Disappointment is a subjective term. A player must first raise expectations, then show the promise to fulfill those expectations, and finally not deliver to be a disappointment. The Pittsburgh Penguins have had such players roll through Pittsburgh. Hopes rose with their presence but were ultimately dashed with their performance.
It’s hard to call players who came along in downtimes “disappointing.” For our Penguins history devotees, you’ll notice a lack of players in the 1970s through the 90s. The players weren’t that disappointing because the Penguins remained unsuccessful or were successful anyway. Very few raised expectations. So, we excluded players such as Markus Naslund who couldn’t crack the early 90s Penguins star-studded roster, even though everyone suspected he had far more to give.
The Penguins were successful, regardless. Naslund’s disappointment didn’t impede the team, but you will see GM Craig Patrick’s deal in which he traded Naslund for enforcer Alex Stojanovich on every list of the worst Penguins trades.
We also didn’t include some of the Penguins draft busts because they served only a glancing blow to the Penguins team. 2012 eighth overall pick Derrick Pouliot is a prime example. The Penguins didn’t have a desperate need for him to succeed, so the disappointment level was lower when he eventually didn’t.
As an honorable mention, most of the 2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins, which included Ziggy Palffy and Jocelyn Thibault.
So, brace yourselves. Here we go.
Top 5 Disappointing Penguins
5. Daniel Sprong
I always understood why Penguins fans clamored for his lineup insertion. Daniel Sprong has every physical tool necessary to be a successful NHL winger. However, after a pair of teams tried their best, the Anaheim Ducks banished Sprong to the AHL, where he joined a legion of players with the ability to beat NHL goaltenders but not play a quality NHL game.
Sprong could have been the long-awaited winger for Sidney Crosby.
A first round talent who fell to the Penguins at No. 46 in 2015, Sprong had a devastating wrist shot, more than adequate skating ability, and enough size to play on NHL rinks. What he lacked was awareness, on several levels. Sprong lacked the self-awareness to know he needed to work much harder on his game. He needed to be aware of his defensive responsibilities and the team system. Instead, Sprong never gained that awareness in Pittsburgh despite GM Jim Rutherford’s best efforts to keep him on the roster.
The Penguins silver lining is Anaheim parted with defenseman Marcus Pettersson for Sprong. Put that trade win firmly in Rutherford’s column.
4. Marian Hossa
It could have and should have been a decade of dominance in Pittsburgh. In the final hour before the 2008 NHL Trade Deadline, GM Ray Shero snatched All-Star winger Marian Hossa away from the Atlanta Thrashers, who had several other suitors. Hossa had a brilliant two-way game and finishing ability.
Hossa had only three goals in 12 regular-season games with the Penguins but was a force in the playoffs. He was chasing a Stanley Cup because his Ottawa Senators teams were the annual President’s Trophy contender and early playoff upset. Hossa badly wanted a Stanley Cup.
And so the Penguins march through the 2008 playoffs began. In 20 games, Hossa had 26 points, including seven points (3g, 4a) in the Stanley Cup Final.
Hossa didn’t disappoint on the ice. Far from it. The great disappointment came in July. The Penguins made Hossa, an unrestricted free agent, a very lucrative contract offer to be Sidney Crosby’s winger for years to come. The Penguins won the 2009 Stanley Cup when the found short term replacement Bill Guerin and coach Dan Bylsma.
Hossa instead bolted for Detroit because he felt they had a better chance at the Stanley Cup. Oops.
Hossa would have been the long-term missing piece for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who fumbled postseason chances for the next six seasons after beating those same Detroit Red Wings for the ’09 Cup. Hossa later starred for the Chicago Blackhawks on their dynastic Stanley Cup runs, which proceeded the Penguins attempted dynasty.
What could have been?
3. Jarome Iginla
The Penguins again seemed to find their stride in 2012-13. The Penguins bolted through the strike-shortened season and had visions of Stanley Cups dancing in their heads. GM Ray Shero loaded up at the NHL trade deadline.
