Re-imagining the 1990 NHL Entry Draft

This month is the 25th anniversary of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. It was one of the deepest drafts in NHL history. Headlining were four highly-touted forwards and a goalie All five were considered can’t-miss prospects; more on them in a bit. But the two biggest names selected in 1990 were Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr.

So, let us pretend that we could re-do the first round of the 1990 NHL Draft, hindsight being 20/20 and knowing what we know now. Imagine we get a copy of Grays Sports Almanac, a la “Back to the Future: Part II,” photocopy it 21 times, go back in time (the hard part of this scenario), and give a copy to each NHL GM in 1990. Here is how the first round of that draft probably would have looked.

Continue reading “Re-imagining the 1990 NHL Entry Draft”

It’s Time to Rename the NHL Awards

trophy_title_imageEvery June, when the NHL doles out its annual awards to the game’s best players, the argument of renaming the NHL’s trophies is always brought up. And not without good reason. Almost all of the awards are named after either players who skated nearly 100 years ago, or are former executives — many of whom did all they could to keep player salaries rock-bottom during the Original Six Era.

That said, it is high time to rename the NHL awards. Here’s a rundown of every major NHL award, why it needs to be renamed and a suggested new name.

Continue reading “It’s Time to Rename the NHL Awards”


RoenickJERSEY CARDS! Love ‘em or Hate ‘em, you’re bound to come across them if you spend any appreciable time (and money) opening packs. Sometimes you luck out and score the star player of your favorite team! YAY! And sometimes you pull some dude you don’t know on a team you dislike. BOO! But hang on to him anyways, because you never know when Nathan Gerbe will get picked up by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Then there are the jersey cards that make you scratch you head when the swatch of jersey does not match the picture on the card. Like, not even close. Continue reading “Franken-Cards”

With Morin gone, Byfuglien trade officially a bust for the Blackhawks


The Chicago Blackhawks traded winger Jeremy Morin to the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Tim Erixon on Sunday. But this was more than a simple player swap; it was the symbolic end to the Dustin Byfuglien trade from four years ago. At this point, it is safe to say that trading Byfuglien was a bust for the Blackhawks. Continue reading “With Morin gone, Byfuglien trade officially a bust for the Blackhawks”

New Blackhawks Winter Classic Jersey Almost Gets It Right

Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews models the 2015 Winter Classic Jersey [Blackhawks / NHL]

The Chicago Blackhawks unveiled their new jerseys for the 2015 Winter Classic Wednesday on Twitter, then later on their website. And I love it. It is awesome. It is almost perfect.

Almost. Continue reading “New Blackhawks Winter Classic Jersey Almost Gets It Right”

My attempt at hockey artistry, circa 1992

devils_forwardhawks_goalie devils_goalie
I was cleaning out my filing cabinet and found some old drawings I did in high school. Art was always my favorite subject, and I took it all four years. I would try to draw or create hockey images whenever possible. During my junior year — right around the time of the 1992 Winter Olympics — we had to make a few blended colored pencil drawings for an assignment. I made three, using hockey as my inspiration. Continue reading “My attempt at hockey artistry, circa 1992”

Topps rips off their own hockey design

Topps released its 2014 Baseball Archives set this week, and usually I don’t pay attention to baseball cards. But Topps did something with this set that really annoyed me: they used a classic hockey card design in the new Archives baseball set — specifically, this design:

“Check me out, dawg. I’m retro!” [Picture: Ebay]

Yes, that is the classic 1971-72 Topps and O-Pee-Chee design, re-purposed for a 20-card insert set of baseball cards — cheapening it in the process.

Everyone who reads this blog knows how much I love the 1971-72 design. It is the best hockey card design from the 1970s. (If you don’t believe me, read this first and then we’ll talk.)

Best. Design. Ever.

Using this design for a baseball set would be like putting Sidney Crosby on a 1952 Topps Baseball card, or Alex Ovechkin on a 1989-90 Hoops Basketball card.


