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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.