Monday, March 5, 2012

The Tampa Bay Lightning Card of the Week - Radim Vrbata 2008-09 Victory

Here we go with another weekly (yeah, right) feature.  I know there are folks out there that have similar gimmicks going on their websites, heck some writers even manage to do a “card of a day”.  First of all, I’m way too lazy to do the same thing every day. Secondly, I figure if I only do one card a week, I can really stretch out my collection for the foreseeable future.

I’ve started slowly organizing the Lightning cards I have up here in my northern compound and figured I’d share a few with you readers out.  After all, there aren’t too many bloggers out there posting about Lightning cards.  I’ll try my best to keep the players and sets varied, Zeus knows there have been enough players sporting the Lightning’s colors over the years to do that.

First up we have:

I bet there were more Lightning cards with "Victory" on it then actual Lightning Victories that year

Radim Vrbata 2008-09 Upper Deck Victory Gold Parallel

What’s that you say?  You didn’t know he suited up for the Tampa Bay Lightning?  Well, some of us are trying to block out his playing days as well.  His one season, well part of one season, was during the dark days. Signed to a 3 year deal on July 1, 2008 he was part of the free agent flurry that signaled that those who will not be named planned on treating the Lightning like their own personal fantasy hockey team.

The former 7th round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, Vrbata was supposed to be the elite scoring winger that would round out Vincent Lecavalier’s and Marty St. Louis’ top line.  He was coming off a 27-goal season for the Phoenix Coyotes and the $3 million a year contract didn’t seem like a bad bargain at the time.

To say it didn’t work out well would be an understatement.  Vrbata lasted only 18 games with the Lightning (two games more than head coach Barry Melrose) before heading to the Czech Republic to play.  The reason originally given at the time was that he was struggling with personal problems and his confidence was shattered.  Later it would be revealed that his wife was having a difficult pregnancy and her struggle was weighing heavily on his mind.  The chaos that was the Lightning organization probably didn’t help much either.

The fact that he wasn’t producing on the ice helped make the transition a bit more amicable, and the fact that the cash-strapped ownership wouldn’t have to pay his salary didn’t hurt either. Vrbata would spend the rest of the season in the Czech Republic playing for Mlada Boleslav BK and Librec Bili Tyqri HC.

Following the season, and the healthy birth of a baby boy, Vrbata announced that he wanted to return to the NHL. The Lightning, however, had moved on. With Alex Tanguay and Stephane Veilleux on the roster of course there was no room for him (please note the sarcasm meter on the previous sentence was an 8).

So the General Manager gave Vrbata’s agent permission to seek a trade.  Low and behold his previous employers, the Coyotes, were willing to take him back.  So on July 21st, 2009 he was traded to Phoenix for Todd Fedoruk and David Hale.  The trade didn’t do much for the Lightning, other than provide me with my fantasy hockey avatar.

Honestly, the missing teeth are the scariest part of the picture for me.

Vrbata, on the other hand, flourished upon his return to the desert where he has scored 73 goals and counting for the beleaguered franchise.

It’s a shame that Vrbata’s tenure in Tampa didn’t turn out better. He was a hard working, quiet player who went about his business professionally. As he’s proven in Phoenix he can score goals, and if things had been different the organization’s long-running quest for scoring depth might have not still be on-going.

The Upper Deck Victory set this card is a part of has an interesting history with the company. Sometimes released as its own set, it has also been released as an insert set in other Upper Deck products such as their flagship base series.  It is considered a lower-end set with packs usually costing no more than a dollar or so in the retail market.

 Inserts are limited, as are parallels such as the gold version shown above. They do tend to feature a healthy amount of rookies, so collectors looking to pick up cheap versions of their favorite player’s early cards may turn to this set.

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