"Twenty Years Later" is a segment with a highly unimaginative name which will appear on Empty Netters throughout the 2010-11 season. We will examine the Penguins' 1990-91 season which led to the first Stanley Cup title in franchise history. We will look back on games on a particular date and catch up with former players, coaches, executives and media members who were a part or around that team.
Today, we look at the Penguins' blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers which brought defenseman Jeff Chychrun from Los Angeles and Kjell Samuelsson, right winger Rick Tocchet and goaltender Ken Wregget from Philadelphia. In exchange, defenseman Paul Coffey went to Los Angeles while right winger Mark Recchi went to Philadelphia.
The signature trade of Craig Patrick's career will always be the 1991 deal which brought defensemen Grant Jennings, Ulf Samuelsson and center Ron Francis from Hartford Whalers. The 1992 deal was just as significant in terms of how it impacted the club's second Stanley Cup title in 1992.
The following is a reprint of the Post-Gazette's story on the trade from Feb. 20, 1991.
'Improving our hockey club'
Patrick and Lemieux say 'It's a good deal'
By Tom McMillan
Post-Gazette Sports Writer
Craig Patrick sat back all season watching and waiting and analyzing.
No surprise there. "Patience is what Craig's known for," Penguins defenseman Gordie Roberts said.
But yesterday, suddenly - less than a month before the NHL trade deadline - the quiet general manager dropped a bombshell.
Patrick swung a complex seven-player trade with the Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers, parting with All-Star defenseman Paul Coffey and standout right winger Mark Recchi in an effort to improve the Penguins' size, toughness and defensive ability.
The defending Stanley Cup champions acquired right winger Rick Tocchet, defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, goaltender Ken Wregget and a conditional draft choice from the Philadelphia Flyers and defenseman Jeff Chychrun from the Kings.
"We're moving two quality people, no question, but we wouldn't even consider it if we didn't think we were improving our hockey club," Patrick said.
Reaction was quick - and divided - in the dressing room, because Coffey was one of the team's vocal leaders and Recchi was immensely popular among his teammates.
But the trade got perhaps its strongest endorsement from Penguins captain Mario Lemieux.
"It's a good deal," Lemieux said. "We have to give up two great players, but you have to do that to get some good, quality players in return. It was probably time for a change."
The Penguins, embedded in fourth place of the Patrick Division, were coming off a 7-1 romp of Toronto - their first victory in sevens games - when news of the moves leaked out late Tuesday night.
Rumors of a Coffey trade have been circulating for months, but Patrick insisted he was not pressured by financial concerns or the team's recent slump.
"When we do things like this, we always look at the big picture," said Patrick, who had not made a trade since March 4. "The timing? It was just a matter of all the pieces coming together so that we felt comfortable."
"There were some new things introduced [Tuesday] that had never been discussed before ... and we just feel this gives us better a better chance at repeating as champions."
First, the Penguins sent Coffey to Los Angeles for Chychrun, defenseman Brian Benning and a first-round pick in the 1992 draft.
Then, they packaged Recchi, Benning and the first-round pick to Philadelphia for Tocchet, Samuelsson, Wregget and a conditional draft pick in the 1993 draft.
The new players are expected to be present for tonight's 7:35 game against Quebec at the Civic Arena, although Patrick was unsure if all would play - or even dress.
A brief introduction:
*Tocchet, 27, is a rugged 6-foot 205-pound power forward capable of playing what Patrick calls "a very strong two-way game." He has scored at least 40 goals in a season twice in his career and ran up 301 penalty minutes in 1987-88. But nagged by recent injury problems - including a recent stress fracture of his heel - he has managed just 13 goals and 29 points, with 102 penalty minutes, in 42 games this season.
*Samuelsson, 33, is a 6-6, 235-pound stay-at-home defenseman who often hounded Lemieux in Penguins-Flyers matchups. "He's not overly physical but he takes the body and takes it with force," said Patrick who drafted him for the New York Rangers in 1984. The Penguins' newest European player is no relation to teammate Ulf Samuelsson, although both played for Leksand of the Swedish Elite League in 1983-84. He has four goals, 13 points and 76 penalty minutes in 54 games.
