Five ways NHL Center Ice could be better

center_ice_logoThis month, I got the bill for NHL Center Ice, the pay-per-view subscription package that lets hockey fans watch every out-of-market NHL game. For $160, it’s a pretty good deal. But like all things, it could be better. In fact, the NHL could make Center Ice a lot better without even trying that hard. Here are five changes that would make Center Ice go from good to awesome. Continue reading “Five ways NHL Center Ice could be better”

Five great effects of the Gretzky trade

1988-89 O-Pee-Chee Leaders #11 - Wayne GretzkyTwenty-five years ago today, Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. As an American hockey fan, I feel like I owe a lot to Wayne Gretzky. His presence on a U.S.-based team helped grow the sport here in the states tremendously. The effects of his trade are still felt in this country today.

Here are five effects of the “Gretzky Trade” that made hockey better, especially in the U.S.:

snl_1
How many other hockey players have hosted Saturday Night Live?

1. Gretzky gave hockey a “go-to” reference in the United States.
If you asked a random person on the street in a U.S. city to name a hockey player back in 1987, they probably would have answered you with a blank stare. Sure, a hockey fan would have been able to rattle off an entire roster, but not a lot of people outside of hockey circles knew much about the sport, let alone who the greatest player was.

Gretzy’s trade to the Kings gave the second-largest market in the U.S. the best hockey player ever. People took note, and Gretzky became that “go-to” hockey reference that  the U.S. so sorely needed.

  • Gretzky hosted Saturday Night Live in 1989; the first and only hockey player to do so
  • Gretzky was the “hockey character” in the God-awful Saturday morning cartoon ProStars, which also featured animated versions of Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson.
  • In the 1990 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, one of the turtles makes a remarks, “Who the heck is that, Wayne Gretzky?” when meeting goalie-masked vigilante Casey Jones. A generation of kids watching that film who had no idea who Wayne Gretzky even was would soon find out.

The list goes on. The mainstream population in the U.S. may not have ever watched a hockey game, but at least they could now name the game’s best player.

1988-89 Topps #120 - Wayne Gretzky
The trade that changed trading cards.

2. Gretzky’s trade changed trading cards.
Gretzky’s trade changed hockey cards in two ways. First, up until the late 1980s, Topps and O-Pee-Chee would “doctor” a photo if a player was traded in the offseason, so as to make the player “appear” that he was with his new team. They’d either do a “head swap,” or paint a new uniform over the old one.

But you don’t do that to the Great One.

Instead of painting a Kings uniform over a game-action shot of Gretzky — or worse, transplanting his head on another player’s body — the Topps card company used a photo of Gretzky from a press conference on their 1988-89 trading card.

Other companies would follow suit. Hoops used a similar photo for their 1989-90 card of David Robinson. The using of press conference photos became an accepted practice in the trading card industry when a game-action photo could not be secured on time.

But another big change to the hockey card industry was the increased demand for hockey cards in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Two years after Gretzky’s trade to L.A., three more companies got the license to make hockey cards. Hockey card collecting was no longer a two-horse race, with Upper Deck, Score and Pro Set joining Topps and O-Pee-Chee.

Here in the U.S., hockey cards went from being sold only in card shops to being sold everywhere: grocery stores, toy stores, sporting goods stores, comic book stores, gas stations, you name it. This would never had happened if Gretzky was still in Edmonton.

shoes
Be like Mike? Some of us wanted to be like Wayne.

 3. Gretzky’s new endorsement deals raised hockey’s profile in the U.S.
Yes, Wayne Gretzky was endorsing products long before his trade to Los Angeles — including this hilariously-bad 7-Up commercial from Canada — but now he was endorsing products in the U.S., too.

Having a recognizable name and face to promote hockey-related products raised hockey’s profile significantly. Grocery stores carried Upper Deck trading cards, endorsed by Gretzky. Toy stores had the Wayne Gretzky Overtime Hockey table hockey game and the Wayne Gretzky Hockey video game for Nintendo. Shoe stores sold Gretzky-endorsed Ultra Wheels in-line skates and L.A. Gear street hockey shoes.

Street hockey shoes? Tell me about it. Do you think any company would have tried selling street hockey shoes if Gretzky wasn’t with the Kings?

si_cover
Suddenly, Los Angeles noticed that it had a hockey team.

