When I started collecting sports cards in the mind 1990s I would purchase packs of hockey, basketball, football and baseball cards, but when I wanted to save up for a box, it would always be for hockey. Even most of the packs that I bought were of hockey cards, but I did dabble in the other sports as well. This trend continued into the mid-2000s when the sports card industry started to boom and this was the first time I splurged and spent large portions of my earnings on the hobby that I love. I spent some of this money on other sports, but my primary focus was still on hockey. This lasted until a couple of years ago when I completely avoided hockey products for a various number of reasons such as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lack of a hobby presence and the over saturation of the hockey card market.
I came back to collecting hockey cards this year with a vengeance and that inspired me to do this article on my favorite hockey card products of all time. This list will be based on the impact of the rookies in these sets both at the hobby and at the NHL levels as well as if these products include the things I enjoy in any sports card product. Autograph patches, a catchy design and unique game used cards are some of these things.
Currently, hockey card products are a lot different than the other sports since one of the major sports card manufacturing companies, Panini lost their license in 2014 and no longer produces hockey cards. This makes Upper Deck the lone producer of hockey cards and even though in the past they saturated the market with niche products, this year they focused on making their staple products better, with positive results. As a result, the hockey card market is now in a place in which collectors can focus on what is good and they do not need to worry about where to spend their time and money when it comes to products. Moreover, some collectors may believe that the exclusion of Panini in the hockey card market is a bad thing, but the biggest complaint I hear from hobby friends is how so many of the new products being released are the same as those released in the past, with only a couple of minor changes. You know what they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
8. 2000-2001 Pacific Private Stock Titanium
This is the only product on my list that comes before the sports card boom of the mid-2000s and there are a couple of reasons why it sticks out for me. Firstly, it was one of the the first products that included one game used card per pack and even though there were a lot of one color jerseys included in this product, there was also the chance to land very nice patch and stick cards. The other reason why this product stands out for me is that this product illustrates the strong business side of the current sports card market. Pacific Trading Cards Ltd. was bought out by Playoff in 2004 which in turn was acquired by Panini in 2009.
This does not take away from the pleasure I had from obtaining as many of these cards from sports card shows and packs, but it does reflect how much the hobby has changed. The checklist of this product was also very broad and included cards of superstars as well as players such as Mika Alatalo, who was one of the nicer patch cards I had for a very long time during my early collecting years.
7. 2005-2006 Upper Deck Series One
The first 2006 product on the list that reflects the sports card boom is a product that I was looking for one card, a Sidney Crosby Young Gun. The odds are that you should receive one in every seven boxes and I was lucky enough to do so. The Young Gun set continues to be one of the most collected sets in the hockey card world and values continue to reflect this both on eBay and for those trying to acquire them in trades and sales in person.
Essentially, there is nothing else in this set that appeals to the collector other than the Young Guns, but Upper Deck has started to include short printed inserts and game used cards to this product to make it more appealing. Nevertheless, it is the Young Guns that will forever drive this product and make it a staple in the hearts of hockey card collectors.
6. 2005-2006 Upper Deck The Cup Hockey
The only reason why this hobby trending product is not higher on my list is because I was only able to purchase a couple of tins of it. The 2005-2006 NHL rookie class is perhaps the best in NHL history and The Cup is the holy grail of hockey sports card products. This rookie class included future hall of famers such as the aforementioned Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Henrik Lunqvist, as well as all star NHL players such as Jeff Carter and Duncan Keith.
The past two years of collecting for hockey enthusiasts has been a pleasure with the introduction of generational players such as Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. However, I will argue that the 2005-2006 rookie class surpasses the rookie classes of this year and last since it is filled with Stanley Cup winners and some of the best players of all time. Only time will tell if the young stars that have come into the NHL will reach the status of those from the past. One thing is fore sure, the NHL is in a very good place right now and has the kind of youthful star power to become a force for many years to come.
My three tins of this product also taught me a lesson to always do my research before trading or selling my cards. I was fortunate enough to pull a Zach Parise rookie patch autograph, but for some reason I traded it for an Alexander Steen rookie patch auto. At the time Steen was the best prospect on the Toronto Maple Leafs, so I felt like I had to have the card. Since then, Steen has been traded to the St. Louis Blues and had a decent NHL career, but Parise is one of the best American born NHL players of all time with almost 700 points in his career.
