I've been collecting cards of one sort or other since about 1976, and collecting hockey in earnest since 1980-81. What I think the hobby should be has always been shaped by what the hobby was when I got into it.
When everyone and his brother started making cards in 1990-91, each manufacturer started looking for ways to distinguish themselves from the competition. Pro Set made sure it was always first to market. Yes, their cards were kind of low-end, but they were out there a month ahead of everyone else. OPC still had tradition, of sorts. Upper Deck made the glamour set. Score made the biggest set. If you wanted to find Ken Linseman in a Leaf uniform, Score was the place to go look.
Parkhurst was the first set to really pay attention to rookies. Now, the annoying thing was that they did this to the detriment of the rest of the set. If you had 15 Leaf cards, 6 might be rookies. Five of those, however, were the sort of players who would never see the light of day again. I was more than a little burned one year when they made cards of Chris Govedaris, Eric Lacroix and Frank "the Animal" Bialowas, but to make room they left out Glenn Anderson.
The next move was the short-printing of key cards. I've never liked this, as artificial scarcity is, well, artificial. It's a cheap way to increase demand.
The biggest move, though, in my opinion, has been the move to memorabilia. Cuts of sweaters, crests, sticks, autographs, etc. added into the cards in limited numbers. These have been the hottest things going for most of the last 10 years. What has become known as the 'base set' is now almost completely forgotten as people open packs looking for 'the hit'. One company actually put out a set composed entirely of special memorabilia inserts - "no base cards," they said. Of course, that makes the inserts themselves into the base set, but shhhh....
While it saddens me that nobody is really making a set like you could get in the seventies and eighties, and this has meant that the number of kids collecting cards has dropped way down, I get that you can't keep things static forever. Even I have to admit that it's kind of cool to open a pack and find a hunk of fabric off someone's jersey, someone's autograph, or both.
The trouble is that every set does this, which means that yet again, companies are looking for a way to set themselves apart. It's one thing to cut up an Alex Ovechkin jersey. He's still playing. There is no shortage of these things. What has happened now, though, is that they're going after the memorabilia of players who are retired, and in many cases have passed on. These are things that can't be replaced, and putting them in a short-run card takes them away from the rest of us, and ruins the item forever.
Baseball crossed a huge threshold some years ago when one of two surviving Babe Ruth uniforms was purchased by a card company to be cut up. In hockey, the worst example is probably Georges Vezina. There was one known pair of Vezina's game-used pads. These were cut several years ago. Those things deserved to be in the Hall of Fame.
On one of my boards a few months ago, I saw a post regarding an "eBay steal" someone got. I couldn't believe it, so I looked on eBay and found it again. I bought this:
Charlie Conacher has been gone for more than 40 years now. I don't know how many pairs of gloves are out there. I hope these were from his later days as a New York American or maybe even as a coach, rather from his Leaf heyday. No matter what, they've been reduced to inch-square pieces of leather that we trust were once a pair of gloves. I have a seam on mine that gives a hint of what these were.
There's no sense of wonder for me in this card. It just makes me kind of sad. I'd have rather gone to the Hall and seen the gloves on display somewhere.
The price for this piece of history?
Plus shipping, of course.