Five years ago, In The Game created a set of trading cards called 1972: The Year In Hockey which was reminiscent of the 1971-72 Topps/OPC design. I don’t know the full story, but I understand that In The Game got into a legal entanglement with Topps for making cards that also used ovals, bright colors and puffy letters. As if Topps invented — or outright owns — any of those design elements.

A card from the 1972: The Year In Hockey set by In The Game

The 1972 set by In The Game was a hit with old school collectors who either bought cards in 1971-72 (that was before I was born), or collected that set later on. Making a new hockey set look like an old hockey set makes sense — especially when done right.

Anyway, would the type of collector who buys Topps Archives Baseball cards really give a damn about baseball cards that look like old hockey cards? I think they’d be more excited about new baseball cards that look like old baseball cards. Or the insert cards based on the Major League movie. I’m not even a baseball fan and I want those cards!

2014 Topps Archives insert cards [Picture: Ebay]

But these cards…irritate me.

Frankly, I”m tired of card companies re-using old designs because they don’t even do it right anymore.Think about Upper Deck’s half-hearted release of Fleer Retro last year. Some of the “retro” cards were great, but many of the inserts were dumb because they weren’t even based on hockey designs, like Intimidation Nation (based on a football set) and the God-awful Noyz Boyz (based on basketball cards).

Yes, Topps made hockey cards in 1971-72, and can use that design all they want. They can use it on baseball cards or FIFA World Cup cards or Spongebob Squarepants cards or whatever the heck they make these days.

But just because they CAN doesn’t mean they SHOULD.

I’ve been a hockey fan for 25 years today

sal_1989Most hockey fans don’t remember how long they’ve been a fan of the sport, because hockey was always there, always a part of their life. But for me, growing up in Chicago, it was different. The first time I saw a Blackhawks game was 25 years ago today — purely by accident. Continue reading “I’ve been a hockey fan for 25 years today”

Five ways NHL Center Ice could be better

center_ice_logoThis month, I got the bill for NHL Center Ice, the pay-per-view subscription package that lets hockey fans watch every out-of-market NHL game. For $160, it’s a pretty good deal. But like all things, it could be better. In fact, the NHL could make Center Ice a lot better without even trying that hard. Here are five changes that would make Center Ice go from good to awesome. Continue reading “Five ways NHL Center Ice could be better”

Five great effects of the Gretzky trade

1988-89 O-Pee-Chee Leaders #11 - Wayne GretzkyTwenty-five years ago today, Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. As an American hockey fan, I feel like I owe a lot to Wayne Gretzky. His presence on a U.S.-based team helped grow the sport here in the states tremendously. The effects of his trade are still felt in this country today.

Here are five effects of the “Gretzky Trade” that made hockey better, especially in the U.S.:

How many other hockey players have hosted Saturday Night Live?

1. Gretzky gave hockey a “go-to” reference in the United States.
If you asked a random person on the street in a U.S. city to name a hockey player back in 1987, they probably would have answered you with a blank stare. Sure, a hockey fan would have been able to rattle off an entire roster, but not a lot of people outside of hockey circles knew much about the sport, let alone who the greatest player was.

Gretzy’s trade to the Kings gave the second-largest market in the U.S. the best hockey player ever. People took note, and Gretzky became that “go-to” hockey reference that  the U.S. so sorely needed.

  • Gretzky hosted Saturday Night Live in 1989; the first and only hockey player to do so
  • Gretzky was the “hockey character” in the God-awful Saturday morning cartoon ProStars, which also featured animated versions of Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson.
  • In the 1990 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, one of the turtles makes a remarks, “Who the heck is that, Wayne Gretzky?” when meeting goalie-masked vigilante Casey Jones. A generation of kids watching that film who had no idea who Wayne Gretzky even was would soon find out.

The list goes on. The mainstream population in the U.S. may not have ever watched a hockey game, but at least they could now name the game’s best player.

1988-89 Topps #120 - Wayne Gretzky
The trade that changed trading cards.

2. Gretzky’s trade changed trading cards.
Gretzky’s trade changed hockey cards in two ways. First, up until the late 1980s, Topps and O-Pee-Chee would “doctor” a photo if a player was traded in the offseason, so as to make the player “appear” that he was with his new team. They’d either do a “head swap,” or paint a new uniform over the old one.

