Pop quiz, card collectors:
It's the late 1970s, and you're working down at the O-Pee-Chee trading card factory. A pro hockey player changes NHL teams at a time of year that throws a bit of a monkeywrench into the print schedule. There's no time to airbrush him into a new uniform.
What do you do?
That's what you do.
And you do it because you didn't have much else of a choice back then. Photos were taken with cameras that contained a roll of film. That film had to be developed and sent to the printing or design facility through the mail. If it was the off-season, you weren't exactly going to send a photographer out to the player's home to ask him to put on his new hockey jersey for a photo.
But I like the printed text solution. It's short. Sweet.
However, sometimes the explanation that you needed for the card wasn't quite as simple as "Now with [insert team here]". And that's where the rest of this post is going. Check out this next card, for example, which was the catalyst for the entire thing:
Team transferred to Cleveland.
You don't see that on a trading card every day. But the late-70s was an interesting time for hockey. The WHA, a new rival league to the NHL, was all over the place, with teams starting up, folding, or being consolidated and moved one after another.
And Dennis Maruk's card is evidence of that, as were some of his teammates in the same 1976-77 O-Pee-Chee set (but not the Topps version).
From my hockey card–collecting experience, O-Pee-Chee usually did contain more of these "notes of interest" in their sets than Topps did in their versions, even when the cards were exactly the same otherwise. Perhaps O-Pee-Chee's print schedule fell just a bit later on the calendar than Topps' did, giving them a little more room to make adjustments before the cards went to print. Or maybe they just cared about hockey more than Topps did. Either way, it's led to some very peculiar notes.
Now that we've seen the most curious example from the 1976-77 O-Pee-Chee set, let's review some examples from the next 10 years of cards. (A span that includes the prime years for these sorts of text updates.)
|1977-78 O-Pee-Chee #285, Bob Plager|
NOW COACHING ST. LOUIS MINOR TEAM
Well that's rather specific. It may seem like a shame that Bob Plager wasn't given a coaching job with the big club. However, he did some excellent work after his playing career came to a close. As one example, he is widely credited with developing the method we all currently know as advanced scouting.
"Now with Blues"
"Retired from active playing"
This card makes you wonder if the O-Pee-Chee design department typed all their text updates directly onto the photo, and couldn't delete them. But I don't know. If they first typed "Now with Blues" and then at some point later on were informed that Mr. Edur had retired, couldn't they have just airbrushed that first note out? Strange.
O-Pee-Chee got more plain and simple this time. Dryden had a phenomenal career, though, winning multiple Stanley Cups and Vezina trophies, plus a Conn Smythe and a Calder, and it's nice that he went off into the sunset with a "retired" note. Dryden has had an equally remarkable career in his post-playing days: author, commentator, lawyer, politician, and executive.
"Now with Nordiques"
What makes this example curious is not the note itself. It's the fact that Mr. Plante is pictured in a Nordiques uniform! So why the note? I guess Captain Obvious must have been working at the O-Pee-Chee factory that day. To add even more oddity to the story, Quebec had claimed Plante from the Rangers the previous year, and that one year in Quebec turned out to be his final NHL season. So by the time this card was released, he had retired.
"Traded to Red Wings" Dec. 2/81
O-Pee-Chee has gotten more specific now, providing a month, day, and year for Danny Gare's trade. They had just enough white space to do it, too. Gare spent his peak years with Buffalo, putting up a career-high 56 goals in 1979-80, which tied him for the league lead with LA's Charlie Simmer and Hartford's Blaine Stoughton. It's no wonder that he looks a bit down on the card above. Detroit was not a good team at all in 1981-82, finishing at the bottom of the Norris Division with a record of 21-47-12.
Free Agent As Of Nov. 9/82
It was very nice of O-Pee-Chee to try and help Bill find a new team by advertising on his card that he had become a free agent. However, it didn't help. Bill Clement's final NHL year was 1981-82, so this was his sunset card. The guy did win two Stanley Cups with the Flyers in the 1970s, though, and was a long-time broadcaster. In fact, he just recently retired (2021).
Playing in Europe
We're back to much more general information here. The conversation at O-Pee-Chee must have gone something like this:
OPC employee 1: Hey, Malinowski is playing in Europe now.
OPC employee 2: Oh, really?
OPC employee 1: Yeah, want to know the specific country or team for the text blurb?
OPC employee 2: Nope.
To add some specifics to the note on the card above, Merlin Malinowski played in the Swiss professional league through the 1989-90 season, and represented Canada at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. His best NHL season was 1980-81, when he put up 25 goals, 37 assists, and 62 points in 67 games played for the Colorado Rockies. He finished second in team scoring to Lanny McDonald.
DRAFTED TO EDMONTON OCTOBER 1984
This rather specific note refers to the Waiver Draft that occurred at the end of training camp and just before the season started. Teams would submit a list of protected players, and a few unprotected players could be claimed by other teams off waivers. As for Martin, after a few good seasons in Toronto, the Leafs left him exposed at the Waiver Draft, and Edmonton picked him up. He would only play a few games with the new team that season, and then a few more with the North Stars before going back down to the AHL for a couple of seasons to finish out his pro career.
|1985-86 O-Pee Chee #220 John Garrett and #134 Bob Manno|
"NOW ASSISTANT GENERAL MANAGER"
There was no way I was leaving this note unresearched. It turns out that John Garrett was offered the Canucks' GM job by Harry Neale, the team's active GM at the time. However, Neale was fired before Garrett accepted the role, and the offer was withdrawn. Did Mr. Garrett sulk? No. The following year he became a hockey broadcaster and color commentator—and he served in that capacity all the way up to the end of the 2022-23 season, when he announced that he was retiring from Canucks regional broadcasts.
"FREE AGENT, NOW PLAYING WITH TEAM IN ITALY"
After he left the Red Wings, Bob Manno played for quite a few years in Italy, all the way through the 1993-94 season. Not only did he play in the professional league there, but he also suited up for the Italian national team on numerous occasions, including the 1992 Winter Olympics. If you're interested in the specific Italian pro teams that Manno played for, there were five of them: Merano, Fassa HC, Milan Saima SG, Milan HC, and Bolzano HC. Want to hear an absurd stat line? In 1985-86, his first year of Italian pro hockey, he put up 28 goals and 78 assists for 106 points . . . in 38 games played!
|1986-87 O-Pee-Chee #104 Bob Nystrom and #128 Reijo Ruotsalainen|
"NOW ASSISTANT COACH WITH ISLANDERS"
Bob Nystrom retired and went straight into coaching. He remained a coach for a couple of years, then did some broadcasting, and for years represented the Islanders in various community relations events and initiatives. It's one of the many reasons he's referred to as "Mr. Islander."
"FREE AGENT PRESENTLY IN FINLAND"
I think it's humorous that the card doesn't say Reijo Ruotsalainen is playing in Finland. He's just in Finland. It's possible that he's playing pro hockey there and waiting for a call from an NHL team. Or maybe he's just out fishing, or something.
Regardless, there's a chance the note on his card did help him land a job. The talented defenseman did play in Europe during the 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons, and then came back to the NHL for the 1989-90 season—first with New Jersey for 31 games, then with Edmonton for another 10 to end the regular season. After that, he made the postseason roster and helped Edmonton win a Stanley Cup. He put up 2 goals and 11 assists in 22 playoff games. Good timing.
So there you have it. A decade of intriguing text updates on cards. Can you think of any other memorable notes on cards, regardless of the sport or era?
Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading!