The St. Louis Blues are challenging for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history and it conjures up memories of some of the players that helped pave the way along with their best O-Pee-Chee (and in some cases, Topps) hockey cards.
As part of the NHL’s great expansion of 1967, the team was an early success with three straight trips to the Stanley Cup Final thanks to a playoff system which saw one of the new clubs face the best of the Original Six. Early stars like Glenn Hall, Red Berenson, Jacques Plante, and the Plager brothers drew in plenty of fans and earned plenty of victories – they just could not win it all.
Despite many solid years and a handful of disappointing ones, the Blues never made it back to challenge for Lord Stanley’s Mug until 2019. Let’s take a look back at some of the greatest players in franchise history and important cards that any devoted St. Louis Blues should add to their collection now:
1968-69 O-Pee-Chee/Topps Red Berenson
During their first season, the St. Louis Blues were in desperate need for some offensive punch and a blockbuster deal with the New York Rangers on November 29, 1967 brought the team one of its earliest stars in the form of Berenson. In the years leading up to his arrival, the University of Michigan alum had difficulty sticking at the NHL level with the Broadway Blueshirts and the Montreal Canadiens, but expansion provided him with the perfect opportunity to shine.
His impact on the Blues was immediately apparent as he put up 51 points over 55 games before leading the league in shots during their run to the Stanley Cup Final against his old teammates from Montreal. As his cards in the 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee and Topps sets were getting ready to reach the shelves in their airbrushed glory, he was putting together his best season of all with 82 points that included an incredible six-goal effort during an 8-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on November 7, 1968. He also appears in the 1968-69 Shirriff coin set and you can find both on eBay for a minimal investment
The Red Baron represent the Blues at five NHL All-Star Games and enjoyed two stints on their roster. He was traded to Detroit during the 1970-71 season, but returned four years later to finish out his career in 1977-78. Two years later, he took over mid-year as coach of the team and won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top bench boss after a second-place finish in 1980-81. After his playing days, he returned to his alma mater and guided the careers of many future NHL stars for over 30 years.
1968-69 O-Pee-Chee Bob Plager/Barclay Plager
The St. Louis Blues brought an incredible brother combination together in their expansion season and the Plager family is still connected to the team today. While both were property of the New York Rangers, Bob was the first to come to the Blues through a trade on June 6, 1967. Barclay’s arrival did not take place until the previously-mentioned deal that brought Red Berenson over.
The duo were a fixture in St. Louis for many years and struck fear into the hearts of opponents around the league. Younger brother Bill arrived in 1968-69, the same year in which Bob and Bill’s rookie cards were found in packs of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards. Bob’s card came in the first series that year with an airbrushed photo and Barclay followed in series two. There was only one big problem, though, as the photo of Bob was placed on Barclay’s card as well! For the purpose of this article, we are going to count this card as a single entry since both are so similar and both players hold such an important place in team history.
After their playing days, both Bob and Barclay consistently found work with the Blues. Barclay, who coached them through some dark times, passed away in 1988. Today, Bob has been featured heavily during the club’s run to the Stanley Cup Final as part of his role as part of their community relations team. Bill never had a card as a member of the Blues and died in 2016.
On top of that, the Blues have a team dog named Barclay – as fine a way as any to pay tribute to one of the most memorable tough guys in franchise history.
1969-70 O-Pee-Chee Glenn Hall/Jacques Plante
The Blues had claimed Hall in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft and during the team’s first season, he formed an excellent tandem with former Canadian National Team member Seth Martin that backstopped the club to the Stanley Cup Final.
With Martin returning to his native British Columbia and finishing out his career in the minors, the Blues needed to add a talent that was going to ensure success in net. The Intra-League Draft gave them the perfect opportunity to get one as the New York Rangers left the retired Plante exposed. Prior to the 1967-68 season, the California Seals attempted to bring the six-time Stanley Cup winner aboard, but New York maintained that they still held his rights.
The 1968-69 season saw the Blues improve their regular season record as they moved from third in the West Division into first place. With two future Hall of Famers platooning, the team’s goals-against average went from 191 down to 157 – a total that would lead the league. At the time, the Vezina Trophy was given to the goalie (or goalies) that were the stingiest, resulting in Hall taking it home for the third time in his career and it was Plante’s seventh. The club went to the Stanley Cup Final once again thanks in part to their experienced netminders, but were once again swept by the Montreal Canadiens.
