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NHL Strike Will Take a Big Toll on Hobby

by Paul Angilly
August 31, 2004

With the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement set to expire on Sept. 15 and the threat of a lockout looming, neither side in the labor battle has shown much of a sense of urgency to make a new deal. Now it’s becoming clear that even if a new agreement is reached fairly quickly, the expected work stoppage will take its toll on the hockey card market.

Reports on various Internet trading card sites and a detailed report in the recently-printed October 2004 issue of Beckett Hockey indicate that Pacific Trading Cards is going out of business, at least temporarily, and the hockey-only trading card manufacturer In the Game may be soon to follow. Also, Topps will not produce any more hockey sets until the labor situation is resolved -- and possibly not even then -- leaving Upper Deck as the lone producer of NHL cards for the foreseeable future.

In short, there were 45 different NHL hockey card products released for the 2003-04 season, but that total could be reduced to as few as five different sets this year.

Pacific released the first trading card set for the 2004-05 season last month, but that could end up being the company’s last issue as the company was set to sell all of its printing and packaging equipment, most of its office equipment and an extensive photo library in an auction last week. Reportedly, the company has already laid off most of its workers and will move out of its Seattle-area office by the end of the month.

According to the website, Pacific founder and president Mike Cramer has said that while the company may not be gone for good, it is "basically going into hibernation." He reportedly indicated that when the NHL sides reach an agreement, he will attempt to renew Pacific’s NHL license and open up shop again in a smaller facility, with production handled by a contracted printing company.

In addition to the NHL, Pacific had licenses with the new WHA, the AHL, the Canadian Football League and TNA wrestling. Those lines will likely also be discontinued unless the company regains a more lucrative major league license.

Also on the critical list is In the Game, which entered the market in 1998-99 as the latest creator of the "Be a Player" line of cards and has since resurrected the Parkhurst brand name, among other sets.

The company has not issued any definitive statements regarding 2004-05 products and no information regarding new releases appears on its website. However, the Beckett article quotes In the Game president Brian Price as saying, "We are currently working on several projects but we have no way of knowing if any of them will come to fruition."

According to the Beckett article, Topps -- which does not yet have a licensing deal for 2004-05 but could probably get one if it so chooses -- will also refrain from issuing any new sets until the NHL is back in action. The article quotes company spokesman Clay Luraschi as saying sets such as the base Topps brand are already in the development stages for the 2004-05 season, although the company is taking a "wait and see" approach to actually printing anything.

That just leaves Upper Deck, which was scheduled to release its new $25-per-pack SP Legendary Signatures brand (devoted exclusively to retired players) late last week -- the first of what is expected to be four to seven brands for 2004-05.

According to the Beckett article, the Upper Deck-brand set (the company’s first of the year to feature current players) is scheduled for release in early December, with Upper Deck Classics, a $5-per-pack product, coming in late December. One to four more brands are expected to be released in 2005, depending upon the labor situation.

Here’s a look at the card sets released by each company for the 2003-04 season (number of releases in parentheses):

In the Game (13) -- Be a Player Memorabilia, Be a Player Ultimate Memorabilia, In the Game Action, In the Game Used Signature Series, In the Game VIP (Internet sales only), In the Game VIP Rookie Debut (Internet sales only), Original Six (separate issues for Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York and Toronto) and Parkhurst Rookie;

Pacific (13) -- Calder, Complete (as a cross-brand insert), Crown Royale, Exhibit, Heads-Up, Invincible, Luxury Suite, McDonald’s Atomic (as a special Canadian-only restaurant promotion), Pacific, Prism, Quest for the Cup, Supreme, Private Stock Reserve and Private Stock Titanium;

Topps (5) -- Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects, C55, Pristine, Topps and Topps Traded; and

Upper Deck (14) -- Beehive, Black Diamond, Classic Portraits, Honor Roll, Ice, MVP, Premier Collection, Rookie Update, SP Authentic, SP Game-Used, SPx, Trilogy, Upper Deck and Victory.

Pacific’s 2004-05 set is nice, but also somewhat disappointing. At 300 cards it is the smallest-ever base set for the Pacific brand (which at one time totaled 450 or more cards per year). The fronts are attractive, but the backs only include bare-bones personal information (height, weight, etc.) along with complete career statistics. For the younger players, that leaves a lot of open space that could have and should have been filled by some biographical comments and/or career highlights.

The 10 "Cramer’s Choice Awards" found just 1 per 721 packs remain the top chase set, although there are also jersey cards and a retro 16-card "Philadelphia" insert set.

Upper Deck’s SP Legendary Signatures includes a 100-card base set with an average of one autograph card per pack.

Among the highlights are "Miracle Men" autographed cards featuring members of the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team, found only in boxes distributed in the USA. Non-autographed "Miracle Men" cards are found one per pack.

Upper Deck’s base-brand set is expected to be similar to past years’ efforts, including short prints that may include some rookie cards.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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