February 28, 2012 Leave a comment
This article is in honor of the X-Pens: players who have moved on in recent years after spending some time playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While there are some players who we as Penguins’ fans want to entirely disavow (like that bloated train-wreck you dated for three months during Sophomore year, or Marian Hossa), there are other players who contributed months or years of fine service playing for Pittsburgh. In the Salary Cap era, player turnover is incredibly high, and it seems like the team bids adieu to essential pieces of the puzzle every year.
Still, they are gone but not forgotten, and more often than not they find new homes in the League. For more casual hockey fans who do not get to see as much of the League on the whole, here’s the latest news on some of the more beloved X-Pens:
Mark Letestu, AKA BDP #10/#17
Mark Letestu, Big Dick Playa, was only a member of the team for one season and change, but in that time he endeared himself the Penguins’ faithful with his on-ice intelligence and quiet confidence and optimism off-the-ice.
BDP was dealt recently to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a 4th-round pick, who at the time of this writing are the flat-out worst team in the NHL.
There are two ways to look at the deal: on one hand, you want to congratulate Showtime Ray Shero for extracting a 4th-round pick from a bottom-feeding team in exchange for an undrafted free agent. When healthy, the Pens are extremely deep at Center, and it’s a strong commentary on Showtime’s ability to build an organization that he can deal a player like BDP so cavalierly.
On the other hand, this almost feels like highway robbery by Columbus, as they’re getting an extremely competent player just barely entering his second NHL season. BDP has been characterized as a “Top 9″ forward, with the implication being that he has more skill than the typical NHL third-liner but less than a bona-fide top-6 forward. BDP is indisputably a very intelligent playmaker and an above-average, right-shot face-off man; in Columbus, he’ll likely end up eventually centering a scoring line in Columbus, making the trade an outstanding value from CBJ’s perspective.
Showtime has done an artful job recently of making sure that the X-Pens end up in the Western Conference, where we don’t have to play against them four or six times per seasons. Pens’ fans will undoubtedly keep tabs on BDP, who will likely help Columbus right the ship to a large degree in the future.
Every team needs players like him; fortunately for the Pens, we just have the Best Two in the World in front of him (to say nothing of future Selke winner Jordan Staal)
Alex Goligoski, AKA Gogo #3/#13
You have to give to get, and Gogo was the price the Pens paid to acquire James Neal and Matty Niskanen. You do that trade eight days a week.
Having said that, it’s not like Pens’ fans were thrilled to send Gogo out the door. He was superfluous as our fifth defenseman, but he was an emerging Power Play force and an obvious contributor to the team. His arrival enabled the team to trade Ryan Whitney for Chris Kunitz, which one could argue is was a key difference beween losing in the ’08 Cup Finals and winning the ’09 Cup.
It’s easy to continue to root for Gogo, as he was an affable, quiet guy while here and was sent to a relatively benign rival in Dallas. I expect him to get a warm welcome for the next several years when the Stars are in Pittsburgh, just as I expect him to be an annual Western Conference All-Star and U.S. Olympian in 2014.
(Side note: I predict the U.S. Olympic Defensemen in 2014 will be The Candyman, Snake Martin, Gogo, Jack Johnson, Whits, Erik Johnson, Tim Gleason, and John Carlson. USA Hockey continues to wait for Erik Johnson to turn into the best Defenseman in the League, so he’s in. Candy has established himself as one of the most underrated overall defenders in the League, and Whits has continued to round out the defensive side of his game. I love that Pittsburgh will potentially account for five players on the squad, not to mention Bugsy Malone)
Mike Rupp, AKA Rupper #17/#71
Rupper received a healthy raise from the Rangers, and no one with an iota of common sense would begrudge him for signing the two-year, $3 million dollar deal he got from New York.
Rupper was a solid citizen and from all accounts a great guy in the locker room. On the ice, he was a menace behind the net and along the boards, not to mention a handful in front of the net on the second power play unit.
Currently, Rupper is part of a very successful Rangers’ team. He is a favorite of coach John Tortorella for his professionalism in the room and his commitment to the defensive side of the puck. Additionally, he’s known for popping in a big goal or two:
(After the game, Jagr got on the team plane and blogged in his live journal on his lavender Mac about Rupper mocking his salute)
At the pay raise the Rangers gave him, he obviously did not fit Showtime’s Salary Cap structure. Being ticky-tack about it, Rupper also was not an ideal skater for the Disco Forecheck, and in season two of his Pens’ contract, he was a huge fan of neutral and offensive-zone stick penalties.
