Saturday, February 29, 2020

Luc Robitaille: Two Autographed Cards

There was a reason why Luc Robitaille was selected in the ninth round, 171st overall, in 1984: scouts from all NHL teams considered him too slow to keep up with the 1980s pro game, despite having posted more than a point-per-game average in his rookie year in Juniors with the LHJMQ's Hull Olympiques; he followed that with a 55-goal, 148-point season in 64 games in 1984-85 and with 68 goals and 191 points in 63 games the following season, convincing the Los Angeles Kings to provide him with a real shot at making the team, which he did.

His 84-point rookie season earned him the Calder Trophy in 1986-87 - the first year I followed hockey full-time - and his 63-goal season in 1992-93 was the NHL record for a very long time, until Alex Ovechkin obliterated it in 2007.

Robitaille retired after the 2005-06 season, in his third stint with the Kings, as the highest-scoring left winger of all time (beaten earlier this season by Ovechkin), Los Angeles' franchise record holder for goals (577), fourth behind Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky and Dave Taylor on the team's all0time assists leaders list( 726), and second to Taylor in career points with the franchise (1154).

He's the quintessential King, which is why he's currently the team's President.

He was interviewed by NBC Sports recently and had an interesting take on Ovechkin's path to beating Gretzky's all-time goals record:
It’s hard to figure out someone that would do it. I’m going to enjoy this ride because it’s special. It’s very special and this is something that’s really good for our game. I’m rooting for him that he does it because it’s going to be absolutely incredible.
Whether he truly wants him to break Gretzky's record "for the good of the game" or because he doesn't want to be alone among former 1990s Kings captains to get surpassed by Alexander The Great remains to be seen; one thing's for certain: it truly is entertaining to keep track of.

Here he is wearing the Kings' 1990s white (home) uniform on card #90 from Topps' 1992-93 Premier set and First Team All-Star sub-set:
And here he is wearing the counterpart black (away) uniform, on card #98 from Upper Deck's 1998-99 UD Choice set:
Those were, in my opinion, the very best Kings uniforms ever. I miss them dearly.

In-between stints in L.A., Robitaille also played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, and Detroit Red Wings - with whom he won the 2001-02 Stanley Cup - as well as Team Canada at the 1986 World Juniors (silver), 1991 Canada Cup (won), and 1994 World Championships (gold medal).

Friday, February 28, 2020

Mike Green Jersey Card

Mike Green is an offensive defenseman who can quarterback a powerplay very well. He has a fine pass, a pretty good shot and can still find speed on the rush although his actual footspeed isn't what it was in his heyday when he was putting up 780-point seasons and scoring 30 goals from the point.

Defensively, it's still a mixed bag, but not as bad as his critics would say; there will not be a quality shot on his team's net every time he hits the ice, but perhaps a quality chance or two per game.

Essentially, it was a net gain when the Edmonton Oilers acquired him from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak's LTIR cap hit and conditional draft pick that is at best a third-rounder and at worst a fourth. As an immediate replacement for the injured Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell, he was an immediate fit on the NHL's top powerplay unit and would provide defensive depth for the playoff run.

Except he got injured in his second game with the Oilers, and will be out three-to-four weeks with a sprained MCL. Ouch.

Edmonton is currently second in the Pacific Division, four points behind the Vegas Golden Knights who sit in first, but also just four ahead of the Arizona Coyotes, who are outside the playoff picture in fifth place, with the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks sandwiched in between and a mix-and-match quality and quantity of games in hand (the Coyotes have the fewest games remaining, however).

It's going to be a tight race, but hopefully Green comes back with stored energy and helps boost the Oilers upon his return.

Here he is sporting the Washington Capitals' white RBK Edge (away) uniform with the alternate captain's "A" on his chest, on card #AF-GR from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition set and Authentic Fabrics sub-set:
It features a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Bobby Ryan Autographed Card

Sometimes a Cinderella story just seems to write itself... over 100 days after self-entering the NHL/NHLPA's substance abuse program for alcohol dependency, Bobby Ryan made his home return for the Ottawa Senators and in his second game back started with a Gordie Howe hat trick and turned it into a regular one.

I don't know if I buy in as much of the BFR love as Silver Sevens has, but I do agree he, as a human being and a person, has lived up to what it means to be an honest professional hockey player. As far as his contract, cap hit and production goes, I understand that being selected second-overall after Sidney Crosby and ahead of Anze Kopitar (11th), Paul Stastny (44th), Kristopher Letang (62nd), Marc-Édouard Vlasic (35th) - and even to some extent Carey Price (5th), Tuukka Rask (21st), Jonathan Quick (72nd) and Ben Bishop (85th) - comes with pressure and expectations, but the fact of the matter is that he's missed some 60 games to injury and another 50 to dealing with his off-ice problems, he's still sixth of his draft year in points, slightly ahead of a very good goal-scorer in James Neal, and he's fourth in goals (behind Crosby, Kopitar and Neal), just ahead of Stastny, and a season's worth of putters ahead of the likes of T.J. Oshie and Patric Hornqvist.

Again: Bobby Ryan was raised in a violent household that was so messed up that he went through a name change so his father could escape jail for a while, was heavily criticized by Team USA GM Brian Burke and left off the 2014 Olympic team despite helping his country win silver in 2010, lost his mother just as he was finding his game in the Canadian capital, battled through criticism from the press because of his cap hit and still had three 30-goal NHL seasons and was a key part in taking the Sens to overtime of Game 7 of the 2016-17 Eastern Conference Final (with the psychological help/acumen of then-head coach Guy Boucher).

There are no two ways about it: his story has been one of trials and success. He is not a "bust".

