For the generation that grew up watching hockey in the 1980s, there are plenty of heroes from that era which are still heavily praised. The exploits of players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and many others are well-remembered, but there are also those that were stars at the time which have been forgotten or are in danger of fading into the ether of hockey history.
The 1980s were also a different time for the hobby. When it came to hockey cards, O-Pee-Chee ruled the market in Canada every year and Topps took a brief hiatus in 1982-83 and 1983-84 before coming back to store shelves. There were very few adult collectors before the hobby boomed, so these cards (especially those that are prominent Hall of Fame members) and sets experienced a surge in price as the 1990s dawned.
While some cards increased in value, there are some which still deserve more attention from collectors. Not every player on this list is a future Hall of Famer, but some may be enshrined one day. Regardless, all of these cards deserve a second glance.
1980-81 O-Pee-Chee/Topps Paul Reinhart
Somewhat forgotten today, Reinhart was a two-time All-Star during his time in the NHL and it all began when he was drafted 12th overall by the Atlanta Flames in 1979. After a decent rookie season in the South where he finished fifth in balloting for the Calder Trophy, the team was sold and relocated to Calgary.
He was included in both the Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets for 1980-81, but the photo was heavily cropped into a head shot since photos in the new uniform would not be available in time for printing. This is a common thing among the Flames players that appear in both sets, but those in O-Pee-Chee only were not as zoomed in and had the Atlanta logo airbrushed out.
For the first half of the decade, Reinhart regularly scored in double-digits in goals and hit a career high with 23 tallies in 1984-85. He was injured for a good chunk of 1985-86, but he was an important part of Calgary’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final that year. Following an injury-filled 1987-88, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks and even led the team in scoring during the 1989-90 campaign. However, that proved to be his last season in the league as his back woes had become too much to handle. Reinhart’s legacy continues on today as his sons Sam, Max, and Griffin have all played in the NHL.
1987-88 O-Pee-Chee Claude Lemieux
Regarded as one of the greatest agitators the game has ever seen, Lemieux may have heard plenty of boos over the course of his lengthy career, but he also backed it up with nearly 400 career goals and four Stanley Cup rings.
Drafted in the second round in 1983, the Canadiens took their time in developing him into a daily NHL player and he had just 19 games under his belt when he went on Montreal’s run to a championship in 1986 and scored a key Game 7 overtime goal to eliminate the Hartford Whalers in the second round. Since Topps or O-Pee-Chee likely did not have a photo of him on file, he could not be squeezed into the following year’s card set, so fans had to wait until 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee was released to get his cardboard.
Traded to the New Jersey Devils before the 1990-91 season, Lemieux was at his best four years later as he won the Conn Smythe Trophy thanks to his amazing play during the team’s first Stanley Cup victory. Just before the 1995-96 campaign began, he was traded away as part of a three-team deal and ended up with the Colorado Avalanche. He raised some controversy due to his injuring of Detroit Red Wings player Kris Draper during the playoffs and became public enemy #1 in the Motor City, but the Avs upset the league-leading club before going on to win the Stanley Cup. There was some vengeance against Lemieux in future confrontations with the Red Wings and the clubs created one of the most bitter rivalries in hockey history.
Brought back to the Devils for the 1999-00 season, Lemieux played on a fourth championship team, but he missed out on the following season before staging brief comebacks with the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars before retiring in 2003. He made another return to the ice as a member of the San Jose Sharks in 2008-09, but that lasted a single game.
1980-81 O-Pee-Chee Pete Peeters
One of the decade’s most dominant goaltenders, Peeters was meant to be the heir-apparent to Bernie Parent in Philadelphia. After sharing the Hap Holmes Award in the AHL with Maine Mariners teammate Robbie Moore (who never had a major issue card) in 1978-79, he was promoted to the Flyers roster after Wayne Stephenson was traded to the Washington Capitals before the 1979-80 season began.
From the start of his career, Peeters was incredible as he platooned with veteran Phil Myre. He went 22-0-5 before experiencing his first loss and the Flyers set a professional sports standard thanks to a 35-game undefeated streak. That momentum carried over into the playoffs. Despite that heartbreaking loss, he did finish third in voting for the Calder Trophy behind Detroit’s Mike Foligno and winner Raymond Bourque of the Bruins. Oddly, Topps only included Myre in their 1980-81 set and O-Pee-Chee was the only place to get Peeters’ rookie card. Unfortunately, he was mask-free on it as he had a great one to start the season which he had worn in Maine.
