Monday, February 8, 2021

Ralph Backstrom: Two Autographed Cards

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Ralph Backstrom passed away in his Colorado home yesterday, at age 83, following an illness.

I previously mentioned how he was a six-time All-Star in his first 12 NHL seaons with the Montréal Canadiens, winning the Stanley Cup in 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1968, and 1969 in the process as part of two Habs dynasties, living through the transition from the Maurice "Rocket" Richard/Dickie Moore/Jacques Plante era to the Henri Richard/Yvan Cournoyer/Lorne "Gump" Worsley/Rogatien Vachon one.

He was also an All-Star in the WHA following stints with the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks and a member of Team Canada at the 1974 Summit Series against the USSR with Gerry Cheevers, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Mark Howe and André Lacroix. His 8 points in 8 games were one shy of tournament leader Hull.

With a Calder Trophy, seven 20-goal seasons in the NHL and two 30-goal campaigns in the WHA, Backstrom is the type of player of belongs in the Hall Of Very Good - just shy of a Hall Of Fame career, yet too good to be allowed to be forgotten. Furthermore, he and Canadiens GM Sam Pollock are responsible for building the Habs' last dynasty - the one from the 1970s, which included the 1977 and 1978 editions, arguably considered the best lineups of all time, ahead of or a close second to the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. That is because Backstrom eventually grew tired of being "the best third-liner in hockey" and wanted a shot at more ice time to pad his own statistics, and face the oppositions' checkers instead of their best offensive elements, and Pollock eventually acquiesced, but in a wry, sly way.

The GM had traded Montréal's first-round pick and forward Ernie Hicke to the California Golden Seals for the Seals' first-rounder (believed to be the first-overall, since the team that finished last in the league got the first pick at the time) and local minor-league defenceman François Lacombe, who never played in the NHL. The best player in Juniors that year was a young man who was believed to be a "generational talent", Guy Lafleur, and the second-best player was no slouch himself, Marcel Dionne. But mid-way through the season, the Kings had a worse record than the Seals, so Pollock made them an offer they couldn't refuse: Backstrom - who was good enough to move directly onto L.A.'s first line - for Gord Labossière, Ray Fortin and hockey's most-traded commodity: future considerations. Fortin, a Quebecer, played 92 NHL games - none for the Canadiens; Labossière, despite belonging to the Habs twice, never suited up for the team in his 215 career NHL games. Backstrom's 27 points in just 33 games was the team's 10th-best mark, as he was far and away ahead of the rest of the team in points-per-game, leading the Kings ahead of not just the Golden Seals but also the lowly Pittsburgh Penguins. Lafleur would win two Hart Trophies, three Lester B. Pearson Awards as best player as voted by his peers, three Art Ross Trophies and a Conn Smythe, leading the Habs to five Stanley Cups.

But Backstrom was a natural in the bleu-blanc-rouge, as seen on card #7 from the 1992-93 Ultimate set by the Ultimate Trading Card Company:
And he looked just as good wearing the white (home) uniform:
That's card #64 from Parkhurst's 1995-96 Parkhurst Reprints set, the third such set by the revived card brand, this time hypothesizing how a 1966-67 set would have looked like. I have another one of these, signed in much thicker black sharpie.

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