Saturday, May 28, 2011

In the Game, but Out of Touch

In the Game's Between the Pipes is one of the most anticipated releases of each collecting season - collectors scramble to assemble the base set, and chase the high-end memorabilia inserts with gusto. In 2010/11, an unfortunate printing error has vaulted the manufacturer toward a fork in the road.

"Masked Men", a dazzling two per box insert set featuring the best goalies in the game and their varying mask designs, is a collecting staple. As usual, this year's release featured three coloured variations of each card - Emerald (/340), Silver (/100) and Gold (/10). Upon the release of the product, it was discovered that each Emerald card was mistakenly identified as a "one of one".

Collectors were not immediately aware of this, and so many overpaid for these cards, assuming that they were unique. Days after release, however, it was admitted by the manufacturer that a mistake had been made - a solution to the issue was promised, and weeks later, proposed:

At first glance, it is flattering to see that a manufacturer has taken the initiative to make things right - but a review of the proposed redemption program reveals it to be, in my opinion, rather insulting.

Simply send in 17 Masked Men inserts of a Tier 1 player and receive a redemption card featuring the same picture and a small square of memorabilia, /10. In the world of customer service, there appears to be a bit of role reversal here - the manufacturer is hopeful that these items will be returned so that they will be off the market, and the error off of the collecting radar. That established, why is the redemption number set at 17?

Keep in mind that the manufacturer made the error, not the collector - and yet it is the collector who is being asked to pay for it - not only with his wallet, but by enduring a 6-8 week wait in order to receive the redemption card to top it off.

To illustrate this, let's take a look at the Martin Brodeur Masked Men card (is there any other?) - regularly selling for between $8-10, plus shipping at online auction. Assuming that I was able to bring in every copy for $8 inclusive, I would still be forking over an astonishing $136 in cold hard cash just to get enough error cards to redeem - then I've got to ship them registered to ITG's office, usually a $20 bill with Canada Post.

I find that to be absolutely unreasonable - especially considering that very few of thee cards from this set (including autographs, game-used or combo cards, even short prints) will break the $100 mark at auction.

A second tier is also available featuring the lesser names in the set - simply send in 17 (there's that number again) assorted Masked Men cards featuring players from that tier and receive a Masked Men Memorabilia Redemption /20 of a random player from tier 2. The least expensive Masked Men cards will routinely cost $5 or so, so the average tier 2 redeemer will have spent upwards of $65 on his stack of error cards, plus shipping back to the manufacturer.

A glance at the tier 2 checklist startles me, as it includes several players who don't have a card on the market, licensed or otherwise, that is worth more than $40 (Peter Budaj, Tomas Vokoun and Curtis McElhinney to name a few).

I am not one to complain without offering a solution - so here are two methods that I would have used in place of this one, which I feel exploits collectors, and offers no support to he who opened only a box or two of the product:

1 - Masked Men Ruby and Masked Men Platinum - An additional two parallels of the best 30 goalies in the set, Ruby numbered to to 50 and Platinum to 25. For every five Masked Men error cards submitted, one random Ruby redemption would be sent to the collector, and for every 10, one Platinum redemption card.

The current redemption program, if used to its full potential, would see 10,200 of the 17,000 total error cards returned to the company - the solution outlined above would see collectors more readily submit up to 15,000!

This would allow the collector who opened a box or two and had a handful of error cards to obtain something of value, and would make it far more cost effective for collectors to HELP THE MANUFACTURER, by taking part in the program. Additionally, I think a redemption card that was not labeled as such would be more appealing to collectors.

2 - Product Vouchers/ Cash Purchase - any redemption replacement program is going to cost money - so why not earmark those funds to buyers who could visit shows, shops and trade nights to buy them back, or award vouchers for boxes or packs in exchange?

Everyone makes mistakes, and as moral human beings it is in our nature to forgive, but I feel as if more thought could have been put into this redemption program, and more consideration for the collector displayed.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Panini Effect

With the end of 2010 upon us, we have reached the conclusion of a very memorable decade in card collecting - with the arrival of Panini hockey cards beginning in the 2010/11 collecting season, hobbyists everywhere have huge reason to be excited about the future of our pass-time.

For the purpose of this post, my attention will be focused on Panini Certified, a parallel-laden set that hit the hobby like a bomb just in time for the Toronto Fall Expo in mid-November.

I am lucky enough to have collected cards since the very early nineties - cards were nothing more than pieces of cardboard with photos on them, and it was unusual that a "rare" item would surface (Pro-Set Stanley Cup Hologram notwithstanding). Everything changed, though, when parallel foil versions, autographs and memorabilia cards were introduced. My experience in the hobby throughout its evolution leads me to believe that since the 2005/6 season, collecting and competition became synonymous. It was the perfect storm - the best rookie class in recent memory and perhaps in league history and modern card technology and concepts combined to produce some of the most memorable sets, cards and bidding wars ever known.

