Pittsburgh Penguins - Greatest Sports Franchises
Pittsburgh Penguins - Greatest Sports Franchises

Pittsburgh Penguins - Greatest Sports Franchises

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Pittsburgh was awarded an expansion team by the National Hockey League in time for the 1967-68 season, and christened their team the Penguins as a nod to their arena – affectionately referred to as the Igloo. It was a while before the team saw any real success; but in 1984, they had the first pick of the Entry Draft and chose Mario Lemieux. He became the franchise star, and later its savior when he came on as part-owner after the team's near-bankruptcy. Other star players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-André Fleury have made this one impressive club. In this video, continues our series on the Greatest Sports Franchises of All Time with a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

History of the Pittsburgh Penguins

This was the first NHL team to visit the White House after winning the Stanley Cup. Welcome to, and today we’ll be continuing our series of the most successful sports franchises with a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Early Years

Pittsburgh was given an NHL team for the 1967-68 season, after years of lobbying by senator Jack McGregor. Because the club played at the Mellon Arena, otherwise known as the Igloo, they were nicknamed the Penguins.

Michel Brière

In 1969, the Pens drafted star Michel Brière, and he excelled during the next year’s playoffs. But tragedy struck that off-season when Brière was in a car crash that resulted in a year-long coma and his eventual death.

Financial Problems

Financial trouble soon plagued the team, and by 1975 it looked like the Pens would either collapse or move. But somehow the club made it out of the ‘70s alive.

Uniform Change

For a fresh start, the Penguins started the 1980s by requesting a color change for their uniforms – from blue and white to the black and gold seen on all other Pittsburgh sports teams. While the Boston Bruins claimed they had a monopoly on those colors, the league ultimately sided with the Pens.

Mario Lemieux

Despite the change, the early ‘80s were a disaster. But, that got the franchise the number one pick at the 1984 Entry Draft and with it they selected Mario Lemieux. In his NHL debut, he scored on the first shot of his first shift.

Lemieux’s Records

The records piled up: for example, on December 31st, 1988 Lemieux scored on even strength, shorthanded, on a penalty shot, on the power play, and in an empty net, and became the first NHL player to manage all five scenarios in one game.


Alongside Lemieux, talent like Paul Coffey, Kevin Stevens, Rob Brown and goalie Tom Barrasso finally helped the Pens make the playoffs in 1989.

First Ever Stanley Cup

After that impressive postseason berth, the franchise added help like Mark Recchi, Ulf Samuelsson, Bryan Trottier and Jaromir Jagr. That line-up became the first in team history to win a Stanley Cup when the Penguins beat the Minnesota North Stars in 1991.

Coaching Change

However, tragedy struck again when coach Bob Johnson succumbed to cancer. Scotty Bowman took over, and led the Penguins to repeat as champs in 1992.

Lemieux’s Cancer

Cancer soon hit again: Lemieux missed 24 games and two months after his 1993 Hodgkin’s disease diagnosis, but returned to win the scoring championship and lead his team to the President’s Trophy. Lemieux retired in 1997, and was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lemieux Saves the Team Again

He wasn’t gone long before he became the franchise savior. In 1998, the Penguins filed for Chapter 11. Lemieux agreed to convert the $30 million in deferred salary he was owed to equity, and he returned as part-owner. He then came out of retirement on December 27th, 2000 to become the first player-owner in NHL history.

New Generation

After a few unsuccessful years, the team rebuilt by drafting goalie Marc-André Fleury and forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. Lemieux retired for good in January 2006 as one of the most talented players in history.

Another Stanley Cup

The Pens soon reclaimed Lord Stanley: to end the 2008-09 season, they fought from a 0-2 deficit against the Detroit Red Wings, and managed a game seven win thanks to Max Talbot’s clutch goals.

New Arena

The Penguins’ future in Pittsburgh was guaranteed when they got a new home in the Consol Energy Center. Despite injury-riddled seasons, they remained competitive and often clashed with rivals like the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.


Because of their unwillingness to fold, the Pittsburgh Penguins remain one of the greatest franchises of all-time.