What Could Have Been: The Best Pittsburgh Penguins To Never Win a Stanley Cup
There have been some lean years of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey.
Years of fans burying their heads in the sand. Penguins fans call those years 2003-06. I'm sure there were other eras of awful Pens hockey, but I only care about what I've seen in my lifetime. I doubt that anyone who can remember the 1970s and early 1980s reads this anyway.
While the span of 2003-06 may have been the most depressing, the stretch of 1993-2001 may have been the most disappointing for the organization and its fans. Teams laden with talent in those years were one solid key component away from winning Stanley Cups. Instead, they were upset in the playoffs and left the Penguins faithful wondering what could have been.
We can all rhyme off dozens of names of Penguins players etched on the Stanley Cup. Lemieux, Jagr, Crosby, Malkin, Barrasso, Stevens, Fleury, Gonchar and, well, you get the picture. However, there were a few All-Star players who passed through the Steel City who never had the opportunity to raise that beautiful piece of silver over their heads.
In no particular order, this is their story.
While Darius Kasparaitis will never be confused with Paul Coffey or Raymond Bourque, during his stay in Pittsburgh, he was an important piece of the defence.
Kasparaitis played his best hockey as a member of the Penguins, and will always be remembered for scoring the overtime goal that beat Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001. The Pens went on to lose to a far superior Devils squad in five games.
Fact is, that is likely the only goal you remember Darius scoring. More known for his hits and mouth, he was never an offensive wizard on the backend.
A lot of newer Penguins fans may not know this name, but any list like this one has to include Rob Brown, the ying to Mario's yang in the late 1980s.
Brown spent parts of seven seasons with the Penguins in two different stints with the club. His best two seasons were 1988-89 and 1989-90, when he amassed an impressive 115 points each year (and 49 goals in 1988-89) playing alongside Lemieux.
Unfortunately for Rob, he was shipped off to Hartford before he and the Penguins enjoyed any kind of playoff success.
Brown is also remembered for his windmill celebrations after scoring a goal. Ron Hextall never really appreciated it. Go to YouTube and search for "Ron Hextall and Rob Brown" and you'll see what I mean.
Martin Straka was a ridiculously gifted offensive talent and a dynamic two-way player. The guy just could not stay healthy.
Straka was part of some impressive AND awful Penguins' teams from 1997 to 2004. His best personal season was 2001-02, when he put up 95 points and was bolstered by the comeback of Mario Lemieux.
However, just as it was for the team as a whole, it was a struggle after that. Injuries started mounting and the Penguins had guys like Konstantin Koltsov, Rico Fata and Brian Holzinger on their roster.
Pittsburgh teams of the late 1990s were riddled with offensive prowess but had guys like Bobby Dollas and Brad Werenka playing defence. Pens fans won't forget Straka's game-winner in the dying minutes of Game 7 of the 1999 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the heavily favoured Devils
Straka is my all-time favourite Penguin not named Lemieux, Barrasso or Gonchar.
You can't have this list include Straka and not Alex Kovalev.
Before "Kovy" was the Habs and Sens whipping boy, he was ours, and was a fan favourite. Impressive.
And while we're at it, HE was the original "Kovy." Call Ilya Kovalchuk "Chuk" or something.
Anyway, he spent five years with the Penguins, the best of which were 1999-00 and 2000-01, when he scored 94 and 96 points respectively. Then, much like the Straka tale, it was all downhill from there.
Kovalev was part of a mass exodus of talent and salary in 2002-03 as the Penguins did their best Montreal Expos impersonation.
Kovy has won a Stanley Cup. He took care of that in his sophmore season with the New York Rangers in 1993-94.
Fact: At one point, had the best wrist shot in the NHL.
Honourable Mentions: Petr Nedved and Robert Lang
Nedved only played two seasons as a Penguin, but is part of one of the greatest games and goals in franchise history.
His quadruple-overtime game-winner against Washington in the 1996 playoffs was the icing on his career season of 99 points.
If Nedved wasn't so hellbent on money, he might still be playing in the NHL. He was that gifted offensively. However, his constant holdouts became tiring, and general managers across the league eventually wouldn't touch him. He's plying his trade in Europe somewhere.
Again, Nedved isn't going to be confused with the likes of Mario, Jagr and Stevens. But, like Kasparaitis, his monumental goal gives him an honourable mention.
Robert Lang falls in line with the likes of Straka and Kovalev. Part of the offensively skilled/defensively poor Penguins clubs of the late 1990's and part of the salary dumping in 2002-03.
While not up to par with his two teammates' totals, his numbers were nothing to scoff at as a Penguin. His best year, like Straka and Kovalev's, was 2000-01, when he tallied 80 points in 82 games. It is amazing the things that happen when the face of the franchise decides to come out of retirement.