Hockey is officially back. The prospect tournament is done, training camp is open and actual competitive hockey is just around the corner. Still, a couple weeks remain before the puck drops on opening night. What can help you pass the time over the next couple of weeks? How about some hockey cards!
This season, we will take a look at the various hockey card products as they are released and how they may appeal to Lightning fans. In the past we’ve focused on Upper Deck’s flagship product, but this year we will add a few more (budget pending) so that fans who might not be familiar with the industry can see what else is out there.
First up this season - Upper Deck MVP. Entering its 20th year, MVP continues to be a nice entry-level product for collectors and fans. As usual it’s not a huge set (250 cards), reasonably priced (around $41 for a box) and most importantly, it’s the first set released for the 2018-19 season. It’s been available for purchase since early August.
MVP isn’t going to wow a collector with their photo selections. It’s mostly full body shots of players skating and looking up the ice. This year’s version features a border on the left side and a full-bleed photo on the other.
It honors the original 1998-99 set with the slightly mechanical left-hand border but isn’t a blatant copy. The player name is easy to read along the border, but the team name and position gets a little lost in the MVP logo at the bottom. It’s a nice, clean looking card.
The back isn’t overly exciting, a bio line and a few years worth of basic stats. There is the always important player name pronunciation guide and the card numbers are easy to read (which is way more important than the casual fan may realize). There is a lot of empty space, but for an entry-level product, it’s not a deal-breaker.
Who is this set for?
People collect for all different kinds of reasons and certain releases fit certain collecting styles. So who would be intrigued by this release?
Impatient fans who need to get their hands on the first product of the year
It was a long summer and new hockey cards can be hard to come by. There are a few sets released (Ultimate Collection, Premier Hockey, etc) but with the actual season over, those sets can be a little anticlimactic. MVP, like a freshly cleaned sheet of ice, signals a new start to the season.
Team collectors or player collectors
The base cards of this set are fairly easy and cheap to obtain. If you like collecting Alex Killorn cards, it won’t break the bank to collect all of his MVP cards (except for a couple of the parallels, but we’ll get to that later). There are collectors (I’m one of them) that just want Lightning cards and see any other team or player simply as trade bait to get more Lightning cards.
Collectors looking for low-cost rookie cards
For instance Victor Hedman’s 2009-10 Upper Deck rookie is about $30.00. His 2009-10 MVP rookie - $1.50. For collectors looking for affordable cards of Casey Mittelstadt, Travis Dermott, Michael Dal Colle, and Anthony Cirelli, MVP is the way to go.
Who is the set NOT for?
Just as sets can be tailor-made for certain collectors some sets can be kryptonite for others. So who should pass on MVP?
Collectors looking for the big name rookies
Due to the stipulation that a player has to have appeared in an NHL game prior to being featured on an officially licensed hockey card, MVP’s rookie-class doesn’t include the big names drafted during the previous summer. So there is no Rasmus Dahlin card in the regular set. MVP does skirt these requirements by inserting a 2018 Number One Draft Pick redemption card. Once Dahlin plays, they can release the card to whoever pulls and submits a valid redemption. The drawback, the odds of pulling the redemption is 1 in 1,1250 packs. Prices for the redemption cards are hovering around $70 on eBay right now.
As the first set of the year, MVP has to rely on what can be referred to as a “carry over” rookie class. The 30 rookies featured are debuted last season, most of them in the second half of the year. There are a lot of college players who turned pro like Mittelstadt, Ryan Donato and Dylan Sikura. Also featured are young players who were called up like Cirelli, Dermott and Andrea Johnsson.
Collectors who like autograph cards or relic cards
There are no relic cards in the MVP set this year and autographs are few and far between. The one insert with autographs (Player Credentials) has an insert rate of 1 per 267 packs.
Despite its relatively small size (250 cards), it’s not easy to complete the set. The final 50 cards (20 veterans and 30 rookies) are short-printed. Those “high-series” cards come one per every two packs (hobby), one per every four packs (retail) and four per three packs (retail fat packs). Among the 20 veterans are most of the superstars like Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Sidney Crosby and Auston Matthews.
What’s in it for Lightning fans?