Unfortunately, he's about to exit his prime having spent a fair chunk of it hurting his body off the ice as much as on it, and when the Senators become competitive again, he may have to ride the young stars' coattails instead of helping lead the way through his play, but with the way his story has gone, at least he may be there to see it through, unlike Ottawa-born Jean-Gabriel Pageau, unfortunately.

Here's Ryan wearing the same uniform he got his comeback hat trick in, Ottawa's red (home) one, on card #171 from the 2018-19 O-Pee-Chee set by Upper Deck:
He signed it in blue sharpie after a Senators practice last season.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Cameron Gaunce Autograph Card

Cameron Gaunce knew he was a depth piece on defense when the Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed him to a one-year, two-way deal at league minimum ($700K), and they knew what they were getting: a 29-year-old veteran who had very little to prove as a role/defensive player but was starting to find his offensive game in the professional ranks as well, having come off a 46-point, 65-penalty minute season in 59 games with their AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch; he'd also chipped in with a +3 rating and 7 penalty minutes at the NHL level.

This season, he's been called upon to provide more than hits and has delivered, posting 4 points in 3 games wit the Bolts so far (+2, 4 penalty minutes) to go with a 30-point output (36 PIMs, +10) in 49 games wit the Crunch.

We are starting to see the two-time OHL All-Star emerge, after he'd been drafted 50th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 2008. He'd also spent time with the Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets organizations, for a total of 37 NHL games so far with the Avs (11), Stars (9), Pens (12) and Bolts (5).

He seems to have a knack for signing with one team and one of their main rivals (Dallas/Colorado; Pittsburgh/Columbus; Florida/Tampa); he's going to have to find two more teams next or try the Minnesota Wild (Colorado and Dallas rivals), Philadelphia Flyers (Pittsburgh) or Montréal Canadiens (the Florida teams) to keep with the theme.

One thing's for sure, though: he's playing on a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and earning his playing time, so his next deal might be of the $1M cap hit variety.

Here he is wearing the Avalanche's RBK Edge piping-heavy burgundy (home) jersey on a card that mentions he's now with the Stars, #SI-CG from Panini's 2013-14 Select set and Select Signatures sub-set:
It's a silver foil card and the sides are green - even if the scan shows it all black. Over his head reads "DALLAS STARS" in yellow and top-right, over his left shoulder, a note says he was traded to the Stars on "4/2/13". The card features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph that just has his initials, a typical pet peeve among autograph collectors.

His brother Brendan also plays professionally, in the Boston Bruins organization.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Malcolm Subban Jersey Card

He turned 26 years old in December and yet Malcolm Subban - a 2012 first-round pick by the Boston Bruins, 24th overall - is already with his third NHL team after the Vegas Golden Knights traded him, a draft pick and a prospect to the Chicago Blackhawks for Robin Lehner.

Neither Gerard Gallant nor Peter DeBoer have been able to trust him enough to give him games unless Marc-André Fleury fell to injury, and I guess that's what you get when your career save percentage is at .899 and this season's stands at .890, but he was at .910 and still only saw 22 games in 2017-18, when the G-Knights went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.

The Hawks' situation in net is somewhat puzzling with Corey Crawford's concussion issues these past three seasons and Subban not yet rising up to the challenge, but I'm certain GM Stan Bowman has a plan that's more fleshed out than just hoping P.K.'s younger brother reaches the same level as his draft classmates Connor Hellebuyck (130th overall, Vezina finalist), Andrei Vasilevskiy (19th, Vezina winner), Frederik Andersen (87th, fan favourite in Toronto), Matt Murray (83rd, two-time Cup winner), Joonas Korpisalo (62nd, having a breakout season with the Columbus Blue Jackets) and Linus Ullmark (163rd, doing the same in Buffalo).

Here he is wearing the Bruins' third jersey - with matching swatch from a photo shoot - on card #RM-SU from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Series 2 collection and Rookie Materials sub-set:
Internationally, Malcolm has suited up for Team Canada at the 2014 World Juniors, finishing in fourth place.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Jean-Gabriel Pageau: Two Autographed Cards

I wasn't sure if it would, but it's a done deal: the Ottawa Senators have traded Jean-Gabriel Pageau to the New York Islanders for a 2020 first-rounder (top-3 protected, but the Isles will likely make the playoffs, so that pick's safe), a 2020 second-rounder and potentially a 2022 third-rounder (if the isles win the Stanley Cup this year, which they probably won't).

If the Sens re-sign Pageau this summer, it's a landslide victory. I honestly have some difficulty picturing him in another uniform, let alone other colours than red, white and black. I may have preferred to see him go to the Calgary Flames.

He's one of my favourite players, one of the best two-way players in the league who has found his offensive upside again this year after a sub-par season last year - funny what outlier shooting percentages can do, eh? I hope he earns more post-season experience. He sure made an impact in 2017-18, with 10 points in 19 games, part of a balanced three-headed monster at centre with Derick Brassard (11 points) and Kyle Turris (10), helping the Sens to an Eastern Conference Final Game 7 overtime loss to eventual Cup champions Pittsburgh Penguins.

Here he is wearing the Sens' white (away) uniform, checking an Arizona Coyotes player into the boards with a high elbow, on card #128 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 Series 1 collection:
And here he is wearing Ottawa's red (home) uniform with the alternate captain's "A" on his chest, on card #340 from the 2019-20 O-Pee-Chee set from UD:
I really think the Ottawa native and French-Canadian is an essential veteran to help lead the Senators' young guns, including the French-speaking Thomas Chabot and Maxime Lajoie. I hope they bring him back in July.

(edit, the Isles re-signed him for six years at a reasonable $5M per, for $30M total).