The next two seasons were not as strong for Peeters, though, and he was dealt to Boston for Brad McCrimmon even though he had a winning record. There is some speculation that this move was spurred by an alleged assault on a reporter, but he was able to put all of that behind him and gave the best performance of the decade by a goalie in 1982-83. How amazing was it? It included eight shutouts, 40 wins (then a rare feat), and a league-leading 2.37 goals-against average.
1980-81 O-Pee-Chee/Topps Ken Morrow
After patrolling the blue line for the United States as the National Team won a surprising gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics, Morrow was able to join the New York Islanders. The time could not have been better as he was on the roster for the team’s run to the Stanley Cup. He became the first player to receive both honors in the same year and it was a no-brainer for Topps to include him, along with some of his teammates, in their 1980-81 hockey card set. The card itself featured the USA Hockey logo as well, and that carried over to the O-Pee-Chee version as well.
It did not take Morrow long to become one of the game’s most respected defense-first blueliners and while he never had more than 19 points in a season, he went to great lengths to keep the puck away from the net. He played parts of 10 campaigns and four Stanley Cup victories that were highlighted by a trio of overtime goals. The most important of the three came on April 10, 1984 as he scored at the 8:56 of extra time in a pivotal contest where the winner was to move on to the next round.
1979-80 O-Pee-Chee/Topps John Tonelli
Tonelli is one of the unsung greats of the game, but he gets little attention from collectors today despite the fact that he is a four-time Stanley Cup champion who put up plenty of points as well. As an 18-year-old, he decided to start his pro career in the World Hockey Association with Gordie Howe and the Houston Aeros in 1975-76 and only jumped to the NHL ranks once that club ceased operations. Luckily for the Islanders, they had drafted him in 1977 and were happy to add him to their roster in 1978-79.
A year later, Tonelli was included in both the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee and Topps sets and the condition-sensitive blue borders make it tough to find high grade copies. The same season saw the Islanders embark on a run of four straight championships and he scored a key overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 13, 1982 that helped stave off a potential elimination.
Arguably, Tonelli’s best season came in 1984-85 as he was named to the league’s Second All-Star Team for the second time in his career and set a personal high with 42 goals and 100 points. Traded to Calgary late in 1985-86, he came close to another championship and spent two more seasons with the Flames before winding down his career with Los Angeles, Chicago, and Quebec before retiring in 1992.
With nearly 1,000 career points between his time in the WHA and NHL and no major individual awards, there is little chance that Tonelli will ever be a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. However, he certainly had the respect of fans. The question is, though, if he cares enough to be involved in trading card sets today. Your humble author tried a few years ago to get him to sign a deal with In The Game, but could not reach an agreement. As a result, it may be best to appreciate what there is out on the market already and his rookie card certainly remains undervalued when his accomplishments are put under consideration.
1980-81 O-Pee-Chee/Topps Mike Liut
First of all, that mask. What a thing of beauty. So simple, but no doubt intimidating to shooters.
Like Tonelli, Liut started out his pro career in the WHA with the Cincinnati Stingers but the St. Louis Blues reclaimed him when the NHL absorbed four clubs from the rival league. At the time, the Blues were looked to escape the bottom of the standings and were loaded up with promising young talent – but were in desperate need for an elite starting goalie. Liut fit the bill perfectly and responded by leading the league in wins in 1979-80.
Such a great season made him a natural for inclusion in the 1980-81 O-Pee-Chee and Topps sets and the selected photo was perfect. The shot, taken at the Capital Center and most likely by Jerry Wachter, was taken on March 5, 1980 as it was the only time Liut faced Washington on the road during the 1979-80 season.
When the card was issued, Liut was in the midst of a career year where the Blues finished second overall in the NHL and he was absolutely dominant along the way – winning the Lester B. Pearson Award (now called the Ted Lindsay Award) after being voted the league’s Most Valuable Player by his peers.
For the rest of the decade, Liut consistently racked up wins, but playoff success tended to be elusive. He was shipped off to the Hartford Whalers in 1984-85 and helped the sad-sack team return to contention the next year. In 1986-87, he was runner-up to Ron Hextall for the Vezina Trophy. Known for being intensely competitive – especially when you ask goalies that played on the same team – Liut eventually finished up with 293 victories and eventually became a player agent.
1981-82 O-Pee-Chee Tim Kerr
A power play specialist who parked himself in front of the net any time his team had the man-advantage, Kerr was a scoring machine and helped the Philadelphia Flyers to two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final during the 1980s.
