It was the end of an era as we knew it. Actually, it was the end of several eras. The 1989-90 Topps Hockey set marked the last time that Topps was the only game in town when it came to hockey cards in the U.S. It was the fourth, and final, year in a row that Topps issued a 198-card hockey set. And it was the last time Topps would crudely alter photographs of players who were traded over the summer.
If any set could represent the end of an era, it was this one.
Next year, the marketplace would expand, Topps would be overshadowed by newer companies making slicker products, and hockey card sets would balloon to upwards of 500 cards each.
So, let’s take a look back at 1989-90 Topps Hockey, and long for the days when a collector could build an entire set from only one box of cards.
Player Selection – 3 out of 5
Like the previous three seasons, the 1989-90 Topps Hockey set has 196 player cards and 2 checklists for a total of 198 cards. The focus on U.S.-based teams is heavy, with teams like the Blackhawks and Rangers getting eight or nine cards each. Canadian teams only get four or five cards each. Needless to say, in the 1989-90 O-Pee-Chee set, Canadian teams are much better represented. But then again, the U.S. teams have more cards in the O-Pee-Chee set, too.
Superstars who have rookie cards in the 1989-90 Topps Hockey set are Brian Leetch, Joe Sakic and Trevor Linden.
However, Topps missed the boat on two players who should have had rookie cards in this set, but did not. Jeremy Roenick played 20 games in 1988-89, scoring 18 points, and appeared in another 10 playoff games with the Chicago Blackhawks. Mike Modano, while only appearing in two playoff games in 1989, was the first-overall draft pick in 1988 and was a lock to make the Minnesota North Stars roster in 1989-90. Including what would have been rookie cards for these two U.S.-born players who played on U.S.-based teams would have made this set much more worthwhile. FYI, Topps released an insert set in 2003-04 called The Lost Rookies, which had 1989-90-styled cards of Roenick and Modano.
Front Design – 4.5 out of 5
What made the 1989-90 Topps Hockey set so visually unique is that it has colored borders instead of the typical white borders. Whitish-gray columns with diagonal stripes frame the left and right sides of each card. I always assumed these columns were meant to be ice, but one Puck Junk reader pointed out that they could, in fact, be marble. Regardless, it looks cool (pun somewhat intended).
Meanwhile, the top and bottom of each card has bright blue borders, reminiscent of the 1979-80 set and further enhancing the “cool as ice” feel. These cards have a look that is unmistakably hockey — this design would not work for baseball or football — and it manages to do so without overused troupes like pucks or hockey sticks.
The only downside are the photos themselves, which are nothing to get too excited over. Most were taken during warm-ups or stoppages of play, but there are many good close-up and mid-range portraits.This was also the last time Topps made a habit of airbrushing, painting over, or otherwise altering photos of players who changed teams over the summer. For example, Pat Verbeek (above) was traded from the Devils to the Whalers in June of 1989. Here, Topps repainted Verbeek’s photo, in effect “making” him a member of the Whalers. Photo manipulation on hockey cards would become all but extinct the next season, with but a handful of occurrences since then.
Back Design / Stats & Info – 5 out of 5
Full career stats are listed, which is what always made Topps cards great. Even in the 1990s, when other companies released better-looking cards, Topps were usually the most comprehensive when it came to stats and information.
Not only do we get each player’s complete statistics — including their time in the World Hockey Association, if applicable — but we get the basics like height, weight, birth date, birthplace, home, last amateur club and how the player was acquired by their current team.
Also note the hockey stick-shaped lines at the top and bottom of the card’s back. This breaks up the horizontal monotony that is caused by an abundance of text.
A pack of Topps Hockey cards cost 50 cents during the 1989-90 season and contained 13 cards, one sticker and one stick of bubble gum. Thirty-three different stickers were made: 21 team logo stickers and 12 All-Stars.
Boxes of 1989-90 Topps Hockey had 36 packs, and had a four-card panel printed on the bottom of the box. These box-bottom cards featured playoff scoring leaders. Four different panels were made, for a total of 16 box-bottom cards.
