Saturday, November 30, 2019

Nathan MacKinnon Jersey Card

There are two undeniable and irreplaceable forwards in the NHL "MVP" conversation: Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, because he's simply the best player in the world in this generation, and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, who is proving that he doesn't need his fellow stars Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen not only to produce points, but also wins for his team.

The 24-year-old has 16 goals, 23 assists and 39 points in 25 games this season, 16 of them without Rantanen, 14 without Landeskog.

The Avs currently sit third in the Central Division with 32 standing points, one behind the Winnipeg Jets with a game in hand, and tied with the Dallas Stars with two games in hand.

When he was drafted first overall, it was widely believed the Avalanche would instead opt for hometown kid Seth Jones (now a #1 defenseman in his own right and perhaps eventual Norris Trophy winner), but head coach and VP of Hockey Operations Patrick Roy - who had just coached against MacKinnon and the Halifax Mooseheads in the LHJMQ - insisted the Avalanche select MacKinnon instead; Jones fell to fourth, behind Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Drouin. Because Drouin and MacKinnon were teammates, it was widely believed they complemented one another to a point where if they were to be separated, perhaps they would be less productive.

Nowadays, not only have those fears dissipated, but most of that strong draft year's top-20 currently plays a high-profile role in the NHL, as Elias Lindholm (5th), Sean Monahan (6th), Darnell Nurse (7th), Rasmus Ristolainen (8th), Bo Horvat (9th), Max Domi (12th), Josh Morrissey (13th), Alexander Wennberg (14th), Ryan Pulock (15th), and Anthony Mantha (20th) are all top-unit players, and Nikita Zadorov (16th) plays a big part defensively on the Avs.

Drouin was the Montréal Canadiens' best forward this season before suffering an injury that will sideline him for months, and MacKinnon has been close to the 100-point plateau for three straight seasons now.

In retrospect, perhaps voters now feel Taylor Hall's 2017-18 Hart Trophy would be more at home in MacKinnon's living room (I already felt that way at the time, myself).

Here is #29 in all his splendour, sporting the Avalanche's burgundy (home) uniform on the "Gold" jersey insert version of card #55 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 SP Game-Used Edition collection:
It features a white game-worn jersey swatch from Colorado's away uniform.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Maxime Fortunus Autographed Card

Does racism exist in hockey? Of course it does, because it still exists in the world.

I was in a special bubble growing up, playing hockey in the NDG district of Montréal where there was at least one girl and four people of colour on every team in every category in our neighbourhood until - and including - Midget. It wasn't by design or by some sort special program - we all grew up loving and playing hockey, and there were enough of all of us to fill two A-level and two B-level "elite" teams and usually a handful to eight C-level "house league" teams per category (from Novice to Atom to Pee-wee to Bantam to Midget) and, statistically, the proportions were often relatively the same at all levels on all teams. It represented our neighbourhood, as did the fact that half the teams were French-speaking and the other half had English as a common language.

As a matter of fact, as most things Montréal, language was a larger factor of discontent, fighting and favouritism than skin colour or gender.

Were insulting words ever said? Absolutely. Until Pee-Wee at least, when folks on both sides start realizing the meaning - both from the person saying it and the person receiving it. A person of Indian descent getting called "Paki" finds it ridiculous until the "all you Brown people are the same category of not welcome" starts kicking in, and the playfulness of an insult stops being funny when the other side gets hurt more than intended. And almost everyone was a target of slurs at some point, from the Francophones ("Frog", "Pepper", "Pepsi") to Blacks to Indians to girls to guys who look more "effeminate" to Indigenous peoples... even straight, "regular" white Anglo-Saxon Canadian males ("Squareheads", "Blokes").

Starting at the Pee-Wee level, ages 12-13-14 (depending on date of birth), people learn to not say hurtful things to people they care about, and eventually we'd just start hearing it more from kids from poorer neighbourhoods, and we'd use it as a rallying point. One of our teams would usually finish in the top-5 of any province-wide end-of-season ranking, and would usually medal in tournaments, even when icing just half a team because said tournament was played in the daytime on a school day, or all day during the Sabbath:
After Midget came the LHJMQ. Girls were no longer part of the equation, but I'm of that generation that produced elite goaltending (Jean-Sébastien Giguère, José Theodore, Roberto Luongo) and tough guys, a lot of them being people of colour (Jason Doig, Peter Worrell, Donald Brashear, Georges Laraque, Craig Martin, Francis Bouillon, Jason Downey). Laraque spoke eloquently (as usual) about the pains he endured as a child climbing up the ranks.

All of this is to say that I'm just a little bit stunned by Akim Aliu's recollection of events that happened in the AHL. Not that it happened at all, but that it happened in the third-best hockey league in the world. You'd think the kind of language used would have been weeded out by encountering other human beings as Bill Peters would have climbed the ranks from Amateur to Juniors to the pros. You'd think someone would have told him it's wrong, would have stood up to him, would have been in a position to threaten his job at some point.

But more than the language, you'd think the Omertà would not have been strong enough to allow for Aliu's demotion to the ECHL simply for standing up to him. And that's one of the major problems with the way the AHL management teams are set up: usually, the AHL team's GM is either the parent team's GM or their assistant-GM, meaning they oversee player personnel and decisions, but from the main offices in the parent team's building, 90% of the time, when what would be required is a continuous presence with the team, to feel its pulse, to not rely on one person's opinion regarding not just the makeup of the team and asset management, but also possibly the player's ability to deliver and become the best he can be - either for the team or for someone else via asset exchange.

