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Some of the Most Impactful Trades the Penguins Have Made

Ron Francis could be the most important trade in Pens history.
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With the NHL Trade Deadline in the rear view mirror, I’d like to take a look at some of the most impactful trades the Penguins have made. In recent years, the Phil Kessel trade has been a large success for the Penguins. Other trades, like trading for Derick Brassard, have not panned out for the Penguins. I’ll be looking a few mega trades, as well as some smaller, more impactful, trades.

Penguins Trade For Phil Kessel

Let’s start with a trade in recent history: acquiring the services of Phil Kessel for a first-round pick and Kasperi Kapanen, among other chips. For the Penguins, Kapanen was a quick winger who was not yet developed enough to play at the NHL level. Jim Rutherford, the Penguins’ General Manager, was tasked to rebuild the team to a faster squad. So, the Penguins traded for Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, and a conditional 2016 second-round pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs got Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, a 2016 conditional first-round pick, and a 2016 third-round pick.

Kessel had an immediate impact on the Penguins. In his debut season in Pittsburgh, Kessel scored 26 goals, had 33 assists, formed the famous HBK (Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel) line, and helped the Penguins win a Stanley Cup. The next season (2016-2017), Kessel and the Penguins won another Stanley Cup. Kapanen has been an exceptionally good player for the Maple Leafs. In his young career, he’s scored 27 goals and has 24 assists in 119 NHL games. That equates to around a 5.6 point share, which is the estimated amount of points contributed by a player. In the end, I believe that both teams “won” this trade. The Penguins completed their extremely quick rebuild by acquiring one of the best speed-scoring wingers while the Maple Leafs got draft capital as well as youth to help them rebuild into the contender they are right now.

Penguins acquire Justin Schultz from Edmonton

On February 27, 2016, the Pittsburgh Penguins gave the Edmonton Oilers a 2016 third-round draft pick in exchange for struggling defenseman Justin Schultz. In Edmonton, Schultz was a consistent minus player. Spending four years with Edmonton, Schultz was a -78, scored 101 points, and had a Corsi of 47.1. His offensive nature was being stifled by Edmonton, who was struggling mightily even after drafting generational talent Connor McDavid. After being sent to Pittsburgh, Schultz’s biggest impact came in his second season, when Kris Letang suffered a serious neck injury. Schultz took control of the Penguins’ powerplay and immediately took off. In around 170 games played with the Penguins (Schultz played 248 games in Edmonton), Schultz has won 2 Stanley Cups, scored 96 points, is a +59, and has a Corsi of 50.3, while contributing 18.4 point shares to the Penguins.

Schultz’s game drastically changed when he came to Pittsburgh. In Edmonton, he was tasked to being a two-way defenseman where he had to balance his play defensively and offensively. Coming to Pittsburgh, Mike Sullivan and his crew changed Schultz’s play style by allowing him to skate more and use his offensive skill to their advantage. Schultz’s move to Pittsburgh was a renaissance for him as he grew to fit perfectly into a top-4 defenseman role. However, with current injuries to Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, and Chad Ruhwedel, Schultz will be forced to step up into the top defense pairing with Jack Johnson.

Bill Guerin heads to Pittsburgh from the New York Islanders

In late 2008, the Penguins were rebounding from losing the Stanley Cup against the Detroit Red Wings. After relieving Michel Therrien of his duties behind the bench, the Penguins hired Dan Bylsma to head their new look team. On March 4, 2009, the Penguins acquired Bill Guerin from the New York Islanders for a conditional draft pick. As captain of the Islanders, Guerin was a must-need acquisition for a young Penguins team. After being put on a line with Sidney Crosby immediately, Guerin flourished and scored 12 points in 17 games in the 2008-2009 season with the Penguins. When the playoffs came around, Guerin scored 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) in 24 games while helping the Penguins win their third Stanley Cup.

Though his time with the Penguins was short, his impact came on the leadership side. When coming to the Penguins, he was one of the most aged veterans on the team. His ability to keep the team moving forward after devastating losses helped key players, like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, focus on dominating opponents. His impact also has continued after his retirement. He is currently the Assistant General Manger for the Penguins as well as the General Manager for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. His lasting relationship with the Penguins and his immense knowledge of hockey has proven him invaluable to the Penguins franchise.

Penguins trade up in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft to land Fleury

The Penguins finished the 2002-2003 season in last place in the Atlantic Division. With the third overall pick on draft day, the Penguins made a move to trade up to acquire the first overall pick. Trading the third overall pick with their second-round pick and Mikael Samuelsson, the Penguins acquired the first overall pick and a third-round pick from the Florida Panthers. The Penguins selected Marc-Andre Fleury from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, and the rest was history. Fleury made his NHL debut on October 10, 2003, and became the youngest goalie at the age of 18 to appear in an NHL game. His first game showed that he was worth the trade up: a 46 save game, including a penalty-shot save on Esa Pirnes, in a 3-0 loss against the Los Angeles Kings. The words of former Kings’ coach Andy Murray sums up his stellar performance: “It is obvious he is a real talent. You have one chance to make a first impression in life and he made a great first impression.”

