Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Zach Fucale Autographed Team Canada Card

For the 16th time, Team Canada has won the Spengler Cup, now in its 93rd iteration. Originally created in 1923 by Dr. Carl Spengler as a means to promote teams from German-speaking countries in the aftermath of World War I, it is hosted each year by the HC Davos team, who have won it 15 times themselves and ended as runner-up another 25 times, by far the most of any participating club.

This year's Canadian team was a little too strong for its competitors, however, as GM Sean Burke, assistant-HM Shane Doan, head coach Craig MacTavish and assistant-coach Paul Coffey put together a roster comprised of former NHLers Kris Versteeg, Zach Boychuk, David Desharnais, Paul Postma, Josh Jooris, Dustin Jeffrey, Eric Fehr, Scottie Upshall, Daniel Winnik, Ben Maxwell,Chris DiDomenico, Alex Grant, Patrick Wiercioch and Andrew MacDonald, AHLers Adam Tambellini, Justin Danforth (alternate captain and point-per-game player on his current Finnish team), Blair Riley, (former LHJMQ captain) Éric Faille, Kevin Clark, squad captain Maxim Noreau and Nick Ross, NCAA alumni Dion Knelsen, Ian Mitchell and former ECHLer Mathew Maione.

They faced off against teams that had at most one or two former NHLers, including runner-up HC Oceláři Třinec (4th in the Czech Extraliga), hosts HC Davos (4th in Swiss National League standings), HC TPS Turku (11th in Finnish League standings), Salavat Yulaev Ufa (6th in their Conference in the KHL) and HC Ambrì-Piotta (10th in Switzerland).

It's no wonder the tournament's All-Star Team was comprised of three members of the winning team as well as Matt D'Agostini, the Canadian star forward of Ambri-Piotta, but it was a surprise that the team's biggest star ended up being - for the second straight year and third time in four years - goalie Zach Fucale, who signed an AHL deal with the Syracuse Crunch last summer and has spent moft of the season keeping the Orlando Solar Bears afloat in the ECHL - he has an 8-8-2 record and 2.60 GAA, but his 4 shutouts and .920 save percentage give a pretty clear idea of how much they need him. He's top-3 in save percentage and top-10 in goals-against average.

He had originally been drafted by his hometown Montréal Canadiens in the second round (36th overall) in 2013, but with Carey Price firmly in place but mostly struggling to save face for the 2014-15 season, the team didn't give the youngster the necessary attention to have him progress to an NHL-level netminder, so the Vegas Golden Knights were able to pry him away from the organization in 2018.

He allowed only a single goal in three total starts, including shutouts in the semi-final and the final, showing once more he loves the pressure of "money" games. He had also won a title in 2016 on the strength of a 4-0-0 record in four games with a 2.00 goals-against average and a save percentage of .934. Last season, he appeared in four games and riding a 3-0-1 record to a second-place finish, with a 1.47 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in the tournament, stopping 80 of 86 shots. He is now 10-0-1 in three appearances at the Spengler Cup.

He had also backstopped the Canadian team at the 2015 World Juniors, helping his country win its first gold medal in five years when he went 5-0-0 in five appearances with two shutouts, a 1.20 GAA and a .939 save percentage. The team had finished fourth the previous year, which is where card #139 from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Team Canada Juniors comes in:
It shows him wearing Team Canada's red (away) uniform with the Hockey Canada logo in front, which is technically barred from Olympic status because it represents a National Federation, and not a country. Zachary signed it in blue sharpie, adding #33 at the end instead of the #31 he's wearing int he picture, which makes me think he signed it while in the minors in the Habs' organization, so I want to say between 2016 and 2018.

I want to wish him continued success.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Ronalds Kenins Autograph Card

Ronalds Kenins is a Latvian left winger who was born to play in the Swiss League: he is relentless, quick, a very good play-maker and smart both with and without the puck, the type of guy who can play a middle-six role anywhere - in international competitions, in Europe, in North America - and not hinder his team or look out of place.

However, at 6' and 200 pounds, he is a little light to play a power forward-type of game and produce points in the NHL, Sweden, the Czech League or the KHL, whereas he plays and looks more imposing in Switzerland, France and Italy and can complement his game with decent offensive statistics there because of his strong two-way play.

Undrafted, he was given a chance by the Vancouver Canucks in the middle of the decade, splitting his time between the NHL team and its AHL affiliate Utica Comets in 2014-15 and 2015-16, but when he got an offer to go back to the Zurich Lions for the 2016-17 season on a two-year deal, he jumped on the opportunity to go back.

He's currently in the second season of a three-year deal with the Lausanne HC, where he's on a 0.5 point-per-game pace.

Here he is wearing the Canucks' blue (now-home) uniform, on card #IPA-RK from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Ice collection and Ice Premieres Autographs sub-set:
It features an on-card blue sharpie signature. The card is see-through plastic, acetate-style, and is numbered #426/499. It is gorgeous.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

2019-20 Parkhurst Hockey: Three Blaster Boxes Break

It was Boxing Day at Walmart and I was in the area, so I figured I'd stop to see which, if any, hockey card boxes were on sale; it turns out the 2019-20 Parkhurst blaster boxes from Upper Deck were nearly half off - at $19.99 instead of $34.95 - so I went ahead and picked up... three boxes.

