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