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Report on Mario Lemieux W3.CSS

mario! Report on Mario Lemieux                                                         Pictures | Retirement | Family | Stats and Awards | Owner



Expansion Years(1967-1969):

Before the Penguins, Pittsburgh was the home of the NHL team called the "Pirates" during the 1920s and the successful Hornets (AHL) franchise from the 1930s through the 1960s. When the NHL doubled in size for the start of 1967,1968, Pittsburgh was one of six cities awarded an expansion team.

After deciding on the "Penguin" nickname (which was inspired by the fact that the team was to play in the "Igloo", the nickname of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena), a logo was chosen that had a penguin in front of a triangle, which symbolized the "Golden Triangle" of downtown Pittsburgh."

The Penguins' first general manager was Jack Riley. His team (along with the other expansion teams) was hampered by restrictive rules that kept most major talent with the "Original Six." Beyond aging sniper Andy Bathgate and tough defenseman Leo Boivin, the first Penguins team was manned by a cast of former minor-leaguers. The club missed the playoffs, but were a mere six points out of first place in the close-fought West Division. But there was a great moment in their first season which came on October 21, 1967, when they became the first team from the expansion class to beat an original six team as they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2.

Though Bathgate led the team in scoring, both he and Boivin were soon gone. Former player George Sullivan was the head coach for the club's first two seasons, until being replaced by Hockey Hall of Famer Red Kelly. Despite a handful of decent players such as Ken Schinkel, Keith McCreary, agitator Bryan Watson, and goaltender Les Binkley, talent was otherwise thin. The Penguins missed the playoffs in five of their first seven seasons.



Tragedy struck the Penguins in 1970 when promising rookie center Michel Briere, who finished third in scoring on the team, was injured in a car crash. Briere died after spending a year in the hospital, and his jersey, number 21, was the first to be retired by the franchise. The Penguins would reach the playoffs for the first time in 1970, advancing to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the St. Louis Blues. Pittsburgh managed a playoff berth in 1972 but not much beyond that. With the Penguins battling the California Golden Seals near the division cellar in 1973-74, Jack Riley was fired as general manager and replaced with Jack Button. Button traded for Steve Durbano, Ab Demarco Jr., Bob "Battleship" Kelly, and Bob Paradise. The personnel moves proved successful, as the team's play improved. The Penguins just barely missed the playoffs in 1974.

Beginning in the mid-seventies, Pittsburgh iced some powerful offensive clubs, led by the likes of the "Century Line" of forwards Syl Apps, Jr., Lowell MacDonald and Jean Pronovost. They came tantalizingly close to reaching the Stanley Cup semifinals in 1975, but were ousted from the playoffs by the New York Islanders in one of only three best-of-seven game series in professional sports history where a team came back from being down three games to none. As the 70s wore on, they brought in other offensive weapons such as Rick Kehoe, Pierre Larouche, and Ron Schock, along with a couple solid blue-liners such as Ron Stackhouse and Dave Burrows. But the Pens' success beyond the regular season was always neutralized by mediocre team defense. Goaltender Denis Herron was a stalwart in goal, later sharing the Vezina Trophy while with the Montreal Canadiens in 1980-81.

In 1975, the Penguins' creditors demanded payment of back debts, forcing the team into bankruptcy. The doors to the team's offices were padlocked, and it looked like the Penguins were headed for contraction. Through the intervention of a group that included Wren Blair, the team was prevented from folding.

Baz Bastien, a former coach and general manager of the AHL Hornets, later became general manager. The Penguins missed the playoffs in 1977-78 when their offense lagged, and Larouche was traded for Pete Mahovlich and Peter Lee. Bastien traded prime draft choices for several players whose best years were already behind them, such as Orest Kindrachuk, Tom Bladon and Rick MacLeish, and the team would suffer in the early 1980s as a result. The decade closed with a playoff appearance in 1979 and a rousing opening series win over Buffalo before a second round sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins.



The Penguins began the decade by changing their team colors. In January 1980, the team went from blue & white to their present-day black & gold to honor Pittsburgh's other sports teams, the Pirates and the Steelers, as well as the Flag of Pittsburgh. Both the Pirates and Steelers had worn black and gold for decades, and both were fresh off world championship seasons at that time. The Boston Bruins protested this color change, claiming a monopoly on black and gold. The Penguins defended their choice stating that an early hockey club in Pittsburgh also used black and gold as their team colors. They also argued that black and gold were Pittsburgh's traditional sporting colors. The NHL agreed, and Pittsburgh was allowed to use black and gold, a color scheme since adopted as well by the Anaheim Ducks when that team changed their uniforms in 2006.