Since players are the "product", they should be cherished and nourished to become the best they can be by being put in the best situation for them. Minor-league coaches are only there for their development. Sure, they may eventually earn a promotion... if they succeed at developing impactful players. There should be no other criteria, or goal.

Which brings me to Maxime Fortunus. He's five years younger than me, so I never got to play with him, and I've had all of two minutes of interactions with him in my life. I don't know if there is a reason beyond size and perhaps defensive zone lapses that made him go undrafted or limited him to 9 NHL games, but I know he makes a really good pass and has a booming shot, and I know he wore an "A" on his chest with the Manitoba Moose and the captain's "C" with the Texas Stars, so he at least was a respected presence in an AHL locker room. And I've seen Aliu play, and there is no on-ice reason why the former first-rounder could not have at least been the type of guy who is an AHL star like Fortunus. For God's sake, he's still practising full-time in Toronto in the hopes that an NHL team will call, he knows he's skilled enough.

And, hey, Fortunus left a spot open, as he's now playing in Germany, for the Fischtown Pinguins. Here's a card from his first season with the Texas Stars on card #11 from the 2010-11 Choice team set by Choice Sports Cards:
It shows him wearing the team's white (home) uniform; he signed it in blue sharpie in 2015 or 2016, adding his uniform number (18) to his signature.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Valentin Zykov Autographed Card

Today, the Vegas Golden Knights announced they had sent Valentin Zykov down to the AHL's Chicago Wolves after clearing wavers, as he is set to return to play after a 20-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. After it has been revealed that this was done without the consent of the Golden Knights - and because he's the second player in two seasons to get suspended by the league for PEDs - I am fairly certain the organization now wants him out.

Despite his pedigree as a second-round pick (37th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2013), the 24-year-old with over-average stick-handling skills and near-elite passing with decent size (6'2", 205-210 pounds), I doubt many teams want to take a chance on handing him a middle-six position on the wing after this. I believe he will require a five-year exile to the KHL to mature before getting another chance at an NHL gig, especially with just 15 points in 47 NHL games to his name so far split between L.A., Vegas and the Carolina Hurricanes.

He did put up 33 goals and 54 points in 64 games with the AHL's Charlotte Checkers in 2017-18, but translating that extra "oomph" to NHL success has proven to be difficult, as is often the case for power forwards.

Here he is from his high-scoring Juniors days with the LHJMQ's Baie-Comeau Drakkar on card #65 from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set:
I got this one in a trade last year from fellow collector BG, who got the autograph in-person. He's shown wearing the Drakkar's red (away) uniform, which does well to mostly use the Calgary Flames' colour scheme but avoid the trapping of copying their uniform design.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Dave Poulin Autographed Card

It feels like I haven't featured a player from the Philadelphia Flyers in a long time, so why not go big and feature a former captain who took his team to the 1985 and 1987 Stanley Cup Finals and 1989 Prince-Of-Wales Conference Final, Dave Poulin?

Poulin hails from Timmins, in Northeastern Ontario, a bilingual town not far from the province of Québec not too far from the  mining town Rouyn-Noranda. It's the birthplace of many international artists - notably Shania Twain, Maurice LaMarche, and Lights - as well as athletes "Baz" Bastien, Bill Barilko, Les Costello, Hall Of Famer Murray Costello, Shean Donovan, Réal Chevrefils, Rick Lessard, Frank Mahovlich, Pete Mahovlich, Jim Mair, "Doc" Prentice, Steve Shields, Steve Sullivan, Eric Vail, Walter Tkaczuk, and Olympic gold medalist Kathy Kreiner.

From there he spent four seasons with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and upon not being drafted by an NHL team took off to Sweden to play for Rögle BK. Their head coach Ted Sater being a scout for the Flyers, he insisted they offer him a contract, and after being called up from the AHL's Maine Mariners (where he had 16 points in 16 games), he scored two goals in a 6-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, which cemented his place on the NHL roster.

He spent his rookie season on the team's first line alongside Tim Kerr and Brian Propp, finishing with 76 points in 73 games, finishing fourth in the Calder Trophy race for rookie of the year behind winner Tom Barrasso (also the Vezina winner), Steve Yzerman (87 points) and Sylvain Turgeon (40 goals).

By his second full season in 1984-85, he was named team captain, due to the fact that he was already 26 at the time and already a strong two-way player who gave maximum effort. When Paul Holmgren took over from Mike Keenan as head coach, Poulin's responsibilities shifted from producing points to shutting down opponents, which is why he went from a point-per-game player to a 35-point man in just one year.

GM Bobby Clarke then dealt him to the Boston Bruins, where he was reunited with Propp to help lead the team to the Cup Final in 1990; it would be his third Finals defeat at the hands of the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers.

After three more years in Boston (which came with a King Clancy Award) came two with the Washington Capitals, then he was off to coach Notre Dame into relevance, before accepting a VP role with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the request of Brian Burke.

Because none of the last nine words of the previous paragraph ever work out, he ended up losing that job in 2014 and has since been an analyst for TSN - a much more respected career path.