I would venture to say the arrival of Upper Deck's "The Cup" during that collecting season changed the hobby, and many collectors along with it. With so many signed card featuring game-used memorabilia on the checklist and a base set that was limited to just 249, there was no reason to settle for anything less. Limited versions, coloured foil versions and most of the artistry that had comprised the cards of the past were gone in an instant.

With early offerings such as those shown below, the reasons why "The Cup" remains so popular are obvious:

1) 05/06 Upper Deck The Cup Signature Patch /75

2) 05/6 Upper Deck The Cup Limited Logos /50 - Note that almost every card in this set had the "faded ink" flaw - this was corrected in the 06/7 release

3) 05/6 Upper Deck The Cup Zach Parise Auto/Patch RC - The Cup single has become the "Crown Jewel" in any player collection

The hobby was abuzz, and our collective love for high-end singles was just beginning. Since the inaugural release of The Cup, it seems as if every set includes patches:


autographed patches:

autographed sticks:

...even autographed baseballs?!?!

The hobby had evolved to such a degree that the base sets, inserts, parallels - heck, even the basic game-used cards we collected in the past were irrelevant.

As with every great novel or film, there has to be a Pinnacle (ahem.) - a culminating point leading to a denouement, or a decline towards a conclusion.

In my opinion, the high-point for the hobby was 2006/07 Upper Deck The Cup. It was innovative, featured the best player selection to date, and of course perfected concepts that may have been in need of revision from the previous season's offering.Case and point being the 06/7 Limited Logos set - arguably the greatest achievement on the Upper Deck resume. A sample of the first edition was shown above - below are the "Big 4" from the 06/7 set:

.. what... you weren't expecting Gretzky and Crosby, were you?

And so this "hobby" of ours had become a "gun show". The joy of collecting simple cards featuring photos and stats replaced with wars over high-dollar singles - While I have been more involved in the high-end aspect of the hobby than most, and love adding a scarce item to my collection when the opportunity to do so arises, the excitement generated by the first two editions of the Cup has not been duplicated, and all of the 07/8, 08/9 and 09/10 editions have re-hashed and rarely re-invented old concepts.

I have been waiting several years for a set to come along and reignite the collecting fire that has been dormant for some time - and thankfully it has arrived thanks to Panini Certified.

Certified provided a fresh new look at all of the concepts we once loved (foil, parallels, serial numbering) - and of course many discovered that they have loved these attributes all along, but have simply been deprived of the ability to indulge. Also present, though, are all of the factors that make the cards of today so fun to chase - game-used memorabilia and autographs are prominent at every turn.

Consider the examples below:

Platinum Red /999

Mirror Blue /250

Mirror Gold Prime /25

6-Piece Fabric of the Game /25

There are lots of cards to collect with both platinum and mirror (Red, Blue, Gold, Emerald) versions of the base card - many of which also incorporate game-used memorabilia - one example being the Mirror Gold Prime /25 card above. Collectors are then spoiled by many other special memorabilia cards.

Of course the player on the front of the cards above is Ilya Kovalchuk, who recently changed teams (end of February, 2010). I don't care if he isn't performing. I don't care if my favourite team is in last place. I DO care about the fact that Panini has taken the initiative right out of the gate to show him in his new colours - they even go a step further, being the first to include Kovalchuk Devils game-used memorabilia on a licensed card.

There is so much to like about these cards, and the initiative and passion that Panini has displayed after just a few releases is a great omen for the hobby going forward!

Hey, who knew a trip to parallel hell could be just what the doctor ordered for the jaded high-end collector?!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ilya Kovalchuk - A New Jersey Devil - Reflections on a VERY Busy Off-Season

On Saturday, September 4th, 2010 it finally became official after months of speculation and uncertainty: Ilya Kovalchuk is a New Jersey Devil - for life. For a long-time Devils fan like myself, the news was very exciting and meant the end of a summer of whirlwind rumors and rampant speculation.

Most of those who will see this post are at least vaguely familiar with the proceedings leading up to Saturday morning's announcement - but a quick recap is in order, as having all of the facts on the table is vital when hoping to provide objective analysis of a complicated issue:

First of all, let's get the numbers out of the way. Kovalchuk was drafted first overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 Entry Draft, and since that time he has been one of the most dominant players in the NHL. In 621 games with Atlanta and New Jersey, he has scored 338 goals and added 304 assists to total 642 points. Arguably the most explosive offensive threat in the game since his arrival on the scene, Kovalchuk has also led Russia to Gold at the World Hockey Championships twice. Despite his skill, "Kovy" has been a part of just one NHL playoff win, and is often criticized for a lack of defensive awareness - his critics quickly underline his career +/- -75 rating.

