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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Well That Didn't Go As Planned, Now Did It?

Well as most of you know, JagrWatch 2011 is officially over.  After weeks (months) of speculation and posturing, the wait for Jaromir Jagr to come back to the NHL officially ended yesterday as the Penguins second greatest player of all time decided that it was in his best interest to take a job in Philadelphia.  That's right, people.  I said Philadelphia.  You know?  The Penguins biggest rivals!! 

In the last two days, the Pens were led to believe by the people in the Jagr camp (ie, Petr Svoboda, his agent) that he was still making a tough decision but his heart was in Pittsburgh.  He had always talked quite candidly about how he left the city early last decade and how he always regretted (or so he claimed) how it all went down.  Does anyone remember the "dying inside" comment?  I do.  The city of Pittsburgh does.  But we got over it.  He spoke before of being willing to take a pay cur or even play for nothing if he could just play again for Mario Lemieux and show him that he still had something in the tank.  Remember the interview during the Olympics?  I do.  The city of Pittsburgh does. 

Everyone seemed willing to let bygones be bygones and move on.  Getting one of the most storied players in franchise history had set the city a buzz with excitement.  It also polarized many Penguin fans because of that feeling everyone has for someone that they loved dearly who betrayed their trust and respect.  On one side you had the people that wanted him back, if nothing else, but to bring himself back into the Pittsburgh Penguin family and retire where he belongs.  On the other side were the naysayers that saw nothing but the same old Jagr antics that we last saw, upsetting the locker room chemistry and wreaking havoc off the ice.  Then there were those, like yours truly that saw a different perspective.  I saw a guy that was willing to put aside his ego, admit his mistakes, and rejoin a team that made him who he was.  He was a guy that despite being almost 40, can still score, can still skate, and can still scrap.  We all saw that in the World Championships and Olympics (albeit on wider ice).  Having a guy like that would drastically improve not only one of the top lines on the wing by complimenting Crosby or Malkin, but also jumpstart the power play that was all but non-existent last season. 

But alas, these shenanigans that transpired yesterday, I'm not too sure either myself, or the city of Pittsburgh will ever get over.  When it came down do it, despite what you might hear different, it came down to two things.  The same exact two things that doomed the Jagr/Penguins relationship the last time.  Money and Ego.  With all the contact his agent and the Penguins had over the course of the last month or so, you would have thought a deal was already worked out.  Even his agent, after the fact of course, said this wasn't about money.  The Pens deal was a one year deal worth $2Million, hardly a feeble gesture to a guy that is just short of 40 and hasn't played the NHL style of game for a few years.  If he really wanted to come back to Mario, he would have taken that in a heartbeat.  Svoboda even said he had another offer of $6Million which I doubt, but if that's the case then why not go there?  Why go somewhere that is only offering $1.3Million more than the place you say your heart is in?  It doesn't make sense.  Or does it.

Part of Jagr's problem with the Pens was that despite being the anchor of the team for so long after Mario's retirement, he never really had the lockeroom.  It was always other guys that stepped up and garnered the respect of the younger guys and kept the team together.  There were rumors of his temper tantrums and shouting matches with other players, none of which I can substantiate but it is an example of how his attitude and ego began to creep out of control.   Despite all this, he wore the Captain C and continued to put on scoring clinics night after night around the NHL.  When Mario came back, he was made to relinquish the C back to his "boss" and now teammate and assume the position of second fiddle once again.  He never really got over that and part of the reason for the jump to Washington the first time was because in a Caps jersey, he would be numero uno. 

I think same goes for Philly.  In Philadelphia, after their clearing house sweepstakes style dismantling of their team, Jagr will be that number one guy.  They have no superstars left on the Flyers other than maybe Claude Giroux or Danny Briere.  Two of their franchise players with seemingly lifetime contracts were wiped out.  First they parted ways with Jeff Carter who is one of few pure 40 goal scorers left in the league, taking a draft pick and Jakob Voracek from the Jackets.  Then they dumped their captain and the heart and soul of the team, Mike Richards to Los Angeles for Wayne Simmonds and Braydon Schenn. 