Still, even though he plays up the road in NYC, I’m always pulling for Rupper to put in a goal or two, as long as Hank Lundqvist lets in two or three. Strangely, neither event happens all that often.
Max Talbot, AKA Talbo #25/#27
Little needs to be said about what Max contributed to the ’09 Cup run and to the community while he was here. Seeing him in a Flyers’ uniform is still awful and cringe-inducing, like seeing your ex dating your cousin you don’t like.
Like Rupper, no Penguins’ fan with a monkey’s grasp on economics would begrudge Talbo for accepting a borderline-ludicrous five-year, $9 million dollar deal from Philadelphia. Max is actually having a very good season for the Flyers, although it may not matter because of the Flyers’ 33rd Annual Goaltender Implosion.
So you can’t be too hard on Max for taking the money, especially when Showtime didn’t offer him anything comparable. And aside from those two goals in Game 7 of a 2-1 Stanley Cup Finals win, this commerical is still gold, mostly because Geno’s Landlord Sarge orders him to go get the car:
Ryan Whitney, AKA Whits #19/#6
Whits always got a bad rap in Pittsburgh because he wasn’t an Axe-murderer in front of his own net. Noted coaching legend Michael Therrien really drove this point into the ground with his “soffest defense in da League” comments and his occasional placement of Whits on the 4th-Line Left Wing.
I was always pretty high on Whits – the man is a breakout machine and an elite skater. If he was 5’10, he’d be regarded a perennial All-Star; because he’s 6’4, people are always ragging on his lack of physicality relative to other men his size.
When he was last seen in Pittsburgh, he was being exposed defensively in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final against Detroit. He played a few games into the following season, by which point it became apparent that the Pens needed some help up front in the worst way. Whits was dealt to Anaheim for Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi.
Straight up, I would do Whits-for-Kuni eight-days-a-week. That’s no slight to Whits, but having had the opportunity to watch Kuni over the last few years, I’ve developed a great appreciation for his polished offensive game and thunderous hitting ability. He’s an excellent fit for the Showtime-Disco era Pens. If the Pens get anything at all out of Big Dawg Tangradi, Showtime wins that trade by a landslide.
Meanwhile, Whits ended up in Edmonton, where he has since revitalized his game. The Oilers are likely to make some noise in the next few years, and Whits is now a poised veteran voice on an extremely young team. Aside from that, as written above I fully anticipate Whits making the 2014 U.S. Olympic team in Sochi. The only reasons Pens’ fans would have not to root for Whits would be if the Pens play the Oilers in the 2014 SCF, or if he somehow makes his way back to the Eastern Conference.
Colby Armstrong, AKA Army #20/#9
If you can’t tell, Army’s the one spread-eagle in the middle.
Army has a Twilight-like following among post-lockout Pens’ fans, who watched in horror as he was the centerpiece of the 2008 trade with Atlanta for Pascal Dupuis and some garden gnome-looking cocksucker whose name I can’t remember.
Anyone who has been a Pens’ fan since 2008 remembers exactly where they were when they heard we traded Army, in the same way older people can tell you exactly where they were when John Kennedy was shot. 2008 was the team’s first big push, and while more experienced Pens’ fans were used to Craig Patrick economics such as selling Alexei Kovalev for 30 Pieces of Silver (more on that in a moment), the average Pens’ fan in 2008 pretty much assumed Army was an integral and untouchable part of the core. We were mistaken.
(Note: I could not find a pic or a clip, but any Pens’ fan watching coverage that day will remember how furious happy-go-lucky Jordan Staal looked when answering questions about the trade)
Army is a good 3rd-line NHL player, who in a career season can get a team 20 or 22 goals if given plenty of Power Play time. Army seems to be extremely popular wherever he goes, and Pens’ fans turn into menstrual, misty-eyed Kate Winslet-in-Titanic drama queens whenever he makes an appearance. Here’s a serenade from one Pens’ fan:
Army became somewhat redundant because Showtime knew that he not only had Duper coming back the other way, but also that Tyler Kennedy would be taking a role on the 3rd Line in the very-near future. While the trade was not at-all popular at the time, it did get the Pens within two games of winning the 2008 Stanley Cup Final.
Army landed in Toronto, when in the Summer of 2010 Brian Burke handed him a then-obscene contract worth $3 million per season. Subsequent NHL player contracts have made that deal look tame by comparison, but the money effectively priced Army out of the Pens’ budget. At the time, there had been some thought that Army would flee Atlanta and come running back to Pittsburgh, and it was a bit of let-down on July 1st when the news broke that he signed for three years in Toronto.
