Sunday, August 13, 2017

Kirsty Lingman Autograph Card

I would like to take a moment to wish one of my favourite models, New Zealand's own (and Los Angeles-based) Kirsty Lingman, a Happy Birthday with this Limited Edition (#18/25) purple autograph variant of card #62 from Benchwarmer's 2014 Hockey set:
Kirsty is a fan of hard rock and heavy metal who travels to see shows (though most do make their way to L.A./Las Vegas, so she'd be good anyway), and has been known to work as a photographer and bartender on the side as well. Here's what the back of the card looks like:
It shows her playing around with a Koho goalie stick, the type Patrick Roy popularized after his 1993 Stanley Cup and second of three Conn Smythe wins.

Saturday, August 12, 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 34; 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), Carl Pavano 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!
66: Andy Tracy: check!

Andy Tracy: Two Autographed Rookie Cards

Andy Tracy was by no means a baseball superstar in the Majors, but when he attended Bowling Green University, he starred at both baseball and football; he went back to his alma mater after retiring - he's currently the baseball team's hitting coach.

Tracy holds the distinction of having been drafted twice - first by the Philadelphia Phillies, then the Montréal Expos; it was in Montréal that he would have his best season (2000) in most categories, including games played (83), at-bats (192), hits (50), home runs (11), on-base percentage (.339), walks (22), and so forth. The only time he bested his 2000 batting average (.260) was when he had 5 hits in 12 at-bats with the Phillies in 2009, good for a .417 average.

He was also in the Phillies' organization when they won the 2008 World Series, but only appeared in 4 games (2 plate appearances) in the regular season and none in the playoffs. He was one of the most popular players on their AAA affiliate Lehigh Valley IronPigs, however, and once held the distinction of being the oldest minor-leaguer in the U.S.

And to think 2000 was his rookie year, things were looking up, he was backing up Lee Stevens (first base) and Michael Barrett (third base, before his move to catcher)... it did not quite turn out that way:
from BaseballReference
He signed two copies of his Rookie Card - #T2 from Topps' 2000 Traded And Rookies set in blue sharpie for me back in the day:
These Spring Training pictures will enable me to slot him as #66 in my Expos Numbers Project; he wore #46 (2000) and #22 (2001) in the regular season.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Tim Cheveldae Autograph Card

Tim Cheveldae led the NHL for games played (72), wins (38), saves (1978) and minutes played (4236) with the Detroit Red Wings in 1991-92 on his way to a fourth-place Vezina finish. That year, however, he finished with a 3.20 GAA, outside the top-10 (Patrick Roy led the league at 2.36, Ed Belfour was a distant second at 2.70 and Chris Terreri was tenth at 3.18) and a .886 save percentage (Roy led here as well with .914, ahead of a three-way tie comprised of Bob Essensa, Curtis Joseph and John Vanbiesbrouck at .910; Tom Draper was tenth at .895).

But as goaltending improved greatly over the next half-decade, Chevealdae, who was a classic 5'10" dive-and-reflex goalie yet wasn't the most energetic or combative, failed to evolve with the times, which is likely what got goalies like Essensa a longer look while Cheveldae, for his part, was out of the NHL by the age of 28.

He took care of the interim between Essensa and Nikolai Khabibulin for the Winnipeg Jets, then played in the minors for the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins organizations, and his save percentage never reached the .900 at the NHL level.

His final season of pro hockey came in 1997-98, when he appeared in 38 games for the IHL's Las Vegas Thunder.

Here he is wearing the Wings' red uniform on card #A-TC from In The Game's 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s set and Autograph sub-set:
It's hard-signed in black sharpie, with his uniform number (32) tagged at the end.

It is said that he is now a firefighter on a military base in Saskatchewan.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Ed Olczyk Autographed Card

Ed Olczyk was drafted third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1984, then went on to play in the NHL for 16 seasons. His career highlights include playing his first three and final two seasons with the Hawks, winning the Stanley Cup in 1993-94 with the New York Rangers, posting four point-per-game seasons, surpassing the 30-goal mark four times (with a career-high of 42 with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1987-88) and hitting the 90- and 88-point marks in 1988-89 and 1989-90 respectively, again with the Leafs.

He also suited up for the Winnipeg Jets (64 games over two seasons), Los Angeles Kings (67 games), and Pittsburgh Penguins (68 games over parts of two seasons), and infamously coached the Pens in 2003-04 and 2005-06, with an abysmal .354 showing (a 31-64-14-4 record).

He has since moved on to the broadcast booth, working as an NBC hockey analyst mainly for Hawks' games, as well as being a hair transplant advocate (and satisfied customer, apparently).

Today, however, I wanted to acknowledge his fight against colon cancer. Indeed, he had surgery last week and will undergo further treatment in the coming months. "Edzo" is expected back in the analysts' booth upon recovery. We wish him the best.