So Jagr is now the man.  His agent told Pittsburgh sports radio yesterday that this decision was based on Jagr going where he had the best chance to succeed.  He didn't say best chance to win, he said succeed.  And there it is.  He wants a chance to go out on top.  A chance to win a scoring title again.  A chance to win another trophy without the name Stanley on it.  A chance to be the center of attention and the focal point of a line with all eyes on him.  That would shut up the critics.  That would make all the haters sit back and say, "Hmmm?  Maybe he still has it."  He wouldn't have gotten that in Pittsburgh.  At best, he would have been the fourth best player on the team.  A worst, maybe the sixth best.  He would be playing under the shadow of Sidney Crosby, who has been molded into one of the all time greats already at an early age by that same man that previously led the way for his success. 

So yes, I'm upset.  I can't say I won't ever get over it.  Despite the fact that it's just a sport, being a fan goes a bit deeper than that.  When something happens to your team, you feel it too.  The excitement as well as the agony are felt by everyone that calls themselves fans.  I got myself sucked into the frenzy caused by a former player, legend, and childhood "hero"s attempt at another shot at greatness.  Instead, i will have to settle by watching it happen in an orange and black jersey. 

But just to pour salt in the wound, Philadelphia went a step further and picked Max Talbot off the free agency wire, signing him to a five year deal.  Because of his play last season and his drop in production, the offer made by the Pens for him to stay involved a pay cut.  Max was a fan favorite in Pittsburgh for not only his demeanor on the ice, but his civic contributions around the city for various charities and events.  Plus, who could forget that fight with Carcillo that jump started the Pens comeback on their way to the Stanley Cup.  Or, the two goals he scored to help win said Cup.  I have no ill will for Max other than the team he chose.  I don't blame him for not wanting a pay cut when someone else was willing to offer him more.  But why did it have to by Philly?  I think he will do well and I wish him the best. 

Mike Rupp also was signed by the Rangers.  I think Ranger fans are still in shock that Jagr wasn't even offered a deal by the team he last played for, and played well.  Jagr made that team somewhat relevant again prior to the lockout, until Glen Sather wouldn't offer him a longer term deal.  He jumped ship to the KHL and had been there ever since.  See there I go, back to Jagr.  I wish Mike Rupp well too and hope he succeeds with New York.

Man I'm so ready for hockey season again. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jags a Pen Again?

Ok, enough is enough.  I can't sit idly by and watch this thing unfold before my eyes involving one of my all time favorite players without making some commentary.  I just can't.  So consider this a warning.  The post may contain sudden outbursts of excitement and jubilation followed by moments of doubt and pain.

If you are a hockey fan and don't live under a rock, you are already aware of the ongoing saga of Jaromir Jagr, arguably one of, if not THE greatest European born hockey player of all time.  Argue all you want with your Lidstrom's and your Bure's or your Ovechkin's.  I will just ignore you because you are wrong.  For those of you that don't know, here's a quick recap.

Jagr, who is now 39 years old, has continually expressed interest in returning to the NHL for quite sometime.  He has played the last three seasons back in Russia but has since peaked the interest of a few teams due to his stellar play at the Olympics and World Championships.  The teams that showed interest were rumored to include Detroit, Montreal, Los Angeles, and Tampa Bay.  But the most hype and press hullabaloo surrounds his possibly return to where it all started, Pittsburgh. 

Flash forward to three days ago, when Jagr's agent, Petr Svoboda (yes that Petr Svoboda), mentioned his potential "trip" across the pond to New York/Washington/Pittsburgh?  Flash forward again to today.  Jagr is rumored to have been making his way to Pittsburgh to potentially give a response directly to Ray Shero and Mario Lemieux regarding their rumored 1 year, $2 Million dollar offer.  And here we are.

