Heading into the 1993-94 NHL season, the hobby of collecting hockey cards had clearly morphed from a child’s pastime to a speculative game. However, the good times experienced by dealers, hobbyists, and would-be tycoons were about to turn sour. The reason for this is ultimately multi-faceted, but the lack of a strong crop of rookie cards, rising prices, and a shift toward pulling big inserts was leading up to a crash.
How bad was it for rookie card enthusiasts in 1993-94? Well, the fact that five of the six members of the NHL’s All-Rookie Team had cardboard debuts in previous years and only a few other options became stars spelled disaster in the long run. Martin Brodeur, who won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, had his first card in 1990-91 Score – but that was a time when licensees were allowed to include draft picks in a set.
By 1992-93, those rules had changed, but there was still another problem in the form of manufacturers being allowed to include prospects from the World Junior Championship. Granted, this helped drive sales for late-season sets, but the unfortunate side effect was that these players would already have a rookie card on the market long before they made their NHL debut. It took roughly a decade to finally correct this issue, but the signs were already glaring just four years after the NHL and NHLPA opened up to the idea of multiple trading card licensees.
Luckily, there were a handful of decent 1993-94 rookie cards – but only one seems to have any sort of shot at Hall of Fame induction. Chris Osgood of the Detroit Red Wings had an excellent career, but none of his peers from this season can really compare. The strange thing is, not every manufacturer included him in their second releases of the year!
Other strong names debuting here which had decent careers include Jason Arnott, Jocelyn Thibault, Darren McCarty, Jeff Friesen, Anson Carter, Jason Allison, Valeri Bure, Mike Peca, and Kirk Maltby.
Here’s a look at what each licensed set brought to the table in 1993-94:
A new licensee joined the fray in 1993-94 as Donruss made a memorable debut with hockey card collectors. The full-bleed action and solid photo selection with a hint of gold foil was well-received, even if the basic set did not include the beloved Rated Rookies which help drive sales in the baseball market. Instead, the Rated Rookies were an insert set and collectors had to figure out who the freshmen were on their own.
Released first as a 400-card low-number series that was followed by a 150-card update set a few months later, the initial release came mid-season and had less than 30 rookie cards within. Granted, this was a product that was fuelled by the inclusion of some strong insert sets and the low series debuts are solid, but certainly not spectacular. The names that stick out today include Darren McCarty, Jason Arnott, Jocelyn Thibault, and Brent Gretzky. Not exactly names to write home about, but Donruss certainly deserves some credit for including as many rookies as they could from the early stages of the 1993-94 campaign.
Also included here are Dallas Drake and Rob Gaudreau – and there is a reason why these cards are so significant. Both players made a small impact as rookies the previous year, but they could not be included in 1992-93 NHL and NHLPA-licensed sets as they had inked deals with Classic which prevented them from being featured. While neither player’s rookie cards from any 1993-04 sets is regarded as much more than common today, they still have a small amount of historical importance.
Toward the end of the season, the 1993-94 Donruss Update release made it to card stores. With roughly 20 percent of the set being rookie cards, it was popular at the time despite only a few notable inclusions. The key here is Chris Osgood as he debuted with the Detroit Red Wings, but there is also future Stanley Cup champion Kirk Maltby in an Edmonton Oilers uniform and future New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow during his time with the Quebec Nordiques.
Fleer Power Play
Fleer’s second season making hockey cards saw the company add a second product to its lineup and Power Play was a one-and-done which did not resonate with collectors at all. Over-sized like the 1964-65 Topps hockey set that was approaching 30 years of age at that point, it demonstrated that imitation can be flattering, but it can often fall flat.
Split into two series, the first of 1993-94 Fleer Power Play was made up of 280 cards and had just six rookies on the checklist. While Gaudreau and Drake make up part of that number, it is painfully obvious that the set was put together during the summer of 1993. They get points for including Shjon Podein and for also including first-year Florida Panthers prospects Doug Barrault and Milan Tichy. While the former only skated in two games for the Cats, Tichy was a total miss and never appeared for the club as he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for Brent Severyn on October 3, 1993. Mark Messier’s cousin, Joby, also makes his cardboard debut with this release.