Here he is on card #222 from Upper Deck's inaugural 1990-91 Series 1 collection:
It shows him wearing the Leafs' 1980s blue (away) uniform; he signed it in blue sharpie a couple of years ago while working a game at the Bell Centre.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Justin Williams Jersey Card

It's unclear what Justin Williams had in mind this summer when he signed a two-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes, who will likely not be making the playoffs during that time.

Perhaps he was chasing the money, as he'll be making an average of $4.5M on a 35-year-old (i.e. "un-buyout-able") contract when he made $3.25 in his previous deal with the Washington Capitals. Maybe the pressure of being nicknamed "Mr. Game 7" got to him, as the Caps once again fell in the second round last season; not to worry, Williams will now be appearing at World Championships under the Team Canada banner during the NHL postseason from now on.

He'll find these Canes are a far cry from the team he won the 2006 Stanley Cup with, despite Cam Ward still plying his trade in nets and the likes of Ron Francis (GM), Rod Brind'Amour (assistant-coach), Glen Wesley (defensemen development coach), Sergei Samsonov (player development coach), Jeff Daniels (scout manager), and Ray Whitney (pro scout) still around the team after retiring.

Then again, at least he's found work. I'm currently unemployed, as are the likes of NHL free agents Dennis Wideman, Milan Michalek, Thomas Vanek, David Pastrnak, Brooks Laich, Drew Stafford, Nick Schultz, Mike Ribeiro, Jakub Kindl, Nikita Zadorov, Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell, P.A. Parenteau, Chris Neil, Boyd Gordon, Scottie Upshall, and former captains Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla, and Brian Gionta.

Williams should, in my opinion, be designated as the team's captain for the couple of years that the team still plays its games in Raleigh and when it's unclear which of the next generation of players will be able to take on that responsibility and lead the team back to respectability.

Which is why I chose to feature him today wearing the Canes' former red (home) uniform, hints of which will be found on their new Adidas uniforms:
That's card #UA-JW from Fleer's 2008-09 Fleer Ultra collection and Ultra Uniformity sub-set, manufactured by Upper Deck, featuring a white game-worn jersey swatch. The team's 10th Anniversary patch is on full display in the picture.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

My Oilers Numbers Project: An Introduction

Long-time readers are probably familiar with my Habs Numbers Project, where I'm attempting to get a collectible item - ideally an autograph, but a jersey card will do - of a representative of every jersey number ever worn by a member of the Montréal Canadiens.

Since it's well underway and moving along nicely, I thought I could do the same for the Edmonton Oilers, seeing as I've already published 47/78, so I'm roughly halfway there just by what I've already written, without counting my existing and extensive backlog.
Spoiler alert: I don't have anything from Wayne Gretzky. I don't think I'll ever be able to afford to, either, and he doesn't sign TTM, understandably - though many collectors confuse his autopen for an autograph. Which, when I get there, I might also count, myself (though I don't have one of those either).

Here's what I have:

1: Ty Conklin: check!
2: Eric Brewer and Lee Fogolin: check!
4: Kevin Lowe: check!
5: Steve Smith and Ladislav Smid (again here): check!
6: Jeff Beukeboom: check!
8: Joe Murphy: check!
9: Bill Guerin: check!
10: Shawn Horcoff, Pat Falloon, and Nail Yakupov: check!
12: Adam Graves: check!
13: Ken Linseman: check!
14: Raffi Torres: check!
16: Kelly Buchberger: check!
17: Jari Kurri: jersey card check!
18: Craig Simpson: check!
19: Boyd Devereaux and Patrick O'Sullivan: check!
21: Vincent Damphousse and Andrew Ference: check!
22: Charlie Huddy: check!
23: Sean Brown: check!
24:  Theo Peckham and Kevin McClelland: check!
25: Mike Grier: check!
26: Mike Krushelnyski and Brad Winchester: check!
27: Scott Mellanby, Georges Laraque and Boyd Gordon: check!
28: Craig Muni: check!
29: Ty Conklin: dual jersey card check, will look to improve
30: Bill Ranford: check!
31: Grant Fuhr: jersey card check!
33: Dan McGillis: check!
35: Dwayne Roloson: jersey card check!
37: Lennart Petrell: check!
38: Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers: check!
39: Doug Weight: check!
40: Devan Dubnyk: check!
42: David Oliver: check!
44: Chris Pronger: jersey card check!
48: Ryan Hamilton: check!
49: Theo Peckham: check!
51: Philippe Cornet and Andrei Kovalenko: check!
54: Chris VandeVelde: check!
56: Teemu Hartikainen: check!
57: David Perron: jersey card check!
58: Jeff Petry: check!
62: Mark Arcobello (also wore #26): check!
64: Nail Yakupov: check!
68: Tyler Pitlick: check!
77: Tom Gilbert: check!
78: Jordan Eberle (also wore #14): check!
81: Taylor Fedun: check!
83: Ales Hemsky: check!
85: Petr Klima: check!
89: Sam Gagner and Mike Comrie: check!
91: Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson: check!
94: Ryan Smyth: check and check again!