Now no one seems to know where he is.  No one has gotten a decision or heard from him in hours.  Detroit still thinks they may be in the running for a chance to sign him.  Pittsburgh fans and sports writers alike are going bat $#!+ crazy right now, salivating at the idea of having a former Penguin icon strap on the skates one more time.  The Pens apparently set today as a "deadline" day for a decision on whether he is going to sign.  There is, afterall, more than one player to be signed, including Asham, Kennedy, Adams, and Dupuis (to which three already signed as of me writing this).  Technically Jagr can't officially sign a contract until July 1st but he could let a team know of his intentions.

So what are those intentions?  He wants to play in the NHL again.  That is obvious.  The question is for how long.  I can't see anyone offering more than a year or two on a contract.  Plus, at what cost?  $2 Million seems to be a max number that he could get although going back to Russia and the KHL would probably get him more.  But the thought of retiring as an NHLer would all but guarantee him a first ballot HOF nod.  Plus if you believe the rumors, he has always thought he owed Mario a debt of gratitude and has spoken many times of returning to play for him again.  But I'm not entirely convinced he has enough left in the tank.  That being said, is it worth the $2 Million to get him for one last hurrah?

To me...that answer is a resounding YES!!  Bring him back, even for only a year.  He would be a perfect compliment to a Crosby line or Malkin line and would instantly make the power play 68% better.  Even at half speed, he is better than half the guys in the NHL today.  I don't care how much it hurt when he left.  I don't care how he wanted all the spotlight and didn't want to take the pay cut to stay with the Pens.  I don't care that his visage was burned in effigy for years thereafter.  I DON'T CARE!!  I'm over it.  I was over it five years ago.  I was definitely over it in 2008 after the Cup win.  I want to see him back in Pittsburgh.  I want him to retire as a Pen where he belongs.  But if not with us, at least against us.  Yeah, I said it.  As long as he comes back, I don't care.

I'm excited by the thought.  It's the best news in the Pens camp since Crosby started skating again.  Whatever happens, it was at least a welcomed distraction for the last few weeks.  I can't wait to see what happens over the next few days.  July 1st is only two days away.

He's HOF bound regardless though.  He is 9th all-time in NHL scoring with 1,599 points in 1,273 games, 42 behind Joe Sakic, which he could easily surpass in one season.  17 years in the league with 11 in Pittsburgh has been quite an accomplishment as well.  Not to mention the two Stanley Cups, Hart Trophy (was also a finalist five times), five Art Ross trophies and four Lester B. Pearson Awards.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Prospecting the 2011 NHL Draft class.

I thought I would take a look at just how many cards are out there for the players that were drafted in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft this year.  Prospecting is always one of those gray areas of card collecting.  You really don't see it too much with Football and Basketball because most of the time, there are very few players that actually get cards that don't have a chance to play.  But for Baseball and Hockey, this is a common practice as many card manufacturers focus on rookie cards of prospects and minor league players that may or may not have an opportunity to get playing time.

Now many of these guys that went in the draft may be invisible for a few years since player eligibility is very broad for the draft.  According to the NHL rules, all players age 19 or older including any player who will be age 18 on or before September 15 in the year of the draft, or reaches his 19th birthday between September 16 and December 31, is eligible by claiming so prior to the May 1st filing deadline. Did you catch all that?  Good, there's a test tomorrow.  Essentially, unless these guys are brought on teams in desperate need of assistance or are the second coming of Sid or Alex, they could begin a long career on an AHL team.  

So let's take a look at how the card world is populated by the potential future stars of the NHL, starting with the Top 10.  (Card count information was pulled from  I, in no way, endorse Beckett for anything other than a pretty thorough checklist)

1.  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Drafted by Edmonton) - center from Red Deer

Ryan has approximately 74 cards as of the writing of this post.  Of those, 66 are memorabilia cards, almost 2/3 of the entire lot.  There are also 27 autographs and 51 of the cards are serial numbered.  Only 2 of the 74 are actually what can be considered base cards.  As you can guess, ITG has the lionshare of the cards.  In fact, I think they have all of them from that list.  I'm not sure if Red Deer put out a local release for their team that features Nugent-Hopkins or not.  If they did, just add however many you know of to that count.  I can't imagine it is very many. 