The Devils acquired the star left-winger from the Atlanta Thrashrs on February 4th, 2010 after it became public knowledge that Kovalchuk would not re-sign with Atlanta. Many sources reported that Thrashers GM Don Waddell had offered his franchise player a ten year, $100MM contract, which was rejected by the played. Trade winds intensified when Kovalchuk seemed to imply in several interviews that he would be moving on. The internet abuzz, hockey fans league-wide wondered who would win the sweepstakes to land Kovalchuk. At about 8 PM, the phone calls, pings and text messages began - It was official - seemingly out of nowhere, the Devils had jumped in and lured Kovalchuk to Newark in exchange for a package including Niklas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier and a first-round draft pick (2010). The trade was a bold statement by team management at the time - the Devils had been struggling to hold leads, and the team as a whole seemed to lack direction, lethargic in both the offensive and defensive zones. To many fans and critics alike, the Kovalchuk trade represented a short-term solution to larger issues with the club.

The next day, Kovalchuk suited up as a Devil for the first time, as the Devils took on Brian Burke's Maple Leafs. The game turned out to be one of the most exiting of the season (in several seasons, in fact!) - Kovalchuk had two assists as the Devils rallied to score three goals in the final three minutes, defeating the Leafs 4-3. A link to the final 3 minutes or so of the game can be found below - it really is worth watching:

Devils come back from 3-1 down to defeat Leafs

One great game in the books, and many fans began to look towards the future - maybe Kovalchuk was fitting in. Maybe the Devils would do well in the final games of the 09/10 season... but popular perception was that that would be it - he'd be off to play for the highest bidder after taking the highest paying deal available to him via free-agency - he'd probably check out his options in Russia, as well. No reason for Devils fans to get excited.

While there was no reason to get excited about the Devils playoff run this season, which was nothing but a disastrous five game loss at the hands of the eventual Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia Flyers (Kovalchuk had six points in the short series, leading the team), Devils management assured fans that drastic changes were coming - there was said to be light at the end of the tunnel. The Devils first announced the buyouts of Jay Pandolfo and Andrew Peters, which freed up precious salary cap space. Shortly thereafter, Jason Arnott was re-acquired - in the final year of a contract, he will earn $4.5MM during the '10/11 season. Pause for a moment on Arnott to revisit a great moment in Devils history:

Arnott scores Stanley Cup winning goal in 2000

Arnott was still very effective in Nashville last season, scoring 46 points in 63 games, and brings size and intensity to a lineup desperate for role-players.

On July 1st, the NHL's Free-Agent Frenzy would see Paul Martin, the Devils #1 defenseman who missed most of 09/10 with an arm injury, leave New Jersey for division rival Pittsburgh. Within minutes, the Devils announced the signing of stalwart defender Anton Volchenkov to a six-year contract. Volchenkov is a shot blocking specialist and deals punishing body checks in droves. While he does not possess Martin's offensive tact, Volchenkov is among the most positionally sound defensemen in the game. It is no secret that since Hall of Famer Scott Stevens retired in 2004, the Devils have lacked grit on their blue line - take a few minutes to check out the hit reels of both Stevens and Volchenkov and you will quickly see why Devils Nation is ecstatic with this acquisition:

Scott Stevens - Hardest Hitter Ever

Anton Volchenkov - The A-Train

It is going to be important for the Devils coaching staff to work with Volchenkov in an attempt to limit his recklessness when going for big hits - fittingly, Scott Stevens is charged with this responsibility, and what better mentor could a young defenseman have?

The Devils continued the retrofit by adding Henrik Tallinder, who brings a very strong and sound defensive game and 468 games of experience to New Jersey. Tallinder is expected to take young Devils defensemen under his wing, much as he did with Buffalo's Tyler Myers, who went on to win the 2009/10 Calder Trophy. Tallinder signed a four year contract paying him $13.5MM.

July first also saw the Devils fill the role of backup goaltender, swiping Johan Hedberg from Atlanta. Hedberg had been brilliant at times with the Thrashers, and, as is speculated every off-season, it is wondered whether he will take some of the workload off of Martin Brodeur's shoulders. Hedberg's contract is for one season, and pays him $1.5MM, plus incentives.

Many Devils fans believed that Lou Lamoriello had made his moves - adding a veteran center, two very talented defensemen and a reliable backup goaltender. The Devils were done, having spent tens of millions of dollars and using most of their salary cap space for the coming season. Then the Kovalchuk speculation began: Why would the devils give up so much for Kovalchuk and seem nonchalant about re-signing him? Was Kovalchuk even willing to sign in New Jersey long-term? The Los Angeles Kings were reportedly courting Kovalchuk and seemed to be on the verge of signing him, going as far as flying him to California to have him meet with team representatives and players. Optimistic Devils fans touted the fact that Volchenkov, Hedberg and Kovalchuk all shared the same player agent - Jay Grossman. Kovalchuk had also played with both Hedberg and Volchenkov in the past... was there hope for the Devils after all?

