Fans had their say. Our trusted panel of Pittsburgh Penguins aficionados had their say. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been blessed not just with a steady stream of Hall of Famers, but with a constant lineage of all-time great players.
It’s been a thrill ride which fans in other cities can hate, and management types of other teams can only envy.
“Win the lottery,” former NHL GM Brian Burke has grumbled many times regarding team-building strategies. The Penguins only won one lottery, and they selected Sidney Patrick Crosby, who didn’t make the Penguins All-Time team.
Crazy, isn’t it?
PHN could have wiggled realities to create more space. We could have put Mario Lemieux or Evgeni Malkin at left wing. Technically, it’s true. Each has played on the wing, and Lemieux spent at least one season as a sidecar to Ron Francis and Jaromir Jagr. But let’s be real. Lemieux was a center. And so too is Malkin.
We could have selected four lines, so no one was left out. However, we chose to recognize the six best Pittsburgh Penguins players. One at each position.
We also polled fans and devotees about the Penguins all-time coach and all-time GM. However, those decisions were so close that we’ll save those for a special reveal in the following two days.
There was not a specific formula for selection. Only years as a Penguin? How much weight should the Fan Vote get?
We decided to use each player’s Penguins tenure as the first factor, and as a tiebreaker. Fan votes also counted for 49%. In other words, it carried a lot of weight but was not the final verdict.
Fans did get one wrong.
The Pittsburgh Penguins All-Time Team:
Center: Mario Lemieux
Perhaps the greatest player of all-time, not just the Penguins greatest. Lemieux’s stats pale in comparison to the nightly brilliance he dished to fans and opponents. Steal the puck from a defenseman for a breakaway, but have two defenders slash and bear hug you? Lemieux still scored. Cripling back pain? Score points in 46 straight games. Play with a roster of players who were recently or would soon be in the minor again? Lemieux scored 199 points.
There aren’t enough words or superlatives to adequately describe Lemieux.
Former linemate and current Edmonton Oilers broadcaster Rob Brown said simply, “The best ever.”
Lemieux: 658 votes
Crosby: 99 votes (irony, eh?)
More numerology: 877 total votes cast.
Left Wing: Kevin Stevens
The RT Express. Stevens was the NHL’s premier power forward. He was a Redwood who could skate and had slick hands. Stevens, a Boston native, pounded opponents, dominated the dirty areas, and tortured goalies with a hard wrista.
In 522 games with the Penguins, spread over 10 years and two tenures, Stevens scored 555 points including 260 goals. He was the heartbeat of the Penguins team, which shocked the hockey world and announced their arrival with the 1991 Stanley Cup team. When he spoke, his team and opponents listened.
Life dealt Stevens a few curveballs, but the greatest LW in Penguins history has rebounded well. He is credited with being the scout who touted current Penguins defenseman John Marino, and he is warmly received when he visits Pittsburgh.
Kevin Stevens: 546
Chris Kunitz: 97 votes.
Right Wing: Jaromir Jagr
Another all-time great. Jagr not only scored more than 1000 points with the Penguins, but he is also the NHL’s second all-time leading scorer (1921 points), behind only Wayne Gretzky (2857).
Jagr bulldozed through the clutch-and-grab era. His legs were too strong to stop, and his talent to immense to contain. Jagr carried the post-Lemieux Penguins, even as players such as Jan Hrdina and Kip Miller were his linemates.
Jagr’s slick stick work, strength, and immense offensive talents made him a perennial Art Ross Trophy winner, and he should have a shelf full of Hart Trophy’s too (He won only once but was annually the runner up).
Seriously, watch Lemieux and Jagr destroy the 1992 Stanley Cup Final on this shift
No other player reached 100.
Defensemen: Paul Coffey and Kris Letang
This one was close and far from unanimous. Ultimately, the fan vote swayed the selection to Letang. Our panel split on the second defenseman with Coffey. In his five-year Penguins career, Larry Murphy finished fifth, third, 10th and fourth in Norris Trophy voting. He won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the team as their top defenseman in 1991 and 1992. He’s also in the Hall of Fame.
Murphy was PHN’s choice, by a razor-thin margin, but the fan vote made the difference. Murphy was a member of the 1987 Canada Cup team and sprang the famous “Gretzky to Lemieux” goal, which lifted the Canadian world to its feet. He easily has the second most distinguished career on the list. Had he spent more time with the Penguins and burnished his stats, he would have been an easy choice.
Sergei Gonchar was also a Norris Trophy candidate every year in his five-year Penguins career, though he didn’t finish higher than fourth. Gonchar might be the best defenseman on the list, besides Paul Coffey, but also woefully underappreciated. He should and will be in the Hall of Fame soon.
Ultimately, Kris Letang earned the all-time nod for many reasons. His 14-year career with the Penguins stands above any other defenseman’s tenure in statistics and value. He is the Penguins all-time leading scorer among defenseman, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford called him “the straw that stirs the drink,” and he’s won three Stanley Cups.
Whereas Murphy and Gonchar are remembered as much or more for their work for other teams, Letang has been a Penguins fixture.
Letang’s athleticism and skating ability place him among the top defensemen in the NHL. Few other defenseman can play the game in the same way. He, too, has received significant Norris Trophy votes (3rd in 2013, 4th in 2016) and has played in six All-Star games.
Letang has 537 points as a Penguins defenseman, including 127 goals in 808 games.
The other all-time Penguins choice is Paul Coffey. He was the next in line behind Bobby Orr. Coffey was the best skater in the NHL. He could weave around forecheckers and leave them behind, then race past defensemen at the blue line for a clean slap shot from the circle. His extraordinary speed pressured defensemen and freed space for players like Lemieux to work their magic.
Over his five-year Penguins career, Coffey played in 332 games but scored 440 points. He won the 1991 Stanley Cup with the Penguins (and three prior Cups with Edmonton).
Coffey didn’t win a Norris Trophy in Pittsburgh but finished second, fourth, fifth, and seventh in his five years in Pittsburgh. He won the trophy twice with Edmonton and once with Detroit (1996). He is one of the best defensemen of all-time.
1195 votes cast.
Goaltender: Marc-Andre Fleury
This was a surprise runaway. Fleury had more than his share of detractors while in Pittsburgh, but time heals all wounds. Fleury was a remarkable backstop in the chase for the 2008 Stanley Cup and was a deciding factor in the 2009 Stanley Cup victory.
The Penguins goalie had issues in the playoffs for a few years, which culminated in his meltdown and benching during the 2012-13 playoff run, but Fleury overcame those issues and was poised to lead the 2016 Penguins until a late-season concussion handed the job to some kid named Matt Murray.
Fleury again led the Penguins through the 2017 playoffs and stole one, if not a pair of games in the 2017 Round Two series against Washington. He didn’t get to finish his remarkable 2017 run, as Murray was re-inserted into the lineup midway through the Eastern Conference Final.
Fleury will finish his career among the all-time wins leaders in NHL history. He’s already fifth with 466 wins, and he should pass Ed Belfour and Roberto Luongo for fourth and third by the end of 2020-21.
Fleury appeared in 691 games as Penguin over 13 seasons. His Penguins record is 375-216-68. He was the first overall selection of the 2003 NHL Draft. His tribute video last season drew tears from fans and Fleury, alike.
Tom Barrasso: 129
Coach and GM
PHN will unveil the All-Time coach and the GM of the All-Time Pittsburgh Penguins team on Thursday and Friday.