Considering his being drafted by Edmonton, chances are pretty good that you will see him in Upper Deck's Victory, Flagship release, and subsequent other releases, as well as anything Panini may be putting out.  I would look for his Victory card (especially if they do the black parallels) to go for a pretty high price out of the box.  Same goes for the Young Guns card, although I can't see it getting as much sustained attention as his fellow teammates Eberle, Paajarvi, and Hall unless he comes out firing on all cylinders.

2.  Gabriel Landeskog (Drafted by Colorado) - left wing from Kitchener

A whole 2 cards out there for Mr. Landeskog.  He has a base card in the 2010-11 Heroes & Prospects set by ITG and also an autograph card.  That is it.  Again, not sure if the Kitchener Rangers put one of in a team set but I'm guessing there aren't many releases.  First cards should show up in Victory followed by the low-end releases by Panini. 

3.  Jonathan Huberdeau (Drafted by Florida) - center from Saint John

I think Florida got a good player in Huberdeau at the #3 pick.  This guy has 14 cards floating around out there with possibly some local releases from Saint John.  I think they may have even put out a Subway Series set in Canada that he might be in too.  But the official count of 14 includes 12 memorabilia cards including this beauty I have up here, 4 autographs, and 9 of them are serial numbered.

4.  Adam Larsson (Drafted by New Jersey) - defenseman from Skelleftea (Sweden)

Larsson plays for Skelleftea in the Swedish league.  As you can imagine, there aren't a ton of releases out there for Swedish teams/players.  That's a shame though, because that league is jam packed full of talented star potential that could easily make a huge impact in the NHL.  Larsson has 14 cards listed online with 12 of them being from Swedish releases.  The only 2 that aren't are both from, you guessed it, ITG.  He has 2 memorabilia cards with 3 autographs and 3 cards are serial numbered.  No, I do not have the card pictured above, although I hope to win it because it looks quite cool.

5.  Ryan Strome (Drafted by New York Islanders) - center from Niagara

Not even ITG can claim to have a card of Ryan Strome.  When you do a search online, it comes up blank.  I did, however find a Niagara Ice Dogs release from this past year.  So that would be 0 official cards and 1 team release.  The card in question is above.  Look for Victory and the Upper Deck base to be the first cards of Ryan, if he gets any playing time.

6. Mika Zibanejad (Drafted by Ottawa) - center from Djurgarden (Sweden)

Maybe someone else will have better luck finding any release for Mika.  I couldn't.  Not even a Swedish league card to speak of either.  Maybe one of you custom card creators out there can create one.

7. Mark Scheifele (Drafted by Winnipeg) - center from Barrie

Winnipeg's first pick in their return to the NHL and they choose a guy with not cards.  Isn't that great?  I'm pretty positive that Mark has something out there by way of a Barrie Colts release but as of writing this, I haven't found one. 

8.  Sean Couturier (Drafted by Philadelphia) - center from Drummondville

Sean has quite a few cards out there.  Officially, there are 40 cards, all of which come from ITG products.  37 of them are memorabilia cards.  There are 13 autographs and 34 serial numbered cards.  I did find at least one Drummondville Voltigeurs release with a Couturier card so that would bring the count to 41.  By the way, what the heck is a Voltigeur?  Some kind of Pirate?  Sean will most likely get some playing time with Philly and will probably have at least a Victory card.

9.  Dougie Hamilton (Drafted by Boston) - defenseman from Niagara

There is at least one Ice Dogs card on the Bay right now and I'm sure there will be more real soon.  Dougie has a total of 9 official cards on the checklist.  All of them are memorabilia cards.  In The Game put out a tribute insert set in Heroes & Prospects celebrating the Subway Series.  Each of the 9 cards are various versions of this card.  Hey look, there's one now.  These cards are cool because they barely fit in a holder.  The double seam makes the card almost twice as thick as normal.  Hamilton will definitely have a Young Guns card and a Victory card because Boston always lets their young players get some playing time in the beginning of the season. 

