eras of Nicklas Lidstrom/Scott Niedermayer/Zdeno Chara/Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson/Victor Hedman/Drew Doughty/P.K. Subban.

And, of course, he trumps them all with three Cups.

Here he is wearing the Pens' black (home) uniform from the 2007-16 era on card #GJ-LE from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 2 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a white game-worn jersey swatch that probably came from the away uniform.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Oscar Klefbom Autographed Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Edmonton Oilers would finish fourth in the Pacific Division in 2019-20, which is likely outside the playoff picture anyway).

Oscar Klefbom is an excellent NHL defenseman by many accounts; ideally, his offensive capabilities are best suited for a #2 or #3 role, but he can hot the 35-40-point mark from the blue line whenever he plays a full 82-game season, which has happened once - and he even finished 5th in Ladty Byng votes that year with his "gentlemanly and sportsmanlike play".

As you can guess, his biggest knock is his inability to remain healthy, usually because of a reckless play. He's a rock in the defensive zone and will make fewer mistakes than most (again, on a #2 or #3-defender level, he's very good), but the reason why he is currently making $4.167M per year and won't get that much of a raise in three years when he's due to re-up is because it's hard to gauge hos many games he'll play.

Actually, no, scratch that, it's not hard at all: so far, he's suited up in 60, 30, 82, 66 and 61 games per year, meaning 60-65 should be your expectation. But in those games, he can spot your top guy and defend the zone, run a penalty kill and quarterback the second powerplay unit.

He's extremely useful. He wasn't a first-rounder (19th overall in 2011) for naught.

And the minute his Edmonton Oilers start learning how to play defensively as a unit, he'll stop being in the minuses and might start earning consideration for Lady Byngs again, as well as other awards, like the Bill Masterton (perseverance), maybe even the Mark Messier (leadership) award, despite not being a captain.

Here he is wearing the Oilers' beautiful blue (then-home) jersey on card #191 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 MVP set, which is his rookie card in that series:
He signed it in blue sharpie after a game in Ottawa last year. It shows him wearing #84 - which he wore for two seasons and makes him the ideal #84 in my Oilers Numbers Project.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Teuvo Teravainen Jersey Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Carolina Hurricanes would finish seventh in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20).

At 25 years of age, Teuvo Teravainen is about to enter his prime years, where he should be a point-per-game player for five or six of the next seven seasons, at a cap hit of $5.4M per season. He nearly lost his most important teammate to achieve that goal, but the Canes matched the Montréal Canadiens' offer sheet to Sebastian Aho, so the pair will be able to bring some offense to Raleigh for the next half-decade.

Most observers knew he'd be a top-six forward in his prime - even the Chicago Blackhawks, who sent him to Carolina as a sweetener for taking on Bryan Bickell's bloated salary in a trade for two late draft picks; unbeknownst to Hawks brass, Bickell had a case of undiagnosed multiple sclerosis that would put his career in jeopardy soon afterwards, meaning they could have put him on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) and subtracted his cap hit from their cap calculations... and not only kept Teravainen, but made the Hurricanes' rebuild last at least two more years.

He's also shown some decent leadership skills at the international level, posting 11 points in 7 games as an underage player at the 2013 World Juniors, then leading Team Finland to gold as the squad's captain the following year... in Sweden, Finland's most natural rival and frenemy, geopolitically.

Here he is sporting the Hurricanes' bight red (current home) uniform on the "gold" jersey insert version card #21 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 SP Game-Used Edition set:
It features a matching game-worn jersey swatch that is actually much brighter ("Kool Aid red" is how I would best describe it).

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Victor Hedman Jersey Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Tampa Bay Lightning would finish first in the Atlantic Division - and overall - in 2019-20).

Victor Hedman has grown into one of the best defensemen of his generation, with one Norris Trophy already on his mantle and  possibly more to come, perhaps even an eventual Hart of Conn Smythe as well, should the Tampa Bay Lightning ever live up to expectations.

