Hockey card collecting was on a precipice during the 1989-90 season. It hadn’t yet taken the plunge into the abyss of overproduction, inflated prices and rookie cards of practically anyone who got within 10 feet of an NHL uniform — succinctly known as the “Junk Wax Era.” Hockey cards were rapidly becoming more and more popular, accelerated by the trade of Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988.
Yet, only two companies issued mainstream sets that season. The 198-card Topps set was sold in the U.S. and its near-identical, though slightly larger, cousin O-Pee-Chee sold a 330-card set in Canada.
But if you dig a little deeper, you will find that there were many other cards issued that year that stray from the beaten path — from team-issue cards to minor and junior league trading card sets, to cards printed on the side of food boxes.
Here is a look at the 15 best hockey cards from the 1989-90 season. Keep in mind that most of these cards aren’t particularly valuable, with most ranging from $2 to $5 each — and even that might be pushing it. Anyone with a love of hockey cards and hockey history should consider having these in their cardboard collection.
1989-90 Topps / O-Pee-Chee #113: Joe Sakic
Joe Sakic had a remarkable NHL career. He is the best player drafted in 1987, the best player who debuted during the 1988-89 season, won two Stanley Cup Championships and scored over 1,000 points. Sakic has rookie cards in the Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets, but since his Topps RC is slightly less overproduced, it is worth slightly more. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.)
1989-90 Topps / O-Pee-Chee #136: Brian Leetch
Brian Leetch was the NHL’s rookie if the year in 1989, won the Norris Trophy twice as the NHL’s best defenseman, led the Rangers to a Stanley Cup in 1994 and was named the playoff MVP. He is one of the greatest American defensemen of all-time. Like Sakic, Leetch also has rookie cards in the 1989-90 Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.)
1989-90 Oshawa Generals: Eric Lindros
At 16 years of age, Eric Lindros was two seasons away from being drafted into the NHL. That didn’t stop investment-minded collectors from paying ridiculous sums of money for this card, which was issued by the Oshawa Generals junior team back in 1989-90. At the time, this card was selling for upwards of $60, as Lindros was projected to be drafted first overall in 1991. Today, this card doesn’t sell for nearly that much, but it is significant because Lindros was hockey’s first “investible” player and this was his first card. This card is arguably the first-ever hockey card that speculators hoarded for “investment purposes.” (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016.)
1989-90 Kraft #4: Sergei Makarov
Sergei Makarov’s best years were behind him when he joined the NHL in 1989, but he still went on to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie for the 1989-90 season, and has a rule unofficially named after him. Makarov won 12 gold medals in international tournaments and was a part of the Soviet Union’s feared KLM Line with Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov. Since Makarov was 31 when he won the Calder, the NHL changed the rule so that only players 26 and under would be eligible starting next season; this is informally known as “The Makarov Rule.” His 1989-90 Kraft hockey card, found on Kraft food boxes sold in Canada, predates all of his “junk wax era” rookie cards by one season. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016.)
1989-90 Canucks: Igor Larionov
Igor Larionov was also decorated in international tournaments from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. Remarkably, Larionov played 14 seasons in the NHL and retired at age 43. He was a part of the Soviet Union’s famed “Green Unit,” and later a part of the Red Wings’ “Russian Five,” helping the Wings win three Stanley Cup Championships while in the Motor City. During his first NHL season, Larionov had a card in the Vancouver Canucks team-issue set, which predates his mainstream rookie cards by one year. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008.)
1989-90 New Jersey Devils: Viacheslav Fetisov
Viacheslav Fetisov was as decorated as his two “Green Unit” compatriots — Sergei Makorov and Igor Larionov — during his international career. But perhaps more importantly, Fetisov was instrumental in getting himself and several of his countrymen released from the Soviet Union so they could play in the NHL. Fetisov dreamed of being an NHLer, and at the risk of the safety of himself and his family, pushed Soviet officials for his release until they relented. His New Jersey Devils team-issued card predates his rookie card by one season. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.)
