Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hey Look Who's Writing About Hockey Cards! This Guy!

Thanks to some budgeting, a couple of unexpected gift cards, a slightly better month on eBay, and countless brown bag lunches I was able to secure a new box of cards. On a beautiful October day in Chicago I took the CTA up to the Western stop to visit Tim’s Baseball Card shop. I’ve been a couple of times this year, but not since I’ve moved out on my own. The money just hasn’t been there to justify it until I scored big getting rid of a couple of cards (thanks Buster Posey!).

So I figured why not reinvest in a box of 2010-11 Panini Certified. The online reviews have been mostly positive, with the major concern being the number of parallels and inserts. Not a problem I thought, as a recent player collector convert I’d figure I’d score enough cards that didn’t matter to me to swap for new Lecavalier’s. Who knows, maybe I would finally pull a Vincent insert on my own.

I didn’t.

Not only did I not get an insert, I didn’t even get a Vincent base cards. Not only did I not get a Vincent base cards, there was nary a current Lightning player to be found. Nor was there a Sidney or an Ovechkin or Datsyuk to be found. Sadly, for the Captain there was no PK Subban, nor was there a David Krecji for Shane. As a matter of fact I didn’t pull a single base card that I could trade with anyone.

That’s because I didn’t pull a single base card at all. 52 cards with 52 serial numbers stamped on the back. Apparently, I done got hot-boxed. That’s right, Panini knew I would be visiting Tim’s store today, sometime late in the afternoon. They knew that someone who had promised to pick up a box on Friday would not show up thus leaving me with the last box in the shop thereby guaranteeing I would be wowed and write up a great review. Those dastardly demons!

Actually it appears that one out of every eight boxes have been stuffed with nothing but parallels. There have been reports of some folks getting more than the estimated number of hits. It seems that either they have a whimsical sense of quality control or that Panini is splashing into the hockey market by giving their customers more than what they expect. Either way I’ll take it.

Despite the joy of opening an entire box of cards that had a limited production run I’m not overly wowed by the set on a whole. Of the 50 cards I pulled there were some nice ones, a lot of shiny ones and one or two that garnered a second glance. Yet I’m not going to be heart broken to part with any of them.

The tight photos on the player limit the variations of poses that you see so that after a couple of packs the images are almost redundant. Winger waiting for a pass, goalie playing the puck, defenseman waiting for a face off, etc. Not exactly the awe inspiring camera work that other sets put out there (UD regular for instance).

The inserts are plentiful and a little bit better. I’m a fan of the Masked Marvels. Anytime I get to see an overhead shot of a goalie making a save I’m happy, even if it’s tiny goalie. The Certified Champions would make a nice card to get hand signed, nothing beats a picture a player holding the cup and showing the ultimate joy.

Overall, I was happy with this box as it gives me plenty of fodder for trade or sale on the bay. Would I recommend it for purchase? I would, just know what you’re getting into. If you’re a set collector run from this box. It will drive you insane with all of the variations. Better to wait till someone else collates it and buy it from them.

Four hits per box for about $100 isn’t bad either. It seems to be breaking down the middle pretty much with two auto’s and two jerseys (that’s what I pulled) and there is the usual mix of good players and midline common skaters.

Now on with the crappy photos.

Three stacks of Platinums.
1 Green # to 5
10 Blue # to 250
32 Red # to 999

The inserts

Mirror Gold Brad Richards 5/25
Mirror Red Zack Boychuk 158/250
Masked Marvels Blue Ondrej Pavelec 59/100
Masked Marvel Regular Steve Valiquette 434/500
Certified Champions Nicklas Lidstrom 236/500

The Hit's Part One

Marc-Andre Fleury Certified Champions Jersey Card 59/99
Derek Roy Blue Mirror Jersey Card 63/100

The Hits Part II

Michael Cammalleri Mirror Signature 14/25
Justin Mercier Mirror Freshman Signatures 100/250

The Hopeful Chase Three Stars of the Box

3. Justin Mercier Signature - Youngplayer and on card autograph
2. Brad Richards Gold Mirror - Former Lightning, Shiny and numbered to 25
1. Marc-Andre Flurey Champions - nicely designed card of Pittsburgh Netminder

I rate the box a second line winger. (again these rankings have no basis in reality).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Long, Rambling Post About Another Hockey Team

Let’s take a break from all of this Lightning talk to talk about…..another hockey team. How did the New Jersey Devils get to this point? From dressing 15 skaters, 2 wins in their first 8 games and the benching of Ilya Kovalchuk the year has been disaster thus far. It starts with, and ends with, the decision to sign Kovalchuk, not once, but twice.