Captains: Fogolin, Lowe, Buchberger, Ference, Smyth

Numbers 50, 53, 61, 63, 66, 69, 70, 72, 73, 74, 75, 79, 82, 86, 87, 90, 92, 95, 96, 97, and 98 have not been worn by Oilers players, which means I'm looking to fill these:

3: Al Hamilton is the only one who's worn this number in team history
7: Paul Coffey, Martin Gélinas, Jason Arnott and Dan Cleary are good calls
11: Well, that's Mark Messier
15: This number changes owners almost yearly
20: Five players wore it in 1994 alone, 27 in total
31: Eddie Mio, Grant Fuhr and Curtis Joseph have all worn this with success
32: Miroslav Satan, Ron Tugnutt and Mathieu Garon come to mind
34: I'll be writing Donald Dufresne next year, but Fernando Pisani would also be nice
36: Tough guy Dennis Bonvie may have worn it the longest - 2 years
41: Brent Gilchrist or Jean-François Jacques might be the easiest to get
43: Dennis Bonvie and Jason Strudwick have worn this one
45:  I liked Shawn Belle
46: Tough guy Zack Stortini would rule
47: Paul Comrie or Marc-André Bergeron work here
52: Allen Rouke and Jerred Smithson have worn this one
55: Igor Ulanov and Alex Henry were tough defenders
59: Brad Hunt is the lone bearer, and it happened this year
60: Sébastien Bisaillon wore this in 2010
65: Mark Napier wore this in 1987
67: Gilbert Brulé never replied to any of my TTMs
71: It's a toss-up between Petr Sykora and Lubomir Visnovsky
76: Bryan Young had it for one season
80: Ilya Bryzgalov, may have missed my chance with this one
84: Oscar Klefbom wore it last year
88: Rob Schremp wore it half a decade ago
93: It's between Petr Nedved and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
99: The Great One, Wayne Gretzky

Mike Krushelnyski Autograph Card

Despite a 6'2", 200-215-pound frame that could have made him his era's best power forward, Mike Krushelnyski wasn't one to force physical play. Instead, "Krusher" played the periphery, using his decent hands to accumulate 20-goal seasons, although he was able to actually withstand hits on the boards and maintain puck control.

He posted career-highs in 1984-85 for goals with 43 (17 more than his second-best season, 26 in 1988-89), and his tops for points was 88 (23 more than the 65 he had in 1982-83), but because he was unable to keep up with Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri on the left wing of the Edmonton Oilers' top line, co-head coach John Muckler turned him into a third-line checking center, saying:
"He has a lot of skill, in addition to his size and strength. But there are psychological problems involved in working with Gretzky. You have to do things on blind faith, assuming he'll get the puck to you - and that's hard to do. A lot of times, Krusher was so astounded by what was happening that he'd fail to react. He couldn't believe the pass he'd just received, so there'd be no shot at all."
 And that makes sense.

Still, he won Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1985, 1987 and 1988, and reached the Conference Finals with the Toronto Maple Leafs twice; I find it really funny that a guy who was known as a checking center had his only four seasons in the minuses be the four years he played on a decent Leafs team, 1990-94.

He also suited up for the Boston Bruins (who selected him in the sixth round, 120th overall, in 1979), Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings. He was part of two major trades involving the Oilers, who acquired him from Boston in a one-on-one deal for Ken Linseman, then sent him to the Kings along with Wayne Gretzky and Marty McSorley for Jimmy Carson, the picks that became Jason Miller, Martin Rucinsky and Nick Stajduhar, and $10M.

Here he joins Brad Winchester as #26 in my Oilers Numbers Project, with card #FI-MK from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers Collection and Franchise Ink sub-set:
It shows him wearing the Oilers' classic white (home) uniform and features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Jean-Jacques Daigneault: Two Signed Cards

J.J. Daigneault was a serviceable NHL defenseman who started out as a fast-skating, puck-moving type who was prone to puck-handling mistakes and may have been considered a defensive-zone liability, yet evolved into a dependable, serviceable defender later in his career.

As such, in his current position as the Montréal Canadiens' defense coach since 2012, he is teaching players to learn from his past mistakes, and not to make them themselves.

