Beckett Hockey

FUN MUST BE ALWAYS

With his comically accented English, funny video clips, and a personalit­y that lights up a room, San Jose star Tomáš Hertl is a gem just waiting to be discovered.

- By A. Rodriguez

I’M NO MARKETING EXPERT, BUT I RECOGNIZE A STAR WHEN I SEE ONE.

And Tomáš Hertl is poised for his chance to shine.

Forget for a moment that the San Jose Sharks center is off to a blazing start and is on pace for the best goal-scoring season of his nine-year career. Or that his status as an impending unrestrict­ed free agent means he’s bound to be one of the most discussed players of the second half of the season.

e affable Czech is just waiting to emerge as the NHL’s secret weapon. I mean, if the fun-loving natures of David Pastrňák and Alexander Ovechkin can dazzle in eye-catching national commercial­s, then Hertl’s megawatt personalit­y is a natural resource just begging to be exploited.

“is player should be one of the faces of the NHL,” broadcaste­r Kevin Weekes said. “Hertl lights up every room he’s in. He’s the real deal. He’s the perfect ambassador for this game.”

He’s also an ideal focal point for your collection. The 17th overall pick in 2012 arrived in San

Jose one year later and immediatel­y delivered on the organizati­on’s high expectatio­ns, scoring 15 goals and 25 points. His rookie season was highlighte­d by a four-goal performanc­e against the Rangers in just his third NHL game. He capped off the feat with a spectacula­r through-thelegs goal that essentiall­y ended the career of New York goalie Martin Biron.

e move drew criticism from some hockey dinosaurs, but most fans recognized it as the expression of pure skill that it was. at group included Biron, who gi ed Hertl with a signed stick a few days later. e season also featured a couple of injuries that limited him to just 37 games and removed him from Calder considerat­ion. It wasn’t long though before the big-bodied forward with high-end offensive instincts to go along with a willingnes­s to get to the dirty areas establishe­d himself as an integral part of the Sharks. at tight-knit group, led by veterans Joe

ornton, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Pavelski, went on the playoffs in five of his first six years in San Jose, including two trips to the conference finals and one Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2016.

“He’s a special player,” Pavelski said at the time. “He’s tough to play against … there’s nothing easy about his game. He works hard for his chances.”

Hertl enjoyed his best season in 2018-19 when he posted career highs in goals (35), assists (39), and points (74) in 77 games, and he began to earn recognitio­n as one of the best two-way forwards in the game. He was up and down over the past two seasons but found his stride a er recovering from a bout with COVID that cost him some muscle weight but may have enhanced his speed as a result. He finished the season with 32 points in his final 33 games, setting up his strong start to the 2021-22 campaign. Hertl tallied 14 goals through his first 28 games despite playing mostly with Rudolfs Balcers and Alexander Barabonov, a pair of castoffs, on his wings.

“I’ve got more energy, I can skate, because my legs don’t get tired a er just 20 seconds. I think in a way, COVID actually helped me last year,” he said.

While Hertl is racking up points on the ice, he’s about to score big off the ice, too. His contract, which currently pays him just over $5.5 million per year, expires at the end of this season and sets him up for unrestrict­ed free agency. Given San Jose’s position as a low-end playoff contender, what happens next is anyone’s guess. He could sign an extension, be dealt to a contender ahead of the trade deadline, or remain a Shark until the season ends before exploring free agency.

While the thought of losing the most popular player on the team has Sharks fans experienci­ng palpitatio­ns, any of those options can be viewed as a win in hobby terms.

If he stays with the Sharks, that’s great. It means a longterm deal that will set him up to retire as one of the greatest players in team history and his Rookie Cards will picture him with that team.

If he ends up going to a contender, that’s great too. It means more exposure through a long playoff run which would only increase demand for those same Rookie Cards – especially if he moves to a major media market in the East.

And if he simply plays out his contract in San Jose, he’ll enter the offseason as the most desirable free agent on the market, a status that will only draw more attention to his cards.

Hertl himself seems open to all options, but he clearly values one thing.

“I love winning games,” Hertl told reporters. “You guys know I love (to) score goals and celebrate, but (at the) end of the day, you want to win and celebrate. When we (got) to the (Stanley Cup) Final and conference final, nothing is better … than winning games and celebratin­g with teammates and just having fun.

“When you’ve (won) five games in a row, you come to the locker room — you have fun. It’s easy to talk with (the media) because you don’t ask what’s wrong with you guys, but what is good with us. So, you want to just win games. You want to get to the playoffs and go really far. at’s (what) everybody (is) wishing for, I think.”

Wherever he ends up, there’s one question everyone wants to be answered: Which Hertl cards are worth adding to your collection now? His 2013-14 RCs include several interestin­g options. Chief among those would be e Cup #189. e card features what may be the best design of any RPA subset, boosted by a legible early signature, a patch that can feature up to four colors, and a print run of 99.

e National Treasures (#217) RPA matches many of those qualities but delivers a bigger patch swatch. His Upper Deck Ice (#131) RC is an overlooked gem with a print run of 99.

And if expense is an issue, you won’t find a better bargain than his Upper Deck Young Guns (#248).

Whatever happens next, it’s clear that Hertl, and his cards, are worth watching.

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