The Departed - Arron Asham - 07-23-12

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 Arron Asham.

In the summer of 2010, general manager Ray Shero used up most of his salary cap space on the first day of free agency by signing two of the biggest targets on the free agent market in Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. The moves were logical given the Penguins' deficiencies on defense.

Nearly two months later, Shero made another signing which was curious to most when he inked Arron Asham.

Didn't the Penguins already have a guy like Asham in Matt Cooke? Someone who was a fierce forechecker who would contribute the occasional goal?

Also, there was was that whole, "accusing Matt Cooke of biting me" thing that occurred midway through the 2009-10 season while Asham was a member of the Flyers.

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Shero made Asham a member of the Penguins in late August of 2010. In doing so, he was adding a solid fourth-line player who was coming off a surprisingly productive postseason when the Flyers made a run at the Stanley Cup in 2010.

Asham and Cooke made nice during training camp and were teamed up on a line with Maxime Talbot that had the makings of being one of the most agitating trios in the NHL. Any plans for that were derailed in the preseason when a shoulder injury forced Asham to miss the first nine games of the regular season. Asham would return in late October and showed off what offensive skill he did have when he set up Talbot for a goal in a 3-0 win at Carolina, Oct. 30:

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Injuries and other factors led to Asham working on a line with Evgeni Malkin for a handful of games. During 7-4 loss to the Bruins, Nov. 10, Asham scored his first goal as a Penguin cleaning up a loose puck and putting it behind all-star goaltender Tim Thomas in the first period:

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Asham displayed off his most valued asset - his toughness - in the second period when he fought a larger man in Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid:

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Later that period, Asham supplemented that by placing massive power forward Milan Lucic into the Penguins' bench with a hit:

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November would turn out to be Asham's most productive month of the season as he collected three goals and two assists. His most impressive goal might have been this blistering slapper he put behind goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff in a 4-1 defeat of the Flames, Nov. 27:

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Regardless of any offensive production he provided, Asham's primary purpose was to play physical. That type of play did take its toll on Asham's body however and he would end up missing 21 games in February and March due to a concussion. By the time he returned to the lineup, quite a bit had happened to the Penguins including a season-ending injury to Malkin, a season-ending suspension to Cooke as well as a disgusting display of hockey in a 9-3 loss to the Islanders Feb. 11 which degraded to WWE brawl-fest.

Present for the highly-anticipated rematch April 8 on Long Island, Asham took forward Zenon Konopka, one of the principal actors in the Feb. 11 battle royale, to task:

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The Penguins would win the game, 4-3, in a shootout.

Once the postseason began, Asham, a year removed from his a strong effort in the playoffs for the Flyers, emerged as the Penguins' best offensive weapon. This was partly due to Asham stepping up his game but it was mostly by default as the Penguins were missing several offensive weapons, most notably Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

In Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Lightning, a 3-0 win, Asham scored on a move which Malkin or Crosby would have been jealous of:

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Asham would finish that series as the Penguins leading goal-scorer with three goals. Not coincidentally, those were the only three games the Penguins would win that series as they lost to the Lightning in seven games.

During the 2011 offseason, the Penguins faced the prospect of losing several of their muckers and grinders such as Talbot and Mike Rupp to free agency. Shero opted to re-sign Asham due in part to his effort in the postseason. As he entered the 2011-12 season, his role had a clearer definition as a fourth-line banger and crasher and de facto enforcer. Early in the campaign, Asham's arguably most iconic moment as a Penguins came while he served that role.

In a 3-2 overtime loss to the Capitals at home Oct. 13, Capitals forward Jay Beagle got a hand up into the face of Penguins all-star defenseman Kris Letang. Asham challenged Beagle and injured him badly in a fight. Afterwards, Asham mocked Beagle with a "sleeping" gesture:

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Asham apologized for the post-fight display and even referred to it as "classless." After that, it was pretty clear Asham had his teammate's backs for any transgression. Asham turned down no challenger regardless of size. In a 5-3 loss at Carolina Nov. 12, Asham chopped down 6-foot-5 defenseman Bryan Allen:

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In a re-match with the Capitals in Washington Dec. 1, Capitals defenseman John Erskine sought revenge for his teammate Beagle. Asham was more than willing to engaged the 6-foot-4 blue liner:

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Asham's offensive skill was overshadowed a bit by his physical play. But he still came up with key goals. Two nights after battling Erskine, he blasted a go-ahead goal in a 3-2 win at Carolina against goaltender Brian Boucher:

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His rough and tumble ways eventually caught up to Asham as he would suffer a concussion in mid-January and missed 11 games. When he returned in mid-February, the Penguins were in the midst of a torrid streak which saw them earn points in 15 of 16 games. One of the wins in that streak was a 5-1 victory at Colorado where Asham cranked a slap shot by goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere:

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Towards the end of the regular season, at the end of a one-sided 6-4 home loss to the rival Flyers April 1, Penguins forward Joe Vitale touched off  brawl when he plastered Flyers forward Daniel Briere to the ice with a shoulder check. All five skaters on the ice squared off to varying degree. Asham went after Flyers forward Brayden Schenn with vigor. After tensions cooled down for a bit, Asham tried to square off with Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo but was held off by a gaggle of officials who sent both players to the showers early:

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The Penguins would face the Flyers in the postseason. With the teams waging a one-sided special teams battle in the Flyers favor, Asham's playing time and his chances to contribute were limited. Ultimately, his sense of duty as the team's enforcer would lead to his final act as a Penguin. In Game 3 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, an 8-4 rout by the Flyers, April 15, Schenn decked Penguins defenseman Paul Martin with a high hit. Asham sought revenge and ended up cross checking Schenn in the neck and socked him in the head:

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Asham was ejected from the game and received a four-game suspension for his actions. His season was finished as the Penguins went down in six games to their bitter rivals.

Two and a half months later, the Penguins opted not to re-sign Asham and he joined the Rangers as a free agent.

In two seasons with the Penguins, Asham appeared in 127 regular season games, scored 27 points and recorded 122 penalty minutes. Unofficially, he had a 10-1-3 record in his 14 official fights as a Penguin.

Asham started as a question mark with the Penguins when he signed as a free agent. Over time, he became a surprising source of offense and ultimately served as the unquestioned enforcer who had his teammates' back.

(Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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