General manager Craig Patrick’s shrewd move to acquire Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings at the 1991 NHL trade deadline resulted in the Penguins’ first Stanley Cup championship.
Patrick would cement his legacy as a deadline-deal making master in the eyes of Pens fans the following year with another late-season trade that resulted in a championship.
|Rick Tocchet (Getty Images) |
Patrick did not wait until the actual day of the deadline in 1992 to pull the trigger on a move to strengthen his team. On Feb. 19 he acquired Rick Tocchet, Kjell Samuellson, Ken Wregget and a draft pick in exchange for Mark Recchi, Brian Benning and a first-round pick (the first-round pick was Los Angeles’, which the Penguins acquired in a different deal involving Paul Coffey).
The deal helped the Penguins win back-to-back championships in 1992.
“We consider this a deadline deal, but it happened in February. Craig decided he couldn’t wait those extra three weeks,” said Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan, who was covering the team as a beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
during that time. “Tocchet was the centerpiece, Kjell Samuelsson was a huge factor on defense. Ken Wregget was unbelievable as a backup. All those guys were parts of the puzzle. That was the dramatic move early on.”
The Penguins entered the 1991-92 season under abnormal circumstances. Head coach “Badger” Bob Johnson fell gravely ill and passed away in November. Scotty Bowman wasn’t named head coach until the start of the regular season.
The uncertainly hung over the team’s training camp without a coach and with key players like Ron Francis, Kevin Stevens and Mark Recchi with contract issues.
With the team hovering around the .500 mark in mid-February, Patrick decided it was time to shake up the roster. He started by trading defenseman Paul Coffey to Los Angeles for two players and a first-round draft pick. Then Patrick used that pick to help him land Tocchet Samuelsson and Wregget.
“You knew the base of the Stanley Cup team was still there,” McMillan said. “Now with this shakeup you bring in other elements like Tocchet, Samuelsson and the stability of Wregget in goal.
“You never know how pieces are going to fit. They fit perfectly.”
Trades are a risky venture for general managers. Some trades work out while others do not. With back-to-back late season trades resulting in back-to-back Stanley Cup championship, Patrick became a legend in Penguins history for having the guts to do whatever it takes to give his team a chance to win.
“Both teams (’91 and ’92) at the start of the season would not have won,” McMillan said. “You had a general manager that recognized that and was bold enough to do it. Penguin fans thought this was going to happen at the deadline every year. You can’t make deals like that all the time. Craig set a really high standard. Trade deadline comes, you make a deal and win the Cup. That was where he really forged the Pittsburgh part of his reputation.”