Also worth mentioning is that 1989-90 Topps hockey cards were printed in lower quantities than 1989-90 O-Pee-Chee hockey cards. Usually, the opposite is true. However, during the 1989-90 season, O-Pee-Chee went back to the presses and printed more of their cards to meet the swelling demand for hockey cards. As a result, the marketplace was saturated with 1989-90 O-Pee-Chee, making Topps cards from that year somewhat harder to find. Still, 1989-90 Topps Hockey cards were printed in ample enough quantities that finding a set or singles should not be difficult.
Usually, I’m a proponent of owning both the Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets for every year, and 1989-90 is no exception. Sure, the O-Pee-Chee set has 132 more cards, but the fact that the Topps cards are somewhat harder to find (although, really not that much harder) makes this set worthwhile.
Bonus – The Top Five Rookie Cards
113 – Joe Sakic. Note that Sakic is shown wearing his original number, 88, on his rookie card. (back)
89 – Trevor Linden – Linden played 19 seasons in the NHL and is one of the all-time greats among Vancouver Canucks players. (back)
145 – John Cullen – Cullen had a solid 10-year NHL career that was cut short due to health problems. He battled Non-Hodgkin lymphoma for 18 months, had a cardiac arrest while hospitalized and later needed a bone marrow transplant. He returned for the 1998-99 season and won the Masterton Trophy for his comeback. (back)
45 – Cliff Ronning – After three seasons in the NHL with the Blues, Ronning finally got a rookie card. Ironically, he was playing in Italy during the 1989-90 season. He returned to the Blues in 1990-91 and spent another 14 years in the NHL, scoring 869 points in his career. (back)
Double Overtime Bonus – My Five Favorite Cards (in no particular order)
180 – Aaron Broten – Broten and Bruins center Steve Kasper at the face-off. As a kid, I imagined that they were battling for the puck, but now I see that they are just waiting for it to drop. Still, this beats a photo of a player leaning against the boards for the umpteenth time. (back)
74 – Doug Gilmour – What’s with the green background? I’m not sure, but I’ve always loved the way the green complimented the red of Gilmour’s uniform, while also making him practically jump off of the card. (back)
189 – Guy Lafleur – The photo may be sacrilege to fans in La Belle Province, but I always loved this card of The Flower as a Blueshirt. Lafleur was my mom’s favorite player in the 1970s, so I was happy that he made a comeback because I had the opportunity to see him play. (back)
11 – Peter Sidorkiewicz – Part of my heritage is Polish, so I was proud to see a Pole make it in the NHL. Sure, P-Dork (as I’ve always called him) wasn’t the first Polish-born player in the NHL, and he was raised and trained in Canada, but it was still cool nonetheless. Unfortunately, he played on some bad teams, including the Whalers and the Senators. Also, nice cage mask. (back)
132 – Alain Chevrier – This card gave me such a thrill when I found it in a pack back in the day. Chevrier led the Blackhawks on a very deep — and very unlikely — playoff run in 1989, so he was an instant hero to ‘Hawks fans. Chevrier’s all-white mask was his trademark, as he bounced around from team to team for most of his career. Also note that his catching glove has blue; perhaps this picture was taken not long after he was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets. (back)
Triple Overtime Bonus – Five Hilariously Altered Cards
63 – Randy Cunneyworth – If we are going to discuss cards that are hilariously-bad due to being repainted, then we have to start with Randy Cunneyworth. His 1989-90 Topps card is the Mona Lisa of bad hockey cards. His Jet’s jersey has an odd, reflective sheen to it, as if it were made of satin. (back)
151 – Mark Habscheid – If Cunneyworth’s card is the Mona Lisa, then Habsceid’s card is a close second; The Scream, perhaps? Topps got a little overzealous with the shadows and fold lines, put a great amount of detail in the Red Wings logo, but then totally omitted stripes and numbers on the sleeves. (back)
184 – Walt Poddubny – Poddubny’s helmet looks like it is made of hard candy. (back)
185 – Adam Oates – This one almost looks like one of those Topps C55 cards made in 2003. But if you’re going to show us that much shoulder, Topps, at least put a number or patch or something on it. (back)
Question: Do you have a favorite card in this set? Leave a comment and let me know. ■