He's done so himself, finishing in the top-3 Norris finalists three years running, despite missing 12 games to injury last season. That's how dominant he's been. And the thing about watching his elegant poetry on ice is we tend to forget just how much of a force of nature he is, at nearly two metres high (6'6") and 230 pounds.

However, his official head shots should make anyone think twice about wronging him - on the ice or off:
He looks like he could be a club bouncer or rock'n' roll roadie.

He's also a solid playoff contributor, hitting the 10-point mark three times in the past five seasons, with a high of 14 in both 2014-15 (Stanley Cup Final) and 2015-16 (Conference Final), and 11 in 2017-18 (another Conference Final).

He also has an extensive medal collection from playing with Team Sweden: World Championship gold (2017) and bronze (2010), two World Juniors silvers (2008 and 2009) and World U-18s bronze (2007). Sweden also placed third in the 2016 World Cup.

As long as Hedman's healthy, the Bolts will have a shot at a championship.

Here he is wearing Tampa's white (away) uniform on card #GJ-VH from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Alexander Radulov Jersey Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Dallas Stars would finish third in the Central Division in 2019-20).

I really believed Ben Bishop was going to lead the Dallas Stars to the Conference Final last season. He'd worked miracles all year long yet was sure to get the shaft for the Vezina - which was almost always going to go to Andrei Vasilevskiy - so it was only right for karma to reward his efforts with a double-overtime Game 7 win instead of the 2-1 loss. He had been the better goalie in the series, as well as in the first round, but Fate had decided the St. Louis Blues would win it all.

One player who shouldn't be embarrassed by the effort level he put into every game - although he did miss a game due to being late for practice - on the Stars is star winger Alexander Radulov, who had 29 goals, 43 assists and 72 points in 70 regular-season games and 10 more points (5 goals, 5 assists) in 13 playoff games.

To put it into perspective, despite missing ten games, he was second on the team in goals, assists and points, far ahead of captain Jamie Benn, who dressed for 78 games, and on pace to catch up to leader Tyler Seguin:
from HockeyDB
At the age of 33, he is showing no signs of slowing down. I expect another 70+-point season on his part as the Stars look to get past a tight Central Division and make an even deeper run than last year.

Also, Radu's looking pretty good in Dallas' white (away) uniform on the jersey insert version of card #66 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 SP Game-Used collection I got from Ebay earlier this summer:
It features a black game-worn jersey swatch that is from the stripes on either the home or away uniform. It blends extremely well with the rest of the card.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Steve Bozek: Three Autographed Cards

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Vancouver Canucks would finish fifth in the Pacific Division in 2019-20).
Those were my favourite Vancouver Canucks jerseys by far. The predominant black, the golden-orange that stands out, and just a bit of red to accent both. I miss them dearly.

Steve Bozek had 89 points in 41 games in his draft year playing for the NCAA's Northern Michigan University Wildcats, so it was a bit of a surprise to see him fall to 53rd overall, which is when the Los Angeles Kings called his name out. To prove he was no fluke, he led all College players the following year with 90 points in 44 games, a team record that still stands.

He had an immediate impact with the Kings, as an injury to Charlie Simmer gave him the opportunity to line up with Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor on the first line; his 33 goals were a team record for a rookie at the time, but have since been surpassed by Luc Robitaille (45 in 1986-87).

It would be short-sighted to not at least put a caveat to the fact that his rookie season was his best, statistically, what with his 33 goals, 23 assists and 56 points all being career highs; the fact of the matter is he's missed 10 to 25 games to injury in most following seasons, sometimes over 40, and he still put up point-per-game averages close to 0.5 seven times, including in his penultimate season, in 1990-91, which was his last one with the Canucks.

Between his time in L.A. and all the way up the coast to Vancouver, he spent the bulk of five seasons with the Calgary Flames earning praise for his two-way play and helping them reach the 1986 Stanley Cup Final, and 7 games with the St. Louis Blues. His final NHL season was in 1991-92, as he signed a one-year deal as a free agent with the San Jose Sharks before playing one year in Italy (11 points in 15 games in 1992-93) and one game in Slovenia in 1993-94.

