Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Lightning and 2016-17 Upper Deck Hockey Series One

Mid-November is a great time for hockey. The season has settled in and we start to find out what teams are good (Rangers) and what teams are bad (Canucks). Statistics start regressing to the norm (Auston Matthews is not scoring 328 goals) and we start knowing which rookies are going to stay (Jakob Chychrun) and which are going back to their junior team (Mathew Barzal).
It also means that Upper Deck is releasing the first series of its flagship base set. Other hockey card sets have already been released, most notable Upper Deck MVP and Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee (a moment to remind everyone that Upper Deck has the exclusive license to produce NHL-branded cards. Other companies can make cards, but can't feature the team names or logos).

read the rest here.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

From the Back of the Closet - a 1993-94 Tampa Bay Lightning Game Program

From time to time I’ll dig into the back of the closet and find some piece of Lightning memorabilia to feature. Today I’ll look at a program from the 1993-94 Tampa Bay Lightning season (the first season to be played in the Thunderdome). Apologies that some of the photos are cut off, the program was a bit awkward to manipulate in the scanner.

Read the rest here......

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Did You Hear? The Cubs Are in The World Series

So what do you do when the Chicago Cubs are on the verge of clinching their first World Series appearance since World War II and you happen to live a short walk away from Wrigley Field? Why you grab a camera, hope you can figure out the lighting and forget that your alarm is set to go off at 5.30AM the next day.

Last Saturday night the Cubs completed their series comeback and eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers to advance to the World Series. I, along with apparently 299,999 other people, wandered up to the intersection of Clark and Addison to celebrate the Cubbies first National League Championship since 1945. Here is a bit of what I saw:

The Championship Belt

The games wasn't quite over yet. Sure the Cubs were up 5-0, but nothing is really over until the final out is recorded. Most fans that I ran into seemed nervously confident that the team would hold onto the lead. This guy, outside of the Houndstooth because no one was getting into a bar at this point, was a favorite with the crowd walking by. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he was holding it upside down.

The Waiting

Blockades were up at Clark and Sheffield about two blocks south of the ballpark. I'm not sure what the rickshaw guys were waiting for, no one was leaving that place for a couple of more hours.

The Crowd

Despite the blockade on Clark, Sheffield was open all the way up to Addison. As you can see, groups of people were hanging outside the Wrigleyville bars just trying to get a glimpse of the action on TV.

The Crowd Part II

This is the closest I got to Wrigley. The first picture is looking north at the actual field (you cans see the stadium lights) The second is from the same spot looking south down Sheffield. People were packed in and the only way to move was to jostle them out of the way. Luckily everyone was in a pretty good mood and didn't care. I used my normal strategy of finding a guy bigger than me and following him through the wake. It worked pretty well.

The Win

There was a roar from inside the stadium when the final out was recorded. The crowd outside started celebrating about 1.3 seconds after that roar. Cups of beer were thrown in the air, people hugging, several different rounds of “Go Cubs Go” were being sung by the crowd. Happiness was in the air.

And no, I have idea if that pizza ever made it where it was supposed to go.

Poor Fella

There is a fine line between capturing a moment and intruding on it. I tried to get a better photo but I didn't want to be a dick shoving a camera in his face when his favorite team just did something he probably thought would never happen. I don't think he was drunk, just overwhelmed with emotion. He was mixing in a little laughter, a lot of hugs with his friend, and just a few tears.

He was one of three grown men that I personally saw with tears in their eyes.  I guess when you go 108 years without a World Series things can get emotional.

“Hey man is this for the Chicago Trib?”

Apparently, when you walk around with a decent camera and a backpack people assume you work for a newspaper. I didn't lie, but was a little vague with my answer.

One of the most popular questions I've been asked at this week is,  "So what's up with all the "W" flags?"


Lot's and lots and lots of selfies. Although this might be the only one that didn't have a "W" flag in it.

Idiot on the Lamppost

Not as big of an idiot as these guys, but still a bit of an idiot.

This Suit is Everything

Cubs suit and tie - check
Harry Carey glasses - check
Hulk Hogan "let me hear you" gesture - check.

This is by far my favorite photo of the night.

Wait till...this Year?

He wanted me to take his picture, but Photoshop out the “2015” part. He was not sober.

Who Ya Gonna Call

Inflatable Stay Puft monster with a “W” painted on him. Sure why not.

I did bail out before things got too crazy (again 5:30AM alarm). If winning the NLCS drew a spontaneous crowd of 300,000 people I can only imagine whats going to happen if the impossible does happen.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Zistle Trade 92- Picked up Some O's

I fear this is turning into a “Look at Justin's trades” blog. Well, so be it. There will be more content in the future (promises, promises). For now, enjoy my quest to 100 (trades, don't thing I'm going to live that long). Here is trade number 92. Yup, skipped one, don't worry about it, we'll get there at some point.

