Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Jeff Hackett Autographed Card

It was hard deciding which card to feature in the post that will make my page views pass the 200,000 mark for this blog, but I thought I could go with things that represented me well as a goalie: old-school helmet with a white neck protector, Vaughn Legacy 2000 blocker, black pads, a mix of stand-up and butterfly, usually the best player on an awful team...

Like Jeff Hackett, seen here wearing the San Jose Sharks' inaugural white (home) uniform, on card #308 from Upper Deck's 1992-93 Series 1 set, featuring the NHL's 75th anniversary patch:
He signed it in black sharpie in his time with the Montréal Canadiens. You might recall my encounters with him were not the friendliest...

Still, he overachieved on teams that underwhelmed - throughout his career. Well, he may have run out of gas at the end, in his stints with Habs rivals Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers...

Monday, May 29, 2017

Sean Day Autographed Card

John Tavares, first overall, 2009 (New York Islanders). Aaron Ekblad, first overall, 2014 (Florida Panthers). Connor McDavid, first overall, 2015 Edmonton Oilers). Sean Day, 81st overall, 2016 (New York Rangers). These are the only four players to have been granted "exceptional" status by the OHL, meaning they could compete against players aged 16-20 when they, themselves, were only 15 years old.

Two of them - Tavares and McDavid - are centermen, and both are NHL All-Stars, so it's easy to see why that happened there. The other two are defensemen, and Ekblad is, indeed, such an exception that he already has NHL hardware (Calder Trophy, 2014-15) on his mantle. Day's development has not been going so smoothly...

I can't speak to his play as a child, because I didn't witness it - although some websites have his statistics from his days at the bantam and midget levels available for all to see - but here's a look at the rough numbers:
From HockeyDB
The good: his +/- ratings have improved every year, from -35 to -27 to -13 to a +24 split between two teams; let's not count the statistics with the Memorial Cup-winning Windsor Spitfires just yet, though, to keep this in the perspective of his playing for a non-contender for four years. It's still a definite improvement every year.

The bad: His offensive development took a major step back in 2015-16, prompting him to fall in his draft year, from a projected late first-rounder/early second-rounder to 81st, near the end of the third. Sure, he went back to a half-point/game rate in 2016-17 with a championship team, but keep in mind he's now an adult facing some teenagers and players who are at most two years older than he is, not four five like when he started out.

By the time he started playing in the OHL, he was already 6'2" and 220 pounds with tremendous speed, which had scouts salivating at the prospect of his further developing; that was forgetting that he still was just a kid, and one who had had fun playing hockey until then. Now came pressure, and accusations of laziness when he failed to meet expectations. Before he was drafted, he took his body fat down from 19% to 12%, which still had him at 228 pounds.

He's now a Memorial Cup champion. Maybe we can take a breath or two and wait until he's 24 or 25 to judge who he becomes as a hockey player and, more importantly, as a human being.

Here he is as a rookie, on card #101 from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set and CHL Rookie sub-set, wearing the Mississauga Steelheads' white uniform, which he signed in blue sharpie:
I'm not worried about his becoming an NHLer, because by the time guys get to be his size, they'll be older than he is, which means he has that long to round his game and training regimen out. Essentially, he's learning the pro game backwards. As long as the Rangers' staffers know that, he'll be fine. He just might not be a first-unit defender, but there's nothing wrong with playing 1000 NHL games as a #4 or 5 defenseman - it's still living the dream.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Fabian Brunnstrom: Two Autographed Cards

NHL General Managers are in a bind when it comes to re-tooling their line-ups, because they're generally looking for younger, cheaper players who are ready (and already developed) to hold the fort until their own draft picks are ready.

For a couple of years, this came from unsigned U.S. College free agents, but this year, there's been an unprecedented wave of signings from European leagues, especially the KHL and Sweden League, particularly the championship-winning HV71, who has now lost the league's Rookie Of The Year Andreas Borgman (Toronto Maple Leafs), winger Filip Sandberg (San Jose Sharks), goalie Linus Soderstrom (New York Islanders), and forward Kevin Stenlund (Columbus Blue Jackets).

Signing free agents allows teams to not give up an "asset" (someone they already have under contract that they'd like to keep) while stockpiling other assets; there is a limit of 50 NHL-level contacts per team, however, which usually amounts to a full NHL roster (23 players), one or two overseas rookies, most of an AHL roster (15-23 players), some ECHL prospects (1-5), and a few players in Juniors (1-10), meaning the number of contracts awarded becomes a commodity almost as precious as salary cap space for some teams.

But the road to the NHL is abrupt, and for every success story like Jimmy Vesey, there's a Jimmy Hayes to contradict it. Which brings me to Fabian Brunnstrom, the once-sought-after wunderkind who quickly climbed the ranks of Swedish Hockey from third division to second division to a fine rookie season as a 22-year-old in the Elite League:
When Brunnström turned pro in Sweden's third-tier league with Jonstorps IF in 2005–06, he posted an impressive 44 points in 38 games; the following year, he joined Borås HC, helping them reach the second-tier Allsvenskan with a league-leading 73 points in 41 games. Then he was off to Farjestads BK Karlstad, where he posted what, at first glance, seemed like a decent season, with 9 goals, a team-leading 28 assists, and 37 points in 58 games. Except that stat line doesn't hint at the fact that most of his points were accumulated in the first half of the season, and as teams got wiser to him and started paying more attention, his production turned silent. Which also explains why he was reduced to a single assist in 12 playoff games.

That's why NHL teams are now looking for players from championship teams, who have won individual or team hardware and have produced when the play gets more physical and intense.

Many teams were vying to retain Brunnström's services, and the "usual" Swede-happy teams were in the mix: the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks - but it was the Dallas Stars who got the final word when the Canucks fired GM Dave Nonis, who reportedly had a deal in place.