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Marcus Foligno Autograph Card

Marcus Foligno is quietly having his most productive season in the NHL so far, one point behind the career-high 23 points he put up in three straight seasons from 2015 until 2018, with over 20 games left in the regular season calendar.

He's only made the playoffs once - in 2017-18 in his first season with the Minnesota Wild, with one goal in five games played and no less than 16 penalty minutes. The 6'3", 225-pound former fourth-round pick (104th overall in 2009) is usually good for three to five fights per year, standing up for his teammates at every opportunity.

He's cemented his position as a shut-down checking forward, finishing in the pluses (+5 as we speak) every year despite playing on poor teams. Relative to his teammates, he's actually a more positive force out there than more expensive options and his $2.85M cap hit is good for another year after this one.

Glad to see he's building his own path without being in the shadow of his father Mike (a former Buffalo Sabres star)  and brother Nick, captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Here he is wearing the Sabres' 2010-12 "Wordmark" blue (third) jersey on card #CS-MF from Panini's 2012-13 Certified set and Certified Signatures sub-set:
It features a blue-sharpied, on-stick autograph. It's actually a very nice silver foil card, but my scanner refused to acknowledge it as such.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Shawn Horcoff Autograph Card

Upon retiring after the 2015-16 season that had him sign with the Anaheim Ducks and suspended by the NHL for 20 games for a performance-enhancing drug violation - essentially for using human-growth hormones to heal from an injury quicker - he was named the Detroit Red Wings' Director of Player Development, and was promoted to Director of Player Personnel last summer.

You may find it bizarre that a 13-year member of the Edmonton Oilers didn't join the team in some capacity, but they're trying to steer clear of their perceived Old Boys Club mentality and are looking outside the organization for help nowadays.

And Team Canada is hoping NHLers will be going to the next Olympics, so they're saving their key positions for NHL GMs and coaches instead of alumni who have won two gold medals (2003 and 2004) and one silver (2009) at World Championships.

So why Detroit? Well, for starters, his wife is from Michigan, and after following her husband around for 15 years, it was time for him to help her settle down where her roots lay. He met her while playing for the Michigan State University Spartans, where he was named CCHA Defensive Player Of The Year and a Hobey Baker finalist.

This is how I remember him best, wearing the Oilers' white turn-of-the-millennium uniform:
That's card #TS-HO from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Trilogy collection and Trilogy Scripts sub-set, featuring a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Karl Alzner Autographed Card

With injuries to Victor Mete and Xavier Ouellet and the Marco Scandella trade, Karl Alzner - who's pretty much played for the AHL Laval Rocket for the past two years - becomes the Montréal Canadiens' second left-side blue-liner when Claude Julien had seemingly relegated him to 15th d-man role by consistently publicly asking GM Marc Bergevin for help at that position, dissatisfied as he was with his options.

Alzner had a great attitude in the AHL, always had a smile on his face when meeting fans and journalists, and other players all said he was a terrific teacher who made good points and was always willing to help. Of course, he's even happier to be back in the NHL right now. Even if it means he's earning less money - his $4.25M contract is guaranteed, but every day spent in the NHL comes with escrow - which theoretically could make its way back to him but never actually ever does - while there is none in the AHL because it's not based on the NHL's overall revenue pyramid.

It's still odd to think that a two-time World Juniors gold medalist (2007 and 2008, the latter as Team Canada's captain), WHL Defenseman and Player Of The Year (2008), two-time Calder Cup-winner and two-time Presidents Trophy winner, one-time active NHL iron man and always among the top-10 in blocked shots has been reduced to wearing an "A" on his chest playing in a suburb while the most storied franchise in hockey history pays his salary without using his services despite being in the thick of a historically-awful period.

In case you're wondering, this is what he looks like in bleu-blanc-rouge, namely the Habs' classic red (home) uniform:
That's card #96 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 Series 1 set, which he signed in blue sharpie just a little over a year ago, tagging his jersey number (22) at the end. Even though he has mostly spent two of the three seasons of his current five-year deal in the minors, it's not his signing per se that left a bitter taste in Habs fans' minds; it's GM Bergevin's training camp quote, after rejecting star defenseman Andrei Markov's plea to remain a member of the Canadiens for two more seasons and claiming (and doubling down on) to have a "better defense than last season" when he clearly didn't, which put undue pressure on the entire defense corps, which they still have not recovered from, three years in.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Mark Scheifele Jersey Card

Mark Scheifele has been the Winnipeg Jets' first-line centre for five years at this point and, at 26 years old, barring a major injury, he'll be a point-per-game player for at least five more, so it's no surprise he scored his third career hat trick earlier tonight. The Ottawa Senators' Nick Paul had scored the opening goal, but Scheifele tied the game and gave the Jets the lead before the end of the first period and added the sealer with under two minutes left in the third, which was a very "Schiefele thing" to do.

It's no coincidence the Jets' alternate captain was selected in his second-straight All-Star Game earlier in the month: not only is he relatively consistent - tonight's game may have marked the end of a 12-game goal-less drought, but he had battled the flu for over a week and had gathered assists here and there - he also has a flair for the dramatic, displaying a level of clutch play that matches that of Stanley Cup-winning (former?) teammate Dustin Byfuglien and captain Blake Wheeler.

Winnipeg was always high on Schiefele, having selected him 7th overall in 2011, and if there was a do-over, he's one of the few who were selected in the top-10 who still would be, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1st), Sean Couturier (8th), Jonathan Huberdeau, Dougie Hamilton (9th) and possibly Gabriel Landeskog (2nd) and Mika Zibanejad (6th), but those guys would be joined by Nikita Kucherov (58th), Johnny Gaudreau (104th), Vincent Trocheck (64th) and maybe Phillip Danault (26th) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (96th) instead of Ryan Strome (5th), Adam Larsson (4th) and Jonas Brodin (10th). He was the top centre in a left wing-heavy (Huberdeau, Gaudreau, Landeskog) draft class.

