The Departed - Bill Guerin - 09-24-10

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

"The Departed" series on Empty Netters is a set of "eulogies" for former Penguins who have passed away... to other teams. Essentially, we look back on their time as a Penguin, examine their contributions to the franchise and as real eulogies occasionally do, exaggerate a bit. Today's eulogy is dedicated to Bill Guerin.

Being a winger on Sidney Crosby's wing is a pretty cool gig. There are many benefits to playing with one of the best players in the world. You get to pad your stats. You probably have a chance at 20 goals. And chances are, he's the one doing the heavy lifting for most of your shift on the ice.

But that said, there hasn't been a great deal of longevity associated with the job. There has been a revolving door of players such as Nils Ekman, Marian Hossa, Colby Armstrong, Andy Hilbert, Zigmund Palffy, Marian Hossa and Jani Rita. Only a few like Chris Kunitz or Pascal Dupuis have managed to stay "employed" for any significant period of time.

Palffy was the most productive in this role. He had 42 points in 42 games in 2005-06 before an ailing shoulder forced him into an abrupt retirement.

Hossa was certainly the most talented. He's a former 100-point scorer in this league and he's a fantastic two-way player. Ray Shero parted with quite a bit in order to get him at the 2009 trade deadline.

We're still trying to figure out how Hilbert and Rita ever even stepped onto the same sheet of ice as Crosby, let alone log significant minutes on his line.

As for the very best linemate Sidney Crosby ever had? Assuming you rule out Evgeni Malkin who has occasionally moonlighted as Crosby's wing, we think the conversation ends with Bill Guerin. Despite being on the 18th hole of his career, Guerin brought a scoring touch, toughness and a presence to the team which commanded respect.

When the 2009 trade deadline roled around, Shero was faced with a familiar dilemma;. finding a top-six winger. A few weeks earlier, he had acquired Chris Kunitz from the Ducks. Kunitz was a 20-goal scorer with a Stanley Cup ring. An addition like that would suffice for most teams, but the Penguins had such a lack of depth on the top two lines, they still needed another winger.

The market was lean. A few former 20-goal scorers like Ales Kotalik and Petr Prucha were available, but there weren't really many name players. One of the few available was Guerin

A former 40-goal scorer, Guerin was at one time, one of the best two-way players in the game. He could skate, score, fight, hit, play defense and by all accounts, be a good citizen in the locker room. He was a big part of the battles between the Penguins and Devils in the late 1990s.

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But Guerin was well past that part of his career. His skating wasn't wat it used to be and as a result, he became more of a power forward who parked himself near the net. Additionally, he was having a pretty pedestrian season as the captain of the Islanders. He only had 16 goals in 61 games for a dreadful New York team. It had to be difficult for a 38-year-old who had championship experience to go all out for a team going no where.

In stepped Shero. He shipped a conditional draft pick to New York in exchange for Guerin. It was an immediate upgrade for both parties. The Penguins got someone who could finish the chances Sidney Crosby created while Guerin got an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup again.

Guerin's first game with the Penguins was a 4-1 road win against the Panthers, March 5, 2008. It was also Crosby's first game back in the lineup after missing four contests due to a groin ailment. That meant it was also his first game with his new linemates, Guerin and Kunitz. It didn't take long for some chemistry to develop as Guerin recorded the primary assist on a goal by Crosby the second period.

Three days later, in a nationally televised road game against the Capitals, Guerin showed he was for real. He picked up a goal and two assists in a 4-3 shootout victory. He would finish the regular season by picking up 12 points in 17 games for the Penguins.

Guerin entered the playoffs with a something of a poor reputation for postseason play. Two seasons prior, he was a big trade deadline acquisition for the Sharks. And despite being teamed with a former Hart Trophy winner in Joe Thornton, he could only muster two assists in nine playoff games as San Jose had another disappointingly early exit from the postseason. Before that, Guerin was a significant part of several Stars teams which dominated regular season play, but fell short in the playoffs.

It took him all of two games to change that perception:

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On a power play in overtime, he controlled a puck down low and snapped off a wrister by Flyers goaltender Martin Biron. He finished the game with two goals and helped the team jump out to a 2-0 series lead. Roughly a week later, he recorded an assist on Crosby's tying goal in a 5-3 comeback win at Philadelphia which clinched the series.

