The NHL labor dispute has made it a tough year for many card dealers, particularly those in Canada. Understandably, interest in 2012-13 hockey card products has taken a hit. And that's too bad because Upper Deck and Panini have released some solid NHL products. Even with Zambonis running again and the league trying to return to normalcy, many hobby shops and online dealers still face an uphill battle.
This year there will be fewer products. Combine that with the fact that there won't be any new players getting rookie cards until next season and you've got more short-term pain. That said, there should be a bigger payoff by year's end with a double rookie class for Panini and Upper Deck to draw from for 2013-14 products.
One of the great things to see in the hobby is how collectors band together to help each another out in times of need. It's part of the community aspect that helps the hobby thrive and grow. Even if you don't have a local hobby shop, the dealer you buy from online and on eBay might be in need of some extra sales.
As collectors, there are several simple ways we can support the dealers in our community, particularly those that cater to the hockey card market.
Collect as Normal
While we won't see any new players getting rookie cards in 2012-13, that doesn't mean there aren't some solid sets out there. The rookie crop they have to draw from may not be very deep, but there are some players with promising futures ahead of them. Over the long-term, this bodes well for those that do emerge.
In 2011-12, players had around 20 different rookie cards. Chris Kreider, Sven Baertschi and the rest of the 2012-13 rookie cards will have about half of that. And if production was cut like Upper Deck reported, unnumbered cards have an even smaller supply.
Even with rookie cards being a big draw for any product, it shouldn't be the sole reason to collect something. For example, 2012-13 SP Game Used is getting strong reviews for its depth and quality hits. 2012-13 Score and 2012-13 O-Pee-Chee do a good job of covering last season and offering some fun inserts.
Look Beyond the Logo
Some people don't want to support the NHL this season with their wallets. That means a ban on any licensed products. But that doesn't have to mean avoiding cards all together. There are several options for hockey fans that don't involve the NHL or the NHLPA. In particular, In the Game has a wide range of products. Some, like 2012-13 ITG Heroes & Prospects, have wide appeal. Others, such as 2012-13 ITG Motown Madness, target a narrower audience. Even without a license, the company is able to make some impressive-looking products that aren't bombarded by airbrushing.
Heroes & Prospects also promises to cover some of the players who might have had rookie cards this year if there was no labor dispute. They've also got base cards, autographs and memorabilia cards of top players who haven't been drafted yet.
Go Back to the Future
In this age of instant gratification, it's easy to start a set and then move on before you've finished it. If you're cutting back this year, now's a perfect time to fill in some of those gaps. Even if your local dealer doesn't have something listed or displayed in their showcase, they still might be able to help. Most dealers have extra stock or cards that are packed away. Good dealers also have networks they can draw from to find cards that prove to be especially elusive.
Take Part in National Hockey Card Day
Who doesn't like free cards? On February 9, Canadian collectors can head to their local shops for free exclusive Upper Deck cards. A week later, shops below the 49th parallel follow suit. Make a point to set some time aside and head down to the closest participating shop, even if that means a bit of a road trip. Use it as an excuse to go out for lunch or get away for a day.
While you're at the shop, be sure to buy something -- even if it's small. Not only will you be supporting a small business, but you'll get another card that's exclusive to purchases. Click here for more 2013 Hockey Card Day details.
Try Something New
One of the great things about card collecting is the variety. Besides the other sports, there are also plenty of options on the entertainment side of the hobby. So if you're itching to bust some packs, look a little closer at what's lining the shop shelves or other online listings. Take a chance and step outside what you usually buy and give something different a chance, even if it's a few packs.
That doesn't mean buying things simply because they're there. They can lead to trouble and it's not much fun. But if you've been on the fence about a sport or other corner of the hobby, consider this a great time to try something new.
Pay the Price
Everybody loves a deal. Negotiating a dealer down a little is part of the fun of a show or trip to the shop. Having a "Best Offer" accepted on eBay can feel like a victory. But what if we stuck more to the advertised price for a little while? If it's fair and you're happy with it, you can help them out by paying the extra couple of dollars.
Take Them Lunch
Who doesn't love a good lunch? Why not take your local dealer a sandwich or a cup of coffee? It's a simple act of kindness that extends past a pack of cards. It lets the dealer know you're there for them, that they're not forgotten, that they're an important part to the hobby we enjoy. We can't blame hockey card dealers for the labor dispute. But, like many other small businesses, they've suffered. No matter your stance on what went down, we can do our part to support hockey card dealers so they're around to thrive next season when things really get back to normal -- and then some.
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