Once again we go to Zistle. I reached out to user bdlehman18 for a quick PWE trade. For those who don't trade cards on the internet with strangers PWE stands for Plain White Envelope. When you're only trading a small amount of cards (usually 6 and under) it doesn't make sense to put them in a padded envelope and waste a bunch of money on shipping. Instead you use a regular envelope, some creative protection (usually cardboard) and hope for the best.

PWE can be frowned upon if you don't let the other guy know ahead of time. Or if you're shipping expensive cards. Luckily I don't any of those and Brian was ok with it. I dropped him a few extras I had (including a Goodwin Champions from a box that I had no valid reason for buying).

In return he sent the following:

2013 Topps Trevor Bauer

When you are putting a set together, not every card is going to be sexy. Sometimes you have to grind out the collecting and pick up cards that elicit exactly zero emotional response. Thus you end up trading for Trevor Bauer base cards.

2010 Topps Nolan Reimold

A double needed card! An Oriole card I didn't have and a card I need for the world's most annoying set – 2010 Topps. This is also, without a doubt, the most tentative fist bump of all time. Anything harder than a gentle whisper of a touch would land Reimold on the DL with a broken wrist.

1994 Topps Cal Ripken

I'm sure I have multiple copies of this card in the Florida vault (i.e. my in-laws house) but I do enjoy this piece of junk era cardboard. It's the perfect use of horizontal framing as it captures Ripken's follow through completely without cutting off an arm or a bat. Well done Topps.

1997 Collectors Choice The BIG Show Eddie Murray

God bless you mid-to-late 90s cards. Foil – check. Random use of sports celebrities to drive an unnecessary insert – check. Random multicolor text on the back of the card – check. Really, look at the back of this thing:

 It took me a few seconds to realize that Upper Deck had mashed two different thoughts together and alternated lines. Why? Why would you do this Upper Deck?

Also, if you look you see that Eddie Murray is rocking the top hand batting glove in this photo. I'm sure this is only interesting to me, but it is the first thing I check out on any Murray card I add to my collection. I am so intrigued I think I'm ready to write him a fan-boy (well fan-middle aged man) letter asking him why the hell he would do that.

I've developed my first theory. Murray was one of the best switch hitters to ever play the game. You could argue that Mickey Mantle is the only one that was better. Even though he was dangerous from both sides it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for a manager to call a reliever in to switch him from left to right or right to left. So if Murray went to hit right-handed he only brought a batting glove for his left hand (most hitters if they wear only one batting glove wear it on their bottom “power”hand). If a manager called a right-handed reliever in to switch Murray around, maybe the slugger didn't like going back to switch batting gloves so he just rolled with it.

Seriously, I thought about this for about five minutes straight. I might have even ignored some things my wife told me while I thought about this. Women, this is why you should never ask us what we're thinking about. This is what we think about.

2015 Topps Stadium Club Bo Jackson

Aww yeah. Bo knows Stadium Club. Not the most action-packed shot, but it did make me wonder – Is this the same fence from Bo's slightly more famous 1987 Topps card? 

I will argue that Jackson's rookie card is one of the ten best cards from the mid-to-late 80s. Not quite the Griffey 1989 Upper Deck, but close. Damn close.

That wraps up another trade, just a few more to get to that magical 100 mark.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

We're Back With A Trade Post

Alright, time to dust off this piece of the internet with a trade post.  As you, my faithful readers, might remember I gave myself a half-ass goal of getting to 100 Zistle trades by the end of the year.  I knocked out about 3 trades and then stopped.  There was no good reason to stopping other than laziness.  God knows it’s not like I’m buying more cards (because JustinG. Is extra broke now. If you’re interested in a nice two-bedroom condo in lovely Florida drop me a line).

But now, like Slim Shady and the Terminator, I’m back and ready to hit that goal.  Last week I completed a small trade a gentleman who goes by the name halos17, a Marty St. Louis fan living in Indiana of all places.  There aren’t many Lightning collectors circulating on the web so it’s always nice to unload some doubles on a fellow fan.

In return he dropped off a handful of cards that I was looking for.

2010 Topps - John Smoltz and Tim Hudson.

Both pitchers in uniforms that they normally aren’t associated with.  Hudson had a pretty good run with his hometown Braves winning 113 games for Atlanta before injuries set him back. Smoltz - not so much in St. Louis. The Hall of Famer signed with the Cardinals after being released by the Red Sox in 2009. At 42 he didn’t have much left in the tank as he went 1-3 in his 7 starts.

It’s just really, really weird seeing him in a St. Louis uniform.  Like Frank Thomas as an Athletic weird.  Or Andy Van Slyke as an Oriole weird. Stadium Club should show their retired stars in oddball uniforms next year.  I wouldn’t mind pulling a Sammy Sosa as a Ranger or Gary Sheffield as a Met card.

Two cards closer to completing that set (only a couple hundred more to go). I really don’t know why I picked this set to complete.  I’m not really a fan of the design and didn’t collect it when it came out (I was in the process of moving to Chicago).  I guess it doesn’t really matter because I’ve started down the road.