But I remember him best from his days with the Canucks, where he proved to be a strong penalty killer. Here he is on a slightly blurry picture with card #293 from Pro Set's 1990-91 Series 1 set:
And here he is on two cards from Topps:
On the left is card #325 from the 1991-92 Bowman collection, while the one on the right is #28 from the 1991-92 Stadium Club set, with the mention that he's now with the Sharks.

He signed all three cards for me in black sharpie at a card show in Toronto a couple of years back; I think he lives there now and works as a financial advisor.

He won a silver medal with Team Canada at the 1991 World Championships.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Nikolai Antropov Autographed Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Toronto Maple Leafs would finish second in the Atlantic Division in 2019-20).

The ultimate irony, in my case, is that the hockey player of whom I have the most "collectibles" of in terms of signed or jersey cards spent the bulk of his career playing on a team I despise - only one of two I feel strongly about in a negative spectrum, with the San Jose Sharks - the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It's 1967, it's the constant choking, it's the league bias in their favour for reviews done in their city, acting like they own the sport, cheating - whether it be pretending players are injured to save cap space or bullying their way past better teams only to do nothing with it in the end (see how they treated the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs in the early 00s) - and bending of the rules (see: using the injury list to go over the cap more than other teams during the summer, and front-loading contracts with signing bonuses to give themselves an advantage over small-market teams, who can't afford those practices), it's fucking up the RFA market by overpaying two young players who had zero leverage, caring more about turning a profit than icing a decent team for decades, always getting chosen for the outdoor games, and changing their uniforms too often. It's being in the goddamn NHL to begin with when the league was specifically designed to get away from Toronto.

It's the city where they play, which isn't even truly Canadian it's so Americanized - what with guns, a shitty subway system and an NBA team - yet they often get the lone non-U.S. dates on music tours; having the Hockey Hall Of Fame despite having less than 50% the amount of Stanley Cups of the Montréal Canadiens, who had an empty, legendary Forum to house it.

No, seriously, fuck the Leafs.

Which doesn't mean I disrespect everyone who's ever played there. Darryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour, Félix Potvin, Wendel Clark, Luke Richardson, Syl Apps, Johnny Bower, Jacques Plante, Lanny McDonald... lots of great people with great talent, most of which was wasted on Torontonians.

And, of course, there's also my favourite Leaf, Nikolai Antropov. Was he better than Sittler or Gilmour? Of course not. But he sent me six signed cards at once when I was getting back into the hobby, and was the first signed insert I ever pulled. He marked a turning point for me in collecting, where it was no longer just about the people I had played with in high school (Ben Guité, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, Mathieu Darche), international competitions (José Theodore) in Juniors (Jason Doig, Benoit Gratton, Georges Laraque, Edin Burazerovic, Sébastien Charpentier) or went out for drinks with (Marcel Hossa), but just regular humans whose job I dreamed of having when I was a kid who were extremely nice and willing to give a bit of their time.

After playing for the Leafs from 1999 until early in 2009, Antropov finished that 2008-09 season by suiting up with the New York Rangers for 18 regular-season games and a seven-game first round postseason, then spent the remainder of his four NHL seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets organization, playing two years in each city.

He then suited up for Astana Barys in the KHL for two seasons before moving back in the Toronto area so his son Danil Antropov could pursue his own hockey aspirations; Danil is currently in the OHL, and had 52 points in 66 games as a right winger for the Oshawa Generals last season; if he averages a point per game this year, he will likely at least get an invitation to an NHL rookie camp next summer, or even perhaps get drafted.

The elder Antropov sent me this signed card (in black sharpie, with #80 tagged at the end, the number he started wearing during the 2002-03 season) this summer, and I'd been eagerly waiting to feature it here:
It's #55 in the 2017-18 Toronto Maple Leafs Centennial set by Upper Deck, showing him wearing the Leafs' blue (away) uniform from the end of the 1992-2000 era - "square" logo from the 1980s, old "more accurate" leaf as a shoulder patch, stylized numbering with extra white layer, and the NHL's "2000" patch on the chest. That's probably my favourite Leafs uniform, right there.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Mike McKenna Autographed Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the New Jersey Devils would finish tied for fourth/fifth in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20).

