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The 1992 Penguins Shakeup; Historical Perspective

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Paul Coffey headshot, 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins

When the 1992 trade deadline rolled around, the Penguins were in a precarious position. Just five wins in 20 games and one win in seven games, put them in danger of missing of the playoffs and the opportunity to defend their Stanley Cup title.

Distractions mired the 1991-1992 season including the tragic passing of head coach Bob Johnson on Nov. 26, 1991. The death left a gaping hole in the organization, and many struggled with the loss the of their friend and mentor.

A new ownership group, led by Howard Baldwin, took control of the team from Edward DeBartolo Sr.

Jaromir Jagr was suspended for 10 games for bumping referee Ron Hoggarth, and Mario Lemieux‘s infamous “garage league” comment inflamed his long rift with the NHL and referees.

With the Penguins struggling weeks before the trade deadline, GM Craig Patrick found a couple of willing trading partners that were in a similar position and need of some fresh bodies in their lineups.

The Shakeup

Patrick pulled the trigger on Feb. 19, 1992. The Penguins traded Paul Coffey, the highest scoring defensemen in NHL history, to the Los Angeles Kings for Brian Benning, Jeff Chychurn, a first-round pick in the 1992 entry draft, plus an undisclosed amount of cash.

Patrick flipped Benning, Mark Recchi, and the first round pick acquired from the Kings to the Philadelphia Flyers for Rick Tocchet, Kjell Samuelsson, goaltender Ken Wregget and a conditional pick in the 1993 draft. It was the first time since Oct. 23, 1983, the Penguins and Flyers swung a deal.

The deals were remarkably similar to the trades Patrick completed the prior season with Hartford Whalers. John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski, and Jeff Parker were traded for Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson, and Grant Jennings.

Recchi, like Cullen, was an offensive player. Tocchet, like Francis, played both ends of the ice equally well. Coffey, like Zarley Zalapski, was a rushing defenceman who stressed offense. Samuelsson, like Ulf Samuelsson, was a sturdy defender.

A Coffey deal was the subject of media speculation since training camp opened in September. His million dollar salary and age made him a perfect candidate to be moved before the deadline.

Coffey answered the rumors, before the deal.

“I’ve heard it the same as you fellas have,” Coffey told the Montreal Gazette. “I just try to go out and play the best I can and not worry about anything else.

“I’m not like some of those baseball players who have no-trade clauses. I’m just taking it a day at a time, a shift at a time. It’s kind of weird,” he said. “The rumors started in training camp. They heated up when the new ownership took over, and they heated up again at the all-star break.

“They’re heating up again because of the (March 10 trading) deadline. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Coffey To LA

LA was the perfect landing spot for Coffey, who rejoined his former Oiler brethren: Marty McSorley, Charlie Huddy, Jari Kurri and Wayne Gretzky in Tinseltown.

“If you’re going to be traded . . . I’m a lucky guy,” said Coffey,  “It’s going to be tough, “I have a lot of fond memories of Pittsburgh. That’s for sure.”

The critical target for the Penguins was rugged right winger Rick Tocchet.

“Pittsburgh needs some aggressiveness, and I think I’ll be able to provide it,” Tocchet said. “I think I’m going to help Pittsburgh in goal scoring, and it’s going to be refreshing to play with one of the greatest scorers in the world, Mario Lemieux.”

With Tocchet and Kevin Stevens in the line-up, the Penguins had the two premier power forwards in the league.

Coffey scored 11 goals and 69 points in 64 games before the deal.

The emergence of Jaromir Jagr who potted 32 goals and 69 points in his second season and the continued strong play of Kevin Stevens (123 points), and Joe Mullen (87 points) made Recchi expendable. The Penguins swapped Recchi’s highly potent offense, 70 points in 58 games, for the hard-nosed play of Tocchet, who thrived in his new surroundings.

Tocchet scored 14 goals and 30 points in the final 19 games of the season.

The other assets the Penguins acquired in the trades may not have had the marquee name’s of some of the other players involved in the deals, but their contributions to Penguins 1992 playoff run and in the subsequent seasons cannot be minimized.

The 6 ft 4 Chychurn added another layer of toughness, to an already stout Penguins defense corps. He appeared in 242 games before the trade, scored three goals and 24 points.

Tingsryd, Sweden native Samuelsson, appeared in 584 games before the deal. He had 37 goals and 149 points. His 6 ft 6 frame added another deterrent in the lineup for opposition looking to take liberties with Pittsburgh’s star players.

Wregget brought a cumulative record of 97-159-26 and GAA of 3.94 in his decade-long career to Pittsburgh, and the memory of a Flyers Game 7, Round 2 win over the Penguins in 1989.  He provided solid back up work to Tom Barrasso and became a fixture in the Penguins net for the next seven seasons.

Patrick also made a couple of other minor moves at the deadline. He sent Scott Young to the Quebec Nordiques for Bryan Fogarty and Frank Pietrangelo to the Hartford Whalers for two draft picks.

Following the Penguins Stanley Cup victory, other GM’s took notice of the mastery Patrick was able to weave in consecutive seasons, Big deals became the new norm league-wide at the trade deadline, as teams bolstered their line-ups for deep playoff runs using the blueprint Patrick and the Penguins established.

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