Good: First Upper Deck base rookie autographs of 2010-11, Rookie patch auto card design is solid and hides sticker drop well, Bonus pack of Upper Deck Ice that contains 1 Ice Premieres RC, Shadowbox cards
Bad: Base card design took a step backward from last year (no foil board), Box price feels $10-$15 more expensive than it should, Too many base cards, Hearty relics too hard to come by, Product has a generic feel to it, Boom or bust boxes
The Bottom Line: 3.8/5
As was the case with this year's 2010-11 Black Diamond Hockey, Upper Deck added a bonus pack of Upper Deck Ice to the SPx mix after deciding to discontinue Ice's full scale box delivery in favor of a season long single pack seeding in other UD products. The appeal of SPx in past years was that it delivered the first true rookie patch autographs of the season. This year, Panini beat Upper Deck to the punch twice with Certified and Limited, which wouldn't be a very big deal had SPx been a better product than either of them.
At the end of the day, if you've enjoyed past seasons of SPx and are a loyal Upper Deck fan, there's no reason you won't enjoy the latest round. On the other hand, if you've never been a huge fan of SPx, there are plenty of other options this year thanks to Panini's entrance into the hockey card game. I personally like Certified and Limited slightly better than SPx.
The product's overall design has a generic feel to it when compared to past years. Gone are last year's foil board base cards in favor of far less flashy design eerily reminiscent of a late 90's insert, which is either good or bad depending on your personal taste. The one area where the generic feel works in the SPx's favor is when it comes to the rookie patch autographs, which feature a winter-esque light blue color scheme that is a refreshing departure from the over the top renditions of seasons past. The sticker drop autos also blend in extremely well with the simple, light colored design.
SPx also contains one of my favorite insert sets in the entire hobby, those being Shadowbox cards. For those unfamiliar with them, they are made of acetate (plastic) and are designed like a shadowbox picture frame (sunken in image with raised frame). Though pulling them is relatively hard, but if you should be so lucky, they are the type of card that jumps out at you like few others in the hobby.
As I noted above, the key selling point of SPx in past years has been it's delivery of the season's first true rookie autographs (base set "RC"). This year, Panini beat Upper Deck to punch with 2010-11 Certified and 2010-11 Limited. That being said, the checklist is extremely deep and features big name rookies like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Jeff Skinner, P.K. Subban and a slew of additional intriguing freshman skaters. It's probably a little deeper than Certified and Limited's when it comes to lesser name rookies.
A few other solid areas of the checklist include the player combinations used for relics, Shadowbox cards and the presence of legends past and present such as Gretzky, Orr, Howe, Roy, Brodeur, Crosby, Ovechkin among others - which Upper Deck does far better than Panini, especially when it comes to retired legends.
Although the five Upper Deck Ice cards you receive via the bonus pack are part of the 2010-11 Ice set and not the 2010-11 SPx set, it adds an unofficial "X" factor to the checklist of cards you can pull. The Ice Premieres RC (1 per box) are the greatest non-auto RC in the entire hobby in my opinion.
The bonus Ice Pack that delivers one Ice Premieres RC adds a much needed boost of value to each box - it helps off-set the value lost by not beating Certified and Limited to punch on the aforementioned rookie patch auto race. Overall, SPx is a solid product that has the potential to deliver some extremely cool relic combos and rookie patch autos. Although the one major knock I've always had on SPx is that the box price always feels $10-$15 more expensive than it should.
Fun Factor: 3.75/5
The fun of SPx is largely tied to quality of the rookie patch auto you pull (1 per box) - I would like to products go away from this "boom or bust" box model. The depth of SPx isn't nearly as good as other 2010-11 Upper Deck hockey products when it comes to cards outside the hits. I would really like to see a product come along that made every card matter, it feels like there's far too many worthless base cards in SPx.
As I noted above, if you've enjoyed past years of SPx, this years won't disappoint. I personally had way more fun opening 2010-11 Certified and 2010-11 Limited Hockey, but I've never been a very big fan of SPx to begin with, maybe it has something to do how much better SP Authentic is or the fact that unlike other sports, the rookie autograph isn't the be all end all (Young Guns, Ice Premieres, SP Game Used and other great non-auto rookies).