After being a healthy scratch for the first two games of the 2008-09, Brunnström scored a hat trick in his first NHL game, prompting American sports media types to go nuts, kind of how they reacted last October when Auston Matthews scored four in his first game.

He did alright the rest of the year, including scoring a game-winner against the Flames in Calgary, but could never equal that performance; he finished the season with a respectable 17 goals, 12 assists and 29 points in 55 games, but injuries started taking over his 6'2", 205-pound frame.

Things got worse in 2009-10, as he spent the year alternating between the Stars (2 goals, 9 assists and 11 points in 44 games), their AHL affiliate Texas Stars (5 points in 8 games) and the injury list, then spent the entire 2010-11 season in the AHL, splitting his time between Texas (21 points in 37 games) and the Toronto Marlies (14 points in 35 games), and league-hopping again in 2011-12 between the Detroit Red Wings (one assist and 4 penalty minutes in 5 games) and the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins (12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points in 45 games), and while that was an improvement over the previous couple of seasons, it wasn't enough to convince yet another NHL team to give him a shot.

And so he went back to Sweden, where he was never again a point-per-game player (or even remote close to one), before ending up in Denmark last year:
from his HockeyDB page
And that's where it ends for him, as he has apparently retired. We're left with Wings GM Ken Holland's words about him, how he lacked "leadership and toughness".

He's not the only "Euro-bust" in recent memory, what with goalie Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson never panning out as a #1 starter, Ville Leino having had just one decent year, Damien Brunner, Jiri Sekac...

In his defense, I probably would not have wanted to play in the Stars' Rbk Edge uniforms. Ugh. They're a "greatest hits"of everything you want to avoid on a hockey jersey, from a word-mark instead of the team logo on the chest to having the number on the front, which was even worse on the dark (home) uniform, as can be attested on card #207 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Collector's Choice set and Choice Reserve and Choice Rookies sub-sets:
The white (away) uniform wasn't as bad, and although the Texas-shaped alternate logo on the shoulders wasn't the best idea ever, it wasn't terrible. And at least the jersey didn't have awful, ill-suited piping across the chest and under the arms:
That's card #467 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Series 2 set and Young Guns sub-sets.

They both count as rookie cards, and he signed them both in blue sharpie while he was in the AHL.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Zack Fitzgerald Autographed Card

Zack Fitzgerald was a third-round pick of the St. Louis Blues (88th overall in 2003) who played a single NHL game, a 17-shift performance with the Vancouver Canucks in 2007-08. He's been playing for the Sheffield Steelers of the EIHL (British Elite League) for the past three seasons, after a decade of toiling around the AHL and two stints in the ECHL, mostly spent accumulating penalty minutes:
from his Wikipedia page
That being said, he's also won a championship while playing abroad (that's him with his wife, a fan of Iron Maiden):
Still, sometimes one game is enough for posterity, and he slots in extremely nicely as #49 in my Canucks Numbers Project, with card #503 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set and Marquee Rookies sub-set:
Note that the card lists him as "Zach", but he actually spells it "Zack". He signed it in blue sharpie while playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2011-12.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Javier Vazquez Jersey Card

Javier Vazquez had many highlights with the Montréal Expos.

His first shutout came on my birthday - September 14th - in 1999, against the Los Angeles Dodgers. By his third season with the team, in 2000, he was already the opening day pitcher, and had accumulated 8 wins in his first 11 starts that year, though the team being as bad as it was ended up catching up with him, as he finished with an 11-9 record. The following summer, he led the National League with 3 shutouts.

Following his final season with the team, in 2003, he told reporters he didn't like playing for "a team without an owner who couldn't afford to trade for a player to help down the stretch". That was actually putting it lightly: Major League Baseball actually forbade the team to even recall players from their minor leagues, essentially tanking a playoff-caliber team that finished 83-79 (fourth in the NL East), enabling the Florida Marlins (91-71) and Philadelphia Phillies (86-76) to pass them, and securing the division title for the Atlanta Braves (101-61). It was one of the most unsportsmanlike and deliberate fixing situations I've ever seen - and I follow hockey and the Arizona Coyotes situation.

For the 2004 season, he signed on with the New York Yankees, and many sportswriters saw him as that year's eventual Cy Young winner; he wasn't in contention, but he did play in his only All-Star Game that summer.

He played for the Puerto Rican team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic (while with the Chicago White Sox) and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting in 2009 while with the Braves. In 2010, in his second stint with the Yankees, he became the third active pitcher to beat all 30 MLB teams.

Still, seeing as I stopped following baseball after he left town, this is how I remember him best, wearing the Expos' pinstriped white (home) uniform:
That's card #DC-JV from Topps' 2003 Bowman Heritage set, featuring a grey game-worn jersey swatch.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tyler Bertuzzi Autographed Card

The Detroit Red Wings drafted Tyler Bertuzzi in the second round (58th overall) in 2013, and he was already saying things they wanted to hear, such as he's "meaner than his uncle", Todd Bertuzzi. High expectations indeed, because as much as the hockey world would rather forget Todd's high points to instead focus on his hit on Steve Moore, he was the toughest, meanest player and best power forward in the NHL for years; as a matter of fact, when it comes to adding the word "dominating" to a player's resume, Bertuzzi's West Coast Express (with Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison) ruled atop the NHL for as long as Eric Lindros' Legion Of Doom, though Lindros had very good seasons (read: point-per-game or near) without his linemates, which Bertuzzi did not, due to the fact that he was never the same following the hit, likely afraid to cost someone else their career because of a bad hit or if his temper flared during an on-ice altercation.

