Monday, August 19, 2013

Landeskog gets 7 year/$39 mil extension

Not since Joe Sakic, or perhaps Peter Forsberg, have the Colorado Avalanche had a true star forward. Now, it appears as if they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is, signing 20-year old wunderkind Gabriel Landeskog to a seven-year contract extension.
With this extension, believed to be worth about $39 million, it looks as if the Avalanche have the player they plan on building their franchise around.

Is he worth it? I think so. In a short, but sweet two-year career with the Avalanche, all he’s done is score – 31 goals and 38 assists in 119 NHL games after being selected second overall in the 2011 NHL draft. His +/- 16 is nothing to sneeze at either.
During his freshman season, alone, the young Swede scored 52 points (22-28), led rookies in shots and goals (playing all 82 games). He was rewarded with the Calder Cup Trophy that year and wore the Av’s “C” on his jersey during the 2012-13 season.  At 19 years, nine months and 13 days, he became the youngest captain in NHL history, beating out Sidney Crosby by 11 days.
No matter how you look at it, the 2013-14 season should be an interesting one for the Avs. Former players highlight the coaching staff – Patrick Roy is the head coach/VP of Hockey Operations, with Adam Foote as Defense Development Consultant– while the front office reads like a Who’s Who of Avalanche alumni – with Craig Billington serving as Assistant General Manager, Pierre Lacroix as advisor, and Joe Sakic Joe Sakic taking on Executive Vice-president of Hockey Operations/Alternate Governor responsibilities. Even Adam Deadmarsh is serving as a Colorado Scot.

On the ice, there’s been enough subtle changes to the Colorado, especially on the defensive side.

Following a seven-year absence, former Avalanche Alex Tanguay was re-acquired from the Calgary Flames, along with D Cory Sarich, for F David Jones and D Shane O’Brien. July 5 appeared to have been “Toughen Up the Avalanche Blue Line” day, as they signed free agent defensemen JT Wyman (Tampa Bay),  Dick Holden (Columbus), Nate Guenin (Anaheim) and Andre Benoit (Ottawa) before the day was over.

They also signed F Geoff Walker from Tampa Bay on the 5th, as well. With the exception of Jean-Sebastian Giguere (36 years old), Sarich (35), Tanguay (33) and Pa Parenteau (30), the entire roster consists of 20-some year olds.

Will this help the Avs return to the playoffs after a prolonged playoff drought? We’ll have a better idea once the season starts.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Best Badger hockey player ever

Scott Mellanby, Gary Suter, Dany Heatley.

When you think of Wisconsin Badger hockey, you think of the long, red and white legacy of winning.

Kelly Fairchild, Sean Hill, Mark Johnson.

With more than 60 players with NHL experience, past and present, the list of Wisconsin alumni reads like a who’s who of hockey.

Tony Granato, Steve Reinprecht,

Forget the “State of Hockey” I’ll take Badgers hockey any day of the week. While the men’s program boasts of six national championships and the women have four of their own, who can forget 2006, when Wisconsin became the first Division 1 school to earn both the men’s and women’s championships in the same year.

Adam Burish, Mike Richter, Brian Engblom.
At least once a year, my wife and I make a road trip to Madison, Wisc. to catch the “Wha’ D’ya Know” radio show, to shop at the local farmer’s market, run up and down State Street and for a Wisconsin Badger hockey game or two.

However, when you talk about the many Madison alumni who’ve gone on to successful NHL careers, it’s hard to name just one as the best in Badger hockey. In fact, Its almost like having to name your most favorite child.

For me, however, it’s no contest….my favorite alum would have to be Chris Chelios.  
Where would you start?
How about awards…11-time All-Star games; the James Norris Memorial Trophy (1988-89, 1992-93 and 1995-96)’ NHL All-Rookie First Team (1984-85); and NCAA All-tournament team (1982-83); Mark messier Leader of the Year Award (2006-07); Bud Light Plus/Minus Award (2001-02); Olympic Silver Medal (2002); Olympic Tournament All-Star team (2002); and Wisconsin Athletics hall of Fame (2011).

Championships? How about three in the NHL – Montreal Canadiens (1986) and the Detroit Red Wings (2002 and 2008) – and an NCAA title with the Badgers (1982-83).
Stats? How about 185 goals, 763 assists, 948 points and 2,891 penalty minutes…Skating more than 233 ¾ quarters on ice in 1,651 NHL games…A member of four NHL teams (Montreal, Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta).

Longevity? Again, his 1,651 NHL games is the most of any defenseman. If his number of games were to be ranked among position players, he’d rank fifth.
And ultimately…Chelios was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame just last month; the first UW player to be enshrined.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A 4-pack review of the outlandish 2013-14 OPC hockey

Having the afternoon off, I got bored. When I get bored, I visit my local brick and mortar card shops. When I visit my brick and mortar card shops (RyansCards and The Rookie), I spend money. When I spend a lot of money on hockey cards, my wife gets exasperated at me. When my wife gets REAAALLY exasperated at me, I usually end up sleeping in the doghouse.