4. Gretzky helped expansion in traditional non-hockey markets
The L.A. Kings — along with the now-defunct Oakland Seals — became NHL teams in 1967 because the television networks wanted the NHL to have a west coast presence. The NHL also did this to thwart their biggest rival at the time, the “old” Western Hockey League. Hockey languished in California in the 1970s and 1980s until Gretzky came along.

Five years later, California had two more teams. Former Kings owner Bruce McNall may have had a lot to do with that. In his book Fun While it Lasted, he discusses pushing for expansion in California so that he’d get a large chunk of the expansion fee money paid by the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Mighty Ducks, since they were encroaching on the Kings’ TV market.

Face it: no one in Anaheim or San Jose would even be interested in hockey if it wasn’t for Gretzky being on the Kings in the first place. During the 1990s, Gretzky’s presence in the U.S. would help grow the sport in other “non-traditional” markets like Florida and Texas.

hockey_kids
Photo by battlecreekcvb via Flickr / Creative Commons.

5. Gretzky inspired the next generation of American players
More kids wanted to play hockey in the United States after Gretzky was traded to the Kings. The numbered of registered hockey players in California grew from 4,830 players  in 1990-91 (the earliest year that USA Hockey has data for) to 22,305 players in 2010-11 (source). California is the seventh-largest region for hockey players in the United States.

Gretzky’s presense in L.A. was felt throughout the rest of the country, too. According to USA Hockey, the number of registered hockey players in the U.S. grew from 195,125 players in 1990-91 to 421,399 players in 1998-99 — Gretzky’s last year in the NHL. Since then, it has climbed to 510,279 registered players in the U.S.

This has also impacted the number of Americans drafted by NHL teams. From 2000 to 2012, 743 U.S.-born players were drafted by NHL teams. In the 2013 draft, 53 U.S.-born players were drafted, accounting for just over one-fourth of all players picked. How many of these young men were inspired by watching Gretzky play?

***
On August 9, 1988, Canada lost their greatest athlete, but hockey in the United States gained just what it needed to help the sport grow. Twenty five years later, the growth hasn’t stopped.

2013 Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

2013_FinalsIt seems every time I am pursing some sort of academic degree and am too busy to fully enjoy the playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. That was the case in 2010 and that is the case now.

Fortunately, school’s out…for…summer. So, I’m gonna blog my blog all day, and watch hockey every (other) night.

My plan was to write some long, drawn out, stats-laden comparison between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins.

Instead, I decided to sum it up in five short paragraphs.

blackhawks_logoHere is how the Blackhawks can win: The ‘Hawks need to capitalize on mistakes made by the Bruins. Chicago takes advantage of quick transitions, going from defense to offense in the blink of an eye. They also need team scoring from all their top guys: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Towes, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.

Blackhawks player to watch: Bryan Bickell surprisingly leads the team with eight goals in the playoffs.

bruins_logoHere is how the Bruins can win:  While the Blackhawks have a few tough players, the Bruins are “team tough” and need to intimidate the Blackhawks. Hit them hard and don’t give guys like Patrick Kane much room on the ice. Goalie Tuukka Rask needs to continue his outstanding play, as these games will probably be decided by one goal, and their defense needs to continue to help pinch in on offense.

Bruins player to watch: David Krecji leads the Bruins with 21 points (9G, 12A)

Prediction: Every game will be close and hard-fought. Both teams deserve to be where they are, so don’t expect any lopsided blow-outs. Home ice will definitely be an advantage for each team, but the Blackhawks will win in 7 games.

Of course, I’m sure at least two bloggers will disagree with my prediction. Feel free to sound off and let me know what you think.

Poll Results: Do you like checklists?

checklist_poll_2Back in December, I declared that checklists are dead, and no longer a necessary part of card collecting. I also posted a poll that ran from December 7 until January 25, asking readers:

“Do you like checklists in new sets?”

I was so sure that everyone would vote no–that everyone would agree with me that checklists, while useful several decades ago, are no longer welcome today.

So, you might imagine my surprise when more than half of you voted in favor of checklists.

