Inspiration struck in the form of Seth’s tweet after Cody Ceci signed a rich deal with Edmonton, leaving the Penguins after one season.
Cody Ceci has to be in the top 10 of one-year Penguins. Maybe top five.— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) July 28, 2021
As in guys who played one whole season - shortened or otherwise - with the Penguins and left. No rentals like Marian Hossa.
Luc Robitaille would presumably be at the top of that list.
With that in mind, and omitting players like Marian Hossa and Jarome Iginla, who would the best “one hit wonders” in Penguins’ history be?
No sense in burying the lede, Robitaille is certainly on any list for the best one-year wonder in Penguin history. Acquired in July 1994 for Rick Tocchet and a second round pick, Robitaille only played in 46 games in Pittsburgh during the strike shortened 1994-95 season, which was also a season where Mario Lemieux took off to add more importance for a scorer. “Lucky Luc” put up 23 goals, second most on the Pens that year and 42 points.
The following summer, Robitaille was traded with Ulf Samuelsson to the New York Rangers for Petr Nedved and Sergei Zubov, which leads us to...
Sergei Zubov holds the most assists (55) and points (66) of any one season Pittsburgh Penguin ever. The smooth skating defenseman was an offensive weapon and super-dangerous on the power play, where he notched 32 power play points in his 64 game stint in Pittsburgh for 1995-96.
As the somewhat accepted story has it, Zubov and Lemieux were not a mesh on the ice (despite the seemingly great results) with each filling the same role of wanting to be the quarterback and have the puck run through them on the power play. Surprise, surprise, Zubov was traded to Dallas after one season for defenseman Kevin Hatcher.
Former GM Craig Patrick made plenty of great trades in Pittsburgh, but Zubov for Hatcher wouldn’t be one of them. As the story goes:
According to multiple accounts, the conversation went something like this between Stars general manager Bob Gainey and Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Craig Patrick.
Patrick: Would you be interested in Sergei Zubov?
Patrick: We’d want Hatcher.
Patrick: No, Kevin.
Gainey hung up the phone and asked the rest of the Stars representatives at the draft table, “Is there any reason we wouldn’t trade Kevin Hatcher for Sergei Zubov?”
See, the Stars had been trying to get rid of [Kevin] Hatcher for a while. After arriving in a trade for Mark Tinordi and Rick Mrozik in 1995, the older Hatcher was a bad influence on his younger brother [Derian], who happened to be the Stars captain. “He [Kevin] had no character,” Stars president Jim Lites said. “And all of a sudden, little brother fell right in step with him, and all of a sudden Derian wasn’t a very good player.”
The players had even given a mandate that Kevin Hatcher be traded. During a team party after the 1996 season, Guy Carbonneau told Lites and owner Tom Hicks that the Stars “would never win” with Kevin Hatcher on the team.
Zubov would go to have a Hall of Fame finish to a career with the Dallas Stars for 12 more years, winning a Stanley Cup and will have his number retired next season. Kevin Hatcher also played some games for the Penguins.
So many of these one hit wonders were in the 1994-96 range! It was a different time in that era. Bryan Smolinski was acquired from Boston in the summer of 1995 with Glen Murray for Kevin Stevens and Shawn McEachern. Smolinski was a Pittsburgh teammate of Zubov in 1995-96 in both of their lone seasons with the Pens. Smolinski was great, recording a career-high 40 assists and 64 points in 95-96.
But his stint in Pittsburgh would be short-lived, his contract was up and the Pens wouldn’t/couldn’t meet his demands and he was a holdout for a while. Pittsburgh would trade Smolinski to the New York Islanders for defenseman Darius Kasparaitis and forward Andreas Johansson.
As time goes on and fans get younger, it’s always worth pointing out the story of Michel Briere, whose number is the only one you will see hanging from the rafters in Pittsburgh, besides #66. Unlike the other players on this list, Briere’s story is a sad one, with the promising youngster only having one career NHL season in 1969-70 an a life cut short. From penguins.com:
Briere led the Penguins in assists as a rookie, dishing 32. He tacked on 12 goals, totaling 46 points in 76 games.
But Briere really broke out in the playoffs, scoring five goals and adding three assists in 10 post-season games.
The Penguins, in their third season, made the playoffs for the first time and even won a series, sweeping Oakland four games to none in the first round. Briere’s overtime goal in Game 4 finished off the Seals.
The Penguins’ year ended when they lost to St. Louis in six games in the Eastern Division final. That was the closest they came to the Stanley Cup Final until winning the trophy in 1991.
“The first thing you noticed at training camp was how determined he was for a small guy,” said Ken Schinkel, who played for the Penguins from 1967-73. “This guy was the type of player you could maybe build your team around. He would have been a star in the league for a long time.”
Sadly, in May of 1970 in his first NHL off-season, Briere would be the driver in a single car accident in his native Quebec that left him in a coma for 11 months that he never recovered from, following several surgeries.
After a big playoff meltdown by Marc-Andre Fleury in 2012, the Pens were taking no chances in the lockout shortened season of 2012-13 with veteran Tomas Vokoun. One of the most under-rated netminders of his generation, Vokoun put up a 13-4-0 record with a .919% save%, 2.51 GAA and three shutouts in quality backup work.
Then, in the playoffs when Fleury fumbled again, Vokoun was back, putting up a 6-5 record with a .933 save%, 2.01 GAA and a shutout, helping the Pens get to the Eastern Conference Final. Unfortunately when they got there the offense went cold, but Vokoun was exactly the goalie the team needed to maximize their potential.
—Steve Sullivan (2011-12): Sullivan scored 48 points in 70 games in a role playing on Evgeni Malkin’s wing. He was towards the end of his playing days but was still a very productive player and solid, productive skilled winger.
—Cody Ceci (2020-21): a great redemption story and a player who turned into a reliable defender. Gotta put him in there, especially considering how low his reputation was coming into town, and how he was going out with a four year, $13 million deal going out in just a six month time period.
—Steve Downie (2014-15): 14 goals and 28 points for Downie in his lone season in Pittsburgh. He also was one of the most unhinged players that we’ve ever seen, that would absolutely lose his mind and not even care if a whistle was blown and still go crazy. When he could harness it, he was a great physical player. When he couldn’t, he would end up in the penalty box or out of the game with a misconduct.
—Patrick Lalime (1996-97): When Tom Barasso got hurt, the Pens’ third round pick from 1993 burst onto the scene. Lalime started his NHL career with a 14-0-2 record (the 2 being ties) in his first 16 games. That set a NHL rookie record for most games without a defeat to begin a career. Following that, a contract dispute sent Lalime in a trade to Ottawa where he would be an NHL goalie for years to come, but never really came close to his first impact.
—Ty Conklin (2007-08): Much like above, an injury to the starter (Fleury this time) thrust an unexpected goalie into the spotlight. Conklin went 18-8-5 with a .923 save% and 2.51 GAA and won the outdoor game in Buffalo in 2008 that was most famous for the Sidney Crosby shootout game winning goal.
—Ab McDonald (1967-68): His only season was the Pens’ very first year of existence. McDonald put up 22 goals (to led the team) and 43 points (second on the team) in the first year of the franchise. He would move onto St. Louis in the next season.
—Jason Woolley (1996-97): Scored 36 points in 57 games for the Pens in his lone season, and then went on to play several years for Buffalo.