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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Changing Of The Guard

What kind of fan would I be if I didn't address the events of yesterday's NHL Free Agent Frenzy?  Not a very good one I'm guessing, because the Penguins as I knew them when I woke up Tuesday morning are a far cry from the Penguins that exist on paper today.

There is a long...well, long is an understatement...let's go with tradition...There is a tradition in Pittsburgh sports that is deeply rooted in the blue-collar town that supports it's teams.  Hard work, gritty, physical, gutsy, call it what you like but the ideals of a primarily working class community have translated to how they expect their sports teams to be.  The Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins have all spent many years (during the era of free agency and salary caps) spending as little as they can for as much as they can.  It's never been about stacking a team with superstars or paying that one big phenomenon $1 billion a season.  It's been about competing at the highest level with rosters that can slug it out with the best of their respective leagues (of course the Pirates are an exception until the last few years but that's a different story).

The argument will be made that some of these Penguin teams have had superstars or currently do (ie. Crosby, Malkin, etc. now and the days of Lemieux, Jagr, Coffey, Francis, Trottier, etc. before) but most of these were obtained through drafting and player development after the fact due to poor finishes the season before.  In many cases, you had players willing to take pay cuts in order to compete on teams they felt would be contenders.  But I'm focusing more on what transpired yesterday in the crazy phenomenon known as the opening day of Free Agency.

The list of Penguins that became a casualty to free agent signings in other cities is astounding to me.  Either this has been the most movement I have seen in recent memory or maybe I have just not been paying attention.  I realize the Pens are cash strapped when it comes to acquiring new talent.  This has much to do with the contracts for the likes of Malkin at $9.5M, Crosby at $8.7M, Letang at $7.25M and Fleury at $5M affecting this years cap.  But with a total salary cap of $69M, some obvious holes in the scoring lines of the roster, and a brand new management team at the helm that's already off to a shaky reception, the Pens walked away from yesterday with about $8.3M left in their pockets and some serious questions left in the minds of their loyal fanbase.

Here are the players that will no longer be suiting up in Pittsburgh after yesterday:

James Neal - - Traded to Nashville
Tanner Glass - - Signed with the NY Rangers
Matt Niskanen - - Signed with the Washington Capitals
Brooks Orpik - - Signed with the Washington Capitals
Jussi Jokinen - - Signed with the Florida Panthers
Deryk Engelland - - Signed with the Calgary Flames
Joe Vitale - - Signed with the Arizona Coyotes
Chris Connor - - Signed with the Washington Capitals

With the exception of maybe Connor and Glass, this is not a list of scrub players or throw-aways by any means.  In fact, you not only have the departure of the number 2 and 3 defensemen but the entire supporting cast of the Malkin line has been dismantled.


Although I was a big James Neal supporter, even when his temper got the best of him, I was not as upset about it as many in Pittsburgh.  I think Neal was a product of his environment and even though he put up some amazing numbers after coming over from Dallas, his production has since declined and he didn't look to be playing on his previous level.  Jokinen bothered me a little but all along, I knew he was just a rental player.  He fits in well with the Florida team he chose to sign with.  The Niskanen deal was inevitable, although highly overrated in my opinion, and I wish him the best of luck.  I don't, however, think he will be putting up the same numbers he did last year in Washington.  Again, like Neal, he was another product of the talent around him and his canon shot from the point flourished because of it.  Of all those guys, I think overall Vitale's services will be missed the most.  You can usually supplant a loss in some of your scoring or get faster guys on the ice.  Vitale wasn't any of those but his face-off skills and penalty killing abilities were top-notch and are something not easily replaceable.

