In the comments, Nick came up with a good idea — what better way to pass the time of the NHL’s season pause than to look back and see which Penguins team was the best of all time. There’s no real right or wrong answers, and we’ll ultimately never know, but hey, it will be good to take our minds off the whole global pandemic thing for a minute or two.
Today, the first four matchups for your voting needs. Here’s the top half of the bracket (for mystery, the lower half to be voted on later this week remains hidden!) It’s a 16 team tournament, and the seeding was done based on TEAM strength and composition. So it’s possible a Pens team that didn’t win the Stanley Cup could be seeded higher than one that didn’t. Not worth getting too worked up about and the voting will ultimately sort it out any ways!
It’s the Penguins best team ever voting contest
#1 The 1991-92 Cup champion team vs. the #16 1975-76 team
The top seed for this exercise will be the mighty 1991-92 Stanley Cup team. Their regular season record was only 39-32-9 (the last column being ties). They had a Stanley Cup hangover. The emotion of their beloved coach Badger Bob Johnson passing away. They overcame that to still get the top seed, because in my opinion, this was peak Mario Lemieux. Lemieux scored 16 goals in 15 playoff games. To repeat, 16 goals in 15 games. This team won 11 straight playoff games to end the year, sweeping the last two rounds to take the Stanley Cup. It was the ultimate illustration of growing stronger at the right time, and no team ever peaked like the ‘92 Pens did. Even Dominik Hasek and a very strong Chicago team was nothing but mincemeat in the finals.
Strengths: Lemieux and Kevin Stevens were basically unstoppable forces of size/skill/speed and power, 6 hall of famers (counting Jaromir Jagr), one of the best coaches of all time in Scotty Bowman as a replacement, 343 goals was tops in the league that season
Weaknesses: Unfocused early in season, no name defense
After a coaching change, the Pens flourished (sound familiar?) with Ken Schinkel going 20-10-7 to finish the season and help the team to the playoffs. The high-flying Pens had the last year of the “Century line” and they almost lived up to it with 20-year old Pierre Larouche leading the team with 53 goals and 111 points, Jean Provonost having 52 goals and 104 points and Syl Apps notching 99 points. This team lost in the first round of a three game playoff series.
Strengths: Were second in the league in goals scored (339), lots of good high-end skill
Weaknesses: Poor goaltending, overall depth issues
Pens best team ever, #1 vs #16
This poll is closed
#1: The 1991-92 Pens team
#16: the 1975-76 team
#8 2007-08 SC Final team vs. the #9 1995-96 team
—A battle of “what could have been”
The ‘07-08 Pens took it to over-drive by acquiring Marian Hossa and going from “young team on the ascent” all the way to “legit annual championship contender”.
Strengths: Early prime aged Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, one of Marc-Andre Fleury’s best statistical seasons (and a great Ty Conklin year). Plus vet depth in players like Hal Gill and Gary Roberts
Weaknesses: Michel Therrien’s system more defensively coached system, and, um, ran into a generationally great Detroit team?
Probably the last absolute best Lemieux season, the ‘95-96 team made a bit of a playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Strengths: Score Lords line of Lemieux (162, Art Ross, MVP), Jagr (149 second in scoring), Ron Francis (119 points, fourth in league) were unreal. Petr Nedved (99 points), Tomas Sandstrom (70) and Bryan Smolinski (64) added depth. 362 total goals tops in league
Weaknesses: beyond paper thin defense
Pens best team ever, #8 vs #9
This poll is closed
#8: 2007-08 Stanley Cup Final team
#9: 1995-96, rats
#4 The Stanley Cup champion 2008-09 team vs. #13 the 1993-94 team
—The first SC champ Crosby team vs. a scrappy mid ‘90s squad
The first time the Pens got to the top of the mountain in the Crosby/Malkin era, the Pens found magic with Dan Bylsma and a gutsy Sergei Gonchar playoff performance along with peak Bully Geno in a Conn Smythe effort
Strengths: Crosby and Malkin were off the charts good, late season additions in Kunitz and Bill Guerin paid off, as well as the strong Jordan Staal-led third line, and kind of a “team of destiny” type feel with great performances from Max Talbot and Ruslan Fedotenko in the spring
Weaknesses: Supporting cast wasn’t really the strongest, team was directionless prior to the coaching change
The 93-94 Pens were a division winner, rare in that era. They had seven players with 70+ points, including Jaromir Jagr who was really coming into his own as one of the best players in the game
Strengths: Strong offensive team (299 goals was 4th in the NHL), still had some remnants of the fading early ‘90s dynasty team
Weaknesses: Weren’t really that much of a dynasty team any longer, defensive and goaltending was below average (were 19th in a 26 team in goals allowed), Lemieux only played 22 games that season and injuries + previous year’s cancer seemed to be catching up and draining him
Pens best team ever: #4 vs #13
This poll is closed
#4: The Cup winning 2009 team
#13: The division winning 1993-94 team
#5 The lockout 2013 team vs. #12 the lockout 1995 team
—Only felt fitting to pair the two 48-game teams together in this regard, really the ‘95 team could be ranked a bit lower, but alas, what’s done is done
The 2013 roster was locked and loaded. This might be a bit of a generous seed, but separate the emotion of bitterness from their results to just the strength of the team and the focus shifts to a more favorable perception. Deep, balanced but then Crosby broke his jaw and the team went cold on a bad week against a red hot goalie. Still, they had their Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis first line all clicking, James Neal on his 40-goal pace self with Malkin and trade additions of Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow (still kinda weird!)
Strengths: Had the NHL’s top scoring team, won 36 games out of 48, Tomas Vokoun gave them a viable backup option to cover what became their biggest weakness in a stumbling playoff Fleury
Weaknesses: Injury ended Sid’s MVP season and never seemed to get it back, too many good RWs led to coaching usage issues, team never did quite all gel together in a short season, probably really only like two or three good defensemen
The ‘95 Pens were perhaps the oddest team of recent(ish) times. There was no Mario (sat out all season), but this WAS the one and only season they had Luc Robitaille. Jagr won his first career Art Ross in Lemieux’s absence.
Strengths: Jagr and Francis were a terrific 1-2 punch, Robitaille+Sandstrom+Joey Mullen+John Cullen were a solid productive supporting cast
Weaknesses: Ken Wregget had to take over as the primary goalie and it didn’t go well, the whole defense other than Larry Murphy-Ulf Samuelsson wasn’t very good
Pens best team ever, #5 vs #12
This poll is closed
#5: Lockout 2013 team, Iginla style
#12: Lockout team 1995, Robitaille style