Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Box Break - 1996 Topps Finest Hockey

The last couple of '53 Topps Project posts have been duds, time to mix it up a bit with another box break in honor of tonight's Stanley Cup finals game 3. I haven't featured nearly enough hockey cards in the few months since I started keeping this blog, but a couple of things have motivated me to start posting about them. Aside from watching a ton of playoff hockey this post-season, the cable provider that I signed up for service with after moving last month gives me the NHL network in HD and an HD-DVR, a pretty nice combo for a hockey fan. I never knew the NHL network existed before this, but there's a show I've been watching called "Classic Series". Each episode is an hour long and details a particular playoff series (from the early 90's so far) with highlights of every goal, post game interviews and commentary. All of this has added up to a craving for some 90's hockey cards, so I caved and purchased 2 boxes of Topps Finest hockey, one from 1994 and this one from 1996. The box proudly states that the cards are "Brilliant Uncirculated 1996", does anyone know what the hell that means? If they're not circulated, how did I end up with a box? I'm confused...

These will be the first Finest hockey cards in my collection. I'll be busting the 1994 box at a later date, but here's the scoop on the '96 box. The box contains 24 packs with 6 cards a pack for a total of 144 cards. As far as I can tell there are 189 cards in the base set, although I cannot find a definitive number, so there is no way I will end up with a complete set from this box. If I can get at least 50% of the base set I'll be satisfied. The base cards are the same thick, glossy, metallic cards with the protective peel that Finest is known for. They are "bronze" in color according to the box, but they seem closer to purple to me. There aren't really any inserts in the set, but there are silver parallels seeded 1:4 packs and gold parallels seeded 1:24 packs. The bronze cards are labeled as "Common" on the back, the silver "Uncommon" and the gold "Rare". This kind of reminds me of the StarQuest cards that you get in 2008 Upper Deck baseball packs.

The cards themselves look very nice, exemplifying the high quality I would expect from a Finest product. There are 4 different themes in the base set. The first is a Rookies theme, shown on the Kyle McLaren card pictured above. The rookie cards look a little busy or crowded for some reason, I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe the Topps Finest logo is just a little too big for my liking. Another theme is Performers, pictured here on Peter Forsberg's card. I know the Finest logo is just as large on all the base cards, but for some reason I like the look of the Performers cards much more than the Rookies. This theme seems to be reserved primarily for skilled offensive players, although there may be an occasional goalie or defender.

The third theme is Defenders. As the name implies these cards are reserved for goalies and players known for their defensive prowess. I think these cards are more aesthetically pleasing than the Rookies, but not quite as nice as the performers. I could do without the huge DEFENDERS text taking up the bottom portion of the card. I did pull a couple of these Chris Osgood cards. Even casual sports fans are aware that Chris recently became just the fourth goalie in NHL history to post 2 consecutive shutouts to begin a Stanley Cup final. If you're interested I've added Chris and all of my other doubles to my Available for Trade list.

The final theme in the set is the one I liked the most, the Sterling theme. This theme seems to be reserved for the most high profile players (Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy, etc.). In my opinion these are the sleekest looking cards in the set.

Pros: There are a few things I like about the set. First of all, the checklist is fairly small, making set completion a reasonable possibility. This is the case with many hockey sets, especially Topps products. Even in the 80's, Topps sets were always significantly smaller in size than their O-Pee-Chee counterparts. Sort of makes sense when you consider that O-Pee-Chee cards are manufactured in Canada.

The cards in general are high quality and quite heavy and I really like the design of the Sterling theme. The parallels were seeded exactly as stated on the wrapper, I pulled exactly 6 silver and 1 gold. My silver cards were mostly rookies and weren't great but one of them was a Hartford Whaler which is much appreciated. Plus the silver on the border of the card really matches the silver in the late-era Whalers jerseys, making for one pretty sleek looking card:

My gold parallel actually ended up being a decent hit, as I pulled one of the best defensemen of all time (albeit a former arch-nemesis of the Hartford Whalers), Ray Bourque. Once again, the gold on the border of this card matches the gold on the Bruins jersey and ties the card together quite nicely:

Cons: I'm not a huge fan of the Defenders or Rookies themes, the cards look a little crowded to me. These are not the worst looking cards I've seen by any means, in fact they blow away many 90's hockey sets, I just think Topps could've done a better job with the layout. Collation wasn't great and left a little to be desired. In two different packs I pulled doubles within the pack, which you wouldn't expect to happen with a 6 card pack. I'm still missing a good portion of the base set, yet I pulled 4 Joe Sakic Sterling cards and a good percentage of my doubles actually ended up being triples. I ended up with nearly as many doubles as I had base cards, not good.

Suggestions: Do away with the themes! I think this set would look much better if they used the Sterling theme for all the cards and replaced the word Sterling with a small team name and logo or something along those lines. Ultimately I think some of the themes make the cards seem gimmicky. Parallels usually bother me but I didn't mind the silver and gold variations in this product and I'm sure they helped to drive sales when the product was originally released. That being said, it would've been nice if Topps had included even one 10 card insert set just to provide a little variation every few packs.

Here's what I ended up with:

Base Set: 78/189 (41%)
Doubles: 57
Silver Parallels (1:4): 6
Gold Parallels (1:24): 1
Bronze Refractors (1:12): 2

As with most Finest products, there are Refractors in this product. The silver and gold refractors are seeded at a pretty ridiculous rate and needless to say I did not pull any. I did end up pulling two bronze refractors, Chris Terreri and Felix Potvin.

All in all, I would call Topps' '96 Finest product decent. I'd like to complete the set, but I don't think I'll be dropping $49 on another hobby box, especially given the collation that I had with this one. I have a gut feeling that I'm going to like the '94 Finest box better, so I'll probably see if I can fill some holes in my set cheap on Ebay. I'll hopefully have the '94 Finest box bust posted in the next couple of weeks.

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