Coincidentally, or maybe not, both these guys found new
homes yesterday, Brooks in Washington and Ryan in
Vancouver.
The one I'm most disappointed with is Brooks Orpik.  Orpik has never been anything else but a Penguin.  He was never the guy that was going to be nominated for a Norris Trophy but he was the guy that helped the other guys do it.  He was never the guy that put up tons of points or even assisted in goal scoring, but he was the guy on the back end that made it happen.  Sure he took some questionable penalties and calls over the years but what defenseman worth their contracts doesn't?  I saw Brooks staying with the Pens for his entire career and eventually retiring and joining the club in some type of behind the scenes roll because of the respect he received from his teammates.  Instead, the management changes that have occurred over the last few months soured his outlook on the franchise and the locker room and he began looking for a change.  The market for aging defenseman seemed to me to be slim but his leadership abilities and intelligence of the game was something the Capitals needed and couldn't pass up.  That's why they most likely overpaid for his services for the next 5 years, something the Pens couldn't afford to do.  I know it was nothing personal but somehow I still feel slighted.  

That's how it goes being a fan in free agency times.  When you lose a player to another team, especially a "rival" team with lots of history, it hurts.  You sometimes take it personally.  You feel like you've been betrayed by your friend that you have known all your life.  But then you see the schedule and make note of the first game you will be playing against their new team.  That first shift where they get matched up with their younger, quicker replacement.  They take a shot into the boards or get dekked on a beautiful move toward the goal by their former "best friend" or bunk mate.  It's at that moment, you finally forget they once wore the same color sweater.

More on the future of the team and the new additions later.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

And Here Are Your Finalists

The NHL Awards are June 24th this year at the Encore Theatre at the Wynn in Las Vegas.  Last I checked, they will be broadcast on the NBCSN and CBC in Canada.

Everyone has their opinions of who should win and why so I figured why not start a discussion.

First up, everyone's favorite award.  The 2013-14 NHL General Manager of the Year Award.  I don't have a horse in this race since the Pens GM is only a few weeks old and the previous one is unemployed.


Marc Bergevin of the Montreal Canadiens

Dean Lombardi of the Los Angeles Kings



Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks

My vote goes for Bergevin because I think he had less to work with and took a team that some people had written off and made them an Eastern Conference finalist by adding names like Briere, Vanek, Parros, and Murray (plus he played for the Penguins once upon a time).  But...since the Kings won the Cup, Lombardi will most likely win this one.


Next up is the Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year.  Again, I have no horse since my team is currently without a coach because the old one, Dan Bylsma, was relieved of his duties.  He is currently interviewing for one of those expansion teams down south.

Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings

Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning


Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche

The obvious choice here would be Mike Babcock considering how he was able to guide that team to it's 23rd consecutive playoff berth despite over 400 man games lost to injury.  With Datsuyk and Zetterberg out for 37 games, he was still able to get that team to perform.  But, my vote is going to go to Jon Cooper because he did more with less I think.  Coming into the NHL as a head coach is rough and many guys can't cut it but after winning the Calder last season in the AHL and focusing this team around a "youth-movement", he was able to guide them to a second place finish and playoff berth, all the while having Stamkos on the shelf for half the season and losing Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline.


The next award is what I would consider the most important.  The Ted Lindsay Award is given to the most outstanding player and is the only award voted on by the players themselves.  To be honored and respected by sportswriters is one thing, but to get that from your peer, teammates, and colleagues is something entirely different.

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins


Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks

Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers

I'm not even discussing this one.  Crosby is my vote.  When you have the #1, 2, and 3 scorers in the league, the obvious pick is #1.


The NHL Foundation Player Award goes to the player that applies the core values of hockey - commitment, perseverance and teamwork - to enrich the lives of people in their community.  The player that wins this gets $25,000 donated to their chosen charity on behalf of the Foundation.

Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins


Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks

Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks

If this award was for on-ice performance of some sort, I'd be going for Duncan Keith.  But it's not.  My pick goes to Brent Burns.  He has donated over $1 million to the Defending the Blue Line program which provides children of military families the chance to play the expensive game of hockey.  Anyone that uses their fame and fortune to help support the military is a winner in my book.  Plus he shaved off his signature horrendous beard, raising $24,000 in the process for DTBL.