1989 Upper Deck - Team Card and Larry Sheets

Speaking of Orioles uniforms, two cards from Upper Deck’s inaugural set. One of these days I’m going to put this whole thing together, I’ve cobbled probably a third of it through random means.  Of course, that Griffey rookie got a little more expensive with his induction.

Did you know that Larry Sheets hit 31 home runs in 1987? That’s more than Eddie Murray (30) and Cal Ripken, Jr (27). He also only walked 31 times in 508 plate appearances, which may be more impressive than the home runs.

2015 Stadium Club - 8 cards

Once I’m financially solvent again (no really, if you want to move to Florida, Largo is a great place to live) I’m buying another box.  This really is my favorite product from the last two years. I thought I was a lot closer to completing it then I actually am (just over 50%), but it’s fun chasing down the missing cards because they all look so good.

Thank you Rob, and here’s to getting 10 more trades done over the next couple of months.

Also, I’ll get this site up and running again. There won’t be much in the way of Lightning content as you can see everything I write over at Raw Charge so expect more card stuff, some baseball (I swear I have thoughts about this O’s team) and some Chicago stuff.

Thank you, as always, for reading.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Press Release Concerning The Editor of this Blog


July 29, 2016

Contact:    Francisco Churruca (555.867.5309,
Raw Charge Signs JustinG. to an open-ended contract

The Internet – Raw Charge has signed free agent blogger JustinG. to an open-ended contract to provide original Tampa Bay Lightning content for the leading hockey website. Terms were not disclosed.

JustinG., aged but still hearty, penned 54 posts for The Hopeful Chase as a free agent writer in 2015. While the majority revolved around the Lightning he has been known to branch out to cover boxing, trading cards and, every once in awhile, baseball. The Harrogate, England native set career highs in 2011 and 2012 when he posted 111 and 75 time respectively.  He was wildly unemployed at the time. The Hopeful Chase was the second blog he started, the first being Is This a Wasteland, a chronicle of life as a sports fan living in Tampa. Dozens of people besides his parents enjoyed his writing.
His only “journalism” background came in college where he wrote for the school paper.  His college roommate was named athlete of the month by the paper multiple times because JustinG was too lazy to interview anyone else. He also wrote about squirrels taking over the campus. He has never won an award for his writing.

Talent scout, Arriaga II, was quoted as saying, “We really think JustinG. will put the ‘Raw’ in Raw Charge. With his spelling errors, hazy memories and almost criminal disregard for even the basic fundamentals of grammar it will be a challenge editing his posts, but hopefully he watches a YouTube video or something and improves. He wrote for a college newspaper? Unbelievable. At least he works cheap.”

JustinG. was never drafted by a professional team. He tried out for the Minnesota Twins in high school.  Not only did he not make it past the first cut, he also managed to lose a glove.
While his Lightning writing will migrate to the Raw Charge, his other rambling and barely coherent thoughts will continue to be published here.  We apologize for that.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Welcome Back Yanni and Who is Going to Be on a Hockey Card?

There was a blip of news in the Lightning world today as the club announced they were signing forward Yanni Gourde to a one-year, two-way deal. It's not quite the same as if, say Nikita Kucherov signed a deal, but it's still something. Mr. Yzerman brought back a player who was familiar with the system and should have a nice role in Syracuse with the occasional call up to Tampa Bay.

Gourde did pick up two games of NHL experience along with an assist last season when the Lightning forwards were ravaged by injury. He caught a bit of the bug as well as he suffered an injury to his finger during his two game stint with the club before being sent back to Syracuse.

He had a solid year in the AHL racking up 44 points, but not good enough to make the Black Aces Squad for the post-season. The Lightning did tender him an offer to retain his rights earlier this off-season and wrapped it up with the contract on Monday. He has an uphill battle to make the Lightning in training camp, but he will be a leader in what will hopefully a competitive Crunch squad.

That's nice and everything, but if Gourde is playing significant minutes for the Lightning, something has gone wrong. However, I did think that it solved something that has been bothering me all summer. Who would be the Lightning's representative in Upper Deck's Young Guns collection this year.

For those of you who may not be aware, every year Upper Deck releases their flagship product in two series. Series one usually rolls out in November and features six or seven veteran players from each team. The final 50 cards (well 49 and a checklist) are all rookies and have the Young Guns logo splashed across the card. As these are usually seeded about one in every four pack they aren't the easiest cards to obatin, thus they are usually one of the more sought cards for highend players.

For instance Connor McDavid's version from last year is selling for between $130 and $150 on eBay right now. Steven Stamkos is closing between $45-$60 at the moment. Those numbers will go up as the season begins, especially if McDavid continues to play well.

Last year Slater Koekkoek and Joel Vermin represented the blue and white for the Bolts, this year, well I'm not quite sure. Every team usually has at least one player with a couple getting two. The Lightning have been well represented the last couple of years. Koekkoek and Vermin last year, Vlad Namestnikov, Jonathan Drouin, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Cedric Paquette the year before and Alex Killorn, Richard Panik, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson in 2013-14. That's a pretty solid release.

