Modern trading cards are certainly gorgeous and many are loaded with relics from in-game play and autographs to add to their appeal. Yet, it’s a lot of fun to think back and remember a simpler time in our hobby when you bought a pack of hockey cards in hopes that you’d get your favorite players and a full set of every member of the team you cheered for on the ice.
Well, it’s time for a trip back in time to the 1980s, the era of big hair, New Wave music, day-glo leg warmers, and some of the most beautiful hockey cards ever printed. Hockey cards had a humble beginning as promotional material stuffed into packs of cigarettes in the early 20th century.
By the time we hit the 1980s, the hockey card scene was in full swing, with more cards being produced with a focus on action shots and a closer attention to design that makes the cartoons and fuzzy backgrounds from 1960s and 1970s cards look like amateur hour. In the 1980s, each set became a collection of mini masterpieces, each card bringing in vibrant colors, visually-appealing designs, and sharper photography. Each card was packed with insightful statistics, a smorgasbord of player facts, and even witty quips from the players. These cards were not just collectibles; you were holding a piece of the game right in the palm of your hands.
The fact that the era had some of the greatest players to ever skate on ice helps make a lot of these cards immensely. If not for the thrilling players that upped the ante on the sport, we would never be marveling at the beauty of these cards forty years later. So, let’s take a tour of some of the most gorgeous hockey cards from the awesome 1980s.
The 1980s Most Beautiful Hockey Cards
13) 1982 O-Pee-Chee Steve Weeks #234
A solid performer throughout his career, Steve Weeks cuts such an impressive look with this card that has so much going for it. In addition to the excellent contrasting colors up top, the image of the goaltender in motion is what wins me over on the 1982 O-Pee-Chee Steve Weeks #234 card. The sheer weight of all that rides on the shoulders of the man defending the net can be felt here in his stance and ready look. You can’t tell it's actually Weeks, but you can tell this is a goalie who means business.
12) 1985 O-Pee-Chee Rookie Scoring Leaders Mario Lemieux #262
Nobody stares you down on the ice like the great “Super Mario” Lemieux. Lemieux looks like he’s about to tear through the other team and plant the puck in the net with his teeth. He was always a powerful player who didn’t hold back on the ice and this ready stance has him prepared to break a defense. Add his confrontational look to the stacked, colorful borders declaring him a rookie scoring leader, and the NHL shield in the corner - 1985 O-Pee-Chee Rookie Scoring Leaders Mario Lemieux #262 is one fantastic card. Mario may just show up again later on the list because this is hardly his only exceptional hockey card.
11) 1981 Topps Peter Stastny #39
1981 Topps Peter Stastny #39 has Peter Stastny pictured in his Quebec Nordiques floating on the ice and ready to deliver a slapshot. The ease with which he balances on the single skate is part of the reason this card looks so magical. The other bit is the way the team name is splayed across at an angle that seems to align with the picture. Some card designer composed this beautifully. Plus, I’m going to pick the Topps version over the O-Pee-Chee because the logo is just much cleaner on this design. O-Pee-Chee could get creative at adding their quirky name to cards and it didn’t always work.
10) 1980 O-Pee-Chee Mark Messier #289The [1980 O-Pee-Chee Mark Messier #289 card](https://getcardbase.com/1980-o-pee-chee-289-mark-messier-18722909) remains a classic. Showcasing the future Hall of Famer, Messier has a powerful stance that we’d often see from another famous Oiler center who appears on this list. The mix of colors plus the puck-shaped icon at the bottom effectively shoe-horning in both the English and French words for his position make this one a treat for the eyes. Without a doubt, this is one of the best [Mark Messier cards](https://getcardbase.com/mark-messier) you will find to round out your Oilers collection.
9) 1987 O-Pee-Chee Luc Robitaille #42[Luc Robitaille's #42 card from the 1987 O-Pee-Chee](https://getcardbase.com/1987-o-pee-chee-42-luc-robitaille-18736647) is a lovely card because of that early-era Kings outfit and the exceptional contributions he made to the team. [Luc Robitaille](https://getcardbase.com/luc-robitaille) would be a once-and-future king many times before finally joining the head office for the organization. Before that, he had a strong career as a left winger, with scoring records galore and, technically, three Stanley Cup wins (two as the COO of the Kings). The card embodies Robitaille's phenomenal career and legacy of showing off what a left wing can really contribute to a team and a franchise as a whole.
8) 1984 O-Pee-Chee Cam Neely #327Not everyone remembers the powerhouse ring winger [Cam Neely](https://getcardbase.com/cam-neely), but he was a scoring machine during his short time in the NHL with the Boston Bruins and, here, the Vancouver Canucks. But “Bam-Bam Cam’s” [1984 O-Pee-Chee Cam Neely #327 card](https://getcardbase.com/1984-o-pee-chee-327-cam-neely) is a piece of history that has grown more desirable with time. The striking colors of his Canucks outfit are memorable, highlighted by borders that reflect them and a solid headshot in the corner. Why we didn’t get more of this design in the 1980s, I don’t know. It's a fine balance between imagery and borders that makes for a truly compelling card.