So we’ve covered regular hockey fans, but what’s in it for you the Lightning fan? Why should you consider picking up a couple of packs or a box of MVP?
Look who’s on the box!
It’s Steven Freakin’ Stamkos. The Lightning center is one of Upper Deck’s NHL “faces” and was their choice for the first product of the year. He adorns the box packaging and the packs (and was also the first card I pulled when I ripped open my first pack). If there were commercials for hockey cards, he would most likely be in them awkwardly opening up a pack.
The set also contains first cards of Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller in their Lightning uniforms. Traded at the deadline, the two former New York Rangers did not make the cut in any of the late season card releases.
The Lightning are fairly well represented. There are 11 Bolts in total in the set. That’s tied with Pittsburgh, Washington and Vegas for most players featured (Toronto has the most with 14). It’s a sign that the Lightning are starting to appeal to collectors outside of the Tampa area. Upper Deck’s goal is to sell as many cards as possible and filling their checklists with players collectors across the league want is one way to do it. Nikita Kucherov, Stamkos, Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy appeal to fans in other demographics.
In the box I broke, I pulled eight of the eleven Lightning players. I did get a Kucherov short print (nice) but not the Cirelli rookie (boo). Opening a full hobby box (160 cards) does get you most of the regular base set (1-200) and a decent portion of the high series (201-250) but will leave you needing to fill a few holes.
Lightning players included:
Nikita Kucherov (short print)
Anthony Cirelli (rookie short print)
Unfortunately, the Lightning’s rising popularity comes at the expense of some other fan bases. In order to have so many Bolts, Caps, Golden Knights, and Leafs represented, some other teams had to have fewer players. Fans of the Coyotes (5 cards), Devils (5 cards), Canucks (6 cards) and Wild (6 cards) may want to pass on this set.
The inserts and parallels
Upper Deck and the other card companies can’t help themselves when it comes to making parallels. Each base card needs at least two or three different versions and MVP is no exception. This year, collectors can chase Silver Script parallels (1:3 packs), Gold Script (only available in retail blaster boxes and only 150 of each card) and Super Script (only 25 of each card released. There are also Super Script Black cards of the high series that are limited to five copies of each card - good luck finding those.
As mentioned earlier, this is the 20th anniversary of the MVP product line so Upper Deck has an insert featuring today’s stars on cards featuring the design of the 1998-99 set. Stamkos, Kucherov and Vasilevskiy are all included in this set.
MVP also includes original 1998-99 cards stamped with the 20th Year logo. Each of the 220 cards making up this insert set were serial numbered to only 20. So if you want a copy of a 1998-99 Alexandre Daigle or Bill Ranford Lightning card, let me know and I’ll write “20th Year” on it and mail it to you.
This year’s version of the popular Colors and Contours set is a parallel of the 20th anniversary cards. So that means you can get a colorful die-cut version of the Stamkos, Kucherov, and Vasilevskiy cards that are serial numbered to 198.
My personal favorite insert of this set are the Player Credentials. It’s a dumb idea (a copy of an employee ID card for NHL players) that just seems to work well. There is something about a card with a fake barcode that just pleases me, I don’t know why, but it does. The set is relatively small (only 40 cards) so it only features one Lightning player - Andrei Vasilevskiy. It’s also the only insert set that features autographs as a parallel. Vasy’s autograph is part of a group that shows up once every 1,186 packs. So, again, good luck pulling one.
Another unique insert set for MVP is the puzzle back variation. Instead of the regular back filled with stats and bio information the back of the card has part of a nine-piece puzzle. Put them together and you get an oversize photo of a player. Nikita Kucherov is the subject of one of these and I pulled a piece of his stick. Only eight more cards to go!
I wasn’t going to buy this product originally, but when I was ordering some other cards I noticed that Stamkos was the cover boy and the price was right. With somewhat lowered expectations, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. The cards look nice, there were enough inserts to break up the regular cards without being overwhelming, and having Miller and McDonagh included were nice surprises.
To sum up, MVP is a nice little tease, an amuse bouche if you will, that will get you ready for the hockey season. It’s not overly expensive, but if you’re seeking new cardboard it’s a great way to start the season.