Hockey cards exploded in popularity during the 1990-91 season. Baseball, football and basketball cards had steadily gained momentum during the 1980s. In 1990, it was hockey’s turn. Upper Deck, Score and Pro Set joined incumbents Topps and O-Pee-Chee to release hockey card sets that season. This resulted in an arms race between the five companies, who tried to outdo each other and make cards of the best prospects and hottest rookies before their competitors did.
As a result, a slew of great rookie cards were issued that year. The 1990-91 NHL season had arguably the best rookie class of any year for hockey card collectors. The NHL rookie of the year winners from 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1994 all had rookie cards made during the 1990-91 season. And over a dozen future Hall of Fame players had rookie cards in ’90-91.
The downside was that most hockey cards from 1990-91 were produced in such vast amounts that it is considered the start of the “Junk Wax Era” for hockey cards.
Yet not all hockey cards issued during the 1990-91 season are worthless. In addition to some great rookie cards, there are also some hidden gems and a legendary chase card. Plus, any card on this list with a high PSA or BGS grade can fetch a premium on the secondary market.
But graded or ungraded, these are the 35 best hockey cards from 1990-91 that every hockey card collector should own.
The Must-Have Hockey Cards of 1990-91
A list this long needs to be broken down into shorter lists. First up are the must-have cards from 1990-91. If you collected cards during that season, these five were atop everyone’s want list then, and are still iconic today.
1. 1990-91 Pro Set Stanley Cup Hologram
Thirty years later, the Stanley Cup Hologram remains the ultimate chase card for hockey card collectors. It was inserted into packs of 1990-91 Pro Set Hockey Series One trading cards and limited to 5,000 hand-numbered copies. You could open a whole 20-box case and never find this card. I bought more Pro Set than I care to remember that year, and never got this card. In fact, no one I knew had even seen this card. I never saw it at card shops or at card shows in the 1990s. It wasn’t until the internet and eBay that I was able to see what it looked like and finally get one. The Pro Set Stanley Cup Hologram is as beautiful as it is rare. The colors practically explode off the surface of the card when the light hits it just right. (See this video that shows you how great the card looks in direct light.) Hockey’s “Holy Grail” is also the “holy grail” of 1990s hockey cards.
Related: The Holy Grail of Hockey Cards
4.1990-91 Score #440: Eric Lindros RC
2. 1990-91 Score #439: Martin Brodeur RC
Statistically speaking, Martin Brodeur is the greatest goaltender to play in the NHL. While many will argue that Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek were better, Brodeur has the best numbers out of any of them. When he retired in 2015, Brodeur was the all-time NHL goalie leader for wins (691), shutouts (125) and regular season games played (1,266). He won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1994, the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie four times and the Jennings Trophy as the NHL’s goals-against average leader five times; tied for the most in NHL history. Despite five different companies making NHL trading cards in 1990-91, only Score had the foresight to include a card of the future legend in its “Draft Picks” subset. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.)
Related: Career in Cards: Martin Brodeur
3. 1990-91 Upper Deck #356: Jaromir Jagr RC
Jaromir Jagr has the second-most points in NHL history; yes, more than Gordie Howe or Mark Messier, and second only to Wayne Gretzky. Jagr is the greatest right wing and the greatest Czech-born player in NHL history. He is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion and a five-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer. The only thing keeping Jagr out of the Hall of Fame is that he is still playing professional hockey in Europe at age 49! The guy just keeps going. Jagr had rookie cards in four of the seven sets issued in 1990-91, but his Upper Deck “Top Ten Draft Picks” card is probably his best, as it shows Jagr shaking hands with then-Penguins GM Craig Patrick – literally the moment he became a Penguin. (Will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame when he retires.)
If there was an “it” card in 1990-91, well it was the Eric Lindros “Future Superstar” rookie card made by Score. This was hockey’s equivalent of the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. or 1989-90 Hoops David Robinson rookie cards. Next to the Stanley Cup Hologram, the Eric Lindros rookie card was THE cards to have. Lindros was so highly touted as a prospect that he was a lock to be picked first overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft — which he was. Score signed the 17-year-old Lindros to an exclusive deal. Only Score could issue cards of Lindros in NHL trading card sets until he played in his first NHL game. (And they even put Lindros in a set of baseball cards, too.) Like Brodeur, Score was the only company to make a Lindros rookie card in 1990-91. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016.)
