Ways to Improve Upper Deck Series 1 & 2

Upper Deck Logo

Last month, 2016-17 Upper Deck Series Two was released in stores and online shops. Other than a few packs I bought to get a promotional card on National Hockey Card Day, I have avoided buying Upper Deck Series One and Upper Deck Series Two this year. Since 1990, Upper Deck’s flagship “Upper Deck” hockey card set was something I always looked forward to. It was usually the biggest and best hockey card set every year during that decade, and set the high-water mark in quality for the hobby. 

But over time, Upper Deck Series One and Series Two have become somewhat…uninspired. Routine. Even boring. This year’s Series One Hockey set has 198 base cards of veteran players, two checklists, 49 short-printed Young Guns rookie cards and one short-printed Young Guns checklist. Likewise, this year’s Series Two Hockey set has 198 base cards of veteran players, two checklists, 49 short-printed Young Guns rookie cards and one short-printed Young Guns checklist.

Other than a little variation in the number of Young Guns, that has pretty much been Upper Deck’s script since 2005-06, and frankly, it is time for a change. 

Don’t get me wrong. The cards themselves look great and are of high quality. But even if you ate your favorite food for a month straight, it will still get dull. So it is time for Upper Deck to spice things up and not just do what has been working, but to seek to make things better. Here are seven ways that would improve Upper Deck Series One and Series Two. 

First Round Draft Picks Cards

Voted most likely to play pro hockey into his 40s.

Those of us who collected in the 1990s undoubtedly remember how awesome it was to get cards of players who were drafted in the first round of that summer’s entry draft. To this day, I still recall being excited to pull a Jaromir Jagr draft picks card from a pack of 1990-91 Upper Deck Hockey, or a Karl Dykhuis draft picks card from a pack of 1990-91 Score hockey. 

Even though some of the drafted players don’t meet expectations, while others don’t pan out, it is still fun to get these cards. Plus, draft day photos are like the “bad high school yearbook” photos of NHL players. 

So, why don’t we get cards like these anymore? It probably has to do with the fact that the NHLPA mandates to Upper Deck, as per their licensing agreement, that a player can only appear in a licensed set of cards if they have appeared in at least one NHL game. That’s why Upper Deck (and Panini, for the few years they made hockey cards this decade) had to wait until a player skated in an NHL game before putting them in any sets. The companies would usually use photos from what is called a “rookie photo shoot” — basically a scrimmage held by the card companies so that they would have photos of the new rookies for their hockey card sets that fall. 

Lame. I’d rather have a rookie card of Connor McDavid showing him at the NHL Draft than some dumb scrimmage held by the card companies. 

The fix to this would be easy. The NHL and NHLPA just need to make a rule that if someone get drafted by an NHL team, they consent for their picture at the draft to be used in a trading card set. Maybe even have the player sign a waiver or agreement before draft day. Of course, a draftee would still get paid for being on a card, but an amount agreed upon ahead of time. 

Cards of AHL and European Prospects

Upper Deck has the license to make cards of AHL players. 

I loved the “Top Prospects” cards from the Score hockey sets of the early 1990s, which sometimes showed the players in their minor-league or international team uniforms. 

Since Upper Deck has the trading card rights for the American Hockey League, it would be easy to put AHL players in their NHL card set. Just put a few players in their AHL uniforms in a subset called “A-List Prospects.” If, say, 10% of the Upper Deck Series One or Series Two set is comprised of 10% AHLers, then the AHL (and the Professional Hockey Players Association, which represents AHL players) get a 10% cut. Easy peasy. 

Such a deal would raise the AHL’s profile by including its top prospects in an NHL card set, while giving hockey card collectors some exciting up-and-coming prospects to collect. 

It might get a little more complicated if Upper Deck wanted to picture a European prospects wearing the uniform of his European or national team, but so what? If you want to make something better, it takes a little extra effort. 

Award Winners Cards

Award winner cards were a staple of hockey sets going all the way back to the 1960s. Many times, it either pictured the just the trophy, or the player and the trophy in separate photos. But in the 1990s, card companies started using photos from the NHL Awards Ceremony, picturing the players decked out in a nice suit or tux when accepting their hardware. Some collectors might find cards of NHL superstars in “regular clothes” unexciting, but others would probably welcome getting more cards of the game’s best players. 