It was while at the employ of TSN in 2016 or 2017 that he signed this card for me in black sharpie:
That's card #100 from O-Pee-Chee's 1988-89 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him watching the puck against the New Jersey Devils, captain's "C" prominent, with a perfect view of the Flyers' classic 1980s orange (away) uniform. This reminds me of my childhood so much I can practically taste the cherry-flavoured 7up.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Jaroslav Halak Swatch Card

The Montréal Canadiens - and particularly their head coach Claude Julien and star goalie Carey Price (3.56 GAA, .886 save percentage) - are mired in a month-long funk that is seemingly without end, so facing former star goalie Jaroslav Halak - he of the near-perfect record against the Habs, especially in Montréal - was likely going to prove problematic, especially since he's in town with the rest of the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins in search of their fourth-straight win after a sub-par outing in Ottawa last week.

Wouldn't you know it, Price let in 5 goals on 11 shots while Halak stopped 36 of 37 en route to an 8-1 routing of the home team. This after Price, Julien and the Canadiens blew a 4-0 lead to lose 6-5 at the hands of the New York Rangers on home ice on Saturday.

This was Montréal's fifth-straight loss, and the masses are already speculating on who could take over behind the Canadiens' bench, the smart money betting safe on Associate-Coach Kirk Muller, Mike Babcock, Guy Boucher and current assistant Dominic Ducharme.

I believe the team will stay idle, but there are plenty of bench bosses I prefer to Julien, including Patrick Roy, Guy Carbonneau, Manitoba Moose bench boss Pascal Vincent, Syracuse Crunch head coach Benoît Groulx and - why not? - Ducharme, Boucher and Muller, in that order.

Not Babcock - he needs to sort his public image out, repent, and attempt to grow and change his ways a bit before he's given a second (fourth) chance. Furthermore, he seems like he's taking his former partners down with him - today it was Bill Peters' turn for alleged (and seemingly now-corroborated) racist behaviour, perhaps tomorrow it will be Boucher, a fellow McGill alumnus and another coach who uses mind games to motivate his players.

But back to the hero of the evening, Halak, who made news last week for his use of practice pads. He is on the last of a two-year deal with Boston that pays him $2.75M annually to play roughly the same amount of regular-season games as starter Tuuka Rask - who makes $7M - so that Rask can be rested come playoff time, a strategy that worked well enough to lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final last season. It's a thankless job, but he's shining in it, with a 2.39 GAA (7th in the NHL), a 5-1-3 record, a .930 save percentage (4th) and a shutout (tied for 7th). Other goalies aren't faring as well:
The Bruins are among the favourites to earn the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals given as a team, which would mark Halak's second such win. The first time, of course, was as a member of the St. Louis Blues, as can be seen on card #FOG-HAL from Panini's 2012-13 Certified set and Fabric Of The Game sub-set:
It is numbered 101/150 and is of the "Red / Mirror" variant; the swatch lies underneath a die-cut stencil of the word "Blues", fittingly, and features a prominent blue game-worn jersey swatch.

I got it on Ebay just last week for use at a much later date, but it was (physically) the closest piece of memorabilia to feature when I opted for Halak as my subject of the day.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Jonny Brodzinski Jersey Card

You may recall this Jonny Brodzinski jersey card from a box break last year:
It's #RM-JB from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 2 collection and Rookie Materials sub-set, showing him wearing the Los Angeles Kings' black (home) uniform, with a matching "player-worn memorabilia", without specification if it's at the draft, during practice, a game or a photo shoot. Or just in the press box while watching other Kings players practice.

Upon signing him to a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks on July 2nd, GM Doug Wilson had this to say:
Brodzinski has an excellent combination of power and scoring skill-set. He had a great collegiate career at St. Cloud State and has continued that success at the professional level. We feel there’s a good opportunity for him to earn playing time and help us offensively this upcoming season.
His father Mike and uncle Steve as well as second-youngest brother Easton are all products of St. Cloud State, while his two middle brothers Michael (a Sharks draft pick) and youngest brother Bryce opted for the University of Minnesota.

I want to disagree with Wilson's rose-coloured glasses assessment of Brodzinski, however, as he was barely a point-per-game forward in College, never actually got there at the AHL level but did get close once with the Ontario Reign and has yet to translate any of that to the NHL level, although to be fair, he was mostly asked to play a fourth-line role with the Kings.

I see his upside as a third-line winger more than a centre, if he can translate some of that offensive skill by playing with more talented players than your average fourth-liner. But let's keep in mind he's a fifth-round pick who is already 26 years old. He needs to grab the bull by the horns if he doesn't want to remain a 'tweener alternating between the NHL and AHL.

I'd love to see all four brothers on the ice at once, though, so perhaps there's a chance with the San Jose Barracuda.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Viktor Arvidsson Jersey Card

Last night, the St. Louis Blues' Robert Bortuzzo cross-checked the Nashville Predators' Viktor Arvidsson irresponsibly twice - throwing him head-first towards the net piping, then forcing him down again as he's trying to get up, apparently pulling or tearing a leg or groin muscle:

While the NHL announced Bortuzzo had been suspended without pay for four games (a $67K loss), the Preds announced Arvidsson would miss four-to-six weeks with a lower-body injury.

