Review: 2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies

What if Topps didn’t always play it safe?

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-JS - Joe Sakic

What if Topp was not such a boring company when it came to hockey cards in the 1980s? While Topps made epic-sized, 792 card baseball sets that featured practically every player on a team, including bit players and first round draft picks before they even suited up for a game, their hockey sets were seriously lacking,

In that decade, Topps hockey sets were not much bigger than most non-sports sets, sometimes weighing in at a scant 165 cards. That is, if they even bothered to make a hockey set at all.

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-ML - Mario LemieuxThose of us who started collecting hockey in the 1980s will remember when NHL players had to EARN a rookie card. While some exceptional players in the 1960s and 1970s got rookie cards during their rookie season–like Bobby Orr and Guy Lafleur–the 1980s were a different story. A player had to play a full season before they were granted cardboard. Even Mario Lemieux, who rewrote the record books in junior hockey and was drafted first overall, had to play in the NHL for a year before getting a card.

In 2003-04, Topps released an insert set called The Lost Rookies. Found 1 in every 12 packs of Topps Hockey, The Lost Rookies is a “what if” set that depicts 11 superstars on cards from their rookie year–such as Lemieux on a 1984-85 Topps card or Joe Sakic in the 1988-89 set. It is a very cool idea, and a great set for anyone who enjoyed hockey in the 1980s, 1990s or 2000s.

Player Selection 5 out of 5
2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-JR - Jeremy RoenickThe Lost Rookies features players who made their NHL debut sometimes in the 1980s and were still plugging away in 2003. The whole idea is to show what their rookie cards would have looked like if they had a card made during their rookie season.

The players in this insert set are Ed Belfour, Ron Francis, Brett Hull, Curtis Joseph, Mario Lemieux, Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick, Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman. All of these players are in the Hall of Fame, or soon will be.

But there are a few great players who should be in this set but are not. Mark Messier made his NHL debut in 1979, but wasn’t featured on a Topps card until 1984-85! Trevor Linden made his debut in 1988, but didn’t see cardboard until a year later. Both were still active in the NHL in 2003, so why weren’t these two greats not a part of this set?

Front Design n/a
2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-PR - Patrick RoyEach card is based on a pre-existing design, so this insert set doesn’t really have its own design or identity.

One great thing about The Lost Rookies is that it take the classic designs–that were printed on grayish card stock back in the day–and prints them on bright white, UV-coated stock. It is really cool to see the old designs made with modern technology.

However, I wish Topps had done their homework and used a few different photos for some of the cards (more on that later).

Stats & Info / Back Design 4 out of 5
Here is where I have a bone to pick. Some cards do a good job of making you “believe” that these could have been real cards from the year they resemble, while other cards break that illusion.

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-RF - Ron Francis (back)
Why does this 1981-82 Topps card have stats from 1981-82? It must be a “Looper.”

For example, Ron Francis is shown on a 1981-82 Topps card–and the back shows his stats from 1981-82. THAT IS A COMPLETE TIME PARADOX THAT MAKES NO SENSE. 

Other “lost” type sets–such as Parkhurst’s 1956-57 Missing Link set–do a good job of staying in the given season and not referencing anything in the years to come.

If we are “pretending” that this card is from a certain year, then don’t put the stats for that very same year on the back. Seven of the 11 cards in this set do this, and it really spoils the mood for me.

But other than the “spoiler stats,” Topps did a great job of recreating the back design of each card, using the appropriate layout and typography specific to each year’s design.

Rating 5 out of 5Yeah, I complain about the stats–a lot–but that’s something I have to overlook in the grander scheme of things. The Lost Rookies is an awesome insert set worth tracking down for your collection. It was a great idea when it came out in 2003, and is the kind of insert set that any collector who remembers “The Original 21” will appreciate.

Here are all 11 cards for your viewing enjoyment, along with my griping and/or praising of each one.

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-EB - Ed Belfour1989-90 Topps Ed Befour – This card is one of the best in the set. It shows Belfour before he was “Eddie the Eagle”–notice the plain white mask and number 31 on his jersey. The photo is from the prior (1988-89) season when he was Darren Pang’s backup. The back of this card reflects his stats from the ’88-89 season. (back)

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-RF - Ron Francis1981-82 Topps Ron Francis – We all love Ron Francis, but this card–a 1981-82 Topps–uses his stats from 1981-82 on the back. LOOPER!  (back)

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-BH - Brett Hull1987-88 Topps Brett Hull – Shown before he was known as “The Golden Brett,” Hull played 5 regular season games and 4 playoff games for the Flames in 1986-87. So, if Topps were more daring–he is the son of a legend, after all–then this is what Hull’s “1987-88 rookie card” would have looked like. Since Hull did not play in many games, the stat for Game Winning Goals was replaced by 1987 Playoff Points. A minor change from the 1987-88 set that I don’t mind. (back)

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-CJ - Curtis Joseph1989-90 Topps Curtis Joseph – I love the 1989-90 set, but the back of this card uses Joseph’s stats from 1989-90. It would have felt more “real” if they used his 1988-89 stats from the University of Wisconson (WCHA). (back)

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-ML - Mario Lemieux1984-85 Topps Mario Lemieux – Who would not have absolutely loved pulling this card from a pack of 1984-85 Topps? If only it existed back then.  Both photos used on this card accurately capture the feel of the ’84-85 set. But I wish a draft-day photo was used for the head shot, and a picture of Mario in a pre-season yellow Penguins jersey for the big picture. Those would have really made this card feel like 1984. Unfortunately, the back uses his stats from ’84-85; if Topps used his record-breaking stats from junior hockey instead–and the pictures I suggested–then this card would have totally owned. (back)