Instead of following in last year's footsteps and making this a semi-"prime" set, UD decided to scale the Parkhurst brand - if not its price tag, which went up a couple of dollars per box - back into less glossy and more low-range ballparks, with a feel to the hand that is reminiscent of Panini's take on Score cards; the base cards do keep the general look and greeniness of the Parkhust modern era, however:
As far as statistics go, only the last season and the player's career statistics are featured on the backs of cards, but at least every player gets a short blurb. What's really cool for autograph seekers like myself is the fact that Parkhurst is the first brand to feature players who switched teams in the summertime in their new uniforms:
Out of 36 packs and 360 total cards, I pulled a fair amount of insert cards, including eight All-Stars (pictured below are Erik Karlsson, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane, missing are two each of Auston Matthews and Nikita Kucherov):
You'll notice the players are wearing their All-Star Game jerseys, but the stats on the back are of the regular season; perhaps ASG stats would have been a nice touch here.

I also landed 36 "regular" rookie cards, including the four pictured below - Nick Suzuki, Noah Dobson, Kevin Bloyle and Jack Hughes - plus Blake Lizotte, Will Borgen, Teddy Blueger, Karson Kuhlman, Carsen Twarynski, Nico Sturm, Nikita Gusev, Tobias Bjornfot, Jacob Middleton, Zach Senyshyn, Barrett Hayton, Dominik Kubalik, Rudolfs Balcers, Josh Teves, Mario Ferraro, Joel L'Espérance (twice), Adam Johnson (twice), Hughes (again), Kole Sherwood (twice), Taro Hirose, Dante Fabbro (twice), Erik Brannstrom, Filip Zadina (twice), Carl Grundstrum, Victor Olofsson, Ville Heinola and Max Veronneau:
As is customary in this day and age, there were also "Silver" versions of the base cards (Nazem Kadri, Ryan Pulock, Dylan Strome, Brock Boeser, Aaron Ekblad, Jason Zucker and Andrei Svechnikov):
There were also Silver inserts of Crosby, Kuhlman and Vitaly Abramov:
And since you can't have Silver without Gold, I landed three of those as well, rookies Ryan Kuffner and Max Jones, as well as the base card of Nicklas Backstrom:
As per years past, a lot of rookies also found their way into the Prominent Prospects sub-set:
You can see via the Suzuki card that the picture used on these cards is the same as that of the "regular" rookie card, but used differently; other pulls in that sub-set: Rasmus Sandin, Adam Fox, Ilya Mikheyev, Zadina, Dobson, Trent Frederic, and Alexandre Texier. These cards have a nice, rigid feel and are all-foil.

A nice semi-foil sub-set is Hail Storm, as can be attested by the cards featuring Vladimir Tarasenko, Brent Burns, Elias Petterson and Johnny Gaudreau:
A returning sub-set is View From The Ice, rendering stunning photographs of Drew Doughty, Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid via foil treatment:
And, last but not least in the foil inserts, the Parkies, featuring McDavid, Ryan Poehling, John Tavares, Matt Murray, Alexander Radulov, Alex Ovechkin, Zadina and Jonathan Marchessault:
I wasn't all that impressed with the first few packs and halfway through my first box, I was seriously doubting the relevance of my purchase - and the collation is pretty weak, as I have a bunch of doubles - but the fact that the cards aren't overly glossy and will be easy-ish to get signed felt more and more like a plus as the break went on, and the plethora of inserts just seemed to add to that as I kept digging.

This has turned into a solid 8/10.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Brian Bellows Autographed Card

It required a bit of digging, but I will be able to continue my narrative of the past week - after posts on Patrik Laine and Jimmy Carson - about the four youngest players in NHL history to hit the 100-career-goal mark; of course, Wayne Gretzky is first, Carson is second and Laine is now fourth, which makes Brian Bellows third.

He had a solid Juniors career with the Kitchener Rangers, prompting Sports Illustrated to name him "the hottest prospect since Gretzky" - and yet he was selected second-overall behind Gord Kluzak at the 1980 draft; it would be more honest in retrospect to place him fourth in his draft year, behind Doug Gilmour (134th overall, 450 goals and 1414 points), Kitchener teammate Scott Stevens (three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, 13 All-Star Game appearances in three separate decades), and Phil Housley (6th overall, 1232 career points and one of the best American defensemen of all time), ahead of the likes of Pat Verbeek (43rd, 1063 points and 2905 penalty minutes), Kevin Dineen (56th), Ron Sutter 94th), Murray Craven (17th), Ray Ferraro (88th), Dave Ellett (75th) and Dave Andreychuk (16th).

He was a power forward in the sense that he hit the 30-goal mark often and the 40-goal mark four times - with a high of 55 in 1989-90 - and didn't shy away from a physical style of play, but he didn't collect penalty minutes like many of his contemporaries, never hitting the 100-PIM mark, and only hitting 81 once, in 1987-88.

His 29 points in 23 games led the Minnesota North Stars as the team went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1990-91, alongside the greatest player in team history, Neal Broten, who had 22 points. While I've got these words in mind, I might as well say that I do not feel it's out of line to speak of Bellows in the same breath as Dino Ciccarelli, Jean-Paul Parisé, and Dave Gagner as the second line of the franchise's best forwards of all time, behind the front-line of Broten, Bobby Smith and Mike Modano.

For some reason, however, Minnesota sent him to the Montréal Canadiens for Russ Courtnall ahead of the 1992-93 season, where he posted 88 regular-season points and 15 more in the playoffs - tied for third in team scoring with Mike Keane, behind Vincent Damphousse's 23 and Kirk Muller's 17 - helping the Habs win the Stanley Cup.

His production dipped afterwards, to 33 goals and 71 points in 1993-94, then 16 points altogether in 1994-95, 49 points in 79 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1995-96, 31 points in 69 games with the Bolts and Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1996-97 to 36 points in 76 games with the Washington Capitals in 1998-99.

