After less-than-inspiring efforts in the previous two seasons, O-Pee-Chee (OPC) needed a "killer" set in 1984-85 to captivate collectors again.
Fortunately, armed with a revolutionary design, a stellar cast of rookies headed by Steve Y and Doug Killer Gilmour and 10 cards of The Great One, they created one of the best offerings of the past 30 years.
"The No. 1 appeal to me is the sheer number of great rookies in the set," said James Holt, who owns the top 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee (OPC) set on the PSA Set Registry.
Though cards from this 396-card offering are highly coveted now, 1984-85 OPC boxes were once so plentiful that the Canadian card manufacturer reportedly destroyed a number of unsold cases at the end of the season. With boxes now retailing in the $500 to $800 range, it's a move that former OPC employees likely regret.
"From what I've read, they really produced a lot of cards in 1984-85," noted Darren Styles, who has assembled the registry's No. 4 set.
The veteran collector still sees a lot of unopened packs of this product.
In an unpopular move, OPC raised their pack price from 25 cents in 1983-84 to 35 cents for this issue, but packs boasted 15 cards (up from 10 in 1983-84), as well as an exciting contest card. Among the contest cards were 10,000 "Instant Winner" singles that rewarded lucky collectors with a pair of CCM Tacks skates or a set of three uncut sheets. The "Instant Winner" prize was indicated at the top of the card, and collectors were required to answer a skill-testing math question and mail their card to a Toronto address by March 31, 1985 to receive their reward. With just 50 pairs available, the skates were much more elusive than the uncut sheets (9,950 available).
Because so few "Instant Winner" cards remain today, Bobby Burrell, author of Vintage Hockey Collector, says there's significant interest in these singles. Limited to 50 copies – the vast majority of which were redeemed – the CCM Tacks "Instant Winner" card is particularly sought-after. Burrell knows of only one that hasn't been redeemed and he estimates that this card might fetch more than $1,000 in today's market.
Another series of contest cards were more widely distributed throughout packs. These cards boasted a drawing of a position player in the bottom left corner. Once collectors amassed a card depicting a player from each of the six positions (center, right wing, left wing, right defense, left defense, goalie), they could mail them to a Toronto address. Their names would then be entered in a drawing for one of three prizes of four Stanley Cup Final tickets. Burrell notes that some of the position cards were short-printed, making it difficult to collect cards from all six positions.
Notations on several cards (#168, 181, 252, 279, 306, 347) indicate that players changed teams in October 1984. From this, we can deduct that cards weren't distributed until at least late in that month.
Showcasing both action photos and headshots on the fronts, the card design was revolutionary at the time. The color of the borders surrounding the action shots also matches the respective team colors.
"I like the design," said Jeff Ratzer, who owns the registry's No. 2 set. "Topps (and O-Pee-Chee) did the same kind of thing in 1983 with their baseball set, where you had an action scene and then the player inset."
Mike Cable, owner of the No. 5 registry set, shares similar sentiments.
"The action shots are great," he said. "I think the best thing about the set is that little head shot in the corner. And you can't dismiss the colors, they're very vibrant. I like how the outline colors match the players' uniforms."
"It's a very sharp design. It's probably the one set from the 1980s that I like the best from a visual standpoint," he said.
Card fronts also offer the player name, team and position. Boasting blue writing on a predominantly pink background, the backs flaunt personal data, statistics and bilingual biographical information.
"The backs of the 1984-85 cards are beautiful and bright," said Burrell. "The card seems fresher with those backs."
Cards are sequenced in alphabetical order by team and the players' last names. American squads are featured first (#1 to 206), followed by the NHL's first- and second-team all-stars (#207 to 218) and the Canadian teams (#219 to 351). Seven players – Charlie Simmer (#90), Darryl Sittler (#168), Bill Root (#271), Andre Dore (#279), Louis Sleigher (#290), Terry Martin (#306) and Doug Soetart (#347) - changed teams late in the production process and don't appear with their new teammates.
"I like how the set is organized," said Ratzer. "I like that all the teams are in order."
Aside from the all-stars, this issue boasts a number of other subsets, including Team Leaders (#352 to 372), Trophy Winners (#373 to 379), League Leaders (#380 to 387) and Record Breakers (#388 to 393). The final three cards (#394 to 396) are checklists.
After a two-year absence, Topps returned to the hockey card market in 1984-85 with a 165-card set. Employing virtually the same design as OPC, Topps cards were produced in even larger quantities than their Canadian counterparts.