The big award every year is the Hart Trophy.  This is presented to the player that is voted the most valuable to his team.  It's a little lopsided sometimes in the voting because this comes from the Hockey Writers Assn. but all the players this year a very deserving.


Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins


Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks


Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers

Same guys as the Lindsey Award and again, my vote is for Crosby.  He already won the Art Ross for the leagues best scorer.  The man is not only the MVP of his team but of the league as well.  Without him, the Pens play different.  With him at 100%, they are virtually unstoppable.  He makes everyone on the ice better.  Everyone, offensively and defensively.  I'm not knocking Getzlaf either though because he had the best season of his career.  But I also would never vote for a Flyer for anything other than who goes first in front of the firing squad so, sorry Claude.


The next award is the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy which goes to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game of hockey.  The winner gets their name on a $2,500 donation to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund.


Jaromir Jagr of the New Jersey Devils

Manny Malhotra of the Carolina Hurricanes

Dominic Moore of the New York Rangers

Of the three guys here, Dominic Moore has the best story (and will probably win).  He gave up hockey to take care of his wife who had liver cancer and eventually passed away last year.  Malhotra's story is a good one too, being able to fight back from an eye injury that most guys would have called a career.  But, give it to Jags.  You kind of have to, don't you?  At least I would.  Plus, how many trophies is he going to be getting from here on out?  This guy is ageless and each year since his return, has shown he can still play, can still compete, and still be a force on the ice.  His training regimen is awe-inspiring for a 42 year old.  Hell, it's impressive for an 18 year old.  His dedication to the game of hockey and staying play-ready is second to none.


The next award is the only one chosen by one person, and that's Mark Messier.  The Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award is given to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice, during the regular season.  Each year, Mark reviews a list of suggested recipients submitted by clubs and fans.


Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings

Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks


Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks

Brown has been captain of the Kings for the last six seasons and does a ton of work for local children's hospitals in LA.  Getzlaf has his big golf event every year that raised $300,000 last year for his charity.  But my vote, since it's "on and off" the ice goes to Jonathan Toews.  Few guys in the league can even come close to the impact he has in his leadership role on the ice in Chicago.  He's been the team captain since he was 20 years old and his work with the Make A Wish foundation in Chicago is legendary.


My second favorite award is the James Norris Memorial Trophy given out to the leagues best defenseman.


Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins

Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks


Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators

I'm going with Weber.  Chara always gets nominated for this award because he basically never leaves the ice.  Keith is a great D-man and is well deserving of the award.  But both these guys have help.  The best offensive and defensive D-man is Weber in my book.  He led all defenseman in points, led his team in scoring, and finished the last half of the season as a +11.  That means when he is out there, Nashville is a better team.


The Vezina Trophy goes to the leagues best goalie.  It isn't given to the most handsome guy, the most liked guy, the most charitable guy, etc.  It goes to the best goaltender...period.

Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning


Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins

Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche

Varlamov was a force in Colorado.  He broke his coaches (Patrick Roy) franchise records and put up some highlight reel worthy saves this season.  His run in with the law earlier in the year hurts his popularity contest here but there is no denying his talent on the ice.  Bishop was also a beast for Tampa Bay and the biggest reason they finished second and made it to the playoffs despite having much of their star power depleted.  But the best goalie this year was Rask.  Without Rask, Boston doesn't float to the top of the East or make the playoffs.  He put up the second best save percentage, tops in shut outs, fourth in GAA and fifth in wins, the only goalie to rank top 5 in the statistically tracked goaltending categories.  He was in beast mode when they needed him to be and Boston won the President's Trophy as a result.


The Frank Selke Memorial Trophy is given out to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.  In other words, the defensive minded centerman and wingers.


Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins

Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings

Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks 

If this was 2013, I would say either Bergeron or Toews were easy picks but this year, my vote goes to Kopitar.  The only guy on the list to appear in all 82 games, he logged the most ice time of anyone (except Crosby).  He's a big reason why the Kings were the league leaders in lowest GPG.  He also finished a +34 and won over 5-% of his 1,451 face offs.  Now that the Kings have the Cup, he's a lock for sure.