Fleury’s legend continue to grow as he played more for the Penguins. As a three-time Stanley Cup champion, Marc-Andre Fleury is ninth in career wins. He is the Penguins’ franchise leader in games played by a goalie, wins, losses, goals against average, shutouts, and goalie point shares. For the Penguins, a gutsy trade up to select a goaltender first overall prove to be one of the best franchise decisions for them. Though the Penguins gave up Fleury in the Vegas Expansion Draft, Marc-Andre Fleury will always be a Penguins legend. Along with 68, 71, and 87, number 29 should join the great 66 (Mario Lemieux) and 21 (Michel Briere) in the rafters of PPG Paints Arena.

Francis and Samuelsson sent to Pittsburgh for John Cullen and Zarley Zalapski

Before the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup in the 1990-1991 season, they were on the cusp of greatness. Mario Lemieux had only played 26 games the entire season. However, the famous Sky Line was just forming. Lemieux was flanked by Kevin Stevens and the young Jaromir Jagr to create arguably one of the most deadly lines in NHL history. With the Sky Line already existing, the Penguins traded a core player of the Option Line (John Cullen, Mack Recchi, and Kevin Stevens) away to pick up Ron Francis and a few other players. Giving up John Cullen, Jeff Parker, and Zarley Zalapski, the Penguins acquired Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson, and Grant Jennings. With Cullen gone, the Penguins moved Stevens down with Recchi in order to create the second Sky Line: Francis on the left, Lemieux down the center, and Jagr on the right.

The new Sky Line was dominant. In the 1991 NHL Playoffs, they combined for 74 points. Lemieux led the way with an unimaginable 44 points, while Francis followed with 17, and Jagr with 13 points. This new line helped bolster the Penguins to two Stanley Cup victories and allowed them to dominate the early 1990s. John Cullen, however, continued to have an amazing career away from the Penguins. Though he never won a Stanley Cup, Cullen won the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy for exceptional qualities of perseverance and sportsmanship.

Penguins deal Recchi for Tocchet

On February 19, 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins traded Mark Recchi, Brian Benning, and their first-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Rick Tocchet, Kjell Samuelsson, Ken Wregget, and a third-round pick. After winning the Stanley Cup the year prior, the Penguins were gunning for a repeat. For the Penguins, they upgraded their young right winger in Mark Recchi for the more experienced right winger in Rick Tocchet. For both players, the team they played for didn’t change how they played. Recchi is already in the Hall of Fame while Tocchet is easily on his way into being inducted.

In the 58 games he played for the Penguins, Mark Recchi was down right phenomenal. Scoring 33 goals and having 37 assists (70 points in total), Recchi was fifth in scoring for the Penguins. Though he was a -16 overall, Recchi had an outstanding shooting percentage of 21.2%. When Tocchet came to Pittsburgh, he played a total of 19 games in the 1991-1992 season. In those 19 games, Tocchet scored 14 goals, 16 assists (30 points) and was a +12. Though Recchi had an impressive shooting percentage, Tocchet showed his veteran prowess with an even better shooting percentage of 23.7%. At the end of both players’ careers, they had played a total of 40 seasons of Hall of Fame-caliber hockey, while winning a combined 4 Stanley Cups.

Tom Barrasso heads to Pittsburgh from Buffalo in 1988

Tom Barrasso is one of the greatest American goaltenders of all time. In his rookie season in 1983-1984, he won the Calder Memorial Trophy for best rookie along with Vezina Trophy for best goaltender. He was the first American-born goaltender to reach 300 wins, and he retired with 369 wins in 777 games. Barrasso’s exceptional play in Buffalo led to the Penguins acquiring him for Doug Bodger and Darrin Shannon.

In my opinion, this was a steal of a trade. Both Bodger and Shannon were not very notable NHL players, while Barrasso was arguably one of the best goaltenders at that time. The Penguins traded for a goaltender who was pure money in the playoffs. Once he caught fire in the the 1991 NHL Playoffs, he was unbeatable. Winning back to back Stanley Cups, Barrasso made his mark on the NHL.

Sasank is a student at Carnegie Mellon University majoring in computer science and minoring in business. He is a huge hockey and baseball fan, but also enjoys following the Steelers and Spurs on the side. His passion lies in applying machine learning to sports analytics. As a mentor in the Carnegie Mellon Tartan Sports Analytics Club, Sasank does sports analytics research on hockey in order to bring more clarity to skater and goaltender performance. He can be reached on Twitter at @_svish.