For hockey collectors of a certain vintage, there are few experiences like opening up a pack of cards from their youth. Granted, the older you get, the more expensive the experience might be, but there are certainly some bargains out there if grew up in the 1970s and 1980s.
Realistically, there are some options that have become quite pricey. Nearly everything issued before the 1974-75 season is going to be cost-prohibitive as there simply is not a large supply of Topps and O-Pee-Chee packs. While they do come up, it’s a high-roller’s game. This can also be said for packs from 1979-80 due to the presence of Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card and the tough 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee WHA release. If you’re willing to concede that the 80s are now vintage (hey, it was a long time ago), there are some solid options that can yield some great cards.
1974-75 O-Pee-Chee WHA
The World Hockey Association’s first stand-alone trading card set, packs of 1974-75 O-Pee-Chee WHA still remain accessible to collectors after nearly 45 years. With just 66 cards in the set, there are a few potentially nice pulls that come once in every nine packs on average. The best of these in the eyes of most collectors happens the be the first one in the set which features Gordie Howe and his sons, Mark and Marty. While it is not considered a rookie card by some in the hobby, it could be argued that it actually is since multi-player rookie cards in other sports get the tag.
On top of the Howes, there are still some strong hits to be found inside featuring legends like Bobby Hull of the Winnipeg Jets, Jacques Plante with the Edmonton Oilers, and Frank Mahovlich as a member of the Toronto Toros. There are also some decent rookie cards to consider like those of Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, and recent Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Vaclav Nedomansky. Throw in a checklist card and the odds are good for pulling at least one of those cards in a single pack.
The only real caveat with these packs, though, is the notoriously bad centering and rough cuts that plagued O-Pee-Chee sets during their glory years. Can you pull something worth grading in a pack? Possibly, but don’t crack open a pack with that as your intention as disappoint may be looming.
Even though it is a set plagued by horrible centering and rough cuts, packs of 1978-79 O-Pee-Chee can take collectors back 40 years for an affordable price. While it took the hobby a long time to absorb some of the sealed boxes and cases before they became scarcer at the dawn of the 1990s, the lure of a pack-fresh Mike Bossy rookie card and Bobby Orr’s retirement card is strong indeed.
While Bossy’s debut is by far the best in this rookie class, there are some decent first cards to pull like Bernie Federko, Doug Wilson, Dave Taylor, Brian Sutter, and Randy Carlyle. For fans of this era of hockey, there are several cards showing Montreal Canadiens superstars like Guy Lafleur and Ken Dryden in addition to an excellent All-Star subset. Fans wanting a cheaper option may want to look at breaking some Topps packs from this season, but they will not find the All-Stars, Orr retirement card, and rookie card of Taylor, Sutter, and Carlyle.
High-grade key cards from ’78-79 OPC sell for fairly decent prices on eBay.
A strong set which is loaded up with great rookie cards, prices on sealed packs of 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee have steadily risen over time. Production for the company’s sets during this era was high, but the supply of unopened product is dwindling. There are six Wayne Gretzky cards to potentially pull, but there are also great second-year cards for Raymond Bourque and Mark Messier.
The freshman class here is also one of the decade’s best. Highlighted by seven Hall of Fame members (Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Dino Ciccarelli, Peter Stastny, Larry Murphy, and Denis Savard), there are also some strong debuts like Andy Moog, Kevin Lowe, Tim Kerr, and Dale Hunter.
By comparison, sealed packs of the Topps issue from this year remain plentiful to this day. While some of the rookies appear in both sets like Kurri, Stastny, Savard, Murphy, and Ciccarelli, they don’t appeal to hobbyists like the O-Pee-Chee ones do. Granted, it is a much cheaper break if you have an itch for busting vintage wax that needs to be scratched. However, there are two streams of cards to be found in packs that reflected East and West distribution.
As of now, sealed 48-pack boxes of 1981-82 OPC can be had for a little under $4,000.
Due to slumping sales south of the border, only O-Pee-Chee produced hockey cards from a two-season stint starting in 1982-83. However, Canadian kids were as excited as ever to collect their heroes – especially Gretzky, who was coming of his record 92-goal season and shown on the top of the box. With a total of 10 different cards depicting the Edmonton Oilers star, there should be one popping out of every four packs on average. On top of that, there are 60 other cards depicting a Hall of Fame member.
As for the rookies, 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee has a lot to offer in terms of legends at the beginning of their careers. This group includes Joe Mullen, Dale Hawerchuk, Ron Francis, and Grant Fuhr. The remainder of the rookie crop, however, is a bit weak across the board, but there is a highly underrated first issue for Neal Broten that deserves some love from collectors.
Packs remain inexpensive at around $15-$20, on average.