Comparisons between the two relatives are inevitable and unfair, yet warranted, because Todd played and dominated in the Dead Puck Era; he and Naslund had the size and fearlessness that allowed them to fire back at defenders who attempted to slow them down, and were among the rare few who thrived in that context; still, it being "Dead", his two best seasons were where he posted 46 goals (third in the NHL - and 97 points for fifth in the league - in 2002-03) and 36 goals (for 85 points, third in the NHL, in 2001-02). The rest of the time, he was a 25-goal scorer, which was still very good in that era because that's what top-line players did.

Nowadays, scoring is also an issue, with only one player (Connor McDavid) having reached the 100-point plateau this year, and none scoring 50 goals. Most players are defensively aware, and although there may be a slight discrepancy between the top of the elite class ("superstars") and "regular" stars, the systems at play are so sophisticated that teams' entire top-six are usually within the same range of point production.

In that context, a fearless, relentless 6'1'', 200-pound physical winger with decent hands can, indeed, expect those kind of minutes in his prime (ages 25-33), so I could see him get his 25-30 goals five or six times in that span, for sure. I think his peak/maximum upside would be something similar to a 2008-12 Alexandre Burrows, a top-line agitator who draws penalties, takes a few, and scores important goals.

For now, at 22 years old, he needs to add those ten missing pounds - he's currently at 190 - and continue developing. He went from a 43-goal season with the OHL's Guelph Storm in 2014-15 to 12 goals in 71 AHL games with the Grand Rapids Griffins the following year in his first pro season. He got up to 12 goals in 48 AHL games last year, while going pointless in 7 games with the parent Wings.

My plan if I were GM would be to have him aim for a 30-35 goal season in the AHL next year, then a 15-goal rookie season in the NHL, then a step up to 25 in 2019-20; Detroit, however, is in a rebuild, and they might look to speed things up by having him spend most of next year in the NHL to get that first year out of the way. We'll see. He currently has 12 points in 12 playoff games with the Griffins this year, his second-straight point-per-game postseason, so that probably has the Wings salivating.

Here he is wearing the Storm's white uniform, on card #9 from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set:
He signed it in black sharpie last November, after a game against my hometown Montréal Canadiens.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Mark DeSantis Autograph Card

Mark DeSantis was a career minor-leaguer who was never drafted and spent the bulk of his playing time in the South, in such leagues as the original IHL (San Diego Gulls, San Antonio Dragons, Grand Rapids Griffins), ECHL (Greensboro Monarchs, Jacksonville Lizard Kings, Louisiana IceGators, Augusta Lynx (get it?), Toledo Storm), AHL (Baltimore Bandits, Providence Bruins), the short-lived (1996-2001) WPHL (New Mexico Scorpions), CHL (San Antonio Iguanas, Amarillo Gorillas, Rapid City Rush), the recent-times (2007-10) IHL (Port Huron IceHawks) and the British Elite League (Basingstoke Bison).

With the Gorillas (2002-04), he was a player-coach, which prepared him for his later career behind the bench, first as an assistant with the Rush (2009-10), then head coach with the SPHL's Fayetteville FireAntz and CHL's Brampton Beast (2013-14), before returning with the Rush in their ECHL iteration, first as associate coach (2014-16), and as head coach this past season (2016-17).

He also played roller-hockey with the Anaheim Bullfrogs in the defunct 1996 league.

He must love to travel.

Here he is in the signed insert version of card #150 from Classic's 1993-94 4-Sport set, numbered 2562/3000:
On it, he's wearing the San Diego Gulls' "classic" white (home) uniform.

The Gulls, of course, were revived in last year's AHL realignment as the Anaheim Ducks' main affiliate. I'll probably dive deeper into the city's hockey-related history later this summer.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Petr Klima Two Autographed Cards

I mentioned Petr Klima yesterday and how he's been a teacher at Roman Hamrlik's hockey school for the past few summers, so I thought today might be a good time to induct him as #85 in my Oilers Numbers Project with these two cards:
First, though, a bit about the man.

Klima was the Detroit Red Wings' fifth-round draft pick (86th overall) in 1983, part of an amazing draft that also brought Steve Yzerman, Bob Probert, Joey Kocur, Lane Lambert and Stu Grimson to Motor City; he eventually made his way to Detroit for the 1985-86 season, where he scored an impressive 32 goals as a rookie, then 30, then 37, before cooling down and running into some, uh, disciplinary issues with Probert. Both players had a tendency to drink heavily and snort white powder in the middle of the night...

This led the Wings to play hardball with Klima, having him spend part of the 1988-89 season with their AHL affiliate Adirondack Red Wings, where he scored 5 goals (with an assist) in 5 games, which, when added to the 25 he scored in the NHL, also adds up to 30 that year.

The following season, he had 5 goals and 5 assists (10 points) in 13 games when the Wings sent him to the Edmonton Oilers with Joe Murphy, Adam Graves and Jeff Sharples  in exchange for Detroit native Jimmy Carson and long-time Oiler Kevin McClelland, and he posted 53 points (25 goals and 28 assists) in 63 games with the Oilers to again reach the 30-goal mark that year.

He would reach the 40-goal plateau the following season before spiraling out of North American hockey radars for the next decade, unable to repeat his past success with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins, then failing in comeback attempts with the Oilers and Wings.

For many, his greatest on-ice accomplishment is his contribution to the Oilers' 1990 Stanley Cup championship, when he scored the winning goal in triple overtime against former Oiler Andy Moog, after having been benched for most of the game:

Much has been said about Klima, and a lot of it was negative: lazy, a waste of talent, addict - but it's hard to assign those adjectives to a guy who has had five 30-plus-goal seasons in the NHL, a Cup, and another 30-goal season split between two leagues.