Related: Career in Cards: Eric Lindros
5. 1990-91 OPC Premier #30: Sergei Fedorov RC
When the 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee Premier Hockey set made its debut in early 1991, the cards were quickly snapped up and sold on the secondary market for ridiculous prices. Packs that originally sold for 59 cents were now selling at $10 each – and the season wasn’t even over! A big part of the reason was Sergei Fedorov, who was an early frontrunner to win rookie of the year before being surpassed by goaltender Ed Belfour. While O-Pee-Chee Premier cards from 1990-91 are by no means rare, they were produced in lesser quantities than the other cards that year, which were ridiculously overproduced. Fedorov went onto an amazing career that included four individual awards and three Stanley Cup Championships, and scored 1,179 points in the regular season. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.)
Related: Every 1990-91 Hockey Card Set Ranked
Hockey Errors and Variations
With several new companies making hockey cards for the first time in 1990-91, of course there were going to be mistakes. Pro Set made tons of mistakes in its inaugural set; many were corrected, some were not, and most are plentiful. However, two cards in particular — one error, one corrected — stand out as two of the most-valuable cards from the 1990-91 season.
6. 1990-91 Pro Set #246: Paul Gillis
(Bloody Nose Error/Variant)
If you think that it is strange to see Paul Gillis on a list of top hockey cards from 1990…well, you’re right. Gillis was an average NHLer back in the day and this isn’t even his rookie card. What makes this Pro Set card so special is that, next to the Stanley Cup Hologram, it is one of the hardest hockey cards to find from 1990-91. This variant erroneously lists his uniform number as 37, but more importantly, pictures Gillis with a trickle of blood coming out of his nostril, hence the name “bloody nose variant.” The card was corrected early in production, updating his number as 23 and airbrushing out the blood. Overall, it is an unremarkable card, nowhere near as cool as the 1989 Score Billy Ripken FF baseball card, but is legendary for its sheer scarcity amongst the millions of Pro Set cards printed that year and can sell for upwards of $100!
7. 1990-91 Pro Set #369: Shayne Corson All-Star
Speaking of unremarkable, it is also borderline ludicrous that a CORRECTED card would make this list. Montreal Canadiens center Shayne Corson played in the 1990 NHL All-Star Game and was thus included in Pro Set’s All-Star Game subset. However, his name was erroneously spelled “Shane” on his All-Star card. The mistake went unnoticed and uncorrected for most of the season but was eventually fixed. This card may be scarcer than the Paul Gillis card, but isn’t as popular because, uh, no blood, presumably. Still $10 to $20 for a single Pro Set card is nothing to ignore.
Rookie Cards of All-Time Greats
Many all-time great hockey players have rookie cards in the various hockey card sets released in 1990-91. But of the five companies, most collectors really only care about O-Pee-Chee Premier, due to it being produced in somewhat lower quantities, or Upper Deck, since that company is the only one still making hockey cards today. Here are the most-popular rookie cards to collect from the 1990-91 season.
8. 1990-91 Upper Deck #55 Ed Belfour RC
Ed Belfour had a monster rookie season in 1990-91. He won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, as well as the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie and the Jennings Trophy for having the lowest goals-against average. He would go onto a stellar career, winning the Vezina again and the Jennings three more times — and a Stanley Cup Championship with the Dallas Stars in 1999. “Eddie the Eagle” had 484 wins and 74 shutouts during the regular season. Curiously, Belfour did not have a card issued in the 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee Premier set, making his Upper Deck card his best RC by default. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.)
Related: Ed Belfour Originally Wore Number 1
9. 1990-91 OPC Premier #50 Jaromir Jagr RC
Jaromir Jagr’s Upper Deck rookie card may be more iconic, but his O-Pee-Chee Premier rookie card is arguably more valuable on the secondary market today. It was also the first card to show Jagr playing for the Penguins, whereas his earlier cards issued in the Upper Deck and Score sets picture him at the Draft. (Will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame when he retires.)
