My boss once gave me some advice during a performance review: “Don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions.” I’m sure it meant for me not to bother him complaints, but I took it another way. If you have a question, also have a variety of answers ready and we can figure out what’s best.
Taking this to heart, I’ve complained about how the rising cost of little cardboard rectangles should be worth your hard earned cash. Let’s be honest; you have a better chance of breaking even with a scratch off lottery ticket. But I’ve yet to offer solutions of what ideas would grow my little t-rex arms long enough to reach my wallet buried deep in my back pocket.
What follows are card idea, or notions at least, that are a breath of fresh air to the usual jersey cards and autographs. Upper Deck, if you’re reading this, you’re more than welcome to take these ideas and make them a reality for all the trading card nerds. But Panini – you you keep your hands to yourself!
Alright, we’ll start off with something simple and not that far removed from jersey hits you find today. Roberto Luongo has been one of my favorite players and recently hung up his pads but continues to amused us with his antics via twitter. I actually touched on this way back in 2014, but honoring the recently-retired heroes of the ice with a card featuring a swatch from each of their teams and their highlights along the way. Matt Cullen would also make a great candidate for this with the handful of teams he’s helped in his career. Players like Nicklas Lidstrom may have only played under one team professionally for career, but an All-Star Game or Olympic jersey could pop in for diversity on the card.
Bloodlines and DNA
OK, let’s take a trip out to left field on this one. Sal can argue that he likes to pull an on-card autograph any day over another boring jersey card. And while he’s entitled to his entirely-wrong opinion of this, there’s one nice thing about that: the players touched the card. And if handled properly (probably not), the player left his finger prints on the card! Me, I say I want a game-used jersey swatch. The jersey was probably washed, but I fancy the idea that the DNA of the player is somehow still embedded in that little square by sweat or skin cells, and that’s just the scientist in me nerding out!
I have a fabric swatch card of Mary Pickford, one of the greatest and most important figures in the silent film era, and the card is exciting to me because the fabric has a sweat stain! Yes, everyone else thinks it’s gross, but when the technology improves, I’ll grow my own army of little Mary Pickfords and will RULE STAGE AND SCREEN!!!
But until then…
Ancestry and family history have certainly captured everyone’s imagination and attention with the DNA kits you can send away and see where your family came from. Something not new is the story lines of family within the NHL and beyond. Some players have great, storied families of athletes in their relatives (e.g., the Sutters) or brothers (like the Staals) in the league, or even siblings not in the same league such as Phil and Amanda Kessel. Or maybe one of the many current NHL players who has a retired NHL father, or a mother who was an Olympic athlete, such as Alexander Ovechkin’s mom, Tatyana. These stories are fascinating.
Now let’s combine this notion with the idea of fingerprints on the card. No two people have the same prints, so I propose a chase set of hits where a player with pedigree gets an inked fingerprint on a card for a run of 10 cards (one for each finger, duh). The back of the card can go into detail about their family lineage in relation to hockey for them today and perhaps a little of where they came from.
This seems like the kind of pull that would come from the Champ’s series or maybe Ice. Could you imagine trying to collect all 30 cards for the McGinn bothers? Now I’m not looking to freak anyone out with blood stained jersey swatches, I’m sure the Center for Disease Control would have a problem with that product. But if they wanted to put out a case breaker 1/1 cards that had a strand of hair, well Upper Deck, you’re no stranger to this.
Hockey players are people too, they just happen to be really good at hockey. But they do have lives outside of the rink, and a series of fun cards showing off some of the hobbies and activities they enjoy away from the rink could be pretty neat to pull, especially for a the MVP box that comes out just at the end of summer. The idea is to humanize the players, so they are more than some trading card commodity. If you’ve ever run into a player and had a real conversation about something besides hockey, it can be a wonderful experience I chatted with Jay Harrison once about cigar box guitars once, and it’s great to see players with their guard down. Here are some examples: Carry Price famously takes part in Rodeos; undoubtedly, he is the Bo Jackson of this generation. His card would be rather exciting:
Or it would be neat to know that Connor McHockeyJesus graciously takes flightless waterfowl out for canoe trips in Canada:
Oh hey, I bet you didn’t know that Claude Giroux is loves some melty fromage between two slices of almost burnt bread.
But you will know that when you collect the Summertime Blues chase set!
