Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hockey Cards - A Quick Upper Deck Trilogy Break

I don’t make it a habit to purchase “high end” product.  Not because I’m an anti-elitest, but because I’m poor. Well, not poor poor, but not exactly rolling in the dough.  So I stick to base sets, with the occasional dalliance into mid-tier products like Heritage.  However, today I decided to turn some of my hard-earned overtime into new cardboard.  So I wandered down to my LCS and picked up a mini box of 2013-14 Upper Deck Trilogy (or Trilo3y as Upper Deck has it branded) from John.
For those not in the know, a mini-box contains 3 packs of 5 cards each and is priced right around the same amount that a box of Series I is going to go for.  So 15 cards for the price of about 200.  So yeah, not exactly in my collecting wheelhouse. But I was jonesing for some new hockey cards and this was the first release of the year. 
I’m not sure what other folks look for when they buy higher-end product, but I was hoping either for a card that I can make some of money back or a super cool card of a player or team I collect.  The ultimate would be to get one of each, of course.  I will say one of those three outcomes happen.  But first, what about the cards?


If this was 1982 I would scratch out "Bruins" and write "Stars"

Clean cut, white backgrounds that Upper Deck normally uses for SP Authentic make for a nice looking card. Two diagonal lines do a nice job of framing the player on the card.  Now, I’m not sure why the designers needed to add concentric circles behind the player, unless it’s some sort of Illumanti thing (alert Jay Z).

Cooper appreciates the product placement.

The checklist mixes in current players with retired stars from the past. It doesn’t appear that they’re airbrushing free agents or traded players onto their new teams (Tyler Seguin is still a Bruin),but that could also be a result of the release date being so close to free agent frenzy.


Each mini box averages 1 signed rookie card. My three packs produced two autographs and a triple-player patch.  So it’s nice that you get something for your money.  Maybe not enough to flip for a profit, but anyone busting this product will add some nice cards to their trade bait.
First up:

Base autograph of Islanders rookie Thomas Hickey. The former Kings draft pick was signed off of waivers by the Islanders in January of 2013 and scored one goal in the shortened season. Technically, based on the numbering scheme these rookie cards are part of the base set. I'm not a huge fan of sets that do this.  I'm sure most set collectors agree.

This particular card was numbered to 699 and is considered a Level 1 card.  Each rookie also has a Level 2 (numbered to 399) and Level 3 (numbered to 49).

For Lightning fans, there is only rookie in the set and he’s not with the team any longer – Cory Conacher. I would have gone with Alex Killorn, but once again they didn’t ask my opinion.

Second Hit:

Jersey Swatches from a rookie photo shoot. At least UD is honest!

Three Star Spotlight National Trios – Swedish Rookies Viktor Fasth, Jonas Brodin and Rickard Rackell. Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen? Not the greatest card for me, but it’s actually a cool card with a little color to it.  There is another version, Three Star Spotlight Past, Present and Future which highlights one organization instead of one country.

The Big Hit:

Congratulations Ben Bishop on becoming the number one goalie in Tampa.

Anders Lindback Signature Pucks.  While me picking up a Lightning card might not bode well for Lindback’s future with the club it was nice to pull a player of my favorite team.  When I had seen other previews of the set, the Signature Pucks was one of the inserts I was really interested in.  The autograph is on a piece of rubber shaped as a miniature puck with the team logo on it.  The gold pen used helps make the signature (or scribble in Lindback’s case) shows up nicely.

There are two other variations of Signature Pucks (both selling well on eBay). Retro logos are numbered to 13 and NHL Shield versions are numbered to just 3 each. The cards are pretty thick and have a nice heft to it.  The pack I pulled this from did have one less card in it.

In closing, I won’t be buying another mini box of this product (but if you want to buy me a birthday present, feel free).  I will be tracking down the Lightning cards in the set (pretty sure it’s Vinny, Marty and Stammer along with Conacher) through trades or eBay.  It’s just not in price range, I’ll be saving my pennies for UD series I (now with more rookies!)

Folks looking for big hits are probably going to enjoy this set a little more than set builders or team builders as there is a slew of other inserts involving autographs and relics.