A childhood friend and teammate of Pittsburgh Penguins legend and owner Mario Lemieux and current Habs GM Marc Bergevin, chances are he'll never be out of work for long in hockey, but I am under the impression that this may be his last season in this current stint in Montréal; Claude Julien is back and will want to work with folks he knows, guys that complement his areas of expertise, and I feel Doug Jarvis might be on his way back, although he's just one year into a similar position with the Vancouver Canucks. The 'Nucks let head coach Willie Desjardins go last April, taking Perry Pearn and Doug Lidster along with him to the unemployment office, and I believe that when the transition is assured between the players and new bench boss Travis Green is assured, he'll be allowed to look for new opportunities as well.

Too bad this will come months after Phil Housley left the Nashville Predators for the Buffalo Sabres, as Daigneault, a former Preds defenseman who coached three of the team's defensemen in Montréal (P.K. Subban, Alexei Emelin and Yannick Weber) would have been a perfect fit there.

Here he is back in that era when the Preds had a fine "dark" (blue, with grey and yellowish-gold as highlight colours) uniform, sporting the alternate captain's "A", on the signed insert version of card #76 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set:
It's the "silver" version, which he signed in black sharpie. Obviously, one of these is available for trade (or may be included as a bonus in another trade).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mike Komisarek Autographed card

Mike Komisarek.

A defensive defeseman whose stay-at-home physical style complemented Andrei Markov the longest with the Montréal Canadiens, an All-Star Game participant both from Habs fans stuffing the ballots for the Centennial home-ice game and because Markov made him look much better than he actually was, whose career high was 4 goals (a total he reached in both 2006-07 and 2007-08) yet had the Toronto Maple Leafs knocking at his door with an unbelievable five-year, $22.5M deal (with a $4.3M cap hit), which of course the Leafs spent a compliance buyout on after four seasons. He did convince the Carolina Hurricanes to take a chance on him, but could only suit up for 32 games (4 assists, 14 PIMs) in 2013-14 before retiring and going back to University of Michigan to finish his degree.

Chances are he's finished with that, because the Buffalo Sabres announced earlier today he'd been named as a Player Development Coach, presumably with the organization's young defensemen.

Here he is from his days in Toronto, across the lake from Buffalo, wearing their classic blue (home) uniform, on card #345 from Upper Deck's 2011-12 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie later that year.

Habs and Leafs fans like to rag on Komisarek - the former because he went to their team's long-time rivals as a free agent, and the second because of how disappointed they were that their prized free agent couldn't possibly live up to his contract's expectations - but both should keep in mind that he was, indeed, a hard-to-play-against defender, among the best in the league at shutting down the opposition and a fine defensive-zone checker... until he took on Milan Lucic in a fight and lost any hockey sense he ever had. And things only got worse when he tried to get his revenge, and again while playing for Toronto.

There are no two ways about it: Lucic ended this guy's career.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Andrei Markov Autographed Card

Remember a month ago when I lambasted the Arizona Coyotes for their handling of the Shane Doan situation?

Well, huh. It turns out the organization usually considered to be the classiest in the NHL, the Montréal Canadiens, are not beyond reproach in that regard, GM Marc Bergevin going out of his way to make Andrei Markov look bad in what now looks like a one-way breakup between the 16-year veteran and a team that seems to renege on not only its core "family-like" values but also any logical plan.

Indeed, Bergevin keeps repeating he wants defensive depth, yet this summer alone he's let Russian rearguards Markov, Alexei Emelin, future Norris candidate Mikhail Sergachev and Nikita Nesterov, as well as former future Markov replacement Nathan Beaulieu, go. In return, he got emerging star forward Jonathan Drouin and a third-round pick in a weak 2017 amateur draft.

That's after last year's widely panned one-for-one trade of P.K. Subban (an actual Norris winner who still has a decade of play left in him) for Shea Weber. For two years in a row, Bergevin went and got the exact player his team needed, but overpaid both times. Weber has three, maybe four decent years left and is signed until five years after the Apocalypse, whereas Subban just added a new dimension to the Nashville Predators. Weber - a slowing veteran who had just cost the Preds a Game 7 by being -5 in a 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks - was not worth a current Norris contender on the market, regardless of how you slice it. A star forward, perhaps, considering the very same day, Taylor Hall was traded for Adam Larsson, but not a better, younger, faster defenseman signed long-term but for fewer years, let alone one as charismatic as Subban.

For his part, Drouin is exactly the forward the team needs to spark the offense the way Alex Kovalev used to - and he's a local boy to boot. But the Tampa Bay Lightning were about to leave him exposed in the expansion draft, and would have had to offer a lot for the Vegas Golden Knights not to select him. And Drouin, a quick setup man who can stickhandle well and has a decent shot, is not fit to play center, just like Alex Galchenyuk, except "Chucky" already has a 30-goal season under his belt. Drouin for the "struggling" Galchenyuk? Fair to both teams. Sergachev, a young stud defenseman who didn't have to be protected at the expansion draft? That's called a fleecing.

