In the modern world of hockey card collecting, the appeal of retired players within new releases practically ensures that many of the game’s greatest legends will be discovered by new generations of hobbyists. However, there was a time where retirement often meant that a last card was exactly that, and there are plenty from Parkhurst, Topps, and O-Pee-Chee that deserve a second look from collectors.
For the purposes of this list, we are going to take a subjective look at players who retired between the debut of the Parkhurst brand in 1951-52 and the 1989-90 season – just before the hockey card industry went supernova.
Here are 10 supposedly final pieces of cardboard featuring Hockey Hall of Famers which are worthy of being added to any collection.
1951-52 Parkhurst Turk Broda
A five-time Stanley Cup champion from a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs ranked among the league’s most consistently dominant clubs, Broda first appeared on cards before World War II. His rookie card from 1936-37 O-Pee-Chee is extremely coveted, but his last from the first post-War set has plenty of fans as well.
In 1950-51, Broda was in the twilight of his remarkable career and platooned with rookie Al Rollins. He went 15-10-6 and posted five shutouts during the regular season, but his reputation as one of the greatest clutch netminders of all-time was apparent as he gave up just nine goals over eight playoff games. In the Stanley Cup Final, the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens went into overtime in each of the five games they played, but Broda relinquished control of the crease to his understudy after going 1-1.
With 1951-52 Parkhurst hitting store shelves, some kids may have been surprised to see Broda in the set as he had not skated all year and only played in one late-season game against Boston on March 23, 1952 – long after the set had been released. He wrapped up his playing days with two appearances in the first round battle with the Detroit Red Wings before calling it a career.
1960-61 Parkhurst Maurice Richard
The hockey world was shocked when Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard announced his retirement at the end of the 1959-60 season. At the time, the Canadiens had just won a record five straight Stanley Cup titles and he was the game’s all-time goals leader.
With the Rocket adjusting to life in retirement, Parkhurst somehow received permission to feature him in their 1960-61 release. Perhaps hoping for a return to the ice or wanting to pay tribute to his contributions on and off the ice, the card did feature a recycled photo. However, it was certainly coveted by young collectors who were not about to forget about him.
1971-72 O-Pee-Chee Jean Beliveau
O-Pee-Chee paid tribute to Terry Sawchuk in their 1970-71 set after he had passed away and while developing the second series of its 1971-72 collection, it decided to honor both Gordie Howe and Jean Beliveau. The pair had retired at the end of the previous season, but the fact they were instantly inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame certainly justified making a pair of cool cards which are still loved by collectors nearly 50 years later.
In the case of Beliveau, his 1970-71 campaign not only saw him reach the 500-goal plateau, but also help the Canadiens to a wild Stanley Cup victory. With a loaded lineup that surged with the addition of rookie goalie Ken Dryden, they upset the favored Boston Bruins and knocked off the Minnesota North Stars before eliminating the Chicago Black Hawks (yes, it was two words then) in seven games. Beliveau hoisted the Stanley Cup for the final time as a player that year and one of the sport’s most respected legends moved on. The O-Pee-Chee tribute card reinforced what kids already knew about his importance to hockey history and it is a great starting point for anyone looking to begin a Beliveau collection.
1973-74 O-Pee-Chee Tim Horton
Around the time that the second series of 1973-74 O-Pee-Chee arrived, kids collecting hockey cards were mourning the unexpected death of Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tim Horton following a game against his old club, the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 20, 1974. Heading back to Buffalo in his De Tomaso Pantera, he was sadly intoxicated and lost control of the car. It flipped multiple times and settled on its roof, but he was not wearing a seat belt and was found roughly 120 feet away. While he was taken to the hospital in St. Catharines, Ontario, he was pronounced dead at the age of 44.
Horton’s final card from his playing days was instantly treasured by youngsters and over time, his legacy and cultural significance continued to grow thanks to a chain of restaurants bearing his name. While he is associated more today with donuts and coffee, he was a Hall of Fame talent on the ice. Another great card from this set which features a Horton cameo is that of his former teammate, Dave Keon – and it was arguably one of the best the set had to offer.
1975-76 O-Pee-Chee WHA Jacques Plante
As strange as it may seem, Jacques Plante finished his career with the Edmonton Oilers in the old World Hockey Association. While he had retired twice previously, he staged a small comeback with the rival league in 1974-75. Cobbling together a 15-14-1 record, he was featured in that year’s stand-alone WHA set.
With the death of his son weighing on his mind, he chose to retire. However, the 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee WHA set chose to include him on the checklist. The card itself features a fantastic studio photo where you get an up-close look at his mask – a rarity in that era. In fact, it was the only card specific to him from his career where his innovation was clearly depicted and it was a later Fibrosport model with a subtle maple leaf painted on it. The only other card from his playing days which featured him in a mask came from 1973-74 O-Pee-Chee and Topps as part of a playoff-themed action card.
1978-79 O-Pee-Chee Bobby Orr
The retirement of Bobby Orr was regarded as an eventuality in the late 1970s. His knees had given out by the middle of the decade, but he still valiantly tried to get back in the swing of things as a member of the Chicago Black Hawks. All told, he only got into 26 games with the club, missing the 1977-78 campaign entirely.
The next season saw him get into six games, but he took to the ice for the last time as an active player against the Vancouver Canucks on November 1, 1978. While it is unclear as to whether or not O-Pee-Chee had planned a regular card for him that year or not, the company cobbled together a last-minute “Special Collector’s Card” showing him as a member of Team Canada. The photo was shot by Steve Babineau during the 1976 Canada Cup tournament – which is often regarded as his true last hurrah as a player. By the time the boom years arrived, card companies outbid each other to feature Orr in their sets – with the first out of the gate being Score in 1991-92.
