Hockey Card Gamble: A Seduction of Hits…and Misses!

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Hey, who out there likes to gamble? Maybe take a little trip to Vegas, or just a friendly card game between buddies? I don’t mind it from time to time, and now I’ve found a way to mix my love of inked cardboard and the thrill of laying it all on the line: case breaks!

At the site that I buy most of my hobby boxes, they do live box and case breaks. The idea is that you can buy one or more of 30 available slots — one for each NHL team, duh! — and on a stated date and time they will open up everything pack by pack on a web cam and you get to keep the cards of that particular team.  First off, you don’t get to pick your team. They will put everyone’s name in a “randomizer” program, shuffle the names 10 times and everybody gets to watch it, unlike the NHL draft who lets the Oilers get away with murder every year!

Anywho, once everyone has been assigned their teams, there’s a scrolling message board and people can talk to each other, as well as the guy opening the packs. If they like, they can try to trade teams among each other.

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Recently, I got in on a case break for Upper Deck’s new 2015-16 Contours Hockey that was just released that day. Unfortunately I was away from a computer and pulled up the video feed on my phone, but I couldn’t access the message board. So, no trades for me, which sucks because I bought in two slots for that exact purpose; keep one you like, trade the other for a team you do want.  My draws were the Phoenix Cooties and the Brooklyn Hipsters Arizona Coyotes and the New York Islanders.

Of course, I wanted to get the Carolina Hurricanes in hopes of some sweet, sweet rookie cards because they CALLED UP HALF OF THEIR AHL TEAM FROM CHARLOTTE THIS YEAR!  I was more than ready to offer up this Islanders pick for that, but woe is me, it was not to be.  In fact, it got a little worse for drawing the Islanders, as I will explain later…

So the guy starts with pulling the tape off the case, pulling out the boxes, and then the packs in front of the camera so there’s no funny business; the same way that a black jack dealer will never let his or her hands fall below the edge of the table. He’ll flip through every card in the pack, making comments from time to time and then talk about every hit that comes up; who it is, the signature or jersey, what number it maybe and anything else of significance. With my Coyotes I got:

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Henrik Samuelsson, #CC-8, 72/75 Club Crest 2-color Jersey Swatch.

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Max Domi, #156, Contours Rookies, 11/35, 3-color Crest Swatch, hard signed autograph.

Not too shabby! I got a base card of Shane Doan, too.

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The $30 I paid for the slot includes the shipping. The cards got to me in under a week, which is pretty good since that site charges $11 in shipping unless I buy $175 of stuff. Highway robbery, but I digress. Now my Islanders draw netted me…

Jack. And Squat. And Jack just left town.

Though technically, I did get John — a John Tavares base card, for what it’s worth; certainly not the $30 I paid for the second slot.

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And that is where the real gamble lies; it’s the 0 and 00 on the roulette wheel that gives the house the advantage. The site is real clear about it, so you can’t call foul; if you get no hits for your team, that’s not their problem.

Keeping with the roulette theme, imagine someone tell you there’s a great wheel to play and you chuck you money down before you realize 99% of the wheel is zeros, because that’s what happened with the Islander’s pick.  The next day I looked up the released checklist to see what I missed out on and the only hit for the Islanders was a random Jaroslav Halak jersey. That’s it! No Kyle Okposo autograph, no Frans Nielsen stick fragment, zero Cal Clutterbuck mustache clippings, not even a Johnny T. nipple ring!  What the hell?  In fact, there are only three regular Islanders cards in the whole set.

WhammyIn my best attempt to try not to sound sore about this, I emailed the dealer. I explained that I wasn’t looking for a refund, but was hoping that in the future they may reduce the number of slots to be purchased if they know there’s a serious deficiency in the set, or to offer up one really nice card from something else to make up for the sucker that gets the ‘whammy’.  People tend to be more agreeable if you offer solutions rather than just common complaints.  They got back to me pretty quick:

“This happens time to time with the new release. We don’t always get a checklist to see what the cards will be for each team. We are fixing our second break to reflect the teams that need to be combined. That is the only real downside to a presale, when the checklist comes out after and it is weak for some teams. We will put $29.95 in store credit on your account.”

Wow, that was really nice of them.  They guys have done pretty well by me over the years, so that’s why I keep giving them my money.  These 2015-16 Upper Deck Contours Hockey boxes are pretty cool, though I would rank them as high-end, with a price tag north of $100 and only four packs per box. At least there is no less than one hit per box. This is definitely a series built on “hits” but they do have some neat inserts, such as “High Profile Fans,” like Kevin Smith’s Devils jersey. You know, if you’re into some guy with a fever dream of “The Whale” beating Vancouver 12-2.

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Seriously, I’ll hunt one of the cards down eventually.

But while I’m not going to recommend building this set from opening packs (unless you have that kind of money, in which case email me), I would recommend getting in on case breaks just because it’s fun. Whether you do it online, or you got a bunch of friends and you wanna pool your money for some expensive box to split, it adds an element of excitement beyond just ripping apart cellophane and wax paper.

If you have a gambling problem, please call the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700.

And if you have that Kevin Smith card, please call me.

Jim Howard is a Carolina Hurricanes fan and reformed baseball card collector who is trying to keep the hockey collection from becoming overwhelming. And while he wishes he could give Crosby the business with his mitt, he is in fact NOT the goalie for the Red Wings.

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