Adding the fact that the Habs also lost Alexander Radulov this summer to free agency this summer and overpaid to keep Carey Price for three more years than necessary, which will hurt the team's cap for half a dozen years, the outlook for deep playoff runs in Montréal looks pretty bleak. Especially with the team's lack of a #1 center.

Taking all of that into consideration, as well as the $8.5M cap space available this coming season (Price's deal will only be effective starting in 2018-19), the Habs could have met most of Markov's salary demands.

To recap, last winter, his ex-wife died of cancer, forcing The General to take his bye week off in Russia to bring his pre-school twins back to Montréal. He calculated he'd need to play two more seasons to raise his three children - he has another with his new wife - without worrying too much about money, perhaps taking a job as an assistant coach when his playing days would be over. His ask was of $6M per, a slight increase from the $5.75M cap hit he carried in his previous contract.

We're talking about a 16-year veteran, an alternate captain and Team Russia's captain in many international events including a World Championship and an Olympic, a guy who played above his salary for just about every year he's been in the NHL, whose subdued and subtle play has earned the likes of Mark Streit, Mike Komisarek, Sheldon Souray and Subban massive contracts - the first three on other teams, at wages they couldn't match production-wise without #79 at their side, two of whom (Komisarek and Souray) retired in shame - and even drew praise for Norris-winner Subban as the "best defenseman on the team" for all the years he's followed hockey, not just as a teammate.

We're talking about the guy who took every single Russian player who came to the team under his wing for over a decade, and non-Russian defenders such as Beaulieu, Subban, Greg Pateryn, Mark Tinordi, Jean-Philippe Côté, Yannick Weber, Mathieu Carle and many others as well.

We're talking about the guy who was the best defenseman on the team in every month last year save for October (Weber had an amazing start that had fans salivating early on), at age 37-38.

It would have been easy for Bergevin to say "we're tight against the cap, how about 6.5 or 7 this year for a one-year deal, and a verbal agreement that on your 39-year-old contract next summer, when you may be falling into a third-pairing role, something along the lines of 3.5?", but instead he offered a one-year deal at $4.25M, in a "take it or leave it" tone.

Markov came back accepting a one-year deal, only to be told it was no longer on the table after the low-cost signature of Streit, who was the Pittsburgh Penguins' #8 or 9 defenseman on their Stanley Cup drive. If - and that's a pretty big if - the Pens have a better defense than the Habs, it isn't by much; Streit won't go from a #8 to a #2, he'll be a #6 at best, ideally a healthy scratch at times, considering he's actually a year older than Markov and never had his skill-set to begin with.

This move/decision is both a PR nightmare and a horrible hockey decision. A few weeks ago, Bergevin said "if you want loyalty, buy a dog"; good luck signing free agents with that kind of thinking made public.

Last year, I compared the Subban/Weber trade to the one that sent Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, an event that made me stop watching regular-season NHL hockey for seven years, and follow only the Avs and Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs. I boycotted the Habs for the entire season last year, and went to see the Ottawa Senators three times instead, buying my Mom a Craig Anderson jersey while I was at it.

The Markov situation just adds sadness to my frustration. It's not just that they sell you these guys that you learn to love watching, it's that they throw them out like they're nothing afterwards and are already selling you the next one before you've even got your head around it, yet the team just keeps circling the same drain, one year adding five defensemen during the season because "you can never have enough depth", the next adding "weight and toughness" in the guise of (Shea) Weber, Steve Ott, Andreas Martinsen and Dwight King, yet not retaining half of them when the team gets ousted in the first round by the Wild Card New York Rangers.

So I'm done with the Habs. At least until Bergevin's fired, but perhaps even longer.

I was keeping this card for Markov's 1000th game, which may never come now that he'll be suiting up in the KHL until Bergevin's gone, remaining stuck at 990, with 572 points (119 goals and 453 assists) to show for it, good for second on the Canadiens' all-time list, behind Larry Robinson and tied with Guy Lapointe; it's card #125 from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him wearing the team's best alternate uniform, the "reverse-red into white" one from 1944-47 that the team brought back during its centennial celebrations:
As a matter of fact, one can notice the Centennial patch on Markov's right shoulder in the picture.

He signed the card in blue sharpie during the 2015-16 season.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mika Zibanejad: Two Autographed Cards

As mentioned yesterday, there were numerous signings on July 25th, enough that I had to push back talking about Mika Zibanejad's to today. Which isn't to say it was the least important one; the New York Rangers signaled their intent on making him their first-line center following the Derek Stepan trade by signing him to a five-year, $26.75M deal that will count for $5.35M per season on the team's salary cap. It's the cap hit he was looking for in arbitration on a one-year deal - while the Rangers were aiming at paying him $4.1M - but extending the term to five years made it reasonable to both sides.

