[From the "Once a Penguin" Site Archives]
The year was 1985, the date was April 27 and I was four years old and not writing blog posts.
Times in Pittsburgh were tough.
Even though Mario Lemieux was beginning to alter the landscape of hockey in Pittsburgh. Rumours began to circulate around the NHL that teams were interested in the rights to Mario Lemieux.
The Penguins were experiencing a cash crunch, the sharks smelled blood and began circle the igloo.
Lemieux had just finished up his rookie campaign and was the heavy favourite to capture the Calder trophy after his scoring 100 points (43 goals, 57 assists) in 73 games.
So when the Carling O’Keefe brewing company, owner of the Quebec Nordiques at the time suggested that the rights to Mario Lemieux were worth around 5 million dollars people listened.
What would make Lemieux worth 5 million?
His popularity in the Province of Quebec and the marketing potential that followed behind it. (on a side note I remember seeing Mario grace a bottle of Aqua Velva in 1995 at a store near my high school)
Marketing a French player to a French audience provided many exciting possibilities.
Another reason O’Keefe was so O’keen(sorry, I had to go for it) on acquiring Lemieux was they wanted to put him on the same team(same line ?) as fellow French Canadian and all time great Michel Goulet.
Imagine the nightmares those two would have caused for goaltenders around the league.
I can almost hear the French commentators calling the action now.
“Goulet à Lemieux. Il tire, il marque.”
A team housing 2 of the best French-Canadian players would not only elevate the status of the Nordiques to an elite level, but also provide some much needed levity to the battle of Quebec that that Nords were fighting against the Les Canadiens at the time.
When Nordiques team President Marcel Aubut was questioned about the possibility of the O’keefe deal coming to pass. He simply answered “I don’t think John Ziegler (League President) would even allow a trade involving the Penguins”.
So that was that. Then end of the Lemieux and Province of Quebec romance. Over as quick as it began as many great relationships are
Many, still felt that the tension between the Pens/Lemieux and the current financial situation of the Penguins would necessitate a trade to the Nordiques/Canadiens, it would not transpire.
Hey at least we got some Aqua Velva: