It all goes back to Jeff Norton.
Even though he only played 32 forgettable games as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins 20 years ago, the current roster still has a tie to Jeff Norton.
You probably do not remember Jeff Norton, and that is okay. He is a classic “remember that guy?” type of player, and one that made a minimal impact in his extremely brief time with the team.
Let’s dive in to what is currently the longest active trade tree the Penguins have.
November 14, 2000: Pittsburgh Penguins sign Jeff Norton following a rash of injuries to their defense (Janne Laukkenen, Bob Boughner, and Ian Moran were all injured within a week of each other). They also traded a ninth-round pick for Dan Trebil on this day, with Trebil later being traded for Marc Bergevin. But that is something else entirely. Just showing the level of need they had for defenders at the time.
March 12, 2001: At the trade deadline the Penguins were in need of a goalie upgrade, and instead of pursuing an established starter, they dug deep into San Jose’s farm system and acquired Johan Hedberg (and defenseman Bobby Dollas) in exchange for Norton.
August 25, 2003: After spending parts of three seasons in Pittsburgh as the Penguins’ starting goalie (including one magical playoff run to the Eastern Conference Final), and with the team well into a full scale rebuild, the Penguins traded Hedberg to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2004 second-round draft pick.
June 27, 2004: The Penguins use that second-round draft pick to select defenseman Alex Goligoski, a controversial pick at the time (Goligoski was viewed as an overdraft, if I recall correctly) but an extremely successful pick.
February 21, 2011: Overloaded with young defenders but short on forwards, the Penguins dip into their surplus of defenders and trade Goligoski to the Dallas Stars for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. It turns out to be one of the most successful and lopsided trades of the Ray Shero era.
June 27, 2014: After some wildly successful individual seasons (including a 40-goal season), the Penguins trade Neal in an effort to shake up a core that had fallen short in the playoffs. It is the first trade of Jim Rutherford era. Neal is sent to the Nashville Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
July 1, 2015 (SIDE NOTE): In an offshoot branch of this tree, Spaling is included as a throw-in (salary cap purposes?) in the trade with Toronto that brings Phil Kessel to the Penguins, a separate trade tree that is still growing and currently contains Jason Zucker (Kessel later traded to Arizona for Alex Galchenyuk; Galchenyuk included in trade for Zucker) and Pierre-Oliver Joseph (Kessel trade to Arizona).
September 24, 2020: After six wildly successful seasons with the Penguins, including two Stanley Cups (including one where he scored the Stanley Cup clinching goal in the decisive Game 6 of the series), the Penguins traded Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers for Matheson and Sceviour.
There we have it.
That is the longest current trade tree the Penguins have going, and it traces back 20 years to an early season signing of Jeff Norton that only happened because Janne Laukkanen, Bob Boughner, and Ian Moran were all injured at the same time.
That forgettable signing helped pave the way for Johan Hedberg, Alex Goligoski, James Neal, Matt Niskanen, and Patric Hornqvist to all come through Pittsburgh (with an off shoot branch for Phil Kessel), and touched a few Stanley Cups. It still continues on today, and given the Penguins’ current propensity to trade recently acquired parts of its roster it could continue to grow even more in the near future depending on how long Sceviour and Matheson remain with the team.
Now, maybe the Penguins still trade for Hedberg 20 years even without the signing of Norton, and every piece after that still falls into place. But maybe they do not make that exact same trade. Who knows where the path takes them then.
After this trade tree, the next longest current trade trees involve Brian Dumoulin and Jared McCann, both going back to 2006.
Dumoulin’s is simple and includes just a single branch: He was acquired in the Jordan Staal trade, with Staal having been drafted No. 2 overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
McCann’s is a little more extensive and goes back to an early 2006 waiver claim involving Chris Thorburn.
October 3, 2006: Penguins claim Thorburn on waivers from the Buffalo Sabres.
June 22, 2007: Penguins trade Thorburn to Atlanta Thrashers for a 2007 third-round draft pick.
June 22, 2007: Penguins use that third-round pick to select defenseman Robert Bortuzzo in the draft.
March 2, 2015: Penguins trade Bortuzzo and a seventh-round draft pick to the St. Louis Blues for defenseman Ian Cole.
February 23, 2018: Penguins trade Cole, Filip Gustavsson, a 2018 first-round draft pick, and a 2019 third-round draft pick to the Ottawa Senators for Derrick Brassard, Vince Dunn, and a 2018 third-round draft pick (the Penguins ended up trading this pick to Nashville as part of a move to get the No. 58 overall pick in the draft to select Filip Hallander, who was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs this offseason as part of the trade to reacquire Kasperi Kapanen).
February 25, 2019: Penguins trade Brassard, Riley Sheahan, a 2019 second-round draft pick, and two 2019 fourth-round draft picks, to the Florida Panthers for Nick Bjugstad and McCann.
Pretty wild how a couple of insignificant roster moves 14-20 years ago are still having such a big impact on the current roster. It really makes you wonder what is going to be happening with the 2040 Pittsburgh Penguins as a result of Evan Rodrigues re-signing here, or something like that.
Crazy stuff. Trade trees are fun!