Thursday, June 15, 2017

Phil Housley: Two Autographed Cards

Phil Housley is going home, in a way.

Indeed, the former Buffalo Sabres star defenseman was named the team's new head coach, just hours after the Nashville Predators fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the Stanley Cup Final, going back to the franchise that initially drafted him 6th overall in 1982, behind Gord Kluzak (1st, Boston Bruins), Brian Bellows (2nd, Minnesota North Stars), Gary Nylund (3rd, Toronto Maple Leafs), Ron Sutter (4th, Philadelphia Flyers), and Scott Stevens (5th, Washington Capitals), and ahead of the likes of Rich Sutter (10th, Pittsburgh Penguins), David Shaw (13th, Québec Nordiques), Chris Kontos (15th, New York Rangers), Dave Andreychuk (16th, Sabres), Murray Craven (17th, Detroit Red Wings), Ken Daneyko (18th, New Jersey Devils), Patrick Flatley (21st, New York Islanders), Gary Leeman (24th, Leafs), Paul Gillis (34th, Nordiques), Tomas Sandstrom (36th, Rangers), Pat Verbeek (43rd, Devils), Ken Wregget (45th, Leafs), Troy Loney (52nd, Pens), Mario Gosselin (55th, Nordiques), Kevin Dineen (56th, Hartford Whalers), Corey Millen (57th, Rangers), Dave Reid (60th, Bruins), Ulf Samuelsson (67th, Whalers), Mark Lamb (72nd, Calgary Flames), Vladimir Ruzicka (73rd, Leafs), Dave Ellett (75th, Winnipeg Jets), Bob Rouse (80th, North Stars), Alan Kerr (84th, Isles), Brad Shaw (86th, Wings), Ray Ferraro (88th, Whalers), Dean Evason (89th, Caps), Claude Vilgrain (107th, Wings), Randy Gilhen (109th, Whalers), Ron Hextall (199th, Flyers), Tony Granato (120th, Rangers), Bob Sweeney (123rd, Bruins), Doug Gilmour (134th, St. Louis Blues), Dave Brown (140th, Flyers), Mike Hough (181st, Nordiques), and Kelly Miller (183rd, Rangers).

Out of that draft year, you could say the biggest home run was Gilmour, and a few teams drafted particularly well (Flyers, Rangers, Wings, Nordiques and Whalers). If we could go back in time, my top-10 would likely be:
10.  Tony Granato
9.  Dave Andreychuk
8. Ron Hextall
7. Ulf Samuelsson
6. Murray Craven
5. Kevin Dineen
4. Brian Bellows
3. Doug Gilmour
2. Scott Stevens
1. Phil Housley
Going back to Housley himself, the American defender has a stellar career, posting career totals of 338 goals, 894 assists and 1232 points in 1495 regular-season games, and an additional 13 goals, 43 assists and 56 points in 85 playoff games, the first half against strong Adams Division rivals (the Bruins and Montréal Canadiens each reached the Final twice in the 1980s) and the middle part against the Edmonton Oilers dynasty...

Late in his career, he became a regular on the waiver wire, but during his prime, he was fairly traded for the likes of Hall of Famers Dale Hawerchuk and Al MacInnis, just to give you an idea.

Upon retiring, he turned to coaching - obviously - starting out with nine seasons coaching the Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota, then won a gold medal coaching Team USA at the 2013 World Juniors before spending the last four seasons as an assistant-coach in Nashville, a role he has also held with the American National Team four different times, at the 2011, 2013 (bronze medal) and 2014 World Championships, as well as the 2016 World Cup.

As a player, he has a silver medal from the 2002 Olympics, and was a member of the 1996 World Cup team that beat Canada in the Final in Montréal. He played in seven All-Star Games.

Despite also suiting up for the Sabres, Flames, Devils, Caps, Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, I usually picture him as the blue-line leader for the Jets, sporting the alternate captain's "A", as seen in these two cards he signed in blue sharpie during his Hall of Fame induction weekend in 2015; let's start with the home (white) uniform, on card #440 from Score's 1992-93 Score set and Franchise sub-set, a card that defines him in my opinion, with the Jofa helmet and a Sabres player in the background:
And here he is wearing the blue (away) uniform, on card #276 from Upper Deck's 1992-93 Series 1 set:
Yes, this "A" seems cheaper, like it was made out of tape or a roughly-cut piece of plastic that was ironed on the jersey, typical of the "old" rinky-dink NHL. I love it!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ed Westfall Autographed Card

Ed Westfall may have essentially been forgotten by hockey fans outside of Boston and Long Island, but he was essential to the 1970s NHL.