Yes = 26 votes (59%)
No = 18 votes (41%)

Some readers also shared their thoughts. Below are some excerpts of what was said (click here to read the full comments):

I… like the checklists as it brings me back to my childhood days – Al (Hockey Kazi)

Checklists are part of card tradition….it´s something that is not useful anymore, true, but it connects present with the past and [I] hope they will stay in sets for a long time.
– Milan a.k.a. Doomm (Hokejové Karty)

1991-92 Upper Deck checklist (front)
1991-92 Upper Deck checklist (front)

I’m kind of on the fence with this one. I don’t like a checklist card that takes the place of another card in the set, especially in Upper Deck Hockey…On the other hand, I like them in Retro sets like OPC..I think it would be cool if they came back with the team checklists and used a painting on the front like Upper Deck [did] back in the early 90′s. – Nick B

I’d laugh my butt off if a product like Dominion or The Cup threw a checklist card into the mix. They only work for products looking to throw you back in time.
– Brett a.k.a. bamlinden (My Hockey Card Obsession)

1979-80 Topps #253 - New York Islanders Team Photo & Checklist (back)
1979-80 Topps team checklist (back)

Checklists are dead. Yes, back in the day they were helpful, but it still got me mad if I pulled one in any pack. If anything, they should make checklists free to those who want them.
– Jason (Mostly Hockey and Non-Sports)

No need for the checklists anymore…nothing worse than getting a checklist instead of card!
– Johnny Mac

I don’t like set checklists. But I would like to see team checklists in the larger sets. Or team leader cards again, but only as part of the base in the larger sets.
– Jason B. (The Cardboard and Me)

Usually, I don’t like them. The nostalgia can sometimes be kind of cool, but they really just seem irrelevant now.
– Sean (Sean’s Sports World)

So while most of the votes were pro-checklist, most of the comments were anti-checklist.

Overall, the impression I get is that most collectors agree that checklists are pointless in this era, but like them because they are a part of the tradition and “help” make a set “feel” complete.

Thanks to those who voted or commented.

3 ways NHL, NHLPA can make it up to us

No hard feelings, right?I am glad that NHL hockey is back. However, what leaves a bad taste in my mouth is that the League and the Players’ Association were basically fighting over my money.

Not just my money–but your money too. The money of everyone and anyone who goes to a game, watches a game on TV, wears a jersey or even buys a pack of hockey cards.

The more I think of that, the more I am appalled.

Thus, both the NHL and the NHLPA should make it up to us, the fans. Without us, do you think Alex Ovechkin would make $8 million per year? He’d make far less in a sport like lacrosse or Arena League football, where the fan base and revenue streams are both lower.

True, some fans will remain bitter and never watch the NHL again, while others will eventually come around. But some fans will go away for a while. To begin the healing process,  the NHL and the NHLPA need to give back to fans in the following three ways:

1. Reduce ticket prices for season ticket holders during this “half season”
tICKETUsually, season ticket holders pay for their tickets–or at least put a deposit down–over the summer. I am not sure what teams, if any, refunded money to ticketholders during the lockout, but they probably strung fans along, hanging onto their money and earning interest on it while fans got nothing in return. Even though it cuts into their revenue, teams should discount the price of tickets for the season ticket holders who patiently waited. Season ticket holders are the main stream of revenue for a hockey team, so teams would  be wise to endear themselves to these deep-pocketed fans.

2. Make NHL Center Ice free during this “half season”
NHL Center IceOver the past 4 seasons, I’ve grown to love the Center Ice package, where I get every NHL game that is broadcast (not counting local Blackhawks’ games). It has made me more of an overall fan of the NHL. But the price has slowly crept up, from roughly $150 in 2008 to just over $170 in 2011. No doubt, the NHL will pro-rate that cost for the 2012-13 “half season”–but why not make it free for us repeat subscribers? At this point, I could easily live life “just” watching Blackhawks games on my local channels, and not bury myself in front of the TV every single night to watch hockey. The NHL should “give” me what I’ve allegedly been missing this year, in hopes that I plunk down my $170 next year.

