Sports Market Report

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PSA Set Registry

Collecting the 1983 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Card Set

More Than Meets the Eye

by Kevin Glew

If you asked a hockey card collector to rank the top sets of the 1980s, they're likely to put the 1983 O-Pee-Chee set near the bottom of their list.

Without a big-name rookie like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux or Patrick Roy, this 396-card offering has seemingly been overshadowed by its contemporaries. But if you take a closer look at this set, you'll discover there's more to it than meets the eye.

With Phil Housley's recent induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, this set now boasts the rookies of two Hall of Famers (Scott Stevens (#376) is the other) and three other players - Steve Larmer (#105), Brian Bellows (#165) and Guy Carbonneau (#185) - that warrant serious consideration for the shrine.

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"There are some terrific players [with rookie cards] in the set," said Robin Taylor, who owns the No. 7 Current Finest, 1983 O-Pee-Chee Hockey set on the PSA Set Registry. "There are three players [Larmer, Bernie Nicholls, Bellows] that scored more than 425 goals, but they just aren't your big, superstar names."

If you're looking for superstars, there are plenty of non-rookie singles of ice legends in this issue, including nine cards that feature Gretzky, as well as early pasteboards of Paul Coffey, Mark Messier and Ray Bourque. In all, there are more than three dozen Hall of Famers represented in this issue.

The regular 1983 cards showcase the player's name and team at the top, while their position is indicated in a stick blade behind the team logo, which is printed inside a puck design. The O-Pee-Chee logo is generally positioned on the bottom-right corner.

"I like the design; it's simple," said James Wade, who has assembled the No. 9, Current Finest 1983 O-Pee-Chee set on the PSA Set Registry. "When cards have too much going on, I don't like them. I like the fact that the 1983 cards have the name and information up at the top and it's easy to read ... The card design is smooth and clean, and the white borders look good."

The focus of the card fronts, however, is the photo. Many of the action shots were snapped in Washington when teams were playing the Capitals, but Taylor points out that several Calgary Flames players are pictured in their practice "Molson" jerseys.

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Many of the most memorable action scenes highlight goalies. For example, Tony Esposito's card (#99) flaunts a photo of the Hall of Fame netminder with his trapper extended, while the first card of Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Bob Froese (#265) presents him moving across his crease appearing to direct a puck wide.

Transaction notations appear on the fronts of some cards. The bulk of these are trade updates, but the Marc Tardif single (#305) indicates that he is "Now Retired."

The horizontal card backs flaunt blue text on a predominately light green background. Two cartoon hockey players adorn the top corners, with the player name, position and team sandwiched between them. O-Pee-Chee stepped up their research efforts from the previous year to unearth some fascinating facts about the players that are shared in a box on the left side. For example, Ken Morrow's single (#13) reveals that he's the "only player ever to win an Olympic Gold medal and Stanley Cup in the same year (1980)," while Randy Gregg's pasteboard (#28) informs us that he's "the only medical doctor playing in the National Hockey League."

Yearly stats are located on the right, followed by biographical information. These bilingual bios volunteer information such as the players' charitable endeavors, off-season jobs (see accompanying list), famous athletic relatives (see accompanying list) and their personalities. Al Secord's card (#112), for instance, shares that while he's a noted tough guy on the ice, he's "one of the game's quietest and easygoing people away from the rink." Later in the set, we learn that St. Louis Blues forward Jorgen Pettersson (#318) is the "team funny man."

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The player vitals can be found near the bottom of the backs, along with the copyright information, O-Pee-Chee logo and NHL and NHLPA logos.

Several subsets are also part of the 1983 O-Pee-Chee set. The 1982-83 Trophy Winners (#203 to #209), Record Breakers (#210 to #214) and League Leaders (#215 to #222) are grouped together, while Team Leader cards are at the start of each team grouping followed by a highlight card that shines the spotlight on a standout performance.

Cards from the 1982-83 Stanley Cup finalists - New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers - lead off the set. The ensuing cards are sequenced alphabetically by team city and then by the player's last name within each squad. Some late transactions resulted in players' cards being updated to reflect their new teams.