10. 1990-91 OPC Premier #74 Mike Modano RC
11. 1990-91 Upper Deck #46 Mike Modano RC
Mike Modano is the all-time leading scorer among U.S.-born players. He scored 561 goals and 813 assists for 1,374 points during the regular season and won the Stanley Cup in 1999. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.)
12. 1990-91 Upper Deck #525 Sergei Fedorov RC
Center Sergei Fedorov was one of the most-exciting players of the 1990s, and was known both for his offensive skills and his defensive abilities. He scored 483 goals and 696 assists during the regular season in his 18-year NHL career and won the Stanley Cup three times. He was also named the league MVP in 1994 and won the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward twice. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.)
13. 1990-91 Upper Deck #526 Pavel Bure RC
Known as the “Russian Rocket,” Pavel Bure won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year for the 1991-92 season. Yet, his rookie card appears in the 1990-91 Upper Deck set. Bure played in the World Junior Championships midway through the 1990-91 season, and Upper Deck was sure to include him in its Young Guns subset in the High Number Series that came out in early 1991. Bure eclipsed the 50-goal mark five times in his injury-shortened 12-year NHL career and was a two-time winner of the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.)
14. 1990-91 OPC Premier #114 Mats Sundin RC
15. 1990-91 Upper Deck #365 Mats Sundin RC
Mats Sundin was the first European player to be drafted first overall when the Quebec Nordiques selected him with the first pick in 1989. He is the highest-scoring Swedish player of all time with 1,349 points (564 goals and 785 assists) in 1,346 games. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.)
16. 1990-91 Upper Deck #461 Scott Niedermayer RC
Scott Niedermayer was one of the best defensemen of the 1990s and 2000s. He won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top blueliner in 2004, was named a First Team All-Star three times and a Second Team All-Star once. Niedermayer won the Stanley Cup four times during his career; the last time, in 2007, he was was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. While he did not officially become an NHL rookie until the 1992-93 season, Niedermayer has a rookie card in the 1990-91 Upper Deck Hockey set as a part of the World Junior Championship subset. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013.)
17. 1990-91 OPC Premier #6 Rob Blake RC
18. 1990-91 Upper Deck #45 Rob Blake RC
Rob Blake was another standout defenseman in the 1990s and 2000s. He won the Norris Trophy in 1998, was a First Team All-Star once and a Second Team All-Star three times. Blake won the Stanley Cup in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche, gold medals with Canada at the 1994 and 1997 World Championships, and a gold medal with Canada in the 2002 Winter Olympics, making him a member of the Triple Gold Club. Blake was also a two-time team captain of the Los Angeles Kings and later the team captain of the San Jose Sharks. Oh, and he also appeared in the awful comedy The Love Guru, but we won’t hold that against him. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.)
19. 1990-91 Upper Deck #178 Mark Recchi RC
Mark Recchi is the 12th all-time leading scorer in the NHL, notching 1,533 points over his 22-year career. He won the Stanley Cup in three different decades: in 1991 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes and 2011 with the Boston Bruins. He is also the oldest player to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Finals when he scored for the Bruins at age 43. Recchi did not have a rookie card in O-Pee-Chee Premier in 1990-91. He did have rookie cards in Topps, O-Pee-Chee, Score and Pro Set, but those are a dime a dozen. His Upper Deck rookie card stands out as the best. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2017.)
20. 1990-91 OPC Premier #100 Jeremy Roenick RC
21. 1990-91 Upper Deck #63 Jeremy Roenick RC
Jeremy Roenick scored 513 goals and 703 assists in his 20-year NHL career, and is one of the greatest American hockey players of all time. Although “JR” has been eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame since 2012, he has not yet been inducted because his outspoken nature ruffled feathers amongst hockey’s “old guard.” Eventually, he will be in the Hall of Fame, as Roenick was one undoubtedly one of the most-exciting players in the 1990s. (Inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.)