I was extremely happy to land card #TS-MS from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Artifacts collection and Treasured Swatches sub-set, showing him wearing the Jets' white (away) uniform and featuring a dark blue swatch:
Internationally, he's suited up for Team Canada at the U-18s in 2011 (gold medal), 2012 (bronze) and 2013 (4th place) World Juniors, the 2012 Russia-Canada Series (victory), and the 2014 (5th place), 2016 (gold) and 2017 (silver) World Championships, and Team North America (5th place) at the 2016 World Cup, playing alongside Gaudreau, Couturier, Trocheck, RNH, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin Jack Eichel, Seth Jones and then-Jets teammates Jacob Trouba and Connor Hellebuyck, among others.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Chris Phillips Autographed Card

The Ottawa Senators retired Chris Phillips' number last night and even ended up winning the game against the Buffalo Sabres.

I wanted to write a heartfelt article detailing all the important moments of his career, why he chose that specific number, who he wanted to share the moment with, but not only did Sportsnet's Wayne Scanlan beat me to it, he did it so perfectly that there is nothing more I could add to that part of the story, so go ahead and read it, I'll wait.

It certainly brought a tear to my eye.

Some casual hockey fans might ask themselves why he deserved that honour, some even dispute his selection as the first-overall draft pick in 1996 head of heart-and-soul star captains like Zdeno Chara (56th) and Daniel Brière (24th), but in true "hockey terms", he was worth his salary in the team sport just as much as anyone on that level even if he didn't take part in any All-Star Game and didn't win a Norris Trophy.

The fact that he ended up getting votes in two years while playing alongside players like Chara, Wade Redden and Erik Karlsson shows you that his value did resonate even though he never passed the 30-point mark himself. Some sports writers actually saw the value that came with being an elite shut-down defender for a few moments.

And he was clutch, as that article mentioned, considering 13 of his 71 regular-season goals are game-winners, and one of his 6 playoff goals not only did the same but was an overtime series clincher.

He had nerves of steel that made him step up when it mattered most.

He was a very good hockey player of his ilk, but he was a great teammate.

And once in a while, once per 25 or 50 years, an organization has to recognize the best such player of its past generation or two and honour them, to show the following generations that playing in the shadows doesn't necessarily mean never getting recognition.

It was one thing for him to beat Daniel Alfredsson's franchise games played mark by one, but it's another to have his jersey hang alongside the most inspiring player to wear the uniform in the team's current iteration. And it's fully deserved.

I figured I could take this prolonged look back by featuring him on card #325 from Upper Deck's 1997-98 Series 2 collection, showing him wearing the Sens' white (then-home) uniform at the 1996 draft:
The two-time Team Canada World Juniors gold medal winner (1996 and 1997) signed it in blue sharpie during one of his two final seasons, so either in 2013-14 (most likely) or 2014-15.

During his playing days, he went by the nickname "Big Rig" because he was 6'3" and weighed 220 pounds (and defended his zone like he was 6'5" and 250); he now co-owns and operates a microbrewery of the same name in Ontario.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Dylan DeMelo Autographed Card

The pundits are pretty much unanimous: the Winnipeg Jets got the best of the Ottawa Senators in the trade that sent Dylan DeMelo to Manitoba for a third-round pick; the Winnipeg Free Press raves, the Sens-boosting Silver Sevens are angry, and The Hockey News had this to say:
Just consider his underlying numbers on a Senators outfit that ranks below league average at five-a-side – and in some cases well below league average – when compared to the rest of the NHL. His Corsi percentage is 52.4 percent, shots percentage is 52.9 percent and he possesses a 55.8 expected goals percentage, which is in part the result of 54.9 and 57.7 percent scoring chance and high-danger chance percentages, respectively. What makes the numbers stand out most, though, is that DeMelo posted those numbers despite starting more than 55 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone. This is to say nothing, either, of the fact DeMelo had the highest relative rates of shot, shot attempt, scoring chance and expected goal suppression among all Senators with at least 500 minutes played.
Personally, I like DeMelo. He's a #2 defenseman on the Sens at 26 years old, so he can improve a bit, but the Sens are objectively one of the worst teams in the NHL, so on a contender, he's probably a #4-5 guy who plays 17 to 19 minutes per game. That's probably worth $3M to $3.5M per year, and as a free agent in the middle of his prime come July 1st, he's probably going to be looking at one or two teams offering him a salary around $5M, which he will have trouble living up to.

Other teams will look at him as the San Jose Sharks' sixth-round pick in 2011, as one of seven pieces the Sens got back from the Sharks for Erik Karlsson, and someone who earned under $1M this season.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

I hope he helps the Jets make the playoffs; on paper, he's exactly what they need to solidify their second pairing after the departures of Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers on the right side last summer.

Here he is wearing the Sens' red (home) uniform, on card #474 from Upper Deck's 2019-20 O-Pee-Chee collection:
He signed it in blue sharpie during training camp, tagging his jersey number (2) at the end.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Zach Bogosian Jersey Card

Honestly, a week away from the trade deadline, you'd think Zach Bogosian would give the Buffalo Sabres a chance to make their sales pitch to other teams instead of seeming like an entitled, grizzled and angry veteran who refuses to be a team player.

Of course, I'm referring to his decision to not report to the AHL Rochester Americans after going unclaimed via waivers, and the Sabres' easy subsequent decision to suspend him while the two sides try to work something out.