Granted, I do not have many Devils-themed collectibles, and I didn't want to feature a retired player who just spent a single season with them (well... a retired star player, anyway), but I did manage to find one player worth talking about, the journeyman of journeymen goaltenders, Mike McKenna.

You might recall McKenna if the 15 NHL organizations he passed through was the one you cheered for, of if you followed the ECHL after the season-long 2004-05 lockout, or if you read his wife's tweets explaining the hardships that come with being traded and/or claimed on waivers many times per season, or his bittersweet - mostly sweet - retirement announcement this summer.

He's played in Springfield (IL), Las Vegas, Norfolk, (Vegas again), Milwaukee, Omaha, Portland (ME), (Norfolk again), Tampa Bay, Lowell, Albany, New Jersey, Binghamton, Peoria, Springfield (MA), Columbus, (Portland again), Arizona (Portland again), (Springfield MA again), Syracuse, Texas (Austin), Dallas, Belleville, Ottawa, sat on the bench in Vancouver, was assigned to but didn't play in Utica, played in Philadelphia, and Lehigh Valley.

That last stretch was pretty insane: three different organizations in four days, six teams in the same week, when the Ottawa Senators re-assigned him to the Belleville Baby Sens, traded him to the Vancouver Canucks, who assigned him after two games backing up Jacob Markstrom to the Utica Comets, only to have the Philadelphia Flyers snatch him on waivers, have him play a game, then send him down to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

It was during his time in Ottawa that he signed card #51 from Panini's 2010-11 All Goalies set in blue sharpie, tagging his jersey number with the Devils (40) at the end:
That was one of his finest masks; in Philly, not taking any chances, he ust had an all-black one. In case.

I respect McKenna a lot. I believe had I continued playing after getting traded from Laval to Halifax in Juniors, I would have had the same kind of trajectory, probably without the ECHL and AHL All-Star titles he has, though.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Don Sweeney: Two Autographed Cards

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Boston Bruins would finish fourth in the Atlantic Division in 2019-20).
Nowadays, people see Don Sweeney as an executive - the reigning GM Of The Year - but he's also a 16-year former NHLer who spent the vast majority of his career with the Boston Bruins (15 years) as the great Raymond Bourque's defensive partner.

You learn a thing or two in such circumstances, including the need to keep a winning/contending team together so the star players don't have to leave to win that elusive Stanley Cup. And not only was he able to do so with his current roster, he also re-signed RFAs Charlie MacAvoy and Brandon Carlo to team-friendly bridge deals that fits right under the cap, with the understanding that they'll cash in on their next deals, when Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, David Backes and even Patrice Bergeron will no longer be on expensive deals.

It's ironic that what he does best - managing the salary cap - was his predecessor Peter Chiarelli's biggest weakness. Then again, Sweeney spent four years at Harvard while honing his skills instead of trying to play in Canadian Juniors.

While the Bruins' uniforms always remain close to their roots, my favourites were the ones from 1969-1995, which are the ones he's featured in on the cards he signed for me in black sharpie last year, starting with the white (home) ones:
That's card #244 from Pro Set's 1992-93 Parkhurst collection, and it's unclear if he's falling from being checked, from attempting to check an opponent or attempting some odd defensive maneuver in which he'd clear the puck with his hand whislt tripping.