This was the second consecutive year that Topps didn't release a hockey card set. The 1983 O-Pee-Chee Hockey cards were distributed in 10-card/25-cent wax packs with gum and were also available in 51-card rack packs, which consisted of three separate batches of 17 cards wrapped in cellophane.

It's evident from reading the card backs that the 1983 NHL season was underway when these cards were released. For example, on Montreal Canadiens defenseman Bill Root's card (#196), it states: "This is Bill's first full season in the National Hockey League, but he scored two goals last year with the Canadiens in 48 games." This sentence refers to his 1982-83 statistics, so the "first full season" being referred to is 1983-84.

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It's also clear from the transaction notations that these cards were not printed until at least after October 28, 1983. That was the date that the Minnesota North Stars dealt Bobby Smith to the Montreal Canadiens for Keith Action and Mark Napier. The cards of these three players have been updated to reflect this transaction, which is the latest to be acknowledged in this set.

As mentioned earlier, there are two Hall of Famer rookies - Housley (#65) and Stevens (#376) - in this set. Though neither is difficult to uncover in high-grade, the Stevens rookie is much more coveted. Of the 618 graded examples, there are 76 PSA GEM-MT 10 Stevens rookies.

The Carbonneau card (#185) is the most elusive of the aforementioned potential Hall of Famer rookies in top condition. This card is located in the middle of the top row of a print sheet, a position that generally makes cards susceptible to flaws. This explains why many of the Carbonneau cards are found with poor centering. Of the 169 submitted, there have been 16 PSA 10s.

It should also be noted that the Larmer rookie (#105) actually features a photo of his Blackhawks teammate Steve Ludzik, while Ludzik's card (#106) exhibits a photo of Larmer. These cards were never corrected, but the Larmer card with the Ludzik photo is still widely considered Larmer's rookie.

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Several other players that enjoyed noteworthy NHL careers also debuted in this issue, including Charlie Huddy (#30), Murray Craven (#120), Bernie Nicholls (#160), Craig Ludwig (#190), Mats Naslund (#193), Chris Nilan (#194), Pelle Lindbergh (#268), Walt Poddubny (#339), Patrik Sundstrom (#361) and Tony Tanti (#362).

The Lindbergh is the most sought-after rookie out of this batch. At 26, the Flyers goalie seemed destined for superstardom when he died from injuries sustained in a car accident on November 10, 1985. His 1983 card features a great photo of him in full goalie gear, including his white mask, poised to guard his net.

"I've never seen a PSA 10 of the Lindbergh card go up for auction," said Taylor. "He was a terrific goalie. He was definitely going to be a star."

Of the 374 Lindbergh rookies evaluated, there have been 37 PSA 10s.

Also, as noted earlier, when you include all of his subset singles, Gretzky appears on nine cards. Jim Feeley, who owns the registry's No. 2 Current Finest, 1983 O-Pee-Chee set, says one of Gretzky's most coveted cards is the Oilers Highlight card (#23), which pictures "The Great One" with all-star teammate Mark Messier. Of the 857 submitted, there have been 68 PSA 10s.

Wade considers Gretzky's regular issue single (#29) to be the key card in this set. This card offers a close-up of the Oilers legend getting ready for a face off.

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 "He's the greatest player of all time, and this is his fifth-year card," said Wade. "It's a very sought-after card, and when you flip it over, you'll see that this [1982-83 season] was one of his best years."

There are 74 PSA 10s of the regular Gretzky card, one of which commanded $207.50 on eBay in October 2015.

On top of Gretzky, there are 38 other Hall of Famers featured in this issue, including Mike Bossy (#3), Denis Potvin (#16), Bryan Trottier (#21), Paul Coffey (#25), Grant Fuhr (#27), Jari Kurri (#34), Mark Messier (#39), Ray Bourque (#45), Ron Francis (#138), Marcel Dionne (#151), Guy Lafleur (#189), Larry Robinson (#195), Peter Stastny (#304), and Dale Hawerchuk (#385). This set also houses the last O-Pee-Chee cards of Tony Esposito (#99) and Bobby Clarke (#262) during their respective playing careers.