The question is, for many Rangers fans, whether Zibanejad has what it takes to carry that load and bear that pressure, and I think the former Ottawa Senators first-round pick (6th overall in 2011) does, indeed. After all, he's improved his points-per-game ratio in every single season so far, and already has two 20-goal campaigns under his belt. He doesn't get penalized much, only once reaching the 20-minute plateau, and he had a 0.66 PPG average last season, a year in which only seven players reached the 80-point mark. Only nine had a PPG average over 1.0, and that includes Steven Stamkos' 20 points in 17 games.

He also comes with tremendous pedigree, having scored the game-winner (and lone goal) in the 2012 World Juniors final, securing gold for Team Sweden against Team Russia. He has also won silver at the 2011 U-18 World Championships, and bronze at the 2010 U-17 Worlds, where he finished tied with current Rangers teammate J.T. Miller for fifth in tournament points with 9 in 6 games, behind American Rocco Grimaldi (14) and Russians Alexander Khokhlachev (13), Mikhail Grigorenko and Anton Zlobin (10 apiece).

The Rangers are particularly strong on left wing, with Mats Zuccarello being able to post some 40+ assists and 60-some points, and both Chris Kreider and Rick Nash having the potential to score 30 goals; on right wing, Michael Grabner scored 27 goals last season, Jesper Fast scored 15 in just 68 games and Pavel Buchnevich is looking to break out and has the potential to become a player similar to Artemi Panarin, meaning 30 goals and 70 points per season are not out of the question in his case. And the aforementioned Miller should also fit somewhere in there as well.

All of this is to say that playmakers such as Zibanejad and new acquisition David Desharnais - as well as returning third-line center Kevin Hayes - should have a blast this year.

Here he is from his Senators days, first wearing the white (away) uniform, checking Washington Capitals forward D.J. King in his lone 2011-12 game (with just 6:58 of ice time), on card #335 from Panini's 2012-13 Score set:
And here he is wearing the Sens' beautiful black "O-logo" jersey, on card #124 from Fleer's 2014-15 Fleer Ultra set, manufactured by Upper Deck:
He signed both in blue sharpie, tagging his jersey number (93) at the end, during the 2015-16 season.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mark Streit Autographed Card

There were three news-worthy stories in the NHL yesterday, and I went with the Robin Lehner contract signing first because, well, it happened in the morning while I was on my laptop. But there were two other signings yesterday, namely Mika Zibanejad and Mark Streit.

I'll get to both this week, but let's start with one that is local to me, Streit returning to the Montréal Canadiens after winning a Stanley Cup as a #8 defenseman with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Indeed, the veteran defeseman and former captain of the New York Islanders inked a one-year deal with a $700K cap hit, which is similar to what he used to earn in his first turn with the Habs, back when it wasn't clear if he could earn a permanent spot on an NHL defense corps. With the same coach as during his rookie season, Claude Julien.

Streit's come a very long way since the 2005-06 season, however. He exploded with 13 goals and a career-high 62 points playing alongside Andrei Markov in 2007-08, enabling him to sign a lucrative free agent contract with the Isles, with whom he had four very productive seasons, including a career-high 16 goals in 2008-09, the year he led the team in points with 56, well ahead of Kyle Okposo (39), Doug Weight (38), and Frans Nielsen (33), all of whom are forwards.

He then went on to have two very productive seasons as the Philadelphia Flyers' best defenseman, finishing fifth in team scoring in 2013-14 (with 10 goals and 44 points) and third in 2014-15 with 52 points. His age caught up to him in the last two seasons, and while he was no longer worth his $5.25M cap hit per se (though having surpassed his worth for the first two seasons, the end result is a wash, in my opinion), his production did mirror his actual salary and he did find ways to be useful.

Indeed, experience made him a better all-around defender, and his play in his own zone has greatly improved from his rookie season, going from being a liability to above-average and sliding back down to average, now that he's not as quick as he used to be. He can be a third-pair guy and not cost his team too many games. As a matter of fact, he did garner two assists in three Conference Finals games for the Pens against the Ottawa Senators and was a -1, so he contributed more than he cost.

GM Marc Bergevin had better come to terms with Markov, though, because Streit simply cannot replace him - not even on the powerplay.

Here's one from Streit's days on Long Island, wearing the team's classic blue (now-home) uniform, the captain's "C" in full display, on card #463 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 O-Pee-Chee collection:
He signed it in blue sharpie at last year's World Cup, as he suited up for a Team Europe squad that played their exhibition games at the Bell Centre.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Robin Lehner: Two Autographed Cards

A lot of hockey fans follow their local or favourite team and little else; they'll try to keep up with their team's former players, but not work too hard at it, usually just reading a couple of newspaper articles a few times a year when they're facing their former teammates.

Therefore, many Buffalo Sabres fans did not realize how serious - and seriously good - a guy like Robin Lehner is. Many lambasted then-GM Tim Murray for sacrificing a first-rounder and adding the expensive cap hit of David Legwand to acquire Lehner's services from the Ottawa Senators, but he's proved time and time again to having what it takes to be a #1 goalie in the NHL.