The man responsible, Lou Lamoriello, has served as the General Manager of the Devils for more than two decades. In that time his team has appeared in the playoffs in 21 of the last 23 seasons and has lifted the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup, three times. During his tenure his teams have been noted for their tough defensive style, lack of big name scorers and reliance on All-World goaltender Martin Brodeur.

All of that was thrown out in an eventful off-season. The story for those not familiar goes a little something like this.

Lamoriello shocked the NHL world last year by making a trade to pry Kovalchuk away from the Atlanta Thrashers. He sent defenseman Johnny Oduya, a young forward in Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier and a first round pick down south for Kovalchuk and Anssi Samlema.

The prevailing thought was that Lamoriello had made an all in bet to rent the potential unrestricted free agent for a Stanley Cup push. The former first round pick played well in the picking up 2 goals and 6 points in 5 playoff games, but the 2nd seeded Devils were ousted by the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers and the season was over. For the most part the experts assumed that Kovalchuk’s career with New Jersey was finished as well. He was, after all, the most lucrative offensive player on the free agent market.

Los Angeles Kings fans were giddy with excitement, Caps fans were delirious with the rumor the Kovy would take a one year deal to play with Ovie. Even SKA St Petersburg fans were raising their vodka glasses in anticipation of Ilya coming home to play in the “K:”.

Yet in the end it was Lamoriello offering the biggest money as in $102 million over 17 years. This from the same man who traded away fan favorites such as Pat Verbeek and Bill Guerin after nasty contract negotiations. The GM front loaded the contract so as to prevent the salary cap from handcuffing the team 15 years down the road. At the height of the contract Ilya would be raking in a cool $11.5 million a year for five seasons, yet for the final five years he would only be making $550,000 (in other words $300,000 less per year than the Lightning are paying Dana Tyrell this season).

The NHL, already grumbling about long-term, cap-friendly deals handed out to Roberto Luongo and Marion Hossa, drew a line in the sand and ruled the deal illegal. An arbitrator agreed and the contract was voided . For trying to circumvent the CBA the Devils were hit with a $3 million fine, sacrificed a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick. Kovalchuk was a free agent. The Devils were off the hook!

Yet Lou went back at it, talked tough about appealing the punishment and managed to tweak the deal and signed Kovy to a new deal, this one with league approval. The only problem was the new deal knocked the Devils over the $56 million salary cap. Someone would have to be dealt or the Devils would be in a predicament. Would it be veteran Brian Rolston and his $5 million cap hit or young center Travis Zajak and his $3.15 million hit? In the end Lou couldn’t find a taker for either one of them.

They were able to tweak the roster to get under the cap to start the season, but quickly ran into trouble when Rolston was injured at the same time as Anton Volchenkov. A suspension to Pierre-Luc Letourneau-LeBlond left the Devils with only 15 healthy skaters. With no cap room they couldn’t call anyone up from the AHL. They were stuck with what they had.

Needless to say they haven’t played well. Add to that a coach’s decision to bench Kovalchuk on Saturday night and one has to wonder how the next decade and a half is going to play out for the Devils. How long will an aging Brodeur stick around? How will they rebuild with no cap room and the loss of draft picks? Will Kovalchuk grow tired of skating in Jersey and bolt for the KHL (that might be the best case scenario for the Devils)?

So why would this seemingly reasonable architect go against his nature and invest so much in the prolific Russian winger, especially at the detriment of the team? Luckily for you, my fine readers, I recently read a book that explains everything. Thanks to the Brafman brothers I am an expert on why people make dumb decisions.

I was at the library a few weeks ago looking for Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Blink. I like to read books like that on the train because then I think strangers think I’m smart. One thing about this town is that people read on the train. And it’s not just pulp fiction (although Steig Larson’s The Girl Who…trilogy is starting to reach DaVinci Code proportions) these folks are reading classic American literature. In the last week I’ve spotted The Grapes of Wrath, Atlas Shrugged and Native Son, so I have to step my game up.

Anyway, despite showing that it was available, Blink wasn’t where it was supposed to be. As a former library employee, mis-shelved books rank quite high on my list of pet peeves (though not as a high as waving around an unlit cigarette). Since it wasn’t available and I’m too lazy to complain to someone about it I figured I would just find something similar. That’s how I came to check out Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.