7) 1981 Topps Wayne Gretzky #16
I’m not sure Wayne Gretzky has any less than stellar cards, but this 1981 Topps Wayne Gretzky #16 is particularly good because it offers a window into the intensity of his play. He can’t wait for the puck to drop, he’s already tucked down to race for it. The Topps border complements his costume, the clean logo, and clear name and position all work to add focus onto Gretsky folding down to burst into play any moment.
This is an excellent example of a card where you can really feel where the action is about to happen. No one could bring the energy like The Great One and you can almost anticipate the whoosh about to fly across the ice when you look at this terrific card.
6) 1987 O-Pee-Chee Minis Ron Hextall #16
Some of the best hockey cards are always going to be goalie cards because that is so often where the action is. This Ron Hextall 1987 Minis O-Pee-Chee #16 card shows us the intensity of the goalie experience, especially highlighting Hextall's nearly unrivaled goaltending skills against a basic O-Pee-Chee design that spends no time detracting from the action.
This card is also special because it evokes the unique and exceptional play Ron Hextall showed that year when he became the first NHL goaltender to ever score a goal by shooting the puck into the opponent's empty net. A goalie’s work is never done and Hextall’s powerful in-play image here is a great reminder of that fact.
5) 1983 O-Pee-Chee Tony Esposito #99
Tony Esposito’s 1983 card is distinctive for so many reasons. First, that mask is unique with all the additions he’s made. The photo of 1983 O-Pee-Chee Tony Esposito #99 makes this unusual mask a focus for the image and even though this isn’t a stance you expect from a goalie, he’s also just weighed down as a goalie always is. When you add in his gesture from his claw-like mitts communicating what - demanding the puck? Telling the team to ‘come and get it?’ Whatever his message, he looks imposing and somehow more intimidating than in any other goalie around. Add to that the quirky organization of the team name, position, and Tony Esposito’s name and you have a card with a really odd but compelling beauty.
4) 1989 O-Pee-Chee Hart Trophy Wayne Gretzky #320
Is this only on the list because it shows The Great One Wayne Gretzky in his L.A. King uniform? No, but that helps bump it up the list higher for this Kings fan. The real appeal of the 1989 O-Pee-Chee Hart Trophy Wayne Gretzky #320 card is the Gretzky ease on the ice in his striking Kings black with the well-deserved Hart Trophy pictured in the foreground that makes this one a stunner. It’s one of his more valuable Kings cards, too, if you’re hunting for a good card of the Great One from this era.
3) 1986 Topps Patrick Roy #53
The 1986 Topps Patrick Roy #53 card featuring him in his Montreal Canadiens jersey is a stunning piece showing off one of the greatest goalies in history in a ready stance. Four-time Stanley Cup champ Patrick Roy is among the most formidable keepers ever to grace the ice at an NHL game and he’s ready for anything in this wonderful action shot. That year’s card design highlighted Roy’s costume well with a nice, clean border and minimalist language, even down to just a ‘G’ for Goalie. Sometimes there’s real beauty in keeping things simple.
2) 1985 O-Pee-Chee Mario Lemieux #9
The amazing Mario Lemieux's rookie card has skyrocketed in value over the years and that’s no wonder because it’s one of the most famous cards in the sport. The 1985 O-Pee-Chee Mario Lemieux #9 card captures 'Super Mario' with his iconic glare intimidating all comers as if to predict his back-to-back Stanley Cup wins and the staggering number of goals he’d score.
The card shows Mario Lemieux in his Pittsburgh Penguins uniform with a clean, simple design to keep the focus on his deadly stare. The vivid colors make it pop, cracking with the emotion of Lemieux’s passion for the game. He always meant business and this card was a warning to the competition.
1) 1980 Topps Wayne Gretzky #250
Who else would top this list? “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky has so many exceptional cards but 1980 Topps Wayne Gretzky #250 is one of the best. The card features a stunning action shot of Gretzky in his Edmonton Oilers uniform leaning into the motion, creating a vision that makes this kind of intense skating look so easy, especially as you see him going one way and looking out another. The Great One was always in control of the whole rink, so it’s no surprise to see him showing such finesse even this early in his career. Moreover, the bold, colorful design of the card with a puck in place as part of the design is a perfect representation of the style of hockey cards from that era. This one is a winner.
The Beauty of 1980s Hockey Trading Cards
To put it as elegantly as a Gretzky assist, hockey trading cards from the 1980s were more than just trading cards. They were compact, portable galleries of art that immortalized our hockey heroes and ignited the imaginations of young and old fans alike. Today, they hold both sentimental value for the people who spent countless hours collecting, trading, and admiring them, and historical significance for those who study the game.
The beautiful 1980s hockey cards encapsulate more than just the players—they're time capsules of the game's evolution, the shifts in design aesthetics, and a glimpse into the players who dominated the ice during this vibrant decade. They're not just collectibles; they're artifacts of hockey history that we get to embrace as fans. If there’s one you really want, remember that you can set up a Watchlist on Cardbase to keep an eye on sales across dozens of online marketplaces.
Whether you're a card collector or someone who appreciates the nostalgia of the 1980s, these hockey trading cards offer an incredible journey through a dynamic era of the sport. Remember, the real value of these cards lies not just in their market price, but in the rich history they carry and the stories they tell. Happy collecting!