1976-77 OPC a Must-Have
Updated: May 16
For vintage collectors focused on rookie cards, the 1976-77 O-Pee-Chee (OPC) set can easily be overlooked. After all, its only significant rookie card (RC) is that of New York Islanders legend Bryan Trottier. But this set utilizes one of hockey's best card designs, and features some of the nicest cards ever produced of Hall of Famers Ken Dryden, Guy Lafleur, and Denis Potvin. It also includes a watershed card of the great Bobby Orr, his first with a team other than the Boston Bruins. Throw in a unique subset of forward trios with nicknames like "The French Connection" and "The Long Island Lightning Company" and you've got a special set.
This set covers the 1975-76 hockey season, in which the Montreal Canadiens won their first of four consecutive Stanley Cups, sweeping the two-time defending champion Philadelphia Flyers in the finals. Both teams dominated their opponents throughout the regular season, which is why players from those teams are featured heavily below.
Set Size: 396
Number of Series: 1
Number of Teams: 18
Player Cards per Team: ~19
Subsets: Checklists (3), Stanley Cup Champs (1), League Leaders (6), Record Breakers (4), Forward Lines (5), Team Checklists (18), Team Leaders (18)
This is the third OPC set in a row to feature 396 cards, released as a single series. This formula would be used for 11 years, from 1974-75 through 1984-85.
This is a highly condition-sensitive set, particularly when it comes to centering. Miscut cards were also a common issue during this period.
In my opinion, this is the second-best card design of the 1970s, behind only the iconic 1971-72 design. The curved team nickname gives the cards a unique, non-symmetrical look that is very memorable. Adding the team logo to the top-left corner of the card fills the space nicely.
The card backs are a very distinct green, and include stats from the previous season, along with career totals.
There are two types of photos used in this set: game action, like the Tony Esposito card above, and posed, like the Johnny Bucyk card below. As you would expect, the game photos are far superior, though there are a couple of fantastic posed photos as well. A weakness of this set is an over-reliance on posed photos, especially headshots.
The only significant rookie card in the set belongs to Bryan Trottier of the New York Islanders. Trottier set rookie records for points (95) and assists (63) in 1975-76. More importantly, the playmaking center proved to be the third major piece of what would become the Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s, bolstering a lineup that already included goalie Billy Smith and defenseman Denis Potvin. (The final piece - pure goal-scorer Mike Bossy - would join the team two years later.) The card features Trottier without his trademark moustache, which he would have for the rest of his career.
Other notable RCs included are those of Mel Bridgeman, Doug Jarvis, and Tiger Williams.
Ken Dryden's 1976-77 OPC card might be the perfect hockey card of a goalie. After his 1971-72 OPC RC, this is Dryden's most sought-after card. Amazingly, it is the only OPC or Topps regular-issue card that features his iconic mask.
Dryden won his second Vezina trophy for his outstanding 1975-76 season, and his first of four straight. He had a career-high 42 wins and a career low (for a full season) 2.03 Goals-Against Average (GAA). More significantly, he backstopped Montreal to their first of four straight Stanley Cups. This is a tough card to find in top condition.
Not surprisingly, Dryden was named a First-Team All-Star for the 1975-76 season. For this set, OPC chose to designate All-Stars with a "stamp" image on the base cards, which I'm a huge fan of. I always prefer the designation to appear on base cards rather than having an entirely separate All-Star subset, and the stamp is one of the best examples of this.
Such a strange sight, seeing Bobby Orr in the uniform of a team other than the Boston Bruins. After Orr signed on with Chicago for the 1976-77 season, OPC scrambled to produce the airbrush job shown above. Honestly, they should have just given us one last card of Orr in a Bruins jersey, even if he had only played in 10 games during the 1975-76 season.
Orr did appear in this set in a Bruins jersey, but you have to look really close to find him. On the Bruins team checklist card (shown below), Orr is the second player in the second row, just over team captain Johnny Bucyk's left shoulder.
The truly sad part about Orr's departure from the Bruins came out years later, when it was revealed that his agent, the now disgraced Alan Eagleson, had never discussed legitimate offers made by the Bruins with his client.