He kicked the decade off with Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins in 1970 and 1972, making one very under-appreciated "hockey play" right outside the frame of one of the best-known goals of all time, Bobby Orr's "Flying Special" in the 1970 Cup Final: he rotated and took Orr's position on right defense; had Orr lost control of the puck or otherwise missed on actually scoring, the St. Louis Blues would not have been able to get more than a 3-on-2 on the Bs, because Westfall's defensive play - a given in 2017, but not so in 1970 - would have saved the day, positionally anyway.

He also scored the second goal in what stands as the fastest set of three goals in NHL history, a 20-second span that put the Vancouver Canucks in the record books for the wrong reasons.

Westfall was a defensive specialist. He never won a Selke trophy for the simple fact that it hadn't been invented yet, but his defensive play was so widely recognized that he made his way onto the 1971, 1973, 1974 and 1975 All-Star Games despite his most prolific offensive season netting him 25 goals, 34 assists and 59 points (all three being career-highs) in 1970-71.

He was also one of two very good players chosen by the New York Islanders in the 1972 expansion draft, along with a goalie by the name of Billy Smith. Westfall was named the team's very first captain, and he also scored its very first goal.

He helped coach Al Arbour shape the team's identity and work ethic, and although he relinquished the captaincy to Clark Gillies in 1977 and retired just one season before the Isles' first of four straight Cups, his fingerprints were all over it. As a matter of fact, so was his voice, as he was the team's TV analyst from his retirement until 1998.

The team has since then held many events where he and other former players took center stage, including when they first wore "retro" jerseys in 2007, an Ed Westfall Night when he was inducted to the team's Hall of Fame in 2011, and a few other occasions.

It was during one of my pilgrimages to Nassau (I have yet to visit Barclays Center, and I don't plan on doing so either) with the Nordiques Nation that I got him so sign this card of his in black sharpie:
That's card #32 from O-Pee-Chee's 1974-75 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him wearing the Isles' white (then-home) uniform, with the "C" clearly visible. I also had him sign one where he was wearing the blue (away) uniform, but I have since traded it away. I regret it now, and plan on re-acquiring one, as well as (at least) one from his days with the Bruins.

I wasn't born in 1974, but I did buy a bunch of old cards as a kid in the late 1980s, at a flea market where my grandmother sold shoes; most cards were from 1977-1979, but there were a couple of older ones as well. Watching Patrick Roy win the Cup and Conn Smythe in 1986 got me interested in the sport (and wanting to be a goalie), but these couple of hundred cards from the flea market were probably what got me interested in the history of the game. Well, that and having a sportswriter/journalist grandfather who was friends with the 1960s and 1970s Montréal Canadiens, and having those legends show up at many family events and my own games sometimes. Yeah, I guess that helps, too.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My Expos Numbers Project: An Introduction

Why limit a good and fun concept to just hockey when I have enough signed baseball cards to seriously consider adding a Montréal Expos Numbers Project to all my hockey ones (my Habs Numbers Project, my Oilers Numbers Project my Sens Numbers Project, my Canucks Numbers Project, and my Nordiques Numbers Project).

It'll be harder to finalize because baseball has more players in uniform (factoring in spring training and the 40-man roster after the trade deadline), but I start with the advantage that the team no longer exists, and no new number will be worn.

The first Canadian (and first non-U.S.) team to join Major League Baseball (in 1969), the team had its two best seasons when strikes disrupted play: the 1981 division win, and the magical 1994 season where they were leading the majors with a month left of play when the playoffs were cancelled as players walked out, which rang the beginning of the end for the team, who started its first official fire sale.

