Sorting It Out: The Act of Sorting Hockey Cards

by Matt Gillman

Before I will even begin a trading card sorting project, I always make sure to have plenty of supplies from Bags Unlimited on hand. I don’t want to go into sorting without enough items to take care of the cards I’m prepared to sort out. I don’t think my wife would be very happy to come to a dining room table covered in cardboard.Even though she has seen that before.

My hockey sorting is much different than sorting the Top 3 sports I collect: baseball, football and basketball. I don’t use as many supplies for hockey as I do with the other sports since I don’t heavily collect hockey anymore. But let’s look at what I use.

 I always grab multiple 3” three D-ring binders and make sure that each has at least 50 9-pocket pages. Binders make up more than half of how I store my card collection.

I also make sure to have some Toploaders on hand. I like these two different sizes. The regular Ultra Pro toploader size holds standard thickness cards such as base cards and inserts while the ‘Super Thick’ Ultra Pro holds cards with up to a 180 pt thickness such as relic and autographed relic cards. I never know what I will be getting, so, it’s good to have both of them on hand.

And you can’t use Top Loaders without “penny” sleeves or, Card Sleeves, as they are technically called. At least you shouldn’t go without them unless you like your cards with a scratched surface, which I don’t. It’s especially needed for any cards with a chromed surface. I also use penny sleeves to store non-card items such as game board pieces. They really come in handy.

Next I always make sure to have a few acrylic 15-card hinged holders.

800 ct storage boxes,in my sorting world, are a must have as well. I like to have at least two empty and ready to fill and maybe more when it comes to doing hockey cards.

Now that we’ve added all of the right pieces together, we have enough supplies to get started.

So, let’s get started!

First I start with a stack of cards that I haven’t sorted yet. Since I can’t remember the last time I opened a pack of hockey cards – been at least a few years – this is from a trade-day mailing. I think the biggest reason why I don’t buy more packs of hockey cards is because I don’t watch the sport anymore. Kind of hard to collect players or teams from a sport you don’t keep up with.

I take the stack of cards I receive in and break them down into mini-piles.  These mini-piles are broken up by how I will put them away. Unlike other bigger sports I collect such as baseball and football, hockey doesn’t have fifteen to sixteen mini-piles. I make four mini-piles that may turn into five if there are any base/common cards sent my way as well. At this point, with my hockey collecting, I am trying to cut down on the base and just stick with the essentials I get from the four piles.

Here is how my mini-piles are broken down into before I can take care of them,

Top Row, from the left: players, autograph/memorabilia hits and rookies.

Second Row, from the left: inserts and sometimes base cards when I do have them.

After sorting them out into the smaller piles, I usually start with the tougher things to put away first; The ones that take more effort of digging out the materials to put them away. When you have a good amount of cards and you collect as vastly as I do, some things get buried over time. Hockey stuff is usually in the boxes and binders at the bottom of my shelves. 

One of the more challenging piles to put away is the star players pile; I always start with this pile first since it requires both binder and boxes. I don’t normally pull many players from today but guys like Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane and Henrik Lundqvist are names I do know and do make their appearance in the star player boxes. I also pull out many of the 90’s guys I really enjoyed watching like Mario Lemieux, Ray Bourque and Wayne Gretzky, just to name a few.

Unlike other sports where I use the big 3200 count boxes to put players away, the hockey players go into 800 count boxes because I don’t have a lot of the cards. For these boxes I used to use index cards to split them all up, but recently I discovered Bags Unlimited’s line of trading card box dividers and spacers and gave them a try. They work so much better than the index cards that had a tendency to bend over time.

So for these 800 count boxes I use the horizontal ones that are wide, not tall and deep like the ones you can use for the 3200 count boxes. I did find out that they don’t fit correctly all the way so I did some minor trimming to get them to fit in; just a very minor slice off the side.

I first start with a player in the box. Notice how I also used extra supplies to hold the box flat while I am trying to fill it. It helps it from flipping over and spilling out the contents before you fill the box up. Just a hobby tip for when you experience that problem.

After I get the first player inserted, I put the divider in with their name written with sharpie since it stands out more and then place the next player in front of that. It continues on ‘til I get about ¾ of the way full because I don’t want to completely fill it just in case I have more cards to add.

As for Wayne Gretzky, he is the only NHL player I don’t put in the 800 count boxes, I put him in a binder because his nickname,“The Great One”, says it all. Gretzky played for 20 years, from ’79 to ‘99, but I best remember him playing in the 90’s for the Rangers. Gretzky holds over 61 NHL records and is the only NHL player who scored 200 points in a season and also tallied over 100 points in 16 consecutive seasons. He is the Michael Jordan of the hobby. There is no comparison and it’s way too hard to touch a lot of those records. And that’s why he has a binder all to himself.

The next two piles, the rookies and the inserts, go into their own respective binders as well.

My hockey inserts have no method to their madness and just get placed into a binder in no specific order. I don’t pull out any of the shiny cards as I do for the other sports. I probably should and if I do it will still be mainly the Panini Prizm ones as you see in this photo but since Panini no longer makes hockey cards I am not sure if it will be worth the effort.  The one thing I would like to do is sort them by team, that way when I get ready to do some trading I can easily find what I need instead of having to search.

The last pile I have to put away in a binder is the rookies.  For years I have always just tossed my hockey rookies  into a binder, like the one in my previous example of the cards I used from the pile. But, recently I have been pulling them out and finally getting them sorted by team like my three other sports.

Here is the mini-pile sorted by team

Then placed into the binder by team. I like to add an extra page in-between each team section, so, when I add new ones and the page is full, I will already have another page ready instead of trying to hunt for another one. As I continue to pull other cards out from my two other hockey rookie card binders I will add them to this one.

Now onto the hits from this sorting project.

Autograph cards are normally on the thinner side and fit into the normal toploaders. Sometimes though, for relics or other thicker products, you will have to use the thicker-sized toploader that I will show you shortly. First, I carefully slide the card into the penny sleeve, which then I slide into toploader.

The same goes for the thinner relic cards. I first, very carefully, slide the thinner relic card into the penny sleeve -I tend to do these much more carefully as relic cards tend to chip even at the slightest nudge -and then slide it into the toploader.

Here is a comparison of the two different sized hit cards side by side (thick – left, thin – right).

As for the thicker relic cards, because they are so susceptible to chipping, I use these 15 count hinged-boxes. That way I just open them up, put the thicker card inside and close them; can’t get easier than that!

Well, this is the final part of my sorting series. I hope it helped give you some ideas on how you may want to sort these sports in your own collection. If you have any tips or feedback on how I sort mine or something you do differently to your own, please leave those in the comment section.

Til next time, keep on collecting!