Since Bortuzzo had already been suspended twice and doesn't seem to be getting the message, I would have suspended him for at least four games for each infraction; I would not have gone wholesale on this at all.

And as the above link to his suspension notes, he's been guilty of even more dangerous stickwork other than his previous two suspensions:
Over the years he has developed quite a track record of similar incidents where he uses his stick in such a manner.
A couple of years ago he had a similarly violent attack on New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson (resulting in a fine but no suspension) that you can see here.
In last year’s playoffs against the Dallas Stars he took exception to what he considered to be repeated dives from Esa Lindell by giving him another high cross-check. You can see that here.
Although the circumstances were different, he also injured Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin with a blatant cross-check away from the play and in front of the net. You can see that one here.
He also has an additional fine for another cross-checking incident involving Jordan Szwarz of the Boston Bruins late in the 2017-18 season (no video available).
It's been a tough season for Arvisson, whose 6 goals in 22 games this year is far off his usual 30-goal pace, especially considering last season's career-high 34 came in only 58 games. He was also one of the few Preds players to put up numbers in the postseason that could compare with their regular-season output.

Here's hoping he comes back strong enough to finish the season on a high note and that it doesn't affect the rest of his prime.

Here he is wearing Nashville's yellow (home) uniform on card #GJ-VA from Upper Deck's 2018-19 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a white game-worn jersey swatch from the away uniform.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

2019-20 Upper Deck Artifacts Hockey Blaster Box Break

Upper Deck's 2019-20 Artifacts collection remains among the best-looking semi-affordable ($35 for 35 cards in this blaster box, in 7 packs (5 "regular" + 2 "bonus" five-card packs) sets of the early season - and althouygh I miss the times when they were printed on thicker, matte cardboard, the design still looks classy:
An action shot, some clever cropping, a great picture, and an elegant design. The stats are limited to the past five seasons, but at least just about every player gets a blurb that is different from those in other sets.

I pulled no rookies, no jersey cards or autographs, and my lone "insert" was a "Copper" variant of Max Pacioretty, numbered 158/299:
For me to be able to deliver a decent enough scan of the foil's colour, I had to tone down the brightness of the card's background, but it really looks nice, like broken 15th-Century art (think Renaissance/Sistine Chapel-type) with colours going from green to golden yellow to white.

This earns a 8/10 for me this year.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Michael Rasmussen Autograph Card

A lot of Detroit Red Wings fans are quick to push the panic button on their first-round prospects if they aren't as quick as Dylan Larkin to have an impact in the NHL, but these people need to realize Larkin took a major step back in his second and third seasons; Anthony Mantha also needed some grooming, and it too a stint playing for Team Canada for him to fully develop the confidence that he could be as dominating with adults as he was in Juniors.

At 6'6" and 221 pounds, it's quite possible that Michael Rasmussen's development path will follow that of a power forward, and he could become a dominant player only at age 24-26 - it's a bet all GMs make when they select a giant in the first round. He's producing at a point-per-game average with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins this season, but again, people need to let him develop at his own pace, and not place undue pressure on him if he regresses or stagnates or goes pointless in ten straight games - these things happen to all players, particularly young ones.

Wings fans should remain optimistic that they will have a very good team in two or three years, and that perhaps at that moment or right afterwards, Rasmussen may very well be an important part of the core, either as a middle-six centre or as a net-crashing and board-busting playmaking winger.

Here he is wearing the WHL's Tri-City Americans' white (home) uniform on card #BA-MR1 from Leaf's 2016-17 Leaf Metal set:
Oddly, it bears the In The Game logo on the back but not the front, possibly because they hold the license for CHL cards, but Leaf doesn't want to give them a second life after having purchased their vault a few years ago:
The all-silver foil card features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Stéphane Quintal Autographed Card

The Winnipeg Jets are experimenting with their forward depth these days and possibly eyeing the future as they are turning first-line winger and captain Blake Wheeler into the second-line centre they've been looking for for the past three years and slotting Patrik Laine in his spot alongside Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor.

The thinking is if Wheeler can remain effective as a centre playing behind Scheifele, both will see advantageous match-ups - perhaps even more so Wheeler - as opponents will now have two lines with the potential to take over a game and pay attention to.

With goalie Connor Hellebuyck back to his Vezina-level ways, that just leaves the defence as a point of concern, particularly the right side, which reminds me that Stéphane Quintal has once held that position as a 25/26-year-old, as can be attested by card #245 from Fleer's 1994-95 Fleer Ultra set, which he signed in black sharpie at his induction into the LHJMQ Hall Of Fame last year:
You tend to forget how simple and beautiful their white (home garbs were at the time, because you mostly see the dark jersey nowadays, but "WOW". The veteran of 1037 NHL games is still the Assistant-Director and Senior VP of Player Safety for the NHL but would listen if an NHL team came calling with an offer for a front-office job.

My Jets Numbers Project: An Introduction

It was just a matter of time before I had the Winnipeg Jets join my esteemed "Numbers Projects" alongside my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project, my Nordiques Numbers Project, my Sens Numbers Project, my Canucks Numbers Project, my Flames Numbers Project, my Team Canada Numbers Project and my Expos Numbers Project.