Between hip injuries and healthy scratches, the 29-year-old has suited up in only 19 games this season, down from 65 last year but one more than the 18 from 2017-18.  He's missed more than 15 games in 11 of his 13 NHL seasons, and failed to play in more than half the games four times.

Here is the Team USA alumnus in better days, wearing the Winnipeg Jets' dark blue (home) uniform on card #AF-ZB from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition collection and Authentic Fabrics sub-set:
It features an even darker (possibly black) game-worn jersey swatch that could be from his days with the Atlanta Thrashers before they moved to Winnipeg.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Nicolas Deslauriers Autographed Card

In the past two months, 6'3", 219-pound Nicolas Deslauriers has fought other NHL heavyweights, such as:

Radko Gudas of the Washington Capitals on December 6th:

Kurtis MacDermid of the Los Angeles Kings on December 13th:

Chris Stewart of the Philadelphia Flyers on December 17th:

Michael Haley of the New York Rangers on December 22nd:

Austin Watson of the Nashville Predators, January 5th:

Jamie Oleksiak of the Dallas Stars on January 9th:

MacDermid of the Kings again on February 1st:

Zac Rinaldo of the Calgary Flames on February 13th:

In a league that averages less than half a fight per game, Deslauriers has seemingly fought every other day to become the league leader with 12, five more than Watson, in second place. And the Anaheim Ducks seem to love it, because he was extended for two more seasons with an annual cap hit of $1M.

Sure, the Ducks need to have players signed who will be available for the Seattle Expansion Draft, but chances are the new team will try to imitate the Vegas Golden Knights and focus on speed and possession stats more than pugilism skills.

Still, kudos to the 29-year-old former third-round pick who was considered a long shot to be a power forward with the Kings then reinvented himself as a tough checker and teammate protector with the Buffalo Sabres when it didn't pan out in grey and purple.

Here he is from his days terrorizing LHJMQ teams as a member of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, on card #117 from In The Game's 2009-10 Heroes And Prospects set:
It shows him wearing the team's clack (away) uniform; he signed it in blue sharpie last season, before he was traded by the Montréal Canadiens.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Philipp Grubauer Autographed Card

Philipp Grubauer has come a long way since almost wrestling the Washington Capitals' starting job away from Braden Holtby after the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft; Gru was traded to the Colorado Avalanche with one year of Brooks Orpik's monstrous contract to be bought out, for a second-round draft pick. You'd think not having Orpik attached would have netted the Caps something in the same vicinity as Semyon Varlamov once did - a first and a second.

Don't cry for the Capitals, however, because even though Holtby's deal is up now and no one should re-sign him at anything above $3M per - least of whom Washington - the team still has another blue chip young goalie ready to take over, 22-year-old Ilya Samsonov.

But back to Grubauer, who unfortunately didn't finish the Stadium Series game against the Los Angeles Kings tonight, suffering a lower-body injury when colliding with defenseman Ian Cole after stopping Kings forward Austin Wagner on a breakaway. He was having another terrific season for the Avs:
from HockeyDB
I included his career stats to show that when playing with a team that is good defensively, he can be even better, but the Avs are not that at all. For instance, two members of their top line are in the minuses: Mikko Rantanen (40 points in 41 games, -1) and Gabriel Landeskog (26 points in 41 games, -8), on a team that is two points out of first place in their division after that loss to the Kings earlier tonight, with two games in hand on the two teams that occupy that position.

Grubauer is one of the few Avs players with experience winning championships: he's won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires in 2010 and was a member of the Capitals when they won the Stanley Cup in 2018.

Here he is from his final season in the OHL, wearing the Kingston Frontenacs' black (away) uniform, on card #36 from In The Game's 2010-11 Between the Pipes set:
He signed it in blue sharpie in 2017-18, but I had lost track of it in my last move. You'll notice his equipment's not the same colour as his uniform; that's because both the Spitfires and the Caps' colour scheme is red, white and blue, while the Frontenacs chose to lean on the Boston Bruins' black and yellow/gold.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Dean Evason Autographed Card

Bill Guerin, GM of the Minnesota Wild, has made a coaching change with 25 games remaining and the team 3 points out of a playoff Wild Card spot, replacing head coach Bruce Boudreau with Dean Evason on an interim basis until the end of the season.

Boudreau was in the final year of a four-season deal and the fact that he hadn't received an extension was a telling sign that he wasn't going to be Guerin's man going forward. I'm not certain Evason will be either as there are plenty of available other options and he was former GM Paul Fenton's backup plan, but he'll get to interview for the position after the season.

Evason had gotten to know Fenton while both were part of the Nashville Predators organization - Fenton as assistant-GM, Evason as their AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals' head coach - but he had also been a seven-year assistant coach with the Washington Capitals and had been bench boss in the WHL for the Kamloops Blazers, Vancouver Giants and Calgary Hitmen.

As a player, he started and finished his NHL career wearing red (he was drafted 89th overall by the Caps in 1982 and suited up for 67 games with the Calgary Flames in 1995-96), but I remember him mostly wearing green, via his time with the Dallas Stars (1993-95), sure, but even more so with the Hartford Whalers (1985-91).

During his 434 games in Connecticut, he scored 87 goals with 148 assists for 235 points and a -29 rating - the team didn't make the playoffs every year - while playing on the third line.

All of this is still vividly clear in my mind, as is the fact that I liked him because his was one of the first O-Pee-Chee cards I landed out of a pack as a child. What I was surprised to find out was how aggressive the 5'10", 175-pound centre was, with four seasons above the 100-PIM mark and another one at 99, with a high of 170 in 75 games in his final season as a Whaler in 1990-91 (and 29 more in 4 playoff games that year).

