March 4th, 1991, seemingly a typical Monday 28 years ago, will go down in history as one of the biggest, franchise defining moments for both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Hartford Whalers. While there were many other trades, draft picks, and acquisitions in those late 80s-early 90s years, this trade spawned a couple Stanley Cup Championships and many years of Penguin dominance in both their division and conference while assisting in the eventual demise of the brass bonanza in Hartford.
|1992-93 Fleer Ultra|
In the press, The Hockey News gave the edge to Hartford. The Hartford Courant spun the trade as something positive for the organization and they could only get better. Both Ed Johnston and team owner Richard Gordon, believed it was a great deal as well. Johnston even went on to say that he thought Cullen and Francis were equal, in terms of play and ability. In an interview with NHL.com back in 2006, then Pens radio announcer Paul Steigerwald was quoted as saying, “People were saying that in Hartford,” in reference to the Whalers coming out on top. “They had soured on Ronnie Francis and Ulfie was talking about going back to Sweden because he was so upset.” Well, those “glass is half full” people in Hartford were wrong.
It's true though that Ron Francis had begun to fall out of favor with the organization and coaching staff. Head coach Rick Ley even stripped him of his captains “C” earlier in the season and gave it to Pat Verbeek (Ley was subsequently fired at the end of the season). Both Jennings and Samuelsson were seen as expendable because the Whalers needed offensive minded defenseman and grinders, which fit the style of play for both Double Z and Jeff Parker. The Whalers also sought to get younger and that helped.
In the short term…
Pittsburgh played out the rest of the season 9-3-2, winning their division. Francis posted 11 points, while Samuelsson had five and Jennings four. Both Ulfie and Grant racked up a ton of PIMs in only 14 games, as expected, showing their willingness to do the dirty work the Penguins needed. Pittsburgh won out their playoff matchups and went on to earn their first ever Stanley Cup in franchise history. For Hartford, Cullen chipped in 16 points in the last 13 games and helped Hartford push into the playoffs, eventually losing to Boston in the first round.
In the long term…
The Penguins did not miss the playoffs again until the 2001-02 season!
That's right! 10 straight years of playoff appearances. Ron Francis played eight of those seasons for Pittsburgh, scoring 613 points in 533 regular season games and another 100 points in 97 playoff games. Oh, and did I mention he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2017 in his first year of eligibility? Ulf played another four seasons for the Pens, racking up 804 PIMs, 94 points (28% of his career total), received his second Norris Trophy nod (he didn’t win) and finished 11th in defensive voting for the 1992-93 All Star Game. He also cemented his legacy as one of the most feared (polarizing) big-men in the league (just ask any Bruins fan). Grant Jennings played a total of 198 games over another 3 ½ seasons with Pittsburgh, racking up 357 PIMs and playing some memorable playoff games.
|1994-95 Be A Player Autograph|
|2012-13 Panini Classics Signatures|
Advantage = Pittsburgh