Written by Ari (a business expert) and his brother Rom (a psychologist) Brafman Sway is a quick 224 page look into why people, even supposed experts make dumb decisions. They jump across all professions from airline pilots, to SEC football coaches to venture capitalists. In analyzing the irrational decisions that are made they stumble across a few common themes. So let’s take a look at, and apply, a couple of their theories to the current New Jersey Devils predicament.

I. Loss Aversion

People have a tendency to go to great ends to prevent loss. Think of people holding on to sinking stocks long after they should have cut their losses. Could the thought of a 50 goal scorer (something the Devils have never had) been so enticing to Lamoriello that it blinded him to the repercussions of signing the winger?

Then he clung to his decision even after the NHL gave him an out. Why invest so much in a player that is the antithesis of Devils hockey? The Brafman brothers talk about commitment being part of loss aversion. People get an idea stuck in their head and cling to it to the point of blocking out other possibilities. Wouldn’t Kris Versteeg have looked nice fore checking for the Devils? With the extra money saved maybe another defenseman to shore up an aging blue-liner?

Possibly it was the price he paid to get the Russian sniper in the first place made him reluctant to part with him after only a few months of services so he threw more money at him, a lot more money. He might have been less willing to give him a large contract if the price had only been a first round pick and a nameless prospect. Having invested heavily by parting with Oduya and Bergfors did he need to justify it by bringing Kovy back? Possibly; and that leads us to the next factor.

II. Value Attribution

Giving a person or thing such an initial high value and sticking to it despite other data that might show you different. The initial value Lamoriello attributed to Kovalchuk was two young NHL-ready players, a prospect and a 1st round pick. Despite not helping the team reach the ultimate goal (the Stanley Cup) the GM continues to value the left-winger at that high cost.

In the book, the authors talk about how NBA first round picks tend to make more money and stick in the league longer than lower round picks even if they have the same or worse stats during their career. Once tagged with the 1st round pick status they carry that value throughout their career even if they don’t perform to that level.

It would have been easier to make this connection if Kovalchuk’s stats had been declining over the last few years, but a quick check on Hockey Database shows that he is churning right along. However, in the “new NHL” what is the value of a 45-50 goal scorer? Especially with a new CBA being negotiated in the next few years. Couldn’t $6.6 million be better invested in two young forwards and cap room? What about the 1st round picks they’ve lost (or will lose)? Keeping under the cap is easier when your skaters are under entry-level contracts.

There is a reason that there was only one other team in the sweepstakes. No one else in the league put his value over $100 million.

Sway has a couple of other attributes that lead people to make dumb decisions, but I had to take the book back to the library before I wrote this so you only get two. Also, it’s running on quite a bit and I’m getting tired so there ya go.

Did any of this make sense?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Season Preview Part III Let's Wrap This Up

To celebrate the Lightning's 3-0 start we'll wrap up the season preview with the third and final installment.

For Parts I and II go here:

Part One

Part Two

You Got Your Hug Now Go Earn Your Paycheck

Let’s make no mistake. I am a huge Vincent Lecavalier fan. I’ve made that clear on several occasions. I think he is by far the most talented player on the team, and in his aloof way the bell weather of the team. That’s not to say he isn’t without his faults. By no means should a captain ever have the term “aloof” attached to his name, not even by amateur bloggers with grammar issues.

If he was your girlfriend your friends would definitely refer to him as “high maintenance”. He is prone to confidence problems and can come off as disinterested during games in which he isn’t effective. His detractors claim that he quits on the team when things aren’t going well or that he doesn’t deserve the “C” on his shoulder because he’s not a leader.

What we should remember is that fans aren’t in the locker room. We aren’t on the bus rides or plane rides. Despite having unparalleled direct access to players through Twitter, Facebook, blogs and never satisfied traditional media we still don’t know what’s going on inside the locker room.

Coaches, GM’s and owners have come and gone, but the center from Ile Bizzard is still in the black and blue. And he’s still captain. If there was ever a chance to sweep the slate clean and appoint a new captain for the team it’s when you bring in a new GM, owner and coach. Yet Vinny still wears the “C”.

Why? Well, why not? If the players had a problem with it they would have addressed it by now. Perhaps, behind closed doors, Lecavalier is more of a leader than he lets on. Perhaps his bland quotes to the media and quiet persona mask an extremely driven man who has earned the respect of his players. Think of all of the players that have cycled through the Lightning organization during his tenure. How many of them have said bad things about him? I couldn’t find any quotes.