**Update** While the Conacher Signature Puck features him in his Lightning uniform, the "base" rookie auto cards have him sporting the Ottawa sweater.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When Good Promotions Get Awkward - Updated 7/15/13

Now that the excitement of free agent frenzy is over, hockey fans are settling in for a few months of slow activity.  Even the most dedicated professional hockey reporters retire to their cabins to relax. So it's understanding that certain hockey-related destinations might need to run promotions in order to draw in fans who might be distracted by fireworks, hot dogs and trips to the beach.

The Hockey Hall of Fame is one of those destinations.  So the ad wizards partnered up with our friends at Upper Deck to offer a pretty cool promotion.  On 30 select days throughout July and August each NHL team will have their own selected day. If you are a fan of a particular team and show up at the Hall of Fame wearing a jersey, hat or other article of clothing for that team you get in for half price.  What a deal!

There is a second part of the promotion.  The first 1,000 paying entrants will receive an Upper Deck card featuring a relic card of a player from the team being celebrated that day. Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews are all listed.  Pretty sweet, huh?  A free jersey card just for showing up.

The Lightning have their own day.  Fans mark your calender for August 19th, 2013.  Enjoy a nice weekend in Toronto and then roll into the Hall of Fame in your favorite Enrico Ciccone jersey to get your half price ticket and your card of........

Oh wow....that's a little....umm....awkward. 

See they're celebrating the captains of the NHL teams and I'm sure when this ran through marketing the thought was, "No WAY they buy out that contract.  We're good to go with the Lightning."

I'm not upset, it's totally understandable.  These things take time to plan out and execute.  As a matter of fact I think it's kind of funny, one of those "of course it happened to the Lightning" kind of things that we haven't seen for a few years.  Think of smudged faxes, trying to trade draft picks the team didn't have and players' cars getting repossessed during games.

As of right now the Hall of Fame hasn't responded to a question I asked about if there is going to be an alternative card handed out on that day.  Granted I just sent it about 3 minutes ago, but hey we're in an instant information age!  I'll update this post if they respond.


No response from the Hall of Fame, but Upper Deck Hockey did reply to a tweet I sent them today.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The One.....Where I talk about boxing again.

A few weeks ago I managed to get out of work at a decent time so I decided to stand in line behind some Mexicans.  What can I say, I like waiting in line. It’s definitely one trait that the Duchess and I don’t share.  If she was with me, there is no way she would have waited in line for 30 minutes, Mexicans or no Mexicans.  But I wasn’t there because I’m a big fan of waiting or because I’m a really big fan of pissing off office workers at rush hour (we were kind of blocking the sidewalk and they were forced to walk on the street).  I was there because the biggest show in boxing was in Chicago.

In order to promote their upcoming pay-per-view Floyd Mayweather and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez embarked on a cross-country promotional tour stopping in 11 cities to get boxing fans excited about the biggest fight of the year.  Since it was free it was right in my financial wheelhouse.  However, since it was free it was in a LOT of people’s wheelhouse.  When I arrived, about 45 minutes before the festivities were scheduled to kick off, the line went out the front door of the Chicago Theatre down State Street and wrapped around Lake street.

I would provide pictures, however my phone picked a horrible time to run out of juice.  Which also meant I had no way to entertain myself while I was waiting, possibly in vain, to get in.  Lucky for me, boxing fans are chatty and seem to have endless things to talk about.  Right behind me two ladies were debating the merits of Mayweather, mostly if his out-of-ring antics detracted from his in-ring performance.  They were also planning their trip to Vegas in September for the fight,

“I might not get to the fight, ‘cause I ain’t got $1500, but I’m definitely going to be on the strip for the fight. Vegas is great when Floyd is fighting” one of the ladies opined.  I too don’t have $1500 to blow on a ticket, but I would disagree with her about Vegas being great when Floyd is fighting.  Vegas is great when there is ANY big boxing contest in town.  It’s also the best time to play “Hooker, Not Hooker”.