While I don't like sleeping in the doghouse, I couldn't resist buying a few packs of one of the new products on their shelves,  the 2013-14 OPC Hockey Cards. So, I bought two packs at each store.

Overall, I feel this year's 500-card set is just, okay. Literally.

It's nothing spectacular, nothing to really write home about. I'm not real excited with the card color combinations -- yellow/lime, pink/yellow (gold?), green/orange, purple/light blue and light blue/red -- and with 500 base cards, it seems as if this will be a hard one for set collectors. It almost feels as if OPC really wrote this off as this their low-end hockey set and didn't put much effort into it.

RyansCards Pack #1
Duncan Keith, Blackhawks #22
Blake Comeau, Blue Jackets #104
John Tavares, Islanders #161
Andrew Shaw, Blackhawks #223
Joel Ward, Capitals, #238
Michael Neuvirth Retro, Capitals 332
Theoren Fleury, Flames #370
Mikhail Grigorenko, Sabres RC #527

Highlights of this pack would have to be the Grigorenko rookie card. A 2012 first round pick (#12) by the Sabres, he led the QMJHL's Quebec Ramparts with 14 postseason points (5-9-14) in 2013. The Keith and Shaw cards, meanwhile, will be a welcome addition to my Blackhawks collection.

RyansCards Pack #2
Kyle Wellood, Jets #28
Alexander Semin, Hurricanes #33
Saku Koivu, Ducks #176
Kari Lehtonen, Stars #204
Gustav Nyquist, Red Wings #225
Lubomir Visnovsky foil, Islanders #281
Pavel Bure Sticker, Canucks #SPB
Retro Checklist, #496

While the Visnovsky card appears blue, it's actually a foil card. Stickers are also included in this year's set, complete with a yellow border. Actually, the Bure photo looks pretty sharp, but I'm not really a big sticker fan.

The Rookie Pack #1
Nik Antropov Retro, Jets #35
Joe Pavelski, Sharks #116
Richard Clune, Predators #144
Shawn Horcoff, Oilers #170
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals #272
Niklas Backstrom, Wild #478
Keaton Ellerby, Kings #483
Ben Hanowski, Flames RC #596

Another rookie card, this time Hanowski, of the Flames. A third round pick (#63) in the 2009 draft, Hanowski was second in scoring (17 goals) for St. Cloud University, as they reached the NCAA Frozen Four. To me, the retro card of Antropov is hard to read with the two-tone lettering. The "psychedelic" background reminds me out of something from Austin Powers.

The Rookie Pack #2
Scott Hartnell, Flyers #47
Robin Lehner, Senators #109
Devan Dubnyk, Oilers #206
Carl Hagelin, Rangers #243
Grant Clitsome Retro, Jets #337
Bobby Clarke, Flyers #372
Brandon Yip, Predators #375
Sidney Crosby Rings, Penguins R43

The card I actually found the most interesting was from this pack. The honors would have to go to the Crosby Ring, which OPC originally offered back in the 70's. It's actually a punch-out ring, with Crosby's picture in the middle and three notches on both ends, so you can actually roll it and use it as a ring. I'm not sure who would do that, but it does look kind of cool, in an old school, retro-way. As for the Clitsome retro card, well, you already know how I feel about them.

Oh by the way, you can keep your wrappers, as OPC will once again offer a wrapper redemption program. However, it's only Canada exclusive, so if you live south of the border like me, you're out of luck.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New collectable on E-Bay -- Stanley Cup Stitches!

Do you collect game-used cards? That’s so yesterday.

How about autographs? Yawn.

How about hockey memorabilia or equipment? Been there, got it.

How about an exciting, new form of hockey collectable – Stitches from the 2012-2013 Stanley Cup Championships?
If you remember, during Game six of the 2012-13 Stanley Cup at Boston, Bruins winger Shawn Thornton's attempted a dump-in that climbed up the stick of Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, nailing him on the right side of his face. While Bruins fans booed, Shaw lay motionless and bleeding on the ice, before skating to the locker room.

Once stitched up, Shaw was back on the bench at the start of the second period. It’s amazing the healing power the Stanley Cup has. He didn’t appear to be in too much pain, as he lifted Lord Stanley’s cup later that evening with his Blackhawks teammates.

Now, according to Shaw’s Facebook page, those very stitches will be on auction through E-Bay to benefit the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

“Starting Thursday August 15th, 2013 we will be auctioning off the actual stitches that Andrew Shaw received from a puck he took to the face in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals. This auction will be run for ten days ending on August 25th, 2013 on

“We will post links to the auction on this page. The stitches are being professionally framed with an autographed photograph of Andrew Shaw, plus there will be other items included in this auction lot.”