Now with all of that being said (the writers equivalent of “with all due respect”) Vincent has to perform on the ice. He is the highest paid player in the league. Let that sink in for a second. It’s not Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Marty Brodeur - it’s Vincent Lecavalier. He of the back to back underachieving seasons.

For $10 million the Lightning are going to need him to step up in the scoring department. Seventy points is not acceptable for that type of money. Does he have to score 50 goals? Not necessarily. However, if he doesn’t put the puck in the net he better be helping his linemates do it.

In the past the Lightning have struggled to fill two lines. Moving wingers from one line to another always weakened the other. This year it shouldn’t be the case. All six members have the ability to score 25+ goals. Shuffling them back and forth won’t allow other teams to focus on one line; and that means Vincent should be happy.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the big name player brought in during the off-season is a French Canadian. It might seem like a little thing, but it could be important to Lecavalier. Having someone else in the locker room that he can communicate in his native language might relax him. It’s speculation, but if it helps then it shows Mr. Yzerman has an astute read on his mercurial center.

The GM has done an excellent job of silencing the “trade vinny” rumors that have floated like a cloud of toxic gas around Channelside Drive for the last few years. For some reason hearing Mr. Yzerman declare that Lecavalier is not on the block is much more reassuring then listening to those-that-must-not-be-named say it last year.

It will be critical for him to get off to a good start. Last season he struggled out of the gate a bit and it ate at his confidence. Enough so that he even admitted to the press that he was gripping the stick a little too tight. Normally, you can’t read anything from his comments to the press (if you can even find them in an article) so for him to admit he was pressing shows how much it bothered him.

The organization has done what it can to make sure he is in the right place. Now it’s on his shoulders to reward their loyalty by righting his career and reestablishing himself as an offensive force.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Season Preview Rolls On

Part II of the Lightning Season Preview. If you missed part I (how dare you!) click here :

Lightning Season Preview Part I

No Win Situation:

Oh Mr. Stamkos. You’ve had a good year haven’t you? Your first NHL trophy, your first scoring title, your first Vanity Fair photo shot, and you’ve won the hearts of Lightning fans all over the world. So what’s the reward for all of those kudos? How about your first no win situation.

If he scores 50 goals this year then it’s not that big of deal, one might say it’s even expected. After all, he’s going to have a stable line this year (or at least as stable as Guy Boucher’s system allows - which it sounds like might be as chaotic as the previous regime’s), the power play is already being touted as the best in the league and there is a coach that wants to play an up-tempo offensive style. Heck, he should score 70 this year!

If, for some reason, he doesn’t hit the magic mark then the cynics will wonder if last year was a fluke. If he scores 40, then the question will be why did he back track? God forbid if he doesn’t get at least 40. I guarantee that if he slumps coming out of the gate there will be at least one column penned about him being a “one year wonder”.

Honestly, at this point I don’t think he’ll net 50 goals. I do think he’ll be in the mid to high 40’s, but for all of the reason’s I mentioned in the second paragraph he won’t hit the magic number. Let’s face it, there are only so many goals to go around. Newcomer Simon Gagne will take his fare share on the power play as should Pavel Kubina. Since Vincent seems to have his head on straight look for him to tack on another 10 goals or so to his total.

Stamkos is now a marked man. Teams are going to start marking him a bit closer on the power play. All of the room that he had in that circle last year is going to rapidly diminish. He will be seeing more of the top defensive pairs as well so that’s going to hurt him during even strength play.

The good news is that he is still learning and growing stronger. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that he’s not even allowed to drink a beer in the U.S. yet. At 20 years-old he hasn’t developed into the player he’s going to be. There is so much more ahead of him. Right now he’s getting by on natural talent, once his knowledge increases, once he has a veteran’s understanding of how the game is played he will be truly dangerous.

So fans, don’t be hard on the young kid. Let him develop at his own pace. And if he scores 50 goals celebrate like you did last year.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tampa Bay Season Preview Part One

Great is not enough

Lofty goals set by a first year coach. If he’s a mad genius or a crazy-eyed lunatic hasn‘t been determined yet. Guy Boucher’s ability to coach in the NHL is a blank slate. His success at the lower levels has been well documented. Will that change when the young guys desperate for a chance to play at the next level are replaced by millionaires coasting on past accomplishments? The Lightning players have nothing but positive things to say after the preseason. However, the players also raved about the previous coach during his early months as well.