As the 6:00pm start time neared people started to get antsy about getting in, especially since the line had barely moved.  Eventually we did start shuffling to the entrance only to encounter another obstacle - you needed a ticket to get in.  And the lady that was nearest to us had no more tickets.  She nonchalantly pointed to another worker who “might have some left” which set off a mini-stampede.  I would like to thank my youth basketball coach and my predilection for cheeseburgers for helping me box out two young kids as they tried to get past me to get a ticket.

With ticket in hand I entered the historic theatre (really, take the tour if you’re in town) where I saw A Christmas Story: The Musical (one of the best Christmas presents of all-time) and was promptly faced with another obstacle.  Seriously, Link had less challenges rescuing Princess Zelda then I had getting into this dog-and-pony show.  This time I had to choose between waiting in another line to check my umbrella or abandon it because it wasn’t allowed in the seating area.  I guess they were afraid I might use it as a weapon should a melee break out during the event.  Sorry Hambone, but your Avocent umbrella was left to its own defenses as I hot-footed it up to the balcony level.

In the end I didn’t need to be so hasty.  As I settled into my seat the show was still in its preview stage.  A couple of large monitors were looping a 5-6 minute video of show promotion all built around the theme of the contest “The One”. Mayweather was “The One” while Alvarez was “The Next One”, which during the first showing of the video I thought they said “The Mexican One,” which I thought was a pretty risqué way to advertise a fight.  Hey, I’m old and the ears don’t work so well.

The video asked various fans who was going to win the fight and why.  They went through pretty much all of the demographics and even had the couple who disagreed (something along the lines of  “if Alvarez wins we’re not getting married, ha ha ha ha”).  In the footage the opinion was pretty much split down the middle with the analysis along the basic premise - Mayweather is smarter and faster while Canelo is younger and stronger.

Now, there was no such disparity in the Chicago crowd, which was overwhelmingly pro-Canelo. There were a few folks from “The Money Team” in the crowd acting pretty much as douche-tastic as you can imagine.  While in line a couple of 20-something year-olds called their friend at the head of the line to get tickets.  Once they got them, they screamed, “That’s how The Money Team rolls, bitches!”  Yes, you got free tickets before the rest of us.  You’re a success in life, son.

Finally, the show was ready to start and the promoter introduced Alvarez first. The “Mexican James Dean” wearing jeans and a tight fitting blue polo shirt came to the stage to cascading applause and CA-NEL-OO chants from his admirers.  He was prompt, respectful and reserved.

Then it was Mayweather’s turn.  In true heel fashion he took his time, made the crowd wait, wait, and then wait some more.  When he finally graced us with his presence he was decked out in a grey sweater, flat-brim “TMT” hat, sunglasses and obnoxiously large gold chain.  He stood and smirked at the boos, because, well, he’s the best in boxing at what he does - make his detractors go ape-shit crazy. People don’t dislike Mayweather, like they might dislike a fighter like Fernando Vargas.  You won’t hear them say, “Eh, yeah Mayweather, I just don’t care for him.” They despise him, they don’t want him to lose, they want to see him hurt.  They want him lying on the canvas in pain like Danny LaRusso after his leg was swept.

After a quick stare down (where there wasn’t as big of a height/size difference as I thought there would be) he finally took his seat, his daughter on one side and his hype man Lenard Ellerbe on the other. Mayweather then proceeded to spend the rest of the show drawing something on a piece of paper.  It was awesome.  While De La Hoya, Alvarez, and the promoter all hyped the fight Mayweather sat there like a 7thgrader in algebra doodling away.

Little things like that are why I can appreciate the dedication he puts into being the “bad” guy.  It’s easy to get worked up about him betting hundreds of thousands of dollars on basketball games or lightning money on fire, but to go to the detail of acting like this promotional tour was nothing but a two-week after school detention is pure villainous genius.

Meanwhile, Alvarez sat there like the humble, leading man, vanquisher of evil that he’s being set up as.  He spoke briefly in Spanish (which I really have to learn at some point) about how he is ready to win for the people ending with the bold declaration, “I am your rooster!”  Ummm. Good for you?

