Ryan Stanton has best rookie card ever!

223_stantonIf I was a professional hockey player, I could not imagine having a better rookie card than the 2013-14 Panini Prizm card (#223) of Ryan Stanton. Sure, some of Stanton’s RCs have his autograph, while others picture him with his current team, the Vancouver Canucks. But this one takes the cake…er, takes the Cup. It shows the freshmen blueliner hoisting the Stanley Cup after the Blackhawks’ Game 6 win over the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Finals.

Stanton spent practically the entire 2012-13 season with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL. He made his NHL debut on April 27, 2013 when Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville rested most of the team’s best players for the playoffs and gave several prospects a shot. During the playoffs, Stanton was one of the ‘Hawks “Black Aces” — a minor-league call up that most likely wouldn’t play in the postseason, but was on hand just in  case. Stanton did not appear in the playoffs, but suited up when the team was awarded hockey’s ultimate prize.

While Stanton did not qualify to get his named engraved on the Stanley Cup, he did get his day with the cup. He also got a Stanley Cup ring — and the best rookie card ever made.

Two Niemi XRCs, One Low Price

RR-313_white RR-313_niemi_red
I’ve wanted an Antti Niemi “XRC” for some time now. Even though Niemi had numerous cards during the 2009-10 season — recognized by Beckett as his true rookie cards — he did have a few cards released the prior season, like these two from the 2008-09 Be A Player Hockey set. There’s also a version without the jersey swatch.

Beckett recognizes Niemi’s 2009-10 cards as his true rookie cards. Why these count as XRCs, I don’t know. XRC is a designation for a rookie card that was released in some hard-to-get manner, such as a traded set, a mail-away or a redemption. I believe these cards were actually mailed out to redemption winners in 2010 — meaning that Niemi’s 2009-10 cards came out before these 2008-09 cards; though I am not 100% sure.

Usually, I’m not too fond of jersey cards, but these are of one of the heroes of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions. In the opinion of many fans, it was Niemi and not Jonathan Toews who should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2010 playoff MVP. I agree.

RR-313_niemi_redThis card is serial-numbered 82 of 99 and has a red swatch from an, ahem, event-used sweater.

RR-313_whiteAnd the other Niemi not-a-real-RC-card is numbered 97 of 99 and has a white event-used jersey swatch, with just a touch of black at the top. I wonder if both of these swatches are from the same sweater…or from the same event.

RR-313_backThe back of the card states that the “memorabilia” was worn in a rookie photo shoot. I’m guessing that Upper Deck had the players scrimmage, since all of Niemi’s early hockey cards show him wearing a helmet, as if he was in a game or at least a scrimmage.

OK, so the swatches aren’t game-used and they only show Niemi from the waist up. But I finally have Niemi’s “first” NHL card. After seeing this card offered between $15 and $30, I managed to snag these two in the same eBay auction for an absolute steal: $6.66 — and that included shipping. Once again, my patience has paid off.

Box Break: 2013-14 Panini Prizm

2013-14 Panini Prizm Hockey cards hobby boxInitially, I thought that 2013-14 Prizm would be another clunker from Panini. The cards are printed on shiny foil stock, look like pretty much every other Panini set out there and originally cost $100 for a 20-pack box (each pack contains six cards). But I found a box at a recent show for $50, so I took a chance and was pleasantly surprised.

Prizm cards are printed on a silver, mirror-like card stock. Whereas Upper Deck’s Black Diamond are shiny but dark, Prizm cards have bright, vibrant colors that jump out at you. The cards are also printed on heavy stock. After opening a box, I totally understand why baseball card collectors go nuts over sets like Bowman Chrome: they just look so cool. Of course, I was a sucker for “chromium covers” back in my comic book collecting days in the 1990s, so enjoying “chromium” hockey cards isn’t much of a stretch for me.

Anyway, onto the break. Continue reading

Read my latest Becket article FREE online

beckett_action_packedI am back in the pages of Beckett Hockey this month. “Looking Back at Action Packed” is my latest article. It is on pages 4-7 in the March 2014 issue (#259), and recounts the many attempts former card company Action Packed made to try and break into the hockey card market. They failed, but issued some interesting promotional items along the way.