What's nice is I get to cheat here, because I will use all professional iterations of the Jets in Winnipeg: the WHA team that became an NHL team, and the one that was created when the Atlanta Thrashers moved up North; I will not be including Atlanta numbers nor those of the Phoenix Coyotes, the team that was moved to the desert after the 1995-96 season.
It's hard not to have a soft spot for the perennial underdogs, the team with the smallest arena, from the smallest city and metropolitan area, that always faces nearly insurmountable odds just to exist - let alone succeed - and whose fanbase has stuck with them through thick and thin. They kept the dream alive amid not really having a chance at all to see it materialize. They certainly were never given any hope by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at any point.

They won AVCO Cups in the WHA in the 1970s, were merged into the NHL along with the Hartford Whalers, Québec Nordiques and Edmonton Oilers in 1979, kept losing to the dynasty Oilers in the 1980s, moved to Arizona in the 1990s, came back (albeit from the ruins of another franchise) in the 2010s. Their history is rich in superstars, hard-knocks, and the inevitable small-market reality of icing a bunch of journeymen players.

As a reminder, the point of this project is to feature memorabilia from players who represent each uniform number ever worn in team history; ideally, for the purposes of displaying it upon completion, it'd be nice to have those all be signed cards; however, because I'm far from rich, sometimes these may be other types of signed items, or even jersey cards.

So far, I have featured the following 31 players for 24 numbers:

4: Fredrik Olausson: check!
6: Phil Housley: check!
7: Keith Tkachuk and Brent Ashton: check!
8: Randy Carlyle and Jacob Trouba: check!
10: Dale Hawerchuk and Alexei Zhamnov (twice): check!
11: Paul Fenton: check!
14: Anthony Peluso: check!
16: Andrew Ladd and Stéphane Quintal: check!
17: Kris King and Jim Nill: check!
18: Bryan Little: check!
19: Brian Mullen and Shane Doan: check!
21: Aaron Gagnon and Chad Kilger: check!
22: Moe Mantha: check!
23: Paul MacDermid: check!
25: Thomas Steen: check!
26: Blake Wheeler: check!
31: Rick Tabaracci: check!
33: Dustin Byfuglien: jersey card check!
34: Darrin Shannon: check!
35: Bob Essensa: check!
38: Paul Postma: check!
40: Edward "Eddie" Pasquale: check!
44: Zach Bogosian: check!
80: Nikolai Antropov: check!

Captains: King, Hawerchuk, Steen, Ladd

I still have a lot of work ahead of myself, but I'm up to the challenge!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Jamie Oleksiak Autograph Card

It's not often an NHL player is less popular than their sibling (I know it was the case for Zak Bierk, whose brother Sebastian Bach fronted cock-rock/hair metal band Skid Row for a decade), but in the case of the Dallas Stars' Jamie Oleksiak, it's his Canadian Olympian sister Penelope "Penny" Oleksiak - the youngest Canadian athlete ever to medal and the first to win four medals in the same Summer Games - who wears the mantle.

The 6'7", 255-pound Jamie has an interesting career; he was drafted by the Stars then traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a fourth-round draft pick, yet when he was shown to be a poor fit in Pittsburgh and when the Stars realized he was exactly who they needed to have on their back end, was traded back for the exact same pick, as if the trade had never happened, save for the 83 games he played there, and the 8 goals, 17 assists, 25 points, 106 penalty minutes and +18 rating he collected while in Steel Town.

He's now a regular on the team's third pairing, generally driving play forward and contributing to the tune of a point per five games or so. Here he is wearing the Stars' old digs, the white (away) uniform with the awful wordmark and number instead of a logo on the signed insert version of card #173 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Trilogy set and Rookie Premieres/Level 1 sub-sets:
The card appears to have a blue tint, but that's just the scan; it's actually a silver foil to the naked eye, with the parts appearing as black being gold foil. The signature is in blue sharpie, on a sticker. The card is numbered 137/699.

Oleksiak is a big tattoo buff.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Anthony Duclair Autographed Card

Anthony Duclair played like a superstar tonight, posting two highlight-reel goals and an assist as his Ottawa Senators beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3; since the game took place in Detroit, it was sort of a hometown game for head coach D.J. Smith, who grew up across the lake in Windsor, Ontario and attended Wings games as a youth.

Here is his second goal of the night:

Duclair is really starting to put it together, and his season average of 16:09 per game hides the fact that in every other game, he's actually closer to 18 minutes minutes, factoring in more and more games as the season gets underway.

He had 14 points (8 goals) in 21 games with the Sens last year and is now at 13 (9 goals) in the same span this year, but this year he's on a sustainable shooting percentage (12.5%, close to his career average) , whereas he was hitting the back of the net at a 20% click last year. His season is "for real", trending upwards, and at age 24, he's about to enter his prime while reaching the maturity level to play a better-rounded game.

He's looking like a 30-goal, 50-point player, which will be great for Ottawa; he can be what they were looking for when they acquired Alexandre Burrows a few years back, but younger.

Here he is wearing the Chicago Blackhawks' white (now-away) uniform on card #113 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie this off-season, tagging his jersey number (91) at the end.

Monday, November 18, 2019

My Nordiques Numbers Project: An Introduction

You're probably used to it by now, what with my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project, my Sens Numbers Project, and my Canucks Numbers Project, but I decided long ago that I would also have one for my favourite team growing up, the Québec Nordiques.