De La Hoya had a few words for the crowd as well.  Thanking the crowd for coming out, announcing that boxing is alive and well, “especially in Chicago” and then dropping a little tease about some plans Golden Boy has for boxing in Chicago.  Hmmm…perhaps a big fight down the road, a pay-per-view in our fair city?  That would be awesome.  Not only for me, but also for some of the local fighters.  Getting on the under card could provide the next step for Mike Jimenez, Andrzej Fonfara or even Dimar Ortuz.

After Golden Boy was done, it was time for Mayweather to give his oral presentation.  He sidled up to the podium and stared out at the crowd and proceeded to shout out, “HARD WORK!” His Money Team was delighted to scream back “DEDICATION!” That went on for about 20 seconds before the sing-songy “CA-NEL-OO!” chants drowned them out. Mayweather stood there and smirked while the boos and derision rained down upon him (another classic heel move, he learned well during his brief dalliance with the WWE).

After some more toying with the crowd he got down to basics and thanked the sponsors (as if he gives a shit about O’Reilly Auto Parts). He pointed out that he’s been in the situation before and that while his opponent might be relying on youth, he had experience on his side. Then the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world closed with, “Chicago is a great city, Mexico is a great country, but September 14th is all about the red, white and blue!”.

They closed with another stare down for the cameras and then the crowd was dismissed while the print and video media was invited to the stage for interviews.  I was a little disappointed as I had hoped that we would be treated to that portion of the spectacle as well. I guess I should have inquired about a press pass after all.

In the end, I learned a few things:

Chicago is pro-Canelo
Mayweather plays the villain better than anyone in sports
Corona makes 10-foot tall light up display bottles.
Something is in the works for boxing in Chicago

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

So The Lightning Had an Interesting Week

Lets all reflect on the biggest takeaway from the Lightning’s 2013 draft - Steve Yzerman did not draft a Russian.  He did take a Latvian, Kristers Gudlevskis, who plays in the Russian junior league so he came close. However, for the first time since 2010 the Bolts organization did not dip into the wealth of talent available from the Mother Land (and you know he was eying Valeri Nichushkin).

He also didn’t draft a defenseman even though Seth Jones was still sitting there when Mr. Yzerman went to the podium to announce the selection. Visions of Victor Hedman and Seth Jones terrorizing teams for the next 8 seasons had to be pretty tempting. That being said, Steven Stamkos taking one-timers from Jonathan Drouin isn’t something goalies are going to want to see anytime soon.

Perhaps this is an indication of a shift in organizational philosophy. Former Orioles GM Andy McPhail had a “grow the arms, buy the bats” philosophy to building a team. Perhaps Mr. Yzerman is instituting a “grow the goal scorers and buy the blueline” method.

(umm...yeah those three minutes made me feel A LOT better about this kid)

Of course, for the Lightning no matter who they drafted they would be overshadowed by the really, really big news - the severing of ties with captain Vincent Lecavalier.  On Thursday, owner Jeff Vinik bit the bullet and cut a large check to tell the all-time Lightning goal leader that his services were no longer welcome. According to ESPN, Lecavalier receives an $8 million payout in full and then two-thirds of his remaining contract ($24.67 million) spread out over 14 years. No matter what he does the Lightning will cut him a check for $1.76 million every year.  Not a bad deal.

So long shirtless Lecavalier.  May you bring page hits to bloggers for your new team

The good news for the Lightning is that they now have an extra $7 million and change of cap room to play with and they save about $50 million over the life of the contract. For the long term health of the franchise, that savings is nothing to sneeze at. Mr. Yzerman now has a little more flexibility to fill the holes in the roster that were evident even when Lecavalier was still lacing up the skates with Tampa Bay.

In all likelihood the bulk of any investment is going to go towards the defense.  Currently the team has 6 healthy defenders inked to contracts (Matt Carle, Hedman, Eric Brewer, Sami Salo, Radko Gudas and Keith Aulie).  It’s a solid if unremarkable group of blue liners that the fans would definitely like to see upgraded.  While the free agent market isn’t exactly overflowing with talent (Ryan Whitney, Toni Lydman, Brett Clark?) the Lightning do have depth to trade from.