While you think, “Hey why not just throw Brett Howden on a card, case closed.” Unfortunately the NHL and the NHLPA have some guidelines for who gets to appear on licensed cards. The number one rule is be a part of the union I'm sure, but the most important is that the player has to participate in an official game. So that eliminates Mr. Howdon.

But McDavid made it into last year's set! Yes, and there is a good chance Auston Matthews will be in this years. Upper Deck usually gambles that the top pick will make it onto the ice before their product drops in November (also one of the reasons that the flagship product releases a month after the season starts). Sets that are released earlier in the year like MVP or Artifacts include rookie redemption cards. Cards are inserted into a pack with a code. You go to the website and enter the code. Months (hopefully only months) later the card ships. That way they can wait until the player skates in the game before releasing the card.

So now that you know a little more about hockey rookie cards, let's look at who the Lightning might have represented in this year's set.

Yanni Gourde – Did he participate in a NHL game? Yes! Twice! Has he had a card released in Upper Deck's base set, yet? No? Awesome! However (there is always a however) he did appear in the “Update” set of Young Guns that was released in Upper Deck SPA. So he's out.

Mike Blundin – He got into 20 games for the Lightning. Wait he's 29? And been in the league since 2006-07? I did not know that. But he's never played more than 40 games for a team so maybe he doesn't have a card. He does? And it's a Young Guns card? Wow.

Matt Taormina – Yeah, he's old like Blundin, but he's been buried in the minors forever! There can be no way he has a card. He does? From 2010-11? The Lighting really are in between prospect classes right now.

Nikita Nesterov – Nope. He was in the 2014-15 SPA update series. Stupid updates.

Tanner Richard – While he did not actually get into a game last year he was called up for the December 20th match against Ottawa. Depending on if being a healthy scratch counts as participating in an official game he might get the call.

Kristers Gudlevskis – He officially deputed in 2013-14 and added another game in 2015-16. He's actually been in sets before, most notably the 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee set and Upper Deck Black Diamond. However, he has never made the base set. His lack of experience might hinder him a bit. Playing time doesn't really matter as the checklists of previous Young Guns set are littered with “Who are these guys?” players, but they do want to produce cards that people want (it kind of helps sells) and despite being blocked by Ben Bishop and Vasilevskiy he might sneak his way in.

Luke Witkowski – He's a strong maybe. Much like Gudlevskis he has appeared in other sets like MVP and O-Pee-Chee. He would be the safe play for Upper Deck. It would by them some time until Series 2 is released at which time maybe one of the Syracuse players (cough, Adam Erne, cough) gets a call up. Not exactly a household name, he does have a chance to make the team as an extra defensemen.

I'm hoping it's Richard. I have a feeling he's going to find himself contributing to the big club sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Lightning Card of the The Week (That Never Existed) - Matt Gilroy 2011-12 OPC Update

When you get old your memory gets a bit hazy.  And when you have a couple of thousand Tampa Bay Lightning cards in your collection, you sometimes start writing a post about a card you think you have.  Then when you’re done and looking for an image you find out that not only do you not have the card, it doesn’t even exist.  Which leads us to today’s post.

As I was doing research (watching YouTube videos) for the Steven Stamkos endorsement post, I kept stumbling across a video showing all 60 of his goals from the 2011-12 season.  Being a disciplined writer I waited until I was almost done the post to watch it.  It was glorious.  He scored all of the goals. One of the things that stood out (other than the fact that he only had two empty net goals during the campaign) was the number of times Matt Gilroy showed up in the highlights.

For those of you who might not remember him, Gilroy was signed in the summer of 2011 as a free agent for a reasonable 1-year, $1 million deal.  General Manager Steve Yzerman was looking for a defenseman with speed who could move the puck and contribute on the power play.  You know, someone to fill that Dan Boyle-sized hole that hadn’t been filled since the Cowboys era.  Gilroy was cheap and had potential so it seemed like an ok idea.

Besides, who doesn’t like an underdog?  According to the St. Pete Times article about the signing, Gilroy walked onto the team at Boston University and suited up on the blue line, not because that’s what he played growing up, but because that was the only spot open on the team.  He seemed to take to it pretty well as he earned the Hobey Baker award for best collegiate player in 2009.

Here’s how to end a college career.  Walk-on from Long Island switches to defense to make the team, becomes captain of that team, wins award for best player in college, assists on dramatic game-tying goal in the national championship (which they end up winning) and then signs a 2-year $3.5 million contract with the legendary New York Rangers.  Not a bad little story.

Things didn’t quite pan out in New York and when his contract was up they didn’t re-sign him.  Paired up mostly with Marc-Andre Bergeron, Gilroy played pretty well for a Lightning team that struggled to capture the magic that had propelled them to the Eastern Conference finals the year before.  While the team might have had troubles, a young Steven Stamkos was an unholy terror on the ice.