The future is murky for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the light seems to be starting to shine through. New blood has been brought in off the ice and on the ice. New GM Steve Yzerman has earned kudos throughout the league and the web-o-sphere for his moves in rebuilding the team. Boucher and his untested 1-3-1 system have everyone (including me) giddy with the anticipation of seeing a ferocious fore-checking squad that out hustles every team it plays. Will playing in Tampa turn into Three Periods of Hell for opposing teams?

That remains to be seen, after all they still have to play the games. What looks good on paper has to be good on the ice. New winger Simon Gagne has to stay healthy and spark Vincent Lecavalier’s resurgence. The new blue liners have to actually block the shots they’re being brought in to block. Marty St Louis has to earn the big money he resigned for by continuing his consistent consistency.

With that being said, the playoffs are not out of the question. Winning the division might be a stretch, but it’s not hard to picture the Lightning as one of the 8 best teams in the Eastern Conference. Now I could give you a standard pre-season preview of the team, but I’d rather not. Instead, over the next week I’ll post a couple of key storylines to watch during the season.

Hope you enjoy.

Hey Don’t Forget About Me!

Let’s run down Ryan Malone’s off-season. He was rumored to be traded to Toronto for much of the summer. Then he lost his number to the Lightning’s shiniest new toy, Simon Gagne, and, oh by the way, lost his position on the right wing of Vincent Lecavalier’s line. With Guy Boucher’s system that last one might not mean that much as all of the forwards will rotate throughout the different positions during their shift. Still, it hasn’t been pretty for the Pittsburgh native who has scored a total of 47 goals for the Lightning in the last two season.

While much of the press has focused Steven Stamkos, Marty St Louis, Lecavalier, Gagne and Steve Downie, Malone has found himself as a bit of an afterthought. For someone who was tied for the team lead with 7 game winning goals last season that has to be a bitter pill to swallow.

Part of that could be because of the way he ended last season. After a red hot start he faded in the second half of the season, just when the Bolts were making their unsuccessful playoff run. He battled injuries for most of the second year How bad was the second half of the year? He only scored two goals in 2010 and none since January 21st.

He also seems to be an odd fit for Boucher’s puck pursuit style of offense. Malone isn’t the fastest skater. His defensive work can be questionable at best and he’s not the best passer on the team. What he does well is plant himself in front of the net and create havoc for other team’s goaltenders. With that he still has value. The rest of the offensive stars are “skills” guys. They benefit from having a grinder, a rock in front of the net to redirect shots or stuff home rebounds.

How much ice time he sees will be determined by his efforts on the ice. Based on the new players brought in, Malone won’t be seeing much time on the first power play unit. His spot on Lecavalier’s line could be at risk if one of the wingers on the third line shows a bit of tenacity (I’m looking at you Dana Tyrell). It will be interesting to see how he responds. Under the previous regime he was penciled into one of the top lines and left alone. Now he’ll have to show that he can keep pace with the rest of the offense.

If he does then the Lightning have a bonafide chance of boasting six 20 goal scorers. If they do that, then the playoffs should be assured. Two big ifs, but it’s going to be fun to watch them try.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Winner

Wow, I'm really kind of slow at posting things aren't I?

Let's not keep the world in suspense any longer. The winner of my spur of the moment contest is none other than...

Captain Canuck.

Yes, the masked superhero from the north. Writer of not one, but two blogs. Commissioner of a Fantasy Hockey League and all around excellent trader wins with this entry:

Captain Canuck said...
after a tantrum, and his mum fixing his hair with a kleenex spit bath, little Steven finally relented to having his picture taken in the sweater Grandma made him.

What made this a winning entry?

I enjoyed the reference to the hair, the sweater and the use of the word "mum". We need to use that more in everyday life.

What did he win?

A hand signed card that I was able to procure during my unemployment last year. And maybe some other prizes I can dig up in the next week or so. The card will be sent to you and hopefully clear customs sometime before the playoffs start. Unfortunately, I no longer have a photo of it so maybe once he receives it he will be nice enough to post it :)

Congrats. Stay tuned there might be more contests (with things other than cards, Dani!)

So congrats Capt.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Winner Has Been Found

Negotiations are under way as to what the prize will be. Once the prize has been finalized a former announcement will be posted. Thank you to all of the contestents.