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.
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:
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…
A short while ago, my online retailer of choice offered a case break of 2015-16 Upper Deck Black, and I’m guessing the 30 spots were not selling as quickly as they’d hoped. It was the day of the scheduled break, most of the spots were still open and so they PUT IT ON SALE! A pretty decent chunk off, too. Since I had a little money to spare, felt like gambling and never owned any UD Black hockey cards before, I decided to buy a spot.
Time rolls around, the video feed starts and I see my name next to the Maples Leafs. OK, this is promising. Oh wait, they have to run the randomizer and shake up the teams. Shake, shake, shake….
Back in March, I wrote a long-winded opinion piece on how Upper Deck can improve their Series One and Series Two hockey card sets. But I hate to just wish for things; I want them to happen. So I forwarded my article to Chris Carlin, Upper Deck’s Senior Marketing & Social Media Manager.
Not only did Chris read my article, but he actually addressed all of my points. As collectors, many times we believe that the card companies can make what we think are a few easy changes that will make us happier. Well, it turns out that those changes aren’t always easy to make as they might seem — and they won’t necessarily make collecting better, either.
Here’s a summary of each point from my prior article, along with Chris’ response to each one. Maybe you will learn something; I know I did.
Y’all — that means “You All” for the Yankees — the hockey card market is getting out of hand. Normally I’d look at buying a box of Upper Deck Series One or Two to enjoy, save the hits, collect a few of the players I like, and entertain everyone with another Best of the Worst post. This past fall with Series One, I dragged my feet on writing that post because there weren’t a whole lot of crazy photos and I wasn’t super-inspired.
I also wasn’t too crazy about the price I paid for the box vs. the cards that I got out of it. Two out of three boxes didn’t yield a jersey card, and outside of a mildly-rarer Shining Stars Alex Ovechkin and one or two Young Guns that may or may not pan out, it was fairly hitless. I shopped around to buy that box online for $70-75; in a local shop it would have cost me at least $85 to $100! The same goes for Series Two which was released in March. Looking at the list of who is in that set and the likelihood of getting anything of value, I can’t say it’s worth the price of admission. There just isn’t much going on in there.
How long is too long when waiting for a redemption card to arrive? Six months? A year? Two years? More? My most recent redemption took nearly four years of waiting, followed by four weeks of nagging, but it finally arrived.
Recently, in my never-ending request to clear the piles of cards off of my desk, I found a redemption card that I had redeemed long ago. This was supposed to get me an autographed Akim Aliu rookie card from the 2012-13 Panini Limited Hockey set. I opened a box of these cards way back in mid-2013, registered the redemption number via Panini’s website, and then forgot about it. So did Panini.
Last month, 2016-17 Upper Deck Series Two was released in stores and online shops. Other than a few packs I bought to get a promotional card on National Hockey Card Day, I have avoided buying Upper Deck Series One and Upper Deck Series Two this year. Since 1990, Upper Deck’s flagship “Upper Deck” hockey card set was something I always looked forward to. It was usually the biggest and best hockey card set every year during that decade, and set the high-water mark in quality for the hobby.
But over time, Upper Deck Series One and Series Two have become somewhat…uninspired. Routine. Even boring. This year’s Series One Hockey set has 198 base cards of veteran players, two checklists, 49 short-printed Young Guns rookie cards and one short-printed Young Guns checklist. Likewise, this year’s Series Two Hockey set has 198 base cards of veteran players, two checklists, 49 short-printed Young Guns rookie cards and one short-printed Young Guns checklist.
Other than a little variation in the number of Young Guns, that has pretty much been Upper Deck’s script since 2005-06, and frankly, it is time for a change.
Don’t get me wrong. The cards themselves look great and are of high quality. But even if you ate your favorite food for a month straight, it will still get dull. So it is time for Upper Deck to spice things up and not just do what has been working, but to seek to make things better. Here are seven ways that would improve Upper Deck Series One and Series Two.
Sometimes, the level of amateurishness displayed by the NHL in 2017 surprises me. The league held a celebrity all-star game on Saturday prior to the NHL Skills Competition. One player in the game was international pop sensation Justin Bieber. And yet, the NHL didn’t even bother to televise this game — not even on the NHL Network, which just ran a bunch of talking heads in that time slot.
The NHL streamed the 2017 NHL All-Star Celebrity Shootout on its website, and did a lousy job of it too, wasting the opportunity to raise the game’s profile and hopefully get a few new fans in the process.
The two teams — named Team Gretzky (home) and Team Lemieux (away) — had a lot of retired greats in the lineup, like Joe Sakic, Luc Robitaille, Sergei Fedorov, Peter Forsberg, Borje Salming and Larry Robinson. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux served as the coaches. Current stars Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid played, too. Celebrities like actor Cuba Gooding Jr. and movie director/producer Jerry Bruckheimer also laced them up.
Twenty-five years ago was the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. Just like Austin Mathews today is unanimously considered the best prospect in this year’s draft, everyone in 1991 thought the same of Eric Lindros.
Lindros was considered “The Next One” since he was 14 years old. And who could argue? He was 6’4″ and 230 pounds. He scored 149 points in 57 games during his last season of major junior hockey. Lindros was a dominant force that could control the game. But would NHL scouts and GMs spend a first-overall pick on The Big E, or someone else, knowing then what we know now?
So, let’s imagine that we could re-do the first round of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. Let’s set our Wayback Machines to June 22, 1991, pack an iPad with Hockey DB and Hockey Reference already bookmarked — we’ll worry about finding a WiFi hot spot when we get there — and see how the first round of the 1991 Draft would have played out in our alternate timeline.