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Upper Deck Lone NHL Maker for Now

by Paul Angilly
August 22, 2005

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Even with the NHL lockout finally resolved, there's still a possibility that only one company - Upper Deck - will be producing trading cards for the 2005-06 season.

In The Game president Dr. Brian H. Price issued a statement on the company's web site (and also in an e-mail to customers) describing its efforts to land a license for the coming season. As he reports:

"In The Game's NHLPA license was terminated as of June 30, 2004. From that date on, we were unable to produce product bearing the images of NHLPA players. In addition, the Be A Player trademark license was canceled as well. ...

"When the NHLPA canceled our license, we asked the NHL for a license to produce hockey trading cards featuring retired players. We were granted a one-year license. This license ended June 30, 2005. We thank the NHL for this opportunity and were pleased to create and distribute our NHL Franchises product along with the 5th Edition of the Ultimate Memorabilia.

"Along with a great number of other companies and individuals, we struggled during the lockout. It was a difficult decision for us to make to remain in business as we knew our revenues would diminish significantly but our overhead could not follow in proportion.

"We felt we had a commitment to the hockey trading card industry. We did not want to close our doors as Pacific did. We did not want to take a sabbatical as Topps has done. We had dedicated collectors, dealers and distributors who needed our support. This made a difficult financial decision easy for me. ...

"That brings us to the present. We have requested licenses from both the NHL and the NHLPA. To date, we have been told that under the new CBA that all licensing has to be agreed to by both parties. We have also been told that although trading card licensing is an important issue, the parties have yet to be able to finalize the matter as there have been more important issues to deal with over the last month. We respect that and continue to stand ready, willing and certainly able should the parties make a positive decision on our license.

"I hope to have more positive information available for our supporters in the very near future but I wanted to bring everyone up to date at this time."

In 2003-04, the last season played before the lockout, In The Game was one of four companies producing NHL cards, along with Upper Deck, Topps and Pacific.

Pacific released a 2004-05 set in mid-July of 2004, before going out of business for good not long after that. Topps had its NHL licenses expire after the 2003-04 season and elected, with the lockout looming, to sit out the past year rather than seeking a renewal. A Beckett Media report last month quotes Topps spokesman Clay Luraschi as saying the company has yet to determine its future plans.

Even without In The Game or Topps, there will be plenty of hockey cards to chase this season as Upper Deck has a full slate planned - as many as 18-20 different sets. The 2005-06 Be a Player set from Upper Deck is already out, with nine more brands due out by the end of the calendar year: Victory, Power Play, Artifacts, ESPN, Upper Deck Series 1, Black Diamond, MVP, Trilogy and SPx. Possible returning brands for the first five months of 2006 include Upper Deck Series 2, SP Authentic, Rookie Update, Ultimate Collection, Ice, SP Game-Used, Classic Portraits and Honor Roll.

That's quite a lineup, but what's missing is the variety that In The Game or Topps could provide.

Even without an NHLPA license to produce cards of current players last season, In The Game produced some memorable sets, including Heroes & Prospects (featuring widely-pursued cards of 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick Sidney Crosby), NHL Franchises and Ultimate Memorabilia. It would be a shame if the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement prevented a return of those brands.

It would also be a loss for the hobby if the In The Game-Action set introduced in 2003-04 did not return. That massive 600-card set offered 20 cards per team (plus additional rookie redemption cards), giving true hockey fans a chance to collect cards of many players that didn't appear in other sets.

Topps, along with former Canadian-based manufacturer O-Pee-Chee, has a hockey card history that dates back more than half a century, so it would certainly represent another major loss to the hobby if the granddaddy of the card companies did not get a new license.

Personally, I'd be happy to see the total number of hockey card sets produced each year get drastically slashed. But I'd much rather see that done by limiting each of three companies to five brands each, rather than see Upper Deck parade out a series of 18 or more sets with little consideration given to each brand's uniqueness.

Topps offering special hobby-shop set: As part of its season-long celebration of its 50th consecutive pro football card set, Topps has announced that it is designating Sept. 10-11 (the NFL's opening weekend) as "Turn Back the Clock" Weekend.

On those two days, fans and collectors can go to their local "Home Team Advantage" hobby shop and purchase a special pack of Topps 50th Anniversary Football cards for just a nickel (the same price for a pack of football cards in 1956 - Topps' first year producing NFL cards).

The 5-cent pack will include the first five cards of a 22-card set, with each card styled after the 1956 Topps design. The first five featured players will be Joe Namath, Joe Montana, John Elway, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

Every week following "Turn Back the Clock" weekend, the same hobby shop will have one new 50th Anniversary football card from the special 22-card set. The only way to get the card is to purchase a pack of any 2005 Topps football product.

To find the nearest HTA hobby shop, call 1-888-GO-TOPPS or log onto www.topps.com and use the HTA store locator.

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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