There'd been prior instances of the team trading highly-paid veterans for youth when they were being priced out of the team's budget (Gary Carter), but post-1994, it actually became official team policy to always trade players when they hit their prime and were about to earn serious dough. From the first wave (Delino DeShields, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker, John Wetteland) to the second (Pedro Martinez, Jose Vidro, Vladimir Guerrero) to seasons where it was a single player to when the Evil Twins came from New York with empty promises and ran the team to the ground so they could profit from its sale and trade up, to the Florida Marlins.
So, here I am attempting to collect autographed/memorabilia stuff from players representing every number worn by a member of the Expos. So far, I have featured 33; here they are:

Managers: Bill Virdon and Buck Rodgers.

3: Jose Vidro and Junior Noboa: check!
4: Mark Grudzielanek: check!
6: Ryan McGuire: check!
11: John Tamargo: check!
12: Wilfredo Cordero: check!
13: Jeff Fassero: check!
15: Curtis Pride (also wore #16) and Jeff Huson: check!
16: Tom Foley: check!
19: Fernando Seguignol: check!
20: Mike Fitzgerald: check!
21: Larry Jaster: check!
23: Mitch Webster: check!
24: Darrin Fletcher: check!
25: David Segui: check!
27: Andy McGaffigan: check!
29: Tim Wallach (and again here): check!
30: my favourite ball player of all time, Tim Raines (and Cliff Floyd): check!
32: Dennis Martinez: check!
33: Carlos Perez and Peter Bergeron: check!
34: Gil Heredia (also wore #52): check!
35: Otis Nixon: check!
37: Buck Rodgers: check!
41: Brian Barnes (also wore #47): check!
44: Tim Burke and Ken Hill: check!
45: Michael Barrett also wore #5) and the great Steve Rogers: check!
46: Kevin Gross: check!
47:  Brian Barnes (also wore #41): check!
50: Jay Tibbs: check!
51: Randy St. Claire, Mike Thurman, and Scott Stewart: check!
54: Tim Scott: check!
55: Bill Sampen: check!
57: John Wetteland: check!
62: Henry Mateo: check!

64: Keith Evans: check!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Simon Després Jersey Card

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the referees for the second straight Stanley Cup, and to Sidney Crosby and a ridiculously biased short list of 17 newscasters who chose him as the Conn Smythe winner when he was at best the fourth-best choice for the second-straight year, this time behind playoff points leader Evgeni Malkin, rookie points record holder and leading goal scorer Jake Guentzel, as well as Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. Pens goalies Marc-André Fleury and Matt Murray were arguably the best players on the ice in each game, but having split the playoffs, neither of them were legitimate choices.

But I want to take a moment to acknowledge a player whose luck turned when the Pens sent him to the Anaheim Ducks and missed out on both runs, Simon Després.

Després was a first-round pick, 30th overall, in 2009. His development had been slow and steady, and he appeared in two postseason run with the Pens and two lengthy ones with their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He scored his first playoff goal with the Ducks - a game-winner against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014-15, then was limited to 32 regular-season games and 5 more in the playoffs the following year, but 2016-17 really takes the cake, as he suited up in just one game after signing a five-year extension, then was put on long-term injury leave.

And I was told there were chances he'd even be bought out prior to the expansion draft this summer. (edit, June 16th: it is confirmed). Essentially, chances are he'll be making a million dollars per year for the next eight years regardless if he plays hockey or not.

Just a reminder that one's luck can change quickly in Life, often with little having to do with the person on the receiving end of the hardships.

Here he is sportin the Pens' post-lockout white (away) uniform, on card #GJ-SD from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 1 set and UD Game Jerseys sub-set:
It features a black game-worn jersey swatch of the young defenseman, to whom we wish a happy life.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Craig Billington Autograph Card

After featuring Craig Billington with the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche, perhaps it's time I revisited his first NHL trade, one that sent him from the New Jersey Devils to the Ottawa Senators, with card #A-CB from In The Game's 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s set:
Notice the Devil's horns helmet but black jersey, which is the original Sens away uniform.

At first, Billington was highly regarded as a potential #1 goalie, which is why the Devils drafted him in the second round (23rd overall) in 1984, but by the time he finished his career in Juniors (two more seasons in the OHL) and finished developing with the AHL's Utica Devils, making it to the NHL in 1991-92 after spending all of the previous season with the Canadian National Team, the Devils were  had already drafted Martin Brodeur, so they no longer had a need for Billington or Chris Terreri - although it should be noted that the latter eventually turned into Brodeur's backup and retired to become his goaltending coach.