If you don’t want to buy this issue just to read my article, Beckett also published it on their blog. You can read the he entire article for free here. Please take a look and let me know what you think — either in the comments below, or in the comments on the Beckett blog.

Upper Deck signs exclusive trading card license with NHL, NHLPA. What now?

Upper Deck LogoA joint press release — issued by Upper Deck, the NHL and the NHLPA — hit the hockey card industry like a ton of pucks yesterday when it was announced that Upper Deck has signed an exclusive, multi-year deal with the NHL and the NHLPA.  The agreement, which starts in the 2014-15 season, makes Upper Deck the sole manufacturer of licensed NHL trading cards. This is a huge win for Upper Deck, a huge loss for Panini America and In The Game — and a bit of both for hockey card collectors.

In short, it will be nothing but Upper Deck, more Upper Deck and only Upper Deck when it comes to NHL trading cards over the next several years.

Panini America, whose agreement with the NHL and NHLPA expires on June 30, was quick to respond. CEO Mark Warsop, issued a press release of his own yesterday, stating his discord:

“We are disappointed to learn of the NHL and NHLPA’s decision to go in another direction in the trading card category…During the term of our agreement we faced many challenges, including a late start to the agreement and an NHL work stoppage. Through all of the challenges we established trading card hockey brands that collectors came to love and look forward to…” (link)

I think what the Panini CEO really wanted to say was:

“Thanks for nothing, jerks! Our licensed started later than we wanted — in October 2010 — so Upper Deck still got to be first to market with the 2010-11 cards. We also had to put up with last year’s lockout, and then the absolute dearth of rookie cards due to the NHLPA’s mercurial decision. But we’re not bitter…”

In The Game — who has not had an NHL or NHLPA license since the 2003-04 season — is also shut out once again.The company applied for a trading card license with the NHLPA in October 2013. Getting one seemed possible, since it was the NHLPA who first offered In The Game a trading card license in 2012 — one they wisely turned down — for the 2012-13 season. We all know how that year played out for hockey card collectors and card companies.

So, why would the Players Association first want to expand their licensees, then go to just one two years later? In an interview with Beckett Hockey Editor Susan Lulgjuraj, NHLPA director of licensing Adam Larry stated that the exclusive deal was to cut down on products in the marketplace.

“Of the benefits, one of the big ones is being able to control number of products a little better,” Larry told Beckett Media. “One of the things we were hearing is there was probably a little too much product out there right now.” (link)

What does this all mean to hockey card collectors? If you like Upper Deck cards, then you have nothing to worry about. We will get plenty of those, like Artifacts, the return of MVP as a standard set, and Upper Deck Series One and Two. Personally, I am glad that UD Series One and Two will continue for its 25th year. It is consistently my favorite set, and is currently the longest-running active set.

But if you like competition, then this is very bad. Don’t get me wrong — I like some Upper Deck Sets and dislike others. What I really like, though, is the innovation that happens when you have competition. Why skate hard for the puck if there is no one to beat you to it? Why try to make better hockey cards when no one else can make them?

Granted, I did not like too many of Panini’s hockey card sets over the years, but at least having Panini in the picture made Upper Deck work harder. Their flagship set (Series One and Two) is always a cut above anything else, while sets like Fleer Retro and Parkhurst Champions have been among my favorites during the “two-company race” we’ve enjoyed the past four years. Would Upper Deck have even attempted a set like Parkhurst Champions if they didn’t have to compete with Panini for our hobby dollars?

Then again, maybe without pressure from direct competition, Upper Deck will double down, innovate, and transform hockey card collecting — much like T.J. Oshie got to work his magic during the shootout in the Olympics, with unlimited time and room and no defender trying to knock him down.

So, just how long is this deal anyway? The press release does not say, and Upper Deck Sports and Social Media Manager Chris Carlin was not at liberty to tell me. The NHLPA did not answer my email inquiry, either.

The previous exclusive that Upper Deck held was for six years (2004-05 to 2009-10). Perhaps the length of the deal is being kept a secret because it is variable, based on Upper Deck’s performance. Do well, and keep your exclusivity. Do poorly, and everyone from Topps to Press Pass will get a license. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part.

In the interest of full disclosure, Upper Deck does provide products to this blog for review purposes. However, all opinions on this blog are my own.