I know most people don't care about the NHL Awards but if you are interested in leaving your thoughts, please do.

Monday, June 16, 2014

This Was A Sad Weekend In Sports And Entertainment

First, the greatest coach in Steelers history and arguably the history of the NFL, Chuck Noll passed away.  The Hall of Famer that is the only coach to win four Super Bowl titles died Friday night in Pittsburgh of natural causes.  He was 82 years old.  Without Noll at the helm, the Steelers never become the juggernaut in the 70s, nor carry that legacy and tradition on to the future generations of the team.  "Steeler Football" wouldn't exist if he hadn't agreed to take over the hapless Steelers in 1969.  The rest is history.  When he retired in 1991, Chuck had a 209-156-1 record over 23 seasons.  Like Dan Rooney said, "He was one of the great coaches of the game.  He ranks up there with Halas, Landry and Lambeau."

Then, I learned that my favorite, and almost everyone in America's favorite, radio DJ, Casey Kasem passed away on Father's Day.  I can't tell you how many installments of American Top 40 I listened to as a kid just to hear the songs and quips about the artists read by my favorite Scooby Doo character, Robin from Batman, and the original Cliffjumper.  He had been hospitalized after getting an infection and passed away after suffering for years with dementia.

Now to make matters worse, one of my favorite all time players in MLB history and HOFer, Tony Gwynn passed away after a bought with Cancer.  He was a big man.  Stocky, like me.  I identified with players like him.  Most sports collectors know well of Tony's feats.  He won 8 NL batting titles, had over 3,000 hits in his career and was looked at as an example to aspiring hitters everywhere; all this while playing for the mostly bad San Diego Padres teams of the 80s and 90s.  This is obviously another lesson in a long line of cautionary tales in the use of tobacco.  After having two surgeries to remove the cancer in his cheek, he eventually was taken back to the diamond in the sky.  He will be missed.

They all will

This is why I always say, my heroes are ghosts.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Is It A Sign

I'm not a huge autograph collector.  Casual is more like it. But I do have a pretty large collection of hockey autos that I've accumulated over the years.  With all the TTM blogs and a wealth of samples on the internet, I can usually find a good reference when I need it. 

But, this time, I'm stumped.  I found this auto in a box of stuff from one of the many collections I purchased over the last decade. The problem is, this signature looked too clean.  So of course my reaction is "too good to be true." 

As I began perusing the web for examples I noticed one glaring issue. While there were some autos that looked similar,  there were way too many variations on how the player signed. Even on actual certified autos, his signature was all over the board depending on what year, what product, or what he was signing it on.

I am throwing this one to the blog readers out there...What do you think?  Is it Live or Memorex?


Thursday, June 5, 2014

My COMC Experiment Update

First, I doubt anyone even knew I had a COMC experiment.  But that's neither here nor there.

My experiment was simple enough...take a few cards, turn them into a few more cards, and amass a collection without sending anything to them or purchasing store credit to do so.  Then try to flip as much of the collection to turn a positive sale in order to by more inventory.  My ultimate goal was to increase my $18 investment 10X in a year.

The focus of my collection is on pre-1989 hockey cards, seeing that the overabundance of 1990s stuff was too overproduced and available and the 2000+ stuff was basically too expensive or just didn't sell (although I do have some stuff from those eras).  I had $18 in leftover store credit from a purchase I had made about six months before so I used it to acquire a few decent 1960s and 70s cards.

My experiment started on 8/8/2013 with my first sale of a 1970-71 Topps Pete Mahovlich card with condition sensitivity.  It's still going pretty strong too, albeit not as strongly as in the beginning.

But to date, here are my stats...


