Hockey cards went mainstream during the 1990-91 season, but manufacturers were looking to sustain the effects of the hobby boom in 1991-92 and dug deeper to compete for collector attention and dollars.
Naturally, this meant getting every possible rookie card into their releases and those that were collecting at the time had plenty of options to consider when breaking boxes and packs. With lots of prospect-related sets on the market as well, the competition was fierce. Not everyone put for the best effort, but some sets were loaded up. If it had not been for rampant overproduction, the rookie card class of 1991-92 might be a bit more respected today as there was plenty to get excited about.
Let’s take a look at what each major NHL and NHLPA-licensed set had to offer that season and determine which is still worth serious collector consideration even today.
1991-92 Pro Set
Mere weeks after the 1990-91 campaign drew to a close, Pro Set was back with the first series of its sophomore effort. With photos extending to the edges, the addition of chase cards, and both English and French versions, it had some potential. However, the presses ran day and night and the market was instantly saturated.
In terms of rookie cards, the first series lacked considerably in that department. Getting out first likely meant that Pro Set had started production months earlier and they did not end up with many of the late-season callups. The biggest name getting a rookie card among active players at the time was a genuine toss-up between Jeff Lazaro, Bill Berg, and Alexei Gusarov – and no one was busting packs to get them.
Over time, a certain hobby publication decided that the NHL history subset card of Bill Barilko would be tagged as his rookie. This controversial decision is a bit perplexing, but that card is the one which the late Gord Downie of Canadian rock group The Tragically Hip based their song Fifty Mission Cap on. The debate over what Barilko’s rookie card actually is has multiple answers and perspectives, but this card is easily one of the most culturally significant of the era.
Pro Set did release insert cards of the Pat Falloon and Scott Niedermayer, the second and third picks in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. These cards were pulled during the production run, but are not considered to be rookie cards as they both appeared in 1990-91 Upper Deck high series packs.
Where Pro Set finally got it right to some degree was with its second series in 1991-92. With a subset focusing on that year’s rookies, there were some players that had appeared in 1990-91 releases as well. However, there are some names that went on to Hall of Fame glory like Dominik Hasek and Nicklas Lidstrom along with future stars like Vladimir Konstantinov (who did have a Red Army insert card in 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee), Tony Amonte, John LeClair, and Doug Weight.
It should be noted that the second series of 1991-92 Pro Set French was produced in significantly smaller numbers than the first series. While these cards are not necessarily scarce, they are somewhat tough for the era.
Score took things to a bizarre and excessive level during its sophomore season of making NHL trading cards. First off, it made both an English and Bilingual set for the Canadian market that was split into two series (red or blue borders). There was an American edition with purple borders and a Rookie and Traded boxed set to supplement that with dark green borders.
The Canadian sets are identical outside of the text and minor cosmetic differences while the American set and its update ended up with 110 fewer cards.
Rookie cards in the first Canadian series included Weight and Amonte in addition to Andre “Red Light” Racicot. Series Two had much more going for it with names like Hasek, LeClair, Lidstrom, and enforcer Tony Twist. American packs contained all of the Rookie Prospect cards as well, but nothing else when it came to freshmen. Even the Rookie and Traded was a bit bland in terms of rookie content, with Lidstrom being the most notable.
For the first time ever, Topps and O-Pee-Chee had the same size of set in 1991-92. While there was a great deal of improvement in terms of design and quality, neither offered much in terms of rookie cards.
How bad was it? Not as bad as the first series of Pro Set, but there are only three notables to be found in Amonte, LeClair, and Valeri Kamensky.
This was the last O-Pee-Chee set to offer gum in packs and it did have a nice one-per-pack insert set featuring potential members of the expansion San Jose Sharks and players from touring Russian clubs. This is where you can find the first card of Sergei Zubov (while it is technically not a rookie card) and a few other players that eventually made it to the NHL.
1991-92 Upper Deck
Upper Deck’s debut release blew the collective minds of hockey card collectors and there was pressure to deliver with the encore. With a 500-card monster first series hitting shelves early in the season, fans were on the hunt for a certified Hockey Heroes autograph of Brett Hull along with a card of Eric Lindros from the recently completed 1991 Canada Cup tournament. The hype was heavy and the company ultimately produced a solid effort.
The Canada Cup subset kicked off the basic set and it hits hard with rookie cards of Lidstrom and the North American cardboard debut of Teemu Selanne. While the Finnish Flash would not come to the NHL for another year, his inclusion here was a brilliant move by Upper Deck.
Upper Deck also managed to include a handful of 1991 draftees in their first series. This gave collectors the lone rookie card for Peter Forsberg, who did not arrive in the NHL until 1994-95.
Moving down the checklist, we encounter a striking rookie card for Hasek, one for LeClair, and even enforcer Stu Grimson before jumping into the Star Rookie subset. Here, the notables are Weight and Amonte. On top of that, family ties are strong with then-sensation Gilbert Dionne and Joe Sakic’s younger brother, Brian, who never made it to the NHL.
Upper Deck issued a high number series later in 1991-92 and it has plenty of rookie content as well. Young Guns return for a second straight season and we get another card of Lidstrom, but nothing that really blows us away today.
Things close out here with a subset featuring participants from the 1992 World Junior Championship. There are some strong names here such as Alexei Yashin, Nikolai Khabibulin, Alexei Kovalev, Brian Rolston, and Keith Tkachuk along with more than a few that didn’t make it. All of the cards in 1991-92 Upper Deck have a French version as well, but they are not particularly scarce at all.
1991-92 Pro Set Platinum
Arguably the nicest-looking set of hockey cards produced in 1991-92, Pro Set Platinum’s debut demonstrated what the company could be capable of. In reality, it might have been a case of too little, too late.