This is why I'm choosing to feature him wearing #12 in the Hartford's classic green (away) uniform, which is also perfect for inclusion in my Whalers Numbers Project:
That's card #325 from Topps' flagship 1991-92 Topps set. He signed it in black sharpie last season. I had forgotten the design on this card until today, that his helmet and left elbow go over lines into the white border on one side while the stick doesn't on the other. Topps worked on these more seriously than I remembered.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Doug Smail: Four Autographed Cards

There was a time in the 1970s and early 80s where very good players from Saskatchewan didn't necessarily play in the WHL and instead went to American Colleges, which is what Doug Smail opted for when he signed up with the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, posting three impressive seasons of 50 points in 38 games, 58 points in 35 games and a whopping 43 goals, 44 assists and 87 points in 40 games to finish out his WCHA/NCAA career in 1979-80.

He caught the eye of the Winnipeg Jets - not enough for them to draft him, mind you, but they did sign him as a free agent - and by the second year he was a full-time NHLer. He had a career year in 1984-85 with 31 goals, 35 assists and 66 points in 80 games, but he passed the 40-point mark four more times in the 'Peg before essentially spending his final two and a half seasons as a journeyman, spending 57 games with the Minnesota North Stars, and one season apiece with the Québec Nordiques and Ottawa Senators.

At one time, he shared the NHL record for quickest goal to begin a game at five second, tied with Merlyn Phillips, Bryan Trottier and Alexander Mogilny. It has since been broken by James Van Riemsdyk. He was extremely fast and swift, and because of the way he skated and his short size (he was 5'9" and 175 pounds and skated mostly bent forward), he looked like a bullet on the ice, as can be attested bt these two cards from Pro Set:
On the left is card #117 from the 1991-92 Series 1 set showing him wearing the North Stars' beautiful green (away) uniform; card on the right is #466 from the 1991-92 Series 2 set, where he's sporting the Nordiques' classic blue (away) uniform.

Here's another shot of the Nordiques' amazing blue uniform, showing Smail during a defensive zone face-off in front of goalie Jacques Cloutier, on card #124 from Upper Deck's 1992-93 Series 1 set:
And here he is wearing Québec's white (home) uniform - a rare sight in the early 1990s - on card #197 from Score's 1992-93 Series 1 (Low Numbers) collection:
It was thought after his lone season in La Belle Province with 28 points in 46 games and the subsequent season with the Sens where he posted 14 points in 51 games and even spent 9 games with the IHL's San Diego Gulls (3 points and 20 penalty minutes) that perhaps it was time for him to hang his skates up, but that was proven to be entirely wrong with his final three seasons, played in the British League:
From HockeyDB
Yeah. That's a 169-point season in 53 games. He was 20 points behind team leader Mark Morrison's 189 (in 57 games) for a team that went from last place to second overall on the strength of their Canadian imports that season. And two points per game the following two seasons for good measure also looks good on any resume.

Nowadays, he lives in Colorado and last I heard, he was coaching minor hockey. He's also the ideal #41 in my Nordiques Numbers Project.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Craig Conroy: Two Autographed Cards

Originally a Montréal Canadiens draft pick (sixth round, 123rd overall, 1990), Craig Conroy remained at Clarkson University until 1993-94, at which time the Habs had a bit of a logjam at centre, with Vincent Damphousse, Pierre Turgeon, Kirk Muller and Saku Koivu there during his first two seasons trying to make the team.

Ironically, the Réjean Houle regime would solve that problem by sending both Conroy and Turgeon to the St. Louis Blues, along with Rory Fitzpatrick, for middle-six forward and bad influence Shayne Corson, defensive defenseman Murray Baron and a fifth-round pick. Turgeon would be a better-than-point-per-game player with the Blues (355 points in 327 regular-season games - with an 85-point output to begin his five-year run in St. Louis and an 82-point season to end it with in 2000-01, as well as 45 points in 50 playoff games in the heart of the Dead Puck Era) and continued his run of Selke and Lady Byng Trophy-level play while Conroy also had Selke-worthy seasons (he was actually a finalist in 1997-98 and fifth in votes the following season), but produced a little less offensively, with 151 points in 359 games.

Where Conroy became an offensive force was in his first three seasons with the Calgary Flames, playing alongside Jarome Iginla, where he posted 75-, 59- and 47-point seasons - the latter in just 63 games in 2003-04, where he also collected17 points in 26 games as the team made its way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

He then spent parts of two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings before this happened:

He was thus once again a member of the Flames, with whom he retired in the middle of the 2010-11 season, after being a healthy scratch for many games and going unclaimed on the waiver wire and opting to not report to the AHL. He did play his 1000th game that year, however.

Upon retiring, he was named Special Assistant to the General Manager and has officially had his title changed to Assistant-GM under Brad Treliving in 2014. Many believe he's next in line for the actual position unless a "huge name" comes along to take over.

Here he is wearing Calgary's white (the-home) uniform right after he was acquired from the Blues, on card #41 from Upper Deck's 2001-02 Vintage collection, one that strongly resembles old Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets:
He was named co-captain in his second year with the team and held the title by himself the following year, as can be attested by card #47 from Pacific's 2003-04 Pacific set, showing him wearing the team's then-away "Flaming Horse" black jersey:
He stepped down from the position himself so that Iginla could lead the team, which he did, straight to the Final, that very first year.

Conroy signed both cards while scouting the Habs on behalf of the Flames in 2016 or 2017.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Jay Bouwmeester Jersey Card

Tonight's game between the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks was postponed after Jay Bouwmeester collapsed on the bench, 12:10 into the game's first period with the score even at 1. It is considered a "cardiac episode".