But you don’t do that to the Great One.

Instead of painting a Kings uniform over a game-action shot of Gretzky — or worse, transplanting his head on another player’s body — the Topps card company used a photo of Gretzky from a press conference on their 1988-89 trading card.

Other companies would follow suit. Hoops used a similar photo for their 1989-90 card of David Robinson. The using of press conference photos became an accepted practice in the trading card industry when a game-action photo could not be secured on time.

But another big change to the hockey card industry was the increased demand for hockey cards in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Two years after Gretzky’s trade to L.A., three more companies got the license to make hockey cards. Hockey card collecting was no longer a two-horse race, with Upper Deck, Score and Pro Set joining Topps and O-Pee-Chee.

Here in the U.S., hockey cards went from being sold only in card shops to being sold everywhere: grocery stores, toy stores, sporting goods stores, comic book stores, gas stations, you name it. This would never had happened if Gretzky was still in Edmonton.

Be like Mike? Some of us wanted to be like Wayne.

 3. Gretzky’s new endorsement deals raised hockey’s profile in the U.S.
Yes, Wayne Gretzky was endorsing products long before his trade to Los Angeles — including this hilariously-bad 7-Up commercial from Canada — but now he was endorsing products in the U.S., too.

Having a recognizable name and face to promote hockey-related products raised hockey’s profile significantly. Grocery stores carried Upper Deck trading cards, endorsed by Gretzky. Toy stores had the Wayne Gretzky Overtime Hockey table hockey game and the Wayne Gretzky Hockey video game for Nintendo. Shoe stores sold Gretzky-endorsed Ultra Wheels in-line skates and L.A. Gear street hockey shoes.

Street hockey shoes? Tell me about it. Do you think any company would have tried selling street hockey shoes if Gretzky wasn’t with the Kings?

Suddenly, Los Angeles noticed that it had a hockey team.

4. Gretzky helped expansion in traditional non-hockey markets
The L.A. Kings — along with the now-defunct Oakland Seals — became NHL teams in 1967 because the television networks wanted the NHL to have a west coast presence. The NHL also did this to thwart their biggest rival at the time, the “old” Western Hockey League. Hockey languished in California in the 1970s and 1980s until Gretzky came along.

Five years later, California had two more teams. Former Kings owner Bruce McNall may have had a lot to do with that. In his book Fun While it Lasted, he discusses pushing for expansion in California so that he’d get a large chunk of the expansion fee money paid by the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Mighty Ducks, since they were encroaching on the Kings’ TV market.

Face it: no one in Anaheim or San Jose would even be interested in hockey if it wasn’t for Gretzky being on the Kings in the first place. During the 1990s, Gretzky’s presence in the U.S. would help grow the sport in other “non-traditional” markets like Florida and Texas.

Photo by battlecreekcvb via Flickr / Creative Commons.

5. Gretzky inspired the next generation of American players
More kids wanted to play hockey in the United States after Gretzky was traded to the Kings. The numbered of registered hockey players in California grew from 4,830 players  in 1990-91 (the earliest year that USA Hockey has data for) to 22,305 players in 2010-11 (source). California is the seventh-largest region for hockey players in the United States.

Gretzky’s presense in L.A. was felt throughout the rest of the country, too. According to USA Hockey, the number of registered hockey players in the U.S. grew from 195,125 players in 1990-91 to 421,399 players in 1998-99 — Gretzky’s last year in the NHL. Since then, it has climbed to 510,279 registered players in the U.S.

This has also impacted the number of Americans drafted by NHL teams. From 2000 to 2012, 743 U.S.-born players were drafted by NHL teams. In the 2013 draft, 53 U.S.-born players were drafted, accounting for just over one-fourth of all players picked. How many of these young men were inspired by watching Gretzky play?

On August 9, 1988, Canada lost their greatest athlete, but hockey in the United States gained just what it needed to help the sport grow. Twenty five years later, the growth hasn’t stopped.