3. Give a hockey stick and jersey to every kid under 10
Bruins_JerseyIn order for the NHL to increase its revenue, it has to increase its fan base. Why not “grow” some new fans by giving a jersey and hockey stick to every kid they can? Little kids don’t care about the lockout, and putting a stick in their hands or a jersey on their back could make them a fan for life. The NHL might not win back some of its old fans, so they should try to start developing some new ones. Both the NHL and the NHLPA should shoulder the cost on this one, as it would be an expensive endeavor with no short-term benefit. But who knows–some of these kids might be old enough to buy tickets by the time the next lockout rolls around.

All three ways of giving back to the fans is a money-losing proposition for the league and its players. Reducing ticket prices this season for season ticket holders and giving Center Ice away for free this season to repeat subscribers would just add to the financial loss from the lockout. And giving a hockey stick and/or jersey to the future generation would cut into that already-reduced revenue for 2012-13.

But at the same time, it would elevate fans to the status of partner. The NHL and the NHLPA cannot thrive without us. Both entities know it. Now it is time for them to show it.

Hockey is back. Should I care?

nhl_nhlpa_friendsThe National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association finally came to an agreement in the wee hours of Sunday morning, after an epic, 16-hour negotiation marathon.

Am I glad that the NHL will have a 2012-13 season.

Yes.

But would I care if they cancelled the season outright?

Nope.

I did not care when the NHL cancelled their 2004-05 season–partially because the Chicago Blackhawks were so abysmal back then. Frankly, I was more upset from the 1994-95 lockout, but that’s another story.

Hockey is a big hobby of mine, but I always find a way to occupy my time. If not the NHL, then the AHL, movies, cartoons, comic books.

We live in an age where entertainment is not in short supply.

I actually find it hard understanding fans who said that they are done with the NHL, or that they feel angered or betrayed by the lockout.

I don’t feel betrayed. The NHL and the NHLPA butt heads every few years, then they work things out and the sport improves.

I love watching NHL games. I enjoy watching the players, and going to a game when finances allow. But if that’s removed from the picture, I just find other stuff to do with my free time.

And frankly, I’ve enjoyed the extra free time I’ve had by not having a hockey season.

We all knew the NHL would be back. It was just a matter of when.

So now we have a half-season, or 48-game season, or whatever. No Winter Classic. No All-Star Game.

But at least we still get the playoffs, right?

Checklists Are Dead!

1971-72 Topps #110 - Checklist
Once upon a time, people used to write on their trading cards…

When you open up a pack of hockey cards and get a checklist card do you…

a. Smile?
b. Frown?

Checklists. They used to mean something “back in the day.” That day could have been in the 1980s or 1990s, when one or several checklist cards informed us which players were in a set, as well as cluing us in to how big the set was.

But now checklist cards are pointless.

We know how many cards are in a set because companies like Upper Deck, Panini and In The Game convey that information to retailers, who in turn give us the details when selling us new cards. The card companies also post this information to their websites, many times making checklists of new sets available as a downloadable Excel spreadsheet.

And when was the last time you actually took a pen and “checked off” your checklist?

Exactly.

So why does Upper Deck continue to include checklists, in both their Upper Deck and O-Pee-Chee card sets?

Would you rather get an Upper Deck Young Guns card of a prospective NHL player, or an Upper Deck Young Guns CHECKLIST card?

Would you rather get an O-Pee-Chee CHECKLIST card, or a duplicate of Hal Gill?

(Is Hall Gill still even playing?)

Checklists are useless. Sure, really old ones are worth some money if they are unmarked. Some newer checklists might be worth a few bucks if they picture a popular player on the front, like Sidney Crosby.

But really, what’s the point? Take out the checklists, and no one will care.

Checklists are dead.

What do you think? Do you like checklist cards? Vote in the poll (in the sidebar on the right) and post a reply below telling me your thoughts on checklists.

What Game Would I Watch Today?

NHL Rulebook 2012-13I recently acquired the latest edition of the National Hockey League Official Rules (Triumph Books, $9.95)

Every blogger who writes about hockey should have a copy of this handy for the next time they need clarification on Rule 46.1.

But the 2012-13 edition of the rulebook is special for a very particular reason. In the last few pages, it lists the complete 2012-13 NHL schedule of games. That is, all the games that were cancelled due to this lockout–as well as all the future games that will probably get cancelled too.

As of today–November 25–we have lost 294 games to the lockout. But the NHL has announced the cancellation of every game through December 14, bringing the total number of cancelled matches to 422.