Throughout the years I have also been able to acquire rookie patch autographs from this set of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Wojtek Wolski and some others. These cards are unfortunately no longer in my possession, but I wish they were!. Nevertheless, The Cup remains one of the most desired products in the hobby and this years’ product just might be more popular than this one with the influx of the Toronto Maple Leaf standouts.
5. 2005-2006 SP Game Used Hockey
When there was not as many one pack products as there are today in the hobby, I bought a few packs of this SP Game Used Hockey and managed to pull a nice patch card of hall of famer Sergei Federov. Since then, SP Game Used has become a staple brand for Upper Deck and this edition is probably one of its best. I purchased quite a bit of this product and other than the strong rookie class, it also had very nice memorabilia cards which is sometimes lacking in this product.
What I liked most about this product were the quad memorabilia cards which I believe were the first time Upper Deck included them in this product. I remember pulling a quad memorabilia card that included Martin Brodeur which I traded for an SPX rookie auto jersey of one of my favorite NBA players, Chris Paul. This product also had memorabilia autograph cards in both jersey and patch combinations.
Rookie Exclusives autographs were also introduced in this years’ installment for the first time and I kept these cards in my personal collection for a few years. I enjoyed the simple design of this subset and I am not sure why Upper Deck removed this from SP Game Used, since it included all the big rookies and was received well by the hobby when it was around.
Another thing that I just noticed is that the 2016-2017 years version of SP Game Used Hockey has 41 subsets whereas the 2005-2006 version only had 18. That is quite the contrast and here in lies one of the biggest issues I have with the current state of the hobby. Not only are there too many products released by Upper Deck and Panini, every year, but there far too many subsets which has made the value of older cards such as from this set insignificant. Upper Deck does not suffer from over saturation as much as Panini does, but it is still a problem in my opinion.
4. 2016-2017 Upper Deck SP Authentic Hockey
If I were to win the lottery and could spend my winnings on anything I wanted to with no strings attached, the first thing I would purchase is a case of this product. I have already explained what impresses me about this product in a previous article, but the bottom line here is that SP Authentic Hockey is one of the most anticipated releases of the year for any sports card collector and for that reason alone it deserves at least one spot on this list.
There has been some debate that the heavy influx of Toronto Maple Leaf rookies in this product and others this year ruins it for collectors of the other teams. My response to that is since a lot of collectors look to sell their cards and Toronto rookies are always in demand, there really are no losers in that aspect. A collector of another team can take whatever Toronto cards they acquire and move them for cards in their personal collection quite easily. Moreover, the numerous cases of hockey products I have seen this year, there is always pretty good balance of hits for every team and at the end of the day each team has an equal chance to get hits in group breaks and boxes. Lastly, I did not notice any rookies that played games for their teams this year to be excluded from hockey products, but I might be wrong on this end however.
One criticism I have of this product is the lack of patch autographs. Most cases I have seen have one or two of these and even though the swatches are usually very nice looking, there should be more of these per 8 box inner case. In the past, patch autographs were 2-3 or more per case and I believe this to be a good number. Pulling a nice patch autograph just makes an any break that much better, even if it is of a bad player.
3. 2005-2006 Upper Deck SPX Hockey
This was the first product that I was obsessed with and I attempted to complete the entire rookie autograph jersey set. I wound up coming only the Sidney Crosby and Jeff Carter short, and to do this day almost completing this set is one of my biggest hobby accomplishments. This product has evolved over the years to include autograph patches of these rookies and other premium subsets, but this installment put SPX on the map as a desired brand.
Unfortunately, over the years many hockey brands have taken a major hit in the secondary market due to the over saturation of the market and SPX is a good example of this. When I was nearing the completion of this set and was only missing the Crosby, Carter and the Alexander Ovechkin cards, I was contemplating if I should shell out some money and purchase them. Typically, I do not purchase single cards because I believe there is no fun in buying a card and I would much rather spend my hobby money on boxes.