While 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee does not get as much hobby love as it deserves, breaking open a pack today is an affordable experience which can yield some strong star and rookie cards. While it does not feature the debut of a high-level Hall of Famer, it still has Phil Housley, Guy Carbonneau and Scott Stevens as decent hits to go along with “Hall of Very Good” talents like Pelle Lindbergh, Steve Larmer, and Bernie Nicholls.
Like the previous year, there are a ton of Gretzky cards – including a Highlight featuring the Great One with Mark Messier. All told, there are close to 70 cards featuring Hall of Fame members, so the odds of pulling a decent player or two in a 10-card pack are good and it is a low risk at a little over $10 per pack.
O-Pee-Chee went into printing overdrive in 1984-85, but this set luckily featured a strong rookie crop which made it a strong seller once the hobby boomed in the early 1990s. Led by Steve Yzerman and supported by the likes of Doug Gilmour, Pat LaFontaine, Dave Andreychuk, Chris Chelios, and Cam Neely, there are still some additional options that may one day join them in the Hockey Hall of Fame like Tom Barrasso and Pat Verbeek. While those two are somewhat of a long shot for induction at this point, their rookie cards are certainly worth collecting.
This is the last pre-boom set which included a large number of Gretzky cards. With a basic card that has a fantastic photo along with nine subset cards, it won’t be hard to get one from busting wax. There are 15 cards inside each one along with a contest card – up from 10 cards in the previous two releases. At the time, packs had increased in cost by a thin dime, so it seems likely that O-Pee-Chee needed to justify the price jump with extra cardboard and the shot at prizes like skates, uncut sheets, or a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Winning contest cards are tough to find today and stand out due to being red and yellow instead of plain white.
Could this be the best vintage bargain in vintage hockey wax right now? The packs are still somewhat affordable and have high-yield potential considering the prices for high-grade key cards from this set. It is important to remember that there is also the possibility that your big pull could be in less-than-perfect condition or come out as a blazer. Either way, it remains a fun break after 35 years and if you’re into really heavy duty breaks, you can still buy a cut card case if you’ve got a stash of cash.
The Mario Lemieux rookie card is by far the greatest treasure to be found in a pack of 1985-86 O-Pee-Chee. The company scaled back production dramatically this season and less cards were popping out of packs (down to seven plus a sticker insert) for the same price. The odds of finding this key card falls at around once in every 38 packs, so breaking a box could potentially lead to two of them.
With 132 less cards in the set, O-Pee-Chee eliminated most subset cards and offered up less players from American teams than previous years. The other big rookie card is of hard-shooting Hall of Famer Al MacInnis, but collector interest in the set’s freshmen drops significantly after that.
Of course, you could just buy a nice LeMieux rookie card and call it a day but recent online sales indicate that pack and box supplies may be drying up and getting one to set aside for future breaking or resale is a smart decision.
1986-87 Topps and O-Pee-Chee
As I wrote about recently, 1986-87 O-Pee-Chee packs are highlighted by the presence of Patrick Roy’s rookie card. Once again, packs had seven cards, but O-Pee-Chee did not include stickers here or going forward as compared to Topps sets from this era.
The allure of the Roy card far outstrips anything else here, but there are rookie cards of Wendel Clark and the polarizing John Vanbiesbrouck. There area couple of extra Gretzky subset cards and the second-year card for Lemieux is a bit underrated. Naturally, there are many star cards that can be found and are small consolation prizes when you don’t pull the Roy rookie.
Topps boxes are a little easier to find and have been selling in the $800-$900 range.
After two seasons where there were two huge rookie cards that had little supporting cast, 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee has a plethora of first issues which had an impact well into the next decade. At this point, there are two Hall of Fame debuts in Adam Oates and Luc Robitaille, but there are some prominent names like Vincent Damphousse, Mike Vernon, Claude Lemieux, Stephane Richer, Ron Hextall, Esa Tikkanen, Bill Ranford, and Rick Tocchet.
Otherwise, there are a few big cards like that of Gretzky, Lemieux, and Roy – but there were no subset cards here or within the subsequent set (unless you count checklists as being subset cards, of course!).
For a time, the 1988-89 O-Pee-Chee set was one of the hobby’s hottest thanks to the presence of Brett Hull’s rookie card. However, there are some other strong ones in the form of fellow Hall of Famers Brendan Shanahan and Joe Nieuwendyk. One of the most fun cards to pull out of these seven-card packs is Gretzky’s first card with the Los Angeles Kings. This product was certainly not overproduced as O-Pee-Chee let the presses run the following year in preparation for the hobby going supernova.
BBCE authenticated boxes can be found for $600-$675 on eBay right now and there are rack packs available too.