The rumor mill this off-season was dominated by Twitter, which brought fans league-wide into the minds of sports writers, agents and players - instantly! It was quite astonishing to follow the drama in real-time. When a beat writer from Los Angeles began to "tweet" that the Kings were desperate to sign Kovalchuk and would offer him a big-dollar contract, a black cloud would settle over the Devils fan base. When a source with knowledge of the Devils intentions (most commonly Tom Gulitti via his blog) responded with assurance that the Devils were also in the race, the cloud lifted and the sun shone until the next statement from Los Angeles. Although they appeared "close" to signing Kovalchuk for weeks, Kings GM Dean Lombardi and his staff never pulled the trigger, and for whatever reason, all sources pointed to Kovalchuk returning to the Devils. Bitter or misinformed analysts would exclaim that Kovalchuk had priced himself out of the North American market, and had no other option aside from joining a KHL team. The KHL itself was very open to signing Kovalchuk, and reported offers were in the $13MM per season range, tax free. I remember seeing an interview early last season in which Kovalchuk claimed that he aims to be the best Russian player of all-time (I'm looking for a link and will amend this post when I find it), and I was steadfast in my belief that he couldn't accomplish that unless he was playing in the NHL, the best league in the world.

The "best" players are often the highest paid, and deservedly so, as they are the ones bringing fans to the rink. Kovalchuk had a financial goal in mind when negotiating his new contract, which was to earn one hundred million dollars between now and the end of his career. An extraordinary sum, no doubt, but his ability to generate revenue instantly and in the long run made him a once in a lifetime option for a team willing to spend. While I don't have all of the insider information, I am led to believe that the Kings were unwilling to take the "big gamble", balking at the $100MM figure. The Devils franchise finds itself at a crossroads on all fronts - Legend Martin Brodeur is not getting any younger (though his 45 wins and 9 shutouts in 2009/10 suggest that there is still some gas left in the tank), and the core of the team is very youthful- Zach Parise has emerged as one of the top forwards in the NHL, and Travis Zajac has improved exponentially each season since his career began. The young(ish) core of the club coupled with the fact that the Devils are entering just their fourth season of play in the new Prudential Centre seemed to play to the Devils advantage. What better way to fill seats in a new building than by bringing in a star player?

Kovalchuk signed a 17-year, 102 Million dollar deal (an annual $6MM salary cap hit) with the New Jersey Devils on July 19th, 2010. A press conference to announce the news was held almost immediately - this turned out to be a very important step taken by the organization - The Devils pulled out all the stops, hosting the who's who of sports media in the NJ/NYC area at a press conference, and organizing a professional photo shoot, which would produce hundreds of photos of Kovalchuk wearing a Devils Jersey outside of the Prudential Center, home of the Devils. Championship Plaza was abuzz, and online forums were glued to the proceedings. When Kovalchuk took his seat, he was greeted by the adoring eyes of several of his teammates: Goaltender Martin Brodeur was flanked by star forwards Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Captain Jamie Langenbrunner (who took a red-eye flight across the country in order to attend) and enforcer Jean-Luc Letourneau-Leblond. The presser was was sure to represent a changing of the guard for the Devils organization. More impressive than the entourage, however, was Kovalchuk's oration throughout the press conference. The 27 year old sniper spoke candidly about his passion for the franchise and was thankful for the monetary commitment that the Devils were making. A few of his comments sent Devils faithful, many of whom watched the conference online, into a frenzy:

"I want to thanks Lou... and have signed with New Jersey for 17 years, the rest of my career. I am a Devil for life".

So that was that... for a few hours.

Just as many fans began to express their apparent elation over the signing with their wallets by visiting the the NHL store to order red #17 jerseys, the NHL announced that it had rejected the contract based on circumvention of the NHL salary cap. The distribution of the $102MM was lopsided, and even to the most passionate Devils fan, appeared out of whack. Kovalchuk earned just $550,000 in the final years of that original deal. The NHLPA, as expected filed a grievance on behalf of Kovalchuk and the dispute went to arbitration. On August 9th the NHL's rejection of the contract was upheld by arbitrator Richard Bloch, leaving the Devils and Kovalchuk back at square one. Once again a UFA, talk of Kovalchuk signing elsewhere was lukewarm or non-existent - the Devils press conference and the player's apparent desire to remain a Devil certainly having an impact. Two weeks after the initial rejection, the Devils submitted a revised contract to the NHL - though it was also front-loaded, it was very similar and in many cases better constructed than several existing contracts, which were also brought into question (Roberto Luongo's new extension with the Canucks was actually put into jeopardy as part of the process). The NHL and the PA reached an agreement to amend policies surrounding long-term contracts to prevent excessive front loading and so called "retirement deals" from being put forward in the future, and as a result, Kovy will wear red for the duration of his career.

In recent days, more information has surfaced on Kovalchuk's negotiations with the Los Angeles Kings, and his decision to be patient with the Devils instead of fleeing the coop. First of all, it has been suggested that Kovy may have been put off by the aggressive nature of Kings GM Dean Lombardi - who is rumored to have offered a 15 year $80MM deal. I don't think you can fault the Kings for asking a lot of questions, especially when considering such a huge investment! The Devils acquisition of Kovalchuk in February gave players and management several months to evaluate him personally and professionally, negating the need for a drawn-out "interview process" prior to contract negotiations. It has been confirmed by Kovalchuk's agent that the press conference held by the Devils, and the surprise attendance of several players, was a key in retaining him. Lou Lamoriello's veteran tact throughout is to be commended.