QR Code Cards
This is not a really difficult concept, but it has loads of potential on where you can go with it. Gimmie cards of players with QR codes on them like this one below. Take out your phone, pull up the camera app and on your scream tap at the QR squiggly there. Do it right now, I’ll wait…
See, wasn’t that cool? And I made this is like five minutes with freakin’ Microsoft Paint! Now imagine, if you had whole packs of these? OK maybe that’s a little grand, but they could start with making a simple chase set of QR cards. We’ll have 32 teams soon, pick three players from each team in the league (yes, even Ottawa) so that you end of with about 100 cards in the set.
There’s nothing expensive about this. If you want to make some rare cards, then have some harder to find versions featuring the team mascots where the code will take you to a video of their antics; who doesn’t want to pull up the highlights of Gritty or NJ Devil?
On the back of the player’s cards you could have another code that takes you to the players Twitter page, Instagram account, or just their official NHL stats page.
Something else that could spice things up is select cards that look just like the normal commons can have a slightly different code that takes them to a special video of the player thanking them for buying the product, and then giving them a special code to get a redemption card. Maybe that comes later, if the original product is a hit with fans. But it would drive a lot of internet traffic, especially if everything links to their created pages. Yes, that could take time to build, but UD has offices here in North Carolina where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a hungry startup firm that will happily build those sites and videos for you.
Tim Parish pointed out to me that Panini tried to do something with video on some HRX football and basketball cards at the early part of this decade. I can’t find much on this, but what I could find was that they were a MASSIVE failure. But it’s Panini. If they tried to make a ham and cheese on rye sandwich, they’d put a slice of bread between the ham and the cheese, and somehow the tooth-picked olive would end up in the fishbowl.
Meanwhile, Upper Deck had the PowerDeck cards in the early part of this century, which were small CD-ROM disk you could put in your computer and it would pop up a gallery of the player, video highlights and stats. Pretty neat, but not everyone was up to speed on technology back then. Now, everyone has a smartphone with the technology already built in that can deliver these goods wherever you are.
If these cards proved to be a popular chase set, I would gladly drop down $70 (or more with some cool hits) for a hobby box that was nothing but these. Back in the 1980s and into the 1990s, we had baseball cards called SportsFlix that utilized lenticular printing, that ribbed plastic technology you may remember used for the Freshman Class cards in Upper Deck’s Full Force series back in 2015-16. Rather than rendering something of a crude 3-D image of the player, SportsFlix would give you three pictures of the player in motion and as you moved the card you would see the illusion of that player in action. That shit was magic back in the 80s! But it’s time to up the game; we have better technology in our pockets, time to start using it. The card is just a moment frozen in time, and UD has brought us some amazing shots in their flagship Series 1 and 2 year after year. We’re entering a new decade; let’s see if you can keep up.
Bonus: Upper Deck Yearbook
As I just mentioned, Upper Deck has brought us some amaze-ballz pictures on their cards. A product I would like to see is a coffee table book-sized yearbook with many of those pictures (or preferably new ones) of that hockey season. It should come out around U.S. Thanksgiving so that people can buy it up and give it to beloved hockey nuts for Christmas.
If you want to charge for premium version, have a limited run that includes jersey swatches embedded in some pages at the end, use some of the sticker autographs from some of the featured players and make it more in-line with your card products, but highlight the season that was. The kids that get drafted, opening night theatrics, memorable goal celebrations, games featuring throwback jerseys, the outdoor games, the All Star game with the Skill Competition, some of the crazier things that happen off the ice in the locker rooms or on the team plane, bring us the excitement of the bubble teams that squeak into the playoffs and the agony of the poor bastards that just miss it. And end with the triumph of the Stanley Cup ceremony and it’s parade down Main Street of Whateverville, North America.
The pictures will speak thousands of words, so you don’t have to; maybe an introduction by one of your photographers or editors, a short blurb about the special events of the year, anything on some of the more unique photos. I think this would be a big seller every holiday season. You have the resources, so use them.
Again, these ideas are completely up from grabs, Upper Deck. I’m just trying to come up with things that would make me want to cough out some dough. One card in one pack in one box is not doing it for the more casual collector such as myself. While the Grandeur coins were certainly a neat idea and I applaud you for thinking outside of the box, it might have been going too far. But keep swinging at those new ideas and a hit will definitely come.
But you can sit on your hands, Panini. ■
Jim Howard is a Carolina Hurricanes fan and reformed baseball card collector who is trying to keep the hockey collection from becoming overwhelming. And while he wishes he could give Crosby the business with his mitt, he is in fact NOT the goalie for the Red Wings.