Monday, September 21, 2009

The Long and Winding Road Trip

Tonight marks the beginning of the Lightning’s wacky road trip across North America. For some reason they thought it would be a grand idea to play four games in four nights and five games in seven days. Not only did they decide to do this, but why play at home when you can score sweet frequent flyer miles on the road? According to the St Pete Times the trip will cover 6,803 miles and feature games in Regina, Saskatchewan (that’s in Canada for our American readers) Everett, Washington, Loveland, Colorado, Winnipeg (again Canada), Norfolk, Virginia, and Atlanta, Georgia.

While it’s great for hockey fans in those towns to see some NHL hockey it’s going to be brutal on a young team that is featuring many new players. Last season, the team managed a sluggish start due in part to it’s road-weary beginning in Prague. Of course, the sluggish start was mostly to Barry Melrose’s lack of coaching, but a small part can be, and was blamed on their road trip.

Game action is nice for evaluating talent, but it doesn’t give the coaches chances to work on areas of the game that need refining. How sharp can a team be in a morning skate after three consecutive nights of games? Think of the bleary-eyed participants in a morning session discussing the power play after a night game followed by a red-eye flight from Washington state to Colorado.

For a team that was plagued last season by an ineffective power play and a stung together defense time going over fundamentals is important. Rick Tocchet’s plan of “pick[ing] a couple of points and be good at them and worry about the rest later” is kind of troublesome. Especially the “worry about the rest later” part.

That plan is eerily similar to Melrose’s “throw the best players out there and let them figure it out” doomed strategy from a year ago. Less games and more focus on the power play (which went 1-8 during Friday’s tilt against the Thrashers) would seem more prudent with this team. After all you’re not paying Adam Oates to fix the power play from the press box. Wait, they’re not paying Adam Oates? Oh well, you get the point.

The Lightning traveling party will include all forty-two players still in camp. That many folks are necessary since the NHL has an agreement with it’s players that they can’t suit up for games played on consecutive days in training camp. So some ice time is going to be dedicated to players that have no shot of making the team.

Playing against other NHL teams will provide good experience for prospects such as Dana Tyrell and Carter Ashton. It does, however, come at a cost. Ice time at game speed is important for line-mates to get accustomed to each other. Vincent Lecavalier, Alex Tanguay and there still to be determined third right winger need time together on the ice to become better acquainted with each other.

Of course, finances could be behind this trip. According general manager Brian Lawton the box office receipts from the arena’s should cover the costs of the entire training camp. That’s nice, it probably keeps ownership from selling ad space on the jerseys or naming rights for the team (The Outback Steakhouse Tampa Bay Lightning does have a nice ring to it).

Luckily, the Bolts have five days off upon return from their Homeric odyssey and seven of the first eleven regular season games will be at the Ice Palace. Will it be enough time to rest their weary bodies and find a key to a successful power play? Will the road trip help them determine their defensive pairings? Will Victor Hedman average 30 minutes a game by the end of the trip? At this point the trip seems to be providing more questions then answers. Hopefully, by the time the questions are answered the team won’t be too far behind in the standings.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hoc-key! Hoc-key! Hoc-key!

Good times are around the corner. I wish I could say that there was a crisp chill in the air to herald in the new season, but I live in Florida. That means instead of cool September nights we get the height of hurricane season. The good news is that September also means hockey is here.

Tonight, compliments of the outrageous amount of free tickets the Lightning have given away, I will be attending their only preseason home game. Decked in my new Vinny jersey (the first named jersey I’ve owned) I will be watching the Bolts take the ice against division rivals Atlanta Threshers.

A couple of questions will be addressed tonight. First, how will Mike Smith fare in his first live game action since January. He is slated to play the first two periods and the coaches will be looking at more than the box score to judge how his performance is. His recovery from post concussion syndrome is the biggest key to the Lightning’s season.

Question number two revolves around the captain. More specifically who will play on his line. The newest Bolt, Alex Tanguay, will be on his left wing. Tryouts for his other wing will take place over the next three weeks. The first contestant will be young Carter Ashton. Ashton, the second pick in this year’s draft, was a dark horse to make the team. If he isn’t overwhelmed by the speed and physicality of the NHL he could be the perfect match for the prolific Lecavalier. As a large body in front of the net he would be useful in banging home rebounds or redirecting Vinny’s shots from the circles.

Victor Hedman will be making his home debut after playing 700 minutes against Dallas on Wednesday. The Big Swede hopefully won’t log 27 minutes like he did against the Stars. While it’s nice to see the coaches have confidence in him, there’s no need for him to be worn out in the pre-season.

These games don’t count, unless someone gets hurt, but it will be nice to see how the team looks on the ice. With the Rays and O’s grinding out disappointing seasons and the Ravens only playing once a week it’s nice to see the return of hockey on a semi-daily basis.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saving the Postal Service one package at a time

Just wanted to thank readers Captain Canuck, Anthony K, Mike from JD's Wild Cardz and Wicked Ortega. They are the latest to take football cards off of my hands. The packages are all in transit as of today.