So what does it all mean?

On the ice, the Devils become arguably the deepest team in the NHL at left wing, but will have to shed some salary before the season begins. Ideally, the Devils would be able to find a suitor for Brian Rolston and his $5MM cap hit - effectively solving the problem in one shot. This makes sense from both the practical, on ice standpoint and the fiscal side of the coin as well - Rolston's point shot is essentially redundant with Kovalchuk a lock to quarterback the power play.

Many rumor mills around the league envision the Devils parting with #1 Center Travis Zajac, a 25 goal scorer last season and a +/- +22. Zajac is a key piece to the Devils youth movement, and shows extraordinary chemistry and camaraderie with franchise player Zach Parise. I have no concrete knowledge on this, but I am fairly certain that the Devils would consider a dozen options before Zajac's number came up. I am of the opinion that the Devils should consider packaging first round draft picks ('11, '12) with roster players in order to create the required cap room - They possess a deep crop of prospects at this point in time (led by Swedish sensations Matias Tedenby and Jacob Josefsson), and with any luck, they will advance deep into the playoffs next season, moving their potential first-rounder to the back-end of the draft table. It is certain that mid-round picks would come back in the deals, which would allow Devils scouts to replenish the farm system.

I have watched the Devils play a passive, defense-first game for over a decade, and the arrival of a player of Kovalchuk's magnitude up front should spell the end of that trend. Rookie head coach John MacLean was the Devils all-time leading scorer until his total was passed by Patrik Elias on St. Patrick's Day, 2009 - yes, the very same day that Martin Brodeur posted his 552nd career victory. MacLean loved to score goals, and he is the perfect mentor for a young group of snipers. Defensive awareness has always been expected from Devils forwards, and Kovalchuk took his first step towards being a dynamic two-way player last season, posting a +/- +9 rating with New Jersey.

Puck drop is a month away, and the hockey world will soon have its answer with regards to the value of the Kovalchuk signing. This Devils fan believes that GM Lou Lamoriello managed to address his roster's every need - the arrival of two dynamic defensemen, a big, experienced second-line center, an upgrade in backup goaltending and one of the best forwards in the game will make the Devils a pre-season favourite to win it all... but will they deliver?

Time will tell.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The World of Sports... An Update!

Many blog entries have come to mind since the last, which I am shocked to see came some three and a half months ago - while bloggers everywhere will litter the internet with musings and opinions on every topic, large or small - personally speaking, I would rather post when there is something of significance to discuss.

As chance would have it, today has been significant on several fronts. Card collecting appears to be booming once again, as well... here's a blanket update on all of the goings-on:

Champions De-Throned: Slovakia, my country of heritage (!!!) has defeated defending champions Italy in the final group game, eliminating them from the 2010 World Cup. The 3-2 final is not indicative of the pace of play through the first 75 minutes, as Italy appeared literally asleep on its feet. Robert Vittek struck twice for the Slovaks, and Kamil Kopunek, a substitute who had not yet touched the ball, sealed the deal with the third. A bitter defeat for fans of Italian football, but bliss for a sports fan of Slovak heritage... cold beer and slanina for us on this day!

This clip does a brilliant job summarizing the play of the Italian side throughout the tournament:

Champions Crowned: The Chicago Blackhawks are the Stanley Cup Champions! Congratulations... now let's all sit back and watch as the young club is dismantled in order for the franchise to remain under the NHL's salary cap heading into next season. Just days after hoisting the trophy, playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien has been dealt with others to the Atlanta Thrashers. Hopefully he will receive a christmas card from the Hawks for decades to come, because if not for his THREE game winning goals in the Conference Finals, the Blackhawks may not have reached the promised land.

Exclusive No More: We'll see new exciting hockey products from Panini next season, as Upper Deck's exclusive license to produce NHL hockey cards (and anything else, for that matter), has fallen by the wayside. It will be a very intriguing summer, as I understand that all exclusive signing agreements with NHL talent are also null and void.

It will be great to see some of the classic products from my youth resurrected, and I can only imagine the hype that would surround 2011 Select Certified Hockey (ficticious, for now...)! Imagine the appeal of a holo-foil set at an affordable price point that featured dazzling autographed colour parallel versions?

Buying Into the Hype: Check out this auction for a Stephen Strasburg 1/1 Autographed RC:

That's right - over $115K with FOUR days to go... throw it on your watch list and follow the insanity! The auction is up over fifteen thousand dollars since this morning - I for one would certainly like to see EBay find a way to hold all bidders on this auction legally liable for their bids (they might want to make sure this transaction is fulfilled, because the fees on this auction will pay one of their employees for the year!)... the card has been mentioned on ESPN and other news outlets since Strasburg has emerged to go 2-1 with a disgusting 41 strikeouts over his first four starts. He is on a strict pitch count (95) and his cutter has hit 101 on the radar gun... in the sixth.

