With the upcoming anniversary of Gretzky’s NHL goal scoring record milestone, let’s take a look at five iconic Wayne Gretzky cards you need to know about.
It’s no mistake that the list starts with the granddaddy of all Wayne Gretzky cards. The true OPC Gretzky rookie is one of the most sought after sports cards, period — not just within the sport of hockey. With values ranging drastically with each increasing grade, the PSA 10 Gretzky remains one of the most rare slabbed cards in existence, with only two reaching the coveted Gem Mint grade.
Initially playing in the rival WHA, Gretzky and the Oilers were absorbed by the NHL, from where Gretzky made his debut for the Oilers amid an equal amount of fanfare and concern for his slender frame and lack of physicality. The idea that Gretzky would be able to handle himself in a league now embroiled in an arms race of brutality was not embraced by all. Those doubts were soon put to bed when Gretzky scored 137 points during his debut NHL season. Despite leading all rookies in scoring, he was not eligible for the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie, due to a rule stating that anyone playing a full season in the WHA was ineligible. Gretzky did, however, win the Hart Trophy awarded to the league’s MVP, making the lack of a Calder an easier pill to swallow.
Despite the significant drop off in value, the second year Gretzky remains highly coveted. Much of this has to do with the significance of the set itself. This storied set also includes rookies from the likes of Ray Bourque, Mike Gartner, Michel Goulet, Mark Messier, Brian Propp, Rod Langway and several other members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. (Note: Propp has not been inducted yet, but will likely see his name enrishined sooner than later)
Gretzky found additional success during his second season, setting the record for most points in a single season with 164. This feat was broken the following year with an astonishing 212 points.
Despite his amazing regular season success, this season remained a learning experience for the budding Oilers dynasty, as they ended up losing to the eventual champion and then dynastic New York Islanders. We would later see the Islanders dynasty give way to the Oilers dynasty, also winners of four Stanley Cups during the 1980s.
While this card isn’t the most expensive one on the list, it’s arguably the most important Gretzky card ever made. Facing financial difficulties, then Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington had been drowning in debt related to his other business ventures being unable to match the success of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. Given the absurd numbers Gretzky had been producing at the time, it was unfathomable that any team would ever consider trading a player of his caliber.
However, On August 9, 1988, the unthinkable happened, and Gretzky was moved to the Los Angeles Kings for a boatload of players, draft picks, and $15 million. There were additional rumblings that his wife had wanted him out of Edmonton, but these remain unverified.
Upon arriving in LA, Gretzky was faced with the challenge of not only elevating an unremarkable Kings franchise, but also bringing national attention to an organization that had previously only seen moderate success during the Marcel Dionne era. Gretzky responded to the challenge favorably, and helped lead the Kings from mediocrity to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, before losing to the Canaidens on a controversial illegal stick penalty given to Gretzky’s personal on-ice bodyguard, Marty McSorley.
1978-1979 National Sports Cards RC (blue/red)
With a minimal value, the 1978-1979 National Sports Indianpolis Racers Wayne Gretzky RC serves as a curio from Gretzky’s career, illuminating a bit of trivia of which even passionate fans are often ignorant. Gretzky’s professional hockey career began, not with the Oilers, but with the now defunct Indianapolis Racers of the WHA.
Drowning in debt, the Racers sold Gretzky and two other players to the Edmonton Oilers and Gretzky went on to terrorize opponents in the dying league during it’s last season of operation.
Appearing in blue and red varieties, with neither holding the edge in value, this card can be seen as the originator of the pre-rookie card not necessarily drawing much attention from collectors. This trend has continued on with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Conner McDavid.
1996-97 Upper Deck SPx Wayne Gretzky Tribute Auto
The 1996-1997 season was a defining year for 1990s hockey. Gretzky notably played his first of three seasons for the New York Rangers, after joining them and close friend/former teammate Mark Messier during the offseason. Gretzky immediately found success with the Oilers, likely due to his familiarity with many on the team and management (including Glen Sather, former Head Coach of the 80s Oilers). After a brief but inhospitable stay with the St Louis Blues after the previous season’s deadline, Gretzky was eager to wipe the slate clean with a fresh sweater, and was able to do so with the historic Rangers Red White and Blue.
An iconic set for 90s collectors, 96-97 SPx offered fans one card per pack. At the time, this was a landmark and risky decision from Upper Deck. Consisting of all die-cut cards and holograms with an additional gold subset variation, the product relied on innovation over inserts. However, one grail insert advertised on the box had collectors buying the product in hopes of snagging what, at the time, was one of the most visually impressive autographed inserts to ever grace the hobby. With strong values, given the overprinted era, the 96-97 SPx Gretzky Tribute Auto depicts Gretzky in each of the jerseys worn up until that point in his career. Gretzky would again adorn the box of the following year’s SPx product.
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