Then again, it was the high-scoring 1980s.

Here's what I have to say, as an Oiler fan growing up in the 80s: Klima was fast, had a great shot, and a knack for putting himself in a favourable position. You could say his talent was almost as pure as Alex Kovalev's (although with a lower ceiling), and you're allowed to say he had Thomas Vanek's defensive acumen, in that it was rare that he would have both skates inside the defensive zone. All that is true. But he was an exciting hockey player for six seasons.

Nowadays, apart from co-hosting and coaching the forwards at Hamrlik's hockey school in the summer, he coaches six youth hockey teams in the Detroit area, in which he is bringing more and more young Czechs so they can get acclimated to the North American game earlier than at the Junior age, in part so they have a better shot at an international career, but also because should they end up playing in North America, they will be more used to the lifestyle and perhaps steer clear from the temptations of sin.

That's right, Petr Klima is now a role model for young kids. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Now, onto the beautiful cards, first with him wearing the Oilers' classic white (home) uniform, on card #159 from Score's 1991-92 Pinnacle set:
And wearing Edmonton's best blue (away) uniform, on card #62 from Topps' 1991-92 O-Pee-Chee Premier set:
He signed both in blue sharpie last summer, tagging his classic #85 at the end. I love how all Oilers players wore those Jofa helmets, giving them a European/Scandinavian look.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Roman Hamrlik Autographed Card

One player who came to the Montréal Canadiens late in his career and surpassed expectations was Roman Hamrlik, the former first-overall draft pick (Tampa Bay Lightning, 1992).

Bolts fans remember him as the best defenseman on an awful team, one that accumulated minuses at pretty much the same rate as Wayne Gretzky accumulated assists, but the truth is he was a dependable defender when slotted correctly on teams with some talent. In terms of career points, he ranked fifth of his draft year with 638 (155 goals and 483 assists in 1395 games, again, playing defense), behind Sergei Gonchar (14th overall, 220-591-811 in 1301 games), Alexei Yashin (second overall, 337-444-781 in 850 games which included a year-long holdout and a buyout), Cory Stillman (6th overall, 278-449-727 in 1025 games) and Martin Straka (19th overall, 257-460-717 in 954 games).

What's more, even apart from his career-high 65 points with the Lightning in 1995-96, he has posted 40-point seasons with the Edmonton Oilers (45, in 1999-2000) and New York Islanders (46 in 2000-01 and 41 in 2002-03), then could be counted on for 30-some points in the twilight of his career, 2005-11, with the Calgary Flames and Habs, when he became a very good second-pairing defenseman who brought sound positioning, physical play and very good hockey IQ to the line-up.

He retired following the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, spent mostly as a scratch with the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, after which he moved back to the South Shore of Montréal where he holds the Hammer Hockey Camp in the summer, with fellow former NHLer Petr Klima, as well as Martin Hamrlik (his older brother, a coach in the Czech Republic) and Karel Svoboda, former Hab (and Jaromir Jagr's agent) Petr Svoboda's brother, who coaches a Midget AAA team on the island during the season.

Of note, he's a huge P.K. Subban fan, and was so even when they were both on the Canadiens; he says rumours of dissent within the locker room at the time were greatly exaggerated, and that those who did have an issue with him are mostly gone (reading between the lines, Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, who were loud and vocal but did not represent the majority of players, come to mind).

Here he is whilst wearing the Isles' blue turn-of-the-millennium away uniform, on card #119 from Upper Deck's 2001-02 Series 1 set:
He signed it with a beautiful silver sharpie, adding his Habs number (44) at the end, rather than the one he wore with the Isles (4).

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Hannu Toivonen 8X10 Autograph Card

Ah ha! I knew I had my own copy of this Hannu Toivonen signed 8x10 card! I finally got a hold of it while searching for this Jhonas Enroth card I've now traded away... but more on that when I talk about what I'm getting in return!

For now, let's focus on my second #SP-HT 8x10 picture/card from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Be A Player Portraits (the Signature Portraits sub-set:
Since my last post in 2013, Toivonen's been plying his trade in Finland, notably for the Tampere Ilves, the most decorated team in Finnish hockey, Finland's Montréal Canadiens, if you will. And, like the Habs, they haven't won a championship in a long time, in their case, since 1985.

He's had a losing record for the last three years, but his individual statistics are pretty decent:
From HockeyDB
I also found two of Nikolai Zherdev's of the same set, so look for that eventually as well.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers Jersey Card

I was wondering what happened to Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers recently, finding it hard to believe that a player who was a 31st overall pick (Edmonton Oilers, 2002) and played last season in Germany (with the Augsburger Panther) would be out of work at 33 years old.

Well, I found him when perusing stats from the Chinook Hockey League, as he played 3 games with the Lacombe Generals (posting a high 2.98 goals-against average but a decent .917 save percentage). If you remember this story about Ryan Smyth, they're the team Smyth's Stony Plain Eagles were facing in the Chinook League final. Both teams eventually made it to the Allan Cup, but the Generals made it to the final.

Justice was served, however, as the Grand-Falls Windsor Cataracts won the championship. Of note, the Generals brought no less than five goalies to the tournament: Drouin-Deslauriers, who was the third-string goalie, Steven Stanford, the backup, and starter Kramer Barnstable; Marcel Léger and Jacob Deserres were also on board.

So, yeah, that's where JDD is at these days. He hasn't appeared in a postseason game since surrendering a bunch of goals while with the Oklahoma City Barons in 2010-11...

He currently works as a sales and leasing associate at commercial real estate service company Cushman & Wakefield.