Even though he won the Cup with my hometown team, I usually think of Bellows more as the dominant North Stars right winger from the 1980s, like on card #160 from Score's 1991-92 Score (Bilingual Canadian Edition) set:
He's wearing the team's classic green (away) uniform, and it's actually a tad darker and much more vivid to the naked eye than via this scan. He signed it during the Habs' Centennial celebrations nearly a decade ago already.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Jason Demers Autographed Card

Jason Demers is set to return tonight for the Arizona Coyotes after missing six games out on injured reserve.

So far this year, he only has 5 assists in 30 games, but the team is still atop the Pacific Division and he averages over 21 minutes per night; he also has 42 hits and 41 blocked shots, making him an important cog in the defensive zone.

A seventh-round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks (186th in total, 2008), he ranks 14th in his draft class in terms of games played, ahead of established players like Colin Wilson (7th), Adam Henrique (82nd), Jared Spurgeon (156th), Travis Hamonic (53rd), T.J. Brodie (114th), Roman Josi (38th), Jake Gardiner (17th), Cam Atkinson (157th), and Gustav Nyquist (121st). He's already on his fourth team, having also suited up with the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers.

He had 64 points in 67 games for the LHJMQ's Victoriaville Tigres, so there were some scouts who thought he had an upside similar to that of Kris Letang, but his most productive season was worth 34 points in 2013-14 with the Sharks.

He is an analytics darling, however, with a PDO that's usually above 100% despite own-zone starts over 50% (51.9% this season).

Here he is wearing San Jose's best-looking white (then-away) uniform from the 2007-13 era (if only they'd removed those front numbers sooner) on card #284 from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Collector's Choice set and Choice Rookie sub-set:
He signed it in blue sharpie while with the Stars (2014-16).

Internationally, he has suited up for Team Canada (lost in semi-finals) at the 2013 Spengler Cup and 2017 World Championships (silver medal).

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Gordie Roberts: Two Autographed Cards

I can't think of a player who better exemplified the last Stanley Cup Final than Gordie Roberts, a bruising defenseman who collected 100-PIM seasons like I do sports cards and played for both the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins - the two teams who faced off in the classic this summer.

Both teams made the opposition pay with their physical play then knocked them out with opportune, sometimes lucky scoring and the Cup winner was a team no one expected.

Robert won the Cup twice... in his only two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not many people remember he was on those teams - maybe that's because he spent 63 minutes in 24 playoff games in the penalty box in 1990-91 and 33 more in 19 games in 1991-92. Most people remember the hard-hitting Grant Jennings and Ulf Samuelsson and the offensive contributions of Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy, or even the steady poise of Paul Stanton. Roberts? Not so much.

A Michigan native, he was named after the legendary Gordie Howe, with whom he got to play for three of the five seasons Roberts was in the New England Whalers/Hartford Whalers organization. After that came eight solid seasons with the Minnesota North Stars - including a trip to the 1980-81 Cup Final and a 53-point outing in 1983-84, 11 games with the Philadelphia Flyers to close out the 1987-88 season, three full seasons with the Blues, the two years in Pittsburgh, two injury-filled seasons in Boston, and two final years of pro hockey in a strong IHL - with the Chicago Wolves in 1994-95 and the Minnesota Moose in 1995-96.

Here he is wearing the Blues' 80s blue (away) uniform, on card #256 from O-Pee-Chee's 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee set:
And here he is rocking the Bruins' white (home) uniform from my youth, on card #41 from Topps' 1993-94 Stadium Club collection:
Those were nice full-bleed cards with no border, proudly advertising using Kodak photography development technology.

The 1977 and 1978 WHA All-Star signed both cards in blue sharpie while a scout with the Montréal Canadiens, which would date this around 2008-10, around the team's centennial.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Jimmy Carson Autographed Card

You may recall his name from two nights ago: Jimmy Carson is the second-youngest player in NHL history to reach the 100 career goals mark, and the American player to do it the fastest. Carson already showed he was special in Juniors, playing for the LHJMQ's Verdun Junior Canadiens: in 1984-85, as a rookie, he was second in team scoring with 44 goals, 72 assists and 116 points in 68 games, second only to Claude Lemieux, and the following season he led the team with 70 goals, 83 assists and 153 points in 69 games, with second-place Everett Sanipass pretty far behind at 94 - although Sanipass' 320 penalty minutes would catch the eye of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Carson was selected second-overall at the 1986 draft, behind Joe Murphy, by the Los Angeles Kings and would finish seventh in his draft class in career points with 561, behind Vincent Damphousse (1205 points, 6th overall), Brian Leetch (1028 points, 9th overall), Scott Young (756 points, 11th overall), Craig Janney (751 points, 13th overall), Teppo Numminen (637 points from the blue line, 29th overall), and Adam Graves (616 points, 29th overall).

He finished third in Calder Trophy voting in 1986-87 behind Kings teammate Luc Robitaille, who was two years his senior and barely had a better offensive output, but had way worse defensive statistics (+/-):
Robitaille: 45 goals, 39 assists, 84 points, -19 in 79 games
Carson: 37 goals, 42 assists, 79 points, -5 in 80 games
Finishing second was Ron Hextall, winner of the Vezina and Conn Smythe that year.

Carson followed that up with a 55-goal, 52-assist, 107-point season in 1987-88, only to be traded to the Edmonton Oilers during he off-season with Martin Gélinas, round 1 pick in the 1989 draft (Jason Miller), round 1 pick in the 1991 draft (Martin Rucinsky), round 1 pick in the 1993 draft (Nick Stajduhar) and cash ($10M in 1988 dollars) to Edmonton Oilers for Wayne Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley.