*Wregget, 27, is best know here for stoning the Penguins in Game 7 of the 1989 Patrick Division finals. "He's done extremely well over the years, especially in the playoffs," Patrick said. Wregget, who has a 9-8-3 record and 3.57 goals against mark in 23 games this season, is expected to back up Tom Barrasso in goal. He makes either Wendel Young or Frank Pietrangelo - or both - expendable.
*Chychrun, 25, is a 6-4, 215-pounder who has twice rolled up at least 245 penalty minutes in a season. Patrick described him as a "physcial presnce ... who is not afraid of any altercations," although Chychrun has sometimes been criticized for a lack of aggressiveness. He was hampered by offseason surgery, consisting of a bone graf from his hip to his wrist and affected the past month by the death of his mother. As a result, he has played in just 26 games this season, collecting three assists and 76 penalty minutes.
But Patrick said he is not worried about those recent physical problems.
"We think that what he does is give us a stronger team defense, and we need that," the general manager said.
Recchi, 24, the Penguins' MVP last season, had 33 goals and 70 points - but a plus-minus rating of minus-16 - through 58 games. Coffey, 30, the all-time leading scorer among NHL defensemen, but often a liability in the defensive zone, had 10 points and 63 points in 54 games.
Were salaries a factor? Patrick says no - despite the fact that new owner Howard Baldwin is concerned about the team's skyrocketing payroll, which ranks second in the league.
Coffey ($1.1 million) and Recchi ($900,000) are expected to earn a combined $2 million next season. But Tocchet ($947,000, including some deferred money) Samuelsson ($400,000) Wregget ($300,000) and Chychrun ($175,000 in his option year) are expected to rake in almost $1.9 million.
Despite ongoing rumors, there was no indication that money had changed hands among teams.
"Salaries weren't a consideration in the deal," Patrick said at a press conference in the Igloo Club. "The deal in our opinion improves the areas we wanted to improve. I haven't done all the numbers. We potentially could save some money."
It was almost a year ago, on the eve of the March 5 trading deadline, that Patrick engineered a similar blockbuster deal acquring Ulf Samuelsson, Ron Francis and Grant Jennings from Hartford for John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker.
That added the final pieces to the Penguins first Stanley Cup championship team - and Patrick hopes this deal has an identical effect.
One of the issues, however, will be how interim coach Scotty Bowman integrates thew new players into the lineup with 22 games to play. The late Bob Johnson did a masterful job last season.
"It's difficult be cause players on the team have built up relationships with other guys ... but we just have to get in start pushing like the team did a year ago," Bowman said.
Bowman said he will consider switching Jaromir Jagr from right wing to left wing in an effort to assemble two high-powered offensive lines. If the experiment works, he will have Lemieux centering Joe Mullen and Kevin Stevens and Francis playing between Tocchet and Jagr.
We considered it even before Jagr's suspension," Bowman said. "Jaromir has really come along in leaps and bounds and often times it's really difficult to get enough ice time for [three high-scoring right wingers]."
"If it works, we'd still have Bryan Trottier, Bob Errey, Phil Bourque [for the other lines]. We have the potential of having two strong offensive lines and two really good defensive lines with physical presence. That would be the way to go if we could do it. But we don't want to disrupt Jaromir's style of play."
There is another tantalizing possibility up front - Lemieux, the game's foremost offensive talent, playing between Tocchet and Stevens, two premier power forwards.
Tocchet told Philadelphia reporters that he is looking forward to joining his new team.
"I would have been surprised if the [March 10] trading deadline has passed and I was still in Philadelphia," he said. "I was getting a little stale here."
"I wasn't mentally prepared when I came back from the Canada Cup. And I let wearing the [captain's] C on my sweater affect me. I wasn't playing happy. I started taking the game home with me, which I never used to do."
The Penguins hope a change in scenery will rejuvenate him and other new players - and help fuel another dramatic Cup run.
"You can sit and argue the trade all you want ... but I think it's going to help us," Ulf Samuelsson said. "I think we have the greatest team in the league. It's just a matter of going out and showing everybody now."
(Photo: Penguins Hockey Cards)