10.  Jonas Brodin (Drafted by Minnesota) - defenseman from Farjestad (Sweden)

Jonas is another Swedish player with few if any cards.  Officially, there aren't any listed on the checklist.  I also checked the Bay and found nothing other than a few 8x10 autos.  The Swedish Eliteset's don't list him on their checklists, either.  Considering Brodin is still under contract with Farjestad, he will probably not suit up for the Wild till at least 2012-13.  I don't expect to see a card of Mr. Brodin in any regular release other than ITG, at least in the short term.

I plan to figure out the rest of the first round players cards as well.  As a recap, for the Top 10 players there are 156 total cards divided between 7 players.  If it weren't for ITG, there would be virtually nothing available for early collector's to get their hands on.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Do You Get To Cash in Your Class of 2011 Cards?

Now that the 2011 NHL Draft is in the books, those of us that happened to partake in any opening of 2010-11 ITG Heroes & Prospects may want to revisit our stacks.  At a rate of about 1 per box, ITG threw in Class of 2011 Mystery Draft Redemption cards that would net you a pretty nice return.

The cards featured a gold silhouette of a player on the front with a red border at the bottom stating "Class of 2011 Heroes And Prospects" and then a designated player letter.  The idea was that each player letter would correspond to a draftee at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.  ITG announced the list of players about ten days after the 2011 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game where Team Orr, coached by Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark, destroyed Team Cherry 7-1 (bet you can't guess who coached Team Cherry...that's right Darryl Strawberry).  In case you haven't made your way over to the In The Game Heroes & Prospects page in a while, here is the list of players chosen by ITG for each letter:

Player A - Sean Couturier
Player B - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Player C - Gabriel Landeskog
Player D - Jonathan Huberdeau
Player E - Dougie Hamilton
Player F - Nathan Beaulieu
Player G - Sven Baertschi
Player H - Ty Rattie
Player I - Ryan Murphy
Player J - Brandon Saad

As you can see by the image, I had Nathan Beaulieu here.  I also had an A and a C if you are keeping score at home.

Now, on the back of your card, there will be a draft position stamped in foil that designates a respective spot in the first round of the draft.  The idea is that if your player on the front, matches the draft position on the back, you win.  It's like gambling without the sound of plinking coins in a hopper.  What do you win, you ask?  Well If everything matches, you would send your card along with your info into ITG and you would receive a Game-Used Memorabilia card that is numbered /10.  Their official rules don't state whether it will be of your player or not but I can only assume that to be the case.

For those that may or may not have checked out the draft, of the list of 10 players, to many pundits and fans surprise, only 8 of them were drafted in the first round.  So if you have Player H - Ty Rattie, or Player J - Brandon Saad, sorry for your loss but thanks for playing.  That leaves A-G and I.  Here is the list of players and their draft positions.  See if you are a winner.

Player A - Sean Couturier; Drafted 8th by Philadelphia
Player B - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; Drafted 1st by Edmonton
Player C - Gabriel Landeskog; Drafted 2nd by Colorado
Player D - Jonathan Huberdeau; Drafted 3rd by Florida
Player E - Dougie Hamilton; Drafted 9th by Boston
Player F - Nathan Beaulieu; Drafted 17th by Montreal
Player G - Sven Baertschi; Drafted 13th by Calgary
Player H - Ty Rattie; Drafted 32nd (2nd Round) by St. Louis
Player I - Ryan Murphy; Drafted 12th by Carolina
Player J - Brandon Saad; Drafted 43rd (2nd Round) by Chicago

So if your card matches either A-8, B-1, C-2, D-3, E-9, F-17, G-13, or I-12, you are a winner.  You have until, well, I don't know when you have until.  They haven't posted that information online yet.  But if it is anything like the last few redemption programs, you may get at least a year or more, although supplies may be slim depending on how many of each redemption card combination they made.  

I unfortunately was not a winner.  I had Landeskog at 17th, Beaulieu at 20th and Couturier at 2nd.  I was at least close with the Beaulieu.  If you have any of these, post a comment and let us know how you did.  If you may have won, leave a comment and let us all know what you plan to do with your card (ie. sell it, cash it in, trade it to me for some shiny marbles).