After a couple of months, I saw a local sports card store with the Ovechkin that I needed and at the time I paid $300 for it. This card can now be bought for less than $150 on eBay and a similar trend has taken place for the other rookies as well except for Crosby, who still sells for around the $500 that he did when this product was first released. Superstars maintaining value in sports card products is nothing new and it is common to see older products have only a couple of players worth chasing. That is of course if you can find boxes of older products.
2. 2006-2007 Upper Deck SP Authentic Hockey
This edition of SP Authentic is arguably the best because of the dual rookie class that it included. The list of future hall of famers included the already mentioned star studded 2005 class, but on top of that there were the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Anze Kopitar and two-time Stanley Cup winner Phil Kessel. The 06-07 rookie class was not as stacked as the 2005 class, but that class is perhaps the deepest in NHL history. I purchased 14 boxes of this product and among the cards that I pulled were two of the biggest pulls of my life. One was a Sign of the Times autograph of Sidney Crosby and another was a Dual Sign of the Times autograph of Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. The latter card is one card I wish I held onto, especially considering what I got in return in trade for it. Off the top of my head all I can remember are rookie patch autos of Jordan Staal from 2006-2007 Fleer Hot Prospects and a Rainbow Cup Patch Auto of Paul Stastny numbered to 26. I also recall getting offered a Cup Rookie Patch Auto of Dion Phaneuf out of 99 from one of the forums that I was active on, but none of these cards measures in value in comparison due its extreme rarity. In all my years of collecting and going to sports card shows and talking to fellow collectors, I have never heard anyone seeing this past treasure of mine.
Regardless, 2006-2007 SP Authentic Hockey is one of the deepest and most complete hockey card products of all time and continues to sell at around $200 a box if you can find one. This makes me ponder if this product was released today how much would a box of it cost all things considered? With the depth of the past two rookie classes and if the product mimicked what the SP Authentic brand embodies , it is most likely that this product would be well over $200 a box at release date. SP Authentic over the past two years has experienced a major price jump per box from $120 or so in the past, to almost $200 at some local sports card stores.
1. 2008-2009 Upper Deck SPX Hockey
It really is a no brainer for me to pick this as my favorite set of all time across the board for any sport because it is the only product in which I completed an entire set. Over the time- period of approximately two years, I obtained all the rookie cards in this product. This included the rookie autograph jerseys, the rookie jerseys and the base rookies. I got most of these cards mostly through trades on Hobby Insider, but I also grabbed a bunch of cards off eBay, from my personal breaks and from trades and purchases at local sports card shows. This was also the first time I used eBay to purchase cards and it was a positive experience for me.
Finishing off the set was not really all that difficult since the set was popular and most of the top rookies did not sell or trade for all that much at the time. Most of the autograph jersey cards were in the 5-$20 range and the bigger guys such as Claude Giroux and Drew Doughty were only a little bit higher. This set has now become obsolete and most of these autograph jerseys now sell for less than $5, but this does not take away from the mission that I accomplished.
The last autograph jersey that finished off my set was Steven Stamkos. I was not willing to pay in the neighborhood of $300 for this card so I was hoping I could pull it in a box at my local card store. Thankfully, I did and my reaction was priceless. I ran up and down the store two times, screaming like a baby and could not believe that I had finally completed my rookie card mission. This set stayed in my possession for a couple of years, but after that I decided to sell it.
There is another reason why this set is near and dear to me. I sold the set to one of the nicest and most genuine people I have ever met in the hobby, and on top of that he was a true collector and someone I really respected. He gave me a very good deal, and even included a couple of cards for my Los Angeles Rams personal collection, which I still cherish. This transaction is what sports card collecting should be about. Everyone gets cards they want and things like profit are not important. I also attempted to complete the 07-08 SPX Hockey rookie set but came nowhere close to completing that project.
Collecting hockey cards has always been my focus, and the only reason why I stopped collecting hockey cards for a couple of years earlier this decade was because I was frustrated with what Panini was doing, and there was not much to collect in terms of Toronto Maple Leafs. I started collecting hockey again in 2016, and it has once again become my main passion. My opinions on what makes a good sports card product might not be the same as the typical collector, but I hope my personal experiences show how much these products mentioned meant to me. To me collecting sports cards is not just about just about spending money on boxes, group breaks and singles on eBay. It is more about the time a collector spends with other collectors and completing their personal collections.