There is also card #91 from Upper Deck's 1995-96 Collector's Choice set, showing him wearing their black (away) uniform, taking control of the puck in his own zone in front of journeyman goaltender Vincent Riendeau and New Jersey Devils forward Randy McKay:
Those are simply classic - simple and beautiful, perfect colours and stripes.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Nick Foligno: Two Autographed Cards

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Columbus Blue Jackets would finish eighth - or fourth, but mostly eighth - in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20).
My thing is, you don't leave a good team to try to find another one. What we're building in Columbus, everyone is excited to be part of it. You want guys fully on board.
That's Nick Foligno. The captain's words couldn't be clearer: the departures of unrestricted free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky over the summer left a sour taste in many players' mouths, and head coach John Tortorella as well:
I'm pissed. Yeah, I'm pissed. I'm pissed for my players. I'm pissed for my organization. And I'm pissed on behalf of my city.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of them. I do. A tremendous amount of respect. But don't talk about goddamn winning, like you want to go somewhere to win. It's right there in front of you. I respect them all. But I don't want to hear 'I want to win' when it's right fucking here. I respect them, but I'm really pissed. It was right there, where we were really progressing.
And that's where I agree wholeheartedly with all of them - when these guys were kids, the Columbus Blue Jackets didn't exist; none of the Jackets' players and staff dreamed of playing for them, and probably not even for a team that hasn't been around for two whole decades, doesn't have much history let alone that of winning (and had never actually won a playoff round before). But they all landed there, and not only did they make the best of it, they were starting to make a habit out of getting on the at-times-champions Pittsburgh Penguins' nerves, particularly Sidney Crosby.

When they landed against one of the best teams of all time - the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning - in the first round, they didn't just lie down waiting for a beating, they took the game to them and did the impossible: they swept the Bolts in four straight games.

Coach Tortorella and GM Jarmo Kekalainen built a system and a roster, respectively, that enabled a small-market team to rival the greats. It's even better when they can rely on superstars to support it and add an extra layer of offense, but it's effective enough to stand on its own. And something Torts is adept at is creating team spirit, team chemistry. Whether he unites the team against himself or instills an "us-against-the-world" mentality, he always knows exactly the right buttons to push to have his teams work as a single unit.

21 of the 23 guys on last year's opening roster had that, from Foligno to goal-scoring machine Cam Atkinson to 21-year-old #1 centre Pierre-Luc Dubois to star defender Seth Jones to his partner Zach Werenski to Team Canada alumnus David Savard to 25-and-under drafted and "home-developed" talents like Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alexander Wennberg, Markus Nutivaara and Lukas Sedlak to acquired defensive veteran leaders like Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Harrington and Mark Letestu.

The other two have left for cities with brighter spotlights, leaving the bulk - the core - to deal with the unfinished business at hand: pursuing further playoff success. Foligno, having had separate health scares to his two children last season, is particularly looking forward to a full season of just concentrating on hockey.

I thought it'd be nice to showcase his ascension in the Blue Jackets' ranks with these two cards, first sporting the alternate captain's "A" on card #56 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 1 set:
And here he is sporting his current captain's "C", on card #37 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 MVP set:
He succeeded Rick Nash (2008-12) in the title in 2015 (the position had been vacant for two seasons). The previous wearers of the "C" had been Adam Foote (2005-08), Luke Richardson (2003-05), Ray Whitney (2002-03) and Lyle Odelein (2002-02). There's a strong tradition of the captaincy remaining with strong, blue-collar-type players which, in my opinion, is a good thing. You want guys who set the example for the rest, and effective hard-working guys who are good enough to occupy the middle of the line-up and/or have Stanley Cup-winning experience is a plus.

Foligno, son of hard-working semi-star Mike Foligno, is that kind of guy on this team, no longer the #1 (Dubois is) but still the team's heart and soul; I figure the next in line for the title is Jones. He signed these two cards in fading black sharpie in February, after scoring a goal in a loss to my hometown Montréal Canadiens.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Jyrki Lumme Autograph Card

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

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Arizona Coyotes would finish sixth in the Pacific Division in 2019-20).

The Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes have been bottom-dwellers since their relocation in the late 1990s. They've employed superstars at various positions - Wayne Gretzky as a head coach, Brett Hull, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick and Shane Doan up-front, Oliver Ekman-Larsson on defense, Curtis Joseph and Nikolai Khabibulin in net - but never won their division, and only once made it (accidentally) to a Conference Final, with the seasons before and after proving it was a fluke.