Here he is while with the Oilers, with a nice view of his mask, on card #M-25 (Black Version) of In The Game's 2010-11 Between The Pipes set and Game-Used Jersey sub-set:
It features a nice, large, two-colour game-worn jersey swatch from his days with the Oilers.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Aaron Williams Autograph Card

Aaron Williams was a second-round pick of the Buffalo Bills (34th overall) in 2011, becoming a regular in his third season with the team, coinciding with a move from cornerback to (strong) safety.

However, two severe neck injuries forced him into missing 22 games in the past two years, and with the Bills changing coaches, they opted to release him last March, weeks before his 27th birthday.

His football future is now uncertain.

Here he is wearing Buffalo's white (away) uniform, on the signed insert version of card#143 from Panini's 2011 Absolute Memorabilia set and Spectrum and Rookie Class of 2011 sub-sets:
It features an on-sticker, blue-sharpied autograph.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Chris Drury Jersey Card

Chris Drury's had a busy spring, starting with being named co-GM of Team USA's selection at the World Championships (with Bill Guerin), then watching the New York Rangers block the Buffalo Sabres from interviewing him for their own vacant GM position, to finally being assigned to manage their AHL affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack.

It must be pretty wild to have two teams you've captained fight for your services...

Drury is the typical All-American: a Hobey Baker winner in the NCAA (with the Boston University Terriers), a Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) winner and Stanley Cup champion (with the Colorado Avalanche) and, as mentioned previously, captain of the Sabres (held jointly with Daniel Brière) and Rangers.

Now, he will have the opportunity to show what he can achieve in a managerial position, although most of the team's player personnel decisions will stem from the Rangers' top brass (President Glen Sather, GM Jeff Gorton and senior vice-president and assistant-GM Jim Schoenfeld), and the team's record will have a lot to do with injuries to the parent team.

Here's Drury wearing the Sabres' 1996-2006 white (home) uniform, on card #GJ-30 from Upper Deck's 2003-04 Bee Hive set and Game-Used Jersey sub-set:
It features a black game-worn jersey swatch (complete with a white stitch in the middle of it) from the forward who finished his career with 255 goals, 360 assists and 615 points in 892 regular-season games, and 89 points (47 goals, 42 assists) in 135 playoff games.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Martin Parisien Signed EP

Last night, I had the pleasure to headline a unique show that featured three solo performers: Martin Parisien (formerly of Huis Clos) hit the stage first, a solo blues-tinged rockabilly act, then Vincent Letarte (from funk-country act Hangover Lobsters and blues-rock outfit Young Dogs) followed with his "Into The Beat" piece, which is pretty much a 15-to-20-minute drum solo. And then I got up on stage to sing selections from my French and English songbooks (feel free to buy a copy or two).

Letarte's name goes around as someone who can backbone a group of virtuoso musicians and will remain recognized as such, but Parisien is bound to become a household name for his songwriting, if not for his entire act. It's the beauty of being good at something: sometimes, others ask you to do it for them. Songwriters can expand their circle of influence to include that of other songwriters and even interpreters; the growth can be exponential.

I'd traveled with both guys to Toronto for Canadian Music Week in late April - there were nine of us in total, from five different bands, in fact - and we had a blast. At that time, Martin gave me a physical copy of his EP, and he jokingly signed it last night:
It's definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Philippe Boucher Autograph Card

Philippe Boucher's career mirrored that of another defenseman of his generation, Patrice Brisebois, in that both were extremely good with the puck, made very good passes, had an accurate shot that was just hard enough to go in on its own but also easy enough for teammates to try to deflect, and whose size had GMs and coaches hoping they'd be more physical and better in their own zone.

In today's NHL, these types of players - exemplified best by the likes of Mark Streit and Kris Letang - are now known as "puck-moving offensive defensemen", and most play top-4 minutes; this was also often the case in the 1990s and early-00s, but physical play was more prevalent (and refereeing was, dare I say, worse) back then, so forwards with lesser talent were usually tasked to hit them - legally or not - to prey the puck loose, and once a cycle was in motion, they had little means to stop it.

Some of these players won Stanley Cups in their heydey - Brisebois with the Montréal Canadiens in 1993, for instance - but others had a harder time at it. Boucher falls into the latter category.

Originally a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings after failing to make his mark in Buffalo for three seasons. The big knock over his time in L.A. was his inability to remain healthy, only suiting up for 80 games in a season once, in his final of eight seasons in the sun. It was with the Dallas Stars that he would truly find his groove, however, setting the team record for goals by a defenseman with 19, in 2006-07. That year, he made it onto the All-Star Game's starting roster (replacing the injured Scott Niedermayer), finished 12th in Norris voting and even got some Lady Byng votes.

However, as he was nearing the end of his contract and perhaps even his career, at age 35, the Stars sent him to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline of the 2008-09 season, and he provided defensive depth for a team that went on to win the Cup.

He did, in fact, retire after winning the championship, injuries having taken their toll.

In 2011, he was named President and GM of the LHJMQ's Rimouski Océanic, until he stepped down to become GM and head coach of the rival Québec Remparts after their own owner, President, GM and head coach Patrick Roy signed on to be head coach and VP of Player Personnel of the Colorado Avalanche.

In the three seasons the team has been under his watch, the perennial contenders reached the league final once, and were ousted in the first round twice, including a clean sweep this year against the Gatineau Olympiques.

Here he is while with the Kings, wearing their best-looking black (away) uniform, on the signed insert version of card #74 from Pinnacle Brands' 1996-97 Be A Player set:
He signed it in thin black sharpie... pretty much directly on the black jersey. Look for it, though, it's there!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Scott Hartnell Swatch Card

Scott Hartnell is a polarizing figure in today's NHL. Known mostly as a bruiser, folks tend to forget he's a three-time 60-point man whose career-high is 37 goals with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011-12, prompting the team to sign him to a contract extension that was sure to come bite them in the ass later, unless they traded him away eventually. Which they did, to the Columbus Blue Jackets, with whom his points totals went from 60 to 49 to 37 this year.

