A lot happened in the humble hobby of hockey card collecting in 2020. Not surprisingly, most of it was because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which cancelled card shows and affected releases, while also forcing many people to work at home or shelter at home. This, in turn, led to many rediscovering their card collections from their youth, rekindling their interest and causing a surge that the card collecting hobby hasn’t seen in 30 years. Here are the biggest 10 hockey collectible stories from 2020.
1. Gretzky Rookie Nets Over $1 Million
A Wayne Gretzky rookie card, graded a PSA 10 Gem Mint, sold at auction in December 2020 for $1.29 million dollars via Heritage Auctions. This has brought hockey card collecting into the international spotlight, as many major media outlets in the U.S. and Canada reported on the auction, which in turn has increased interest in hockey card collecting.
2. The Spring and Fall Sport Card Expos Go Virtual
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many card and collectibles shows were cancelled in 2020, including the Spring and Fall Sport Card Expos. The twice-annual Expo, held in Toronto, is considered North America’s largest hockey show. Steve Menzie, who runs the show, made the two 2020 Expos into “virtual” events. Thousands of collectors connected with dealers virtually and in real-time to buy hockey memorabilia, and guest panels were streamed. While this was no substitution for going to the Expo in person, this was a good short-term solution for a difficult situation.
3. The National is Cancelled
Although The National is THE biggest sports collectibles show, it isn’t particularly known for being a hockey hotbed like the Expo. Still, it is such a large show that it attracts buyers and sellers of all sports memorabilia, including hockey. The National was scheduled to be held in Atlantic City, New Jersey in July and August of 2020, but was initially postponed until December due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Towards the end of the year, with the pandemic not slowing down, The National for 2020 was officially cancelled, with plans to resume the show in 2021 in Chicago.
4. NHLPA Bends “Rookie Card Rules”
Normally, a player has to appear in one game before he can appear on a licensed NHL trading card. This is the rule that the NHL Players’ Association established nearly 20 years ago so that card sets wouldn’t be overloaded with prospects, draft picks and other players who might never go on to play in the NHL. However, the NHLPA relaxed this rule a bit, allowing any player who was on an NHL team’s “Bubble” roster during the 2020 NHL playoffs to be included in 2020-21 Upper Deck Series One hockey cards, More importantly, first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere was allowed to appear in Series One to help push sales of the product, which was released around two months before the start of hockey season. Speaking of whom…
5. Lafreniere Young Guns Sets Hobby on Fire
After several delays and production issues, the 2020-21 Upper Deck Series One Hockey set was released towards the end of November, with the Young Guns rookie card of Alexis Lafreniere as THE card to push sales. And push sales it did. Longtime collectors, newly-minted collectors, and speculators all rushed to get the first rookie card ever of the first-overall pick. Soon after its release, the Lafreniere Young Guns card was selling for $600 on Ebay. The card has since settled down quite a bit in price, but it is still selling for a lot, considering that Lafreniere only made his debut earlier this week.
6. Game Dated Moments Gets Historical
During the NHL’s “pause” of the 2019-20 season, Upper Deck changed the focus of its weekly print-on-demand Game Dated Moments set. Since nothing was happening in the NHL at that time, Game Dated Moments cards focused on great moments in NHL history, as well as anniversaries of milestones by current players.
7. Topps Changes Plans for NOW Stickers
Topps introduced a hockey sticker set called Topps Now, where each week it sold a pack of nine stickers that chronicled the biggest NHL highlights from the previous week. The stickers could be put into an album, and there were even chase, parallel and bonus incentive stickers. But Topps Now went on hiatus when the NHL paused its season. When the NHL returned to play, so did Topps Now stickers. However, it scrapped its plans for finishing out the album, and instead overwhelmed collectors with a pack of stickers nearly every day. Collector interest dwindled, with reported of sales of Topps Now Hockey sticker packs going from selling over 1,000 packs per week at the start of the season to about 130 packs towards the end of the playoffs.
8. Emergency Goalie Featured on Hockey Cards
David Ayres made national headlines when he appeared between the pipes as an “emergency backup goaltender” for the Carolina Hurricanes. Collectors wondered if he would appear on any hockey cards — and got a quick answer. Ayres was featured on a card in Upper Deck’s Game Dated Moments set, as well as a Young Guns rookie card issued later that season.
9. National Hockey Card Day 2020
Upper Deck’s popular promotion, where fans could get a free pack of hockey cards from a participating retailer, returned in 2020. This was the 9th year in the U.S. and the 12th year in Canada for NHCD, which included random inserts of Victory Black parallel rookies and cards of NHL mascots.
10. Chronology Vol. 2 “StyreneGate” Controversy
Upper Deck Chronology Volume 1 was well-received by hockey card collectors when it was released July 2019. However, that enthusiasm waned when Chronology Volume 2 came out in 2020. Volume 1 had “Letterman” cards which featured a non-game used jersey letter framed in a shadowbox display, both in autographed and unautographed versions. But due to COVID-19, Upper Deck could not secure the cloth letters for use in Chronology Volume 2, so they used cheap-looking styrene plastic letters instead. Collectors complained on social media — where else? — about the cheap-looking cards, which look more like sign letters you’d stick on your mailbox than something cut off of a jersey.
What do you think was the biggest hockey collectibles story of 2020? Or did I leave something out? I probably did, as I was just limiting this list to 10, but maybe something should have been on this list but wasn’t. Leave a reply and let me know — and thank you for reading! ■
Special thanks to Tim Parish for help with this list.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk. ■