The Race for the 2018 Hart Trophy

8 Great Choices – But Only 1 Can Be MVP

With the NHL regular season now at an end, I think we can all agree it has been one of the best in recent memory. If the brilliant debut of the Las Vegas Golden Knights wasn’t enough, maybe it was the play of breakout stars, Andrei Vasilevskiy or Brayden Point. But, the NHL is a stars league, and it is always at its best when its stars are shining bright. And this season is a prime example. When superstar Sidney Crosby is playing up to his expectations and is 10th in the league in scoring, you know the league is firing on all cylinders.

It felt as though this year, all of the big stars were playing their best. So that leaves one question: who is most deserving of the Hart Trophy as the league’s regular-season MVP? The award is always contentious because of the letter“V,” for valuable, in MVP. But I’m not here to try and define value and who should win; I’m here to show that this is one of the most exciting Hart Trophy races in my lifetime. There are arguably eight players,  forwards in particular, that have a legitimate chance to win the award this year. Eight forwards who have arguably been more valuable to their team than anyone else. That is the important caveat: a player’s team success is almost always included in their chances at winning the award, so I will take that under consideration. Here are the reasons why, and why not, these eight are in contention for the NHL’s top individual honor.

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Have You Ever Collected Ironically?

Every collector has at least one card in their collection that they own more than one copy of. Maybe it’s an extra or three of their favorite player’s rookie card, or duplicates of their hometown team’s players. Personally, I have nine Mario Lemieux rookie cards and more Jeremy Roenick rookie cards than I will ever admit to owning. Heck, I even had an expensive obsession with nabbing as many Pro Set Stanley Cup Hologram cards that I could get my mitts on. All of those cards were purchased because I genuinely liked them. 

But over the years, I’ve collected multiple copies of one card — 2010-11 Artifacts #49 Rene Bourque Emerald Parallel — purely for ironic reasons. 

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Antti Niemi should own the white mask

Antti Niemi’s stay with Florida didn’t last long. [Photo credit: NHL]
Antti Niemi joined his third team this season when he was picked up on waivers by the Montreal Canadiens earlier this week. He started the year with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but after three weeks and three bad games was put on waivers and claimed by the Florida Panthers. Three weeks and two bad games later, Niemi was again put on waivers and was picked up by the Habs, whose top two goaltenders are currently injured.

So short was Niemi’s stay in Florida that he didn’t eve have a chance to customize his goalie mask. Instead, he just wore a plain white mask — the mask that simultaneously states “I’m new around here,” and “I won’t be here long.”

Niemi needs to own that mask.

Seriously. And by own I mean embrace it and make it his trademark, Continue reading “Antti Niemi should own the white mask”

The End of ‘Birth Year Numbers’ is Here

..and for that I am glad.

The trend of birth year jersey numbers in the NHL will go away this season. What I am referring to is when a player elects to wear a number on his jersey that the same number as the year of his birth. Sidney Crosby popularized this trend when he decided to wear 87 because he was born in 1987. 

This continued for more than a decade, but it will finally come to an end. 

Good.

What was maybe a novel concept of an NHL player wearing the year of his birth on his back has long wore out its welcome, becoming as lame as adding “er” or “ie” to make a nickname, i.e. “Kaner” or “Sharpie.”

Just look at the following examples of Millennial creativity at work:  Continue reading “The End of ‘Birth Year Numbers’ is Here”

Pros and Cons of Game Dated Moments

Upper Deck’s new print-on-demand hockey card set has potential & problems

Upper Deck debuted its new Game Dated Moments hockey card set for the 2017-18 season last Friday. Each week, Upper Deck will release between one and four cards in this set, based on what they deem to be the biggest news of the NHL from the prior week. Fans will be encouraged to give Upper Deck their input as to what moments they would like to see on Game Dated Moment cards, which are available to purchase on Upper Deck’s E-Pack platform. 

Upon first hearing about this new set, I was excited. I remember the 1996-97 Upper Deck Hockey set because the photos on those cards had captions that told you what was happening, and on what date the picture was taken. 

I also liked it when Upper Deck made Biography of a Season cards, though admittedly I have always had trouble finding those at my local card shops — only to have dealers try and sell me the same cards months later. 

These also remind me of those “Season Highlights” cards that were commonplace in the old Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets in the 1970s and 1980s. Most oldschool hockey collectors love those cards. 

Anytime hockey gets a new type of set, even if the idea itself isn’t particularly new, I get excited. Hockey cards are almost always overlooked, so I love it when they get the all-star treatment. 

But my excitement for Game Dated Moments has cooled off a little bit for a few good reasons. My outlook on this set is now mixed, with some positives and some problems. Let’s examine the problems first. 