"One of the appeals of this set is that it still has a ton of good Islanders and a ton of good Oilers and Canadiens [player cards]," said Wade.

With just five PSA 10s, the Bourque (#45) is one of the toughest Hall of Famer cards to track down in flawless form. Taylor owns a PSA MINT 9, but he has submitted examples that have received a PSA NM-MT 8 grade. This card is tough to find properly centered, both left-to-right and top-to-bottom. The back of the card also incorrectly indicates that Bourque won the NHL's Calder Trophy in 1978-79. He actually won it the following season.

According to the PSA Population Report, the toughest commons from this series to obtain in top condition are the Dwight Foster (#122) and Ron Low (#233). Both have just one PSA 10 example each, and both are located on the top row of a print sheet. The Low is on the top-left corner of the sheet, a position which makes cards especially susceptible to flaws.

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"The Low is the toughest card to get," noted Feeley, who owns the sole PSA 10.

Tom Splinter, who possesses the registry's No. 1, 1983 O-Pee-Chee Hockey set, says the first PSA 10 Foster was just graded recently and sold "in minutes" after it surfaced for sale.

In general, however, cards from this series are not difficult to obtain in top form, and the availability of high-grade examples has helped keep prices down.

"A lot of the cards in this set are still very reasonable to buy," said Taylor. "If you weren't concerned about being first or second on the registry, you could put together a set in PSA 8 very reasonably."

Splinter believes that this set has a "good" future, and the fact that it's possible to complete this set in PSA 10 is something that might motivate more collectors to pursue it. And if that's not enough to inspire more people to collect it, perhaps the potential for additional Hall of Fame rookies like Larmer, Bellows or Carbonneau will.

"I think this set will grow in popularity," said Taylor. "I don't think it will disappear with all of the other great sets around it. Collectors will pick up on it ... it has a good future."

• • •

Summary of Key Cards

Rookie Cards: Phil Housley (#65), Steve Larmer (#105), Bernie Nicholls (#160), Brian Bellows (#167), Guy Carbonneau (#185), Pelle Lindbergh (#268), Scott Stevens (#376)

Key Star Cards: Mike Bossy (#3), Mark Messier/Wayne Gretzky Oilers Highlight (#23), Paul Coffey (#25), Wayne Gretzky (#29), Mark Messier (#39), Ray Bourque (#45), Guy Lafleur (#189)

Toughest Common Cards in High Grade: Dwight Foster (#122), Ron Low (#233)

• • •

Off-Season Jobs

With their average annual salary exceeding $2.5 million today, NHL players don't have to worry about finding work in the offseason, but that was not the case for the average NHLer as recently as 1983. If you read the backs of the 1983 O-Pee-Chee cards closely, you'll discover what some of these players did to earn additional income. Here's a summary of some of their off-season occupations:

• #14 Bob Nystrom - VP for a marketing firm.

• #20 John Tonelli - Works for a computer firm.

• #122 Dwight Foster - Owns an automotive business.

• #133 Paul Woods - Owns and operates a lawn maintenance company.

• #160 Bernie Nicholls - Part-owner of a restaurant.

• #177 Gilles Meloche - Owns a restaurant.

• #229 Garry Howatt - Owns a racquetball club.

• #232 Bob Lorimer - Works for a Wall Street brokerage firm.

• #255 Reijo Ruotsalainen - Sells sporting goods.

• #325 John Anderson - Owns burger shops.

• • •

Famous Athletic Relatives

The backs of the 1983 O-Pee-Chee cards reveal that some players have famous athletic relatives. Here's a summary:

• #56 Mike O'Connell - Son of former Cleveland Browns quarterback Tommy O'Connell.

• #63 Mike Foligno - Married to the niece of Hall of Fame goalie Ed Giacomin.

• #94 Mickey Volcan - Father, Michael, was a defensive tackle for the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos.

• #138 Ron Francis - Cousin of St. Louis Blues goalie Mike Liut.

• #155 Mark Hardy - Mother was a member England's 1952 Olympic figure skating team.

• • •

For more information on the 1983 O-Pee-Chee hockey set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/hockey-cards/1983-o-pee-chee/870.


Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thanks to Jim Feeley for providing cards for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of April 2016.