(Note: as of this writing, Army has 1 goal for Toronto. He’s been injured most of the season, but still…)
The Pens see Army four times per year now, and while Bibs Errey tries to keep his voice from cracking with emotion every time Army makes a play, most Pens’ fans are usually pretty pleased to see him… as long as he isn’t trying to put Sid through the end-boards.
Eric Christiansen, AKA Crusher #16/#13
People were sad to see Crusher leave in the Dupuis trade, but grown men weren’t bawling in the street like they were for Army. Crusher was a center on a team that employs Sid, Geno, and Jordan Staal; a trade was simply a better career opportunity for him.
Crusher also went to Atlanta in the Pascal Dupuis trade. After bouncing around a bit, Crusher has now landed in Minnesota, where former Pens’ staffers Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher had hoped to catch lightning in a bottle. Alas, since his mid-season trade from New York, Crusher has no points in eleven games yet has managed to earn a minus-9 (!) rating.
Four years later, he’s having the same problems he was having in Pittsburgh: too skilled and slight for a defensive assignment, but not quite enough offensive consistency for a regular top-6 role. I keep waiting for Crusher to put it together and find an NHL home, but he’s now on his fifth team and he’s been waived twice.
Ryan Malone, AKA Bugsy #12
Bugsy is a lightning rod (no pun intended) in Pittsburgh. While many appreciate the grit he played with, particularly during the 2008 SCF run, most simply remember that he left the team for a monstrous contract with Tampa Bay. While the circumstances weren’t of his choosing, that didn’t stop videos like the one below from being made:
I don’t have the distaste for Bugsy that many Pittsburghers do, mainly because he represented the USA in Vancouver and very likely will do the same in Sochi 2014. You know how I feel about the U.S. Olympians. While I’m eternally grateful that Showtime paid the Candyman instead of Bugsy, I do keep an eye out for his name in the Tampa Bay box scores. Only a moron would can deny that he played his heart out during the ’08 Cup run, and Pens; fans owe him respect for that:
Rob “The Piece” Scuderi & Hal “Harold” Gill
More on how Scuds got his nickname:
“The Piece” was of course integral to the 2009 Stanley Cup victory. While Scuds and the Pens both wanted him to stay in Pittsburgh, in the Summer of 2009 the LA Kings offered him an annual salary of $3.4 million over four years, more than the Pens could budget for and certainly a contract they couldn’t begrudge him for accepting. Scuds continues his ninja-defensive game in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, his running mate Harold, the USS Gill, went to Montreal. He was huge in shutting down the Pens during the 2010 playoffs. He recently was dealt to Nashville to help that team with a presumed Cup run. He remains an absolute mountain of a man.
Here’s a video of Scuds and Hal:
Petr Sykora, AKA Syky #17
“I’ve got one in me.”
Sergei Gonchar, AKA Sarge #55
There are a ton of excellent Sarge & Geno pictures on the internet, but I’m partial to this one.
Sarge was the Pens’ marquee signing of the post-lockout free agency period. After years of cutting coupons and having to sell of his players for baskets full of chocolate coins, former Penguins’ GM/shiftless cough-syrup abuser Craig Patrick went a little bananas on July 1st, 2005, promptly offering former Capitals/Bruins defenseman Sergei Gonchar a five-year/$25 million-dollar contract.
While the first year after the Lockout was a bit of an adjustment for him (Gonchar, two minutes for hooking), Sarge served dutifully for five years before the Summer of 2010, when he and his agent insisted on a three-year contract for the then-35 year old. This made Showtime leery, and Sarge did indeed get his three-year, $16.5 million-dollar deal from the fiscally-irresponsible Ottawa Senators. He is currently contributing to a surprising Ottawa team and on pace for his standard 40 points, although I would bet the farm he is in the League’s Top 5 players for Ruple-Hunting secondary assists.
