We looked at the Pittsburgh Penguins top five free agent signings of all-time, which was a list including Sergei Gonchar and Bryan Trottier. Now it’s time to look at the Penguins foibles; the players who never fit, never produced, or players for whom the mere mention of their name elicits groans from the faithful.
The Penguins were not the wealthiest team in the NHL, so there were few big-name signings when other NHL teams were making it rain on mid-level talent or stars passing their prime. Most of the Penguins mistakes have come recently, and they certainly have whiffed a few times. Honorable mentions to players Sergei Plotnikov (2015) plucked from the KHL who scored zero goals, enforcer Eric Goddard (2008) who signed a three-year, $2.25 million deal but watched more games from the press box, and defenseman Christian Erhoff (2014) who inked a one-year, $4 million contract but played only 49 games and chipped in only 14 points.
Those signings weren’t very good, but they don’t make the top-five worst list.
#5 Antti Niemi (2017)
The class of 2017 was not a bumper crop for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins hoped to develop goaltender Tristan Jarry in the minors, so they signed Niemi to a one-year, $700,000 deal. The deal didn’t break the bank, but the Penguins gambled on a goaltender coming off a terrible season in Dallas. Niemi lasted just three awful starts before being placed on waivers. His save percentage was a beer league worthy .797, but his goals-against-average was only 7.49.
After a two-game stint in Florida, Niemi rebounded with the Montreal Canadiens, last season. He posted a .929 save percentage in 19 games and earned a contract for this season.
#4 Matt Hunwick (2017)
Hunwick was the other bust of the 2017 class. Penguins General Manager signed Hunwick to a three-year, $6.75 million contract to replace speedy defenseman Trevor Daley, who signed a three-year, $9.5 million deal with Detroit.
Hunwick didn’t have a good start, like the rest of the Penguins team, but he didn’t rebound and was eventually served a steady diet of press box nachos. Last season, Hunwick played in just 42 games and scored 10 points (4g, 6a). He was packaged with winger Conor Sheary and dealt to the Buffalo Sabres in a salary dump, last month.
#3 Zbynek Michalek (2010)
The Penguins have not had good luck with the letter Z. Michalek was quickly signed away from Arizona as free agency began in 2010, along with fellow defenseman Paul Martin. Penguins General Manager Ray Shero wanted to boost his blue line after the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup defense crashed in the second round. Martin worked out perfectly. Michalek, who signed a five-year, $20 million contract, never fit.
Michalek, a defensive specialist, played just two seasons for the Penguins before being dealt back to Arizona for a third-round choice and a couple of minor leaguers.
#2 Ziggy Palffy (2005)
Palffy was a three-time NHL All-Star, and one of the NHL’s more electric players. In the wave of optimism and joy following the 2004-05 full season lockout which resulted in a salary cap, thus giving the Penguins a chance to compete once again, they splurged on veterans to surround Mario Lemieux for one final Stanley Cup run. Penguins General Manager Craig Patrick handed Palffy a three-year, $13.5 million contract.
The idea was great, but the execution flopped. The Penguins finished with the second-worst record in the NHL. Palffy did his part for 42 games, as he scored 42 points (11g, 31a) but walked away from the NHL at mid-season. Palffy didn’t even appear in the hasty press conference the following day, and Patrick declined to cite the reason Palffy retired, though Palffy told a Slovak newspaper that his reconstructed shoulder was ailing.
Beginning in 2007, Palffy played five more seasons in Slovakia. Patrick, the Penguins’ Hall-of-Fame architect, was relieved of his duties after the season.
#1 Rob Scuderi (2013)
Just file this one under “good intentions.” Rob Scuderi was the Penguins fifth-round selection in 1998. He reached the NHL in 2003. Scuderi was a heavy-footed, stay-home defenseman. His diving save behind goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final was a defining moment in the championship run.
The Penguins could not afford to keep Scuderi, who was signed away by the L.A. Kings in 2009. “Scuds” won another Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012, but Penguins GM Ray Shero never let go. Shero happily re-signed the 34-year-old Scuderi to a monstrous four-year, $13.5 million contract…which was almost immediately an albatross around the team’s wallet.
Signing a slow, soon-to-be 35-year-old defenseman to a four-year deal–What could go wrong? Scuderi could not keep pace with the Penguins, took up valuable cap space, fans howled, and the Penguins Stanley Cup-worthy core continued to sputter with early playoff exits.
New Penguins GM Jim Rutherford pulled a mini-miracle by dealing Scuderi to Chicago for out-of-favor defenseman Trevor Daley in December 2015. Scuderi couldn’t draw in with Chicago and was later dealt back to the Kings and effectively retired after the 2015-16 season.