They're also one of those teams that always changes their uniforms, proving they're unstable and don't know what they're doing. Heck, they seem to be for sale every other year. I hear Hartford, Québec, Houston, Hamilton, Kansas City and Saskatoon are looking for teams to relocate there...

For now, Arizona is the NHL's retirement home, where players extend their careers by a year or three, cashing in their final cheques while remaining in the vicinity of what looks like a team, fully aware that they'd be forced to retire and turn to player development in any other city.

Which brings me to Jyrki Lumme, a former Montréal Canadiens draft pick (third round, 57th overall, 1986) who became a star with the Vancouver Canucks for most of the 1990s. Mostly known as a good skater, good passer and good shooter, the fact that he wasn't ready to put as much effort into defending (and because the Habs already had very good powerplay point men) in the earlier part of his career is what got him traded out of Montréal; it took him a few years of good offensive play on middling Vancouver teams to realize he had to become a more complete player, but when he did, he helped the team reach high levels of success, including a Stanley Cup Final in 1994 that was ultimately won by the New York Rangers.

When he turned 31, after two straight seasons with games missed to injury and a production that fell well below the 50-point mark, the Canucks opted not to re-sign him, so he left as a free agent and signed with the Coyotes, with whom he reached the 40-point plateau for the last time in 1999-2000.

After three seasons in Phoenix, he suited up with the Dallas Stars for 15 games and the Toronto Maple Leafs for the bulk of two seasons, before going back home to finish his career with a third stint (pre-NHL, lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, and 2005-07) with the only Finnish team he's ever played for, Ilves Tampere, which he now co-owns.

Here he is wearing the Yotes' Kachina-style original jersey which the team now uses as an alternate, on card #259 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player Signature Series set:
It's the "Gold" variant and includes an on-card black-sharpied signature.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Mikko Koivu Autographed Card

Usually, on September 14th, I feature someone who shares the same birthday as me (and I do still have signed Tim Wallach cards that I haven't shown here); I could have also featured a signed card from my favourite player of all time, but I'm thinking I'll hold onto it for a while until I finish writing a book in which he'll be heavily featured.
So I thought I'd continue with my month-long theme of twin-posting with my "regular" blog - where I predicted the Minnesota Wild would finish seventh in the Central Division in 2019-20 - and mention their much-maligned captain, Mikko Koivu.

Koivu was the Wild's first-round pick (6th overall) in 2011, behind Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza, Alexandr Svitov, Stephen Weiss, and Stanislav Chistov; it's fair to say he's had a better career than three of them. And of the remaining first-rounders, only Mike Komisarek (7th, 735 NHL games, 2009 All-Star Game participant), Dan Hamhuis (12th, 1000+ NHL games), RJ Umberger and Colby Armstrong have had an impact on a line-up for more than just a couple of seasons, so he was the best remaining player with some pedigree.

In later rounds, only Jason Pominville (55th), has more career points, and only Mike Cammalleri (49th), Patrick Sharp (95th), Tomas Plekanec (71st) Ryan Clowe (175th), and Kevin Bieksa (151st) carry some kind of clout; the only goalies who played more than 150 games are Cristobal Huet (214th), Ray Emery (99th), Craig Anderson (73rd), Martin Gerber (232nd), Peter Budaj (63rd), Pascal Leclaire (8th) and Mike Smith (161st).

If there was a do-over, he'd be a top-5 pick, and possibly even a top-3.

He consistently gets a ton of Selke votes, finishing in the top-5 three times spread out throughout the course of his consistent career: fourth in 2008-09, third in 2016-17 and fifth in 2017-18. His points-per-game average has been at or above 0.66 (so two points per three games, which was top-line material for most seasons in his career) 10 times in 14 seasons, and above 0.80 five times.

He owns most Wild franchise record, and I'm particularly fond of the order in which they came: he became the biggest point producer in mid-March of 2014 and only surpassed the total games mark two years later in late February of 2016.