As a reminder, the goal is to have an autographed card of a player representing each jersey number worn/used by the franchise. If I can't find an autographed card, autographed pictures, postcards or jersey cards can count.
Originally founded as a WHA team in in 1972, they joined the NHL with the New England/Hartford Whalers, the Oilers and the Winnipeg Jets when the WHA folded with the agreement that four teams would merge with the NHL, pending a transfer fee and the loss of their superstars whose rights belonged to existing NHL teams.

Because the franchised relocated to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, it's a tad harder to complete this set than my previous ones, because it gives me a limited number of years to access and fewer players having the chance to wear certain jersey numbers.

I'm starting this project with the mindset of limiting myself to the 1972-1995 time period, ignoring the Avs part of the team's history - and also skipping over former teams based in the same city, such as the Stanley Cup-winning Québec Bulldogs.

Here's the list of those I have featured here thus far:

1. Ron Tugnutt and Richard Sévigny: check!
2. Sylvain Lefebvre: check!
4. Paul Baxter: check!
5. Réjean Houle and Brent Severyn: check!
6: Craig Wolanin: check!
7: Robbie Ftorek: check!
9: Réal Cloutier: check!
10. Guy Lafleur: check!
12. Chris Simon: check!
16. Michel Goulet once: (and twice) check!
18: Marian Stastny and Mike Hough: check!
19. Michel Dion (also wore 30): check!
21: Randy Moller: check!
22. Ron Sutter: check!
30. Michel Dion (also wore 19): check!
31. Stéphane Fiset: check!
32. Dale Hunter: check!
33. Mario Gosselin: check!
36: Adam Deadmarsh: check!
40: Tony Hrkac: check!
44: Mario Marois: check!
48. Scott Young: check!
49: Kip Miller: check!
51: Andrei Kovalenko: check!
55: René Corbet: check!

That's 25 numbers. Some numbers will be harder than others (Peter Stastny's 26 and Joe Sakic's/Owen Nolan's 88), but I'm actually fairly confident with this one. This and the Habs one, fittingly, should near completion before I get bored with having these projects!

Craig Wolanin: Three Autographed Cards

NHL scouts were adamant: "Craig Wolanin is a blue chip prospect. He may need a bit more time than a Craig Simpson (2nd pick of the 1985 draft) or a Wendel Clark (1st overall) but he'll be worth the wait." The thought at the time was that the 6'3", 215-pound defenseman would carve out a career that at worst would look like Dave Manson's (11th ion the same draft) and at best be a positionally-strong, elite hard-hitting defenseman who makes the best use of a relatively limited offensive skill-set, like Scott Stevens (5th overall pick of the 1982 draft).

Ironically, the 1985 draft produced a single 1000-point producer, second-rounder (27th overall) Joe Nieuwendyk and four defensemne who hit the 1000-game mark (Manson, 14th pick Calle Johansson, 32nd pick Eric Weinrich and 81st pick Fredrik Olausson).

Obviously, Wolanin was none of those. He showed glimpses of a Stevens-like path in his third season, when he scored six goals with 25 assists for 31 points - the only time he would hit that mark - and a whopping 170 penalty minutes, 61 more than his second-highest total, the 109 from his previous season, and more than double his usual career fare, which usually hovered around the 80-mark.

Part of the deal that sent Hall Of Famer Peter Stastny from the Québec Nordiques to the New Jersey Devils, Wolanin was a second-unit, 15-point defenseman in his time in Québec and won the Stanley Cup when the franchise became the Colorado Avalanche for the 1995-96 season, although he was scratched for the final 13 games of the playoffs after losing a puck that led to a goal against.

He was then sent to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a second-round pick, and they eventually flipped him to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a third-rounder. After injuries started taking their toll, the Michigan native moved back to Detroit to work in construction. His son Christian Wolanin is now an Ottawa Senators prospect.

Here he is wearing the Nordiques' classic blue uniform:
The card on the left is #40 from Topps' 1990-91 Topps set while the one on the right is from Pro Set's inaugural 1990-91 Series 2 collection. They are considered his "rookie" cards, because even though he'd been in the league for six years at the time, these were the first time he was included in official card sets.

He was also shown wearing Québec's home (white) uniform on card #217 from Score's 1991-92 Pinnacle (French Canadian Edition) set:
He signed all three in black sharpie a couple of years ago. They fit in nicely as the entry for #6 in my Nordiques Numbers Project.

Internationally, he's suited up for Team USA four times, finishing fourth at the 1987 World Juniors and 1991 and 1994 World Championships and second at the 1991 Canada Cup. Ironically, his point production playing for the American team (4 goals, 5 assists and 9 points in 25 games, for 0.36 points per game) are even better than his NHL average (0.2489), even his average during his prime, at ages 23-28 (0.25).

Sunday, November 17, 2019

10-Pack Break: 2019-20 O-Pee-Chee

I wasn't really in the mood to buy another small box of cards but still wanted to test Upper Deck's 2019-20 O-Pee-Chee product early enough in the season that I could use them for some mailings, and I was not disappointed.

