Monday, March 28, 2011

A Box Break of Heroic (and Prospectian) Proportions

The question that this box break poses is - “When is a prospect no longer a prospect?” For some funny money on eBay I picked up a box of ITG’s 2008-09 Heroes and Prospects. Spurred on by a couple of breaks from fellow bloggers I decided to take my chances and rip some wax.

Normally, I shy away from non-major league cards. I think a lot of it stems from psychological scars left over from a couple of years of prospect speculating that failed miserably (anyone for some Rick Asodarian cards?). Also, the little amount of money that I’ve invested in cards this year has been geared more towards player collecting than anything else. So why break form? Well I missed the beautiful sound of ripping foil or mylar or whatever cards come wrapped in these days.

First impressions are good. I like the use of bold colors for the background. It does lend kind of a retro feel to the whole set. There isn’t much info on the back, basic bio and draft information along with a quick blurb about the player.

The cards are glossy and have a nice hefty feel to them, and I think would look nice signed in black sharpie.

Without further adieu here we go!

The Lightning cards:

There is no Vincent Lecavalier in the checklist so I can’t continue my streak of not pulling any Vinny cards. As a Bolts fan I couldn’t ask for more than Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. Hopeful Case magnet Vladimir Mihalik shows up as does the biggest surprise of the team this year - Teddy Purcell. Not too many fans saw 17 goals and 31 assists coming from the talented young winger this year.

The Prospects:

John Tavares, PK Subban, and Taylor Hall highlight an impressive collection of the next generation of stars in the league. While these cards don’t hold the value of true rookie cards like Upper Deck’s Young Guns, they are nice pieces to have in the collection. For around $30 a box, they are definitely among the most affordable to collect as well.

Please allow me a moment to expound on my thoughts of young Mr. Subban. I like him, I really do. He has personality, he plays with an edge and he’s talented. Does he have some maturing to do? Yup, but why hold that against him? He’ll learn (and probably get his lunch handed to him a few times along the way) and he’ll probably end up being one of the best defensemen in the league in the next few years.

The Heroes:

I guess we have to forgive ITG for breaking the unwritten “athletes aren’t heroes” rule that has been in effect since 9/11. After all, “Heroes and Currently Established Stars” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

A smattering of established players are littered throughout the checklist (including players that didn’t even skate in the major junior leagues). Here you see a sample with Peter Forsberg, Chris Osgood, Alex Ovechkin and the ageless one Teemu Selanne. The picture used for the Osgood card made me laugh out loud while I was busting the packs. He looks like he was posing for a JC Penny’s family portrait.

The Back:

See not a lot of info, but bright pretty colors. Ahhh pretty colors.

The Inserts:

Luke Schenn 2008 Draft Picks and Mitch Wahl Memorial Cup Winners. Ehhh. Moving along.

The Autos:

Ivan Vishnevskiy and Angelo Esposito. Not exactly the best choices available, but two autographs with local ties. Vishnevskiy is part of the Blackhawks organization after coming over from Atlanta in the summer and Esposito is skating with the Chicago Wolves these days. More on him in a bit.

The filler:

Each pack had a thick filler card worth 1 redemption point. The redemption period has long since expired, but I wanted to mention these simply because the logos of some of the major junior teams are pretty cool. Look at that bear, he’s so ANGRY!

The Hit:

Angelo Esposito Selects Silver version #’d 7 out of 9. I am so intrigued by this card for so many reasons:

1. Three swatches from three events. First is the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge, then the Top Prospects Game and finally from Team Canada.

2. It’s hand numbered on the back and one of the lowest numbered cards I’ve pulled from a pack.

3. The stitching on the ADT jersey is so thick that it actually pushes the cardboard up a bit in that area. I don’t know why, but I find that awesome.

Finally, it’s from Angelo Esposito. For those not familiar he was a former junior stud who was drafted by the Penguins in the first round of the 2007 draft. He was also the centerpiece of the deal that brought the Penguins Marion Hossa and Pascal Dupuis.

However, since the trade he’s suffered two major knee injuries and hasn’t been able to replicate the success he had in juniors. Five minutes of research show that he’s currently playing for the Chicago Wolves (the Thrashers minor league affiliate) and has racked up 13 points in 52 games.

Is it too early to call him a bust? After all he’s had three years to make it to the NHL and he hasn’t even come close. Looking at some of the scouting reports it appears that he plays a bit soft and tends to drift through games despite possessing elite level skills. Having had to endure two major knee injuries so early in his career can’t help either.

On the other hand he’s only 22 years old, so maybe he still has time to put it all together. Heck, Martin St Louis was 25 when he finally got his break with the Lightning so there is still time. Prospects can mature at different times in their career, maybe he’s just a late bloomer.

So can he still be considered a prospect? Maybe, not a top-level prospect like a Crosby or Ovechkin, but he could still achieve decent things in the NHL. Now, if we’re having this conversation again in 4 years, maybe the prospect days for young Mr. Esposito may be behind him.

