This is big! Well... actually it’s HUGE!
Panini America has just reached a multi-year trading card agreement with Gordie Howe, one of the greatest hockey player of all time. Autograph and memorabilia trading cards of Howe will appear in Panini's officially licensed hockey products for the first time. This is on the heals of In The Game’s January 19th announcement that Howe would be appearing on their cards too.
What is so big or huge about this? Well Howe has been one of the three marquee players featured on Upper Deck cards for a long time along with the Great One, Wayne Gretzky and Booby Orr. That Hat Trick exclusive seemed to be a cornerstone of the Upper Deck Hockey cards empire, one that appeared to be unbreakable. With both ITG and Panini signing Howe, there will be plenty of competition which leads to more choices for collectors and that is always a good thing.
The is no word from Upper Deck yet about any of this so one has to guess that Howe will still sign and appear on cards for them, just not on an exclusive basis anymore.
In all likelihood, Gretzky and Orr will follow at some point. I’ve suspected that Panini would break Upper Deck’s exclusive back in December of last year. Small indications of that started popping up on Panini’s blog, The Knight’s Lance, there was something was in the air. First, a casual reference to The Great One in a post about 2011-12 Crown Royale Hockey using the phrase “Like Gretzky on a breakaway.” Then there was the addition of Tim Trout, former Beckett Hockey Guru, who was coming on board as the new assistant brand manager for Hockey. (conspiracy theory fans will note there were both LA Kings and NY Rangers Uniforms strategically placed over Trout’s left shoulder as he explained on video what he would be doing in his new job for Panini.)
Howe, a 1972 Hall of Fame inductee, is third on the NHL all-time leading scorer list with 1,767 points. He played 25 seasons, was a 23-time NHL All-Star and 4 time winner of the Stanley Cup. He also won 6 Art Ross Trophies and 6 Hart Trophies. Howe is the only player in NHL history to play in five different decades.