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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Stadium Series, Chicago Style

The Penguins continue their march to the playoffs tonight in Chicago against the Blackhawks.  This game is different though.  It's part of the NHL Stadium Series and will be held in Soldier Field.  But don't mistake this for the pomp and circumstance of some ceremonial type game.  This is a regular season battle that has little potential playoff implication at this point but is important for both teams nonetheless.

These two are probably the best two teams to date in the 2013-14 season to face-off on the outdoor ice.  The Penguins lead the Metro division by a mile and a half and lead the East by 5 points.  The Hawks sit tied with St. Louis for the lead in the Central and are tied for 3rd in the West.  Both teams also have 84 total points.  Both teams lead their conferences in goals-for.  But the biggest nod to this being a huge game, both teams have won 3 of the last 5 Stanley Cups and both teams are top considerations for winning it this year.

The Hawks need a win.  Over the last 10, they are 3-4-3.  This game could give them the momentum to push them toward a strong finish.  The Pens, on the other hand, have gone 6-2-2 in their last 10, losing the other night in a SO to Montreal.  This is a Nationally televised game on NBC, which have traditionally not boded well for the Pens.  In addition, they are dealing with injuries to Letang and Martin and there is a mystery looming as to what Shero is going to do before the trade deadline.

Regardless, this is a big game.  The media has been hyping it up in Chicago for months.  It was front page news in most area papers.  Ticket sales have slowed but secondary market prices have launched into the stratosphere.  There will be fireworks, explosions, rock music, a fly-over, NHL legends looking on, and with any luck there will some inclement weather to make it an interesting event inside a giant snow globe (there's snow in the forecast...).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Exclusive Once Again

So with the new year rolling around just a few short months ago, it seemed that the hockey card market was going to have one of it's strongest years to date with another Double Rookie class and all sorts of innovative and new products for collector's to get their hands on.  The releases up to this point looked good (with a few exceptions) and the calendar was chocked full of exciting stuff.

Fast forward to today when the NHL and NHLPA announced that each organization has agreed to terms with Upper Deck on a multi-year agreement to be the EXCLUSIVE licensed manufacturer of NHL trading cards, starting with the upcoming 2014-15 season.  Notice how I capitalized exclusive there.  Yes, folks, it's now 2004 once again when Upper Deck held the monopoly on licensed hockey cards.  Panini is out.  They are soooo 2013.  Upper Deck is the future, I tells ya.  But a future that scare the {bleep} out of me as a hockey collector.

I have always been on Team Upper Deck.  I'm not going to lie.  They have always made what I considered, the more superior product when it came to what I collect.  Their flagship set is untouchable by any other brand, period.  The Young Gun rookie subset has been, and probably always will be, a staple of the hockey card industry.  I also enjoy the value of products like Artifacts, the SP releases, and of course, the set collector's wet dream, O-Pee-Chee. 

Team Panini was always the "oh, yeah those guys" kind of product to me.  I supported the cause and bought new product.  I collected the Score set every year.  The first year Panini hit the market with products I over indulged on Donruss and Pinnacle, overspent on Contenders, and even dabbled a bit in Dominion.  My favorite single release of Panini was their Crown Royale set.  The die-cut design of old was always a beauty to do a box rip of.  But my favorite overall release was the Rookie Anthology sets.  These cards, while small in the base set, had almost every high-series release of Panini products each year and the boxes were jammed with autos and game-used cards.  They were a great value, especially as the market cooled.  One of my favorite set-within-a-set were the Rookie Treasures with their dual swatches and autos.  Very nice looking design.

But for whatever reason, despite the popularity of the product, the spirited competition between brands was obviously not a concern for the NHL and the Player's Association.  This now leaves us, once again, with only one manufacturer in a card market full of thirsty collectors.  While this paves the way for Upper Deck to reach back into their bag-o-tricks and pull products like MVP, Ice, and maybe even Victory back out into their own products, it bothers me a bit that we could see a resurgence of the "recycled" product.  There were quite a few years throughout the mid-late 00s where the products all began to look alike.  Photography was reused, card designs were duplicated, and it started to feel like some of the products were just being phoned in.

Competition is good for any market.  Whether you have brand loyalty or not, having alternatives pushes creativity and design.  When there is a market of hockey collector's looking for the next big thing, having multiple brand options at various price points makes for a much more enjoyable collecting experience.  Whether it's Panini, Topps, Leaf, In The Game, Press Pass, etc., exclusive licenses have the potential to hurt the overall collecting experience of a sport.  I'm not going to go as far to say that UD vs. Panini was like a Coke vs. Pepsi thing (which makes ITG...RC Cola?).  I think there is plenty of room in this market for more than one brand.

I just hope Upper Deck uses this opportunity to the fullest, doesn't lose their momentum on product releases, designs some innovative products, and forces the doubters (including myself) to change their minds.  With great power comes great responsibility and Upper Deck has a duty from this point forward to bring-it with each and every release.  I know they are going to start with the return of MVP to their own brand in August.  I'm not sure that is going to be their best move but we'll see how this whole thing impact the hobby going forward.