What is the most sought-after Calgary Flames hockey card of all time?
What 3.5- by 2.5-inch cardboard collectible has been pursued by more Calgary hockey fans than any other?
Go through the list of the organization’s all-time greats and you’d assume Jarome Iginla’s rookie card would be in the heaviest of demand.
However, in the hockey card world it’s not that simple.
The most popular of the two rookie cards Iginla had in 1994-95 was a widely-printed, Upper Deck SP card of him, helmetless, wearing Team Canada togs at the world juniors.
Back in the day, it was $20, but can be found now for $12, matching his jersey number.
“Once it was clear he was the face of the franchise, people got that card,” said Darren Pawlyk, who has owned Calgary-based collectibles store Maple Leaf Sports, for 18 years. “That was the card most collectors in Calgary had in their collection.”
In the midst of Iginla’s heyday, Miikka Kiprusoff also proved to be a popular collectibles target for Flames fans.
His Topps Finest card from 1994-95, featuring him in Team Finland garb, commanded upwards of $40 in his prime.
“That’s his only rookie card, which by today’s standard, is unheard of,” said Pawlyk. “Of note on that card, the photo on the back of the card is actually his brother Marko (a defenceman who played 51 NHL games) – they mixed the two brothers up.”
Despite Kiprusoff’s brilliance, the oddity of the card and a scarcity that matches the elusive Finn himself, the card now sells for just $15.
Fact is, collectors don’t come in very often looking for Flames legends.
They want to invest in the hot, new youngsters.
“It’s the guys on TV that generate the most interest, not the retired guys,” said Pawlyk.
“It’s not a shot at the old guys — we know what they can do. Collectors want to find the next great, young player to invest in.”
It has always been that way with cards, like stocks.
Supply and demand have always played the most important roles in determining a rookie card’s worth.
“For most fans, the most sought-after is Iginla’s card, and he didn’t even have a Young Guns card,” said Andy Dunning, owner of Andy’s Sports Cards and Collectibles in Calgary. “Nowadays, it’s Gaudreau. They like the flashy, smaller guy. He has the guys and the girls loving him – those are the Brad Pitts. But (Matthew) Tkachuk is moving up quick.”
While Tkachuk’s Young Guns card is getting more and more attention at $25-$30, Gaudreau is still the Flame drawing the most interest, with a Young Guns rookie card from 2014-15 worth $80. Sean Monahan’s Young Guns rookie card still attracts interest at $30.
Fact is, most Flames players don’t see their cards rise in value much because they play far from the bright lights of the league’s biggest cities. Tkachuk is a future captain and twice the player William Nylander is, yet his card is worth half of the Leafs’ youngster, whose price is inflated because he plays in Toronto.
The priciest Flames card on the market, by far, is a Gaudreau card worth $2,000.
It’s a rookie card from a niche Upper Deck set from 2014-15 called “The Cup,” which produced 99 autographed Gaudreau cards and include a piece of his jersey.
“Only so many guys are looking for that kind of card,” said Pawlyk of a business that saw the number of sets available in Canada annually jump from one (O-Pee-Chee) to countless options starting in the late ’80s.
Things were much simpler back in the day, when our beloved O-Pee-Chee was the only game in town.
Hall of Famers such as Joe Mullen and Joe Nieuwendyk have rookie cards valued around $12, as does Mike Vernon. Hardly symbolic of their worth to the franchise.
Fan favourite Theo Fleury’s rookie card is worth $5 as his 1989-90 O-Pee-Chee set was mass printed. (Hall of Famer Joe Sakic’s rookie card is from the same set and is only worth $12.)
Al MacInnis is still the franchise’s all-time assist leader, yet the 1985-86 OPC rookie card of the beloved Hall of Famer and Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the club’s 1989 run is only valued at $40.
(For what it’s worth, Sportsnet card guru Ken Reid chimed in with a vote, backing MacInnis’s card as the most sought-after amongst Flames)
As a general rule, defencemen not named Orr generally don’t see their cards balloon in value.
Current captain Mark Giordano, whose long road to being a Norris Trophy winner began with him being overlooked as a Young Gun candidate, has a rookie card worth $10.
That said, two of the most prized cards right now belong to Calgary native Cale Makar and Vancouver Canucks phenom Quinn Hughes – two Calder candidates brilliantly demonstrating that the hottest items always tend to be emerging young players. Both are worth roughly $80 these days.
Lanny McDonald’s first card, dating back to 1974-75, probably heads the list of must-have cards for a vintage Flames card collector. Proudly wearing a Leafs jersey in a classic hockey card pose, sans beard and moustache, at first glance McDonald could easily be mistaken for his former linemate and age-old pal, Darryl Sittler.
That card is one of the harder ones for Pawlyk to keep in stock, selling quickly for around $60 when he finds one in near-mint condition.
“It’s the only card he has without a moustache,” chuckled Pawlyk.
“His card would be on the shortlist for Flames fans, but he’s wearing a Maple Leaf. You’d be asking a Flames fan to buy a Leafs card, which could be tough.”
Collectors have long spent $20-$30 on autographed cards of McDonald in red and gold, which are easy to come by as the most iconic of Flames never turns down a fan.
Jaromir Jagr cards, with him wearing Flames red, were in demand when he joined the team as fans wanted a cardboard reminder of his novel signing a few years back.
Oilers legend Grant Fuhr also attracted some interest from local collectors when he spent some time as a Flame near the end of his career.
Brett Hull’s rookie card, which came out four years after he made his NHL debut with the Flames, features him wearing a Blues uniform, is worth $40.
Unlike Edmonton, where Connor McDavid, Wayne Gretzky and a few others have caused considerable stirs with their cards, the Calgary market hasn’t produced a card anywhere close to the top 200 in the business.
“There isn’t one in particular,” said Pawlyk, when asked to name the most sought-after card. “There are a few over the years that have been requested, but I wouldn’t say there’s one that stands out. People will come in and ask about players in general, as opposed to one particular card.”
Fact is, the beauty of collecting is that the card that means the most to a collector often only has value to them.