Let's apply that back-and-forth discussion to this set, but in a much less mysterious, dark, cursed kind of way:
First, the 1984-85 hockey design was clearly inspired by the 1983 Topps Baseball release, which might make you think the designers were being a bit lazy.
But at the same time, adjustments were made to that design to give it a more active, angular look that really works for hockey. And the colors match each team better than they do in the baseball set.
I mean, just look at these three cards and tell me the combination of action and design scores anything but a 10 out of 10:
Next, the size of the set. It's minuscule. There are only 165 cards in all, compared with 396 in the O-Pee-Chee version.
But at the same time, that size makes it relatively easy to complete, even 35 years after its release. I just completed my second set, in fact.
That minuscule size means Topps left out some very attractive rookie cards. Cam Neely, Doug Gilmour, and Chris Chelios rookies only appear in the O-Pee-Chee version.
However, the absence of those cards makes the Topps set more affordable.
That's good! (Sort of.)
So as a hockey card collector, what do you do?
Well, I still say you should go for it. You can probably find a large stack of these cards for a reasonable price, and with the set being so small, one large stack means you can be more than halfway to a complete set.
You can even do what I did a few years ago when I was building this set for the first time: Buy a wax pack or two, open them, and add some of those cards to your set—you know, the old-fashioned way.
Packs are not as cheap as they used to be, partly because Topps used a heat-sealed tamper-proof plastic wrapper for that year's hockey packs instead of the standard wax wrappers (another puzzler!), but the nostalgia you'll feel will be worth it.
And another reason to try that out? Well, because the entire set consists of only 165 cards, and each pack contains 15 cards, there's a pretty decent chance you'll find at least one or two star players in your pack. Take one of the packs I bought for an example:
That's the first Topps card for Housley and Bellows, Barrasso's All-Star card from his rookie year, Coffey and Bourque are HOFers (as is Housley), and of course the Yzerman rookie card (another HOFer). All in the same pack.
Here are a few other cards from the set that I enjoy.
Watch as Guy Lafeur and Mike Bossy show you proper crossover technique (left-over-right and right-over-left), while Michel Goulet shows you very nice form on a pass.
The goalies had some nice cardboard in this set. On the right, there's Billy Smith with the kick save. In the middle, Gilles Melloche makes an equally nice stick save. On the left, it's Murray Bannerman with the great combo of turtleneck, old-school mask, leather pads, and super-cool 80s font on the Canadien goalie stick.
Here's Brian Sutter busy doing a Sutter brother thing (not giving an inch), plus Ken Morrow jumping into the action and a Pat LaFontaine rookie card. Note that the O-Pee-Chee version of this set contains all six Sutter brothers. The Topps version did not include Duane and Rich. I wonder if all six of them went over to the Topps headquarters to rough some guys up for that omission.
And here's Wayne and Mike on the All-Star card design, plus the checklist. They fit all 165 cards between the front and back.
Finally, here's an example of a card back. When space allowed, Topps did a nice job with the write-ups, often mentioning a highlight or two from the player's previous season. I like how they kept the hockey stick in the same neutral color as the border, which helps keep it subtle and in the background.
Now let's get back to the bad-good thing, because we've got more.
A total of 171 cards (or 162) would have made more sense for the 9-pocket page. A total of 165, however, leaves just three cards alone on the last page.
And it's befuddling, because in that era Topps did consider how many cards would fill that last page in the binder. Just think of all the baseball sets that consisted of 792 cards.
With no Topps version of a hockey set in 1982-83 or 1983-84, however, maybe it was a late decision by Topps to even produce a set in 1984-85, and 165 cards made for more efficient printing somehow.
Next, the distribution of cards per team. Perhaps Topps was hasty in trying to reduce the set by so many cards (396 down to 165), because here's the shakeout of base cards per team:
14 cards: Islanders
12 cards: Bruins, Red Wings, Rangers
11 cards: Sabres, Black Hawks, Whalers, North Stars
8 cards: Capitals
7 cards: Devils
6 cards: Kings, Flyers
5 cards: Penguins, Blues
3 cards: Flames, Oilers, Canadiens, Nordiques, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Jets
That's bad. (Also, wow, no love for the Canadian teams.)
To take one example of the odd distribution, the Whalers (last place in their division, missed the playoffs) received 11 cards in the base set, while the Oilers only received three—Coffey, Gretzky, and Kurri—despite winning the Stanley Cup the season prior. No Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Grant Fuhr, Andy Moog, Dave Semenko, or Charlie Huddy. They did have four of the All-Star cards at the end of the set as well, but three of those four were exactly the same players—Coffey, Gretzky, and Kurri. Messier was the fourth All-Star card.
So that's that. Overall, I think I count more "that's bad" than "that's good". But the design is so terrific that it certainly makes up for some of the bad. And regardless of the strange nature of this set, I'm happy to have completed it a second time.
How do you feel about 1984-85 Topps Hockey? More good? More bad? Leave a comment, and thanks as always for reading.