An iconic set from an amazing year
1979-80 was an epic year for hockey for so many reasons. It was a changing of the guard, with Wayne Gretzky playing his first NHL season, and Gordie Howe playing in his last. It was also the first season after the NHL absorbed four WHA (World Hockey Association) teams. And it was a year that a team of Americans would pull off one of the biggest miracles on ice. But that’s another story.
Like the year it represents, the 1979-80 Topps set was a landmark release, and still remains popular among collectors today. Who could mistake those borders for any other set? Who does not miss those fun little cartoons on the back of each card? And who doesn’t want a Wayne Gretzky rookie card?
Yes, the set is best known for containing the first card of Gretzky. But it also has the last cards of Howe as an active player too. In fact, several other Hall of Fame players would also make their last appearances as active players in this set.
Player selection 4 out of 5
After Gretzky and Howe, there are plenty of other superstars: Ken Dryden, Gerry Cheevers, Phil Esposito, Tony Esposito, Bobby Clarke and Stan Mikita. Though nowhere near The Great One, a handful of other notable rookie cards are in this set too, including Charlie Simmer and Bobby Smith.
Overall, there are 228 different players in the 1979-80 Topps hockey set. Some teams have more cards than others. The New York Islanders have 17 card; the lowly Washington Capitals, only 7. Of course, better teams had better players, and thus better representation in the set. The new NHL additions – the Quebec Nordiques, the Edmonton Oilers, the Winnipeg Jets and the Hartford Whalers – are grossly under-represented, with only 3 to 5 cards each. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that the ex-WHA teams lost many of their players to the established NHL clubs after the merger.
Card design 5 out of 5
The bright blue borders make this set instantly memorable – almost anyone could recognize a ’79-80 card from 30 feet away. It was not often that Topps (or O-Pee-Chee) strayed from the usual white borders. A banner wraps around the top and right edges of the player’s photograph before encircling the team logo. So beloved is this look that it was used in 2008 for parallel insert cards in the 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set.
The photos used are all over the map. While many of the shots are from game “inaction” – that is, during warm-ups or stoppages of play – there are some action shots smattered throughout. Close up portraits run rampant too – mainly with a player’s old uniform being airbrushed over so as to look like he’s with his new team. Some of the portrait shots are just cropped close-ups, while others are true portraits. Needless to say, the variety of photos used make this set one that you will want to spend some time looking at.
Back design / stats & info 4 out of 5
Disappointingly, only one line of stats plus totals is displayed on the back. It also does not say what team the player was with the previous year. Interestingly, players who appeared in both the NHL and WHA – like Bobby Hull – have their stats from both leagues combined in their totals. The next year, players’ WHA stats were kept separate from their NHL stats.
Despite the lack of stats, the back of each card is visually appealing. The player’s statistical and biographical information is laid out inside an illustrated hockey skate, while the player’s name, position and team appear on the blade of the skate. A small comic illustration appears outside of the skate, over the toe. All of this gives the set a fun look and feel.
Subsets 5 out of 5
Eight Stat Leaders cards highlight the top players from the prior NHL season. 3 Stanley Cup Playoff cards recount the 1979 semi-finals and finals.
Five Record Breaker cards showcase five noteworthy accomplishments.(back)
17 cards feature a team photo on one side and a team checklist on the back.
The former WHA teams are shoehorned on one checklist card, entitled “New NHL Entries.”
Finally, there are 2 normal checklists.
This set looks amazing, and has many cards of great players – including the rookie card of the Great One himself. Every collection should have this Topps set or its O-Pee-Chee counterpart – or both.
Five awesome portraits:
97 – Tiger Williams – He looks pretty friendly for a tough guy (back)
103 – Gary Smith – Or is it really Screech from “Saved By the Bell” (back)
138 – Cam Connor – Not too pleased with the paint job on his jersey, Connor looks like he got up on the wrong side of the bed (back)
176 – Richard Brodeur – A great portrait of King Richard (back)
202 – Morris Lukowich – Why is there Matrix code behind Lukowich? (back)
DOUBLE OVERTIME BONUS
Five “last cards” of players who retired in 1980 and were soon inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame:
85 – Gerry Cheevers – Inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1985 (back)
150 – Ken Dryden – Inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1983 (back)
155 – Stan Mikita – Also inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1983 (back)
175 – Gordie Howe – Inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1972, Howe would un-retire 2 years later and play 6 seasons in the WHA, followed by a final year in the NHL (back)
185 – Bobby Hull – Like longtime linemate Mikita, Hull too was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1983 (back)
TRIPLE OVERTIME BONUS
Five awesome cards of interest:
62 – Jim Bedard – Photographed by a wide-angle lens, the Caps goalie looks so small and alone (back)
63 – Dale McCourt – McCourt never played a single game for the Kings, so what’s up with this card? Find out here. (back)
79 – Wayne Cashman – OMG game action! (back)
80 – Tony Esposito – Tony-O makes the save (back)
108 – Marc Tardif – Neat shot looking upwards at the Nordiques captain (back)
The Great One:
18 – Wayne Gretzky – The rookie card of the greatest hockey player ever (back)
264 card set
Card size: 2 1/2″ wide x 3 1/2″ tall
Click here to download a printable checklist
11 thoughts on “Review: 1979-80 Topps Hockey”
Great write up about this set. My favourite thing about them is the skate on the back.
One key card you didn't mention was Barry Melrose's rookie. He looks glorious in the ol' Winnipeg Jets sweater.
Also, this picture is from the WHA, when they were called the New England Whalers. I believe that is 41 year old John "Pie" McKenzie in the other Whalers sweater.
Great post Sal! Thanks again for the chunk of these you sent me!
Casey, I think Melrose only appears in the OPC version, which I sadly do not have.
Thanks, Shane. I have a whole other stack of cards from this set that you need…when can we trade again?
Sal my friend, I must disagree with your assesment of a 5 puck review. I would Give this set no more than a 3, WHEN COMPARED TO it's OPC brother (or sister?)
The 79/80 OPC set is so far superior than it's Topps version.
I'll have to review it from the standpoint of the differences.
You missed out on a great set…
Ah yes, I forgot Melrose was OPC only.
I have to agree with Capt'n Canuck; the OPC version is THE hockey set of the last 30 years. After that, I've always felt that the 84-85 OPC set was second.
Captain Canuck, I'm not sure if the extra 132 cards makes it "far superior" to the Topps version.
Sure, you got RCs of Melrose and Greg Millen in the OPC version.
The Topps set does not have rough cut borders, and none of that annoying French text cluttering up the back (j/k).
Is the OPC version better? Of course. But both sets would get a 5-Puck rating. An awesome set is still an awesome set, even if there are more awesome-er sets out there…if that makes sense.
As far as designs go, both the OPC and Topps from that year will always be one of my favourites. What makes it tough is the coloured borders make it difficult to find cards from that year in mint condition.
True–colored borders make it more of a challenge with certain years. But it sure does break up the monotony of the usually-white borders that "frame" the picture.