A Quincy: The act of acquiring the entire print run of a particular card.

Last week I got some mail in - included were two 06/7 Limited Logos Patrik Elias singles, which brought the total in my collection to 50. I've got 15 of the Elias, 14 Gionta, 13 Stevens & 8 Brodeur Logos. Three years ago I began a quest to get one copy of each card. Hoarders has since called me numerous times to investigate, but I'm not returning calls, as I insist that there's "nothing wrong" with having an entire box full of the same card...

Bring Back the A-Line!: Jason Arnott has been re-acquired by the New Jersey Devils. Arnott will forever be remembered by Devils fans everywhere for scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal in game 6 of the 2000 Finals, beating Ed Belfour by deflecting a pristine centering pass from Patrik Elias under the crossbar. Arnott fills a desperate need at center and this should be the first of many off-season moves for the maligned club, as change is certainly required headed into next season. John MacLean has taken over as head coach, and it can only be hoped that he will teach the players, young and old, to respect the organization and to play with swagger and pride. Arnott knows a thing or two about that, having played an enormous role in the Devils success through the early 2000's.

Remembering Scott Niedermayer: Sticking with the Devils theme, Scott Niedermayer, who won every notable award and championship available to him over the course of his illustrious career has hung up his skates. He will go down as one of the most electrifying defensemen of all-time, and I hope to see #27 raised to the rafters of the Prudential Centre next season... That does involve taking it away from Mike Motteau, who has done it a disservice since Niedermayer left for Anaheim. Congratulations, Scott, and thank you for all of the memories... especially this one:

That's Hall of Famer Paul Coffey, on defense... sort of!

I've got more entries planned for the very near future, so stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

2010 Vancouver Olymipcs - A Review

The last "where were you when" moment I can remember happened almost 9 years ago in 2001... on Sunday, February 28th, 2010, we collectively experienced another. Thankfully, this time it was positive in nature.

Everyone has a story to tell when recapping their 2010 Olympic experience, so I figured I'd share mine, with special emphasis on the Men's Hockey tournament.

At the outset of the Games, I was, like millions of others around me, nervous. Canada's entry into the Olympic quest for Gold was formidable, but so were those of many other countries. I figured that with Brodeur in net and Crosby putting the puck behind opposing goalies, we couldn't lose.

I was at least somewhat accurate in my prediction.

Brodeur underachieved in his two games, one a 3-2 shootout victory over Switzerland, a country that has given Canadian hockey fits ever since blanking the dominant nation at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy. Brodeur was downright dazzling in the shootout, but was still criticized for being overagressive while playing the puck - something that every hockey fan wanted him to do when the tournament began.

In the team's third game against a youthful, determined American squad, Brodeur's puckhandling would come to the forefront when a "home run" puck, struck out of midair by the stalwart netminder was picked off by his former Devils teammate Brian Rafalski en route to a soft goal on a shot along the ice. Even though there was lots of game left and the score was only 2-1 for the USA, Brodeur's tournament was over.

Head coach Mike Babcock chose to ride hometown favourite Roberto Luongo the rest of the way, and I was not the only one to notice how quickly a hockey-mad nation seemed to have forgotten about all of Brodeur's achievements, dedication and success while wearing our Maple Leaf over the years... consider this quote from Ron Wilson (Coach, Team USA & Toronto Maple Leafs):

"The biggest surprise to me is how everybody threw Marty Brodeur, the greatest goalie in the history of the game under the bus and backed over him, and forward, backward, forward, backward. It's the greatest goalie that's ever played and it almost tarnished his career on one night. He didn't have a good night, but part of that had to do with how well we pressured them."

The torch had been passed, and after Canada easily dismantled Germany in a qualification game, the dream matchup of the tournament materialized... however it did not live up to its billing as a hard fought and equally contested game. Canada's team oriented, physical game was overwhelming, and proved too much for a star studded Russian side, which fell by the wayside, demoralized and disgraced after a 7-3 loss at the hands of our guys. Canadian hockey fans were jubilant and quite overconfident going into the semi-finals.

Much of the country switched over to short track speed skating when the Canadian team stormed out to a 3-0 lead over Slovakia, only to return to see the score at 3-2 with seconds to go. Roberto Luongo made the save of the tournament with seconds left, sending Canada into the Final - a rematch with the Americans that had destiny written all over it.

I was downtown Toronto on Sunday with a couple of friends - we searched frantically for a spot to take in the game. A 7 kilometre marathon ended near Front & Sherbourne St.'s when we were seated at the last table in a packed house. Then we watched.

It was clear from puck drop that everyone watching had his/her soul riding on the game's outcome. Total strangers chatted, cheered and basked in the pride we all felt - we were together in person and in spirit. Jonathan Toews scored in the first, sending a country into a frenzy. When Corey Perry made it 2-0 minutes into the second, dreams started to come true... and 30,000,000 pairs of eyes began to watch the clock... too soon.