Related: Career in Cards: Jeremy Roenick
22. 1990-91 OPC Premier #51 Curtis Joseph RC
23. 1990-91 Upper Deck #175 Curtis Joseph RC
Curtis Joseph is another player who is inexplicitly not yet in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Consider that he is fifth all-time among NHL goaltenders with 454 regular-season wins wins. That is more regular season wins than Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito and Grant Fuhr, who are all in the Hall of Fame. So, it is only a matter of time when the Hall comes to its senses and inducts Joseph, too.
Related: Career in Cards: Curtis Joseph
24. 1990-91 Upper Deck #123 Sergei Makarov RC
The next three players on this list — Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov and Viacheslav Fetisov — were three of the most-dominant hockey players at international competitions in the 1980s as a part of the USSR’s famed “Green Unit.” While playing for the Soviet National Team, Sergei Makarov won gold medals at two Winter Olympic Games, two World Junior Championships, and eight World Championships. He entered the NHL in 1989-90 and won the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year. His selection was controversial because Makarov was 31 at the time. This prompted the NHL to make a new rule– unofficially known as “The Makarov Rule” — that limits Calder Trophy eligibility to first-year players under the age of 26. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016.)
25. 1990-91 Upper Deck #128 Igor Larionov RC
Igor Larionov was also a member of the Soviet Union’s “Green Unit,” and later a member of the Detroit Red Wing’s lethal “Russian Five” quintet that dominated the NHL in the late 1990s. As a member of the Soviet Team, Larionov won gold medals at two Winter Olympic Games, two World Junior Championships, and four World Championships. He won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings three times and thus is a member of the Triple Gold Club, since he won the Cup, an Olympic gold medal, and a World Championship gold medal. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008.)
26. 1990-91 Upper Deck #176 Viacheslav Fetisov RC
Viacheslav Fetisov was the longtime captain of the Soviet Union’s hockey team in international competitions, also a member of the “Green Unit,” and was vocal in his desire for he and his teammates to leave the USSR to play in the NHL. Soviet authorities literally threatened to send Fetisov to Siberia if he did not comply, but nonetheless stood up for himself and his teammates, who eventually got to play in the NHL. Fetisov won gold medals at two Winter Olympic Games, three World Junior Championships and seven World Championships. As a member of the Red Wings’ “Russian Five,” he won the Stanley Cup twice and, like teammate and countryman Larionov, is also a member of the Triple Gold Club. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.)
27. 1990-91 OPC Premier Tie Domi RC
Tie Domi was one of the top enforcers from the 1990s. He has the most fighting majors (333) of anyone to play in the NHL, is third all-time in penalty minutes, and routinely fought bigger players (Domi was a bit short for an enforcer at 5’8″.) Yet, he also managed to play in over 1,000 games, score just over 100 goals, and make at least $1 million dollars per year during the last seven years of his career. If there was a Hall of Fame for Enforcers, Domi would be in its inaugural class. Domi’s only rookie card is found in the 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee Premier Hockey set.
Inserts, Offbeat and Oddball Cards
The next five cards will sure as heck will impress your friends if you own them, as they are all significant and a little off the beaten path when compared to Topps, Pro Set and the other brands of hockey cards that year.
28. 1990-91 Chicago Blackhawks Vladislav Tretiak
Vladislav Tretiak is the greatest goalie to never play in the NHL, though he appears on one trading card wearing an NHL team jersey. He won gold medals at three Winter Olympic Games and nine World Championships, and was the first player from the Soviet Union to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 2000, he was named the best Russian hockey player of the 20th century by the International Ice Hockey Federation. The Chicago Blackhawks hired Tretiak as their goalie coach in 1990 and photographed him wearing a Blackhawks jersey for its annual card set. While Tretiak did have a sticker in the 1979 Panini World Champions set, this is the first card of Tretiak issued in North America. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989.)
