This is a topic I have wanted to touch on for a while, so here we go.
The topic: The best performances by Penguins players that only spent one season in Pittsburgh before they were traded or exited via free agency.
Here we go.
Honorable mention: Michel Briere (1969-70 season). I put Briere as an honorable mention and not part of the ranking itself because he does not really fit the spirit of what I was looking for here. But he still deserves a mention. Yes, he only played one year for the Penguins, but that short career was the result of tragedy, not because of a contract or a trade. He not only figured to be a significant part of the Penguins’ franchise, he was set to be their first bonafide star. He finished his rookie season with 12 goals and 44 total points in 76 games and then had a huge performance in the playoffs. He scored five goals (including three game-winning goals) in 10 games that postseason in what was the Penguins’ first ever playoff appearance. They reached the NHL semifinals, losing to the St. Louis Blues in six games. He should have played many, many, many more seasons in Pittsburgh.
- Luc Robitaille (1994-95 season)
I always felt like Robitaille’s one season in Pittsburgh has been a completely forgotten part of his career. Unless you are a Penguins fan (or watched the cinematic masterpiece Sudden Death) you probably do not even realize that it happened. I think there are a few contributing factors to that.
First, it was only one season.
Second, it was a lockout shortened season so he only played in 46 regular season games with the team.
But he still ended up being a massive part of that team. The 1994-95 season was one of the years where Mario Lemieux did not play and it left the Penguins with a massive hole in their lineup. Robitaille’s addition gave them another superstar alongside Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis and he did not disappoint, averaging nearly a point per game (42 points in 46 games) and finishing second on the team in goals. He also had a sensational playoff run with seven goals in 11 games, including a massive Game 5 overtime winner against the Washington Capitals in round 1 to fight off elimination and help the Penguins overcome a 3-1 series deficit.
How about the crazy hands to set up that goal from (checks notes) FRANCOIS LEROUX?!
After his one year in Pittsburgh he was traded to the New York Rangers in an absolute blockbuster package that brought the No. 3 player on the list to Pittsburgh.
2. Marian Hossa (2007-08 season)
I almost put Hossa in the top spot.
Penguins fans love to hate him because he bolted from Pittsburgh after one year to join the team that had just beat them in the Stanley Cup Final (while also saying it was for the best chance to win a Stanley Cup) but do not forget how impactful his very brief time in Pittsburgh was.
It may have only been 12 regular season games and one playoff run, but it was so much more than that.
His impact on the ice was obvious. He was magic with the puck and produced huge numbers, he was a relentless defensive player, and he just ... fit.
But what made him so important was what he represented.
When the Penguins went all in to acquire him just before the 2008 trade deadline it was an announcement to the rest of the league that the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin era had not only reached its next level, but that it was ready to take over the league. This was also at a time when the Penguins were not far removed from being on the endangered franchise list. The thought of being in a position to add a player like Hossa just a couple of years earlier would have been insanity. Pipe dream would not be a strong enough phrase. It just seemed ... impossible.
He may not have actually brought the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh. But he helped them get to the next level that would eventually lead them to it.
His series clinching goal in Round 2 against the New York Rangers remains one of my top memories from that playoff run.
Maybe I should have put him in the top spot. Now I am wondering why I did not.
3. Sergei Zubov (1995-96 season)
When the Penguins acquired Zubov he was already on his way to becoming a superstar in the NHL. He played a huge role on the Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup team, had recorded an 89-point season as a defenseman, was one of the most dominant offensive defenseman in the league, and at age 25 was just starting to enter his prime years in the league.
During his one year in Pittsburgh he averaged more than a point per game (66 points in 64 games) and should have been a perfect long-term complement for the team’s superstar forwards.
Unfortunately it did not work out that way.
He was traded to the Dallas Stars for Kevin Hatcher. While Hatcher was, let’s say ... good, and maybe even pretty good, he was not Zubov good. Not Hall of Fame good.
4. Tomas Vokoun (2012-13 season)
This performance came during a time when Marc-Andre Fleury was at a bit of a crossroads in his career. He had some spectacular postseason meltdowns in previous seasons, and the Penguins made the bold move to bring in Vokoun prior to the 2012-13 season. It was so bold because Vokoun was not only good enough to be a starter in the NHL, he was probably one of the most productive goalies in the league. Vokoun ended up taking over for Fleury in the first round of the playoffs, helped salvage their round 1 series against the New York Islanders, and backstopped them to the Eastern Conference Final.
5. Patrick Lalime (1996-97 season)
Probably one of the weirdest careers in Penguins history.
He burst onto the scene early in the 1996-97 season and was, quite literally, unbeatable with a 14-0-2 record to set an NHL record for longest unbeaten streak to start a career. He cooled off considerably after that, was a backup to Ken Wregget in the playoffs, and had his career with the Penguins end due to a contract dispute that resulted in him being traded for Anaheim for the wrong Pronger. He ended up putting together a very solid and underappreciated NHL career, mostly with the Ottawa Senators.
6. Miroslav Satan (2008-09 season)
An individual season that might be easy to forget, but Satan played a role on a Stanley Cup winning team and scored what is — in my opinion — one of the prettiest goals of the 2009 postseason for the Penguins when he opened Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes.
7. Ron Tugnutt (1999-00 season)
Late in the 1999-00 season the Penguins traded long-time goalie Tom Barrasso to the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Janne Laukkenen and goalie Ron Tugnutt. Tugnutt would take over the starting goaltending duties and did everything he could to try and carry the team through the playoffs. He finished the postseason with a .945 save percentage and turned in one of the greatest single game goaltending performances in franchise history when he stopped 70 shots in a five overtime loss against the Philadelphia Flyers. He signed with the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets the following offseason.
8. Bryan Smolinski (1995-96 season)
I do not remember much about Smolinski, but he came over from Boston (along with Glen Murray) in a trade for Shawn McEachern and Kevin Stevens. He ended up scoring 24 goals as part of that high-powered offense and ... hey ... that is worth something. He was traded after one year to the New York Islanders for Darius Kasparaitis.