As usual, these are made from regular cardboard stock that will not require much erasing for the player's autograph to stick; furthermore, this year's design is clean and light, which will make signatures pop off of them, as can beattested from the base cards (virtually no money was spent on the backside):
Of course, this is an OPC product, so there are a fair bit of the single-colour background "Retro" cards, but even their design stays relatively simple with just a pair of flashy colours for the background and lettering; I landed four of them:
There are also the "Blue Border Parallels", and I'm hoping to get both of these signed this year:
Of course, a 600-card set will usually have a very good player selection, and this one is no exception; it also has a fair share of rookies, since I landed four:
And this time around, the French translation for Marquee Rookies is good.

I also got a "Caramel Mini" variant of one of the most polarizing players in the league:
And, as usual and as was the case with the other best "bang-for-your-buck" set of my return to card collecting (Panini's Score sets), I had to receive a Season Highlights card of a San Jose Sharks player:
All told, this is one that aims to please low-income collectors, kids and people who like getting their cards signed, and the French translations have improved 300% from previous years' sets. I also do not regret buying these packs individually instead of in a box, which means they're not too overpriced, even if these aren't the 30-cent packs from my youth.

This rates a solid 8/10 for me.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Dylan Gambrell Jersey Card

To my absolute pleasure, the San Jose Sharks are mired in a mediocre quarter-season that has them in a four-team cluster oscillating between fourth-place and seventh in the lowly Pacific Division; additionally, their offense is pretty dry, with a number of forwards performing below expectations notably restricted free agent signings Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc (he who "bet on himself" last summer to help the team bring back veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to the fold).

One player who can't seem to find his place on the roster is 23-year-old Dylan Gambrell, the 60th pick in the 2016 draft, ahead of the likes of top-unit defenseman Adam Fox (66th overall), Joey Anderson (73rd), Carsen Twarynski (82nd), Josh Mahura (85th), top-unit defenseman Victor Mete (100th), Sharks teammate Noah Gregor (111th), a goalie who's already played for the Colorado Avalanche (Adam Werner, 131st), Max Lajoie (133rd), Nicholas Caamano (146th), top-six forward Jesper Bratt (162nd), and Maxim Mamin (175th).

At 6' and 183 pounds, Gambrell is by no means a power forward, which means he should develop at a regular pace, reaching his prime between the ages of 24 and 27 until roughly 30, 31 or 32. He has a good face-off percentage this season at 52.0%, but cannot yet be used as a shut-down third-liner because his -6 rating is problematic, made worse by a negative Corsi (45.8), a negative Fenwick (44.1) and a negative PDO (97.4).

His lone goal with 4 assists for 5 points in 20 games makes his coach hesitate to send him out with better players, particularly since the two forwards who are near the point-per-game mark are both centres - Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl.

Then again, his head coach is Peter DeBoer, not exactly a guy known for fixing things, changing them up or thinking outside the box.

Here he is wearing the Sharks' teal uniform they've been using since 2013 (with the shoulder patches that date from 2017 onward, though, featuring a matching jersey swatch:
That's the "Gold" variant of the jersey insert version of card #118 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 SP Game-Used collection and Authentic Rookies sub-set, numbered 366/499.

They are purposefully vague about the origins of the jersey, however:
They guarantee it's "been worn by the featured player". Whether it was on or off the ice, in a game or a photo shoot, if he was asleep or awake or even consented to wearing it is not specified, nor it the jersey is authentic game-quality or a replica.

Keep in mind these cost $150 for six cards - that's over 20 hours of a minimum-wage job in Canadian money considering income and sales taxes.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Filip Chlapik Autographed Card

Anders Nilsson and Filip Chlapik stole the game tonight for the Ottawa Senators as they won against the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1. Nilsson's season save percentage is at .925 in 10 games so farand his 5-4-1 record is keeping the Sens from being last in the league, and his 26 saves were once again a factor tonight; Chlapik scored the game-winner in the second period.

Chlapik was a second-round pick (48th overall in 2015) after a 75-point rookie season with the LHJMQ's Charlottetown Islanders - good enough to be on the All-Rookie Team - and won silver medals with the Czech Republic at the 2014 U-18 World Juniors and the 2014 Ivan Hlinka (U-17) Memorial Tournament.

In Charlottetown, he was teammates with Anaheim Ducks prospect Daniel Sprong.

The Sens value him enough to have him with the big club instead of the AHL's Belleville Senators so he can suit up with the expected core from the next generation of Sens stars.

Here he is wearing the team's red (home) uniform on card #159 from Upper Deck's all-foil, hard cardboard 2017-18 O-Pee-Chee Platinum set and Marquee Rookie sub-set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during the last training camp, adding his jersey number (78) at the end, which fits him perfectly in my Sens Numbers Project.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Andrew Ladd Autographed Card

A two-time Stanley Cup winner (2006, Carolina Hurricanes; 2010 Chicago Blackhawks), 33-year-old former NHL captain (Atlanta Thrashers 2010-11; Winnipeg Jets 2011-16), Andrew Ladd, was placed on waiver today. Expectations are that he'll clear and be assigned to the AHL, but what the future holds for him is anybody's guess.

How did we get here?

Former GM Garth Snow made a bet that Ladd, coming off of three straight 20-goal seasons and not withstanding the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, five straight 20-goal seasons, would bring additional leadership and a winning pedigree to a team that captain John Tavares was having trouble establishing as a major player despite a strong defense and credible All-World-level goaltending.