He had 49 goals, 51 assists and 100 points in his first season in Edmonton, but 4 games into the 1989-90 season (in which he had 3 points), after making a trade request, he was sent to his hometown Detroit Red Wings with Kevin McClelland and a 1991 fifth-rounder for Graves, Murphy, Petr Klima and Jeff Sharples, the kind of one-sided trade that gives a team - in this instance, the Oilers - a Stanley Cup. It is said that he couldn't handle the pressure of having been traded for Gretzky, but he told me it was more that he resented being the face of Gretzky's departure from Canada - a much different pressure than just hockey-related.

Playing second fiddle to Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Gerard Gallant, Carson didn't get much ice time and his statistics dipped, often falling close to the point-per-game average, but always below it. He was eventually sent back to L.A. (for Paul Coffey, no less!), where injuries and declining speed took their toll, eventually passing through the Vancouver Canucks and Hartford Whalers organizations, playing one year in Switzerland, and playing for him hometown IHL Detroit Vipers for parts of two seasons before retiring for good and entering the "normal, 9-to-5" workplace that is the world of financial planning.

Here he is wearing the Wings' red (then-away) uniform on card #398 from Topps' 1992-93 Topps set, with the NHL's 75 Anniversary patch on the chest:
He signed it in blue sharpie at a card show in Windsor in 2010 or 2011.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Dale Hunter Autographed Card

For the first time, the head(s) of Canadian Juniors hockey's best program (apologies to Patrick Roy's Québec Remparts) will lead Team Canada at the World Juniors Championship, as London Knights co-owners Mark Hunter (GM) and Dale Hunter (head coach) try to win the country an 18th gold medal in that tournament.

Dale has coached the Knights for 18 seasons, winning nine division titles, six OHL championships and two Memorial Cups. Like Roy, he has a tendency to develop talented first-round prospects (Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, John Tavares, Bo Horvat, Max Domi, Matthew Tkachuk), but also gets in trouble for icing aggressive teams (he was suspended for four games in 2005 for letting a player leave the bench to join a fight and again for two games the following year for the same reason) and abusing officials (he was suspended for two games and fined $5000 for criticizing referees), but his kids seem to think he's fair and a good teacher.

He coached one year in the NHL, leading the Washington Capitals to a second-place finishing in their division back when teams ending with 92 points was impressive and got to the second round. His defence-first system didn't suit the run-and-gun lineup as well as he'd hoped, so he declined to return for a second season and went back to the Knights instead, winning an OHL title right away.

He remains the only NHL players with more than 1000 career points and over 3000 penalty minutes, ranking second on the all-time list behind Dave "Tiger" Williams with 3565 minutes in the sin bin (plus some 30 games in suspensions, 21 of which came for a single extremely dangerous after-the-whistle hit on Pierre Turgeon) in 1407 regular-season NHL games.

He was also a very good two-way centre, often finishing his seasons with Selke Trophy votes; he was the very first player in NHL history to score two overtime series-clinching playoff goals - both during his days with the Québec Nordiques - and his heart-and-soul style had him captaining the Caps from 1994 until 1999.

Which brings me to card #383 from Upper Deck's 1998-99 Upper Deck collection:
It shows him wearing the Capitals' blue (away) uniform from the mid-to-end-90s with the captain's "C" figuring prominently on his chest. He signed it in black sharpie in 2013 or 2014; I had once again written him care of the Knights, knowing well enough to not send too many for him to sign, so it was just this one.

In a nice twist, Dale's and Mark's older brother Dave Hunter played for the Canadian team at the very first World Juniors in 1977, so this is a nice way to go full circle.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Patrik Laine Jersey Card

A lot of folks were writing him off last summer, as the sneaky/streaky Patrik Laine had an 18-goal November last year, making him only the 10th player in NHL history to accomplish the feat and the first one since Pavel Bure in 1994. Goal #17 also happened to be his 100th career goal, scored at 20 years and 224 days of age, making him the fourth-youngest in NHL history to accomplish the feat, after Wayne Gretzky (20 years, 40 days), Jimmy Carson (20 years, 116 days), and Brian Bellows (20 years, 179 days). Of course, Gretzky spent his 18-year-old season in the WHA, so you might take his first place with even more awe (as a matter of fact, I seem to recall reading he reached the 200-goal mark in his age 20 season...).

Also, Alex Ovechkin reached the NHL at age 20, so that's the only reason why he's not on that list.

I thought we could look at Laine's output this season, as he stands at 12 goals, 21 assists and 32 points in 32 games ahead of tonight's games, on pace for an 82-point season if he doesn't go through a similar drought as last year after the Holidays. It seems his underlying numbers show his stats are bound to dip like last year, but he is playing with Mark Scheifele this year, so he's going to grab points left and right whether he tries to or not.

This year might be a better indication of who Laine really is: the 44-goal scorer from two years ago -  which was good for second-overall - who could peak at 60 a couple of times, or a perennial 30-goal scorer who may reach 50 once. It took Ovi a while (and a Stanley Cup for some) to get the respect he rightfully deserved as one of the best snipers of all time, so maybe Laine has to keep maturing until he develops a more rounded game that his team can build around. Or maybe he's at the very least a Max Pacioretty-type of player who scores goals and does little else but eat time. There's something to be done with that as well, it's just that high-scoring second-liners make 70-80% of what elite sharpshooters make.

The kid's 21, we won't be able to fully judge him for at least another five years.

Here he is wearing the Winnipeg Jets' white (away) uniform on card #ST-PL from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Black collection and Star Trademarks Relics sub-set:
It features a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Jeff Zatkoff Autograph Card

How many Pittsburgh Penguins goalies can I feature in a single month? After Eric Hartzell and Johan Hedberg, it's time to look at Jeff Zatkoff again and see what he's been up to for the past couple of years.

