Pittsburgh Penguins Trade History: Best and Worst Trades of All-Time

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Ron Francis
2000 Season: Stephane Richer chases Ron Francis during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The History of Trade is a mini-series going through each team’s best and worst trades of all time. Each team has their own history and some may cross over, but the series will try to stick to each team. This article will focus on the Pittsburgh Penguins Trade History, finding the best and worst of all time.

Pittsburgh Penguins Trade History: Best and Worst Trades of All-Time

The Pittsburgh Penguins are the modern day dynasty. Back-to-back Stanley cups will do that for you. Not only that, but they were also a dynasty once before in their history with the Mario Lemieux years. For a team with multiple dynasties in their history you know they have been involved in some major deals. But which trade was their best and which was their worst?

The Best

When you have players going through your system with big names, you know there are big deals to bring them in. In Pittsburgh’s case, names like Larry Murphy and Marian Hossa were brought in via trades. And of course, who could forget the trade that gave the Pens the pick they used to draft Marc-Andre Fleury? Despite these big names all arriving through trades, the Pens best trade came at the expense of the then Hartford Whalers.

The Trade

The Pittsburgh Penguins trade John Cullen, Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapski to the Hartford Whalers for Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings

Traded Away

Somehow, someway, the Pens managed to restock while losing what everyone thought were two good players. Sure, Jeff Parker was no more than a name in this trade, only managing to play in 19 games for the Whalers. If you take him out of the equation through the other two players were supposed to be game changers.

Zarley Zalapski was supposed to be a stud on defence. The fourth overall pick in the 1986 entry draft was just coming off a shortened year in which he scored 31 points in only 51 games. In his three and a half seasons prior to the trade Zalapski managed an incredible 135 points in 190 games. As a defenseman, he was looking like the blue-chip prospect many expected.

After the trade Zalapski did not necessarily disappoint. He managed to remain in Hartford for two and a half seasons, eventually being traded to the Calgary Flames. He scored 165 points (44 goals, 121 assists) in 229 games. Despite his success the team struggled barely making the playoffs in his first two years before falling short in his third season. He would go on to struggle in Calgary as well as Montreal and Philadelphia after that.

Cullen

For as good as Zalapski was, John Cullen will go down as the biggest disappointment in this trade. Signing with the Pens as a free agent out of university, Cullen exceeded expectations in his first two years as a professional. His first season saw him score 12 goals and put up 49 points in 79 games. He followed that stellar rookie season with an incredible 92-point campaign in 1989-1990, which saw him finish tied for 20th in the league in scoring (back when 100 point campaigns were the norm for the best players). Things were looking up for the youngster who was just 26.

The 1990-1991 season saw Cullen explode out of the gate as well. He managed 94 points in just 65 games, bettering his sophomore year the season before. When Hartford asked for him in the trade it must have been hard for the Pens to give up the 5’10” centre, but they may have made the right decision. Cullen managed 16 points in 13 games to finish off the season, but he would never reach those totals again.

The following year, Cullen’s only full season in Hartford, his point production fell drastically. While he did manage 77 points, with 26 goals, in 77 games, he was nowhere near his totals in Pittsburgh. The 1992-1993 season started off even worse. Cullen could only manage a paltry 9 points in 19 games for Hartford before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a second-round pick. Cullen’s decline continued from there and he never reached the 20-goal mark again.

While Zalapski was a good piece for Hartford, the trade as a whole will be remembered for the fact none of the players lasted more than two full seasons with the team. It was a hard pill to swallow for the Whalers, as they would end up having to move a few years later due to poor attendance.

The Return

While giving up the two young pieces in Zalapski and Cullen may have been hard at the time, no one now would argue with the return not being enough. Grant Jennings was the throw in for the Pens, but even he was a good piece for them during their cup years. He never managed to make a major impact on the score sheet, but Jennings became a big body on the blueline, which helped lead the Pens in the playoffs.

Even though Jennings efforts on the blueline were helpful, the real blueline target was Ulf Samuelsson. A 6’1” former fourth round pick, Samuelsson had a solid career in Hartford. In 463 games Ulf managed 175 points and over 1000 penalty minutes (1110 exactly). He was part of the blueline with Dave Babych and Joel Quenneville. While less than an impressive group, Samuelsson was always a solid player.

After the trade Samuelsson became a major piece in a formidable blueline. While only playing in 14 games after the trade Samuelsson managed five points. His presence on the blueline though was more valuable than his point production. As a big body, Samuelsson was never afraid to throw the body and strike fear in his opponents. His work in the playoffs was just as impressive. While only adding five points (three goals and two assists) Samuelsson showed his leadership in helping lead the Pens to the Cup.