He's also captained Team Finland, with whom he is extremely decorated with silver (2006) and bronze (2010) Olympic medals to go with World Championship gold (2011, as captain), silver (2007 and 2016) and bronze (2006 and 2008), World Cup silver (2004), World Juniors silver (2001) and bronze (2002), and U-18 gold (2000) and silver (2001).

And yet, reading online hockey boards for the past decade - even more so in the last five years - shows a lot of displeasure with Koivu, usually associated with his cap hit and lack of goal-scoring (no mention, however, that he almost always tops the 30-assist mark, topping 40 five times with a high of 49 in 2009-10). His cap hit this season (and last) is set at $5.5M, a $1.2M cut from his previous deal, despite the fact that he is still an offensive contributor to his team, among the two top centres and among the four most effective forwards.

I get it - the same thing happened to his older brother Saku Koivu here in Montréal, with people complaining he wasn't a "true" #1 centre until he was replaced with Scott Gomez, then people started remembering him fondly again, some folks actually calling for a Hall Of Fame induction.

So, yeah, things will stabilize for the younger Koivu too. Here is is wearing the Wild's red (home) uniform on card #135 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie in January, when his team was in town to face the Montréal Canadiens.

I like the design of this set, by the way, the way the border is a lighter shade of the rest of the picture, bot just a generic white or deliberately off-putting colour the way UD has a habit of doing for OPC.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Ivan Provorov Jersey Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Philadelphia Flyers would finish fourth in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20).

Ivan Provorov, who just signed a six-year deal worth on average $6.7M per, has the potential to become a true #1 defenseman, which would make him a bargain at that rate should he reach it.

The 22-year-old former first-round pick (7th overall in 2015) already has a 41-point season under his belt; he is a fast and agile skater with an accurate shot, great passing skills and the ability to treat five-on-five play like a powerplay with his on-ice vision and control. Sometimes, it's almost comical, seeing him skate up with the puck with the swagger and grace of an Indianapolis Colts-era Peyton Manning facing a group of undecided teenagers.

It's just that he doesn't always put the elements together, he hasn't yet developed into the guy whose defensive play will complement his skill-set. Some guys have it (Nicklas Lidstrom), others develop it (Mark Giordano), some work on their strengths in a way that their weaknesses don't necessarily show (Kris Letang). Some just coast on what they have and cash their paychecks (Vladimir Malakhov).

We'll see where Provorov falls during the course of this contract, but one thing's for sure: the Flyers signed a cornerstone of their defense and expect it will continue to be one of their main strengths. Former GM Ron Hextall built his defense so that Provorov, Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin, Travis Sanheim and Shayne Gostisbehere would be the main pieces - and they're all still there - but current GM Chuck Fletcher added veterans Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun to the equation to bring in more experience.

In the meantime, here he is wearing the Flyers' white 50th Anniversary uniform (as attested by the patch on the left shoulder and the gold numbers), on card #GJ-IP from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a bright orange (a lot flashier than the scan) game-worn jersey swatch that could very well be from that same jersey.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Mark Borowiecki Autographed Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the Ottawa Senators would finish eighth in the Atlantic Division in 2019-20).

Earlier today, Mark Borowiecki, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ron Hainsey were named the alternate captains of the Ottawa Senators, and for the second straight season, no one will get to wear the "C", as the captaincy remains vacant since the Erik Karlsson trade at last year's training camp.

My guess is Borowiecki, Pageau, Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot are the front-runners to carry the torch in the future, but the Sens may feel Chabot or Tkachuk is the leading candidate at the moment but too young for the time being, as they are still on their ELC (rookie contract).

Borowiecki has never played a full 82-game season so far in the NHL; his career-best was the 70 games he suited up in in 2016-17, which enabled him to lead the league in penalty minutes with 154, which in turn led to his starring on this "Retro" variant of card #594 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 O-Pee-Chee set and League Leaders sub-set, which he signed in blue sharpie last season:
I mentioned it previously, but this bilingual card (and entire set, truth be told) is very poorly translated, because the French text, Les Dirigeants De La Ligue, does not translate to League Leaders but instead to League Managers.