Oddly enough this is the first card I’ve ever pulled where I don’t have a clue what the value is. Searching eBay, Beckett Marketplace and the web has turned up nothing. For all I know the card is worth a nickel or it’s worth 50 loonies. I honestly have no clue whatsoever. So that adds to the intrigue.

Final Thoughts:

Much like the 2010-11 Score box I busted last year, this was a fun box to break. No expectations, no elaborate parallels to chase made it easy to enjoy looking at the cards and I'm pretty sure I got the wole 100 card base set. Unlike most of the recent products I’ve busted in the last year there were about 15 duplicates which I think I might send out for TTM’s.

If you are a hockey fan and are looking for something a little different, pick up a box. You should find it for around $30 bucks and you get 24 packs with 5 cards in each pack. Not sure what the exact hit rates are, but I think it should be about 2 auto’s a box and one or two relic cards.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Reminder

Alright folks. I'm heading back to Florida this week to do some work on the condo (36 hours of painting! woo-hoo!). I might sneak a trip to the Trop to see the Rays and O's play, who am I kidding, of course I am going to at least one of the games.

The reason I mention my future travel plans is to remind the football collectors out there that I'm still looking to unload my football collection. Several teams still remain so if you're interested drop me a note and we'll work something out.

Here's the link

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

2011 Topps Trade Bait Part I

I finally broke down and bought a pack from Target. Heck if everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't I? And yes Mom if everyone else jumped off a bridge I would probably do it, too.

So up for grabs are:

Christy Mathewsomn T205 reprint
Rod Carew 60 years of Topps reprint
David Wright Topps 60
Chase Utley Target Ruby Parallel
Ubaldo Jimenez Kimball Champions

Let me know what you have to offer!
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Monday, March 14, 2011

The One Where He Stops Talking About Hockey

The other day an old friend posted a Nietzsche quote on Facebook: “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of men”. It made me wonder if Fred was into sports, because that sounds exactly like something a sports fan would say.

To me hope is a good thing, especially when it comes to bad teams - like the Baltimore Orioles. O’s fans have had a pretty rough century so far. Even the woebegone Cubs have made the playoffs since 2000. If they were a small market team with limited resources maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Yet even with their deep pockets they’ve squandered the last 13 seasons. Bad free agent signings, untimely injuries, undeveloped prospects and unfocused management have decimated the once proud franchise.

Watching the Yankees do their thing (spend lots of money) and the Red Sox do the same was tough, but expected. Instead of soaring with the eagles the team was mucking about with the Blue Jays and Rays. Fans woke up in 2007 and realized they supported the laughing stock of the American League. With every Steve Trachsel homerun hope died a little more.

When Angelos opened up the checkbook and allowed Matt Wieters to be drafted and signed, a little bit of hope was restored. Young pitchers developed in the minors then shot up the top prospects lists and hope grew a little more. Sure we suck now, the orange and black faithful told themselves, but wait till Matusz, Arrieta and Britton all get here - Cy Youngs for everyone!. Heck, look what Buck Showalter did, hon, he done brought back The Oriole Way!

This off-season General Manager Andy McPhail took the club’s weaknesses to task. Middle relievers were turned into a slugging 3rd baseman and a slick fielding shortstop who should out hit his weight. McPhail took his time in the free agent market and signed a couple of veteran names who excited the fan base a little more than they should of.

It was undeniable in March, hope was rounding third and heading home. Fans on the message boards and in the comments sections started talking about the wild card, about beating the Rays at their own game and shocking the baseball world. Pride replaced pessimism.

Then, two weeks into spring training, the words Brian Roberts and back spasms started showing up in the same sentence. Those fans, so excited days before, tore at their hair and cried at the Baseball Gods’ cruelty. Side note, why are their Baseball Gods and not A baseball god? Is one god in charge of offense and the other defense? Do some lesser gods take care of base running and hitting the cut-off man? And is the Garfoose a god or a pet of a god?

So before a single meaningful pitch was thrown, before the bunting was unfurled in the grandstands, the season was over. Without the most tenured Oriole, the offensive spark plug it would be business as usual, last place here we come. Hope was out at the plate.

Why? Why get so psyched up and psyched out by things that haven’t happened yet. Is hope really a delusion, an opiate if you will, that fans take to convince themselves things will be better despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

Rather then focus on the positive it seems that sports fans expect the worse these days. Or at least the fans who take the time to post on the internets. I’m not just talking about just O’s fans either. It seems to transcend teams and sports. No one seems to follow sports to be happy, they use sports as an excuse to bitch about the rich players and belittle the IQ of coaches and GM’s.

I watch sports because it’s not real life, because in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter. For two to three hours I don’t have to worry about bills or exploding fuel rods or thunder-snow. Yeah, I’m a little upset when the Lightning lose TO THE FREAKIN’ SENATORS, but I’m over it in an hour and moving on with life. If they win, great life is good and there is a bounce in my step.