He would go on to add 89 more points across 263 regular season games in a pens Jersey. Oh, and we can’t forget another cup the following year. Seemed to be a good move for not only Samuelsson but for the Penguins as well.

Hall of Famer

The last piece of this trade may have been the most important piece. Ron Francis was the leader of the Whalers prior to the trade. Coming off his eighth consecutive season of 75 points or more, including his first 100-point season the year before, Francis had become a star in the league.

The 1990-91 season started the same way for Francis as he put up 76 points in 67 games before the trade. After adding 11 more to his total for the season, Francis decided to make a name for himself in the playoffs too. Francis scored 17 points in 24 games on route to the Stanley Cup that season. His total was good for fifth on the team that included Mario Lemieux and Mark Recchi.

Francis would continue his scoring and leadership the next year. While his 54 points in the regular season may not be impressive, some of that was due to an injury. He picked it back up in the playoffs though, scoring a career playoff high 27 points in just 21 games. The Pens won the cup again and Francis was once again a leader.

His career would continue this way. Over the next six seasons Francis would put up big numbers. He scored 87+ points in five of those seasons. The only season he didn’t reach the 87 point mark was the lockout shortened season of 1994-95, which he still managed 59 points placing him fifth in the league. He scoring ability made him a key part for the Penguins franchise for eight seasons total. After the 1997-98 season he resigned with the Carolina Hurricanes. While the Pens would have wanted to keep the scoring centre, his time with the franchise will never be forgotten.

Honourable Mentions:

Penguins acquire Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from the Atlanta Thrashers for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and the 2008 first round pick (Daultan Leveille), Penguins acquire Joe Mullen from the Calgary Flames for the 1990 second round pick (Nicolas Perreault), Penguins acquire Larry Murphy and Peter Taglianetti from the Minnesota North Stars for Chris Dahlquist and Jim Johnson, the Florida Panthers trade the first pick (Marc-Andre Fleury) and 73rd pick (Daniel Carcillo) to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third pick (Nathan Horton), the 55th pick (Stefan Meyer) and Mikael Samuelsson.

Worst Trade

For all the trades that brought the cup to the Pens in 1990 and 1991 the Penguins haven’t always been successful. Putting aside the Jaromir Jagr trade, the Pens have a history of bad trades too. The worst may have traded away a player who became possibly the best to every play for their new organization.

The Trade

The Pittsburgh Penguins trade Markus Naslund to the Vancouver Canucks for Alek Stojanov

Traded Away

The Penguins may have lost their minds temporarily when they agreed to this trade. Even on paper this never made sense. Naslund was a former first round pick. He may not have blossomed as fast as the Penguins had hoped. But prior to the trade he had put up 52 points in the first 66 games of the season. He had finally found his stride and the Penguins sent him away hoping for a good return.

Instead it was the Canucks who benefitted from the Pens impatience. Naslund didn’t start out as a superstar. In fact, he only managed 41 and 34 points respectively in his first two seasons. Naslund slowly grew into his role with his new club though. Soon he would become a superstar.

Entering the Record Books

He would put up big points the rest of his Canucks career, never failing to reach 60 points until his final season. He even managed to put up 75+ points on five separate occasions, topping out at 104 points in the 2002-03 season. While the Canucks were not a great team during Naslund’s reign as captain, he certainly made an impact.

When Naslund’s career with the Canucks was finished he was the teams all time leader in goals and points. He has since been past by Daniel Sedin in goals and both Daniel and Henrik Sedin in points. After one year with the New York Rangers Naslund would officially retire. The Swede would have his number Retired by Vancouver in 2010. He became only the third Canuck to have their jersey retired, joining Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden.

The Return

While the Canucks received a former first-round pick who turned into a team legend, the Penguins were not as successful. Stojanov was a former seventh overall pick in the 1991 draft. He didn’t make his break into the league until the 1994-95 season with the Canucks, playing in four games and scoring zero points. Even the second season was not successful as Stojanov only managed one point (an assist) in 58 games prior to the trade.

After the trade, the Penguins soon realized that they made a mistake. Stojanov only managed to play in 45 games for the organization scoring just six points (two goals and four assists). He NHL career would be over after that. Stojanov would play the next five season across the AHL, IHL, as well as the now-defunct WPHL and CHL (Central Hockey League). HE would retire from hockey after the 2001-02 season. Across 240 games in those five season he only managed 76 points.

The Penguins did have a gluttony of stars to soften the blow. But it was clear losing a player like Naslund must have been tough.

Dishonourable Mentions: Penguins trade Jaromir Jagr and Frantisek Kucera to the Washington Capitals for Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk, Penguins trade Sergei Zubov to the Dallas Stars for Kevin Hatcher, Penguins acquire Ed Olczyk from the Los Angeles Kings for Glen Murray

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