Plenty of good teams still available...where are the patriot fans at?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Contest! Non Sports Related Content! Excitement!

So despite not having a job or a steady paycheck I decided to blow some of my savings on Beatles related merchandise today. I am now the proud owner of Beatles Rock Band, and the remastered releases of the White Album and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Was it worth it? Hell-to-the -yes! Plus I had a five dollar coupon! Woo-hoo!

I took Rock Band out for a quick test drive this afternoon (after I finished my chores) and it was awesome. The only problem is that I’m distracted by the backgrounds and keep missing keys. Oh well, it’s worth it. I can’t wait to get some people together and have a full on band jam.

As far as the new albums, there is a noticeable difference between the old discs and the new ones. I had the White Album blasting in the Mini Cooper while I ran about town and it was fantastic. I’m not enough of an audiophile to explain the differences other than to say the new disc packs a lot more oomph.

So now I have a bit of a conundrum. I have two copies of the White Album and Sgt. Peppers. So what should I do? Give the old copies away of course! The only way to give something away is through a totally half-assed contest. So here it is:

Justin G’s Beatles Giveaway Trivia Contest

First to post the most correct answers in the comments field wins both discs and maybe I’ll throw some random packs of cards in the envelope. Each blank is worth one point. If there is a tie, I’ll come up with some sort of tie breaker question. Entries have to be in by Friday at midnight.

Here we go:

1. ________ played lead guitar on “While my Guitar Gently Weeps”. He was also briefly considered as a replacement when George quite the band later on.

2. During the recording of the White Album Ringo briefly quit the band and went boating in Sardina. While he was gone ________ played the drums on "Back In The USSR".

Bonus Question: While Ringo was on the boat what song did he start writing? Hint: the song would appear on Abbey Road.

3. “Dear Prudence” was written for _________ sister. After joining the Beatles in India and studying meditation the band was afraid she was suffering from depression when she locked herself in her room. John wrote the song to remind her how beautiful the world was.

4. Paul wrote “Why don’t we do it in the road” after seeing two ______ having relations in the middle of the road.

5. Desmond bought Molly a ______ karat golden ring.

6. ______ is the official name of the White Album.

There ya go. Seven possible points. Good luck.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Reminder - The Great Football Giveaway

I'm still trying to clear out the card closet and all of my football cards are up for trade.

Honestly, I'm not looking for much in return. The goal, after all, is to reduce the collection. As a matter of fact all I want is one card. That card may be, in order:

1. A Carl Crawford Card
2. A Vincent Lecavalier Card
3. A Baltimore Orioles relic or auto card (or otherwise shiny card)
4. A Tampa Bay Lightning relic, auto, or shiny card
5. A Tampa Bay Rays card, relic, auto, etc. etc.

For most teams I have about 200 cards from the mid 2000's and you would get anything that has that teams logo on it, rookie cards, auto cards, serial numbered cards, etc. I'm not holding onto anything.

If you're interested click here for the teams that are available and then shoot me an email. First come, first served.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Beckett Isn't Evil Incarnate, Please keep your displeasure at a dull roar

There’s a lot of noise in the blog-o-sphere in regards to one of the institutions of the card collecting community - Beckett. Unfortunately for them most of the talk is negative. Reading some blogs would make you think that the editors went around kicking dogs and kissing other people’s girlfriends. Yes Virginia card collectors have girlfriends - some even have wives! GASP!

It’s easy to bash on others, especially when they do things that are inexplicable. I’m not here to defend Beckett or their practices. What I would like to do, however, is see if there is a way for them to make the transition back to relevancy for the internet savvy collectors. As my pappy used to say, “It’s easy to tear things down, the hard part is building them back up.”

At times it seems that the internet is just one large wrecking ball. Bloggers and those who comment on those blogs tear down (sometimes with great glee) teams, players, newspapers, religious institutions, religions, governments, other bloggers, celebrities, and even cute puppies. Rarely do they suggest ways that the targets of their derision can be fixed. It’s mostly, “I don’t like it so it must suck and I must show the world my anger!”

To that I say, “Easy big fella. It’s not the end of the world”. So with that in mind lets tackle a couple of the complaints and what Beckett might do to improve things.

1. Only suckers use the price guides

This is probably one of the top rallying cries from the non-Beckett crowd. It is a valid point. The introduction of internet auction sites destroyed the relevance of the pricing guide by granting access to millions of cards to millions of collectors in the privacy of their own basement.

No longer are kids and adults forced to go to the one or two shops in their town or wait for a show to roll around if they wanted to buy singles. Shop owners had the upper hand in the transactions simply because they were they were the only guy in town. In their defense, pre-internet they needed a source to tell them what to sell the cards for. They wanted to maximize their profits After all they are in the business to make money.

Beckett was there to give them that information. It also helped the consumer out. A less than honorable shop dealer in Baltimore could be trying to sell his Floyd Rayford cards for 3 times the national average simply because O’s fans loved them some Sugar Bear. The savvy collector could check his Beckett and see that not only was Rayford not listed, he wasn’t a minor star or even an unlisted star. He was -GASP - a common. Oh the horror!

