Tuesday, December 13, 2011

C'mon Panini!

Even though I’m no longer a set builder I like to keep an eye on the products that the companies are releasing just to see if there is anything novel.  Last week Panini, one of two companies that have a NHL license, released some images from their upcoming 2011-12 Limited Hockey set.

Panini, long known in the U.S. for their sticker yearbooks, jumped back into the hockey market last season with mixed results.  They revived several defunct brands such as Score, Pinnacle, and Donruss while also offering collectors an alternative to Upper Deck’s monopoly.  They also flooded the market with thousands of pointless parallel versions of cards and inserts upon inserts. 

One of the new inserts for Limited Hockey is Back to theFuture. The card will feature autographs from two players from a team.  From their post they think the cards are a “compelling insert {that} unites one current superstar with one all-time great (along with their respective autographs)”.  That’s not a bad idea for an insert set.  Although I don’t collect vintage cards, it’s nice to see cards that tie the past with the present.

Their website features some pre-signed versions of the cards.  Some of the pairings are pretty cool: Brad Marchand/Ken Linesman, Claude Giroux/Tim Kerr and Jeff Skinner/Ron Francis. These cards should be a big hit for team collectors, especially since it appears the cards will be hand-signed.

As I was scrolling through the images I was delighted to see the Lightning represented in the set.  Even though I would be classified more as a player collector than a team collector since I focus most of my collecting budget on Vincent Lecavalier, it’s still nice to see the boys from Tampa included. 

The “current superstar” half of the card is Steven Stamkos.  As the most prolific goal scorer over the last three years, that’s pretty much a no brainer.  Stamkos is the best player on the team and does have appeal outside of the Tampa Bay area (enough so that he made the cover of NHL12). 
Look at the flowing locks! - From Panini's site

So who, out of the almost 20 year existence of the organization, did Panini pick to represent the “all-time great”?  None other than Steve Yzerman.  Holy crap do I have a problem with that selection. Not just a little problem, but a large-probably-overreacting-taking-too-personally-problem with it.

I don’t disagree with the notion that Yzerman is an all-time great, just not for the Lightning.  If you want to put his autograph in the set, put it on the flipside of Pavel Datsyuk.  Yzerman has done a good job of putting a professional product on the ice in Tampa, but he never donned the uniform for Tampa Bay.  Heck, he hasn’t even been with the team as long as Stamkos has. 
Sweet Suit Stevie - From Panini's site

Despite what some people in the media and in the stands believe, the Lightning existed before they drafted Steven Stamkos in 2008.  Hundreds of players, some good, a lot not-so-good, have skated for them since the franchise debuted with Chris Kontos banging in 4 goals against Chicago on October 7, 1992.  It strikes me as lazy and a bit of a shot at the organization that Panini would chose Yzerman to represent the other half of the card.

So who should Panini have tracked down to sign the cards instead of Yzerman? From looking at the other pairings it appears that Panini matched up players with similar skills, or at least ones that played the same position.  So that rules out Darren Puppa (and as a novelty, Manon Rheaume) since he was a goaltender.  Chris Gratton was more of a big, physical center, not the gifted scorer that Stamkos has developed into.  Rob Zamuner, Alex Selivanov and Dave Andreychuk were all wingers so despite their contributions to the team they’re out as well.

That leaves, as the only logical choice, Brian Bradley. The center from Kitchner, Ontario was the first true scoring threat, some would say the only threat, for the Lightning. He played 328 games for the Bolts from 1992 to 1998 and tallied an even 300 points.  He scored 111 goals in a Lightning uniform and provided some legitimacy to the organization in its infancy.

Overall in his career he also played for Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, logging 652 games and 503 during that time.  He retired during the 1997-98 season, a season prior to Vincent Lecavalier joining the team.  I wonder if Lecavalier’s transition to the NHL would have been smoother if Bradley had been around to help him out.

I don’t know why Panini chose Yzerman.  If someone over there reads this, feel free to let me know.  They imply that this insert is for team collectors so it would be nice if they actually picked someone who skated for them in the past.  They might not know it, but there those of us that remember folks who played for them prior to 2008.

If they were worried that no one outside of Tampa would know, or want to collect a card with Brian Bradley on it at least chose an organizational figure that has been tied to the team longer than a season and a half.  Throw Phil Esposito on the other half of the card and I would understand.  Like Yzerman, Espo never played for the Lightning, but unlike the current GM, he has been around since day one.

Either guy would be better, especially in those uniforms - Photo from St Pete Times

I would be remiss not to mention that the cards Panini posted on the website aren’t the complete set.  There is a chance that there is a second card that represents an actual player from the Lightning’s past. After all, the Alex Ovechkin card shown features Mark Messier as the other signer and while that is a cool card, not entirely indicative of Washington’s past. 

Despite being in the same area for 20 years having a hockey team in Florida still seems to be a bit of a novelty for the rest of the hockey world. That holds true for the collecting world as well.  Throwback sets rarely feature Lightning players, even if they feature other players from the 1990s.  Cards like the one Panini is producing don’t help the cause. 

1 comment:

Nick B. said...

Just another reason why I still haven't purchased a single box of a Panini release. They hype up these insert cards like they are innovative, then they choose poor names for the set and do things like this. Then, to make sure it's Panini, they'll have 75 different versions of parallels.

I mean, c'mon Panini, you had a "Tough Times" insert in two different sets last year (Donruss and Panini).