The USA would score to make it 2-1, and with just 24 seconds left, Devils hero and now USA hockey legend Zach Parise scored off of a goalmouth scramble, tying the game and ruining thirty million lives.

Canadians find a way, though. Even at our lowest point, we forged friendships, toasted to the achievements of our athletes and took in the moment, hoping that our optimism and combined sense of togetherness and belonging would be enough to keep our guys going. Headed into overtime, we believed.

Seemingly out of nowhere and posessed by the spirit of Canada, Sidney Crosby raced from the bench with the puck in tow, attempting to split four defenders before spilling into the corner. Here was our savior, our hero; the embodiment of our love for the game of hockey and for our country. Crosby would not be denied, and when he fired a no-look laserbeam of a shot through the pads of tourmanent MVP Ryan Miller, bedlam broke out nation-wide.

Sidney Crosby proved to us that the Olympic Flame burns from within, and the unbelievable and overwhelming outporing of emotion displayed by Canadians worldwide following his goal was something that I had never before seen or experienced.

Within minutes, thousands of people were in the streets of downtown Toronto. Major intersections turned into regulated party-zones. 20 minutes after Crosby and the rest of his Canadian teammates (all 36 million of us!) had Gold around their necks, tens of thousands of people had descended upon Dundas Square, forming a cheering mob of red and white.

In times of doubt or hardship, we must think back to times such as these for inspiration and proof that we are not alone but united. The 2010 Winter Olympics brought us all together - the country and the world as one, sharing in and reacting to some of the greatest athletic achievements on record, and I will always remember where I was and how it feels to be Canadian in one of our country's greatest hours.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Shady EBay Dealings & ITG 2010 Olympic Sensitivity

In my previous entry I mentioned that a well-known patch forger had returned to the scene. Now it seems as if yet again I find myself right in the middle of the battle between good (3 colour Limited Logos) and evil (lack thereof).

I picked up this 06/7 Limited Logos card for my collection:

Payment was sent immediately and I was very excited for the arrival of another beauty for the 06/7 LL horde.

I arrived home from a gig to see that my payment had been refunded because the card had been "stolen" when the seller took his collection to show to a group of "buyers". Buyers indeed.

I will hold off on releasing too many details surrounding the case at this time, but suffice it to say that reputable sources have told me that the EBay handle "best_offer_cards" has been linked to the GTA patch artist mentioned in my last post, and in so many before that.

While I have no proof of this at the moment, attempts to learn more about the card (serial number, origin...) have gone unanswered, and there is also a reluctance to exchange personal contact information. Those facts coupled with the rapid disappearance of the picture of the card seen in the auction certainly raise alarm bells.

I will continue to pursue information as to the whereabouts/authenticity of this card (which featured a dazzling three colour patch, part of the Devils horn) with the notion that three single colour Brodeur logos from the same year have sold at auction in the past few months not far from my mind. I am a very trusting person, and it is unfortunate to say, but I will now be treading carefully in the waters of EBay. Why was a card that I purchased taken to be displayed to a group of "buyers"? Perhaps this was an honest mistake, and the card was misplaced or swiped, but there is way too much surrounding this incident that doesn't add up for me to buy that story any longer.

It seems as though we the collector will be treated to another astonishing innovation from In The Game, centered around the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Per the company's website, as of this Friday, collectors will have the chance to purchase some very limited cards directly through the ITG website. A checklist is not available at this time.

I am wary of this idea. ITG claims that strict measures for quantity limitation will be taken (ie: that John Moneybags will not be able to log on and buy up the entire print run of his favourite single, or the entire series for that matter). While that is a comforting statement to a collector like myself, who will most likely only attempt to buy one card from the shop, we have seen the same thing happen time and time and time and time and time and time and time again with any popular concert ticket... thirty seconds after release, the product we covet is gone, and where it went, nobody knows... until it shows up en masse on ticketexchange or stubhub at a drastically increased price.

While I am not 100% in the know with regards to how this will be handled, what is stopping "Dr. Dealer" from logging on precisely as the store gets going, buying his allotted stock and then logging in using several proxy accounts to buy up a significant percentage of the entire print run? Each item is to be limited to ten copies, so there isn't a lot to go around.

Much like I do when Pearl Jam tickets go on sale - I'll do my best. I'll log on in hopes of buying a nice Brodeur item - if there's one available (pricepoint unknown), I'll pick it up. If I'm online minutes after the product goes on sale and no more marquee pieces are available, I'll wait for the Expo to roll around... if/when I see piles of ITG 2010 cards on certain tables, I'll begin to ask questions.

The company's apparent inability to field questions that do not begin with "I love this idea, where can I buy more, how is it you don't have a license?!" is also interesting. A certain online forum is discussing the release and bringing up the same fear that I have described above, only to be met with blunt comments that include the words "bashing" and equivalent. One statement includes the notion that "5% are shouting louder than 95% can speak" (sic).