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My Digital Hockey Artwork, 1994-2000

Recently, I decided to purge the box full of old computer disks in my closet. Methodically, I went through each and every disk, copied the data over to my hard drive, and then discarded the disks. 

Yes, this is actually the second-ever floppy disk I owned. 

This was no small task. I had about 50 old 3 1/2″ floppy disks, that held 1.44 megabytes of data each, and about another 50 Zip disks, which held a whopping-for-the-time 100 megabytes of data. Some of these disks had files dating back to 1994! And copying the data took a long time, because I used external floppy and Zip drives that connected via a USB port. 

I used to make custom covers for my Zip disks. 

Unfortunately, not all of the disks worked — so some files were lost forever — but most of the disks were fine. Among the old school projects and ancient term papers were some pieces of hockey digital art that I would like to share. 

These images not only depict hockey, but they illustrate my path from computer novice to a digital designer. Let’s see what digital hockey goodness lurked on these obsolete computer disks. 

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Puck Junk’s 10th Anniversary

Ten years! Can you believe that Puck Junk is a decade old? Sometimes, I can’t believe that I’ve stuck with this whole writing thing for so long, partially because I have a penchant from changing hobbies every few years. Sure, I am passionate about hockey — and I always will be — but to write about it consistently for a decade is an accomplishment I am proud of. And I have all of you to thank for that. 

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Goodbye and Thank You, Pierre Pilote

Like so many other hockey fans, I was surprised and saddened when I learned that former NHL defenseman Pierre Pilote passed away Saturday night at the age of 85. 

I never saw Mr. Pilote play; he retired long before I was born, so I can’t attest to what kind of player he was without paraphrasing what others have already said, especially during the past few days. However, I have met Pilote many times during the past decade, and can speak to as what kind of person he was towards Blackhawks fans. 

Pilote was at the annual Chicago Blackhawks Convention practically every year since it started in 2008. I also met him at the National Sports Collectors Convention when it was in Chicago in 2011 and 2015, and at numerous Sun-Times Sports Card Shows, where he usually signed autographs for charity as a part of The Fergie Jenkins Foundation.

As you would probably expect of someone who was the Black Hawks team captain for seven years, Pilote was nothing short of awesome when interacting with the fans. Continue reading “Goodbye and Thank You, Pierre Pilote”

The Top 8 NHL Players Who Have Yet to Make the Playoffs

Keith Kinkaid (left) and Jack Eichel [Photos by Lisa Gansky Photography]
One hundred percent of NHL players will tell you that their top goal is to hoist Lord Stanley’s Mug over their head, skate around in a circle screaming, and wondering who they’re gonna spray first in the face with champagne. OK, cool squad goals bro. I can say 100% because Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Semin are playing in the KHL these days, and they only give a damn about money. The second goal for every player is to make the playoffs; just to get that extra patch on their jersey and at least play some late-April hockey. 

Now that Ron Hainsey’s Ultimate Ironman Streak of playing so many seasons on so many bad teams —  and having made his tee time on the golf course by April 15 — is over, let’s look at the top eight players currently in the NHL who have yet to make the playoffs and could take up Ron’s mantle of misfortune:

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Re-imagining the 1992 NHL Entry Draft

Last weekend, the NHL held its annual Entry Draft in Chicago. It was considerably a weaker draft class than the previous two drafts, which were headlined by Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel in 2015, and then Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine in 2016. That isn’t to say that the 2017 draft class won’t turn out its share of NHLers; it was just not as exciting of a group. 

Coincidentally, the same thing happened 25 years ago. The 1990 and 1991 drafts were deep. And the 1992 Draft? Well, it had Roman Hamrlik and Alexei Yashin. Oh — and Sergei Gonchar. 

I will admit, after writing fantasy “do-overs” of the 1990 and 1991 NHL Entry Drafts, I was not really looking forward to looking back at the 1992 Draft. There were no 1,000-point or 400-goal scorers to come out of 1992. None made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame. About the only milestone any of the players drafted in 1992 achieved was that seven of them skated in 1,000 or more NHL games. Even then, the NHL expanded from 24 teams in 1992 to 30 teams in 2000, so that probably had a lot to do with it. 

It is easier and more fun to agonize over who should have gone first overall in 1990 — Jaromir Jagr or Martin Brodeur — with hindsight being 20/20 and all. But looking at a bunch of average players and trying to figure out which one is slightly better than the other…well, that’s the kind of challenge scouts deal with all the time. And I’m always up for a challenge. 

Thus, below is my fantasy re-imagining of the first round of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft. There may be no marquee names, but some went onto exceptional careers, while others were good enough to play a long time in the world’s best hockey league.

And, with the first-overall pick, the Tampa Bay Lighting are proud to select…

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