Having refined his game from a kid with a big slapshot from the circle, Stamkos was scoring from every way from everywhere.  Slapshots from the circle still went in, but he was also in front of the net deflecting goals or tapping in crazy passes from Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier.  He was dekeing goalies and snapping wristers past them.  And there, on the blue line, was Gilroy setting him up.

Matt Gilroy had 2 goals and 17 assists in his too-short Lightning career.  His first point was a primary assist on a Vincent Lecavalier goal on October 17th.  He would assist on a Stamkos goal that night as well.  His next four points were also primary assists on Stamkos goals. In all he would assist on 6 of Stamkos’ 60 goals. His production and ice time would pick up when Victor Hedman was sidelined with a concussion. With the Big Swede on the sidelines, Gilroy would see upwards of 20 minutes a game.  When Hedman came back, the former Boston Terrier would see his ice time dwindle and eventually he was traded to the Ottawa Senators for Brian Lee (who would also assist on 6 of Stamkos’ goals).

Gilroy would help the Senators make it to the playoffs but would find himself a free agent again after the season.  The Rangers signed him to an AHL deal during the lockout and he did play his way onto the roster once the season resumed. However, he only appeared in 15 games and failed to register a point.  His last season in the NHL came in 2013-14 with the Florida Panthers where he recorded a goal and an assist in sixteen games.  He is currently playing for Spartak Moscow in the KHL where he has 15 points in 49 games.

To this day he is the only player to wear the number 97 for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  The reason for choosing that number is a bit heart-breaking (seriously how has Disney not done a movie on this guy yet? Are they waiting for him to return from Russia to help the Islanders win a Stanley Cup or something?)

In my mind Gilroy was with the team much longer than 53 games.  Maybe it was because the Lightning churned through so many defensemen that year.  Along with Gilroy and Lee there was Brandan Mikkelson, Keith Aulie, Bruno Gervais and Evan Oberg, all youngish players who were brought in to fill gaps in an aging blue line. Other than the 21-year-old Victor Hedman the other regulars on defense were 31 or older.

In fact, I thought he was around long enough to have a card produced with him wearing a Lightning uniform.  Unfortunately he wasn’t. So let that be a lesson to you kids.  If you have an idea for a post that you want to shoehorn into a reoccurring gimmick, make sure it actually fits before you spend an hour writing it.

So here is a photo of his rookie card which I do not own (but it could be yours for $3.99 on eBay!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

An Endorsement Offer to Steven Stamkos

Dear Steven,

Hi.  How is your summer going?  Probably a lot better after cashing that big check, am I right?  Let me start by saying, thank you.  On behalf of myself and all the fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning, thank you for choosing to staying with the only NHL team you’ve ever played for.  Choosing to stay in Tampa instead of chasing fortune in Buffalo or glory in Toronto means a lot to the fans.  Not to go all Sally Field on you, but it’s nice to know you like us.

Personally I think you made the right choice.  Your legacy in Tampa is secured and you have an excellent chance of winning at least one Stanley Cup during your contact.  Heck, after 8 more years in Tampa, setting franchise records and winning a Cup or two, then maybe it will be time to head home to Toronto.  You’ll still have a chance to be a hero because I’m sure they’ll still be chasing their first championship since 1967.

That’s all in the future though.  Let’s talk about right now.  One of the big “drawbacks” to re-signing in Tampa that was bandied about over the last year was that you would be losing out on endorsement money by playing in a non-traditional hockey market.  If you were to sign in Toronto everyone from Tim Horton’s to Maurice’s Maple Sugar Shack would be handing you scandalous amounts of money to hock their various wares.

Who can forget this text from beloved Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons:

Obviously you weren’t swayed by unlimited amounts of Canadian Tire money and signed the deal to stay with Tampa shortly after this Tweet was posted.  I’m sure it was hard to turn down free tires for Bugsy’s old Mercedes, but you did it.

Even with the perceived handicap of playing in Tampa I see you still do alright with the endorsement money.  Forbes had you pegged at about $1.5 million a year with your deals with Nike/Bauer, Tissot watches, EA Sports and Coca-Cola).  While it doesn’t seem like much it does make you one of the top earners in the NHL.  Unfortunately, being a hockey pitchman isn’t quite as lucrative as a tennis pitchman (Roger Federer $58 million) or a golf pitchman (Tiger Woods $50 million and Phil Mickelson $44 million), but it does pay for a couple rounds of golf a year.

It speaks a lot to the niche market that your sport belongs to when the top endorser, Sidney Crosby, is only pulling in about $4 million a year in endorsement revenue.  Not that that is money to sneer at. Personally I’d sell my soul for an extra $25,000 a year (any advertisers out there reading, please feel free to contact me. You too could reach dozens of readers a week by advertising on The Hopeful Chase!).  However, it is a small enough amount to make me wonder if it was a factor in your decision making this off-season.

