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.
For those who did not collect hockey cards in the 1990s, please allow me to first explain one of the strangest aspects from that time; an incorrect mindset, if you will, that led to the production of many thousands of useless, worthless hockey cards.
Back then, and even today, a player’s “rookie card” — that is, the first card to show him with his NHL team — is usually the most desirable, and thus usually the most valuable.
“Well then,” thought several trading card companies, “we should make cards of players BEFORE they play in the NHL, because those would be even MORE valuable, so people will buy them. It would be like printing money!”
But instead of printing money, it was more like they printed junk bonds for a failed startup company. During the 1991-92 season, four different companies issued trading card sets of the players who were selected in the 1991 NHL Draft.
But like a first round dud — such as Brent Bilodeau (sorry, Habs fans) — these draft picks sets fizzled at retail. Here’s a look at these four sets, along with why they bombed.
The Chicago Wolves, the American Hockey League affiliate of the St. Louis Blues, gave away a team set of trading cards towards the end of the 2015-16 season. This year’s Wolves set has a wide player selection, but making it truly memorable is the gritty, cool-as-hell design that you’d expect to see on superhero cards instead of minor league hockey cards. Yet, the Wolves pull it off, making for one awesome-looking set.
From 1985-86 to 1990-91, both Topps and O-Pee-Chee printed special trading cards on the bottom of the boxes of hockey cards. If you think about it, these “box bottoms,” as they are usually called, are like the short prints of the vintage era because you only got four per box. You either had to buy the entire box of cards to get just four box bottoms, or find other ways to acquire them.
The 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Box Bottoms set features cards of players who led their playoff-bound teams in scoring during the regular season; that is, they were on a team that made the playoffs and led their team in scoring during the regular season. This just might be the high-water mark of hockey box bottom sets, as 12 of the 16 players here were later inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Quebec Nordiques released a set of 20 postcards during the 1976-77 season, back when the team was still a part of the World Hockey Association. Like so many other team-issued postcard sets, this set is minimalist, with basic color photos on the front and scant information on the back. These postcards give us a good look back at a time when hair was long and helmets were few and far between.
Twenty-five years ago, the hockey card market grew exponentially when three new companies — Upper Deck, Pro Set and Score — joined Topps and O-Pee-Chee, bringing the number of hockey card manufacturers to five. Not only that, but Topps issued a second set of cards, branded as Bowman, while O-Pee-Chee released a set called O-Pee-Chee Premier, giving collectors a total of seven hockey sets that season.
The year 1990 was clearly the start of the “hockey card boom.” No longer were hockey cards just the stuff of specialty shops; now every grocery, drug and convenience store carried hockey cards. Likewise, practically everyone saw hockey cards for their investment potential, hoarding cards of hot rookies as well as established players. The increased revenue even led to the NHL Player Strike of 1992. But overproduction, along with the decline of the market in 1992, led to 1990-91 sets plummeting in value.
Looking back a quarter-century later, it is easy to dismiss the entire 1990-91 season as “junk wax.” Yes, the companies printed tons of cards and flooded the market. Even 25 years later, you can find unopened boxes of 1990-91 cards for around $5 and complete sets for $10 or less. It is kind of sad that newer collectors can buy the cards from my childhood for less than what they actually cost during my childhood.
Just because those sets are “worthless” doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile to have in your collection…assuming, of course, that you don’t already have them. And maybe you don’t. Perhaps you are a newer collector, or maybe you didn’t bother with hockey cards in 1990-91. Today, you can pick up a hearty dose of nostalgia, history and rookie cards for less than what a blaster box costs.
That said, here is my ranking of every 1990-91 hockey set. Those of you over 30 can feel free to disagree.
Smart drafting and quality development are the two key reasons why the Chicago Blackhawks have been successful over the past half-decade. Many of the prospects that the ‘Hawks draft end up playing a season or two with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, blossoming into NHL players. This year, the IceHogs released a new set of trading cards, which includes many players who may go on to become the newest ‘Hawks mainstays.
Every year since they joined the AHL, the IceHogs have either given away or sold in their team shop a trading card team set. And historically, the IceHogs do a great job, including practically every player and listing all of their statistics, while dressing it up in an appealing design. This year is no exception.
Considering that Upper Deck became the exclusive trading card licensee of the American Hockey League, it is a relief that teams can still produce their own sets. While Upper Deck has made two attractive sets dedicated to AHL players the past two seasons, team-issued sets are always the most comprehensive, featuring almost everyone on the team, from future NHLers to career journeymen to bubble players.
Earlier this year, the Springfield Falcons — top affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets — released a 25-card set for the 2014-15 season. It’s a colorful set that has baseball to thank for its unique, eye-catching design.
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.
The Rockford IceHogs issued a team set of trading cards during the 2014-15 season. It was sponsored by the Rockford Register Star newspaper and features many Chicago Blackhawks prospects, such as Teuvo Teravainen and Scott Darling. The cards also have a unique design and tons of information on the back — as any good trading card should. Continue reading “Review: 2014-15 Rockford IceHogs”