After producing no hockey card sets during the 1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons, Topps hockey cards made a comeback in 1984-85. That year, the company released a small, 165-card set. Considering that Topps’ annual baseball set had 792 cards, while their football set had 396 cards, putting out a hockey set with only 165 cards was a very conservative approach. Between the small set size, the set’s relative overproduction and the maddening amount of single-printed cards, the 1984-85 Topps set is perhaps the most disappointing hockey set of the 1980s.
Player Selection – 2 out of 5
Out of 165 cards, 152 are standard player cards, while 12 are of All-Stars and one card is a checklist. That’s far less than the 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set, which has 396 cards, with 339 of them as standard player cards. Most U.S.-based teams have between seven and 12 cards each, giving you cards of the team’s top players, but maybe not so many of their depth players.
Meanwhile, all seven Canadian teams only have three — yes, THREE — cards each. That might sound like a good idea, considering that kids in the U.S. probably didn’t care about the Winnipeg Jets’ third-line right winger, let alone hockey. Then again, the only Edmonton Oilers in this set are Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and Jarri Kuri, leaving out Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr and Kevin Lowe. (Though Messier does have an All-Star card later in this set.) More Oilers should have been included, since they won the Stanley Cup in 1984.
Like its O-Pee-Chee counterpart, the 1984-85 Topps set includes rookie cards of Steve Yzerman and Pat Lafontaine, but omits Doug Gilmor, Cam Neely and Chris Chelios.
Front Design – 5 out of 5
The design is where the 1984-85 Topps set is truly, uh, tops, setting it apart from other hockey sets of the decade. The front of each card has both an action shot and a head shot — a first in hockey card design — and quite similar to the 1983 Topps Baseball set. Having both an action shot and a head shot on the same card would not be done again on hockey cards until the 1990s, when photos on both sides of the cards became the norm.
Making the set exciting is that most of the larger photos are game-action shots, and not the usual shot taken during warm-ups or stoppages of play that typified hockey cards that decade. Sure, there’s a few warm-up type shots, but otherwise the set uses photos of players battling for the puck or skating hard, or goalies handling the puck or making a save.
What really makes the design special is the small, circular portrait in the lower-right corner. Almost every goalie card has a head shot of him without his mask, while many of the cards of forwards and defensemen show the player without his helmet. This was a great feature (and still is) because all goalies wore masks and most players wore helmets by 1984, making them less recognizable to fans.
But the overall design is stellar. Bright, eye-catching colors that match the player’s uniform colors border each card, giving them a “team-centric” feel. Both the player name and the team name are written across the bottom on diagonal stripes, further enhancing the sense of action and motion. (I freakin’ LOVE diagonal lines when used properly.) The rounded corners along the top borders subtly mirror the rounded border arching over the head shot photo, while also being reminiscent of a hockey rink’s rounded corners.
Thankfully, Topps did not feel the need to shoehorn in the team logo, which would have made the card feel cluttered. The design is perfect the way it is.
Back Design / Stats & Info – 5 out of 5
Like that year’s OPC set, the 1984-85 Topps set lists out the player’s complete NHL stats (and WHA stats, when applicable), along with their height, weight, handedness, birth date, birthplace, current city of residence, first professional season and how they were acquired (draft, trade, etc.). When space allows, a short biographical paragraph gives us more detail about the player.
Subset Quality – 2 out of 5
Unlike the 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set, the 1984-85 Topps set only has an All-Star subset. Maybe this was a good move by Topps, as it would give kids more cards to get of the NHL’s very best players, like Wayne Gretzky and Ray Bourque.
Meanwhile, the OPC version also included Season Highlights, Record Breakers, Team Leaders and Trophy Winners. The exclusion of these subsets — especially Team Leaders cards — makes the 1984-85 Topps Hockey set as barebones as possible.
Packs of 1984-85 Topps Hockey contained 15 cards and one stick of bubble gum. Boxes had 36 packs.
Next to the 1989-90 set, the 1984-85 Topps Hockey set probably had the highest print run of any Topps hockey set from the 1980s. Today, you can still get the complete, 165-card set on the cheap. Unopened packs and boxes aren’t too difficult to find, either.
What makes this a rather inconvenient set to collate is that 99 of the 165 cards are double printed, while 66 of the cards are single printed. For example, Steve Yzerman’s card is one of the 99 double prints, which means that you would most likely find one in every nine packs. Lafontaine’s card is one of 66 single prints, which would be found roughly one in every 18 packs. Keep that in mind if attempting to hand-collate a set from packs, when trying to track down the last three cards you need — they’ll probably be short prints — or if opening packs to pull star cards for grading.
Also keep in mind that if you do open a pack of 1984-85 Topps Hockey, the gum is over 30 years old and you should probably not chew it.
Sure, a small set of hockey cards may be better than no set at all. Normally, I advocate collecting both the O-Pee-Chee and the Topps version of each set, but 1984-85 is a year you can skip Topps. When you consider that the 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set was also produced in relatively plentiful quantities, there is really little reason to pick up the Topps set — other than an inexpensive way to get a rookie card of Steve Yzerman or Pat Lafontaine.
Bonus – the top five rookie cards in the 1984-85 Topps Hockey set:
13 – Dave Andreychuk. Andreychuk played 23 seasons in the NHL, is first all-time in power play goals scored (274) and sixth all-time in games played in the NHL. (back)
14 – Tom Barrasso. Barrasso played 19 seasons in the NHL, won the Calder and Vezina Trophies in 1983, and backstopped the Pittsburgh Penguins in back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 1991 and 1992. (back)
49 – Steve Yzerman. Stevie Y. scored 1,755 points in his 20-year career. He served as the Red Wings’ captain for 19 seasons — the longest any player has been the captain of a single NHL team — and won the Stanley Cup three times. He was induced into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. (back)
90 – Pat Verbeek. The “Little Ball of Hate” scored 1,063 points in an NHL career that lasted 20 seasons. (back)
96 – Pat Lafontaine. The American-born Lafontaine played for the New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers in a career that was cut short due to concussions. In 865 games over 15 seasons, he scored 1,013 points, and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003. (back) ■