He last played in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings in 2016-17, but his .900 save percentage and the fact that the Kings acquired Peter Budaj and Ben Bishop during the season made him more than expendable, so he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, only seeing time in 17 games with the AHL's Cleveland Monsters in 2017-18 before moving to Germany to play for the Straubing Tigers, where he's been the clear #1 ever since.

His save percentage was better last year (.910) than it is now (.900), so I'm not certain we'll be seeing the 32-year-old in the NHL again any time soon.

One thing no one can take away from him is his name on the Stanley Cup as a member of the 2016 Penguins - the year Phil Kessel should have won the Conn Smythe - appearing in 14 regular-season games and 2 post-season games, sharing in goaltending duties with Matt Murray and Marc-André Fleury.

Here he is wearing the Pens' Reebok-era black (home) uniform, on the signed insert version of card #118 from Panini's 2013-14 Dominion set and Dual Rookie Class sub-set:
It features an on-card blue-sharpied autograph and is numbered 202/299. Of note, he actually wore #37 for both the Penguins and Kings, but this was from a training camp before he was given that number, so he's wearing #36 instead.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Zach Werenski Jersey Card

The Columbus Blue Jackets have activated star defenseman Zach Werenski from the Long-Term Injured List and and placed winger Josh Anderson on it after suffering an injury against the Ottawa Senators in the game in which former Jacket Anthony Duclair scored a hat trick against his former team and head coach who had said he "wasn't sure (Duclair) knew how to play".

At the time on Werenski's injury, he was expected to miss four weeks - which, with the Jackets' schedule, could have led to the New Year - and led the team's defence corps with 6 goals and 16 points; despite missing 7 games, he remains first, tied with Seth Jones, who has played relatively well in his partner's absence.

As predicted, however, goaltending has been the team's Achilles Heel and the main reason why the team is sixth of eight teams in the Metropolitan Division. Team scoring is down from last year without the superstar presence of Artemi Panarin, but Gustav Nyquist, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Cam Atkinson are carrying the offence and giving the team a chance to win on most nights. I bet head coach John Tortorella would like to get help between the pipes, though, but perhaps GM Jarmo Kekalainen feels the price is too steep to take a risk on the likes of Jonathan Quick and Devan Dubnyk, two star #1s of the past five years who have since lost their starting positions.

Having Werenski back should help keep the goals-against down, though, if only because having him and Jones on the ice for half the game will keep the opposition from having prime scoring chances.

Here he is wearing the Jackets' white (away) uniform on card #RS-ZW from Upper Deck's 2016-17 SP Game-Used Edition set and Rookie Sweaters sub-set:
It features a matching jersey swatch from a rookie photo shoot and is numbered 260/499.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Taylor Hall Jersey Card

The speculation can end: the New Jersey Devils traded Taylor Hall (with Blake Speers) to the Arizona Coyotes for a guaranteed first-rounder, a third-rounder that could become a second- or even another first-rounder (conditions apply) and a trio of B-level prospects Nick Merkley, Nate Schnarr and Kevin Bahl. The Devils are retaining 50 percent of Hall's salary

The return is underwhelming, but the Devils see it as addition by subtraction: they got rid of a massive distraction, a player looking for a big payday that they've been courting and trying to please for three seasons who didn't want to re-sign, and all it cost them is firing a mediocre coach (John Hynes). They'll get to tank for a good first-round spot after winning two of the last three lotteries, and stockpile prospects of their own.

Don't get me wrong, Hall is an excellent first-line winger, an All-Star, but his head and next contract are overblown by the Hart Trophy that bears his name instead of the more-deserving Nathan MacKinnon two years ago. He doesn't make his linemates better and only once played in a state of grace worthy of a first-overall draft selection (2010, Edmonton Oilers) - and that year, his 93 points were 41 better than the runner-up on his team, 18-year-old rookie Nico Hischier. He didn't help anyone on his team despite being near the 100-point mark; Connor McDavid turns career nobodies into 20-goal scorers and brings Leon Draisaitl - a very talented player, one of the ten best forwards in the world - in the conversation as one of the three best players of this era. Hall's 14% shot rating in 2017-18 was also 50% higher than his career average and it was likely pure luck that it was in that year that he didn't miss 20 games to injury - two chance events happening at once.

And yet, Coyotes GM John Chayka - whom I wouldn't rate among the 10 best of his profession - made a perfect trade in acquiring his services. If he uses Hall correctly, as a rental, he'll be telling his team - currently sitting in first place in the wide-open Pacific Division - that he sees their effort and will help them go as far as they can without hurting the core and the current team spirit and simply adding an All-Star to the mix, perhaps the one player who can wake Phil Kessel up from his half-season slumber. He's thanking his veterans for their patience in those lean years where they kept failing to make the playoffs; he's showing his young guns he'll always try to give them a chance to win if they help themselves first.

He's also letting Hall look like a good team player by giving him the chance to join a club that will now be looking to contend, so he can earn a big payday elsewhere come July 1st.

With good goaltending, a decent defence and a balanced-if-unimpressive forwards corps, the Coyotes already had a shot at reaching the postseason in their division, the way Rick Tocchet has coached this year. Now they can make a dent in them, and perhaps win a round or two and build on that experience for the future.

The Yotes play in the same division as the Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vegas Golden Knights - three teams I follow and love to watch. Plus, they should have moved years ago. But it's hard not to root for this move to work.

Then again, it's Hall, so he could very well get injured for the remainder of the season soon and Arizona could miss the playoffs and end up wining the lottery.