29. 1990-91 ProCards AHL/IHL #409 Dominik Hasek PRE-RC
Dominik Hasek is arguably the best goalie to play in the NHL, and hands-down the best European NHL goalie of all time. He won the Vezina Trophy six times, the Jennings Trophy three times, the Hart Trophy two times, the Pearson Award two times, was named a First Team All-Star six times and won the Stanley Cup twice. Hasek spent most of the 1990-91 season playing for the Chicago Blackhawks’ minor league team, the Indianapolis Ice, and thus his first-ever hockey card is found in the 1990-91 ProCards AHL/IHL set. This predates his actual rookie card by one year. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.)
30. 1990-91 Topps/O-Pee-Chee Box Bottom Uncut Panel #EFGH – Patrick Roy, Mario Lemieux, Mike Modano Al MacInnis
“Box Bottom” cards printed on the bottoms of trading card boxes (hence the name) are notoriously difficult to find in good condition. These cards were many times damaged while being shipped to a store, or subjected to shelf wear when the box was displayed at a store. Even worse, most times these cards were poorly cut apart by children with scissors! This particular four-card panel is special because it features four Hall of Fame players: Patrick Roy, Mike Modano, Mario Lemieux and Al MacInnis. Finding this panel intact and in tip-top shape is no easy task. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame: Roy, 2006; Modano, 2014; Lemieux, 1997, MacInnis, 2007.)
31. 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee Red Army Inserts #19R: Sergei Fedorov RC
This was actually Sergei Fedorov’s first-ever hockey card, as it predates his cards found in other sets by a few months. The Soviet Red Army insert cards were seeded one per pack of 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee Hockey cards, so this card isn’t particularly difficult to find. However, a factory mishap caused many Red Army insert cards to have a pinhole scratch on the front.
Thus, if you buy an unopened box of 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee cards today hoping to pull a PSA 10 Gem Mint Sergei Fedorov rookie card…well, it might have this defect straight out of the pack. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.)
32. 1990-91 7th Inning Sketch QMJHL #222: Martin Brodeur PRE-RC
Martin Broduer was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1990, but didn’t break into the NHL full-time until 1993-94. He spent the 1990-91 season playing for the St. Hyacinthe Lasers of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and has a card in the 1990-91 QMJHL set issued by 7th Inning Sketch. This card is notable because it is the second-ever card of the future Hall of Fame, record-breaking goalie. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.)
Great Cards of the Great Gretzky
No list of hockey cards from 1990-91 would be complete without hockey’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky. There were over 80 cards of The Great One issued during that season — most printed by the truckload — but these three cards in particular are significant and would nicely round out any collection of hockey cards from 1990-91.
33. 1990-91 Pro Set Player of the Month
During the 1990-91 season, Pro Set issued four different “Player of the Month” cards, including a card of The Great One. It uses a different photo and modifies the design used on Gretzky’s regular Pro Set card from that year. This card was given away at an L.A. Kings home game in 1991 and was limited to 25,000 copies. While that number may seem excessive in this day and age of cards that are sometimes serial-numbered out of 100 copies or less, 25K is actually quite a small print run when considering how many Pro Set cards were cranked out that season. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999.)
34. 1990-91 Score NHL Rookie and Traded #110T: Wayne Gretzky 2000 Career Points
Score Hockey cards from 1990-91 are not hard to find. The Score NHL Rookie and Traded boxed set — or singles from that set, like this card — is also not hard to find, though it arguably was produced in slightly smaller quantities, as it was released late in the season. This card commemorates Gretzky scoring his 2,000th point early in the 1990-91 season. Not counting promo cards, this is the least-common Gretzky card made by Score. And since this card was issued only in boxed sets, it is easy to find in pristine condition. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999.)
35. 1990-91 Topps / O-Pee-Chee #1 : Wayne Gretzky “Number One!”
This card, which was found in both the 1990-91 Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets, commemorates Wayne Gretzky scoring his 1,851st career point, breaking Gordie Howe’s NHL scoring record. It is significant because it was also the first officially-licensed trading card to picture Gretzky as a member of the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association; the first pro team The Great One played for, albeit only briefly, in 1978. (Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999.)
So, which hockey card from 1990-91 is YOUR favorite? Did you collect back in 1990-91, and if so, which card were you most-excited about back then? And is there a card from 1990-91 that you really think should be on this list? Leave a comment and let me know!
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk. ■