He's fiery, hates to lose, doesn't accept when his teammates don't give it their all, is prone to violent altercations or just intimidating opponents, was a second-round draft pick (46th overall in 2009) and won the Jack A" Butterfield Trophy (as the Playoff MVP) when his Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup in 2011.

Sure, he's had a few injuries - including concussion issues - since then and at one point had to share the net with Team USA alumni Craig Anderson and Ben Bishop in Ottawa, but he was always good enough to be a starter in the best league in the world.

He proved it once more last year, by posting top-10 numbers (.920 save percentage, 2.48 GAA, 1758 saves in 3418 minutes played over 59 games) on a team "boasting" one of the worst defenses in the league. I mean, have a look, it's a veritable "who's that?" of minuses and disappointment:
The offense was nothing to write home about either, as only Jack Eichel even came close to a point-per-game performance, while the likes of Evander Kane, Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart produced sub-par seasons at the same time.

Which makes the one-year, $4M contract Lehner signed today exactly what both sides needed: a "show me" deal to prove to new management that he can get the job done behind an improved team, and a salary worth his accomplishments so far that also fits perfectly under the salary cap.

In his honor, here are two cards from his days with the Sens, first wearing the white (away) uniform, on the "Retro" variant of card #408 from Upper Deck's 2011-12 O-Pee-Chee set:
And here he is wearing their red (home) uniform, on card #361 from Panini's 2013-14 Score set:
He signed both in blue sharpie after a Sabres-Sens game in February 2015. Both cards catch him in his usual "eyeing the puck while it moves" stance, checking with his stick that he's covering the right angle, ready to kneel down in a butterfly move should a shot come.

He celebrated his 26th birthday yesterday, so this will be a good week for the Lehner household.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cody Hodgson Jersey Card

Cody Hodgson.

Leading scorer at the 2009 World Juniors where he helped Team Canada capture gold, the Vancouver Canucks' first-round pick (10th overall) in 2008, the guy the Buffalo Sabres gave a six-year contract to only to buy him out of it after two seasons, and the guy the Nashville Predators took a risk-free flyer on ($1M one-year deal) that lasted only half the season.

I do not use the word often, nor do I take it lightly, but having disappointed three NHL franchises - two of which were struggling and needed him to develop into a good player - he retired prior to last season, after failing to land a contract, at age 26, making him a "bust", despite respectable numbers for "a player" (64 goals, 78 assists and 142 points in 328 career games), just not worthy of a tenth-overall pick.

He's now affiliated with the Preds' "youth program", although I'm not certain how even that will pan out. I mean, it's not the best example to have, someone who can honestly say "I had enough talent to be a top-line player in the best league in the world but coasted through and made millions by not trying hard enough and not impressing my coaches!"; the Preds wouldn't have made a worse move by handing the position to alcoholic and former drug addict Mike Ribeiro, who has accomplished far more on the ice and is just as bad of a role model.

Here's Hodgson wearing the Sabres' recent/retro blue (home) uniform, on card #BUFF-CH from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Black Diamond collection and Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set:
It features two matching game-worn jersey swatches.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Anthony Stolarz: Two Autographed Cards

When the Philadelphia Flyers selected Anthony Stolarz with the 45th overall pick (second round) in 2012, the plan was to let the first New Jersey-born NHL-quality goalie slowly develop into a #1 goalie. Whether it was going to take seven years to become a top-level puck stopper (Carey Price) or nine (Jake Allen), GM Ron Hextall was not going to throw him to the wolves sooner than necessary.

Five years in, he saw his first 7 games of action in 2016-17, winning the first one, earning a shutout in the second, ending up with a 2-1-1 record, .928 save percentage and 2.07 goals-against average, easily the tops on the team ahead of Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason.

That being said, his season in the AHL had its ups and downs, with a 2.92 GAA and .911 save percentage that ranked him behind Alex Lyon. So when Hextall extended both Lyon and Stolarz earlier today, it sent a clear message that Stolarz is not ready to be an NHL backup yet in his general manager's eyes. He'll need to dominate consistently in the AHL before getting that chance, which explains why Hextall also signed free agent on-again, off-again starter Brian Elliott for two years on July 1st.

I look forward to watching the 6'6" goalkeeper's development throughout the years. For now, however, here's a look at the uniforms he wore with the OHL's London Knights, starting with the black "away" one, with a throwback to the team's 1970s logo, on card #33 from In The Game's 2012-13 Between the Pipes set and CHL Prospects sub-set:
And here he is wearing the white alternate home uniform with the KNIGHTS downward wordmark, on card #12 from ITG's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed both in blue sharpie, tagging his jersey number (43) at the end, during the 2014-15 AHL season, after a Lehigh Valley Phantoms game against the Hamilton Bulldogs.