You said all the right things about what factored in to you staying in Tampa.  The chance to win, to finish what you started and to stay with a core of young exciting players.  I’m sure the extra year and mostly state-tax free $6.5 million  didn’t hurt, however.  As much as we want to think money isn’t a factor, this isn’t the 1950s any more.  Players aren’t working second jobs in the off-season to make ends meet.  Also, unlike the majority of the working force in world, your earning years are limited.  I can stand at a bell desk in a hotel for the next 20 years, you may only have another 10 years or so to make as much as you can.  Leaving money on the table to re-sign in Tampa is a pretty strong sign that you do really appreciate the life and career you’ve built with the Bolts.

As a thank you for signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning, I’d like to help you catch up to the Woods, Federers and Crosbys of the world by offering you an endorsement opportunity. I, Justin G., will pay you, Steven Stamkos, $5.00 a year for the rest of your life (or my life) to endorse the Hopeful Chase. That’s not all.  If you agree to the deal, you will also receive a signing bonus of a $15 gift card to Argo Tea payable every year you play your first game in Chicago while you‘re in a Lightning uniform.

All you have to do is like one Hopeful Chase related Tweet a year (we all know that you know how to like Tweets) and conduct one post-game interview wearing a Hopeful Chase t-shirt (t-shirt to be designed if/when Stamkos signs on the line that is dotted). That’s it.  Such minimal work for such a lucrative deal! I won’t even make it exclusive, feel free to endorse any other poorly edited blog you want.

You don’t have to make a commercial where you have to shoot a lot of pucks at stuff (Gumball!). Or have your “dad” trade you.  Now if you want to make a tear-jerker expanding on the heartbreak in Quebec City, we can talk about it.

Just a Tweet and a T-shirt and there is a free sawbuck in your pocket for the rest of your life. Talk about it with Don Meehan and the rest of the team at  Newport Sports Management and get back to me when you get a chance (DM @TorchRamrod or email me).  There is no need to hurry, this is an open-ended deal.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Lightning Card of the Week - 1997-98 Pacific Omega Alexander Selivanov

Throughout the first decade of the Lightning's existence Alexander Selivanov was the closest thing the Lightning had to a sniper. From his debut in 1994 to his trade to Edmonton in 1999 the Russian-born winger scored 78 goals in 304 games. For me, however, he will always be remembered for three things:

  1. Having his Mercedes repossessed during a practice.
  2. Marrying the General Manager's daughter
  3. Scoring the playoff overtime goal in the team's first playoff home game in history.

And yes, that is the order I remember them in.

The Car:

In 1998-99 the Lightning were not a very good team. Their record peaked at 6-6-2 on November 8th. . On November 10th they would lose 10-2 to the New York Rangers (I was there!) which plummeted them into a nine game losing streak. A 2-1 win against Edmonton on December 4th would break the streak but they would go ahead and lose 15 of their next 19 games to...umm...fall out of contention.

They won only 19 games. Their “best” goalie was Corey Schwab and he had 8 wins and 3.52 GAA. Darcy Tucker of all people led them in scoring with 43 points. The highest plus/minus was +1 by a Andrei “Skippy” Skopintsev who somehow managed that while playing in 19 games for a team that gave up a league-leading 292 goals.

Their head coach/general manager was literally illiterate and helping his wife deal with cancer. Their captain, John Cullen and pro scout, Peter Mahovlich, were also battling cancer. Forward Benoit Hogue had to leave the team for a bit because his sister had been murdered in Montreal.

It was not a good year.

On a quiet Thursday in October, Selivanov had his $80,000 Mercedes repossessed from the parking lot of the Ice Palace. Despite making a reported $1.5 million that year he had somehow missed a couple of payments on the car. He blamed it on moving to a new address and not notifying the bank. Man, life sucked before online payments.

The Wife:

Flashback to a few years prior and Selivanov was having a great year. Despite being a Russian in a small market hockey town with no other Russians on the team he was playing well on the ice. In his first full season in the NHL, Selivanov's team leading 31 goals propelled the Lightning into the playoffs for the first time in their history. He looked like the dynamic, if sometimes inconsistent, scoring forward that could be a breakout star for the team.

Off the ice his life improved quite dramatically as well. In October of 1996 he married a girl named Carrie. Her last name happened to be Esposito. Which was the same name of the Lightning's General Manager Phil. Which wasn't really a coincidence since she was his daughter. She was also the Director of Team Services for the Lightning. Which kind of conflicted with a “no fraternizing with the players” rule he had set up with his employees.

Esposito didn't punish his daughter for marrying a Russian by trading him away (although I wouldn't have put it past him if he had a decent deal on the table). However, a couple of inconsistent seasons in a row (he would score a total of 31 goals in the next two seasons) and a large contract extension would lead to acrimony from his critics and the nickname Alex Son-in-law-ov was born. See, people could be assholes even before Twitter.