Yet, because every team needs to be represented at All-Star Games and the 1992-93 Devils were so awful, Billington was the representative that was sent to Montréal for the mid-season classic, where he joined the Senators' own rubber magnet, Peter Sidorkiewicz.

That first-year Sens teams were god-awful, finishing with a 10-70-4 record, and its leading scorer was a defenseman, and not a household name either: Norm Maciver, a guy who had been toiling between the AHL and NHL in the Edmonton Oilers organization the previous three years, the Hartford Whalers before that, and the New York Rangers the three seasons before that, so of course their only representative would be their goalie, although considering Sidorkiewicz finished with a 8-46-3 record, 4.43 GAA (which was extremely high even in the high-scoring 90s), and a .856 save percentage.

And so, on Draft Day 1993, just four months removed from both appearing in their lone, semi-controversial All-Star Game, both goalies were traded for one another, with former Rangers prospect Troy Mallette and the fourth-round pick that became Cosmo Dupaul also making their way to the Sens.

With all the shuffling on the Colorado Avalanche staff these past few years, Billington has graduated from player development coach to Director of Player Personnel to VP of Player Personnel to his current position as assistant-GM to Joe Sakic, as well as the general manager of their AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage, although I hear rumblings they may move their players closer to home in Colorado in the near future.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Henry Mateo Autographed Card

Henry Mateo is mostly known as a baseball player. He played for the Montréal Expos/Washington Nationals for parts of six seasons, then tried to get back in the Majors via stints with the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays, to no avail.

While toiling in the minors leagues, he became a wanted man for "criminal conversation in North Carolina", a civil charge that is, essentially, adultery. He has not returned to the United States since, having instead opted to play in Mexico twice, with a stint in China Taiwan in between.

He wasn't much of a threat at bat, with one career home run in 280 plate appearances, and the year he saw the most games was 100 (for a total of 169 plate appearances) in 2003, in which he batted for .240; he batted .273 the following summer, but barely stepped up to the plate 46 times in 40 games, as Jose Vidro was the team's main second baseman... and Jamey Carroll was his principal replacement, although I don't remember him at all.

A noted base stealer in the minors, Mateo only accomplished the feat 15 times in the National League.

Here he is fielding in the pre-season, wearing the Expos' Grapefruit League blue shirt and sporting #62, which slots him nicely in my Expos Numbers Project:
That's card #261 from Topps' 2002 Topps Total set, packs of which I purchased at dollar stores the following winter, which means I likely got the card signed - in blue sharpie - in 2004, the Expos' final season in Montréal, which they split evenly between the Olympic Stadium on the East end of the island and Estadio Hiram Bithorn in Puerto Rico.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Steve Bernier: Two Autographed Cards

When a couple of friends and I last spoke with Steve Bernier in late May, he was telling us that during this past season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, he realized he hadn't felt as good about his scoring ability since his days in Juniors, and we're talking about a guy who's had 31-, 49-, 36- and 35-goal seasons in the LHJMQ, only once appearing in over 68 games (71, in 2002-03, the year he potted 49 with the Moncton Wildcats).

Of course, his comeback season came to an end in late January, after 33 games, in which he had scored 16 goals with 10 assists for 26 points, with 26 penalty minutes and a +13 rating. A labrum tear was the final diagnosis. Still, that didn't stop the New York Islanders from re-signing him to a two-year, two-way contract earlier today.

In the NHL, the former first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks (16th overall in 2003) has reached the 30-point mark three times in two separate decades, the most recent occurrence being with the 2014-15 New Jersey Devils.

He brings a wealth of experience, having been a star growing up (MVP of Canada's Midget AAA tournament, then known as the Air Canada Cup, now the Telus Cup), then in Juniors, and having been a part of the gold medal Team Canada rosters at the 2002 Ivan Hlkina U-18 Tournament and the 2003 U-18 World Juniors, in which he finished second in team scoring with 8 points in 7 games. He also played in the 2011-12 Stanley Cup Final, although some Devils fans might still have outbursts of violence when they're reminded of his 5-minute major during which the Los Angeles Kings scored three goals in the deciding game. Let's be honest, though: the Devils never stood a chance, and were extremely lucky to make it there in the first place.