Long-time Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla was coming to the end of his stay in Calgary. He was no longer the dynamic 40-goal power forward, but he had plenty left to give. Iginla reportedly rejected other offers and asked to be dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he would reunite with Team Canada linemate Sidney Crosby.
It was supposed to be a glorious reunion.
But, sometimes, the best-laid plans of mice and men…just don’t work. Coach Dan Bylsma flipped the future Hall of Famer to the left wing, instead of his traditional RW spot. The move only exacerbated Iginla’s struggle to adopt the Penguins complex systems.
The Penguins sky-high expectations and hopes crashed with a thud when the Penguins were meekly swept in the Eastern Conference Final by the Boston Bruins, and Iginla bolted for better situations.
2. Kris Beech, Michael Sivek, Ross Lupaschuk
Bust city, or the Jagr trio, as they could be more appropriately called. The Pittsburgh Penguins traded Jaromir Jagr in the summer of 2001 because it just wasn’t feasible to pay a superstar salary as the organization struggled to pay bills. Months earlier, Jagr was the best player in the world and maybe fell to second with the un-retirement of teammate and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux.
The Penguins had needs. As part of any Jagr deal, the Penguins needed cash. And not just a few stacks of wrapped hundreds. The Penguins needed millions. The Washington Capitals were the winning bidder and paid millions of dollars, plus three of their top four draft choices of the 1999 draft, including seventh overall, Kris Beech.
All three players the Penguins acquired were drafted in the first 34 picks. But none of them helped the Penguins on the ice. Beech was a soft, slow center that didn’t stick in the NHL. He had two tenures with the Washington Capitals and Penguins, as well as Columbus, Vancouver, and Nashville but didn’t play 200 career NHL games.
The Penguins needed an NHL center to carry them into the next era, or at least a serviceable piece. Ultimately, Beech finished his career bouncing around Europe in the Swiss, Swedish, Czech, German and Austrian leagues.
Sivek and Lupaschuk had little more than cups of coffee in the NHL. The defenseman Lupsashcuk played 271 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins but only three NHL games before he too bounced around Europe. Sivek bolted for the Czech league in 2004 and played several more years before retiring early.
At least the Penguins got the cash, too.
1. Derick Brassard
Brassard is pulling double duty as the worst Penguins acquisition of all-time and the most disappointing. The 2017-18 Pittsburgh Penguins were two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Their legs were tired. According to head coach Mike Sullivan, the team “used a lot of rationalizations.” And, the Penguins were getting stale.
Yet, within their grasp, they had a chance at history and a dynasty solidifying third Cup in three years. Derick Brassard was the big fish in the trade pond. The Ottawa Senators began a firesale, and everything had to go. Teams fell over themselves to get Brassard, and the Penguins believed they were out of the mix, due to salary cap issues.
But in a great plot twist, the Vegas Golden Knights feared the Winnipeg Jets would get Brassard, so Vegas GM (and former GM of the arch-rival Washington Capitals) George McPhee helped engineer a salary cap coup. Vegas acquired Ryan Reaves from the Penguins and by CBA loopholes, which left the NHL shaking its head, shared $3 million of Brassard’s $5 million salary.
The Penguins snatched the player known as “Big Game Brass” for his extraordinary playoff performances with the New York Rangers. The center was a playmaker who could dish to Phil Kessel and score important goals.
The beleaguered Penguins went from grimacing through the season to wide-eyed optimism. A Three-Peat? Why Not!
Those hopes were eviscerated like a meteor in a Bruce Willis movie. Or a copy cat Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni flic. Or an Ice-T picture, if you’re looking for a deep impact.
Instead of rising to the challenge, the Penguins flatlined. Brassard didn’t like his third-line center role and didn’t perform well. Head coach Mike Sullivan often prefaced his answers on Brassard with, “We’ve had a lot of conversations…”
Rather than lifting the Penguins, Brassard shrunk. The Penguins high hopes became horror as the Washington Capitals rolled through the Penguins in Round Two and won their first Stanley Cup.