Armed with that knowledge he could walk into Joe’s Card shop and try and work the price down to something reasonable. Or he could call his cousin in New York to see if the shops up there had Rayford’s sitting in common boxes.

The point of that rambling is that Beckett was there to provide information for both the sellers and the buyers. That went away with the internet. So what should they do now?

The first suggestion would be to ditch individual card pricing all together. Give the price for a box, a pack, the set. Then post two average prices for commons, minor stars, unlisted stars, and listed stars. The first price is a retail price. That’s the price you see in the magazines today based off of sales in shops and at shows. The second price would be an online price. This would be compiled by the prices of completed auctions from the various auction sites over a determined amount of time.

If there are any abnormally high priced cards (think 2001 Pujols cards when they came out) they can always note them in a separate article such as their hot list. This method would allow for more sets to be included in their monthly magazines and still provide a general guide for buying/selling or trading.

Another suggestion, and I think they tried this for a time with the ir hockey edition, is to do away with the set breakdown all together. Just list your star players (Jeter, A-Rod, Lincecum, etc) and break their prices down by base card, relic card, auto card, etc. The prices could be broken into three categories, low end product, mid tier product and high end. As we know not all relics are equal so there has to be consideration for the higher end products of the world.

These are just high level, introductory thoughts. Details would have to be hashed out and flaws uncovered and fixed, hopefully with bloggers input. If they’d like a more thought out approach they can of course contact me through my email and I’d be happy to charge them a consulting fee.

2. Box Breaks / Product Review

Oh boy is this a hot topic. As a self proclaimed industry leader Beckett does have a responsibility to review and discuss new product. However, it is a fine line between receiving product for review and receiving kickbacks.

Set reviews should be something that they focus heavily on. With the volume of product that is released throughout the year they should be able to offer detailed reviews for 3-4 sets a month during the respective seasons.

During the off-season they could also review older sets that are readily available on the internet. For instance I just bought a box of 2003 Topps Gallery from Dave & Adams and might post a review about it in the next week. Why can’t Beckett do that as well? They can list the big rookies from the set, the types of inserts, approximate price of a box online, what collectors liked or disliked about the set, etc.

Of course, what is currently at the heart of the discussion is how Beckett gets the product and what they do with the cards they receive. The conspiracy theorists believe every box that enters their doors is hand picked to flavor reviews and show off the big hits. If that’s true or not isn’t the point, as my pappy also said, “Perception is reality”.

The perception of impropriety is just as bad as impropriety itself. So Beckett needs to do one of two things.

1. Stop accepting free product.
2. Give it all back, or give it all away

The first choice has been debated in other blogs. Basically they buy a random box at a local shop or online and review the contents just like any other consumer would. This has the two fold effect of eliminating the possibility of hand selected products and it also supports the local card shop or online dealer.

The drawback is that the reviews in the magazines would lag a month or two behind the release of the product. But by their nature monthly magazines are outdated by the time their released anyways so it isn’t that big of deal. The on-line busts would be just as relevant as any other that you see on you tube or various blogs.

It also allows them to maintain a bit of objectivity in their reviews. Since they’re not depending on free product to review they don’t have to “be nice” to the products. If something isn’t cool, they can say that without worrying about getting cut off from the product. Would a manufacturer cut off advertising money if they got negative reviews - a smart company wouldn’t. They would focus on making the product better.

As for the giving it away choice. Well that’s simple, random packs to subscribers, contest giveaways, face book or twitter giveaways, the possibilities are out there. Selling hits isn’t cool, but if they had bought the box I would think it would be fair.

If they continue to receive free product couldn’t they just give it back when they’re done? Upper Deck or Topps could repackage it and send it through the channel or have their own giveaways. That way even it doesn’t matter what they break for free it’s all getting back into the public.

Beckett should have a place in the collecting world. They have the platform to spread a lot of information about cards, collecting and sports in general. Instead of being price heavy why not focus on well written collector blogs? They could have regional writers profile local shops and write about their success and their problems.

If they don’t decide to change let it be on them. The best way to show your displeasure is to not mention it all. Yelling and screaming just brings more attention to them. Throughout my life if there is a business that continually screws up I just don’t visit them. For example, there is a local McDonalds that can’t grasp the concept of making a cheeseburger without pickles. After the third time of screwing up my order I stopped visiting them, they no longer get my hard earned money to provide me with cholesterol burgers.

The same thing applied to a local card shop. After not having product, randomly changing prices on supplies and generally being surly I stopped going. They’re now out of business and I’m still spending money on cards.

If Beckett keeps getting one of ones in every box break, stop watching them. If someone comes up and wants to charge you “Book Value” don’t do business with them. Continuing to complain about the same thing weakens the argument, you eventually become background noise. If others still feel the need to pay for things based on outdated pricing don’t try and change them - point them my way and I’ll be happy to sell them what they need. Heck I’ll even cut them a break and sell it to them at the “LO” price.