In his first season on Long Island, Ladd did score 23 goals, but he only added 8 assists for 31 points in what looked like a clear downward spiral, on a team that never knows where it'll play the following season.

He might ne overpaid at $5.5M for the next three and a half years, and he may never reach the 20-goal plateau again, but he still knows how to play hockey. If the Isles bought him out next summer, another team might pick him up at the league minimum to play on their third or fourth line; it's not like he forgot how to play, but he is slower than he used to be and can no longer keep up with the young high-end talent in the offensive zone, yet he's learned enough tricks and is smart and hard-nosed enough to still play a decent defensive game.

Maybe he now realizes he should have accepted a diminishing role with the Jets to remain a key part of a Cup-contending team instead of a depth part on a playoff hopeful.

I can't say he doesn't look like a hockey player wearing the Isles' white (now-away) uniform, though:
That's card #272 from Upper Deck's 2017-18 O-Pee-Chee set, which he signed in blue sharpie in early 2018 in Montréal.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Claude Lapointe Autograph Card

In the 11 years that my blog has been active, there were a few instances of my covering cocaine-related stories and/or suspensions, but none of them - not even Grant Fuhr's one-year purgatory at the height of his prime with the Edmonton Oilers - comes close to Claude Lapointe's punishment: a lifetime ban from playing after the disastrous 2003-04 season where he tested positive twice and refused to undergo treatment via rehabilitation.

Lapointe, among the league leaders for face-off percentage in each of his 15 NHL seasons, was always more rock'n'roll than many of his contemporaries; his favourite film is Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear and his favourite band has been Guns N' Roses since the Appetite For Destruction album came out in 1987.

Cocaine falls right in line with that, as being a beloved "star" player with the New York Islanders brings forth bad influences, and a move to the Philadelphia Flyers did nothing to keep him from cities with lively downtown cores full of late-night partying opportunities.

He was forced to retire at the age of 35, but he's the type of player that was in such great shape, and he played a defensive role in the Dead Puck Era, so he was at an advantage, so much so that it would not have surprised anyone who knew him in his 20s and early 30s if he's played past 40 years of age.

Instead, he took a couple of years to hit rock bottom, then rehabbed for over a year, and he was back in the periphery of the game, helping 15- and 16-year-olds reach the higher ranks of Junior hockey as a hockey instructor. He also served as a warning tale about the dangers that lie with getting involved with the wrong crowds and keeping a level head.

It was said in the mid-1990s that only someone high enough could conceive and/or enjoy the Islanders' infamous "Fisherman" jersey, which can be seen clearly on the hard-signed insert version of card #200 from Pinnacle's 1996-97 Be A Player set:
I've got to be honest, I'm feeling a tad nostalgic for it these days.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Bill Guerin Autographed Card

Bill Guerin has a tough job ahead of him as the Minnesota Wild's new GM, one made even tougher because he should have landed it a year and a half earlier and he instead has to clean up the mess inherited by the guy who did get that job, Paul Fenton.

It's unclear whether all of Fenton's moves came because he had some sort of plan or because team owner Craig Leopold forced him to make them by refusing to go through a rebuild, but the fact of the matter was that fan favourites Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter left twon and another one, Jason Zucker, was repeatedly shopped around. Mikael Granlund (who still finished third in team scoring despite having left at three-quarters of the season), veteran Matt Hendricks and 25-year-old defenseman Ryan Murphy were also sent packing.

Victor Rask, Ryan Donato, Kevin Fiala, and Pontus Aberg (who came and went) did not have an immediate impact with the team.

While some of the moves looked like a shift towards icing a younger club, Fenton also signed oft-injured free agent veteran offensive spark plug Mats Zuccarello to a five-year deal. Hiring Zuccarello made sense for at least 20 teams, and to those terms to possibly a dozen of them (even if only to stop competitors from hiring him themselves) - just not the Wild, who already crumble under overpaying for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter for too long and need the rest of their lineup to look like financial steals.

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sold on Fenton even though he came with a good reputation from his previous position as assistant-GM with the Nashville Predators, and I'm not 100% confident Guerin (who held the same position with the Pittsburgh Penguins and is friends and former teammates many times over of Wild executive Mike Modano) can right this ship without going through a complete five-year rebuild then going through the growing pains of a young roster for five more.

My dream job in the current-day NHL landscape would be GM (although I may be best qualified at the moment as a goaltending scout), but I would not take the Wild job on even if it was my only shot at it - it seems like a no-win situation.


That being said, he's won two Stanley Cups as a player (1995 with the New Jersey Devils, 2009 with the Penguins) and two more as assistant-GM (2016 and 2017 with the Pens), played in four All-Star Games (2001, 2003, 2004 and 2007), been a captain (2007-09, New York Islanders).

Internationally, he's suited up for Team USA in two World Juniors championships, the 1996 and 2004 World Cup (winning in 1996), as well as the 198, 2002 and 2006 Olympics, winning silver in 2002.

Here he is sporting the American team's blue (away) Nike Olympic uniform on card #96 from In The Game's 2007-08 O Canada set and Formidable Foes sub-set:
He signed it in blue sharpie in the 2017 or 2018 as a member of the Penguins' front office, tagging his usual #13 jersey number at the end.