During the early part of the decade, the Penguins made a habit of being a tough draw for higher seeded opponents in the playoffs. In 1980, the 13th seeded Penguins took the Bruins to the limit in their first round playoff series. The following season, as the 15th seed, they lost the decisive game of their first round series in overtime to the heavily favored St. Louis Blues. Then, in the 1982 playoffs, the Penguins held a 3-1 lead late in the fifth and final game of their playoff series against the reigning champions, the New York Islanders. However, the Islanders rallied to force overtime and won the series on a goal by John Tonelli. It would be the Pens' final playoff appearance until 1989. The team had the league's worst record in both the 1983 and 1984 seasons, and with the team suffering financial problems, it again looked as though the Penguins would fold. But the reward for the dismal 1983-84 season was the right to draft French Canadian phenomenon Mario Lemieux. Other teams offered substantial trade packages for the draft choice, but the Penguins kept the pick.


The Mario Lemieux Era: 1984-2005:

With the first overall pick in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft Pittsburgh selected Quebec Major Junior Hockey League superstar Mario Lemieux. He paid dividends right away, scoring on the first shot of his first shift in his first NHL game. Some criticized Lemieux for neglecting his defensive responsibilities, but Pittsburgh was looking for offense.

Pittsburgh spent four more years out of the playoffs. In the late 80s, the Penguins finally gave Lemieux a strong supporting cast, trading for superstar defenseman Paul Coffey from the Edmonton Oilers (after the Oilers' 1987 Stanley Cup win), and bringing in young talent such as scorers Kevin Stevens, Rob Brown, and John Cullen from the minors. And they finally acquired a top-flight goaltender with the acquisition of Tom Barrasso from the Buffalo Sabres. The Pens made the playoffs, but lost in the second round to their trans-Pennsylvania rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. Though amassing 123 points, Lemieux missed 21 games in 1989-90 due to a herniated disk in his back, and the Pens slipped out of the playoff picture.

In 1990-91, the Penguins reached the top of the standings. They drafted Czech right-winger Jaromir Jagr in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, the first player from his country to attend an NHL draft without having to defect, and then paired with Mario Lemieux as the league's biggest one-two scoring threat since Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri on the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. Mark Recchi arrived from the minors, and Bryan Trottier signed as a free agent. Joe Mullen in a minor trade all set up these major trades that brought Larry Murphy, Ron Francis, and Ulf Samuelsson to Pittsburgh. The Penguins finally became the league's best team, defeating the Minnesota North Stars in the Stanley Cup finals in six games. After the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals, The Stanley Cup Champions Penguins visited the White House to meet President George H. W. Bush. They were the first NHL team to ever visit the White House.The following season, the team lost coach Bob Johnson to cancer, and Scotty Bowman took over as coach. Under Bowman, they swept the Chicago Blackhawks to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.

Cancer nearly dealt the Penguins a double whammy in 1993. Not only were they reeling from Johnson's death, but Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. Only two months after the diagnosis, his comeback was one of the league's great "feel-good" stories of all time, missing 24 out of 84 games, but winning his fourth Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion with 160 points scored, edging out Pat LaFontaine and Adam Oates for the award. Despite the off-ice difficulties, Pittsburgh finished with a 56-21-7 record, winning the franchise's first (and still only) Presidents' Trophy as the team with the most points in the regular season; the 119 points earned that year is still a franchise record. After Lemieux's return, the team played better than it ever had before, winning an NHL-record 17 consecutive games before tying the New Jersey Devils in the final game of the season. Despite all of this success, they were still eliminated in the second round by the New York Islanders in overtime of Game 7.

The Penguins continued to be a formidable team throughout the 1990s. The stars of the Stanley Cup years were followed by the likes of forwards Alexei Kovalev, Martin Straka, Aleksey Morozov, Robert Lang and Petr Nedved, and defensemen Sergei Zubov, Darius Kasparaitis and Kevin Hatcher.


Jaromir Jagr Era:

Lemieux retired in 1997 and formally passed the torch to Jagr as the league's leading scorer. For the next 4 seasons, Jagr, as the captain, won 4 consecutive Art Ross Trophies. Jagr was clearly the NHL's most dominant player with the absence of Lemieux. Because of Lemieux's legendary status, the Hockey Hall of Fame waived its three-year waiting period and inducted him as an Honored Member in the same year he retired.