Here's Hall wearing the Oilers' orange (then-third) uniform, on card #FF-TH from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Ice set and Frozen Fabrics sub-set:
It features a blue game-worn jersey swatch that is probably from Edmonton's home jersey.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

2019-20 O-Pee-Chee: 18-Pack Break

I had a second chance of diving into some of Upper Deck's 2019-20 O-Pee-Chee cards via a silent auction benefiting youth hockey, so I took another stab at adding another 144 cards to my collection, in addition to the 10 packs from last month.

My initial reaction was that these were nice cards to get signed, but this time around I realized the collation out of the 600-plus-card set is terrible: I already have four sets of triples - Neal Pionk, Deryk Engelland, Seth Jones and Andy Greene - and a bunch of doubles.

At least the inserts were all new, starting with the Blue Border Parallels of Gabriel Landeskog, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Joe Thornton:
As always, I could do without Season Highlights cards, even these of Carey Price and John Tavares:
The five "regular-issue" Marquee Rookies (Blake Lizotte, Taro Hirose, Kevin Stenlund, Victor Olofsson and Ryan Poehling) were nice pulls:
The five Caramel Minis, however, had the most and best name recognition, with Jonathan Toews, Leon Draisaitl, Blake Wheeler, Claude Giroux and Evgeni Malkin:
I also landed eight "regular" Retro cards, of Andreas Athanasiou, Alex Goligoski, Brayden Coburn, Drake Batherson, Cal Clutterbuck, Jonathan Drouin, Matt Niskanen and John Carlson:
As you can see, the background colours don't really follow any pattern: players from the same team can have different ones, and the same can be said for the positions they play.

There were two more Retro cards, however, from other sub-sets, namely Marquee Rookies (Nathan Bastian) and Season Highlights (Jesperi Kotkaniemi):
When I was a kid, the inserts really took away from the main sets, but for OPC, they dive into it so deeply all-in that it becomes the highlight of the set; their 1950s, 1960s and 1970s-inspired designs also have their charm.

The collation tempts me into lowering my initial grade for the set, but I won't go that far as of yet, and the inserts give me so many more autograph options that I'm willing to forget about it. I'm happy with this purchase.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Tim Thomas Jersey Card

Spoiler Alert #1: I'm writing a book about the 100 best goalies of all time.
Spoiler Alert #2: it will differ from The Hockey News' list from last year.
Spoiler Alert #3: Tim Thomas will be included in it.

All of this was true before he came out this week and talked about the brain damage he's suffered because of all of his past concussions. It took a lot of courage to come forward and explain why he stepped away from the game. You can't help but feel for a guy who was so messed up he couldn't decide what to do or what to eat as he got out of bed, who had to resort to mapping out his days on paper and then choosing activities and willing himself to complete at least part of that list, whether it's crossing a couple of items off of it or half the list.

At the heart of it all stands a human being who has trouble living his daily life, his family who's been there for him the entire time, and a guy whose public life was fodder for sports journalists for a very short period of time.

We're talking about the best goalie in the world for a three-year run, who led the league in save percentage and goals-against average and won the Jennings Trophy and Vezina in 2008-09, and led the league in the same categories in 2010-11, winning another Vezina, but also bring the Stanley Cup to the city of Boston for the first time in 39 years, winning the Conn Smythe in one of the best displays of post-season goaltending since Patrick Roy's retirement.

In and of itself, that is amazing, as is the fact that he "made it" full-time in the NHL at the age of 30, became a true star at 33 when others actually start to decline, and was the last Québec Nordiques draft pick (217th overall, ninth round, 1994) to play in the NHL.

But there was also his political stances, his support of the Tea Party, his adherence to conspiracy theories ("Climate Change Is A Hoax" invented by companies who want to profit from selling "clean" energy), his refusal to join the Boston Bruins at the White House to meet President Barack Obama after their Cup win, and his support of Chik-Fil-A's homophobic and religious stances.

Needless to say, I disagree with all of the above political positions, but he had a right to have and express them. And none of that had any incidence on his play. It is a fact that in the 101 years of NHL hockey, the 110 years of professional hockey and the 125 years of the sport's existence, that three-year run alone makes him one of the 100 best to ever do the job, and his very good half-seasons (1997-98 and 1998-99) and elite-level full seasons (2001-02 and 2004-05) in Finland confirm it, too.

Granted, as a former goalie and goaltending coach to minor-league players and hockey schools myself, I would never teach his "style" to large groups of students, but some of his highlight-reel, Dominik Hasek-style moves are definitely worthy of further exploration, the same way Félix Potvin's paddle-down move had a decent four-year run and may warrant getting revisited in the future.

So here is Thomas, in his full Bruins glory, wearing their white (away) uniform, on the "Silver" two-jersey version of card #122 from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Artifacts set:
It features two black game-worn jersey swatches and is numbered 35/125.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Zach Bogosian Swatch Card

I honestly didn't think I'd be writing about Zach Bogosian this soon, but he has reportedly asked for a trade from the Buffalo Sabres, as a pending unrestricted free agent, because being a healthy scratch on a middling team can sometimes be worse on a player's value than asking out of an unfavourable situation.

He's not doing too bad, with three assists in 10 games with an average ice time under of 19 minutes per game - more than two minutes short of his career average, but with the team's surplus of right-handed defensemen - Rasmus Ristolainen, Brandon Montour, Colin Miller, and Henri Jokiharju play the same position, and there's room for three of them per game - it becomes a numbers game that he is in almost no position to win: Ristolainen was dangled as trade bait all summer and there were no takers, while Montour, Miller and Jokirarju are all "new toys" the team wants to play with, having all been acquired via trade in this calendar year.

