To backtrack for context, in the spring of 1965, Jack McGregor, a senator from Kittanning, Pennsylvania, began pleading his case to various individuals around the region to bring an NHL franchise back to Pittsburgh.
Before this attempt, Pittsburgh was home to the NHL’s Pittsburgh Pirates and the American Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Hornets.
The plan was to showcase how a professional hockey team would be beneficial for the city Pittsburgh. The senator formed a group of notable, local investors that included H.J. Heinz III, Richard Mellon Scaife, and Art Rooney, among others. McGregor even sent Rooney to petition votes from James and Bruce Norris, owners of the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings respectively. These votes from the owners played quite a big role in helping to cement Pittsburgh as an expansion city over other cities like Buffalo, New York.
McGregor’s determination was rewarded, and on February 8, 1966, the National Hockey League awarded an expansion team to Pittsburgh for the 1967-68 season. The franchise paid approximately $3.2 million for their entry into the NHL. The Civic Arena’s capacity was also increased from 10,732 to 12,500 to meet the NHL’s arena requirements for expansion.
But what was this team going to be called? After a contest with over 25,000 participants, the name “Penguins” was chosen for this new club. The Penguins served as a popular choice, seeing how they were going to be playing in the Civic Arena, affectionately called “The Igloo” by the locals because of its shape. A logo was chosen that featured a penguin in front of a triangle, which symbolized the Golden Triangle of downtown Pittsburgh.
In addition to the Penguins, the league also welcomed the Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota North Stars, Los Angeles Kings, and California Seals, doubling its size from the “Original Six” teams to the Original Twelve.
Obviously needing players to fill out rosters, the league held an Expansion Draft the following day on June 6, 1967.
With their first draft pick, the Penguins selected Joe Daley, a goaltender who previously played for the Red Wings.
The expansion teams were hamstrung by many rules which kept most of the stars of the league with their existing teams. With the likes of Earl Ingarfield, Andy Bathgate, and Leo Boivin well past their primes, the first-ever Penguins team was largely comprised of castaway players from the original clubs.
Boy, times have changed when it comes to expansion teams and their roster selection techniques, eh?
The league showed no mercy to these new, flightless birds, however. The Penguins finished with a 27-34-13, good for fifth place in the West Division. They missed the playoffs and finished their inaugural campaign with the third worst record in the league.
It wasn't until the bright, but unfortunately short glimmer of hope from rising star Michel Briere, that the Penguins would get a taste of playoff and franchise success.
That’s it for today’s look back at Penguins history. Share whatever your earliest Penguins memory may be down in the comments!