Things got marginally better for rookie card enthusiasts with the second series of 1993-94 Fleer Power Play. There are plenty of prominent members of the freshman crop here, like Buffalo Sabres forward Derek Plante, McCarty, Osgood, Arnott, Fred Brathwaite, Jamie McLennan, Snow, Thibault, and Damian Rhodes. There are also two obscure names whose rookie cards can be only found here with Neil Eisenhut and Dan Kesa of the Vancouver Canucks.
The player portion of the second series closes with players that suited up for Canada and the United States at the 1994 Winter Olympics. For the Canadians, there are some semi-decent rookie cards with future NHL talents that included Adrian Aucoin, Brian Savage, Chris Therien, and Todd Warriner – but the gem at the time was the Brett Lindros card. Getting a bump in the price guides due to the hype surrounding his family name, he never panned out at the NHL level as concussions became a serious issue and he retired early. Next up was the American squad and the were not too many big names on the roster that were getting rookie cards. The best of the bunch were Darby Hendrickson, who had a decent NHL career, and Peter Laviolette, who had much more success as a head coach with the Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes (including a Stanley Cup triumph in 2005-06), and Philadelphia Flyers before settling in with the Nashville Predators.
While the 1993-94 Fleer Power Play set was an interesting experiment, it is in many ways a carbon copy of that year’s Fleer Ultra collection in terms of set content. Unleashed in two series, the first is quite uninspiring as there were a dozen rookie cards and the cards themselves featured darker photography and colours than the previous year’s set – essentially quashing any excitement collectors had building up for the sequel. The most intriguing first series inclusions were Hartford Whalers goalie Mike Lenarduzzi, Drake, Gaudreau, Podein, tough guy Chris Simon, Scott Pellerin, and David Littman.
Who is Littman and why is his card important? Well, despite appearing in just three career games (two with Buffalo and one with Tampa Bay) and never showing up on NHL ice after the 1992-93 season, he went on to become a big deal in the sports video game world as produced of EA Sports’ annual NHL releases. His lone card is a buried treasure to be sure, but there is also an All-Rookies insert to uncover as well.
It was only natural that Donruss complement its namesake with a Leaf collection in 1993-94 and the base cards have a design which is fondly recalled by today’s collectors. The glossy cards had excellent action photos on the fronts, but the backs have the player cropped and in front of a local landmark. It was certainly different and definitely memorable, but the first series had a dismal selection of just three rookie cards (Gaudreau, Drake, and Pellerin). Then again, no one was buying this product for freshman content – it was all about flashy inserts and the possibility of pulling a Mario Lemieux autograph.
Thankfully, 1993-94 Leaf Series Two was more in tune with the NHL’s hot young talents. Well, a bit more, as there were just 26 debuts in that release. Osgood was completely ignored for some reason and we were handed unnecessary cards of players like Radek Hamr and Steve Junker. Luckily, key names like McCarty, Thibault, and Arnott were pencilled in.
Let’s be frank, though, no one is collecting this set today for the rookies. The design is what it’s all about – and it was a great one.
After a lackluster showing for its basic sets in 1992-93, the annual Topps and O-Pee-Chee collection was changed up for 1993-94 and it signified the sad end to a magical era. Now known as Premier, the sets can be differentiated by the inclusion of French text on the O-Pee-Chee cards. The design was certainly clean and a gold parallel was a nice touch, but insert mania had firmly gripped hockey card collectors at this point and rookie cards were playing second fiddle.
Divided into a pair of 264-card series, the first only had one rookie card in Gaudreau and there were only 24 in the second. The best of that group are Thibault and McCarty and the rest are essentially commons. It should be noted that the editorial direction for this product was essentially in the hands of Topps and after 26 years, this was almost like a nail in the coffin of the classic O-Pee-Chee era. At the time, Topps was not competing hard enough against other companies and this ambivalence to making a great hockey card set is still disappointing today.