Obviously, I was not going to watch each and every NHL game that was broadcast–who would have the time or attention span for that? But I am always good for a game or two per day. And now, I am really starting to miss NHL hockey.

So, every day on Twitter, I will tweet what game or games I would watch that day. It will give me a reason to use my often-dormant Twitter account for purposes other than tweeting about new cards I bought. You can see my Twitter page here. If you use Twitter, follow me and I will probably follow you back.

(Oh, and Rule 46.1 is about fighting, if you did not know.)

Huge price increase for Beckett Online Price Guide subscription

Beckett LogoMy subscription to the Beckett Hockey Online Price Guide (OPG) has grown to become a valuable asset to both my collecting and to my writing. As a guy who blogs about hockey cards, it is great to be able to easily find out how many cards were issued of an obscure hockey player, or what the most valuable cards are in a set, or when a certain player’s rookie card was issued. It is especially helpful when I find some random card and have no idea what it is; I would just go to Beckett’s Online Price Guide, type in the player’s name, the card number, and the OPG would help me figure out what set the card is from.

Yes, the OPG is a great tool for collectors, but Beckett increased the yearly subscription rate from $54 to $81 and that pisses me off. Mind you, this is the yearly subscription rate for just their Hockey OPG, and not the price for “Total Access.”

That’s 50% price increase for what is basically a product that costs Beckett zero in printing and postage because it is a website and not a magazine.Yes, websites cost money to create and maintain–but jacking up the price 50% is some shit that we expect the oil companies to pull.

Or drug dealers. I remember when Beckett started “pushing” the OPG on us pretty hard a few years ago, trying to sell us a virtual price guide subscription while practically killing off their own printed magazine business.

Back then, the OPG was slow and unreliable. The site would be down for hours or even days sometimes. Often it was actually faster to look up card prices in the annual Beckett Hockey Price Guide book than search a computerized database. Go figure.

Like many other OPG subscribers, I was annoyed that I paid for something that didn’t work very well most of the time. I was going to bail out after subscribing to the OPG for a year, but Beckett Media auto-renewed my subscription (which is their default action for the Online Price Guide subscriptions), and would not allow me to cancel for a refund.

Beckett then had the OPG redesigned, but that made things worse, and not better like you would expect when a company redesigns a website. One thing the OPG did back then was use Flash to display checklists or search results–perhaps so you could not copy and paste text from the site.

This also meant that you could not right-click and open a link in a new tab/window. That is a functionality that most website visitors use regularly. It sucked to have to always view the site in the same tab, clicking on a link, determining it wasn’t the set you were looking for, clicking the back button, watching the “Loading” message for 20 seconds while your search results reappeared, then clicking on another link, rinse, repeat.

Subscribers continued to complain that the OPG was slow and hard to use. Beckett redesigned their website a second time–including the OPG–and finally got things right. For the past year or so, the Online Price Guide has been fast, reliable and intuitive to use. Qualities that paying customers would expect. Oh, and it supports multiple tabs and is easy to cut-and-paste from (so as to add to my want list).

It had its ups and downs, but I grew to love the Online Price Guide. Now that love costs me $27 more per year.


QUESTION: Do you use Beckett’s Online Price Guide for any sport? Please post a comment below and let me know your thoughts.

Also, contest coming on Saturday (if I can get it together in time…)

Top 10 cards from 2011-12 Upper Deck Series 1

Upper Deck Hockey cards have been something special since 1990. Every year, the best hockey card photographs tend to end up on Upper Deck Series 1 and Series 2.

Even a run-of-the-mill photo on an Upper Deck Series 1 or 2 card would usually be the best card on another set like Victory, Donruss or Score.

So, I decided to pick the Top 10 photos from 2011-12 Upper Deck Series 1 Hockey, based on the following criteria:

  • Base cards only – no short prints or inserts
  • Being an action photo wasn’t good enough – this had to be a cut above
  • I tried to go for a variety – not just goal scoring or just body checks
  • Finally, nothing too gimmicky that you would normally find on a Pinnacle card

With so many great photos, it was hard to boil it down to the best of the best of the best. But I still did. For your enjoyment, here’s the Top 10: Continue reading “Top 10 cards from 2011-12 Upper Deck Series 1”