Undrafted despite being eligible in 1979, Kerr signed with Philly on October 25 of that year and cracked the club’s roster in 1980-81. After scoring 22 times as a rookie, he received his first card in 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee after being passed over for the Topps set. After missing much of 1982-83, he bounced back in 1983-84 and notched his first of what to be four straight years where he scored at least 54 goals. The 1984-85 season saw him finally get more power play time and he went on to lead the NHL in power play goals for three straight campaigns.
During the trips to the Stanley Cup Final in 1985 and 1987, Kerr sustained knee and shoulder injuries that ultimately had an impact in his team’s chances at a championship. In the latter run, the shoulder problems resulted in multiple surgeries that effectively cancelled most of his 1987-88. He came back and was awarded the Masterton Trophy for his perseverance and dedication and his time with the Flyers came at the end of 1990-91. He played parts of the next two seasons with the New York Rangers and Hartford Whalers, but he faced adversity off the ice as well as his wife passed away in 1990, just days after the birth of their daughter.
1981-82 O-Pee-Chee Kevin Lowe
Overshadowed by his Hall of Fame teammates, Lowe is still deserving of recognition from collectors as he was a part of five Stanley Cup championships (and another with the New York Rangers). The first amateur draft pick for the team upon its arrival in the NHL in 1979, he scored the first goal in franchise history and was around for many of the ups and downs.
Lowe did not make the cut for the 1980-81 O-Pee-Chee set, so his rookie card was issued the following year instead. The card has long commanded a premium, but it seems to be underrated in contrast to some of his contemporaries. Granted, the hobby rarely heaps love onto defensemen and action during his role as an executive with the Oilers often raised the ire of fans – but this is a card that deserves better from collectors. Perhaps his reluctance to appear in modern products does not help him stay in the minds of pack breakers, but he could still find his way into the Hockey Hall of Fame in time. It may also be a smart idea to grab up his only authorized certified autographs that came in 1995-96 Be A Player as it does not seem likely that he will sign for a card company at any point soon.
1983-84 O-Pee-Chee Guy Carbonneau
Arguably the best defensive forward of his era, Carbonneau spent a large chunk of his career in a Montreal Canadiens uniform and following a solid rookie season, he was included in the 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee set. By the time he won his first Stanley Cup in 1986, he was also a Selke Trophy finalist as he learned the finer point of the game from the legendary Bob Gainey.
Back-to-back Selke Trophy wins came in 1987-88 and 1988-89 and he took over as captain of the Canadiens as the new decade dawns. A third Selke followed in 1991-92 and his leadership was never more apparent as Montreal made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup during the award’s centennial in 1993. Later in his career, he played for the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars – winning a final championship in 1999 before retiring after a run to the Stanley Cup Final the following year.
Today, he gets a lot of buzz when fans speculate about the next round of Hall of Fame inductees and is deserving of the honor. Carbonneau’s rookie card can still be had at bargain prices and is a smart pickup before it gets a potential boost in value.
1987-88 O-Pee-Chee Mike Vernon
Finally, we come to Vernon, who set the hockey world on fire during Calgary’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1986. While he was outduelled by fellow rookie Patrick Roy as the Flames fell to the Canadiens, he was strangely left out of the 1986-87 O-Pee-Chee set. Not to worry, though, as he was given a card the next year as he was in the middle of three straight 30-win campaigns.
In 1988-89, he led the NHL with 37 wins on top of finishing second to Roy in voting for the Vezina Trophy and All-Star voting. Vernon had the last laugh that year as he was at the top of his game on the road to a rematch with Montreal for all the marbles. This time, Calgary prevailed in six games to bring home the team’s only championship to date.
As the Flames slowly declined in the years that followed, Vernon was traded to the Red Wings for defenseman Steve Chiasson on June 29, 1994. In Detroit, he backstopped the team to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in nearly 30 years and ultimately fell to the New Jersey Devils. The 1995-96 season was a memorable one for Red Wings fans as the team won a record 62 games and Vernon shared the Jennings Trophy with teammate Chris Osgood.
During the postseason in 1997, Vernon took things to new levels and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Detroit won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1955. Despite all of that success, the Red Wings traded him to the San Jose Sharks and he bounced to the Florida Panthers before finishing out his playing days back in Calgary. The Flames eventually retired his number and there is a strong case for his enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Like Lowe, he is a player that rarely signs for card companies, so his certified autographs command a premium as well.