The Parkhurst revival entered its third season in 1993-94 as it moved from being produced by Pro Set to Upper Deck. Dr. Brian Price was still heavily involved at this point and the end result is a solid set during an ultimately underwhelming season for hockey cards. A two-series collection, the first release had more rookies than most other products this season and a lot of thought went into player selection.
With Series One covering off many of the key names from the start of the season, Series Two dug a bit deeper with some obscure names like Hank Lammens, Ladislav Karabin, and Bob Jay to go along with Osgood and a bunch of participants in the 1994 World Junior Championship. This is where we get some solid rookie cards of then-prime prospects like Jeff Friesen, Valeri Bure, and Oleg Tverdovsky to go along with busts such as Jason Bonsignore, Alexander Kharlamov, and Evgeni Ryabchikov.
Even though it was loaded up with so many rookies, 1993-94 Parkhurst remains an underrated set today. Perhaps the era of overproduction has a lot to do with it, but it may one day start getting a second look from collectors.
A rather plain effort, the 1993-94 Pinnacle base set is almost totally ignored by modern collectors despite the fact that it does include a much stronger selection of rookies in its second series than the first. Granted, this was the first season where the brand featured Dufex cards of the game’s coolest masks, so it isn’t a total wash out for collectors.
Of the 10 debuts in Series One, the most notable is tough-as-nails Chris Simon. By comparison, the bigger names were slated for the second series and the then-hot properties like Osgood, Arnott, and Thibault are part of the freshman subset. Like Parkhurst, there was also a tribute to the big names from the 1994 World Juniors. Pinnacle dug deep into the Canadian and American rosters here and even included 11 Russian players. Many of these names are lost to the mists of time, but credit is given for the willingness to include plenty of rookie cards in a season where there are few superstars to choose from.
One card of particular interest, though, is of Jason Karmanos. Son of Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos (otherwise known as the man who killed NHL action in Hartford), he is presently the VP of Hockey Operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is his only appearance in a base set, but he was included in the Team USA insert set in 1993-94 Donruss Update.
Like many early 1993-94 releases, the first series for Score suffers from a lack of rookie power despite a large 495-card checklist. The usual suspects are found there, but there were thankfully more options in the second series – a puzzling affair that featured glossy stock and a totally different design.
Why did Score totally destroy any continuity? The answer is not exactly clear over 25 years later, but the latter option has greater visual appeal. Again, collectors are treated to many of the same players featured in secondary 1993-94 releases, but collectors do not seem to care much today.
A hot mess when it came to rookie cards in its first two seasons, the 1993-94 Topps Stadium Club collection was a massive improvement over what came before – at least for the second series.
The initial Stadium Club release that year only featured three carryovers, but the product was buoyed by the presence of First Day parallels and other inserts which drew plenty of collectors in. Luckily, Series Two was markedly better for rookie content with over 10 percent of the cards representing debuts. As a nice touch, the player’s debut date is also featured on the front in gold foil. Arnott and Osgood are the keys, but interest in either today is limited at best.
When it came to rookie card content in the boom years and into the bust, nobody could touch Upper Deck. By 1993-94, the company had managed to face the same issue as its competitors when it came to carryovers, but their resourcefulness put them ahead of the pack.
The first series of 1993-94 Upper Deck was loaded up with highly coveted inserts, which certainly helped make up for a scant few rookies. They dug deep with some obscure names who did not appear anywhere else, like Dan Ratushny, Doug MacDonald, and Anatoli Fedotov. By the same token, the Star Rookie subset lacked star power – but the series was saved by a small continuation of the 1993 World Junior Championship subset that was part of the previous season’s high number offering. The best of that bunch, by far, are the first issues for defenders Sergei Gonchar and Kimmo Timonen.
By the time Series Two hit, the fever for inserts was hitting new heights and the SP brand made its hockey debut as a one-per-pack insert. Here, we get the year’s biggest names and there were 44 cards dedicated to prospects in their international jerseys. Most of them happen to be from Canada or the United States and the big names match those who had true rookie cards in the Parkhurst and Pinnacle sets in 1993-94.