I’m not sure, however, if the auction is for individual stitches, or for the lot. In any case, it’ll be interesting to see how much money it raises for the V Foundation.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gartoony the Loony

While baseball may have had its share of flakes with the likes of Bill “Spaceman” Lee and Turk Wendell, hockey can certainly boast of having its own eccentric players. Perhaps one of the biggest flakes to take to the ice was Gilles “Gratoony the Loony” Gratton.
In a day and age when goalies were often considered eccentric, Gratton’s folly has been well documented….
He often sat out games, complaining of recurring abdominal pains. A centuries-long believer in reincarnation – he could give explicit details of each of his lives – he said it was from when he was a soldier killed by a lance during the Spanish Inquisition.  Another time, he sat out a game because he said the moon was located in the wrong place in the sky.
He liked hanging out naked after practices and occasionally skated nude on the ice, wearing nothing but his mask. Despite often threatening teammates he’d do a strip-tease during a game (this was after the movie Slapshot was made), he never played without his sweater.
Ultimately, he felt playing goalie was perhaps a just (and somewhat ironic) punishment after stoning people during one of his previous lives
The brother of former Buffalo Sabre and Minnesota North Star Norm Gratton, Gilles was a 69th overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres in 1972. An OMJHL second-team All-Star with the Oshawa Generals, he signed with the World Hockey Association instead, playing three years with the Ottawa Nationals and Toronto Toros, recording an 81-66 record, with four shutouts and a 3.69 GAA.  He was actually on the roster of the 1974 WHA Summit Series vs. the Russians.  
I have to admit, he did have one of the coolest goalie masks, however, based on Leo the Lion, his astrological sign. While the mask alone may have been somewhat intimidating, he would often growl at opposing players nearing his crease and once hissed during a fight.

He played six games for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues in 1975-76, before announcing his retirement. Knowing the wanted to return to the Toros, St. Louis refused to grant Gratton waivers, so he was forced to sit out the rest of the season. He signed with the New York Rangers as an unrestricted free agent during the 1976-77 season, recording an 11-18 record and a 4.22 GAA.
He played on game with the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks during the 1997-78 season, retiring for good  at the tender age of 24. After touring Europe as a photographer I last read he was working for Quebec’s Classic Auctions


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Blake, O'Donnell earn Kings Front office jobs

You have to love it when an NHL team hires its star players for front office positions. Can you imagine Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic working anywhere else but Colorado, or Kris Draper and Jiri Fischer in any place other than Detroit?
That’s the case for the Kings, as a pair of former defensemen recently began their new careers within their LA-based organization. It’s not just a case of rewarding faithful service, but rather recognizing a player’s talent, work ethic and management potential, while tapping into their knowledge and experience.

On Wednesday, the kings hired Sean O’Donnell as manager of their fan development and alumni relations. Last month, they named Rob Blake as the club’s Assistant General Manager. Blake also serves as GM for the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings’ AHL affiliate.
O’Donnell had two tours of duty with the Kings – his first from 1994-95 to 1999-2000, after being traded for Doug Houda, and again during the 2008 season. He also wore sweaters for Minnesota, New Jersey, Boston, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Chicago, finishing his 17-year NHL career with the Blackhawks. He skated in 1,224 regular-season NHL games, scoring 31 goals and 229 points, while recording 1,809 penalty minutes.

Like O’Donnell, Rob Blake is serving his first season with the Kings. He’ll assist President/GM Dean Lombardi in everyday operations, such as contract negotiations and overseeing the Kings’ top prospects.
Blake was originally selected from Bowling Green by the Kings in the fourth round (70th overall) of the 1988 NHL draft. He made his NHL debut with the Kings during the 1989-90 season.

Fourteen of Blake’s 20 NHL seasons were played as a King. He sported the white “C” from 1996-01 and from 2007-08 (six seasons totals). He led the Kings into the Stanley Cup finals (1993), eventually winning it with the Colorado Avalanche (2001).
Should he be considered as “Mr. King?” Perhaps not. But consider all the many in-house awards he earned playing with the Kings alone – He was winner of the team’s  Most Popular Player Award (1997-98), a two-time winner of the Kings MVP award, a six-time Outstanding Defenseman award winner, winner of the Most Inspirational Award (1997-98), and a three-time winner of the Kings Community Service Award. He was also the first King to receive the Norris Trophy (1998).

After recording 777 points and 240 goals in 1,270 regular season games, he hung up his skates.
At least the LA Front Office was smart enough to hire O’Connell and Blake for management positions. Hopefully, their vast experience will help the Los Angeles franchise to become “Kings” of the NHL once more.