That's fine production for a 35-year-old physical player, by the way. But his playing time dipped in his second season in Ohio, a trend that will continue as the Jackets continue to improve with their current crop of youngsters. Hartnell has already lifted his no-move clause, so the Vegas Golden Knights may want to pick him up this summer. His actual salary will only be $3M while his cap hit sits at $4.75M, which could help the Knights underpay to reach the cap floor, exactly like the poorly managed and always-tanking Arizona Coyotes have been doing for years now. Except I trust the Knights to be a much better team than the Coyotes from the get-go.

I used to dislike expansion teams. The San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks and the like, they meant nothing to me and I mostly wanted to watch them fail time and time again. It was different for the Minnesota Wild and the Blue Jackets, because those teams were in actual hockey markets (Columbus had a team in the very first professional hockey league, along with Pittsburgh, Detroit, Sault Ste Marie (Ontario) and Sault Ste Marie (Michigan), with Montréal, Toronto and Ottawa, but the teams in non-traditional markets used to anger me. Especially the relocated teams. The Dallas Stars started out rich and bought themselves a championship early on, but I could never get behind the Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes. I still hate that the Canes have a Stanley Cup, and I hope the Sharks never do.

For some reason, though, I'm rooting for Vegas to do well. Just like I always root for the Jackets and Flyers to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. Which brings me back to Hartnell, seen here wearing Philly's retro/current home jersey, on card #97 from Panini's 2010-11 Pinnacle set and City Lights sub-set:
It features a white game-worn jersey swatch and is numbered #235/499.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tandon Doss Autograph Card

The Baltimore Ravens selected Tandon Doss in the fourth round in 2011, but cut him loose twice in three seasons, first waiving him, then re-claiming him when the Green Bay Packers did the same, then letting him become a free agent and sign on with the Jacksonville Jaguars, with whom he spent an entire season on the injured list before getting cut prior to the start of 2015, never actually suiting up for a game.

Technically, he won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2013, but was released before the next season even started. Apart from the championship, his most remarkable individual feat was an 82-yard punt return touchdown on his 24th birthday.

The lowlight of his career was probably his arrest for disorderly conduct, although he was eventually released from that as well, without charges.

Here he is wearing the Ravens' #89 purple (home) uniform, on the signed insert version of his rookie card (#19+5 in the set) from Panini's 2011 Crown Royale collection:
It's numbered #491/499. I got it from a multi-sport repack box a couple of years ago. It features an on-sticker autograph in blue sharpie.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Matthew Halischuk Jersey Card

After years of mostly splitting his time between the NHL and AHL organizations of the New Jersey Devils, Nashville Predators, and Winnipeg Jets, Matt Halischuk went overseas for the 2016-17 season, signing on with the German League's Iserlohn Roosters.

The right winger scored 4 goals with 6 assists (for 10 points) in 23 games, a decent point-per-game production on a team where the leading scorer, former Bridgeport Sound Tigers player Blaine Down, posted 33 points 18 goals and 15 assists) in 48 games.

It's also the team where former Preds goaltending prospect, 2008 first-rounder Chet Pickard (Calvin's brother) plies his trade, as Matias Lange's backup.

Halischuk's main issue has always been his size. Though he grew to stand at 6'0", his lanky 180-pound stature makes it easy to knock him off the puck, regardless of the league he's playing in.

Here he is wearing the Devils' red (home) uniform, on card #FT-MH from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Ice set and Fresh Threads sub-set:
It features two jersey swatches from a rookie photo shoot, one all-black and the other mainly white with a trace of red, encompassing all three of the Devils' current colours.

Monday, May 8, 2017

John Tamargo Autographed Card

With the prevalence of beards nowadays, most of my friends now look like this:
That's John Tamargo, Gary Carter's first backup catcher with the Montréal Expos, on card #519 from Topps' 1981 Topps set, which he signed in thin blue sharpie. I got it in the mail this winter, but because I had sent it a few years ago and kept the dates on my old computer (R.I.P.), I don't have the sent date for this one. I did receive it in early December, though.

Tamargo didn't play in the Majors much, 135 games over 5 seasons, with his lone complete season with one team being that summer of 1980 with the Expos, which is still good enough to slot him as #11 in my Expos Numbers Project.

After his playing career, he slid into management, as did his son, John Tamargo Jr., who now coaches in the Toronto Blue Jays organization; John Sr. is now the Latin America Field Coordinator for the Seattle Mariners. They did coach against one another in Single-A ball in 2012.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

My Habs Numbers Project: An Introduction

So many hockey collectors have ''special projects'' they pursue to make their hobby even more fun, from trying to gather specific cards from every single Vancouver Canucks goalie to having an autographed card of every player who has reached the 1000-point mark.

