It’s true of any sport – the best team is generally built around its core of its best players and then the support comes from its complementary players. The best hockey card collections are indeed built with superstars. Think of it like constructing a home – would you want to have one built of a lot lesser quality bricks or would you want one made of strong pillars at the bottom and then building up from that?
When you proudly pull out your collection to show people, think they’ll look for the player who was in the league for half a season or the Wayne Gretzky rookie card (well, assuming you have pockets deep enough to get such a card)?
You could spend some lesser money, though still steep by some people standards, and build a collection of recent superstars around Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin but considering the number of cards that have been issued for each player and the fact that their career history isn't written yet, it's not an easy gamble to take.
Hall of Famers provide a much easier, more stable and more rewarding way to collect hockey cards. The greats of the distant past, some of whom have been immortalized through the naming of league trophies, are always sought after by those who collect the history of the game. Few are left to discover. Most have already entered collections where they stay or are sold.
Gretzky's 1979-80 OPC rookie card is difficult to find in high grade and those smart enough to buy one in the ensuing 20 years have seen their investment grow in value. Those who pulled one from a pack that season and kept it well have a great memory--and a valuable card. His Topps rookie is also one of the most expensive from the post-War era. When it comes to building a hockey card collection, the Great One is a no brainer. Bobby Orr rookie cards are pricey, but if you're willing to accept a mid-grade copy from the '66-67 sets, you won't regret it. Gordie Howe, Ken Dryden, Maurice Richard, Eddie Shore...the list goes on.
Another element of building a worthwhile collection is to consider true rarities. Many of the pre-War hockey card sets are exceptionally rare and are always being sought by collectors around the world. In this case, superstars matter only to an extent. Early tobacco cards in high grade are worthwhile investments. Seek out information inside the PSA Population Report to see which sets have a small number of cards in high grade and seek those cards out (sign up for their collectors club and you can get your cards graded and get a subscription to the Sportscard Market Report).
Supply and demand laws take over. The same can be true in post-1940s sets where certain cards for whatever reason may have proven to be hard to find in the highest grades. Usually this is an issue with centering or issues that show wear because of being printed on dark card stock.
For those with lower budgets, there are opportunities, too. You can get a Mark Messier (he who led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup win in over 50 years) O-Pee-Chee rookie card for around $100, a Brett Hull (741 goals!) Topps rookie card for around $30, a Jaromir Jagr O-Pee-Chee rookie for around $25. You can even get a Hall-of-Famer like Brian Leetch’s ’89-’90 O-Pee-Chee rookie card for a ridiculously low price of a buck or even less in quantity. You get the idea.
Shopping for superstars is something those with impressive hockey card collections do on a daily basis but the process is exciting and fun. It makes it shine even brighter. The word “star” is in there, after all.