It was the first Topps hockey card set to feature The Great One, and the final one to include Mr. Hockey.
In some ways, the 1979-80 Topps set ushered in the modern era of National Hockey League cards. Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card (No. 18) is the key card in the set, and the 264-card product is the final main run appearance of Gordie Howe (No. 175).
Even the design signaled that changes were afoot. Rather than white-bordered cards of previous years, the 1979-80 set had a blue border around a photo that was either posed or was an action shot. There is a team logo at the bottom right-hand side of the card, with a solid banner that runs up the right side. It connects to the top part of the card, which contains the team name. The player’s name and position are placed directly above the team name in white letters.
All-Star players have an additional banner at the bottom of their base cards to signify their honor.
The card back has an interesting design, as the player’s vital statistics, previous season and career statistics, and a short biography are contained inside a skate-like figure. The player’s name, team and position appear in the blade area of the skate. The upper right side of the card sports a cartoon with a fun fact about the player.
The 264-card set has several subsets. The first eight cards showcase the NHL’s leaders from the 1978-79 season. Card Nos. 81 through 83 highlight the previous season’s conference finals and Stanley Cup finals, while card Nos. 161 through 165 pay tribute to record breakers.
There are team cards (Nos. 244 through 260), with card No. 261 showcasing the four teams — Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets — that were former World Hockey Association franchises that were absorbed into the NHL. The 1979-80 set is the first one to feature players from those four teams, although only a few players from each team were included.
The set has one error that was later corrected. Card No. 8 featured shutout leaders, and the photographs of Mario Lessard and Mike Palmateer were reversed. The card was fixed, but the original is the more valuable card.
In addition to Gretzky, some players with rookie cards in the 1979-80 Topps set include Ken Linseman (No. 241), Don Maloney (No. 42), Bobby Smith (No. 206), Charlie Simmer (No. 191) and John Tonelli (No. 146). Players taking their final bow in a main set run besides Howe included Bobby Hull (No. 185), Stan Mikita (No. 155) and Ken Dryden (No. 150), Brad Park (No 23).
Other stars in the set included Bobby Clarke (No. 125), Phil Esposito (No. 220) and Guy Lafleur (No. 200).
Set prices will vary quite a bit depending on the condition of the Gretzky rookie. You can see sets, singles and more on eBay here.