I decided to start a project myself: to gather a special piece (jersey cards could work, but ideally an autographed card) from a player from every number worn by a member of the Montréal Canadiens.
Here's a look at the task that's ahead of me, starting with those I have:

Head Coach: Scotty Bowman: check!
1: Brian Hayward, and Rick Wamsley: check!
2: Gaston Gingras (also wore #29): check!
3: Sylvain Lefebvre once (then twice), and Brian Engblom: check!
4: the one and only Jean Béliveau: check!
5: Stéphane Quintal and Guy Lapointe: check!
6: Ralph Backstrom: check!
8: Mike Komisarek: 8x10 picture check!
10: Guy Lafleur: check!
11: Claude Larose and Ryan Walter: check!
12: Yvan Cournoyer and Mike Keane: check! (also: Darcy Tucker)
13: Alex Tanguay: check!
14: Mario Tremblay: check! (also, Tomas Plekanec, who also wore #35)
15: Réjean Houle once, (then twice), and Bobby Smith: check! (also: George Parros)
16: Henri Richard: check!
17: Georges Laraque and Benoît Brunet: check!
18: Valeri Bure: check!, and Serge Savard: signed lithograph check!
20: Phil Goyette: check!
21: Brian Gionta: once, then twice, and Christopher Higgins: check!
22: Steve Shutt, Steve Bégin and Gilbert Dionne: check!
23: Turner Stevenson: check! (twice)
24: Andreas Dackell: postcard check!
25: Vincent Damphousse: check!
26: Josh Gorges: check!
27: Alex Kovalev: jersey card check!
28: Kyle Chipchura and Éric Desjardins: check!
29: Gaston Gingras (also wore #2) and Brett Clark: check! 
30: Mathieu Garon: postcard check, Peter Budaj, and David Aebischer: check!
31: Carey Price: check! (also Jeff Hackett)
32: Travis Moen: check!
34: Peter Popovic: check!
35: Alex Auld: check! (also, Tomas Plekanec, who wore #14 as well)
36: Marcel Hossa (also wore 81) and Matt D'Agostini: check!
37: Steve Penney: check!
38: Jan Bulis: postcard check!
40: Maxim Lapierre: check! (also, this Éric Chouinard postcard)
41: Jaroslav Halak: check!
42: Alexander Perezhogin: check!
43: Patrice Brisebois and Andrew Cassels: check!
44: Stéphane Richer: check!
45: Gilbert Dionne: check!
46: Andrei Kostitsyn: 8x10 check!
47: Brendon Nash and Stéphan Lebeau (also wore #50): check!
48: Jean-Jacques Daigneault, and James Wyman: check!
49: Brian Savage: check!
50: Stéphan Lebeau (also wore #47): check!
51: David Desharnais: check! (also wore #58)
52: Craig Rivet: postcard check!
54: Patrick Traverse: postcard check!
55: Francis Bouillon (also wore #51): check!
57: Blake Geoffrion: check!
58: David Desharnais: check! (also wore #51)
59: Brock Trotter: check!
60: José Theodore: check and check again!
61: Raphael Diaz: check!
63: Craig Darby: check!
64: Greg Pateryn: check!
65: Robert Mayer: check!
67: Max Pacioretty: check!
68: Yannick Weber: check!
70: Zachary Fucale: 4x6 picture check!
71: Louis Leblanc and Mike Ribeiro: check!
72: Mathieu Carle: check!
73: Michael Ryder: check!
74: Alexei Emelin: check!
75: Yann Danis: check!
76: P.K. Subban: jersey card check!
77: Pierre Turgeon: check!
79: Andrei Markov: check!
80: Ben Maxwell: check!
81: Lars Eller: check!
84: Guillaume Latendresse: check!
91: Scott Gomez: check!
94: Yanic Perreault and Tom Pyatt: check!

Captains: Béliveau, Gionta, Turgeon


Which means I'm looking to fill these:

7: This will be the hardest, seeing as Howie Morenz died in 1937 and the number was soon retired...
9: There are signature cards of Maurice 'The Rocket' Richard, but I don't think I'll ever be able to afford one!
19: This one will likely be between Terry Harper and Larry Robinson
33: Of course, my boyhood idol is Patrick Roy. Richard Sévigny would also be fine.
39: I think I also have a Reid Simpson one, but I'd love to upgrade to a Cristobal Huet or Enrico Ciccone
53: Rory Fitzpatrick and Ryan White have worn this number the longest
56: David Wilkie, Alain Nasreddine, Scott Fraser and Stéphane Robidas are the only ones to have worn this number in Montréal
62: It's a toss-up between Duncan Milroy and Frédéric St-Denis, but I did send St-Denis cards this season
66: Has only been worn in pre-season games
69: another pre-season number
78: I probably have some Éric Landry stuff somewhere...
82: It'd be nice to have Donald Audette's signature on a Canadiens' product
83: I don't even remember Éric Bertrand, but I'll gladly take the refresher course
85: never been worn, huh
86: Jonathan Ferland
87: never been worn
88: Chris Higgins wore it for a short while, as did Xavier Delisle
89: never been worn
90: I have lots of Joé Juneau cards, none of them signed
92: never been worn
93: the one and only Doug Gilmour
95: goalie Olivier Michaud would make my day, but Sergei Berezin would be fine as well
96, 97, 98, 99: have never been worn

Zach Fucale Signed 4x6 Picture

I've seen a lot of Zachary Fucale these past couple of seasons, and I expect to see more of him as he spends his summers improving with Montréal Canadiens goaltending coach Stéphane Waite before GM Marc Bergevin loses patience and sends him packing.

Folks were worried when he was sent to the ECHL earlier in the season, after the Habs hired veteran Yann Danis to back up St. John's IceCaps starter Charlie Lindgren, but Fucale delivered the best performance in net out of the three goalies on the Brampton Beast:
From HockeyDB.com
He also helped Team Canada win the Spengler Cup over the Holidays, with four wins in as many games, including a 40-save performance in the Final. That's going to look gold with his 2015 World Juniors and 2012 U-18 Ivan Hlkina Tournament gold medals.

He's also been his team's only winning goalie in the postseason:
From HockeyDB.com
He's certainly on the right track, including having been recalled to the NHL in March when Al Montoya was injured, although Carey Price did not relinquish the net.

And he is now part of my Habs Numbers Project, entering as #70 with this signed 4x6 picture from training camp a few summers back (2013 or 2014):
He's wearing the team's classic red (now-home) uniform, deflecting a puck away with his glove, wearing his Halifax Mooseheads equipment.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bryan Bickell Jersey Card

Enough about concussions. Let's talk about multiple sclerosis instead...

