I'm not sure how to start this one off except to say that when this set came out, I hated it. I know that people who started collecting in the mid to late 80s look on these sets fondly. To me, it was the start of the downward spiral that ended with OPC getting out of the hockey card business.
Part of the problem, I guess, was that 1984-85 had been such an inspired effort. That was the year of the little insert picture - the first time you had two views of the same player on a given card. Nifty idea. Plus, the design was really clean and bright and it was just a great set all around.
(1984-85 OPC - ain't it pretty?)
I first got a look at 1985-86 when Topps came out. I'd always pick up half a dozen packs of these so that I could get a look at the new design and see whether I'd nab a star or two for my star book.
My impression was not good. The design looked like a warmed-over version of something Vachon cakes had put out in 1983-84 and the cards themselves just looked kind of dim - no real punch to them. I hoped the OPC set would be better.
(1983-84 Vachon - ripped off from eBay, though I do have this set)
When I got my hands on OPC that year, I was really disappointed. They had cut the set by a third, down to 264 cards from 396. This meant no team or all-star cards and only a dozen or so players from each team, rather than the 17-18 you usually saw. (This had been 20+ in the 1970's when there were fewer teams.) They got past the all-star card thing by turning them into stickers that came as an insert set.
What really stood out, though, was the print quality, or lack thereof. OPC cards always had issues with centering and somewhat ragged edges. In a lot of ways, that was part of the charm. These, though, were brutal. You'd get cards that almost looked like they'd been torn by hand, cards that were so far off-centre top-to-bottom that you'd see the name of another player, and others that had these blue print lines running vertically right through the entire card. For some reason, the wax left on the cards from the front of the pack was much thicker than normal, and would actually obscure the picture. Just nasty.
The saving grace for this set was the rookie card of a Penguin by the name of Mario Lemieux. Without him, this set goes into the dustbin of history.
(some guy named Mario)
OPC would get some of the print issues sorted out for the next season. The one thing they didn't change, though, was the set size. They settled on 264 for the rest of the 1980s, which meant that lots of players simply never had another card produced. There would be no Todd Gill or Motor City Smitty in Toronto, for example. Peter Ihnacak never had another card. Wendel Clark had no card for several years because he was only playing 20 games per season. At least one set was produced without a Leaf goaltender in it.
For 1989-90, OPC bumped the set size back up to 330, and then tried a couple big seasons at 528 (I believe) before making one last set of 396. By that time, though, tons of other companies were in their space, and OPC was done. The name has been revived, but it's someone else pretending to be OPC.
I've always wondered what prompted OPC to make the changes they did for 1985-86. The design wasn't their fault - they inherited that from Topps. It looks as though they tried some new manufacturing process that didn't work well, but that's a pure guess on my part. Why did they cut the set size? No idea, but I can only assume they were losing money on it somehow. By coming down to 264, they'd substantially cut the effort involved in producing a bigger set than Topps did.
I read once that they subcontracted out the actual printing, but this seems to have vanished from Wikipedia, so its truthfulness is suspect. It would have explained the wild variation in quality, though.
A few months ago, I thought it might be interesting to go through the doubles I had from 1985-86 and see how far away I was from having another set. It turned out that the only card I needed was Kevin Dineen, but another dozen were so botched by the printing process that they were unusable. Seems about right.
Making that new set, however, made me hate it a lot less. I can sort of live with the design and I don't find them as catastrophically dull as I once did.
It's still an ugly duckling next to 1984-85, though.
From a Leaf perspective, the only good thing about the 1985-86 set is the player who isn't there. That was the rookie season for Wendel Clark. We'd see him in '86-87.
(no, it's not Wendel. I think I'll do a write-up on '86-87. I hated it less.)