Fun Subsets! 

1991-92 Upper Deck card #647 - Bloodlines: Valery and Pavel Bure
A Bloodlines subset card from 1991-92 Upper Deck

Back in my day, hockey cards used to have a lot of fun subsets. That’s the way it was, and we liked it!

OK, so maybe not everyone liked subset cards, but I did, for the most part. Some were pretty cool, like cards of players at a recent All-Star Game, or the Bloodlines subset that pictured brothers who played in the NHL on the same card.

Other subset cards were a little silly, like 1991-92 Score’s “Crunch Crew” or the “Sidelines” cards put out in the Pinnacle sets. They weren’t all winners, but at least the card companies were trying to be interesting by doing something different. 

Imagine if Upper Deck did an updated take on their Bloodlines subset, but instead featured retired players and their sons who currently play in the NHL, like Tie and Max Domi pictured on the same trading card. Or cards of team mascots. Something different. Anything! Give us a little variety. 

Illustrated Team Checklists

1991-92 Upper Deck Blackhawks team checklist (front)

Man, how I miss these! From 1990-91 to 1992-93, Upper Deck commissioned artists to paint a picture of each team’s best player for their Team Checklists subset. Then, for no apparent reason, the cool-looking checklists were dropped for the 1993-94 season, never to return. 

While I’m not a big fan of checklists, I love cards that use a drawing or painting of a player, so I don’t really care what’s on the back. 

Make the Cards out of Plastic

Cards like Upper Deck Ice are made of plastic.

Back in the late 1800s, trading cards were included in packs of cigarettes to keep the cigarettes stiff, preventing them from breaking. Pictures of famous theater actors, and later athletes, were put on the cards to encourage more sales.

Nowadays, you don’t get trading cards with cigarettes. Heck, you don’t even get gum with the cards anymore. I wear glasses, but they’re not made out of glass, so there’s no reason why trading cards need to be made out of cardboard. 

Upper Deck already prints some of their sets, like Ice, on thin plastic; they look nice and are durable. True, that would increase the cost a bit, but that would make Upper Deck Series One and Two really premium sets. Plus the cards would be darn-near indestructible. No more dinged corners!

Release an Upper Deck Series Three

I would totally buy this.

Every NHL team must dress 18 skaters and two goalies for each game. With the Las Vegas Golden Knights joining the league next season, that means there will be a minimum of 620 NHL players in 2017-18. However, most teams have 23-man rosters, so that means there will be over 700 active players in the NHL at any given time. 

Presently, Upper Deck Series One and Two, with all base cards, short-printed rookie cards and checklists, totals 500 cards — far less than the total number of rostered players in the NHL. This season, over 180 players are considered rookies according to NHL.com, so there will probably be just as many next year. There is definitely room to include cards of more players; why not make an Upper Deck Series Three? 

Upper Deck has sort of been doing this already by “sneaking” 30 or so Upper Deck Update cards into its other hockey sets like SP Authentic towards the end of the season. But they could instead make a full-blown, 250-card Series Three that includes players who changed teams at the trade deadline, rookies who debuted late in the season, surprise recalls from the minors, All-Star Game cards, emergency backup goaltenders and so on. The possibilities are endless, and it would make Upper Deck’s best set also its biggest set.

The whole point of these suggestions is not to bash Upper Deck Series One and Series Two. Rather, it is to show how a good set can become better by revisiting some past great ideas and expanding on other ideas. 

What improvements or changes, if any, would you like to see made to Upper Deck Series One and Series Two? Leave a comment and speak your mind. ■

UPDATE: A representative of Upper Deck read this article and addressed each point. You can read their response here.


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

13 thoughts on “Ways to Improve Upper Deck Series 1 & 2”

    1. I think the BEST thing they could do is make a series Insert series , in other words make another series that drops within series 1 & 2 and make it VERY limited , The series 3 would be great if they would also make CERTAIN cards in the series 3 Acetate with extreme limited . It would be a rare series 3 cards with an even rarer Subset & Def. make the Acetate inserts Autographed , I’m sure we could ALL think of COOL things they could do , So come on UD listen to the Collectors ! I really can’t stand how many prints they make , That is what killed the cards from 80’s – mid 2000 , Limit the print on ALL , Make this the BEST set to collect & Make a different set with hundreds of thousands prints , Well who knows maybe 1 day they will give US what we want .

