The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the high-profile teams in the NHL. That wasn’t always the case as the organization struggled mightily for its first 25 years, until a french fry munching, occasional cigarette smoking, pimply-faced 18-year-old named Mario Lemieux arrived.
The Penguins finally began to create an identity. The revolving door of players who made pit stops in Pittsburgh until their punishment was over stopped turning, and the team became a place players sought. Players began choosing to stick around and sometimes even take less money to stay.
Over the last few decades, some players have fit so well that they became a part of the organization’s fabric and fan favorites.
This coming season will be the first time in a couple of years the Penguins will get a first look at a former team stalwart in a different sweater when Brian Dumoulin arrives with the Seattle Kraken. Dumoulin spent 10 years with the Penguins organization and won two Stanley Cups; most of his Penguins’ career spent as the quiet defensive balance to defenseman Kris Letang on the top pairing.
Few things in professional sports end in a manner befitting a storybook or at least a Disney movie, and several team staples moved onto other teams, though it just never felt right.
Some honorable mentions to this list include winger Mark Recchi, Penguins announcers Phil Bourque and Bob Errey, and recently retired Patric Hornqvist.
Top 5 Penguins Who Never Looked Right in Other Uniforms
5. Max Talbot
Talbot was not essential to the Penguins’ lineup but made his mark with the emerging Penguins’ culture. Like Sidney Crosby, Talbot was a rookie with that imploding 2005-06 team. He scored only eight points in 48 games and never scored more than 26 points in six seasons with the Penguins, but his personality made him a local celebrity and fan favorite.
Local commercials (Superstar treatment!) are still passed around on YouTube.
He was the center of the Southside crew that connected the Penguins team to the young fans like few other eras in the organization. He joined Penguins lore when he scored both goals in Game 7 of the Penguins’ 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 Stanley Cup championship.
In 2011, he signed with the hated Philadelphia Flyers, but not even such treason sullied his communion with fans. Talbot played 388 games with the Penguins and 316 games split between Philadelphia, Colorado Avalanche, and Boston Bruins. But it never looked right.
4. Nick Bonino
Not everyone may agree with this one. As a bottom-six forward, Bonino has bounced around the NHL. He spent his first five years with the Anaheim Ducks before one year with the Vancouver Canucks, and was the primary Penguins trade acquisition for Brandon Sutter.
However, Bonino found a hockey home with the Penguins as a pivotal third-line center for a back-to-back Stanley Cup winner. He tried to play on a broken leg in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final and was part of the heart of those Stanley Cup winners.
The Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi goal call of “Bonino, Bonino, Booooniiiinoooooo” will forever echo. Bonino was the perfect center between the offensively interested Phil Kessel and defensively oriented Carl Hagelin. The HBK line became a national catchphrase.
Six years after Bonino signed with the Nashville Predators, the Penguins acquired him at the 2023 NHL trade deadline, and the locker room was abuzz before an injury negated any significant contribution.
Bonino signed with the Rangers as a free agent this summer.
3. Ulf Samuelsson
Perhaps the onomatopoeia of his first name made him an instant fan favorite after being acquired with Ron Francis and Grant Jennings from the Hartford Whalers in 1991. Perhaps it was Samuelsson’s fearsome on-ice presence and his linebacker-like shoulder pads.
Signs filled the old Civic Arena: ULF!
Samuelsson played 1080 NHL games, and only 277 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but was a featured player in back-to-back Stanley Cup championships of 1991 and 1992.
Not even a controversial hit on Cam Neely that greatly affected, if not ended, Neely’s career diminished Samuelsson’s Pittsburgh shine.
He left the Penguins for the New York Rangers in 1995 and finished his career with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2000, but it always looked odd. The sight of that square jaw beneath a visor (a rarity back then) and large shoulder pads always conjured Penguins memories.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury
The Penguins rebuilding effort truly began in 2003 with the third overall pick. However, after shrewd draft-day dealing by then-GM Craig Patrick, the Penguins had the first overall pick and selected a perpetually smiling, cat-quick goalie named Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury wasn’t always a fan favorite and had his down moments, including a couple of playoff meltdowns. However, his sunny personality, unbreakable friendships within the locker room, and a remarkable save in the final seconds of the 2009 Stanley Cup win. Any doubts about Fleury were erased with his brilliant performance in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, getting the team to the Eastern Conference Final before coach Mike Sullivan flipped to Matt Murray.
Fleury’s tears and the raucous five-minute standing ovation from fans before, during, and after his tribute video when he returned to Pittsburgh in 2019 with the Vegas Golden Knights said it all.
1. Jaromir Jagr
For 12 years, Jagr was a pillar of the Penguins organization. From a rookie who didn’t speak English to a man about town with a pair of Stanley Cup rings, two Ted Lindsay awards, a Hart Trophy, and five Art Ross trophies.
Jagr carried the Penguins franchise after Lemieux retired following the 1997 season and heroically carried the Penguins to a Round One playoff win over the New Jersey Devils in 1999 despite a serious hamstring injury. His leg heavily taped, Jagr scored a tying goal late in the third period and then the OT winner as the Penguins avoided elimination in Game 6 and then won Game 7.
Had the Penguins lost that playoff series, there were serious doubts that the franchise had enough money to continue. There was talk of contraction, but on one leg, Jagr quelled that.
Fans blamed Jagr for forcing a trade in the summer of 2001 and booed him relentlessly for years when he visited Pittsburgh as a member of the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Fortunately, time heals all wounds, and the history of his departure from the financially strapped Penguins has been set straight.
The booing was only a sign of hurt. Jagr was the face of the Penguins as much as any player, including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The list is subjective. What players would you have included or excluded from the list? Have your say in the comments below.