The Scorers, 1975-76
Guy Lafleur led the league in scoring in 1975-76 with 125 points (56G, 69A). He added another 17 points in the playoffs, leading the Canadiens to their first of four consecutive titles. Lafleur scored 50 goals and 100 points six straight years, from 1974-75 to 1979-80, the first player ever to do so. He was the offensive spark for Montreal's most recent dynasty.
Bobby Clarke led the Philadelphia Flyers to their third consecutive Stanley Cup final in 1975-76, ultimately falling short of a three-peat. But Clarke would win his second straight - and third overall - Hart Trophy as league MVP. His career-high 119 points (30G, 89A) put him second in the scoring race behind only Lafleur. It was the last time Clarke would reach the 100-point mark.
Gilbert Perreault also enjoyed a career season in 1975-76, finishing third in league scoring with 113 points (44G, 69A). He would crack the 100-point mark for a second time in 1979-80, finishing with 106 points, good for fourth in league scoring that year.
Bobby Clarke's teammate Bill Barber enjoyed his best season by far in 1975-76. It was the first and only time he would reach either 50 goals or 100 points in a season, finishing fourth in league scoring with 112 points (50G, 62A). Remarkably, it was another teammate of Clarke's and Barber's that led the Flyers - and the league - in goal scoring that year.
In his second NHL season, Pierre Larouche finished fifth in league scoring with 111 points (53G, 58A). It was the only time in his career that Larouche scored more than 100 points, but he would reach the 50-goal mark again in the 1979-80 season, scoring 50 for the Montreal Canadiens.
Denis Potvin led the New York Islanders in scoring each of his first three seasons. He finished 1975-76 with 98 points (31G, 67A), three better than his teammate, rookie phenom Bryan Trottier, and good enough for 11th overall. The next highest scoring defenseman was Potvin's older brother and teammate Jean, with 72 points. Potvin took home his first Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman; he would go on to win two more. This is by far my favourite card of an all-time great.
Reggie Leach also enjoyed a career year, and one of the finest goal-scoring seasons in hockey history, in 1975-76. He led the league in scoring with 61 goals in 80 regular season games, then somehow managed to score at an even higher rate in the playoffs, with 19 goals in 16 games. His playoff performance earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy, despite his team losing in the finals, something that has only happened five times in history.
Darryl Sittler finished 9th in league scoring with 100 points (41G, 59A) in 1975-76, helped by a record-setting 10-point game. Sittler scored six goals and assisted on four others in a game against the Boston Bruins in February of 1976, a record that still stands.
Pete Mahovlich enjoyed his second-straight 100-point season with the Habs in 1975-76, finishing seventh in league scoring with 105 points (34G, 71A). An often overlooked player in Montreal Canadiens history, Mahovlich won four Stanley Cups with the Habs in the 1970s. He was traded to Pittsburgh for high-scoring Pierre Larouche in 1977.
This is a great card of Islanders winger Bob Nystrom. I like it for two reasons. First, like his teammate Bryan Trottier, it features Nystrom before he sported the moustache he would later become known for. Second, the smile. If you are going to use a lot of posed photos - as this set does - it works out great when a player's personality shines through. Maybe the photographer said, "Hey, Bob. Smile like you just scored in overtime to win the 1980 Stanley Cup."
I refer to this Henry Boucha card as The Headband. I get that the 1970s was a time of both long hair and a lack of helmets, so a player wearing a headband should not be all that surprising. Still, I've always found this card to be hilarious. Maybe it's because Boucha's yellow headband is colour-coordinated with his Kansas City Scouts uniform.
Forward Lines Subset
Though not the first time forward trios have been featured together on cards, this is the only time I can recall an entire subset being dedicated to them. Some nicknames are better than others, but it's hard to beat "The French Connection." It's also worth noting the inclusion of the Montreal Canadiens checking line, which speaks to just how effective that trio was at shutting down their opponents.
As I said at the beginning of this post, the 1976-77 OPC set is often overlooked, but it belongs in every vintage hockey card collection.