1989-90 St. Louis Blues: Curtis Joseph
“Cujo” had 454 regular seasons wins during his NHL career, which is 7th on the all-time list. He was among the best goalies of the 1990s, playing in the NHL until age 42 and appearing in 943 regular season games and another 132 playoff games. Joseph’s St. Louis Blues team-issue card predates any of his mainstream rookie cards by one season.
1989-90 New York Rangers: Mike Richter
Mike Richter was the greatest American goaltender during the 1990s. He played 14 seasons in the NHL and won 301 regular season games. Richter won the Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994, and led Team USA to a World Cup of Hockey championship in 1996. His team-issued card from 1989-90 predates his mainstream rookie cards by a year. (Card image courtesy of @scottyhockey.)
1989-90 Chicago Blackhawks: Jeremy Roenick
An exciting player who was just as likely to score a big goal as he was to make a big hit, “J.R.” is 4th all-time in scoring among American-born players with 1,216 points. He netted 513 goals and 703 assists. Despite having all of the requisite milestones for a forward — 400+ goals, 600+ assists and 1,000+ points — Roenick is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame, most likely because he never shied away from speaking his mind during his playing career. This team-issued card predates Roenick’s mainstream “junk wax era” rookie cards by one season.
1989-90 Buffalo Sabres Alexander Mogilny
Alexander Mogilny, like fellow ’89-90 rookie Jeremy Roenick, is also a member of the 1,000-Point Club who was snubbed by the Hockey Hall of Fame. He scored 1,032 points (473 goals, 559 assists) in 990 games. Mogilny also won the Stanley Cup in 2000 and the Lady Byng Trophy in 2003. The Sabres issued two team sets during the 1989-90 season, one sponsored by Campbell’s Soup and another sponsored by Blue Shield Insurance, pictured above. Both of these cards precede Mogilny’s true rookie cards by one season.
1989-90 ProCards AHL #127: Tie Domi
Tie Domi got into more fights during his NHL career than any other player. There are conflicting reports as to how many, with HockeyFights.com stating that Domi had 270 regular season fights, while other sources claim that he had more. (It’s a tough stat to track, since “fights” sometimes end up as roughing penalties and not fighting majors.) Regardless, Domi was one of the most-feared fighters in the NHL from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, and even stuck around for 1,020 games. If there was a Hall of Fame for Enforcers, Domi would be in its inaugural class! This ProCards minor league card, which pictures Domi with the AHL’s Newmarket Saints, predates his NHL rookie card by one year.
1989-90 7th Inning Sketch Memorial Cup: Scott Niedermayer
In 1990, new trading card company 7th Inning Sketch made a set of cards focusing on players from the 1990 Memorial Cup Tournament. One card is of a 16-year old Scott Niedermayer, two seasons before he’d become an NHL regular. This also pre-dates Niedermayer’s 1990-91 Upper Deck rookie card by one season. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013.)
1989-90 Kings #1: Wayne Gretzky
No list of significant hockey cards from this season would be complete without at least one Wayne Gretzky card. His team-issued card from the 1989-90 season is the first to show The Great One wearing the captain’s “C” for the Kings. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999.)
1989-90 Penguins Team Issue Mario Lemieux
Likewise, what list of significant hockey cards from the 1989-90 season would be complete without at least one of Mario Lemieux? Even though 1989-90 was a bit of an “off year” for Lemieux due to an injury, he still had a 46-game point scoring streak — second only to Wayne Gretzky’s 51-game point streak from the 1983-84 season — and was named MVP of the 1990 NHL All-Star Game. Not bad for a guy who was playing while wearing a back brace! This team-issued card, sponsored by Foodland grocery stores and the Pittsburgh Police Department, is tougher to find than Lemieux’s other card from that season. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.)
1989-90 Topps / O-Pee-Chee #189: Guy Lafleur
How great was Guy Lafleur? He scored 50 or more goals for six consecutive seasons, retired in 1984, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988, then decided he wanted to play again — and so he did. Lafleur made a successful comeback with the Rangers in 1988-89 at age 37, then played another two seasons with the Nordiques before retiring for good. This is Lafleur’s first card as an active player since 1984-85. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.)
What do you think of this list? Which cards mentioned above are your favorites? Is there a hockey card from the 1989-90 season that you think should have been on this list? Leave a comment and let me know. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk. ■