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February Trades Galvanized '92 Pens

by Brooks Bratten / Pittsburgh Penguins

In 1992 the Penguins won their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups after sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks. To mark the 20th anniversary of that title run, will be reliving some of the key moments from the 1991-92 season and playoffs.

In today’s age of social media, it’s not uncommon for a hockey player to find out that he’s been traded via the Internet or television before his general manager has a chance to call and deliver the news. But back in February of 1992, Flyers goaltender Ken Wregget found out that he was headed to Pittsburgh from a different outlet.

“Oh that’s a funny story,” Wregget said of hearing about the situation.

On this particular occasion, it was the Flyers’ bus driver that served as the insider. He had overheard the coaches talking with one another, and had acquired all the details of the trade that would be announced the next day.

“I said, ‘I guess we’ll find out tomorrow,’” Wregget recalled, laughing. “He goes, ‘Kenny, you might want to know right now.’”

Wregget was just one piece of the second blockbuster move then-Penguins general manager Craig Patrick made on Feb. 19, 1992 out of Pittsburgh that saw Penguins forward Mark Recchi, along with Brian Benning and a first-round pick in the 1992 NHL Draft, head to Philadelphia in exchange for winger Rick Tocchet, defenseman Kjell Samuelsson and a new backup goaltender for Tom Barrasso.

“It helped the team,” defenseman Larry Murphy said. “It had an impact and it did exactly what Craig Patrick was hoping it would do.”

What it did was help the club break out of a slump that saw them in danger of missing the playoffs just one year after winning their first Stanley Cup. From Dec. 31 to Feb. 27, the team won just five games and was falling fast in the standings.

“I knew we weren’t playing well, and things weren’t clicking like they should’ve been,” forward Kevin Stevens said. “When we don’t win, people get traded.”

All-Star defenseman Paul Coffey had been dealt to Los Angeles earlier in the day, a huge deal on its own. The Penguins received the Kings’ first-round pick in the 1992 NHL Draft, along with Benning, and both pieces were quickly sent to Philadelphia to complete the second seismic swap of the day.

Losing a piece like Recchi was tough for the players, especially since the Kamloops, British Columbia native had become an important offensive part of the team.

“You’re losing some pretty big name players,” former forward Joe Mullen said. “You’ve got to kind of step back and say, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ But you leave that business up to Craig Patrick. He’s always done a good job and we had no reason to doubt him.”

That was certainly the case for the team's leader, Lemieux. When asked for his reaction about the trade, No. 66 told reporters, “Put Stevens on my left, put Tocchet on my right, and let’s go play hockey.”

Once Tocchet was plugged into the lineup, the wins started to come. Having a shutdown defenseman in Samuelsson and stability in goal with Wregget helped put the team back on track for the postseason.

“Rick Tocchet was huge because Mario Lemieux always had great respect for Rick, and you could see Mario’s play started to elevate,” former assistant coach Pierre McGuire said. “We needed more of a shutdown presence on defense and getting Kjell Samuelsson here helped us a ton. We also needed to help Tommy (Barrasso) with some depth in goal. Kenny Wregget was a professional who really knew how to establish himself as a starter, but also not be a pain in the behind if he was a backup.”

“Tocchet came in and he pretty much fit right in,” Stevens said. “He was a guy that worked hard and was dedicated. We didn’t lose much getting those type of guys.”

The club didn’t lose much figuratively or literally after the trade, putting together 12 more wins before the season concluded. Acquiring the assets from Philadelphia was a large part of the success moving forward into the spring.

“When we got Rick Tocchet and all these guys in that trade, it was kind of a surprise,” former forward Jiri Hrdina said. “But on the other hand, we knew we were going to need more toughness on our team. We also needed skill and goal scoring, and Rick Tocchet was a prime example of the player who can deliver all those things to the team. I think it was a great move from Craig.”

Tocchet recorded 14 goals and 30 points in his 19 games as a Penguin during the remainder of the regular season. He would add six more goals and 19 points in the postseason, as the Penguins captured their second Cup in as many years.

Stevens acknowledged that trades are always tough to deal with, but in the end, any deal would’ve been worth it to repeat as champs.

“The first initial thing is you’re losing your buddies,” Stevens said. “But we got good players back and we were able to win another cup, so management did a good job.”

Murphy believes that the repeat was helped immensely with the February deal. Without it, the club could have very well been watching the postseason instead of participating.

“It’s tough enough to win it in the first place and repeating is even tougher,” Murphy said. “The middle of the season was a struggle. We made a nice trade with Philadelphia that really gave the team a big shot in the arm, and then by the end everybody started rolling. The Stanley Cup hangover from the season before was gone.”

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