The organization has already dipped into that well once using Cory Conacher as bait to bring in Ben Bishop to hopefully solve their goaltending woes.  With Jonathan Drouin and Adam Erne soon to be added to the fold that well is even deeper.  Brett Connolly seems to be the leading candidate to be moved as his size and tenacity are big draws for other teams (and because why not trade the last remaining player in my personal collection).

Next season is going to be a big one for Mr. Yzerman.  The team’s recent inability to win consistently has already cost Coach Boucher his job and if they struggle again it’s most likely the general manager’s head on the chopping block.  There is way too much talent on the roster for this team to be drafting in the top 10 every year.    He needs to find a way to get the team out of the funk they’ve been in the last two years and have them compete with Boston, Toronto, Montreal and the rest of their new division.

Another benefit from kicking Lecavalier to the curb is that Mr. Yzerman frees up money to retain his younger players in the future.  While the cap is undoubtedly going to rise after this year, he has a host of young talent that he needs to lock up long term. Players like Connolly, Alex Killorn, Richard Panik (not winning man of the year in Grand Rapids anytime soon), and Tyler Johnson are considered the next wave of impact players and none of them are signed past next season. While the Lightning retain control of the contracts and therefore negotiating power, it would be nice to lock them up for a few years down the road.

Lets not forget the Rocket Richard-sized elephant hiding in the corner.  Steven Stamkos is going to need a new contract after 2015-16.  While it’s a little early to start the Stammergeddon 2 Goal Scoring Boggaloo Watch it is something to consider. When it is time to re-sign him the Lightning will be looking at trying to retain one of the most prolific, post-lockout scorers in his athletic prime.  Good luck on getting a hometown discount!

The other side of the Lecavalier coin is where does he end up and how much do I care.  I’ve made no secret of the fact that he is my favorite player on the team and that my entire Lightning history is pretty much centered around his career. For those who are new to these parts, I started going to games the year before he was drafted.  So next season is going to be the first season I’ve watched the Lightning without Wizard for Ile Bizard on the roster (and yes I’m upset that that nickname never caught on). It’s going to be weird.

Even when he was hurt the last few seasons there was always the anticipation of his return and the impact that would have on the team. Now….nothing. No more dispute of whose line should St. Louis be on. No more quest to find the perfect winger for Lecavalier (Simon Gagne, Jussi Jokinen, Matthew Barnaby among a cast of thousands). No more complaining about his $10 million contract and 60 point production.  God, what are fans going to bitch about next season.  The goaltending? Oh ok, cool.  As long as they have something.

So back to his eventual destination.  It’s more that there are teams I DON’T want to see him on.  Namely, Boston, Toronto or Philadelphia.  Of course, all three teams have expressed interest (along with every other team in the league).  But it would seem so weird, almost dirty to see him in a Philly uniform.  Not quite as unholy as Jagr in Flyers’ orange, but still so, so weird. I hold out the hope that he signs a one-year deal and then ends up back in Tampa at a reduced rate.  Hey….a boy can dream, right?

It is funny to see all the love he’s getting now after years of being branded as overpaid and underachieving. Fans of other teams who have laughed at his contract (looking at you Toronto) are now talking themselves into signing him to a three or four year deal.

He should have no problem finding a place in the league.  He can still put up 20 goals and 50-60 points for a team when healthy.  Could Edmonton use him?  Most definitely, he’d be a great influence on a young team. As long as he stays away from Montreal he also has the advantage of lower expectations.  Wherever he goes no one is going to brand him the Michael Jordan of hockey before he has a chance to take the ice for them.

Will I keep collecting his cards - probably.  Unlike Crawford, Tokarski and soon to be Connolly, I have quite a bit invested in my Lecavalier collection.  Why stop now?  Besides it’s going to be so awesomely awkward to get that first card of him in a Blackhawk uniform.

The free agent frenzy begins in a few days and while it’s not likely that the Lightning will be big players, they have put themselves in position to find at least one impact player before training camps open in the fall.  Cutting Lecavalier was tough for management and tough for the fans, but in the end it makes the team better. As much as we love the names on the back of the uniforms, it’s the crest on the front that we really cheer for.