In the second series of 1969-70 O-Pee-Chee, a subset of Trophy Winners was included and the company decided to follow protocol from previous sets and put both winners on the Vezina Trophy winners card. On the back, there was part of a puzzle. O-Pee-Chee re-used photos of the pair from other cards and Hall’s shot had been in use for several years at that point. By the end of the 1970-71 season, both goalies were no longer with St. Louis as Hall retired and Plante was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
1973-74 O-Pee-Chee/Topps Garry Unger
The face of the Blues for much of the 1970s, Unger was a talented scorer who also proved to be the model for consistency as he was in the midst of an iron man streak of 914 games. Acquired from the Detroit Red Wings during the 1970-71 campaign, he was allowed to keep his hair long and regularly finished among the top scorers in the league for several seasons to come.
During his 1972-73 season, Unger was aiming at the 40-goal mark for the second time and local photographer Lewis Portnoy managed to take some great posed shots of him on the ice which were ultimately sold to Topps to be used for hockey cards. As a result, Unger’s 1973-74 O-Pee-Chee and Topps card is one of the most memorable in the set.
Unger stayed with the Blues through some tough times in the late 1970s as the team consistently finished near the bottom of the standings. He left with an impressive legacy which included seven straight appearances at the NHL All-Star Game and nearly 300 goals in a St. Louis Blues uniform.
1975-76 O-Pee-Chee/Topps Bob Gassoff
A rough-and-tumble defender whose promising career came to a tragic end, Gassoff was a fan favorite during his time with the St. Louis Blues. A third round pick in 1973, he debuted with the team soon after and broke out as a regular in 1974-75. He earned a spot in both the 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee and Topps sets.
Over his first three full seasons with the Blues, Gassoff ranked among the top five penalty minute leaders in the NHL. Following a 1976-77 season where he finished third in the category behind Tiger Williams of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Dennis Polonich of the Detroit Red Wings, the unthinkable happened. While riding a motorcycle on Garry Unger’s rural property, he got into an accident and passed away on May 29, 1977 at the age of 24. He made one last trading card appearance during this era in 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee and Topps as part of the Penalty Minutes Leaders card, but he did not get one of his own in either set. The Blues retired his number, 3, soon after and the Central League created an award in his honor for each year’s most improved defenseman.
1978-79 O-Pee-Chee/Topps Bernie Federko
After so much early success, the St. Louis Blues were on a gradual downward swing in the mid-1970s, but they built toward the future thanks to general manager Emile Francis and the 1976 NHL Amateur Draft. With the seventh overall pick, they took Federko from the Saskatoon Blades. He did not make the roster out of training camp and tore up the Central League with the Kansas City Blues (69 points in 42 games to win Rookie of the Year honors) before getting a three-game look during the month of December, 1976.
Sent back to the minors once again, he was back in action on February 3, 1977 as the Blues visited the Boston Bruins. That night, photographer Steve Babineau was shooting for Topps and O-Pee-Chee and got a shot of him in action, but the slide was mislabeled and ended up on the 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee card of teammate Rick Bourbonnais. Federko would have to wait until the 1978-79 hockey card sets to make his official debut and it is tough to find the O-Pee-Chee version in high grade due to the notoriously poor centering the set is known for.
Heading into the 1980s, Federko emerged as one of the game’s must unheralded superstars due to playing in a smaller market. He delivered four 100-point campaigns between 1980-81 and 1985-86 and was an incredibly respected playmaker as he never had less than 52 assists in a season between 1978-79 and 1987-88. Adored by fans, he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings in 1989, but the return was significant as it brought Adam Oates to St. Louis. All told, he scored 1,073 points in a Blues uniform and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002.
1978-79 O-Pee-Chee Brian Sutter
Another one of the solid draft picks that Emile Francis made on the way to bringing the Blues back to contention, Sutter was a second round selection in 1976 and was the first member of one of hockey’s greatest families to turn pro.
Much like Federko, Sutter debuted with St. Louis in 1976-77 and split his first pro season between the NHL and the minors. With a reputation for being able to stir things up offensively and hold his own against tough opponents, he became an institution with the team and his rookie card is only found in the 1978-79 O-Pee-Chee set. If you take a careful look at his left shoulder on that card, you will see the commemorative patch the team wore in 1977-78 in tribute to Gassoff. He broke out that season with 41 goals and 80 points, but also began to demonstrate incredible leadership abilities as he took over as team captain in 1979-80.
Sutter wore the “C” on his jersey for the rest of his career and had strong season in 1982-83 with a personal best 46 goals despite a whopping 254 penalty minutes. He battled injuries for much of 1985-86 and 1986-87 before retiring in 1988. He immediately took over as coach for the Blues and enjoyed a solid four-year run before moving on to be the bench boss for the Boston Bruins. His number, 11, was raised to the rafters as well.