  • I took an opening balance of      $18
  • I purchased a total of                   38   cards for my inventory
  • I have sold                                 190   cards from my inventory
  • My inventory currently has         457   cards for sale
  • My total sales amount is        $240.39
I would say that has been a success, wouldn't you?  I increased my sale to purchase volume by over 13Xs my original investment.  That's pretty good considering the small amount I started with.  I also have quite a few cards in my inventory with values near $1 per card, not bad for mostly pre-1980s stuff.  

I guess the moral of this story is, you can make money on cards if you are patient with the process and aggressive with marketing.  COMC is a good marketplace to buy singles but you won't get rich off selling there, especially after the cash out fees.  But it has been a fun little project to work on a couple times a week and it's always fun to see my Daily Stat that gets emailed to me so I can see what sold.  I have basically turned COMC into my own personal cardboard stock market.

If anyone wonders, my username on there is "dogfacedgremlin" and I generally entertain most offers on cards, as long as they are realistic to what I purchased them for.  I always counter with my lowest price.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

So Pierre, You Wish To Mock Me

This summer off-season started off with a bang for the Pittsburgh Penguins when the team fired GM Ray Shero.  I will just go on record as saying I don't like that move.  I don't think it was the right one and I think the Pens are going to be entering some interesting times going forward over the next few years because of it (and I don't mean good).

The real problems I saw this season were first, the injuries, but also the player disconnect in the locker room and the direct the coaching staff tried to take the team.  If anyone should have been sent to the showers early, it should have been Dan Bylsma and the rest of the coaching staff.  I like Dan.  I like what he has done in Pittsburgh.  But it is time to go because his coaching style is not going to bring this team another Cup.  It just won't.  But, alas, his job was safe, Ray was sent packing, and the search for a new GM began.

The latest news is that Pierre McGuire, my arch-nemesis (and most of the millions of other NHL fans in the world), has had not one, but two interviews in Pittsburgh for the job.  Two interviews?  Really?  The man with the biggest ego in all of sports broadcasting (yes even bigger than Don Cherry and Mike Milbury) is being considered as a rehire for the GM position?  Really?

Ok, let me get right to it.  Pierre is smart.  He is a bonafide Rembrandt when it comes to Xs and Os on paper, with chalk, or on those tiny rink shaped dry erase boards.  He is a master with numbers, a wizard with lineups, the maestro at play design.

BUT.....

The guy is awful, just plain awful at player relations.  I said rehire earlier because originally, he was brought into the Pens as a scout for Scotty Bowman and eventually "earned" a spot on the bench as assistant coach for the back-to-back Stanley Cup Championship teams in 1990-91 and 1991-92.  So, yes, as a coach (or should I say NHL employee) he has two Cups to his credit.  But after that stint in Pittsburgh, he took his talents to Hartford where he not only became the assistant coach, but also took over the head coaching job when Paul Holmgren stepped down to be the full time GM.

Any Hartford fans out there?  Hello?  Anyone?  Those that remember this time will remember how absolutely horrible his tenure was with the team.  From off ice player fights, bar room brawls, player dissent in the locker room that spilled out to the ice, and frequent temper tantrums backstage, McGuire earned absolutely zero respect from the fans, the city, and especially his players.  Even the team captain at the time, Pat Verbeek, said the best thing the team ever did was fire McGuire.

The guy is so full of himself and his perceived ability to out-coach anyone in the league is legendary.  In post-game interviews coming off losses, his comments would focus on out-coaching the other team.  I remember an interview where the Whalers lost big time, I forget the opponent, but his comment was that he put a better game plan on the ice and his players just couldn't find a way to execute.  Really?  That isn't going to win you fans back there.  He even bragged repeatedly about shutting down Mario Lemieux once despite the fact they were destroyed in part by a 4 goal performance from Kevin Stevens.