Esposito would soon be removed as General Manager and in January of 1999 Selivanov would be shipped out to Edmonton in a trade that netted the Lightning the legendary Alexandre Daigle. Carrie Esposito would follow Alex around for the next decade plus as his hockey career took him to Columbus, Germany and Russia. Unfortunately in 2012, at the age of 43, Carrie passed away from an abdominal aneurysm.

The Goal:

The early Tampa Bay Lightning teams were not great, but they weren't horrible. During the first three seasons of their existence they finished 6th in their division twice and 7th once. As an expansion team in the 90s they were built through other teams castoffs and high draft picks so some struggle was expected, but they were improving as a franchise.

In the 1995-96 they finally made the playoffs. They finished with a franchise best 38 wins (a number that wouldn't be bested until the Stanley Cup year of 2003-04). They won three out of their last four games in the season to snatch the 8th see in the Eastern Conference away from the defending Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devil.

Their reward for the best season in franchise history? A match-up with the powerhouse Philadelphia Flyers. Not many gave Tampa a chance against the Flyers when the series started. After all, what chance should an upstart, sunbelt hockey team have against a team with Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Ron Hextall and Rod “The Bod” Brind'Amour? Plus the Lightning had an injured goalie in Daren Puppa who was playing with a bad back, an injured Brian Bradley who missed all of Game 2, oh and young defenseman Roman Hamrlik announced that he hated playing for coach Terry Crisp after the Lightning got shellacked 7-3 in Game 1.

Game 2 was a different story as the Lightning took advantage of some injuries to the Flyers to win 2-1 in overtime and send the series to Tampa tied at a game a piece. Selivanov had tied the game in the second period and Brian Bellows won it in overtime.

Game 3 was back in Tampa. In a converted baseball stadium then known as the ThunderDome, 25,945 fans watched the Lightning battle back from 3-1 and 4-3 deficits to send the game into overtime. Then, 2 minutes into overtime Selivanov scored the game winner.

There are several great things about this goal.

Selivanov throwing a check at the blue line to keep the puck in the zone

Brian Bradley's pass to Bill Houlder. And you thought cross-ice passes were a recent Lightning phenomenon.

Houlder's great fake and then horrible pass. Watch the slow-motion replay. He sold the slapshot and then fired that puck right into Selivanov's skates.

Selivanov getting mugged by Dale Hawerchuck as he skated in front of the net. Late 90s hockey at its obstructioniest best.

The sheer noise from the crowd after the goal. That would have been awesome to be a part of.

Sadly that would the high water point for the series and the organization for the next few years. Puppa's back broke down and he couldn't carry the team any more. The Flyers won Game 4 in front of a NHL record 28,183 fan to tie the series. They would win the next two games as well, ending the series in six games. Would things have been different if Puppa didn't have the back of an 85-year-old man? Possibly.

The organization would fall on hard times after that playoff season. Owners would change, coaches would change, Selivanov would be traded, games would be lost. Many, many games would be lost. And for Lightning fans sitting through three straight seasons of under 20-win seasons. There was one lonely banner that hung in the Ice Palace. It wasn't a Stanley Cup banner, or a conference title banner or even a division banner. It was a banner celebrating the record crowd.

And we had the memory of Selivanov's goal. For most organizations that would be barely a footnote in a team's history. Heck even more recent Lightning fans probably don't rate it in their top five memories,but for a generation of Lightning fans that will be one of the greatest moments in Lightning history.

Selivanov would have a good season in Edmonton before falling out of their graces. He would play one season in Columbus before moving on to the KHL and German leagues. He last played in the Netherlands in 2011-12 before retiring. He had been coaching in the KHL with HC Admiral Vladivostok but does not currently appear on their website.

The Card:

I don't have many of the 1997-98 Pacific Omega cards.  I picked this one up in a Zistle trade where the other guy was super generous and sent me a box of Lightning cards in exchange for a couple of extra Topps Heritage cards I had.

I like the horizontal design, but the borders are a little too wide on the side.  The next year's design was much better (see the Vinny card on my last post). I also like the Rob Zamuner cameo in the background. 

The back of the card has no stats but mentions Selivanov scoring two goals in 39 seconds against the Flyers in November of 1997.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Steve Stamkos Stays in Tampa

In the end it was just nice that he chose to stay. The reasons don't really matter, well they kind of matter, but just the fact that Steven Stamkos, the looming big prize of the NHL free agent market, took a look at what was out there and said, “Nope. I think I'll stick here for a little bit longer.”

I'm going to pile my money this high!

Stamkos will be seen in Tampa during the hockey season for the next 8 years. And it only cost the Tampa Bay Lightning $68 million (notice how easy it is to say “only cost” when it's not your money?) He turned down the chance to make more money and return home (Toronto), the chance to be the next great center for a storied franchise (Detroit) and the chance to make A LOT more money and be the final piece in propelling an up-and-coming franchise into competition (Buffalo).