1981-82 O-Pee-Chee/Topps Mike Liut Super Action
While Liut’s rookie card is regarded as one of the most underrated of the 1980s, kids opening packs of hockey cards in 1981-82 were buzzing about how incredible his Super Action was. With Liut making a save on Washington’s Jean Pronovost with Mike Crombeen closing in as well, this is a piece of cardboard that still holds up.
So, other than the photo, what makes this card so amazing? The answer lies in the fact that Liut’s 1980-81 campaign was one of the best in franchise history. Following a solid rookie season where he led the NHL with 32 wins, he took things up a notch. He was selected to play in the 1981 NHL All-Star Game and helped the St. Louis Blues to a second place finish overall. He ended up posting a career-high 33 wins and finished second in balloting for the Hart Trophy behind Wayne Gretzky in addition to taking home the Lester B. Pearson Award, which is now called the Ted Lindsay Award.
Liut remained with the Blues until late in 1984-85 and left as the franchise’s all-time wins leader with 151. It is a record that may be passed in the near future by Jake Allen.
1982-83 O-Pee-Chee Joe Mullen
The first great American player to skate for the Blues, Mullen was a native of New York City who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen learning to play the game alongside his brother, Brian. A standout at Boston College, he was an All-American and racked up plenty of awards, but a strong 1979 NHL Entry Draft which was only limited to six rounds, he was strangely overlooked and signed with the Blues as a free agent afterward.
Jumping to the pro ranks and missing out on playing with the 1980 United States Olympic team, he demonstrated that stardom was in his future by winning the Central League’s Rookie of the Year honors before making his NHL debut in the playoffs. He was unable to crack the St. Louis lineup to start 1980-81 and responded by scoring 117 points with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles to take home the CHL’s Most Valuable Player award.
In 1981-82, Mullen was back in Salt Lake yet again for a bit, but it did not take long for him to get a permanent call-up. He would have been a serious Calder contender that year had he played in more than 45 games with the Blues as he racked up 59 points during that span. He visited Madison Square Garden for the first time as an NHL player on March 21, 1982 and the photo for his first hockey card was taken by Bruce Bennett. Part of the 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set, it is one of the more underrated rookie cards among Hall of Famers making their cardboard debut in the 1980s.
Moving forward, Mullen was among the top offensive talents for St. Louis in the mid-1980s. He hit the 40-goal mark for the first time in 1983-84 and topped the 90-point plateau in 1984-85. On February 1, 1986, he was shipped to the Calgary Flames as part of a six-player trade. It was a deal the Blues would end up regretting as he not only helped defeat them in the playoffs that year, but he went on to score over 500 career goals, win the Lady Byng Trophy twice, and become a part of three Stanley Cup championships.
1984-85 O-Pee-Chee Doug Gilmour
The Blues were almost relocated to the city of Saskatoon, Sasketchewan in 1983 and due to the franchise being in flux, management decided not to opt into that year’s draft. Luckily, they had drafted Gilmour a year earlier with a late selection.
Appearing in all 80 games for the St. Louis Blues in 1983-84, Gilmour began to develop into one of the finest two-way forwards around. He delivered 25 goals as a rookie and earned his first hockey card, which came in packs of 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee. In total, he spent four seasons with the team and broke out in his fourth year with 105 points. His time after the Blues included a Stanley Cup championship with Calgary and a pair of deep playoff runs with Toronto and ultimately resulted in enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
1988-89 O-Pee-Chee/Topps Brett Hull
While we recently covered the 1988-89 O-Pee-Chee set, there is still more that can be said about Brett Hull’s rookie card. While some collectors may find it hard to believe that this landmark item is now 30 years old, they fondly recall a time where this was the hottest hockey card around.
Granted, it is not the most attractive piece of cardboard. The photo on the front was airbrushed and it was taken during his time with the Calgary Flames. Since he was acquired close to the end of the 1987-88 campaign, photographers supplying images to Topps could not get one in time.
Even though it initially only commanded a small premium from the start as hockey cards were slowly edging toward mainstream popularity, Hull’s evolution as the game’s premier goal scorer drove its value skyward – especially in 1990-91 as he scored a career-best 86 times. The surge in popularity led some shady folks to make counterfeit versions, but there was an arrest made that managed to get the vast majority of them off the market. In time, Hull became the franchise’s all-time leader in goals and points and also holds the record for a single season in those categories as well.