With full-bleed photos that truly brought you closer to the game and backs that featured biographies instead of stats, Platinum was split into two series. The first release did not have a single rookie card within it, saving them all for Series Two. In those packs, you had a shot at getting names like Hasek, Lidstrom, and LeClair along with Celebrity Captain cards.
So, what is a Celebrity Captain card? For its 75th anniversary in 1991-92, the NHL asked each team to name a local celebrity captain. Pro Set decided to make a few cards of them (although one wonders if they actually managed to secure the rights to do so). As a result, we have hobby treasures featuring Guess Who frontman Burton Cummings in a Winnipeg Jets jersey, broadcasters Larry King (Washington Capitals) and Marv Albert (New York Rangers), The Karate Kid’s Ralph Macchio (New York Islanders), and James Belushi (Chicago Blackhawks). Collectors also got the first NHL-licensed card featuring a woman in Hartford Whalers celebrity captain Susan St. James, but the best of the bunch is Fred Rogers (Pittsburgh Penguins). Yes, Mr. Rogers has a hockey card and it is as amazing as he was.
After an absence of nearly 30 years, Parkhurst came back to the hockey card market in 1991-92 thanks to a collaboration between Pro Set and a Toronto-area dentist-turned-trading card executive Dr. Brian Price.
While Price had tried to get a license of his own prior to the 1990-91 season, he was able to become a sub-licensee to Lud Denny and his Pro Set crew. The idea was to make something limited and desirable and production numbers were kept low (for that era) to ensure collectors would demand their Parkies. On top of that there was even a tougher French version for the first two series.
Releasing a bit before the All-Star break, the glossy cards felt as if you were buying something of significance. The first series of 225 cards had some rookies mixed in like Lidstrom, Konstantinov, Geoff Sanderson, LeClair, Amonte, and Weight that went on to decent careers.
Where Parkhurst took things to an even greater level was with its second series that came out around the time the Pittsburgh Penguins were hoisting their second straight Stanley Cup. The backs for that part of the set included full stats for 1991-92’s regular season – which was a bit of an odd choice that went against tradition. The best part of this series, though, was the inclusion of many late-season rookies which debuted after the 1992 Winter Olympics or simply did not make the deadline for other manufacturers.
Appearing in packs of 1991-92 Parkhurst Series Two were names like Joe Juneau, Hasek, Kozlov, Dionne, Shawn McEachern, and Tkachuk in their NHL uniforms. Wrappers also offered up a chance to purchase an Update set which would provide first cards for both Bill Guerin and Ray Whitney.
Like 1991-92 Upper Deck, the return of Parkhurst pushed the envelope when it came to rookie content. Today, the set does not get as much credit as it deserves due to the era it was released in, but it was certainly a game-changer.
Even with the first Bowman hockey set being a dud, it was back again in 1991-92. While Topps did improve the quality of card stock, expanded the checklist, and added foil-stamped subset cards, this release still could not interest most collectors.
The absence of major rookie cards hurts the reputation of this set today as there are 15 debuting players and only one, LeClair, had any sort of major impact. It should be noted that Bowman did not catch on much with hockey collectors, especially when compared to the reaction that the baseball editions got in that particular market. Luckily, the subsequent release would have a greater impact despite some glaring flaws.
1991-92 Topps Stadium Club
How could it get worse for Topps when it came to rookie content in 1991-92? Well, Stadium Club is the answer.
What was the smash hit of the year in baseball was a dismal failure in the hockey card market. Before we even get to the rookie cards, it is important to consider what could have been. Topps rushed the product to market and only featured a dozen true rookie cards – with the most notable being Bryan Marchment (who did have a decent, if controversial, career). There are no carryovers that debuted in 1990-91 like Hasek, LeClair, Weight, or Amonte.
From there, there is also the issue of showing a player’s first Topps card on the backs and having the nerve to try to pass some of them off as rookie cards. Collectors knew better and all of the excitement around Stadium Club’s hockey debut fizzled out. Oh, what could have been…
1991-92 O-Pee-Chee Premier
Following an incredible debut the previous year that took the hobby by storm, O-Pee-Chee attempted to make lightning strike twice with its Premier brand. Expectations were high – almost too high – and the sequel proved to be a disappointment. Higher production did not help matters much, even with a relatively decent selection of rookie cards. When stacked up against the debut release, it simply pales by comparison in terms of freshman content. However, it was certainly doomed to fail.
There is one neat variation here for the Konstantinov rookie card. Early in the print run, Lidstrom’s photo appeared on the back and the error was quickly corrected. As a result, it is still chased after today and commands strong prices.
Score decided to try their hand at a premium hockey release in 1991-92 and Pinnacle came to market late in the season. While the product’s legacy today is closely tied to the Team Pinnacle inserts which are still sought after, it did cobble together a decent rookie subset which included most of the big names that appear in early-to-mid-season 1991-92 releases like Amonte, Weight, and Lidstrom. Pinnacle did miss out on Hasek, but the company’s first attempt at a premium product was better than most that year.
Overproduction Becomes Problematic
Hockey cards were everywhere in 1991-92 and the extent of overproduction basically turned them into something which most collectors avoid today. Even as hobbyists return, they are not necessarily interested in recapturing their youth – even at an affordable price. There are some gems that came out that year, but they are few and far between.
One observation for this season’s products is that since it lacked a strong group of carryover rookie cards thanks to co-mingling of NHL and junior players the previous year, early season products suffered greatly in terms of rookie card content. Upper Deck and Parkhurst share the crown for the best freshman offerings in 1991-92, resulting from thinking outside the box.
The other sets have their merits to varying degrees, but there is little debate that Upper Deck and Parkhurst are the must-haves for this season.
Check out 1991-92 rookie cards on eBay here.