Y’all — that means “You All” for the Yankees — the hockey card market is getting out of hand. Normally I’d look at buying a box of Upper Deck Series One or Two to enjoy, save the hits, collect a few of the players I like, and entertain everyone with another Best of the Worst post. This past fall with Series One, I dragged my feet on writing that post because there weren’t a whole lot of crazy photos and I wasn’t super-inspired.
I also wasn’t too crazy about the price I paid for the box vs. the cards that I got out of it. Two out of three boxes didn’t yield a jersey card, and outside of a mildly-rarer Shining Stars Alex Ovechkin and one or two Young Guns that may or may not pan out, it was fairly hitless. I shopped around to buy that box online for $70-75; in a local shop it would have cost me at least $85 to $100! The same goes for Series Two which was released in March. Looking at the list of who is in that set and the likelihood of getting anything of value, I can’t say it’s worth the price of admission. There just isn’t much going on in there.
The disparaging look of the other products out there doesn’t seem to help either. There are a number of high-end products that were created for the idea of selling you a box with one pack of cards that would include some ridiculous hit, some less-than-mediocre hits, and then maybe a base card or two for no one to collect the whole series of. Online, these boxes/packs will run you just around $100 to $300. I was fine with this when it was just UD Black; if you really wanted to gamble with your money, there was an option for you.
But do we need SP Game Used (and SPx isn’t much better, BTW), SP Authentic, Ice, O-Pee-Chee Platinum, Trilogy, Leaf In The Game, good ol’ UD Black, Leaf Ultimate, President’s Choice Blue & White Centennial, and Black Diamond, which has become the KISS of the hockey card world; just because they have diamonds embedded in them doesn’t mean those rocks are worth spit! At least Upper Deck Artifacts sports a healthy amount of cards in a hobby box, but at an average of $85 online, are you getting your money’s worth?
That’s all high-end gambling, and yeah, we’ve had some generational talents roll in with Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Auston Mathews, and some other very good rookies as well. But does it really warrant all these sets? What happens next season when the rookie talent crop is expected to drop off significantly?
If Upper Deck Series One and Two are the bar that all other products are compared to, what comes in below them are few and fall off fast: a couple of unlicensed Leaf products, O-Pee-Chee’s usual 1980s-esque base set, and an ever-disappointing MVP box.
Now I know what you’re probably asking, “But Jim ‘Not The Goalie’ Howard, where are the fabulous Panini cards?” The answer is “probably keeping the frigid embers of Hell a-light whilst Lucifer continues to chew Judas, Brutus, and Cassius.” Really, they just didn’t produce any this year.
Now, thanks to Upper Deck’s e-Pack concept, the already-low value of 99% of the cards has fallen dramatically. If base cards are worth less than a cent, why would you want to pay north of $70 plus shipping for a whole box of them? They have pretty much the same value as a post-World War I Deutsche Mark, except we don’t heat houses with fires and little kids don’t make kites to fly so they serve less of a purpose.
With E-packs, those cards don’t even exist, but you just paid for them. And if you don’t want them, they never get printed, but still exist online, dragging the value down. The card company just took your money and gave you NOTHING!
What these companies are selling you is potential. You MIGHT get a McDavid autograph. You MIGHT get an Austin Mathews material card featuring a piece of his game-used sock. Hey, you’re a winner if you do! You MIGHT get a Strome or a Puljuarvi, in which case you break even.
Or your big hit ends up being Shawn Hunwick* — Cue The Price Is Right Loser Horn™. You don’t know until you pay the piper and get to rippin’, but on the offhand chance that you get that case hit, the value of that box just dropped tremendously; there’s no longer a mystery, there’s no longer potential, there’s no longer speculation of what lies within.
Maybe in these crazy card years, it’s better to buy these boxes (preferably on sale) but never open them, then sell them years later down the road. After all, we’ve seen this before during Sid and Ovi’s rookie card years. Those boxes still hold a good value to this day, selling on eBay for over $100. From a fiduciary standpoint, you are far better off just going online to eBay, Sports Cards Direct, or any online shop to acquire the cards you want for a fraction of what you’d pay to take a chance on a hobby box.
As far as 2016-17 stands, Upper Deck is the monopoly of hockey trading cards who has no real competition but themselves to dictate price or quality of product. And it shows. But you and I DO have a choice of how we spend our hard-earned dollars. Hobby collectibles are only worth what people are willing to pay for them, and if you don’t like the price you see now, just wait and eventually you will likely see it drop later.
Granted, these companies plan these products long in advance, so I don’t hold much hope that my words will do much for their 2017-18 hockey cards, but I would like to see higher-end hobby box wealth humbled a little and see some more mid and lower-tier boxes do better. And please, make Series One and Two worth the buck I pay again; each and every box.
*NOTE: Shawn Hunwick is a national treasure! His hockey card is not.
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. ■