New Blackhawks Winter Classic Jersey Almost Gets It Right

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Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews models the 2015 Winter Classic Jersey [Blackhawks / NHL]

The Chicago Blackhawks unveiled their new jerseys for the 2015 Winter Classic Wednesday on Twitter, then later on their website. And I love it. It is awesome. It is almost perfect.

Almost. Continue reading “New Blackhawks Winter Classic Jersey Almost Gets It Right”

My attempt at hockey artistry, circa 1992

devils_forwardhawks_goalie devils_goalie
I was cleaning out my filing cabinet and found some old drawings I did in high school. Art was always my favorite subject, and I took it all four years. I would try to draw or create hockey images whenever possible. During my junior year — right around the time of the 1992 Winter Olympics — we had to make a few blended colored pencil drawings for an assignment. I made three, using hockey as my inspiration. Continue reading “My attempt at hockey artistry, circa 1992”

Topps rips off their own hockey design

Topps released its 2014 Baseball Archives set this week, and usually I don’t pay attention to baseball cards. But Topps did something with this set that really annoyed me: they used a classic hockey card design in the new Archives baseball set — specifically, this design:

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“Check me out, dawg. I’m retro!” [Picture: Ebay]

Yes, that is the classic 1971-72 Topps and O-Pee-Chee design, re-purposed for a 20-card insert set of baseball cards — cheapening it in the process.

Everyone who reads this blog knows how much I love the 1971-72 design. It is the best hockey card design from the 1970s. (If you don’t believe me, read this first and then we’ll talk.)

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Best. Design. Ever.

Using this design for a baseball set would be like putting Sidney Crosby on a 1952 Topps Baseball card, or Alex Ovechkin on a 1989-90 Hoops Basketball card.

Inconceivable!

Five years ago, In The Game created a set of trading cards called 1972: The Year In Hockey which was reminiscent of the 1971-72 Topps/OPC design. I don’t know the full story, but I understand that In The Game got into a legal entanglement with Topps for making cards that also used ovals, bright colors and puffy letters. As if Topps invented — or outright owns — any of those design elements.

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A card from the 1972: The Year In Hockey set by In The Game

The 1972 set by In The Game was a hit with old school collectors who either bought cards in 1971-72 (that was before I was born), or collected that set later on. Making a new hockey set look like an old hockey set makes sense — especially when done right.

Anyway, would the type of collector who buys Topps Archives Baseball cards really give a damn about baseball cards that look like old hockey cards? I think they’d be more excited about new baseball cards that look like old baseball cards. Or the insert cards based on the Major League movie. I’m not even a baseball fan and I want those cards!

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2014 Topps Archives insert cards [Picture: Ebay]

But these cards…irritate me.

Frankly, I”m tired of card companies re-using old designs because they don’t even do it right anymore.Think about Upper Deck’s half-hearted release of Fleer Retro last year. Some of the “retro” cards were great, but many of the inserts were dumb because they weren’t even based on hockey designs, like Intimidation Nation (based on a football set) and the God-awful Noyz Boyz (based on basketball cards).

Yes, Topps made hockey cards in 1971-72, and can use that design all they want. They can use it on baseball cards or FIFA World Cup cards or Spongebob Squarepants cards or whatever the heck they make these days.

But just because they CAN doesn’t mean they SHOULD.

I’ve been a hockey fan for 25 years today

sal_1989Most hockey fans don’t remember how long they’ve been a fan of the sport, because hockey was always there, always a part of their life. But for me, growing up in Chicago, it was different. The first time I saw a Blackhawks game was 25 years ago today — purely by accident. Continue reading “I’ve been a hockey fan for 25 years today”

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.:

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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?