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-MM - Mike Modano1989-90 Topps Mike Modano – Magic Mike was the first overall pick in the 1988 draft, but spent the 1988-89 season in junior. Still, he did play in 2 playoff games in 1989, so him appearing in the 1989-90 set isn’t much of a stretch. Again, Topps spoils the mood by putting his 1989-90 stats on the back of this “1989-90” card. Nonetheless, this card still rules because of the green North Stars jersey.  (back)

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-JR - Jeremy Roenick1989-90 Topps Jeremy Roenick – I absolutely love this card. I always wondered—honestly–why Roenick was not included in any 1989-90 sets. He scored 18 points in a 20-game emergency call-up for the Blackhawks, and another 4 points in 10 playoff games.That’s more points in 24 games than 11 regulars on that year’s ‘Hawks team! It was obvious that J.R. was going to make the team in 1989-90. My only gripe–you knew I’d have one–is that the card shows Roenick wearing number 27. He wore number 51 during his emergency call-up. The photo used here is from the 1989-90 season. (back)

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-PR - Patrick Roy1985-86 Topps Patrick Roy – St. Patrick when he was just a wee minor league goaltender, making a 20-minute appearance in 1984-85. The line of stats on the back reflects 1984-85 (good), but the text beneath it references his accomplishments in 1985-86–the year of this card. That’s both inconsistent and confusing. (back)

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-JS - Joe Sakic1988-89 Topps Joe Sakic – One of my favorite players, favorite sets and favorite uniforms. The photo even shows Sakic wearing 88–his number during his rookie year. But like the other cards I’ve complained about, this one uses his stats from 1988-89. Honestly, I would have liked it better if it said “No NHL Experience” where the stats were, just to make it “fit” with other 1988-89 cards. (back)

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-BS - Brendan Shanahan1987-88 Topps Brendan Shanahan – This card uses Shanahan’s 1987-88 stats, but erroneously displays them as 1986-87. Oops. The photo itself looks like it as taken during warm-ups, which actually fits in nicely with most of the other pictures used in the 1987-88 Topps set. (back)

2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies #LRC-SY - Steve Yzerman1983-84 Topps Steve Yzerman – Complete shennanigans! Topps did not make hockey cards during the 1983-84 season, so showing Yzerman on a 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee card and slapping a Topps logo on it is a bit insulting to Americans who wished for a Topps Hockey set in ’83-84.  Topps did issue a set of 331 stickers that year, so maybe putting Stevie Wonder on a Topps sticker would have been more appropriate. The back, of course, uses Yzerman’s 1983-84 NHL stats. (back)

11 card insert set
Card Size: 2 1/2″ wide x 3 1/2″ tall


Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

18 thoughts on “Review: 2003-04 Topps Lost Rookies”

  1. I wasn’t collecting at the time, so had no idea this was out there. I need to track these down, especially the Francis! Thanks for posting this Sal, great read as always.

  2. I don’t have any of these, but always found them interesting. One other beef besides the stat question is the fonts used. They’ve got the text running parallel with the diagonal line in 1984-85 when it should have been parallel to the edge of the card. The font is also too big for 1985-86. Little things, but they stand out.

  3. I am with the rest of the folks here. No idea these existed. That was the year of the ugly turqois-y blue borders and the endless parallels, including the C55s with Fleury’s rookie. I didn’t know there was another insert set.

    Soooo…I’m pretty sure you just made all this up. The only reason why I know this to be the case is that the error you speak of on the back where it shows the stats of the exact production year gives you away. There is no way a reputable, upstandingly honest and forthcoming company like Topps would ever make a mistake like that. So I know you mocked these up as your own customs.

    You can’t fool me.

    (PS, I want these fake mock-up fantasy rookie Topps/Puck Junk creations. I’m heading to the cyber universe to find them now.)

        1. Nope, fully agree with Sal, I have that exact Patrick Roy card. That was not made by Sal but by Topps. So I believe him that these cards actually do exist.

    1. A couple things I noticed you didn’t mention. The 87/88 Brett Hull card is a picture from the 87/88 season as I can see the Calgary 1988 Olympics patch on Hulls shoulder, that the Flames wore for the 87/88 season.

      Also the Brendan Shanahan photo is definitely a game photo not a warmup, look at all the people in the stands and also look how close Shanahan is to the Islanders player, who is right beside a goalie. As you know players gotta stay on opposing sides during warm-ups so this is game action especially with the goalie being shown and all the fans.

      Nice write up though enjoy ur blog!!!

  4. Wow, thanks for the info Sal. I have that exact Patrick Roy and was always wondering if it was a reprint and where I could find the actually card which I could not. This is good information to know that it is a what-if card. So seriously thanks for clarifying that information about the card.

  5. I have a lot of these, missing the Lemieux tho.. The thing is that Topps released their cards early on in the year and no doubt the layouts and all the jazz that comes with issuing cards was done by the draft (or shortly after the draft). That’s why these cards were never issued. I mean OPC was released much later, which of course is why OPC cards have anecdotes on the front like “Now With Blackhawks 11/24/89” so if they were given cards ironically it wouldn’t have been Topps they would have been OPC..

  6. How much would the Lemieux card go for??? I have a few of the cards and wondering if they are worth anything…

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