In simpler times, the NHL All-Star Game was a time for the hockey world to gather. General Managers would strike up conversations in the hotel lobby, and a few days later, a player would have a new address. In 1989, new LA Kings captain Wayne Gretzky hunted for the New York Islanders brass to convince them to give up goalie Kelly Hrudey. NHL trade rumors are born and die at the All-Star Game.
And sometimes, the trades are absolute duds, too.
The Winter Olympics preempted a few NHL All-Star Games, but the All-Star Game and Penguins trades have not been synonymous with success. There wasn’t a game in 2013 due to lockout, and you probably don’t want to hear about the February 2013 trade that sent Carl Sneep to the Dallas Stars for a conditional seventh-round pick. The conditions were not met, and Dallas traded the 191st overall pick elsewhere.
Fun facts: That pick became Chicago Blackhawks winger Dominik Kubalik, who now carries a $3.7 million cap hit. In the 2013 flurry of Penguins activity around the time when the All-Star Game should have been, they also traded Ben Lovejoy to Anaheim for the pick that became Anthony Angello.
That’s a bit of a highlight for the Penguins on the NHL trade market this time of year.
Pittsburgh Penguins Trades, Working Backward:
2020: Within a couple of weeks of the 2020 ASG, former Penguins GM Jim Rutherford finally got a player he coveted. The Penguins traded a first-round pick, top defenseman prospect Calen Addison, and salary dump Alex Galchenyuk to Minnesota for Jason Zucker.
In 83 games with the Penguins spread over three seasons, including the current, Zucker has 43 points (21-22-43). A string of serious injuries has derailed Zucker’s Penguins career, though he hasn’t been a top producer even when healthy.
2019: Perhaps you’ll want to sit down for this one. Within one week of the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, Rutherford undid the trade that should have been a coup. One year earlier, with salary cap help from the Vegas Golden Knights, the Penguins acquired Derick Brassard for a package that included a top pick, goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson, Ryan Reaves, Ian Cole, and magic beans.
On Feb. 1, 2019, the Penguins traded Brassard to the Florida Panthers for Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad. In one of the great moments in Penguins history, Pittsburgh police escorted the pair from the airport to the arena. They made it with only seconds to spare.
However, neither player was long for the Penguins.
McCann began to reach his offensive potential, but salary cap concerns and the looming 2021 Seattle Kraken expansion draft led GM Ron Hextall to put McCann on the NHL trade market last summer. Hextall netted prospect Filip Hallander from the Toronto Maple Leafs. McCann is now leading the Kraken in scoring with 30 points (19-11-30) in 44 games.
Former GM Jim Rutherford traded Nick Bjugstad to Minnesota in Sept. 2020 for a conditional seventh-rounder. The Penguins also ate half of Bjugstad’s $4.1 million salary.
Go ahead, do that trade tree from Ian Cole, Ryan Reaves, and the myriad of players in between to the end of the line, Filip Hallander. That’s more wasted assets than the Star Wars sequels.
2016: The exception that proves the rule. Two weeks before the NHL All-Star Game, Rutherford again undid an earlier snafu which involved his first-round pick as bait. The Penguins acquired David Perron in the previous season for a top pick, but after a hot start, he went ice cold. And stayed ice, ice baby cold.
However, this time Rutherford hit paydirt. On Jan. 16, he sent Perron and Adam Clendening to the Anaheim Ducks for scuffling winger Carl Hagelin, who signed a four-year, $16 million free-agent deal that summer. Rutherford capitalized. The Penguins speed game was unstoppable through June…the following year with two Stanley Cups in tow.
2015: Who could forget acquiring Maxim Lapierre for Marcel Goc two days after the 2015 game?
2009: The Penguins acquired goalie Mathieu Garon for Danny Sabourin, Ryan Stone, and a fourth-rounder. Perhaps that pick was the best part of the deal. It became Tobias Rieder.
2003: One week after the 2003 game, the Pittsburgh Penguins gave up the future captain of the Edmonton Oilers. GM Craig Patrick traded undersized, gritty defenseman Andrew Ference for a third-rounder. With the 85th overall pick, the Penguins selected Brian Gifford.
2001: A few days before the game, Patrick shipped out popular agitator Mathew Barnaby to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Wayne Primeau, who lasted less than a few seasons. The 6-foot-4, 225 pound Primeau had the frame that Barnaby lacked but played much smaller. In 131 games, Primeau snoozed to just 33 points (9-24-33) and a minus-31 rating.
Barnaby led the NHL in PIMs that season with 265. Is that good or bad?
2000: The Penguins dumped poor Kip Miller on the Anaheim Ducks for a ninth-round pick. On and off, Miller was Jaromir Jagr’s faithful linemate over a couple of stints with the Penguins for several seasons.
Of course, don’t forget Jan Hrdina on that line, too.
1997: Tomas Sandstrom should send Patrick a few Christmas cards. One week after the 1997 NHL All-Star Game, Patrick traded Sandstrom to the Detroit Red Wings for *checks notes, Greg Johnson. Sandstrom won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings coached by Scotty Bowman.
You’re welcome, Tomas. In 172 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sandstrom had 155 points, including 71 goals.
For Greg Johnson, eh? Not Patrick’s best move. Johnson played only 37 games with the Penguins before finding his sea legs with Barry Trotz and the Nashville Predators, where he played 502 games.
Patrick was not a prolific All-Star Game dealer.
In 1987, I’m sure you’ll remember Penguins GM Eddie Johnston dealing goalie Roberto Romano to Boston for Pat Riggin. Romano played 125 games with the Penguins and was too good for the 1983 team that had to lose every possible game to draft some guy named Mario Lemieux.
The Lemieux era seems to be a good stopping point.
And now, we’re full circle. Lemieux, who rescued the team from Bankruptcy in 1999 sold to the Fenway Group last month. Penguins trades around the NHL All-Star Game haven’t been very good. Perhaps GM Ron Hextall will have to wait a little while just to shake off the bad karma.