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NHL Hockey Cards Coming With or Without a Hockey Season

by Paul Angilly
February 15, 2005

There may be no NHL hockey this season, but there's more NHL hockey cards on the way.

According to a report from Beckett.com, reprinted on the NHL's official web site, Upper Deck has confirmed that it has been given the "Be a Player" brand license by the NHL Players Association and plans to produce a 2004-05 Be a Player Signature Series.

Last fall, In The Game announced that as of June 30, 2004, its license to use the Be a Player brand name was terminated by the NHLPA, as was its license to produce cards featuring active players in their NHL uniforms. The Be a Player brand name remained property of the NHLPA.

As the only company currently licensed to produce NHL cards of current players, and as the originator of the Be a Player brand, Upper Deck was the logical choice to resurrect what has become one of the most popular issues of the hockey season. Whether its popularity will continue when there is no season remains to be seen.

The original 45-card Be a Player boxed set from Upper Deck, licensed by the NHLPA but not the league, was released late in 1994, during the NHL lockout that wiped out the early part of the 1994-95 season. The cards pictured players in their street clothes or non-NHL uniforms.

The brand became famous in the hobby in early 1995 - after the lockout was settled - when Upper Deck made it into a larger set which was the first product in any sport to include one autographed card of a major-league player per pack.

Upper Deck released another Be a Player set for the 1995-96 season, again with one autograph per pack, before Pinnacle took over the license (and the one-auto-per-pack concept) to issue sets in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

The original Pinnacle Brands company went out of business after that (with its remnants later purchased by Playoff), but the Be a Player brand lived on when In the Game began issuing the set in 1998-99.

Last season, In the Game combined the traditional Be a Player Signature Series with its In the Game-Used brand which premiered the previous season to create the 2003-04 In the Game-Used Signature Series set - a highly-priced product that included one game-used memorabilia card and one autographed card per pack.

While the brand was a success for the company, many hockey card collectors - including myself - were disappointed with the move. One of the things that made the traditional Be a Player Signature Series popular among many collectors is that it offered certified autograph cards of literally hundreds of players, as many as 10 or more per team, with most of them readily available and affordable.

The In the Game-Used Signature Series set still included most of the top players, but the more limited checklist failed to include many of the other local favorites that fans actively chased after with previous issues.

In short, what had been a popular brand among team set collectors and hockey fans became an issue that only investors with thick wallets could enjoy.

It looks like the 2004-05 edition of Be a Player Signature Series, due out this spring, will put the cards back in the hands of fans. According to the Beckett.com report, it will carry a suggested retail price of $9.99 per pack. Every pack will include one personally autographed card, and for the first time some of the autographed cards available will include signatures from two, three or four different players.

According to the Beckett.com report, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla and long-time Upper Deck spokesmen Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe are all confirmed signers for the product, with many more top names expected to follow.

Hopefully for the team set collectors and fans among us, it'll once again include many of the local favorites as well.

Topps offering Patriots set: Just as it did this past fall for the Boston Red Sox, Topps is now offering a Super Bowl XXXIX Champions Set commemorating the New England Patriots' victory.

The 55-card set, which has a suggested retail price of $19.99, includes 38 player cards, a team card, five season highlight cards, five playoff highlight cards, five Super Bowl highlights, one Super Bowl MVP card (Deion Branch) and an oversized, individually wrapped team card (3 1/4 by 4 9/16 inches).

The set is available now at www.topps.com (for shipping on March 7) and will also be available at hobby stores and retail chains nationwide next month.

Other Pats commemorative cards: Just as it did with last year's baseball playoffs, Topps issued special eTopps Event Series cards commemorating this year's NFL playoffs and Super Bowl. Included were four cards showcasing the Patriots' postseason triumphs: Card No. 8 (of 12) pictures Tom Brady and Tedy Bruschi in their divisional playoff win over the Colts, card No. 10 features Corey Dillon and the AFC Championship Game victory over the Steelers, card No. 11 pictures Rodney Harrison in the Super Bowl and card No. 12 showcases Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Deion Branch. All four cards can be found on eBay for about $3 to $4 each, less than their initial release price of $4.50.

Also available at Topps' online store (www.etopps.com/Store/) is a Topps Chronicles card highlighting the Patriots' most recent Super Bowl victory. Topps Chronicles is a new set being offered this year. Every Monday in 2005, collectors can purchase a trading card depicting the previous week's most dynamic news story. Each card in the Topps Chronicles collection is available exclusively online for $4.75 each, with monthly and yearly subscriptions to the program offered at discounted rates. Previous Chronicles cards have honored tsunami relief efforts, the USC football team's national championship, Mahmoud Abbas' election as president of the Palestinian Authority, Johnny Carson's death and the elections in Iraq.

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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