Rooting for a team is like buying a lottery ticket. Sure in the back of my mind the odds are stacked against winning, but until the numbers are drawn have fun coming up with ways to spend a couple of million dollars. And until your team is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, feel free to dream of confetti and victory parades.

So, at least in sports, hope is a good thing. Maybe as Andy Dufresne said, it’s the “best of things”. Probably not the best thing in sports would be talent, but still hope is a very, very good thing. Perhaps certain fans should hold onto it a little longer, like maybe past opening day.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Goals? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Goals!

Thursday night in Boston Eric Brewer fired a puck past Bruin goalie Tim Thomas to give the Lightning a short-lived 1-0 lead. The goal was Brewer’s first in the black, blue and silver of the Lightning and showed part of the reason why GM Steve Yzerman picked him up in the weeks prior to the deadline.

It also gave him one more goal than fellow blue liner Mattias Ohlund. The Swedish defenseman has now skate in 121 games for Tampa Bay without scoring a score. In case you were wondering, he does own the record for most games played for the organization without scoring a goal (non-goalie category). According to Matt Smaby is the only player close and he hasn’t scored in 90 games.

At some point you think he’d be able to just throw the puck at the net and have it bounce off of someone. After all, if former illustrious defensemen such as Sami Helenius, Chris McAlpine, Marek Posmyk and Kjell Samuelsson can score, why can’t Ohlund?

With five years left on his contract, will he score before the Lightning are finished paying him the $17.25 million they owe him? Thankfully offense isn’t his game, and it wasn’t the reason the Forgotten Ones signed him. As reported in the St Petersburg Times he was brought in for two reasons.

“This signing accomplished two primary goals for us. First, we have added the top-two defenseman we coveted to lead our blue line and second, we have found a leader and a mentor for Victor Hedman as he prepares to play in the NHL this fall.”

Has he accomplished those two goals? So far, two seasons in, the answer seems to be yes. Despite some health issues that limited him to 67 games last year and only 54 so far this year he has brought a steady presence to the defense. In fact, despite his injuries he is one of the few players that has survived the overhaul on the blue line over the last two seasons.

Last season, he averaged 22 minutes of ice time while on his way to picking up 13 assists. In a year full of declining stats one that stood out is his number of shots. During the disastrous 2009-10 campaign he had 71 shots on goal. The previous five years he had 131, 128, 170, 183, and 129. In those years he scored 6, 9, 11, 13 and 14 goals. He’s no Mike Green, but the numbers seem about average for a defenseman.

So why isn’t he shooting the puck more? Even with all of the offense that the Lightning posses with their forwards, wouldn’t the threat of a fairly hard shot from the point make their lives even easier? Probably, but at this point in his career he seems content to be a physical, stay at home defenseman.

His game has a nasty edge to it, most of his penalties are of the hooking/slashing/roughing type. At 6’4”, 229 lbs, Ohlund has the size to manhandle his opponents and he has been known to land the big hit (just ask Phil Kessel). With the way the team is constructed right now, his physical presence is much more valuable to the team then chipping in 6 or 7 goals.

His mentorship of Victor Hedman seems to be paying off as well. The smooth-skating 20 year-old‘s game is progressing fantastically. While there hasn’t been a dramatic increase in his point production, the mental mistakes and turnovers are down. His confidence with the puck is way up, and watching him zoom down the ice, threading through defenders is great to watch.

The media makes a lot of having fellow countrymen on the roster guiding younger players through their early years in the league. For good reason too. Think about moving to a foreign country to do your job. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone like you to help with the day-to-day life?

Two seasons into a seven year deal is too early to determine if a signing was a success. It is, however, long enough to know if it’s been a disaster. Having a top two defenseman under contract for $3.75 million a year is not too shabby. With teams around the league focusing on defense, it’s almost a steal.

When he was signed there was a lot of speculation that he wouldn’t see the end of the contract, which with the way it’s structured, wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Lightning or Ohlund. The bulk of the remaining money will be paid over the next two seasons ($5.5 million in 2011-12 and $5 million in 2012-13). During that time he should still be an effective top defenseman who can give the Bolts 17-20 minutes a game. After that, he might decide to move back to Sweden to play out the rest of the career which would give Tampa some cap relief as their younger players start to mature.

Some defensemen bring value to their team by adding offense. Mike Green or Kris LeTang can by judged by the amount of points they put on the scoreboard. Ohlund is not that type of defenseman. So how do you judge if he is effective? By looking at the stats at the end of the game and realizing that he put up 20 minutes of ice time and you really didn’t notice it. He didn’t turn the puck over or whiff on a clearing pass or stumble over his skates chasing a forward (the Cory Cross Special).

You notice Ohlund when he’s clearing out the front of the net or pinning someone against the boards while his partner skates the puck up the ice. That’s how he earns his money. Yet it would be nice to see him get at least one on the board. After all, he can’t retire trailing Kaspars Astashenko in career goals.