The date was April 27, 1985. The Pittsburgh Penguins current hockey star, Sidney Crosby, wasn’t even born. Times in Pittsburgh were tough, but Mario Lemieux was beginning to alter the landscape of hockey in the city.
Mario Lemieux to the Nordiques: A Historical Examination
Rumours began to circulate around the NHL that teams were interested in securing Lemieux’s rights. The Penguins were experiencing a cash crunch, the sharks smelled blood and began circling the igloo.
Speculation began to arise at what the cost would be to acquire Lemieux, and why would there not be? Lemieux had just finished up his Calder-winning rookie campaign after scoring 100 points in 73 games.
A Marketer’s Dream
So when the Carling O’Keefe Brewing Company, owner of the Quebec Nordiques, suggested that the rights to Lemieux were worth around $5 million, people listened.
His rookie contract was worth approximately $850,000. So what would make Lemieux worth $5 million? His popularity in Quebec and the marketing potential that followed behind made him worth that much.
Marketing a Quebec-born player of his caliber to a Québecois audience provided many exciting possibilities.
Another reason O’Keefe was interested in acquiring Lemieux was they wanted to put him on the same team as fellow Québecois and all-time great Michel Goulet.
Imagine the nightmares those two would have caused for goaltenders around the league.
“Goulet à Lemieux. Il tire, et il marque!”
A team housing two of the best Québecois players would have not only elevated the status of the Nordiques to an elite level, but also have provided some much-needed levity to the battle of Quebec between the Nordiques and the Montreal Canadiens.
Nordiques President Marcel Aubut was questioned about the possibility of the O’Keefe deal coming to pass. He simply answered: “I don’t think John Ziegler would even allow a trade involving the Penguins.” Ziegler was the NHL President at the time.
Many, still felt that the tension between the Penguins and Lemieux, and the current financial situation of the Penguins would necessitate a trade to the Nordiques. But it would not transpire.
So that was that. Then end of the Lemieux and the Nordiques romance. Over as quick as it began, as many great relationships are. And who knows, maybe the Nordiques would still be around if they had a superstar like Lemieux.