The cards show his goaltending stance very well: he's a tall, butterfly goalie who hasn't learned to keep his stick blade stuck to the ice and uses the "patting glove hand" method that cuts out some of the angles but reduces occurrences of reflex stops, particularly the middle two feet of the left post. I usually prefer when my students extend their hand outwards a little more to the left and not so much to the front - I'd rather their stance say "try me" than show fear and play safe, which I also call "play dead". But I've never played in the NHL, and Stolarz will one day star in it.

Fun fact regarding the cards: they do not agree on where he was born:
For the record, he was born in Edison and raised in Jackson.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Curtis Lazar Autographed Card

After trading for him earlier this spring and protecting him in the expansion draft, the Calgary Flames followed the expected route with prospect Curtis Lazar by signing him to a two-year "show me" contract whose cap hit is just below the $1M mark.

For a while there, we were using his achievements in the minors as promises that he'd likely be able to produce at the NHL level as well (with feats such as breaking Steven Stamkos' and Sidney Crosby's Canada Winter Games points records, winning a 2012 Ivan Hlinka tournament gold medal with Team Canada and captaining the Canadian team to gold again at the 2015 World Juniors on home soil in Montréal and Toronto), but after the trade, he did accumulate three points (a goal and two assists) in four games with the Flames, as well as suit up for one game in the playoffs.

It can be hard for youngsters to come in and learn a new system and get acquainted to new teammates in just a few weeks and make their mark enough to dress over guys who've been there all year.

He'll be a regular next season, in a line-up that will include such high-profile young forwards as Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Spencer Foo, Micheal Ferland and Freddie Hamilton, as well as veterans Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan and Kris Versteeg.

He'll be 24 by the time his contract expires, about to enter his prime, and considering he was drafted to be a cross between Milan Lucic and Mike Fisher by the Ottawa Senators (17th overall in 2013) following a fine WHL career with the Edmonton Oil Kings, that could be a huge deal for the newly-rebuilt Flames.

Speaking of the Oil Kings, here is what their white uniform looks like, on card #92 from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set and CHL Rookie sub-set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during the 2014-15 playoffs.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Marian Hossa Jersey Card

When all is said and done, Marian Hossa will enter the Hockey Hall Of Fame as one of the best two-way players of all time, the prototypical player of the 2000s and 2010s, a three-time Stanley Cup Champion and five-time finalist, and a guy who should at least have a Selke Trophy to his name but was robbed of one because of the position he plays. Indeed, wingers rarely get the honor, and some centers (Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Pavel Datsyuk) - despite being great players in their own right - have at least one too many.

It was learned last month that he will miss the entire 2017-18 season due to a skin disorder that some have equated to an allergic reaction to his hockey equipment, but as someone who suffers from a similar condition, I can say it's much more than that. In my case, it's not body-wide, instead concentrating on the patches of skin binding the legs and groin area, and my underarm on just one side. Rashes appear when in contact with a significant quantity of sweat, salt water, and/or extended friction, as well as some cheap, perfume-y deodorants. It burns so much it can cause the nerves in those areas to extend to create a forced movement, limiting the ability to continue whatever one's doing despite the pain, as the body can react without the brain's consent to change its condition.

Throughout my life, I've mostly dealt with this issue with my skin in contact with t-shirts and boxer shorts, so I can't imagine someone having that reaction while wearing hockey equipment that absorbs sweat on a permanent basis that you keep putting back on, nor can I fathom dealing with that on a larger scale than what I have - and if he's getting medical treatment for it, I assume he has it either in more open areas or has it on a larger proportion of his body.

Sure, some are complaining about his time off coming at age 38, when he's about to enter a four-year span where his salary will be $1M with a cap hit of $5.275M that goes off the books if he is on the long-term injury list; however, those folks need to remember that Hossa was still an important player on the Chicago Blackhawks last season, finishing fifth in team scoring with 45 points (26 goals and 19 assists) in 73 games with just 8 penalty minutes, used as the team's top penalty killer.

The Hawks could definitely still have used his services, and he still has enough skill to be an effective NHLer. As a matter of fact, the Hawks could very well miss the playoffs in his absence, now that they've traded away Artemi Panarin's 31 goals, 43 assists and near point-per-game production. Brandon Saad can almost replace one of Hossa and Panarin, but certainly not both of them.

We'll see how it works out in the end, and there's a small chance he could be back next year (though, at age 39, with a full year out of game shape, those chances are extremely slim), but for now, let's watch him wearing the Hawks' beautiful alternate old-school jersey on card #AF-MH from Upper Deck's 2010-11 SP Game-Used Edition collection and Authentic Fabrics sub-set:
It features a rather large red game-worn jersey swatch.