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Rookie Card Moratorium: Shops, Collectors Adjust to NHLPA Move

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Taking a page from the 2011-12 NBA season, NHL trading cards will be virtually devoid of rookies who debut in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.  The NHL Players Association said this week that after “discussions both internally and externally, including with many stakeholders within the trading card industry” that the only players who could have rookie cards in 2012-13 branded products were those who debuted between last year’s All-Star Game and the end of the Stanley Cup Finals.  This season's rookies won't make their hockey card debuts until next fall.

After losing nearly three months to the labor dispute, the NHL will play an abbreviated 48-game regular season schedule starting Saturday, leaving little time for any of this season’s rookies to have much of an impact and also show up on their first card.

For Canadian hobby shops, many of which rely heavily on hockey card sales, the news was not totally unexpected.

“For the card companies to try to get things going on a very short notice, come up with correct numbers in terms of accurate numbers of cases, and provide these products on a timely fashion would be difficult,” Wayne Wagner of Wayne’s Sports and Collectibles in Edmonton, Alberta told Sports Collectors Daily on Thursday.  “We have all lost revenue with some of the early, very popular products, coming out without rookie cards.”

Double Rookie Card Crop in 2013-14

Wagner says a double rookie card crop next season, mirroring what the NBA trading card market has been like this year following that sport’s labor issues, might not be a bad thing.  In fact, it happened in 2005-06, a year which produced first year cards of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, among others.  Otherwise, the long delay would put this year’s rookie crop on the shelf until spring, when some collectors have moved on to baseball and early football card issues.

“It would give the companies the opportunity to prepare early to have the RC's in the first products out in August and September, and have the benefit of early brisk sales,” Wagner explained.  “We experienced a drop off last year as some products from both companies kept getting pushed back, and as we moved into the months of April and May, many consumers had moved away from hockey cards and onto something else and as a result sales slowed and the product values paid the price.”

Panini's Plans

Panini America, one of the league’s trading card partners, has announced it would produce only three more hockey sets during the current campaign.  Dominion and Titanium, two popular products, are…well…on ice for this season.

2012-13 Limited Hockey will be available at both retail and hobby stores in early February. Limited will be followed by 2012-13 Rookie Anthology, available at hobby shops in early June. The 2012-13 Panini America NHL/NHLPA product calendar will be rounded out with the return of Prime, which will be available at hobby shops in August.

2012-13 Certified included rookie redemption cards, which will be produced and shipped out when the new hockey card season begins, according to the company.

Upper Deck indicated it was still working with the NHLPA on its plans for the current season.

This year's rookie card crop does include a few notables such as Rangers' standout Chris Kreider and Blues' prospect Jaden Schwartz who debuted late last year.

The Silver Lining?

Wagner says while some shops in Canada have struggled because of a drop off in fan interest due to the labor issues, the year hasn’t been a washout, especially now that there will be a season, albeit a short one and collectors have rediscovered past issues and the few releases that have already been delivered.

“There are plenty of deals to be had from previous year’s products, as well as some great products from this year like Upper Deck Series 1, Black Diamond, and an overwhelming response to SP Game Used. Consumers and store owners alike, are still looking for product to break, and that product is still out there.  Other shops that may have been through it before in 2004/05, had the opportunity of preparing, knowing the tendencies of their customers.”

“The time away from the game has only strengthened the demand and anticipation for new Panini America NHL/NHLPA trading card products,” claimed Panini America CEO Mark Warsop.

The most successful hobby stores across North America no longer rely strictly on current era boxes and singles to survive, anyway.

“Find a store, independent or box, that has not somewhat diversified,” Wagner said.  “It is nice to have other cards, products, licensed goods or whatever to fall back on when the sports you rely on are not going as well as expected.”

While some collectors may pine for cards of the rookies who get off to explosive starts, Wagner indicated his customers understand the NHLPA’s move.

“For the most part consumers are fine with the decision. The few customers that have been somewhat disappointed have understood, and when it is talked about in store they realize the advantage of being a hockey card collector in 2013/14.”

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