Not only has Bogosian been playing for the Sabres for six years, but he's been injured often enough that the idiom "out of sight, out of mind" may apply. But trading him won't be easy if they keep scratching him, particularly considering his cap hit that is north of $5M.The only potential destination I see at the moment would be the Winnipeg Jets - the team that signed him to his current deal in the first place - and I don't see them parting with anything more than a fifth- or sixth-rounder for his services, maybe a fourth-rounder if the Sabres agree to keep a good portion of his salary on their cap.

We're a long waya away from the day when the Atlanta Thrashers made him the third-overall pick of the 2008 draft, behind Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty, and ahead of Alex Pietrangelo (4th), Erik Karlsson (15th), Jake Gardiner (17th), John Carlson (27th), Slava Voynov (32nd), Roman Josi (38th), Travis Hamonic (53rd), Marco Scandella (55th), and T.J. Brodie (114th).

Speaking of which, here he is wearing the Thrashers' alternate uniform from 2008-11 - one of the ugliest jerseys in NHL history, with football-style jersey numbers on the front - on card #15 from Panini's 2010-11 Pinnacle set and City Lights sub-set:
It features a matching red swatch and the following tidbit of information on the back of the card:
First-time Atlanta visitors may get lost at first, making constant turns from one Peachtree street to another and another. In all, there are enarly 60 streets in Atlanta with the word "Peachtree" in their names. A map is a definite must for anyone venturing into this Peachtree orchard.
Kind of explains why that first season of The Walking Dead is so vague in its depecition of the cityscape. Personally, I may have gone with the city's artistic achievements, what with it being the city Outkast, Tyler Perry, Arrested Development (the music act, not the TV show), Ludacris, Akon, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and the rest of TLC, Goodie Mob, Jermaine Dupri, and Bubba Sparxxx called home at the time, a list to which we can add the likes of Donald Glover/Childish Gambino, Kelly Rowland, Ying Yang Twins, Migos, Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz nowadays, not to mention Martin Luther King Jr., Hank Aaron, Ted Turner, Toni Braxton, David Cross, Jane Fonda, Jeff Foxworthy, Oliver Hardy, Ed Helms, Holly Hunter, Robert Patrick, Ryan Seacrest, Keenan Thompson, Chris Tucker, and Steven Soderbergh.

Yeah, I know Spike Lee was born there as well, but he's so New York that I couldn't fathom associating him with the city.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Bob Boughner: Two Autographed Cards

Yesterday's shock wave resonates again today, as I feature the San Jose Sharks' new interim head coach, former NHL bruising defenseman Bob Boughner. Boughner was already behind the San Jose bench as an assistant-coach for the second time when he was chosen for the impossible task of righting the Sharks' ship.

In my preseason predictions, I had them a point ahead of the Edmonton Oilers as the third and last representative of the weak Pacific Division to make the playoffs only because of the depth of the line-up up-front and the two-headed monster of Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns on defense.

But the goaltending has been an even bigger back-breaker than last year, posting the same pedestrian statistics while the middle of the offensive line-up hasn't been able to generate the scoring they had last year.

Judging from his time coaching the Florida Panthers, I'm not certain Boughner will add more goals for to his team's bottom line, but if he can make them harder to play against in their own end and perhaps give away fewer prime scoring chances, and maybe a few of those 4-3 games can swing the other way.

He's also probably a good coach for the younger guys, as can be attested by his resume in Juniors: twice the OHL's Coach Of The Year, once the entire CHL's Coach Of The year, two consecutive Memorial Cups with the Windsor Spitfires and total domination as Team Canada's head coach at the 2009 U-18 (Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament).

Whether he got that by using old-school tactics to guide his players or he got them there through positive reinforcement remains to be seen, as a few examples of mind games and physical and verbal abuse have come to light of late, but that's also something we have to keep an eye out for nowadays.

What we do have, however, undeniably, is his career as a player. The statistic that stands out the most are his 1382 penalty minutes in 630 games, of course, and only two seasons with more than 10 points. What old-school heads will enjoy is that he was a career +27 despite playing on poor teams, such as the Buffalo Sabres, the expansion Nashville Predators, the turn-of-the-millennium Pittsburgh Penguins, the pre-Miikka Kiprusoff Calgary Flames, the always-disappointing Carolina Hurricanes and the post-Patrick Roy/late-30s Joe Sakic-era Colorado Avalanche.

He also wore the alternate captain's "A" in Pittsburgh and the captain's "C" in Calgary (with Craig Conroy) before Jarome Iginla took the mantle.

He clearly thinks the game well and is respected for his leadership.

I wrote to him nearly a decade ago via the Spitfires - which he still owns in part - and he signed cards (in blue sharpie) that represent him in his better seasons, starting with card #160 from Upper Deck's 1999-2000 Victory set, after a 13-point season with the Preds, wearing the team's white (then-home) uniform:
And here he is during his 17-point seasons, the "A" prominent on the Flames' white (home) uniform, on card #9 from In The Game's 2003-04 In The Game Action set:
H added his uniform number (6) at the end of each signature, which means he's a perfect addition to  my Flames Numbers Project.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Johan Hedberg: Three Autographed Cards

The Pittsburgh Penguins, like the Montréal Canadiens, always seem to be able to find either a star goalie at every turn or at the very least someone who will hold the fort superbly well - and get recognition for it - while the Next One comes along.