Despite a strong on-ice product, the Penguins were in the midst of a battle for their survival. Their free-spending ways earlier in the decade came with a price; owners Howard Baldwin and Morris Belzberg (who bought the Penguins after their first Cup win) had asked the players to defer their salaries. When they finally came due, combined with other financial pressures, the Penguins were forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 1998--the second such filing in franchise history. Just when it appeared that the Pens were about to either move or fold, Lemieux stepped forward with an unprecedented proposal. He had become one of the team's principal creditors due to years of deferred salary adding up to millions of dollars. He proposed to recover his deferred salary by converting it into equity and buying the team. The court agreed, and Lemieux assumed control on September 3, 1999. Just as he'd saved the Penguins 15 years earlier, he'd done it again.


The Return of Mario Lemieux:

He later shocked the hockey world by deciding to come back as a player. He returned to the ice on December 27, 2000, becoming the first player/owner in NHL history.

Still, the Penguins needed to cut costs. They dealt Jagr and Frantisek Kucera to the Washington Capitals for prospects Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk, and $4.9 million in the summer of 2001. The absence of Jagr proved devastating to the Penguins, and in 2002 they missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Further financial difficulties saw them trade fan favorite Alexei Kovalev to the New York Rangers the next season, quickly followed by the departure of Lang in free agency.

2003 was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Penguins, with first overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and new head coach (and former Penguin and commentator) Eddie Olczyk. Cost restrictions made the signing of Fleury rather tense, but he later showed his resolve with excellent goaltending for a last-place club. Lemieux suffered a hip injury early in the season, and he sat out the rest of the season to recover. The Pens then traded Straka away to the Los Angeles Kings and sent Fleury back to his junior team due to further money problems. The Penguins finished with the worst NHL record having won just 23 games, but lost the lottery for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft to the Washington Capitals. Despite missing the playoffs for a third year in a row, the Penguins did come on after the All-Star break after a very slow first half of the season and finished undefeated in the month of April.

The Penguins have suffered small-market syndrome for most of their existence, and cost-cutting prevented another collapse into insolvency. Financially, the team was one of the better-managed NHL franchises between its 1998 bankruptcy and the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Thanks to significant post-season runs, the Penguins broke even in 2000 and turned a small profit in 2001. Failure to make the playoffs in the next three seasons hurt the team's bottom line, but the shedding of contracts (such as Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka) kept the team afloat as other franchises, like the Ottawa Senators, faced significant losses or declared bankruptcy. In the 2003-04 season, they had the lowest average attendance of just 11,877 fans per game.

However, by 2005, the Penguins had paid off all of their creditors, both secured and unsecured. In fact, the court approved Lemieux' plan largely because it was intended to pay everyone the team owed.


Crosby and Malkin:

The Penguins won an unprecedented draft lottery on July 22, 2005, in which all thirty teams had weighted chances to win the first overall pick of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. The Penguins chose junior league superstar Sidney Crosby from the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

On April 17, 2006, Crosby became the youngest rookie in history to score 100 points. And on the Penguins' final game of the season, Crosby scored a goal and an assist to break Lemieux's record and became the top scoring rookie in team history with 102 points, despite losing the rookie scoring race to Alexander Ovechkin. Despite a decent finish, the Penguins posted the worst record of the Eastern Conference and the highest goals-against in the league.

On October 18, 2006, young Russian superstar Evgeni Malkin scored a goal in his first NHL game, and went on to set the modern NHL record with a goal in each of his first six games. Also contributing early to the 2006-07 season was Jordan Staal, the third of four Staal brothers in hockey, who was the Penguins' first pick (second overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. On February 27, 2007, the Penguins acquired Gary Roberts from Florida and Georges Laraque from Phoenix.

After the conclusion of the Penguins' season,(2006-07) the team announced that Sidney Crosby would become the team's captain. This honor made him the youngest full team captain in NHL history at only 19 years old.He had been offered the position during the course of the season, but Crosby deferred stating that he did not want to mess with the chemistry of the team while they were in the playoff hunt.


New Arena Agreement

On March 13, 2007, in a joint announcement by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Allegheny County Chief Dan Onorato, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins ownership group, it was made public that an agreement had been reached between the parties. A new state-of-the-art multi-purpose arena, the Consol Energy Center, will be built, guaranteeing that the Penguins will remain in Pittsburgh. Following the announcement of this plan, the Lemieux ownership group announced that they no longer have plans to sell the team.

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