The Top 10 Hockey Collectible Stories of 2021

Yes, we are already one month into 2022, but I wanted to take a look back at hockey card collecting in 2021. Just like the year before it, almost every story in 2021 was affected in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. But not all of it was bad! More people got involved — or re-involved — with card collecting. This led to some new ideas and opportunities. Here are the top 10 hockey collecting stories of 2021. 

1. Gretzky Rookie Card Sells for $3.75 Million

[Photo Credit: Heritage Auctions]
If this story feels like a bit of deja vu, you are not wrong. In late 2020, a 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie card, graded Gem Mint 10 by PSA, sold for $1.29 million in an auction by Heritage Auctions. In May 2021, another PSA 10 Gretzky rookie sold for nearly three times that amount in a private sale brokered by Heritage Auctions. This Gretzky RC sold for $3.75 million, which included the buyer’s premium. Two years ago, a hockey card selling for over a million bucks seemed crazy; now it seems almost quaint by comparison. 

2. NHL & NHLPA Extend Upper Deck’s Card License 

Considering that Fanatics was able to acquire the licenses for MLB, NFL, and NBA licensed trading cards in rapid succession, it seemed like the NHL and NHLPA would also jump ship from its current licensee, Upper Deck, and onto the Fanatics bandwagon. Instead, the League and Players’ Association doubled down and extended their current deal with Upper Deck. Sure, extending a deal is anti-climactic, but it is still very important. Card collectors love stability in their hobby. Just imagine if Upper Deck Young Guns were replaced by Fanatics “Fun Guns” or whatever. Collectors would hate it, I’m sure. Fortunately, Upper Deck and Young Guns will be involved with making NHL hockey cards for the foreseeable future. 

3. The Return of the Sport Card Expo

Dominik Hasek was one of the marquee guests at the Fall 2021 Sport Card & Memorabilia Expo [Photo Credit: Steve Menzie / Sport Card & Memorabilia Expo]
After cancelling three shows in a row — and replacing them with Virtual Sport Card Expos that were held online — the Sport Card and Memorabilia Expo in Toronto made its triumphant return in November 2021. The show boasted an impressive lineup of autograph guests, including Dominik Hasek and Marian Hossa, and had around 10,000 attendees. The Fall 2021 Expo was a success, thanks much in part to many new fans who became collectors during the pandemic. 

4. The Return of the National

The 2021 National had over 50,000 attendees. [Photo Credit: Ray Schulte / Schulte Sports]
The National Sports Collectors Convention also made its return for the first time since 2019. The show was hosted in Chicago and had over 50,000 attendees. It did not have a lot of former hockey players as autograph guests (just Bobby Hull, Brett Hull, and Chris Chelios), and many Canadian dealers and buyers did not venture into the U.S. because of Canada’s quarantine rules at the time. Still, there were a lot of hockey cards to be found at the National, including at the Puck Junk booth

5. COVID Delays Some Sets, Cancels Others

Upper Deck Logo

The COVID-19 pandemic has hindered card production for all trading card companies, including Upper Deck. Many sets, like 2020-21 Skybox Metal Universe and 2020-21 O-Pee-Chee Platinum, were delayed by several months. Upper Deck was so backlogged in its production schedule that it ended up cancelling 2020-21 Ice and 2020-21 Trilogy, while also delaying 2021-22 Upper Deck Series One from its usual November release date to at least February of 2022. According to a press release issued on Twitter, Upper Deck does not expect production to improve until the middle of 2022. Considering how popular trading cards right now, it feels strange to see a company cancel a few sets. 

6. Upper Deck, PHF Announce Hockey Card Deal

The Premier Hockey Federation (which was formerly known as the National Women’s Hockey League) and Upper Deck announced a trading card partnership in December 2021. Upper Deck will make a set of physical and digital PHF trading cards for the 2022-23 season. Upper Deck also issued a three-card set of PHF All-Star Team Captains on Friday via its e-Pack platform. When Upper Deck does make a PHF set this fall, it will be the first time a set of cards is dedicated to a professional women’s hockey league. 

7. The Return of Pro Set Hockey

As you all know, I love the old Pro Set Hockey cards, so it was exciting to see Leaf issue not one but TWO Pro Set Hockey sets in 2021. The 2020-21 Pro Set Memories Hockey hobby boxes contained two autographed cards and two foil-stamped “buyback” vintage Pro Set Hockey cards from the 1990s. The 2021-22 Pro Set Memories Hockey blaster boxes had a 10-card set and one memorabilia card. It is always nice to see an old friend come back into your life.. 

8. National Hockey Card Day 2021

Given that Upper Deck cancelled some of its hockey card releases, it was a relief that they still went forward with National Hockey Card Day (NHCD) in 2021. Fans could get a free pack of exclusive hockey cards from participating dealers in the U.S. and in Canada. Each country had its own unique, 16-card NHCD set, and, like last year, some packs randomly had inserts of Victory Black Rookies or NHL mascots. This was the 10th year in the U.S. and 13th year in Canada for the popular promotion. 

9. Lafreniere Rookie Cards Fizzle Fast in 2021

Remember how the Alexis Lafreniere Young Guns rookie card from 2020-21 Upper Deck Series One was THE card to have in late 2020? Well, it cooled off almost as quickly as it heated up. When Series One came out in late 2020, Lafreniere’s Young Guns — his first rookie card on the market — was selling for as high as $600. The price started to drop once the market got saturated with them, and then drop even more due to his lackluster play during the first few months of his rookie season. His Young Guns card crashed to around $80 before it started to climb again, while his other rookie cards didn’t quite catch fire. (And he still doesn’t have a Cup RC on the market.) Of course, if and when Lafreniere starts putting up the points, it will increase interest in his rookie cards. 

10. Woman Arrested for Fake Lafreniere Cards

Not long after Alexis Lafreniere made his NHL debut, a woman in Quebec was arrested for printing and selling fake Lafreniere “pre-rookie” cards. The fake card shows Lafreniere as a 13-year old player in the 2013 Quebec International Pee-Wee Tournament. You know hockey card collecting has become a big deal again when it attracts a criminal element. 

What do you think was the biggest hockey collectibles story of 2021? Or did I leave out something that you thought was the biggest story from the past year? Leave a reply and let me know — and thank you for reading! 

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Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

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