As smart as he is with statistics and analysis, I think he lacks that in respect from his peers and his inability to guide a team.  A GM needs to be able to make those decisions.  You are responsible for building a team, not just a talented one, but one that can play together.  A team that can go out, each and every night, learn from each other, and get better together.  Unity, is something the Pens struggled with this year I think. In McGuire, I don't think the Pens are going to find their answer.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Continuation Of My Fair Weather Facebook Rant

Not many readers of the blog would actually know that I posted a rant on Facebook.  Nor would many of you even care.  But I was just plain sick of hearing the whining coming out of Chicago and Northwest Indiana sports stations, newspapers, radio personalities, and yes, so-called fans about what was wrong with their beloved Blackhawks.  Since most of my readers (if there are any of you left) on here will most likely "get it", I figured why not share.

I can't believe I am coming to the defense of a Chicago team but I am.  Here is the original post from Facebook yesterday, followed by some commentary.

I'm a Pittsburgh Penguin fan stuck in the middle of Blackhawk country. I wasn't always outnumbered. Only in the last 8-10 years did it get this way after the majority dormant fan base woke up from hibernation realizing a) Chicago has a pro hockey team and b) they're pretty good. A couple Cups later and now, everyone's a Hawks fan. But if you aren't, that's ok. You can basically go [expletive deleted] yourself which is a common phrase I have heard for at least the past 3 years if not longer.

But i don't care. I'm also a hockey fan, period. I like good hockey. I love great hockey. I really love playoff hockey. And the Kings/Hawks series was just that.. Great playoff hockey. Period.

So to all the Hawks fans that have been asking questions and wondering what happened to their beloved team? The answer is...NOTHING! They played their best games against a tough as nails team that will most likely annihilate the Rangers in the Final.

There is nothing wrong with your scoring ability, your players heart, your line pairings and combos, your goalie, your coaching staff, or your organization. The only thing wrong is YOU. The fans that question anything about this team.

The Hawks are one of the best teams in the NHL and will be for years to come. When it came down to it, the Kings just got the pucks in the right spots, they got the caroms, they got the rebounds. That's it. Period. That's a big part of playoff hockey.

So from a Pens fan to the ever expanding kingdom of the so-called Hawk loyal, go back into hibernation. I know the true hockey fans want no part of you and I'm sure the real Hawks faithful don't either.

Let me clarify some things.  Yes, I posted that.  I am just tired of bandwagon fans who claim to be die-hard....regardless of what team you claim to like.  There is no such thing.  You can't wake up one day and decide you will bleed for your time, kill for your team, or die for your team (okay maybe a slight exaggeration but real fans are rabid).  It doesn't work like that.  Now the first paragraph where I talk about the "expletive deleted" thing, that happened.  It happens a lot.  Mostly by drunk or well on their way to be guys at bars that think no one else, especially those living in this area, should be allowed to cheer for another team.

But it also happens with these people that call themselves fans that were no where to be found in the 80s, 90s, or pre-Toews/Kane.  If you are in the Chicagoland area, go to any sports bar and take a poll of everyone wearing a Hawks jersey with a current player name on the back.  Ask them who Dirk Graham is.  Ask them who Steve Larmer is.  Ask them who Tony Amonte is.  Ask who Tony Esposito is and you'll get "the guy from the Binny's Beverage Depot commercial."  Then ask who Jeremy Roenick is and see how many say "That guy on NBC with the greasy hair".  There are going to be exceptions, of course, but the norm is not what you would think.  The rabid fan-base that the sports analysts talk about is largely an artificial one generated by recent success.

I enjoy hockey and as a fan of hockey, I love when people find the sport for the first time and realize there is something they have been missing.  But what I don't like are the pretenders.  Don't be one of these fans that is here when you win and criticizes, mocks, and eventually disappears when you lose. There is no reason to crucify your team because they don't win the championship, regardless of the sport.  If you can make it one step from the top, you made it one step from the top.  No one else can say that except the one person/team in front of you.  You are still among the best, you are still elite.  Cherish that, because in today's sports, salary caps, free agency, and league parity have made it anyone's game.

For the Hawks, they will be back next year with a chip on their shoulder.  Come playoff time, they will be sitting right there with the rest of the elite.