Puck Daddy's Most Disappointing Summer Series: Pittsburgh Penguins Edition

Disappointing Penguins
Disappointing Penguins

(Ed. Note: There’s entirely too much sunshine in the summer. So your friends at Puck Daddy are offering a month of thrown shade and perpetual gloom. Behold, our Summer of Disappointment series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to recall the biggest bummer moments, teams and players in franchise history! Please wade into their misery like a freezing resort pool, and add your own choices in the comments!)

Written by Michael Paul Dell of LCS Hockey

Most Disappointing Team: 1992-1993 Pittsburgh Penguins

While the past five years have proven colossally disappointing, nothing matches the soul-crushing despair David Volek unleashed on the Steel City in 1993. The Penguins seemed a mortal lock for a third straight Stanley Cup.

Mario Lemieux was at his zenith, storming back from cancer treatment to score 30 goals and 56 points over the season's final 20 games and leading the star-studded Pens to a record 17-game winning streak. A second-round matchup with the Pierre Turgeon-less Islanders seemed a formality. Then Lemieux's back went out. Kevin Stevens broke his face. And Volek fired a Game 7, overtime bullet from the grassy knoll to bring down a dynasty.

Hard to get happy after that one.

Most Disappointing Penguin: James Neal

Pittsburgh's drafting record from 1993 to 1999 was downright abysmal. First-round picks produced such notable disappointments as Stefan Bergkvist, Chris Wells, Craig Hillier, Robert Dome, Milan Kraft, and Konstantin Koltsov. But those were all scratch-off tickets and prayers.

James Neal has the best release in hockey and enjoyed uncanny chemistry with Geno Malkin, ringing up 88 goals in 179 contests (0.49 G/G) over the past three seasons. And at 26, Neal should have been 40 goals in the bank the next several years.

Instead, his lack of discipline and his refusal to play in front of the net bought him a one-way ticket to Nashville.

Neal had to go.

He exemplified the recent Penguins teams, posting dominant regular seasons only to wilt under playoff pressure. Ray Shero faced larceny charges for stealing Neal from Dallas, but in the end, Neal's frustrating behavior and unfulfilled promise came to symbolize the entire Shero Era.

Most Disappointing Moment in Penguins History: Losing to Florida in the 1996 Conference Finals

The aforementioned David Volek overtime goal in Game 7 of the 1993 playoffs is easily the most disappointing moment in franchise history, but let's not forget those filthy Florida Panthers.

The 1995-96 Penguins were an offensive juggernaut, scoring a league-high 362 goals, including 109 power-play markers. To put those numbers in perspective, Colorado (326) and Detroit (325) were the only other teams to crack 300 goals, and Pittsburgh finished 80 goals ahead of its closest Eastern Conference rival. The Penguins power play clicked at a staggering 25.95%, a full 4.63% higher than second-place Detroit. Lemieux played just 70 games and still led the league with 69 goals and 161 points. Jaromir Jagr went for 62 goals and 149 points, while Ron Francis (27-92-119), Petr Nedved (45-54-99), Tomas Sandstrom (35-35-70), and Sergei Zubov (11-55-66) rounded out the top-heavy offense.

The '96 Pens weren't a great team, and it's unlikely they would have beaten Colorado, but they were Lemieux's last legitimate chance at a Cup.

And it all ended in a hail of plastic rats.

The lowly Panthers clutched and grabbed their way to a seven-game upset, allowing just 15 goals to the high-powered Pens. Tom Fitzgerald delivered the killing stroke, floating a slap shot over Tom Barrasso's shoulder from somewhere beyond the Monongahela. If that goal had been any softer, Zarley Zalapski would have been given a paternity test.

Most Disappointing Penguins Transaction: Trading Markus Naslund for Alek Stojanov

Known for daring moves that brought back-to-back Cups to Pittsburgh, Craig Patrick also orchestrated two of the worst trades in NHL history.

Moving Jaromir Jagr (and Franticek Kucera) to the Capitals for the terrible triumvirate of Kris Beech, Ross Lupaschuk, and Michal Sivek defies comprehension. Yet one must remember the historical context. Jagr was "dying alive" and had requested a trade. Jagr's hefty price tag also kept potential suitors to a minimum. Yes, the return was laughable, with Beech, Lupaschuk, and Sivek combining for 13 goals and 33 points in 136 games with the Penguins, but at least it was somewhat understandable.

Patrick didn't have to trade Markus Naslund. He did so willingly. He didn't even lose a bet or anything. Naslund went on to record eleven 20-goal seasons with the Canucks, including three consecutive 40-goal campaigns from 2001 to 2003. Patrick swapped Naslund for Alek Stojanov, who collected 2 goals, 6 points, and 86 penalty minutes in 45 games with the Penguins. Stojanov was out of the NHL in two years and bounced around the minors before ending his professional career in 2002 with the New Mexico Scorpions of the Central Hockey League. They're very good. Meanwhile, that same season, Naslund was a First Team NHL All-Star.

Most Disappointing Penguins Coach/Executive: Gene Ubriaco

Ed Olczyk came to mind simply because he had no business being an NHL coach. But Scotty Bowman wasn't going to win with Rico Fata and crew. And Olczyk's efforts helped land Kid Crosby. Same goes for Lou Angotti, whose 16-win team secured Lemieux. Angotti and Olczyk should have statues outside Consol.

No, the correct answer is Gene Ubriaco, the man who once said coaching Lemieux was like teaching a shark table manners.

Sure, Ubriaco guided the Penguins to the playoffs in his first season, but that had more to do with Lemieux's 85 goals and 199 points than Ubriaco's coaching acumen. He wasn't exactly General Patton. Rather than walk across the ice and face booing Civic Arena fans, Ubriaco crawled through a tunnel to emerge from a trapdoor on the home team's bench. Profiles in courage.

Most Disappointing Penguins Fashion Choice: Vegas Gold

Going from the beloved skating penguin to the corporate pigeon logo after the 1992 Cup was disastrous, but what gives with the Vegas gold? Pittsburgh gold is yellow. The Steelers wear black and yellow. The Pirates wear black and yellow. The Penguins wear black and gold foil, like something out of Zsa Zsa Gabor's closet. Real men wear yellow.


Other disappointments (in order of appearance): New York RangersCalgary FlamesSt. Louis Blues • New York IslandersDallas StarsBoston BruinsColorado AvalancheWashington CapitalsOttawa SenatorsArizona CoyotesMinnesota WildEdmonton OilersSan Jose SharksWinnipeg JetsNew Jersey Devils • Los Angeles KingsFlorida PanthersCarolina HurricanesBuffalo SabresMontreal CanadiensTampa Bay LightningChicago BlackhawksColumbus Blue JacketsNashville PredatorsDetroit Red WingsAnaheim DucksPhiladelphia FlyersVancouver CanucksToronto Maple Leafs