1979-80 O-Pee-Chee and Topps Gordie Howe
At the age of 50, Gordie Howe was still playing for the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association in 1978-79 and still raising hell on the ice. The team was playing out of Springfield, MA at the time since the roof of the Hartford Civic Center had collapsed earlier in the year.
Early in the season, Howe and the Whalers hosted the Edmonton Oilers on November 9, 1978 and there was a great deal of buzz since it marked the first local appearance of Wayne Gretzky, who had been acquired from the troubled Indianapolis Racers a week earlier. The first official on-ice meeting between the established legend and the player that would smash his records proved to be a 6-1 victory for the home team, but it is believed that photographer Steve Babineau was in the house that evening taking the photo which would eventually appear on Gretzky’s first card – and Howe’s apparent last. Looking at the shot on the Howe card, you can see Mr. Hockey’s teammate, John McKenzie – a player whose number would eventually be retired by the club as well. The Oilers player is not Gretzky, but rather appears to be Brett Callighen.
Howe spent one last season in the NHL with the Whalers once the team was rechristened the Hartford Whalers. He left the game playing alongside his sons, Mark and Marty, and this card has been an excellent entry point for Howe collectors for nearly 40 years.
1979-80 O-Pee-Chee and Topps Ken Dryden
Dryden’s relationship with card collectors and autograph hounds is a strained one at best, but he is, well, a bit different than most hockey legends. One of the early players to come up through the college ranks, he rose to superstardom by taking the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie in 1970-71. At the time, he had six regular season games under his belt and he went on to capture a Calder Trophy in 1971-72. A year later, another title followed and he made the unorthodox decision to head back to school to work on his law degree instead of playing for one of hockey’s most legendary franchises.
Returning in 1974-75, he needed just a year to gear up and proceeded to backstop the Habs to four straight titles from 1975-76 to 1978-79. His name was carved into the Vezina Trophy five times in total and it appeared that more titles would follow – until he decided to retire for good at the age of 31. Luckily for fans, he would chronicle his final season and the rationale behind his stepping away in a book called The Game.
Hockey card collectors, though, may have been a bit surprised to see him included in the 1979-80 collections offered by O-Pee-Chee and Topps. The Topps card does not denote the retirement, but O-Pee-Chee made sure that kids knew his career had come to a close. Dryden has kept the hobby at an arm’s distance over the years and has rarely appeared in licensed products. His 1972 Team Canada autograph card produced by Future Trends for a tribute product in 1991-92 is the only one he decided to authorize and it remains highly unlikely that he will ever choose to work with a manufacturer despite huge collector demand. This is an absolute shame as there is a generation of fans who worshiped him.
1979-80 O-Pee-Chee and Topps Bobby Hull
Hull was arguably the most exciting player in the game during his glory days with Chicago Black Hawks (now Blackhawks) in the 1960s and he revolutionized the sport in the following decade by jumping to the World Hockey Association. As a member of the Winnipeg Jets, he helped the team to multiple AVCO Cup championships and was in the twilight of an incredible career by the time the NHL absorbed four clubs from the Rival League in 1979. In fact, he had only skated in four games in 1978-79 and was not part of the team’s third championship victory.
With Topps needing to add some players from the WHA into their 1979-80 set, there was likely little internal debate as to include Hull on the checklist. Chicago reclaimed Hull as a matter of principle, but the Jets had to bring him back into the fold as part of the 1979 NHL Expansion Draft. Deciding to show him with the Black Hawks on their card, possibly based on a rumor that he was headed back to the Windy City since he had little interest in continuing to play in Winnipeg, Topps made a bit of a humorous mistake – at least in a sense. Since we cannot determine exactly when the proofing process took place, all we can do is chalk it up to something fun and quirky.
Hull eventually capitulated and came back to the Jets and his O-Pee-Chee card reflected that fact. He did not last long and refused to report after coach Tom McVie benched him for a high-profile game. With the Montreal Canadiens coming for the first time, the team held a Tuxedo Night on December 15, 1979 that was going to be broadcasted nationally on Hockey Night in Canada. Hull sat out going forward and was eventually traded to the Hartford Whalers. He finished the year playing a few games alongside Howe and Dave Keon and was finished after losing a first round series to Montreal. In 1981, he attempted a comeback with the New York Rangers, but did not make the team.
1980-81 O-Pee-Chee and Topps Phil Esposito
Once the NHL expanded in 1967, Phil Esposito emerged as the game’s top goal producer. Over the next few seasons, he was part of the Big Bad Bruins which won two Stanley Cups and he set a record for most goals (76) and points (152) in a season during the 1970-71 campaign.
Traded to the New York Rangers early in 1975-76, Esposito saw his production drop, but he remained popular with fans – especially in the Big Apple. He helped take them to an appearance in the 1979 Stanley Cup Final against the Canadiens, but the Broadway Blueshirts were eliminated in five games.
His 1979-80 campaign was still a respectable one as he finished among the top 30 in points, but the next season would be his last as he called it a career mid-way through. Luckily for kids collecting at the time, the last card from his playing days was just hitting store shelves. The Topps version is particularly cool since it features a black waxy coating over his name that allow kids to play a “Who Am I?” game. While this card is by far the most affordable of the bunch, it is certainly a nice pickup for a collector looking for something from the end of a remarkable career.
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