The next series was a showdown with the Capitals. While Crosby and Alex Ovechkin captivated the hockey world with a furious head to head battle, Guerin played a key support role for the Penguins and picked up six points in the seven-game series. He scored the series-clinching goal when the blew a one-timer by Capitals goaltender Semyon Valamov early in the second period of a 6-2 rout in Washington.

Guerin didn't let up in the Eastern Conference final against the Hurricanes. He picked up five points as the Penguins swept the series and returned the Stanley Cup final.

Guerin's production came to a near screeching halt against the disciplined defense of the Red Wings. But he was still able to provide a net-front presence on the team's revitalized power play which came to life against Detroit. A screen by Guerin helped Sergei Gonchar beat Chris Osgood for a game-winning goal in Game 3 of the series, a comeback 4-2 win:

The Penguins would go one to win the series, 4-3. Following the dramatic 2-1 win in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman presented the Cup to Crosby as captain. As has become something of trend in recent years, the question was who would Crosby give the Cup to next?

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the team's celebration that night was Guerin's exuberance. For anyone lucky enough to be on the ice that night witnessing the celebration first-hand, Guerin was the center of attention. On a team full of 20-somethings, it was the 30-something family man - whose children are closer in age to many of his teammates than himself - who lived it up the most that night. Despite the fact that his name was already on the Cup for the Devils' 1995 championship, Guerin embraced the moment like it was his first.

In the days that followed, Guerin partied it up in his adopted hometown. He helped shut down Carson Street on the Southside, threw out the first pitch at a Pirates game and addressed the masses at the team's victory parade in Downtown.

At that parade, we got a slight peek at his future with the team as Evgeni Malkin started chants of "ONE MORE YEAR!" Guerin was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent that summer. Before the free agency signing began, he took a significant pay cut to return. His three months in Pittsburgh had re-invigorated his career and he decided to give it another go by signing a one-year deal.

Questions persisted about Guerin as 2009-10 approached. It was one thing for him to escape the despair of Long Island and jump on board a Stanley Cup contender. Adrenaline could get him through two-plus months of playing the Flyers and Capitals in at playoff atmosphere. Could he provide the same level of play for games in November against the Panthers and Lightning?

In the first month of play, Guerin showed he was up to the task. He netted a solid nine points in 14 games. He carried that into November. And during a game against the Bruins Nov. 14, he scored arguably one of the most memorable regular season goals in Penguins history:

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Guerin took a pass from Malkin and put a laser of a wrister to the far side by Tim Thomas, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, with less than a second left. That allowed Pascal Dupuis to score the game-winner in overtime.

Off the ice, Guerin was invaluable. In the locker room, it was routine to see him playing with the children of teammates like a big brother. One day last winter at Iceoplex at Southpointe, Craig Adams had to return to the ice to film a piece with FSN Pittsburgh. Before that, he had to find someone to watch over his fussy two-year-old son in the locker room. When Adams asked, "Do you want to play with Billy?" the boy quit crying and began to smile. Out of no where, Guerin emerged with a big ball of tape and tossed it to the kid. As Adams was on the ice, his son and Guerin shot the tape ball back and forth to each other with hockey sticks as if they were lifelong friends.

A part of Guerin's game which surprised some folks was his willingness to fight. He wasn't a pure blood and guts battler like Gary Roberts, but he never hesitated to drop the gloves with men much younger than himself. And more often than not, the old man won:

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But as the year wore on, all that fighting and battling for position in front of the net with guys like Chris Pronger seemed to wear out the 39-year-old. He slowed down and his production suffered. In March alone, he only scored two goals. Regardless, he finished the season with 21 goals and 45 points in 78 games.

Come playoff time, Guerin once again found his scoring touch. In the first-round against Ottawa, Guerin had six points in as many games. One of his goals was the team's first goal in a 4-3 comeback series-clinching win in Game 6.

In the second round, Guerin started off well by getting a goal and an assist in Game 1 against the Canadiens, but then he appeared to hit a wall. After a scoreless Game 2, Guerin missed two games due to an injury. He ended up only scoring one more goal as the Penguins were upset by Montreal in seven games.

During the offseason, the Penguins devoted their limited salary cap space to defense. And late in the summer, Ray Shero came to a decision to not re-sign Guerin. A few weeks later, Guerin accepted a tryout offer with the rival Flyers.

In 95 regular season games with the Penguins, Guerin scored 57 points. In 35 postseason games, Guerin scored 24 points, 19th-most in franchise history.

(Photos: First-Peter Diana/Post-Gazette; Second-Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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