On February 15 of that year, Pittsburgh had slipped into 10th place in the Eastern Conference and was in danger of missing the postseason, only a year removed from reaching the Stanley Cup finals.
The Penguins record to that point was 27-25-5 and the prevailing feeling among the Penguins community was a change was needed.
That lead to some interesting questions:
Was coach Michel Therrien the soul bearer of the misfortunes that befell the Penguins that season?
Was GM Ray Shero responsible for the mass exodus of talent that happened the previous summer?
Was Mario Lemieux the man behind the emerald green curtain?
Let’s take a look...
First, for a little context, we need to travel back to the trade deadline a year before.
Shero had his hands full trying to secure a scoring winger to play with Sidney Crosby. There were some options available, but the price of those deals was said to be too steep.
About an hour before the deadline, Shero was told that he had no choice but to secure the scoring winger that the team desired.
Thus the deal with the Atlanta Thrashers was born.
Atlanta Thrashers acquired:
2008 1st round pick (#29-Daultan Leveille)
Many within the Penguins camp suggested that it was Lemieux himself that made the call. Nobody mentioned Mario specifically by name, but all signs pointed to the "Magnificent One".
At the time many felt the price the Penguins had paid for a pending free agent was too much. (History tells us a much different story. MISS YOU PASCAL!)
Fast forward to the offseason:
Marian Hossa defected to the Red Wings on a 1-year deal worth approximately $7.5 million dollars.
Hossa had expressed interest in resigning with the Penguins, motivating GM Shero to offer him a term deal worth around $7 million per season.
However, when it came time to put ink to paper, Hossa jumped ship to the team that he felt had the better chance of capturing a Cup with.
Other key losses that off-season included Ty Conklin, Jarkko Ruutuk, and Georges Laraque.
Compounding the underlying “scoring” issues was defensive depth. Pittsburgh would start the season with their top 2 defencemen on the shelf.
Offensive powerhouse Sergei Gonchar separated his shoulder in the first pre-season game after absorbing a hit into the boards (Gonchar led the reigning Eastern Conference champions in ice time the season before and was third on the team in scoring with 12 goals and 53 assists.) That is a huge hole to fill. (Gonchar would return to the lineup just in time to see the trigger pulled on Therrien’s Penguin tenure)
Ryan Whitney was dealing with issues of his own, after undergoing surgery on his foot.
Being down a high scoring winger and your top 2 D-men would put most teams at a disadvantage. The expectations right out of the gate were high for the Penguins. So when things began to unravel, who’s head was the first one on the block?
Not Ray Shero. He tried to sign Hossa and certainly couldn't be blamed for the injuries and players that signed elsewhere.
Not Lemieux. No one was going to question Mario Lemieux. EVER.
That left Therrien holding the bag.
It is pretty safe to assume that his "hard nose" style left him off many-a Christmas card lists, but did the blame for the Penguins present predicament lay squarely with him? That's open to debate.
At the end of the day, we know how the rest of the season unfolded. After Therrien’s demise, Dan Bylsma would right the ship and Pittsburgh would capture it’s 3rd Cup.
Ray Shero would still be GM. And Mario Lemieux, would be Mario Lemieux.
We may never know who really called the shots that fateful trade deadline day.
It may have been Shero that loaded the gun, but who gave him the bullets?
It’s time to re-seal this #PensTimeCapsule
Thanks for reading.