Barring an extremely generous lottery win, I fail to see how a 30-year-old stay-at-home defenseman with a $1.2M cap hit playing for the Sens could also have the means and find the time to own a team and manage it.

That being said, I like the Sens and have for a long time. And while I live in the heart of Montréal, they're the most affordable local pro hockey I have, as the Habs are out of range and boring (plus I boycott them for a variety of reasons including the P.K. Subban trade and the re-hiring of Claude Julien), the Laval Rocket isn't much cheaper, and at least the Senators' players are endearing and nice, and making the trip there allows for a mini-vacation (I usually make a weekend out of it).

I'm extremely confident that the bunch of kids GM Pierre Dorion has put together will be the foundation of a very good team down the line, and I hope the young veterans who are leading them now (Borowiecki and Pageau chief among them) will be still there to watch them shine five years from now.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Henrik Lundqvist Jersey Card

(As per years past, this is a twin-post with my "regular" blog, where I predicted the New York Rangers would finish sixth in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20).

9/11 seems like as good a day as any to mention the team playing in Manhattan and its best player of the past 15 years, star goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

"Hank" is one of only eight active NHL goalies with a Vezina Trophy on his resume, and one could certainly make a case for why he should have two. If there was an award for most consistent over the longest period of time, he'd definitely get it:
from HockeyDB
I mean, so many seasons under 2.50 goals-against average, so many seasons above a .920 save percentage, most of them hovering near or reaching the 70-game plateau, so it's almost not surprising he's the only goalie in NHL history with 11 30-win seasons in his first 12 seasons - a feat even workhorse and trap benefactor Martin Brodeur never achieved.

He's even better in the postseason:
from Hockey-Reference
There has been a decline, however, as the Rangers have gone through a rebuilding process - not just of his play and stamina, but of the team's entire defense corps, meaning he gets better quality chances against, so he has a tougher job, so it's a bit of a vicious circle.

Many consider him a butterfly goalie, but I don't: he plays too deep in his crease (pictures 1-2), his glove is a tad too high (3, in that regard, he really has inspired the styles of many goalies a generation younger than he is) and his stance is too wide  - butterfly goalies' feet should be at of near the shoulders, whereas King Henrik's skates are usually out past his gloves even when standing (4-5). He does have the flat pad that butterfly goalies have perfected (6).
1. Instead of challenging the shooter, he gives him ample room to aim and get his bet shot in.
2. Instead of cutting the angle by coming out, Lundqvist remains deep and relies on his reflexes.
3. High glove, the high end even above the crossbar.
4. Wide stance ready for either a shot of a pass across.
5. This wider stance means he's expecting a shot and is ready to go down.
6. The "butterfly" technique's main advantage is that the flat pad nullifies the bottom 20% of the net completely.
Instead, I like to call his style "the brick wall", where he is usually right in front of the goal line, relying on his laser-accurate reflexes to stop high pucks with his glove or blocker, and expecting the rest to hit him on the pads or chest (7-9):
7. Remaining along the line enables Lundqvist to slide across while remain perpendicular to the middle of the net, parallel to the position of the net.
8. While remaining deep even on breakaways, by moving along the goal line, he is less likely to get thrown completely out of position.
9. Giving the shooter ample room and staying square in front of the net enables Lundqvist to stop shots in a butterfly-like position to kick the pad out of danger.
The thing about reflexes is they fade over time, sometimes drastically.

Still, it's extremely difficult to dismiss Lundqvist's mental strength and ability to will himself into one final spectacular season, provided he gets enough rest and plays no more than twice a week during the regular season and can accept being in net for, say 12-14 of the 16 wins a Stanley Cup victory requires, letting the younger Alexandar Georgiev handle the rest (and even outplay him for weeks at a time).

Here's the King, wearing the Rangers' classic white (now-away) unifrom on card #GJ-HL from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 2 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set, sticking to his goal post as he should, watching the puck in the corner:
It features a matching white game-worn jersey swatch. What a beautiful card and picture!