He signed two cards for me (in blue sharpie) earlier this Spring, both from his days with the Sharks. First, the former home and weirdly-delimited white uniform, on card #67 from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Black Diamond set:
And here he is in black, on card #165 from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Fleer collection:
He tagged both signatures with "16" - the jersey number he currently wears with the Isles, not the one he wore in San Jose (26).

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Luke Glendening Jersey Card

Luke Glendening has been a winner and leader throughout his hockey career, starting with two seasons as the University of Michigan Wolverines' captain, leading them a CCHA title and NCAA Final. He then won the Calder Cup with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins in 2012-13, following a 26-point rookie season in the pros.

After starting the 2013-14 season in the AHL, posting 12 points (5 goals and 7 assists) in 18 games, he was recalled by the Detroit Red Wings, who were facing a ton of injuries, and he hasn't looked back since. Sure, he took a personal step back with just 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists) in 74 games last year, missing the last six because of injuries as the Wings ended a 26-year consecutive playoff streak, but the 28-year-old whose cap hit is below the $2M mark should hover around 10 goals and 20 points per year, and a half-point-per-game average in the playoffs, which makes him a valuable NHLer.

He has a tremendous work ethic and has become a good two-way center who starts most of his team's penalty-killing shifts.

I was extremely happy to pull this card from a raffle/group break last month, showing him in the Wings' red 2016 Stadium Series uniform, which includes the old-school stylized "D" on the chest, although I am not fond of the football-style huge numbers on the arms:
It's card #RW-LG from Upper Deck's 2016-17 SP Game-Used Edition set and Stadium Series Fabrics sub-set, featuring a red swatch worn on February 27th, 2016, as the Wings faced long-time rivals Colorado Avalanche at Coors Field in Denver, a 5-3 Detroit win despite the Avs leading 2-1 after two periods. Glendening had an assist on Justin Abdelkader's 15th of the season, which put the Wings up 3-2.

Glendening was likely to be left available at the expansion draft in a couple of weeks, but an ankle surgery may have the Vegas Golden Knights looking to grab another Detroit player instead.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Brian Barnes: Two Autographed Cards

Brian Barnes was a standout playing baseball at Clemson University (and eventually even made it to their Hall of Fame), the first true steps of a career that saw him play for five seasons in the majors - four of them with the Montréal Expos - and six more in minor-league ball after that.

He completed a game in each of his first two seasons in Montréal, leading the team to believe he had it in him to become a #2 or #3 pitcher in the rotation at some point; indeed, he went 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA with a veteran group in 1990 - his first game coming on my birthday, September 14th - then went 5-8 with a 4.22 GAA in 1991 as the team went through a rebuilding phase centered around Delino DeShields, Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker.

He became a reliever and an injury-replacement pitcher in the rotation for 1992 and 1993, then couldn't find a permanent spot in stints with the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994.

He helps me check off two different boxes in my Expos Numbers Project, starting with #47 on card #73 from Topps' 1992 Topps set:
He also wore #41 in his final year in Montréal, which is where card #289 from Pinnacle Brands' 1994 Score set comes in:
He signed both cards in thin blue sharpie in 2000, when he was playing for the Calgary Cannons, the AAA affiliate of the Florida Marlins.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Matt D'Agostini Autographed Card

Have you lost track of former Montréal Canadiens draft pick Matt D'Agostini? As I had predicted, he made his way to Switzerland, where he was nearly a point-per-game player for powerhouse Genève-Servette for two seasons, but had trouble adapting to a mediocre team in HC Ambri-Piotta this past year:
Courtesy of HockeyDB
Still, if you would have asked me prior to the beginning of 2016-17, I would have said a return to the NHL was likely, seeing as his coach with Team Canada's 2015 Spengler Cup-winning team was current Ottawa Senators bench boss Guy Boucher, and Boucher brought fellow team member Tom Pyatt along. And D'Agostini's the one who scored the Cup-winning goal.

The Director of Player Personnel for that team? Current Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee...

Perhaps he'll get a tryout with either team. In any event, here is his rookie card, #523 in Upper Deck's 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set and Marquee Rookies sub-set, wearing the Habs' classic "bleu-blanc-rouge" (now-home) uniform:
He signed it in blue sharpie - tagging his jersey number (36) at the end - most likely in 2009-10, a season he spent hovering between the Habs and their AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs, before being sent to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline.