Best of the 70s #12 – 1976-77 OPC NHL

Bob Nystrom - 1976-77 OPC NHL

Bob is laughing now, but he’ll REALLY be laughing in three years’ time when he scores the OT winner to win the 1980 Stanley Cup.

I’ve always found this set a little exotic.  When I was a kid, I managed to trade my way into a least one card of every ’70s set from 1971-79 except for this one.  It just never seemed to come up.  As such, there’s always a trace of the unfamiliar when I look at it.

While I’m not sure I’d call it one of the icons of ’70s design (though I don’t mind it), a couple more recent sets certainly owe it a debt of gratitude.  The two that come to mind are both from ’04-05 – the ITG Franchises set and Pacific Philadelphia, which is much closer to the original.

Context

This set came out with Montreal at the peak of its power – the ’76-77 team would go 60-8-12 and waltz all the way to the Stanley Cup, losing only twice along the way (both to Philly in the semis).  They steamrolled everyone, scoring a staggering 216 more goals than they allowed.  It’s not a surprise that four First Team All-Stars were from Montreal along with one off the Second Team.

The WHA was as big as it was going to get, making for 30 teams at the highest level of the game, up from just six a decade earlier.  This was a pretty skill-diluted time for hockey.  Montreal finished a full 20 points ahead of Philadelphia.  Behind them were the up-and-coming Islanders, the Bruins and Sabres and beyond that, not much to talk about.  Detroit would be dead last and win the Dale McCourt sweepstakes.

The 1976-77 OPC offering maintained the new standard of 396 cards.  Spread across just 18 teams, it means that there is really good coverage, particularly since other than team cards and league leaders, very few cards were dedicated to anything other than players.  (Three checklists, five record breakers, nothing else.)

Wrapper - 1976-77 OPC NHL

This is what you’d see at the corner store in 1976-77. Ten cents a pack, offers for Canada Cup memorabilia. Picture borrowed from eBay. I need to work on my wrapper collection.

Design/Photography/Feel

The design is pretty simple, yet interesting.  The curved team name across the top pushes the midpoint of the image just a tad off-centre.  When the picture on the card doesn’t take this into account, the effect is kind of off, but when it works, it really works.  This is a set that if they’d taken the time to make every photo fit that frame, it would have been spectacular.

Peter McNab - 1976-77 OPC NHL

Peter is trying to sneak under the bar

Yvon Labre - 1976-77 OPC NHL

while Yvon finds space, light, majesty

The backs are probably a question of taste, but I’ve always found the colours to be garish and hard to read.  It’s one of the few occasions where I prefer the Topps back to the OPC.  Topps dulled it down just enough that it doesn’t cause pain.

Dennis Maruk - 1976-77 OPC NHL back

It wouldn’t be OPC if it were centered properly….

1976-77 is one of those seasons where they only gave the past year’s stats, which I always find annoying.  It does, however, leave room for a decent blurb and cartoon.

Significant cards

Thank goodness for Bryan Trottier.  The mid 1970s are weak for rookie cards in general and I think 1976-77 might have the weakest checklist of the lot.  Other rookies of some interest are Mel Bridgman, Doug Jarvis and Dennis Maruk (Bob Murray, too, but I didn’t scan him).  There are no final cards of note.

Bryan Trottier - 1976-77 OPC NHL Mel Bridgman - 1976-77 OPC NHL
Dennis Maruk - 1976-77 OPC NHL Doug Jarvis - 1976-77 OPC NHL

That doesn’t mean that there is no fun, though.  There are some great ’70s goalies out there, the last glimpses of the Seals and Scouts as they find new homes and even though most images are posed, there are some solid action shots.

Tony Esposito - 1976-77 OPC NHL Rogie Vachon - 1976-77 OPC NHL
Bernie Parent - 1976-77 OPC NHL Greg Joly - 1976-77 OPC NHL

There is also the somewhat tragic first appearance of Bobby Orr in an airbrushed Chicago uniform.  These will never look right.  The insert at right was only available with Topps, but I like it anyway.

Bobbby Orr - 1976-77 OPC NHL Bobby Orr - 1976-77 Topps insert

Come for the cards but stay for the

ones they got right.  The reason this set ranks as high as it does, given the weakness of that checklist, is that when they nail it, they really nail it.  The best cards out of 1976-77 will stand with anything put forth in the past 50 years.

Borje Salming - 1976-77 OPC NHL Larry Robinson - 1976-77 OPC NHL
Rene Robert - 1976-77 OPC NHL Ross Lonsberry - 1976-77 OPC NHL

The Labre card I used up top would also fit among these.  They took time with a lot of the star cards and it really shows.  You could make a fantastic custom set with this design if you took some time with it.

Coolest card

There are times I have to think about this, but not here.  The 1976-77 Ken Dryden is about as close to perfect as you can get.  If I were trying to decide the top 10 cards of the whole of the 1970s, this is definitely among them.

Ken Dryden - 1976-77 OPC NHL

The image itself, the positioning, the placement of the All-Star logo – this thing is in perfect balance.

Conclusion

This set has a lot to recommend it – neat design, some great pictures and cards that really, really work.  Garish backs, too many posed shots and a weakish checklist drag it down to #12.  That’s not that bad, though, since a lot of what is left is pretty awesome.

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4 Responses to Best of the 70s #12 – 1976-77 OPC NHL

  1. still haven’t decided which to collect first, 76/77 or 75/76…. but I’m leaning towards the 76/77. Just something about the cards…

    • 1967ers says:

      I ended up with ’75-76 ranked a good ways higher on this ranking, mainly because there are more things going on hockey-wise, it’s the last year of Orr as Orr and way, way better backs.

      This is still a good set, though. They all are.

  2. Great post, I really need to track down that Rogie Vachon card!

  3. Pingback: Best of the 70s #11 – 1976-77 OPC WHA | Diamond Cuts and Wax Stains

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