It’s become a thing. NHL teams now reflexively offer video tributes to players who spent even a few years with the organization. After a couple or few Stanley Cups, the Pittsburgh Penguins also had a few beloved veterans continue their careers elsewhere. And there have been a few emotional tributes to former teammates and players, including at least one tear-inducing scoreboard homage.
While they are commonplace, there is no denying the Penguins video tributes set the standard and launched a trend.
Top 5 Penguins Emotional Tributes:
5. Chris Kunitz
One of the five Penguins to win three Stanley Cups with the team, Kunitz was a big part of the 2009 ride, as well as the back-to-back 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cups. His double OT, Game 7 game-winner will forever be one of the biggest goals in franchise history. That was his last big goal for the Penguins but he carved out a place in Penguins history as a fan favorite, leader, and core player on the successful Penguins teams.
As Kunitz’s career waned, sometimes his past contributions were forgotten. However, when he returned in 2018 as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and coach Mike Sullivan presented him with his 2017 Stanley Cup ring, and Penguins fans gave a hearty thank you.
4. Matt Cullen
The man they called “Dad” was an integral part of the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017. Cullen was signed late in the summer of 2015 and wasn’t a lock to make the team. However, he solidified the Penguins fourth line and scored more than 30 points in each of those seasons. In addition to surprising offensive contributions, Cullen became part of the backbone of the locker room and team leader.
Cullen left via free agency after just two years to finish his career with his hometown Minnesota Wild but returned for one more go with the Penguins in 2018-19. Cullen is now part of the Penguins player development staff.
3. Max Talbot
Mr. Game 7. The young Pittsburgh Penguins had their hearts broken in 2008 by the veteran Detroit Red Wings. In 2009, the two teams again met in the Stanley Cup Final. The Penguins faced elimination in Game 6 at home but won that to force a Game 7 on the road.
Talbot scored both Penguins goals in Game 7 and Sidney Crosby became the youngest captain to win a Stanley Cup. Those who ventured to the South Side after that win will never forget the party, assuming they could remember it. Talbot bolted for the rival Philadelphia Flyers who paid the winger very well, but even in orange and black, Talbot brought the Pittsburgh fans to their feet one more time.
Talbot is a rare twofer. He got the first emotional welcome back in 2011, then another tribute video in 2016 which borrowed heavily from the original. Talbot earned a second tribute after he retired from the KHL and attended a Penguins game in May 2016. Here’s the better video from 2011 when he returned as a member of the hated Philadelphia Flyers, though his appearance in 2016 earned a minute-long standing ovation
2. Phil Kessel
The Stanley Cup has been through a lot. It’s been forgotten on a frozen pond, been lost for years as a garden decoration, dumped at the bottom of a swimming pool, and was broken at least twice in Pittsburgh, over two different decades. However, the Stanley Cup was never before filled with hot dogs to troll fanbases and hockey media.
And Pittsburgh Penguins fans loved the scruffy everyman even more. Kessel coasted through his first season with the Penguins until late in the 2015-16 season. After he began scoring goals beside Evgeni Malkin, injuries forced Sullivan to create the H-B-K line. Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Kessel dominated opponents and filled the net. They were the difference-makers in the Penguins 2016 Stanley Cup.
Kessel only endeared himself more to Penguins fans when he also trolled the Penguins near-sacred tradition of chasing the Art Ross Trophy. Kessel was among the NHL scoring leaders in February 2018. When asked about winning the Art Ross, Kessel literally scoffed.
“(Pffft), I have two Cups. It doesn’t matter then,” he said.
The same day, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan summed up Kessel well.
“He’s a fun guy,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “I don’t think he takes anything too seriously, most importantly himself.”
Phil Kessel. Good guy. Tries hard. Loves the game. …And fans loved him. After four seasons with the Penguins, Kessel returned with Arizona in December 2019.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury
There have been few in-game tributes as loud and emotional as that for Fleury. Perhaps it could have filled the arena by itself. The crowd stood and roared for more than five minutes, before, during, and after the Penguins video tribute. Fleury skated away from his net to splash water on his face to hide the tears, which adept photographers and Sportsnet cameras still captured.
Fleury played 13 seasons for the Penguins. He was the original cornerstone for the Penguins as the first overall draft pick in 2003. Before there was Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang, there was “The Flower” whose quick smile, practical jokes and lightning-quick reflexes put his name on the Stanley Cup and among the winningest goalies of all-time.
The tribute was the fitting memorial to the first fan favorite of the new generation of Penguins fans. And there are no better humans in the NHL.
We’re not crying, you’re crying.
Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis jumpstarted his career after the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired him as a throw-in beside Marian Hossa in the final hours of the 2008-09 NHL trade deadline.
No one knew Dupuis would become a locker room stalwart, 20-goal scorer, and beloved figure. He hoisted the 2009 Stanley Cup as one of Sidney Crosby’s wingers but his value on and off the ice far transcended playing with Crosby. Blood clotting issues forced him to retire early in the 2015-16 season. Technically, the list is for players who returned as members of another team, but the retirement tribute to Dupuis was so powerful, we had to add it to the list.