While Sarge continues to show disdain and non-chalance when in the defensive zone, no contemporary Pens’ fans will forget his bullet-shot from the right point:
Alexei Kovalev, AKA Kovy #27
(Mario, Kovy and Robert Lang are fighting each other over who has to hug Jagr)
I know he really isn’t in keeping with the spirit of the article, but Kovy’s a Penguin and we all know it. While he waits for NHL teams to call, he’s hard at work in the KHL: http://en.khl.ru/players/13848/
Mark Recchi, AKA The Wrecking Ball AKA Wrecks #8
I prefer to remember Wrecks as the consistent, pesky producer that helped the Pens’ win the 1991 Stanley Cup, rather than the churlish old fella who eventually found himself scratched and waived under the regime of Iron Mike Therrien:
There are mixed reports on how receptive he was to Sid Crosby during Sid’s rookie year; one story had him tearing into Crosby after Sid scored the OT winner in Philadelphia over a bullshit penalty Sid took earlier in the game. More on the spat here:
Regardless, Wrecks and the Penguins’ organization no longer have the chummy relationship they once did, and that’s a shame. Everyone says all the right things publically, but you don’t see Wrecks in Mario’s box next to Tie Domi and Billy Guerin the way you would have expected to.
Wrecks of course won a Cup with the Bruins in 2011, and listening to him on NBC Sports he clearly self-identifies with being a Bruin. That’s fine, and I’m sure in a few years he’ll appear at one of Mario’s functions and eventually have his name inducted into the Pens’ Ring of Honor. It’s just too bad a Pens’ mainstay was so badly put off.
Guys not worth remembering
Hey, since the Lockout, these guys have been Pittsburgh Penguins: Nils Ekman (WTF?), Jon Sim, Ronald Petrovicky, Chris Thorburn, Noah Welch, Joel Kwiatkowski, Karl Stewart, the million-dollar goon Andre Roy, and the corpse of John LeClair. Showtime was going through his, “I want to test the Young Core by surrounding them with the least-talented professionals possible while saving money for their eventual paydays” phase. He has since gotten much better about surround Sid, Geno, et al with competant help.
And just look at the Murderers’ Row in 2005-06, AKA the final year of Club Mario:
Guys worth forgetting
* Marian Hossa is a front-running Dome-slut, the name taken from those scientist chicks in the cinematic master-piece Bio-Dome. In the film, the science girls shamelessly switch teams from the “snooty academics” side to the “laid-back gnarly dudes” side after Pauly Shore and Daniel Baldwin get the Bio-Dome up and running:
Hossa, who jumped from Pittsburgh to Detroit and then Detroit to Chicago in his shameless effort to hang on the coat-tails of a Cup winner, is not worth remembering as a Penguin. I remind you that Showtime Shero handily won that trade based on the fact that the team won a Cup with and still employ “the Flying Frenchman” Pascal Dupuis.
* Jagr = Balls on chin.
* Dominic Moore is like bubble-gum-flavored ice cream: most people have had it, but nobody likes it and no one wants to have it again.
* Michel Ouellet, “the French Brett Hull”, has cropped up on more than one NHL roster since the Pens’ non-tendered him. Most Pens’ fans want to forget that he managed to linger among our Top-6 forwards for almost three years. He currently plays for the Norfolk Admirals and has to endure furtive, sweaty glance from Michel Therrien on a nightly basis. Check out Iron Mike’s flirty look:
* Reports are mixed on how Georges Laraque conducted himself while he was here. Most fans will agree that he did not make enough plays or fight enough to justify his salary. In his defense, he’s was the reigning heavyweight of the League and very few would fight him, but he also was not a very active deterrant to the abuse Sid and Geno took early in their careers.
* Dan Carillo was a Penguin. Here, read about how he tried to fight Sid on the first day of training camp 2007, AKA Edzo’s House of Pain: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1129&dat=20050920&id=6OdRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=4XADAAAAIBAJ&pg=4805,8729435
* Worth keeping an eye on is former Penguins’ General Manager and computer-illiterate NyQuil fiend Craig Patrick, who recently resurfaced in Columbus after five years of collecting unemployment and living in Mario’s pool-house.
CP is worth keeping an eye on because it is highly unlikely he has gotten less incompetent during his five-year hiatus of Grand Marnier-funneling and utter refusal to learn what Windows Explorer is. To wit, just look at his non-sensical history of trading here: http://pittsburghhockey.net/old-site/PensPages/transactions.html (note: this site is Awesome).
That doesn’t even include his Draft History, which can be seen here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pittsburgh_Penguins_draft_picks. A literal Penguin, fresh from the zoo and eating chilled sardines, could have done a more adequate and consistent job selecting prospects by waving his wings at player pictures than CP did at the helm.
I’m surprised he remembered which team he was picking for, given that he bought and consumed all of the cough medicine from a local Walgreens just moments prior.
Let’s Go X-Pens