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Hockey world mourns passing of former Penguin GM Tony Esposito

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The legendary Chicago Blackhawks goalie and former Penguin GM passes away at age 78

Pittsburgh Penguins v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

The hockey world mourned the passing of Hall of Famer and legendary figure Tony Esposito on Tuesday.

Esposito is best known for being one of the top goalies in the NHL during the 1970s, when he won multiple Vezina trophies with the Chicago Blackhawks. Later on, he was instrumental in starting the ownership for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the early 1990’s.

In between, Esposito had a stop in Pittsburgh as the seventh full-time general manager of the Penguins from 1988-1990. There have only been 11, and after Esposito came Craig Patrick who helped get the Pens to their first Stanley Cup.

But Esposito had a lot of finger prints on the 1991 and 1992 Cups. The former goalie obviously knew the importance of quality netminding and made the deal to bring Tom Barrasso to Pittsburgh in one of Esposito’s first moves early on in the job. Barrasso, a former Vezina winner, would go onto be the most important goalie for the team’s first two Cup wins. Esposito also brought over Randy Gilhen who played a role on the championship team. He also oversaw the draft that added future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi.

It’s always kind of funny how that trend has happened in Penguin history. Some Esposito’s moves ended up being instrumental in helping the next GM in Craig Patrick for the ‘91 and 92’ Cups. Then some of Patrick’s moves (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Max Talbot, Sergei Gonchar, etc) ended up being key for Ray Shero win the next Stanley Cup in 2009. Inadvertently or not, Shero paid that forward with several players he brought into the organization (Matt Murray, Olli Maatta, Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, etc) that ended up helping his successor playing key roles for Jim Rutherford for the 2016 and 2017 Cups.

That all started with Esposito bringing in Barrasso and Recchi. It’s a very small sidenote in Esposito’s career — he won 423 games as a goalie in his playing days as a Chicago legend. But it’s a meaningful note in Pittsburgh hockey history.

And his influence lingered for a while — he acquired a 1990 sixth round pick in a bit of a throwaway move in 1989, which Esposito didn’t end up making. But his successor Patrick used it on Ian Moran, a player who was with the Pens until 2003.

Safe home, Tony O.