Originally a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick (ninth round, 218th overall, 1994), Johan Hedberg was an up-and-coming Swedish goalie who looked like he needed seasoning but could become a reliable net-minder; the Flyers didn't quite agree, however, as they let him rot in Sweden and toil around in the minor leagues for four years before sending him to the San Jose Sharks organization without letting him earn even a call-up as a backup. In those years, the Flyers were considered "weak" in net, with the position often being cited as the weak link and reason why the Eric Lindros-led team didn't make it to the Stanley Cup Final more than once. Their revolving door of goalies in that era consisted of Ron Hextall in his second stint with the team (1994-98), hot prospect Dominic Roussel (1994-96), Garth Snow (1995-98) and Sean Burke as a trade deadline rental (1997-98).

Further than fifth on the Sharks' depth chart and in danger of spending more time in the ECHL, he spent the 1998-99 with the Swedish League's Leksands Idrottsförening helping the team finish fourth overall. He came back to North America for the 1999-2000 season, playing for the AHL's Kentucky Thoroughblades, sharing the net with the best goalie in Sharks history, Evgeni Nabokov, and the best goalie in the world in the mid-00s, Miikka Kiprusoff.

It took a loan to the unaffiliated IHL team Manitoba Moose for him to gain visibility, enough for the 2000-01 Pittsburgh Penguins - in danger of missing the playoffs with Snow, Jean-Sébastien Aubin and Rich Parent in net (none of whom had a save percentage above .900) - despite an offence that boasted such talents as Jaromir Jagr (121 points in 81 games), Alex Kovalev (95 points in 79 games), Martin Straka (95 points in 82 games), Mario Lemieux (76 points in 43 games!), Robert Lang (80 points in 82 games) and trade deadline re-acquisition Kevin Stevens (23 points in 32 games), to make his acquisition and throw him directly to the wolved.

Indeed, Moose head coach Randy Carlyle had to redirect him to Pittsburgh, as Hedberg originally assumed he was going to their AHL affiliate to close out the season. Instead, Hedberg led the Pens with a 7-1-1 record in 9 games to close out the season, with a 2.64 GAA (34 points better than the next best goalie, Snow) and .905 save percentage.

Not only did the Pens finish third in the Atlantic Division but sixth in the Eastern Conference, qualifying for the postseason, in which Hedberg outplayed Vezina winners and Stanley Cup finalists Olaf Kolzig (Washington Capitals) and Dominik Hasek (Buffalo Sabres) and leading the team to the Conference Finals, where they lost to the defending champions New Jersey Devils. Because of Devils head coach Larry Robinson's system (strongly based on predecessor Jacques Lemaire's system, but perhaps even stronger defensively), the Pens only registered 99 total shots on Martin Brodeur in the entire five-game series.

Hedberg entered the 2001-02 season as the team's #1 goalie and did not disappoint, continuing on his run with similar numbers (2.75 GAA, .904 save %, 6 shutouts, nightly highlight-reel saves) , but without Jagr gone and with Lemieux being limited to just 25 games, Kovalev was the lone offensive weapon on the team (76 points in 67 games) as it missed the playoffs by finishing fifth in its division.

The 2002-03 season wasn't as good for Hedberg, however, as his GAA climbed to 3.14 and his save percentage dipped to .895, and in the next summer he ws sent to the Vancouver Canucks for a second-round pick. From then on, he would mostly be counted on as a reliable backup who was a great teammate in stints with the Dallas Stars, Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils.

I'll get to those in a later post because the more pressing matter is the San Jose Sharks cleaned house today and Peter DeBoer and his entire staff (save for Bob Boughner, who takes over as head coach on an interim basis) were let go, meaning assistant coaches Steve Spott and Dave Barr were also relieved of their duties, as was goaltending coach... Johan Hedberg.

You may recall from my annual pre-season predictions that I'm no fan of DeBoer, who I believe was in the bottom-five coaches in the NHL. And you'll see here I am fond of Hedberg, as a player and a person. However, before he took on the job in San Jose, the Sharks' net looked like this (all images courtesy of HockeyDB):
That's Antti Niemi with 5 shutouts. Then DeBoer replaced Todd McLellan, Boughner replaced Robinson as the defense corps' coach, and the goaltenders also got replaced:
That's three goalies on a downward spiral - and the first one to drop, Alex Stalock, is arguably the guy keeping the Minnesota Wild in the playoff race so far this season.

The Sharks almost always have a contending-level roster, particularly on defence with two, three or four All-Star/Olympians at a time, so at some point the coaches have to be held accountable for the lack of results. The players too, mind you, and these guys do not seem to have it in them to reach the enxt level to win, mentally or physically - but the coaches have to at least get the statistics te remain on the level to keep their jobs.

The goalies in San Jose have been trending downwards for too long now, and the stagnation in the depths of the NHL rankings just cost Hedberg his job, whether the fault is his own or not.

Here he is in happier times, when he'd been recalled from the IHL and had the team's logo which would become his nickname, "Moose":
The card on the left is #76 from Pacific's 2001-02 Heads Up set, a beautiful bright foil card, while the one on the right is #42 from In The Game's 2001-02 Between The Pipes set, a darker foil card (not as dark as the scan, mind you) that is reminiscent of some Upper Deck Black Diamond sets. Both show him wearing the Penguins' 1995-2002 "futuristic" road (black) uniform.

And here he is wearing the Penguins 2002-07 black (then-home) jersey (which was also similar to their 2007-16 Reebok Edge jersey), on card #143 from Upper Deck's 2002-03 Series 1 set, stretching during pre-game warmups:
All three cards were signed in black sharpie when he was a member of the Devils (2010-13). He was very nice, and upon learning that I wasn't just a bald Simpsons comic book guy lookalike but had also been a goalie in my day, extended our talk from a five-second interaction to a couple of minutes as the team was packing to leave the area.