Here he is from early in his career on card #FP-JB from Topps' 2003-04 Traded & Rookies set and Future Phenoms sub-set:
It shows him wearing the Florida Panthers' original white (home) uniform, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch from his rookie season.

He became the 29th member of the Triple Gold club last June when he added the Stanley Cup to a resume that already included an Olympic gold medal (2014) and World Championship gold (2003 and 2004).

He also holds two World Cup titles (2004 and 2016), World Championship silver (2008) and World Juniors silver (2002) and bronze (2000 and 2001) medals with Team Canada.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Alex Galchenyuk Jersey Card

Honestly, it feels like Alex Galchenyuk is running out of chances and will be facing KHL purgatory for at least two or three years, as he's two days away from his 26th birthday, on the final year of a deal that brings him to unrestricted free agency and is in his fourth organization in a year and a half after getting traded from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Minnesota Wild earlier today, with a first-rounder and a decent defensive prospect, Calen Addison, a 2018 second-rounder who just won gold with Team Canada at the World Juniors, for Jason Zucker.

It looks like Galchenyuk brought the overall deal's value down, which is why the Pens had to include a pick and a prospect for the three remaining contract years of second-liner Zucker.

This is the second time in less than a year that the teams had agreed on a Zucker move, but Phil Kessel has nixed the first attempt with his no-trade clause, and he's the one Pittsburgh sent to the Arizona Coyotes for Galchenyuk.

Galchenyuk is currently on pace for 8 goals, but he had scored 19 in each of the previous two seasons, 17 the year before that and a career-high 30 in 2015-16 with the Montréal Canadiens, who had selected him third-overall in 2012.

Many people at the time thought he may have been the most talented forward in his draft class - Filip Forsberg (11th) has shown this to be incorrect and Teuvo Teravainen (18th) is making a case to relegate "Chucky" further down the line, with Tomas Hertl (17th) also looking to do the same.

It's a shame, too, because he does did have all the tools to be an elite forward, from size (6'1", 207 pounds) to a good vision to good passing skills to way above-average puck-handling and deking skills to decent speed to a very good wrist shot... but he seems a lot slower now when he should be in his prime, and he can't seem to be able to keep up with the type of players that could help him get back to top-six production numbers.

Let's hope he's put in the proper environment to salvage the rest of his 20s and not one where off-ice temptations are too difficult to resist.

Here he is from brighter days, sporting the Habs' classic red (now-home) uniform on card #GJ-AG from Upper Deck's 2017-18 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a white game-worn jersey swatch that is probably from their away uniform.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Hunter Shinkaruk Autograph Card

Hunter Shinkaruk is still just 24 years old, so not only is it a bit early to call him a first-round bust - he was the Vancouver Canucks' selection at the 2013 draft, 24th overall - but he remains halfway through playing all of the Canadian NHL teams, having also spent time with the Calgary Flames and the Montréal Canadiens' AHL affilitae Laval Rocket.

This year, he was released by the Charlotte Checkers after a 20-game stint (4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points, 4 penalty minutes and a -1 rating, so really not much to show for it) and he's since signed on with the KHL's Kunlun Red Star, a team that stands sixth in its division with a 25-25-3-4 record (57 points in 57 games, 131 goals for, 149 goals against) despite dressing a bunch of former top NHL prospects like Brandon Yip, Adam Cracknell, Spencer Foo, Gilbert Brulé, Devante Smith-Pelly, Andrej Sustr, Wojtek Wolski, and Griffin Reinhart, as well as famous sons Jake Chelios and David Bondra.

Here's hoping he finds the inner strength and an agent with jedi-level convincing powers so he can also suit up for the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs in the next decade. Posterity demands it.

As a player, he has blazing speed - think NHL-elite-level speed - and isn't afraid to park himself in front of the opposition's net despite being just 5'11" and 190 pounds, like a somewhat taller Brendan Gallagher... except the finishing touch he demonstrated when he scored 49 and 37 goals in 60-some games with the Medecine Hat Tigers in Juniors has yet to translate to the pro game. The only time he reached the 20-goal mark was in 2015-16, where he had 21 in 45 games with the Utica Comets, 0 in 1 game with the Canucks, 6 in 17 games with the Stockton Heat and 2 in 7 games with the Calgary Flames.

It's like he never got over being traded the first time and has since wallowed in the middle- or bottom-six of minor leagues, unable to find a prominent role even on sub-par teams.

Here's hoping he puts all the ingredients together in the next couple of years and bounces back enough to ensure he has a future in the game...

In the meantime, this is what he looked like in the Canucks' white (away) uniform, on card #RR-25 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Contours set and Rookie Resume sub-set:
It features a blue-sharpied on-sticker signature. His #48 slots him perfectly in my Canucks Numbers Project.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Blake Hillman Autograph Card

Blake Hillman was part of an entire crop of College players who signed a shorter-term ELC in their early 20s, but unlike a lot of seniors who were free agents for never having been drafted or waiting for their fourth year to not play with the team that owned their rights, he chose to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks, who had selected him 173th overall in 2016.

He got to play in four games at the tail of of the season, scoring a goal in his second game; however, with the Hawks' logjam on defense last year and the NHL limit of 50 active contracts, the team elected not to extend him a qualifying offer last summer, and he became a UFA at the age of 23.

He signed a one-year deal with the ECHL's Toledo Walleye and appeared in five AHL games with the Grand Rapids Griffins, but he hasn't shown the type of offensive game that will make it easy for him to have another shit at the NHL soon.

He may have to sign a few AHL deals or spend a year or two in Europe to show that his defensive game is strong enough to warrant a bottom-pairing role in the Big Show.