I would argue that 5% of society is apt to ask "big questions", and maybe even provide constructive criticism. These statements (mostly complimentary statements that express some level of concern regarding quantity limitation) should be read at face value and used as a springboard to strengthen relationships with potential customers, and not as excuses to utter the same old statements about the lack of a license, playing the deck that has been dealt and to seem genuinely personally offended at every opportunity.

It is frustrating to see a discussion about a new product that is taking an innovative approach at distribution turn into not a discussion but a series of unjustified personal attacks.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Month in Cards... History is Made and Controversy Returns!

It has been quite awhile since my last entry - I guess life took over through the holiday season and I figured I would wait until after the Toronto Card Show to post an update, so here it is!

I had always wondered if anyone actually read this page, and I know the answer after having received a few messages from boardies asking me when another update was coming. Thank you to anyone who takes some time out of his/her busy day to check this blog out!

So let's backtrack a bit to acknowledge the most significant thing that has happened in the world of sports over the past month - Martin Brodeur has broken Terry Sawchuk's all-time shutouts record! Many thought it would never happen, but #104 came in spectacular fashion over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Interestingly, Brodeur has shut the Pens out in his last two starts against them, making over 30 saves in each contest. Congrats to Marty, who has since pushed his SO total up to 107 (!!!) - the next closest active player to that total is Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (50).

Card-wise, I have personally scaled back a bit on my purchasing over the past few weeks, hoping to shuffle out some old stock before loading up again. After posting a very (VERY) large sale thread online last night, I hope to make some sales and re-load in time for the next Toronto Card Show.

Speaking of the TCS - the latest edition of the Show (Sunday, January 17th) was another hit. While not nearly as busy as the Dec. 20 Show, there was a steady flow of collectors circling the room for most of the day. This was the third time I have set up, and I have learned something every time... here are a couple of observations:

- It ain't crap: Those $1 jersey cards you want to throw out, or that are taking up space in your closet are worth more than you think they are. While some cards are impossible to sell (or close to it), memorabilia cards, no matter how "low end", of active players are always worth keeping around. It is a lot easier for a customer to drop $10-15 than $100-150. The reality is that if presented nicely, those jersey cards that only book at $8 will easily garner some interest, and will often sell for $3-4 apiece.

- Something for the kids: Along the same lines, after three shows and having attended the TCS since its inception, I know that many of the collectors walking around the show can barely see over the tables. I have found it essential to have some things to give to the youngsters when they visit my table - nothing big, but base cards of star players definitely generate smiles. This goes a long way, as often the little guys are tailed by their parents. They've got the wallets, and they'll be back. Case and point: last show I gave a youngster some Ovechkin base cards as he couldn't afford the jersey cards I had on the table. This time around, he brought his dad with him, and they purchased one of them, remembering that I had been kind to them previously.

- Share the wealth: The wealth of hobby knowledge, that is! Not everyone making the rounds has been in the game for as long as I/we have, and I find it very important to cheerfully andswer any hobby related questions to the best of my ability. This creates a positive vibe around the table, and inevitably leads to sales.

- Support the team: It is also important to know what others in the room are selling. I have received referrals from other dealers who remember cards I have, and I try to point customers their way if I don't have any cards of a particular player. In the end, its all about the benjamins, and teamwork keeps the bills coming across the table.

- Pull the trigger: We are at the show to sell, but you have to be open to adding to your inventory as you go. The show runs from essentially 9:30-4 (once dealers are set up, they cruise around to see the other tables, often deals get done), so how do you know that Gretzky auto you buy for $120 at 11 AM won't sell for $225 by day's end?

There is another issue surrounding the hobby which has reared its ugly head . It would seem that everyone's favourite patch forger is at it again, and is even actively buying in some hobby circles (I won't divulge who informed me of this). Most of my readers will know who I am speaking of, but I won't name names. Instead, I will say that it is time for this smug, inconsiderate SOB to get his come-uppance. I'm not sure if there is a way that collectors can work together to make him pay, or if we should just patiently wait for the karma wheel to spin his way, but I for one am fed up with these thieves.

I will be compiling the evidence against this individual (which is readily available thanks to and providing my input in letter format (accompanied by a copy of the evidence of course), and providing it to the local authorities. I will be sending a date-stamped copy showing recepit to Upper Deck to make them aware of the issue and of my action, but I will go no further. I think the manufacturer should get involved in this case, as it is their product that is being altered, and their customers who are being turned away due to authenticity concerns.

I am left wondering why we as a people tolerate this type of thing... ridiculous car insurance rates for young experienced drivers with good vision (and very affordable ones for the senior population that is occasionally a huge hazard on the road), insane cable bills, cell phone charges out the wazoo and now patch forgery, which is turning something fun, which we use to get away from the strains of daily life, into yet another area in which we are exploited.

In general, we have to start standing up for ourselves.

/ rant.