What a relief it is for fans in the Tampa Bay Area to finally have someone choose to stay. We've become conditioned to the fact that as a smaller market, players grew into superstars and then leave for bigger markets. Either they sign big free agent deals with other teams (Carl Crawford, Nikolai Khabibulin) or they get traded before the big money is due (David Price, Brad Richards, Dan Boyle, Scott Kazmir). We're just used to athletes leaving town.

But for once, the superstar, despite better offers, despite the chance to play for his hometown team, picked to stay in Tampa Bay. When the news broke (conveniently when I was at work) and the texts and the alerts blew up my phone, I was legitimately happy. As in, find someone to high-five happy. And this is where being an out-of-town fan kind of sucks. There weren't any Lightning fans in the hotel lobby so it was kind of hard to explain why I was grinning like a doofus for my entire shift.

Stamkos talked about loyalty to the organization where he “grew up as a kid” and Mr. Yzerman talked about the respect Stamkos had for the organization and the process (we were one “hustle” comment away from a John Cena t-shirt). There was a feel that money wasn't the number one concern during Stamkos' short-lived journey as a possible free agent.

He even acknowledged it in the phone conference on Thursday when he mentioned that both sides (him and the team) have to make “sacrifices” to keep the core of a Stanley Cup contending team together. Granted sacrificing between $8.5 million a year or possibly $11 million isn't exactly Sophie's Choice, but not too many of us would turn down a couple of million bucks. Hell, I'd jump ship from my current employer for an extra $20,000 a year.

While I was emotionally prepared for him to leave (at least I'd like to think I was) I did have a feeling he wanted to come back. Again, I don't see someone working his ass off to recover from an injury to play one game for a team he was going to ditch in two months. No one would have thought less of him if he had sat out of Game 7 against the Penguins.

Did he waste a lot of our time and digital ink by signing what was, in essence, the same deal that was reported back in March? Maybe, but if you look at it from his point of view, not really. He used the system in place to get as much information as possible. In the end, waiting until June 30th wasn't a huge problem for the Lightning. If he had waited until August and then came back, that could have led to some animosity from fans and ownership as it would have handcuffed the things Mr. Yzerman needed to do to put a competitive team on the ice.

This is what a "thrilled" and "very, very, very happy" Steve Yzerman looks like.

Luckily for the Lightning and Lightning fans, money doesn't seem to be the driving force for Steven Stamkos. Even going back to the deal he signed as a restricted free agent. He could have held out for more than 5 years and $37.5 million. He could have forced the Lightning to sign him to an 8-year extension back then, but he didn't.

This summer he could have made more money signing elsewhere. Heck he could have demanded that Mr. Yzerman at least pay him a contract that averaged $9 million a year so that it would look like he made the team move off of their initial offer. Luckily his pride at being a leader and a player is stronger than his pride in being a negotiator.

While we're at it, let's give a round of applause to the NHL free agency process. When the new CBA was released with its salary caps and contract limits, this exact scenario was why it was put in place. In the old days, when cap hits weren't a concern a team like the Rangers or Toronto could have swooped in and offered him an Ovechkin-like 13-year, $150 million deal.

The Lightning, as a smaller revenue generating club, would never have had a chance to match that without crippling the franchise for years. Instead, they held the advantage by being able to add the 8th year to the contract (all other teams could only offer a max of 7 years) and keep the total value of the contract in the ballpark with what other teams could offer.

So for all of the legitimate crap that we give the NHL, as Lightning fans, lets acknowledge that the system does work in our favor from time to time. Now, if under the same system some team drops an offer sheet for Nikita Kucherov, all these kind words are forgotten.

Link shot me a text and asked me if I liked the deal. As a fan, my immediate thought was, “Yes, of course I do! Stamkos is back. I don't have to buy a new jersey!” However, the other part of me, the rational one, the one that kept me from weeping in the corner when Vinny Lecavalier was bought out, like the deal as well.

I miss Vinny and I miss this uniform.

From a financial point it was a big deal. It will probably lead to someone I don't want to see leave the team, leaving the team. But it was nowhere as bad as it could have been. For the last five years his salary cap hit has been $7.5 million. For the next eight years it will be $8.5 million. He is only 26-years-old so for half of the deal, he should still be close to his prime. If hockey revenues keep growing, by the time he's over 30, third-line centers are going to be making $9 million a year so it's going to be a bargain.

Since he entered the league in 2008, the only person who has scored more goals is Alex Ovechkin. Even in an “off” year he will score 30 goals. He makes people who play with him better (a scary thought if Jonathan Drouin manages to stay on his line). The Lightning keep two legitimate scoring lines with him on the roster.

It also establishes, without a doubt, that he is the leader of this team. That was the best thing to hear in his phone call on Thursday. He didn't talk about money being the reason he stayed, but about the opportunity not only to win the Stanley Cup, but to be the leader of the team that wins the Cup.

Even though he has been the captain since St. Louis left, the specter of him leaving hung over the team. In my drafts I had a post started breaking down who would wear the “C” after Stamkos signed with Toronto (spoiler – it was Victor Hedman). Now, there is no doubt. And it sounds like he is ready for it.