During this ongoing “Rivalry” theme, we here at Pensburgh have discussed a lot about different teams and players the Penguins have developed rivalries with over the seasons. There have been many great players who have taken part in rivalries with the Penguins, but only a handful stick out of true villains of the franchise.
From cheapshot artists, to dream dashers, to even a Benedict Arnold (or two), the Penguins have a laundry list of true villains that draw forth an anger in Penguins fans like no other.
Ask anyone who was a Penguins fan during the 90’s their thoughts on Adam Graves and you will likely get a rather colorful response. In Game 2 of a second round series between the Penguins and Rangers, Graves famously slashed Mario Lemieux on the wrist, breaking a bone and sidelining the Penguins best player for the remainder of the series.
Graves was assessed a two minute minor for the infraction, a small price to pay for what many viewed as a purposeful act meant to seriously injure Lemieux. When the teams arrived in Pittsburgh for Game 3, Graves was public enemy number one and it spawned one of the great fan signs in Mellon Arena history.
The Penguins fought on without their superstar and eventually won the series in six games, on route to a second straight Stanley Cup. Lemieux did return in the Prince of Wales Conference Finals against the Bruins, but nothing will ever erase Graves place as an all-time franchise villain.
Although the Penguins were already Stanley Cup champions in 1991 and 1992, the 1993 team will forever be one of the great “What If’s” in team history thanks to David Volek and his New York Islanders teammates.
After ending the season on an NHL record 17 game winning streak, the Penguins brushed aside the New Jersey Devils in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Next up were the Islanders, who were missing their best player Pierre Turgeon after a cheap shot put him out of the second round tilt.
With or without Turgeon in the lineup, the Penguins were heavy favorites entering the series, but soon found out the Islanders meant serious business. A back-and-forth affair went the distance, where Volek delivered a devastating blow in overtime of Game 7 to end the Penguins hope of a third consecutive Stanley Cup title.
Yes, it feels criminal to put “Jags” on this list, but it’s hard to argue he didn’t develop into a major franchise villain for a large portion of the Penguins fan base even as views have softened over the years.
Starting with his trade to the Washington Capitals in 2001, animosity toward Jagr only continued to grow as he spent time with some of the Penguins biggest rivals. Aside from the Capitals, Jagr signed on with the Rangers, Flyers, Devils, and Bruins, all who happen to have some shared hate with the Penguins.
His signing with the Flyers in 2011 was especially painful, given that it looked like he was destined to sign with the Penguins upon his return to the NHL after a stint in the KHL. Instead, Jagr rebuked the Pens, signed with their fiercest rival, then helped eliminate them from the playoffs that same season.
In some good news, the sour taste between the Jagr and the Penguins has seemingly waned over the past few years and his legacy with the franchise has recovered. It seems just a formality that he will someday have his number retired in Pittsburgh.
While Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin is often billed as the top player-on-player rivalry in the NHL, there is something to be said for the continued rivalry between the Crosby and his Pennsylvania counterpart Claude Giroux.
Crosby has always been hated in Philadelphia but the emergence of Giroux took things to another level. Everything really came to a head in the 2012 playoff matchup where Giroux and the Flyers got the best of Crosby and the Penguins in one of the crazier playoff series you could ever imagine.
That series produced one of the all-time time bad hockey takes, but it helped entrench Giroux as a true rival of Crosby and villain in Penguins lore. Luckily, for the Penguins and Crosby, this has been Giroux’s high water mark against them to this point, while Crosby has gone on to win a pair of Stanley Cups since this fateful series.
Although Hossa’s role as a villain in Penguins franchise lore is perhaps overstated, many were heated when he rejected a mega deal from the Penguins in 2008 to sign with the Detroit Red Wings. In reality, Hossa’s reasoning for joining the Red Wings rather than staying in Pittsburgh was completely justified, it left a bad feeling with the fan base.
Overall, Hossa’s stint with the Penguins was memorable and an important part of pushing them to the next level early on in the Crosby/Malkin era. He played a vital role in the Penguins reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 and gave them motivation to return the following year.
In the end, everything worked out for the Penguins as they exacted a measure of revenge against Hossa and the Red Wings the following season.
Last but not least, the current leader among active players to hold the crown of biggest villain for the Penguins. Tom Wilson came bursting on the scene with the Capitals back in 2013 and has been a thorn in the Penguins side ever since.
From borderline hits to outright cheapshots, Wilson’s antics against the Penguins are well documented. There is absolutely no love lost between the two sides and the next chapter could be written as early as this summer should things play out right.
To his credit, Wilson has retooled his game over the past two seasons, and as a result, posted his two best scoring seasons to date. It’s a shame it took too significant suspensions for him to get on track, including one as the result of a brutal headshot on Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Being in an NHL franchise for over 50 years and a successful one at that, the Penguins have developed varying levels of rivalries with a handful of other franchises. Those rivalries have produced many great moments and many great villains. We couldn’t possibly fit every hated player on this list, so if you have any yourself, feel free to drop them below for everyone else to see.