  1. I agree with all your suggestions. (A little less on the other league prospects). Like you said, the regular hockey set (and most of the others, frankly) have become stale. I haven’t bought a hockey box for years. And I watch it all the time. It’s weird not having any cards of the current players. But there hasn’t been a product that caught my eye for a good while. I hold out hope for OPC, but haven’t liked any of the designs enough to pull the trigger.

    Companies are too hung up on saturating every product with rookies and making shiny parallels. They don’t bother with anything else any more.

  2. Great post! I used to collect ONLY hockey for years and I miss some of the little fun features Upper Deck had in the 1990’s. It would be great to see an Update/Series 3 release… especially with how many players trade teams before the trade dead-line in today’s game.

  3. I agree with most of your suggestions – especially a series 3! Everyone who gets into the NHL should have a card in the flagship set.

    Another I would add is to not short print the rookie cards in the flagship. That sort of thing should be for the premium sets…It should be possible to actually complete the flagship sets each year.

  4. I really miss the Team checklists that had the actual team photo on it. Like you said about not really caring what is on the back, the team photo on the front was always cool to see.
    Totally agree with the Series 3 idea. I have thought of this kind of thing for years & still marvel that no one has actually done it. It would allow collectors to potentially “collect” all year long.
    On the sub sets, if you are referring to the chase sets, I really am not a fan. I agree with Bill that the rookie cards should be a part of the main set for Series 1 & 2 (& 3 if it ever happens), like in the current Parkhurst 2016-17 set. Then everyone has a chance to get the seasons rookies instead of just the collector with tonnes of money to burn. Especially when they are numbered into the base set. Who wants to have all 1-200 & 251-451 only to have huge holes in between. It’s just a ploy to make the rookie cards more valuable forcing collectors to shell out more money to buy even more packs to get them all. Then you have multiple quadruples of the base set.
    Have been loving your articles. Keep up the good work.

    1. Don, welcome to the site. I am glad that you enjoy my articles.

      I agree with the whole base card / short print thing. It is a part of the hobby that I hate, but unfortunately I don’t think it will go away anytime soon. Although maybe a compromise could be reached where only high-end sets like SP Authentic, Black Diamond and others have short-printed RCs, while sets like Upper Deck Series 1/2 and OPC do not short print the rookie cards.

      1. I totally agree that Upper Deck Series 1 & 2, OPC & Parkhurst could have Rookie cards in the normal print run & then leave the short printing to the more expensive sets. That would be great for those of us that don’t have money to burn … as much.

  5. Wasn’t part of the boom and bust of the 1990’s because suddenly there were dozens of sets put out each year, and companies had to compete by putting out loads of pointless cards, subsets and inert/chase cards?

    I think there should be fewer sets, and a focus on quality. Keep high end sets with autographs, patches, memorabilia etc., but make 1-2 sets make of cards that are collectable (ie: you have a chance to collect the entire set without having to resort to buying hundereds of packs for those short run cards.) The glut of base cards produced to dilute the market to make short run cards rare is terrible!

    1. I believe a bigger part of the boom and bust was that the companies tried really hard to be the first one to include a rookie card of a player — many times before he even played in an NHL game. So we had cards of drafted players and cards of kids from the World Junior Championship, and many of these guys wouldn’t go on to the NHL. Companies also scraped the bottom of the proverbial barrel when it came to who to include; you’d have a minor-league call-up who’d play in a game or two and get a rookie card. While I do like that aspect — they played in the NHL, albeit for a short time, so they should get a card — I feel that this also bogged down sets with a lot of players who perhaps were included just to bulk up the amount of RCs per set.

  6. Sal… it’s ironic, the comment you made about McDavid, given that his YG photo was taken when the Oilers played in St. Louis for the Blues’ home opener, not at the Rookie Showcase. But i agree, using those Showcase photos for early season pictures on cards vs. actual game photos sucks. And “event used” jersey, patch and emblem cards from the Showcase or photo shoots suck even more.

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