Here he is wearing the Hawks' white (away) uniform on the signed insert version of card #146 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 SP Game-Used Edition collection and Authentic Rookies sub-set:
It features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph with his jersey number (55) tagged at the end.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Jared Cowen Autograph Card

Two-time World Juniors silver medalist, Memorial Cup champion, Calder Cup champion.

Then an up-and-down six seasons in the Ottawa Senators organization, the way most young defensemen spend their time learning their craft.

That was the career trajectory of Jared Cowen, the ninth-overall draft pick of 2009, until February 9th, 2016, when he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, with Colin Greening, Milan Michalek, Tobias Lindberg and a second-round draft pick, for Dion Phaneuf, Matt Frattin, Ryan Rupert, Casey Bailey and Cody Donahey.

Cowen hasn't played since that season - heck, he never even played a game for the Leafs. Instead, they realized he was playing through an injury and bought him out, a move that is against the rules of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement that the NHL let slide because it's the Leafs and their GM at the time was Lou Lamoriello, and the Leafs need to be good for Canadian ratings to be good, revenue to flow in, and Lamoriello was supposed to bring them a much-needed Stanley Cup, like Dave Nonis before him, and Brian Burke before him, and John Ferguson Jr. before him, and Pat Quinn before him, and Ken Dryden before him, and Cliff Fletcher before that.

Wow, that's a lot of GMs since the 1990s. I wonder how long they've been without a Cup for, must be a while. I guess that's what you get when you're better at managing "assets" than "players".

That being said, Cowen did get a look at the Colorado Avalanche's camp the following pre-season, but he didn't make it very far. My guess is he's still suffering from all the injuries he fought through.

Here he is from better days, sporting Team Canada's white (home) uniform, on card #108 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Team Canada collection:
He signed it in blue sharpie in 2014-15, adding his number (2) at the end.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Cristobal Huet Autographed Card

Because of their usual lack of offensive firepower since the days of Alexei Kovalev Saku Koivu Vincent Damphousse Stéphane Richer Bobby Smith Guy Lafleur, the focus and props for Montréal Canadiens results usually go to the starting goalie, while the blame usually goes to the head coach or GM.

This explains why the Molson Cup, given annually to the player who received most "Three Stars" votes since 1972-73 usually goes to the netminder regardless of star status. As a matter of fact, here is the complete list of winners and number of times the award's been given out:

1. Carey Price (Goalie, 8 times)
2. Guy Lafleur (Left Wing, 7 times including a record six consecutive)
3. Patrick Roy (Goalie, 4 times)
    José Theodore (Goalie, 4 times)
4. Jeff Hackett (Goalie, 2 times)
    Stéphane Richer (Right Wing, 2 times)
    Mats Naslund (Left Wing, 2 times)
    Mark Recchi (Right Wing, 2 times)

And all the following players have each won it once: Ken Dryden (Goalie), Larry Robinson (Defense), Mario Tremblay (Right Wing), Steve Penney (Goalie), Guy Carbonneau (Centre), Russ Courtnall (Right Wing), Kirk Muller (Centre), Pierre Turgeon (Centre), Saku Koivu (Centre), Alexei Kovalev (Right Wing), Cristobal Huet (Goalie), Jaroslav Halak (Goalie), Alex Galchenyuk (Centre/Left Wing), Brendan Gallagher (Right Wing).

Of course, those results are rigged, because Price got First Star of games in which he let in 4 goals or when the other option would have been to give all three stars to opposing players on home ice, so Koivu probably should have at least one more and Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov should also have at least one each, but the fact of the matter is that ever since Jacques Lemaire instilled a defense-first system in 1984 that every head coach except Carbonneau has followed to a T, the goalie has been the focus and recipient of all the attention, warranted or not.

Speaking of Carbonneau's system, Huet's win came in 2006-07, when the Habs finished fourth in their division and narrowly missed the playoffs, by a single game, with Halak carrying the team on his shoulders down the stretch but Huet insisting on playing the final game after returning from injury and getting blown out and letting six Toronto Maple Leafs goals go past him on 35 total shots; the team made up for lost ground the following season by winning their division. This signalled the end of his tenure in Montréal and he was traded to the Washington Capitals the following season.

While he received end-of-season All-Star Team votes during his tenure with the Canadiens, it was his season split between the Habs and Caps that got him some Vezina Trophy votes, five in total, including one for second-place and a third-place vote from the NHL's 30 GMs. In a controversial move, Martin Brodeur won it that year when it clearly should have gone to Jean-Sébastien Giguère (2.12 GAA and .922 save percentage) ahead of Henrik Lundqvist, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeni Nabokov, Roberto Luongo, Tim Thomas and Huet.

Huet would sign with the Chicago Blackhawks the following summer and go on to win the Stanley Cup platooning with Antti Niemi in his second and final season with the team before returning to Europe. In 2014-15, he was clearly the best goalie in Europe, smack-dab in the middle of a six-year stint with Lausanne HC, posting a 24-11-2-4 record in 41 games with a 1.86 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, coming at the heels of a season where he had had a 2.06 GAA and .928 save percentage.

Still, I choose to remember him most as the Habs' #1 goalie, the second to hold that title and be shipped off to make room for Price (after Theodore, before Halak). He had a semi-stand-up style reminiscent of Hackett's and a butterfly that was square and bulky, as shown on this picture that was probably taken during a pre-game warmup session:
That's card #106 from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Victory set, and he signed it in black sharpie just weeks before getting traded to Washington for a second-round pick.

He is now Lausanne's goaltending coach and will be the Ambassador for the Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympics. He's also a perfect entry as #39 in my Habs Numbers Project.