That may be a dark segue into today's featured player, but it is what is forcing three-time Stanley Cup winner Bryan Bickell to retire after a hard season that started with his being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, essentially as a Chicago Blackhawks salary dump that also cost them prospect Teuvo Teravainen.

Bickell, the Hawks' second-round pick in 2004 (41st overall) turned out to be, for most of his career, a dependable bottom-six winger who could be counted upon for some 10 goals and 20 assists year in and year out, but whose 6'4" frame carrying 230 pounds came in handy in the postseason, where scoring is at a premium for top-line guys but where grinders can usually turn in heroic performances against their ilk and provide the kind of secondary scoring that wins championships. At first glace, his 39 points in 75 playoff games is just that, but even more so in the 2013 (17 points in 23 games) and 2014 (10 points in 19 games) playoffs specifically, the first of which landed him a four-year contract with a $4M cap hit that Chicago eventually had to try to rid themselves of, as his regular-season statistics could no longer justify that salary in the end, particularly with the Hawks' top-heavy cap load (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford).

On every message board and all over the internet, however, commenters who requested his being traded would always have an addendum that featured the words "thanks", "great guy", "nice guy", "too bad" and so forth. Despite how unproductive he had become (2 assists in 25 games in 2015-16 strikes me as a perfect example), Hawks fans regretted wishing he'd be let go or bought out. They liked the man himself and were grateful for his help in securing the 2013 Cup.

So far, Father Time remains undefeated, although for the moment, Jaromir Jagr seems to want to give Him a hell of a fight. Sometimes, He throws curveballs, such as when Bickell was diagnosed with MS after seven games in the Canes' uniform, after a battery of tests trying to explain why he was feeling so weak.

Bickell went through treatment, went to the AHL to get back in shape, and played the Hurricanes' last three games of the season, scoring a shootout goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in his final game.

You hate the way he has to leave the game, but you have to love how he still managed to make the best out of it.

Here he is waiting for the puck, wearing the Hawks' classic red (now-home) uniform, on card #GJ-BI from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a white game-used jersey swatch.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Guillaume Latendresse Autograph Card

In keeping with yesterday's theme of concussions via Keith Primeau and Sidney Crosby, I chose to feature this card of Guillaume Latendresse's today:
That's the signed insert version (on-sticker, in blue sharpie) of card #128 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Team Canada set and Signatures sub-set, showing him wearing his country's (bland, "home") uniform from either the 2005 U-18 Championships (silver medalist) or the 2006 World Juniors (gold). Of note, there's a "73" tagged at the ebnd of his signature, meaning he signed the sticker while he was with the Minnesota Wild.

It ties into Team Canada's win over the Czechs earlier today at the World Championships, but also of Tender's own history of concussions, which forced him to retire at the age of 26. Among revelations Latendresse has made in the last few days:
  1. Doctors even recommend he stop playing shinny hockey with his friends (I used to play in a summer league with him and other then-current NHLers and prospects, that may prove to be his most difficult task yet).
  2. When he hit his head playing Wii with his son last year, for an entire month, when a fellow RDS game analyst would go on for too long, Tender would lose track of the conversation and forget what he was supposed to be speaking about, on air.
  3. He barely hit his head when putting his daughter in the car a few days ago; he has been sleeping 12 hours a day since, in addition to napping for four hours at a time, with headaches, eye pain and motion sickness, just from a very minor bump.
  4. Stress, anxiety, pain, headaches and fatigue are regular occurrences, even three years into retirement.
  5. If he doesn't get at least 8 hours of sleep in a given night, he simply cannot operate the next day. I remember his social life extending past his bedtime and his being fresh as roses early the next morning. And he's still just 29, so it's not all just age doing the damage.
  6. He's less patient than he used to be, and gets angry at times as well.
  7. After six concussions in his last three seasons, doctors suggested he take a year or two away from the game; it's been nearly four years, and he still isn't feeling well.
  8. He spent a full year on antidepressants.
  9. He couldn't play without painkillers in his last few seasons. Tylenol was a minimum requirement; Advil, Motrin and Aleve were a regular part of his game-day diet.
  10. He couldn't talk to trainers, coaches or general managers, because it would be the end of his career; all were interconnected, working for the team, and he didn't want to build a reputation as a fragile player. Things were worse in Europe, where contracts are not guaranteed for "foreigners" who get injured.
  11. He has thought "If I get hit in center ice, that's probably it, I'll be a vegetable-state father of two" prior to and during games.
He also talks about how he now has to deal with his situation, cope and make the best of it, because his condition will never improve; this is as good as it gets for him going forward, the new normal.

Looking back now, he wishes he'd stopped a year or two earlier; however, he knew he was an NHL-level top-six forward and wanted to get back to that level, prove his doubters wrong and do what he had set out to do his entire life. This is, after all, the same player who scored 25 goals in 55 games with the Wild in 2009-10.

When you're in the action - or right outside of it, in his case - it's hard to gauge the repercussions in your old age. You hear of the extreme cases but figure you're an athlete, you're in better shape, you're tough, you'll be fine, as long as you avoid "the next one". Then the one after that. Then you find out we're all soft inside, and that the stories about failing health and difficulties living in the day-to-day were actually selling it short. That "pain" doesn't feel painful unless you're actually dealing with it in the moment. That head trauma isn't just an aching tooth you can pull out, or back pain that will resolve itself in weeks or months with pills and physiotherapy - it's in the area that controls your entire body, it ruins your day, and possibly even your life. It's fucking hell.

That's what Latendresse is living with right now. And Primeau. And Marc Savard. Years removed from whence those injuries occurred.