"The 1984-85 Topps set is just not a popular set," noted Cable. "You can pick up a complete raw set for probably $25 to $30."
The Topps singles can be easily distinguished from the OPC pasteboards by their darker backs that boast only English text (rather than the bilingual OPC backs) and a large Topps logo. Cable says Topps cards are consistently found in higher grade than their OPC counterparts.
The rookie crop in the 1984-85 OPC set is impressive. There are already three Hall of Famers that made their cardboard debut in this set and there could be as many as five more inductees within the next decade. When all is said and done, this set could boast more Hall of Famer rookie cards than any other '80s OPC set.
Steve Yzerman's rookie (#67) is the most coveted card. Often hampered by poor centering, there are just 15 PSA GEM-MT 10 copies (of 2,203 submissions). One PSA 10 sold for $1,249.99 on eBay in March 2010.
"There's a centering issue on the Yzerman," said Styles. "Another thing I've noticed is the picture on the bottom right corner (the head shot) is not always sharp and crisp. Sometimes it's out of focus."
Another Hall of Famer whose rookie is featured is Pat LaFontaine (#129). There have been just nine PSA 10 LaFontaines, and one of them fetched $338 on eBay in October 2009.
The cardboard debut (#327) of 2005 Hall of Fame inductee, Cam Neely, is also part of this issue. Population Report statistics reveal that Neely is the easiest, high-profile rookie to obtain in pristine condition. Of the 676 evaluated, there have been 24 PSA 10s. A PSA 10 sold for $128.06 on eBay in January 2010.
"There are a lot of Neely fans out there. Even though the Population Report numbers are a little bit higher, he's still a very popular player," said Holt.
The rookies of a number of future Hall of Famers are also featured, including Dave Andreychuk (#17), Tom Barrasso (#18), Pat Verbeek (#121), Doug Gilmour (#185) and Chris Chelios (#259). Among these potential inductees, Gilmour is one of the most popular. Styles says poor left-to-right centering hampers the Gilmour card, and helps explain why just six copies have been deemed PSA 10s. One PSA 10 Gilmour garnered $698 on eBay in February 2010.
The first single of the ageless Chelios, who played this past season at the age of 48, is also very popular and tough to uncover in flawless form.
"With the Chelios card, a lot of it has to do with the focus (of the photos) on the front," noted Holt.
There are just six PSA 10 Chelios rookies, and one sold for $710 on eBay in September 2009.
Ten cards featuring Wayne Gretzky are also part of this set. The Great One is featured on All-Star, Team Leader, League Leader, Trophy Winner and Record Breaker cards. But it's his regular issue single (#243) that's most sought-after. A PSA 10 copy sold for $448.98 on eBay in February 2010.
The first card of this issue, which features Ray Bourque, is also in high demand. There has yet to be a PSA 10 example of this card. On top of the condition issues associated with being the set's first card, this single is often found off-center. Holt says the first PSA 10 Bourque will be highly coveted.
"Anybody who has Bourque sets will be after it. Obviously anybody who is into the 1984-85 set would be after it," he noted. "And being card #1 obviously makes it more desirable."
"A PSA 10 of the Bourque card would be a few hundred dollars, if not more than that," he said.
Just two Bengt Gustafsson (#198) cards have been sent in to PSA, making it the least submitted card from this issue. With just three submissions, the Mike Liut (#187) single is a close second.
Poor centering is the most common condition flaw with these cards.
"I've actually opened two boxes over the last couple of years, and I think out of the two boxes, there were probably 40 cards that I thought had a shot at PSA MINT 9," said Cable. "O-Pee-Chee is known for bad centering, but the 1984-85 set is up there for having some of the worst centering."
Peter Leonard, owner of the No. 6 registry set, shares similar observations.
"The 1984 OPC cards are tougher to find in PSA 10 than the two previous years (1982 and 1983)," he said. "There is something about the design that seems out of balance (perhaps it's the slanted player name and having player's head in a circle at the lower right), so gem mint centering is elusive."
Rough cuts and miscuts – synonymous with OPC issues from this era – also hamper these cards.
These condition woes, coupled with competition for the high-profile rookies, make this set challenging to assemble in top condition, but this hasn't deterred hobbyists.
"I think there are more people collecting this set in recent years," said Ratzer. "I know that when I started it there were probably only about eight sets registered (there are now 19 sets registered)"
"There has definitely been an increase in interest," he said. "In the last year or two, the number of people collecting this set on the registry has doubled."
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Jeff Ratzer provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of press time.