July 1 is a day that is usually never dull when it comes to the Penguins.
Before UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex was built, we used to spend it at PPG Paints Arena. The new media department - which consists of the website and social media - would reserve a conference room in our front office at PPG Paints Arena (one time, a coworker printed a sign labeling it the 'War Room' and taped it to the glass window). We would set up in there with our laptops, phones and plenty of coffee while watching either TSN or NHL Network on the mounted TV.
It wasn't a good feeling following the 2014.15 season. The Penguins had just barely made it into the playoffs after a must-win regular-season finale in Buffalo, where Brandon Sutter scored twice and Marc-Andre Fleury had a shutout in a 2-0 win. And after they squeaked into the postseason, they were defeated in just five games by the New York Rangers.
But during that playoff series, as he sat watching from a booth at Madison Square Garden, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford knew it was time for a trade. Not just any trade, but a big trade. He knew he needed to add speed and skill to the lineup to help lessen the load on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. So he got to work.
The rumors that the Penguins were interested in superstar winger Phil Kessel started heating up going into the 2015 NHL Draft, set for June 26 and 27 at BB&T Arena in Fort Lauderdale. As Rutherford later told the media, they had worked on the deal for over a month and "it got a little bit of legs" at the draft.
But as he went on to say, trade talks really heated up the night before free agency began, and they were able to complete the deal on July 1. It was official: "We got Phil Kessel."
And that's exactly what Penguins manager of communications Jason Seidling said as he opened the door to the war room to let us know about the trade so we could prepare to let the rest of the world know.
We all went into the office of my boss, Sam Kasan, and watched every single highlight video we could find. I'll never forget how giddy we were as we watched Kessel, time after time, tear down the wing and rip a snapshot into the back of the net before the goalie would even react.
We could hardly believe that Rutherford and his staff had found a way to add a superstar winger like Kessel to a team that already had Crosby and Malkin, the two best players in the world.
The addition of Kessel rejuvenated both the hockey operations department and the front office, and got us excited for the start of the 2015.16 season. Actually, excited might not be a strong enough word. Ecstatic is probably more like it. For the rest of the summer, we couldn't stop talking and texting each other about it.
I think the best part about it all was that it worked out better than we could have ever dreamed. Kessel was everything the Penguins could have hoped for on the ice. And off the ice, we all adored him for how funny and quirky he was. As I liked to say, 'The greatest gift Jim Rutherford ever gave us was trading for Phil Kessel.' And the greatest gift Kessel ever gave the Penguins was two Stanley Cups.
The Penguins were arguably the most successful NHL franchise over the last decade (2010-19). They made the playoffs every season while becoming the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in nearly 20 years. The team provided many memorable moments over that 10-year span. In this Decade Review series website writers Sam Kasan and Michelle Crechiolo, who have been with the team the entire time, highlight the 10 storylines and moments that stand out to them from the past 10 years.