Great players win championships. Sidney Crosby is probably one of the five greatest skaters to lace them up in the NHL, and he has won three Stanley Cups with the Penguins since breaking into the league as a fresh-faced rookie in 2005-06. His first came in 2009, in just his fourth professional season. Then a bit of a dry spell struck Sid and the Pens, but they broke out of it in a big way by taking back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. Crosby was named MVP of the playoffs in each of the last two championships the Penguins won, cementing his legacy as a clutch playoff performer.
When you have great players on your team like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it can tend to make up for a lack of depth on the roster, and to a certain extent that was the case in all three of the Pittsburgh championship seasons. The 2009 championship team was the best example of this, as Crosby and Malkin had 31 and 36 points, respectively. Third place on the team had 15 (Bill Guerin).
Ergo, a few of these championship teams had some players who were basically just along for the ride, but nonetheless earned Stanley Cup rings and had their day with the cup. Here are the 15 worst players to earn rings while playing with Sid the Kid:
15 Mathieu Garon
We go back to the 2009 championship squad for #15 on the list today, and it is backup goalie Mathieu Garon. Garon was acquired from Edmonton at the 2009 trade deadline to backup Marc-Andre Fleury down the stretch and into the postseason, as the Pens didn’t exactly have high confidence in backup Dany Sabourin, who sported a weak .898 save percentage in the regular season.
Garon was actually a solid backup in his day, but it’s safe to say that the Penguins would have coasted to a Stanley Cup victory if I were there instead of Garon. He did make an appearance in the 2009 postseason in relief for Fleury, but needless to say he never made a start or won a game for the club. He was sort of just there, like much of the bottom six forward group.
Garon never played another game for the Penguins after winning the Cup with them in ’09, and his NHL career was over just four years later after stops in Columbus and Tampa Bay.
He played one more pro season (for Omsk Avangard of the KHL) before hanging them up for good. While I’m here to say he had almost nothing to do with the 2009 Stanley Cup Champion Penguins, he still has a ring and no one can take that away from him.
14 Beau Bennett
Beau Bennett was the Penguins’ first round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, 20th overall. Now, this entry comes with a bit of an asterisk, as Beau Bennett’s name was never actually engraved onto the Stanley Cup; he did, however, get to parade around the rink holding hockey’s holy grail over his head, and he also got to spend a day with the Cup in the summer of 2016, so he’s included here.
The reason Bennett’s name was left off the engraving is because he didn’t meet either of these two criteria: play at least 41 regular season games with the winning club that season, or play at least one game in the Stanley Cup Final. Bennett played just one game in the entire 2016 postseason, and he failed to register a point.
Bennett left the Penguins organization after the 2016 championship season, and he’s struggled to find consistent work in the world’s best hockey league since then. He played 65 games for the Devils in 2016-17, and then landed in the St. Louis Blues’ system in 2017-18. He only played six games for the Blues though, and he spent the majority of the season playing with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.
13 Ian Cole
One thing that was somewhat surprising with the 2016 and 2017 championship squads was the fact that the defense corps on both teams was a disaster on paper. Ian Cole was a member of both those clubs, playing in all 49 playoff games over the two championship seasons, but I’m here to tell you that he’s not all that great of a player, really, and if he didn’t have the Crosby coattails to ride, he’d likely never win a Cup.
Head coach Mike Sullivan was acutely aware of Cole’s shortcomings, as he only played the rearguard over 20 minutes a game if it went into OT; for the most part, Cole was playing bottom-pairing minutes throughout both Cup runs, and only barely keeping his head above water in the sheltered role in which he’d been deployed.
Okay, this may all be a little harsh for a two time champion, but now that he’s out of Pittsburgh, does anybody really see him winning a championship on a Crosby-less team? He was traded to Columbus at this year’s deadline, and he was deployed in much the same way there as he was in Pittsburgh; that is to say, sheltered and in a third-pairing role. I’m not saying every member of a winning team isn’t important; I’m saying that some are replaceable, and Cole is replaceable.
12 Ben Lovejoy
Ben “The Reverend” Lovejoy has the greatest nickname in the NHL today, but I’m biased because The Simpsons basically raised me. The Reverend was a member of the 2016 championship squad that featured a D corps that had more or less been Frankenstein'd together from various defenders around the league. He played in all 24 postseason games for the Pens that season en route to the big win.
The Penguins D that season was atrocious, and I still can’t really believe that they won it all rolling out this group of guys.
I’ve already pointed out how inadequate Ian Cole can be, and Lovejoy is right there with him. Outside of Kris Letang, I don’t know if there’s another bonafide top-four option on that 2016 playoff roster.
I guess we can maybe call Trevor Daley a top-four guy? He only played 15 of the 24 games mind you, as he went down with an ankle injury early in the third round. Maybe Olli Maatta, or Brian Dumoulin? Justin Schultz is a bottom-pairing even-strength guy, but at least he could man the second power play unit. Crosby was a man on a mission during the 2016 postseason, I feel like it could have been pretty much anyone playing back there.
11 Brooks Orpik
Brooks Orpik is a pretty divisive player in the hockey community. There are a handful of guys around the league who polarize fans, and Orpik is definitely one of them. Ask an analytical pundit, and he’ll point directly to his poor shot shares and goal shares over the span of his career as evidence that he can barely swim in the NHL. An old school Hockey Man, though? They’ll love Orpik’s rough and aggressive game, shot hemorrhaging be damned.
I tend to lean more towards the analytics community when it comes to these players, so I’m going to say that Orpik is one of the worst players to win a Cup with Sidney Crosby. Orpik, who won with Sid in 2009, has now managed to win one with Alex Ovechkin, so he’s making a pretty decent career out of riding the coattails of generational players. If he plays his cards right, heck, he could maybe parlay it into a management career (ala Kevin Lowe).
Say what you will about Orpik, he picks his spots when to score. He potted his first goal in 220 games in Game 1 of the 2018 Final, and it stood up as the winner. Ovechkin scored a whopping 116 goals between Orpik’s last two goals.
10 Chad Ruhwedel
While the defense corps that made up the 2016 championship team was bad, I think it’s fair to say the 2017 team’s crop was even worse. Chad Ruhwedel made some spot starts on the back end for Pittsburgh during the playoffs in 2017, managing to find his way into six games. None of the games were played in the Final, though, and since he didn’t hit the 41 game regular season threshold (he played 34), he didn’t necessarily qualify for his name to go onto Lord Stanley's Cup.
However, they make the calls on a case by case basis, and since Ruhwedel did in fact play a handful of playoff games and came fairly close to the regular season threshold, they wrote his name there in the end. He also got to spend a day with the Cup, which he did at the end of June, 2017, bringing the Holy Grail to his home town of San Diego.
Back to Ruhwedel’s inadequacies, though, because that’s what this article is all about. In his six postseason games in 2017 he actually didn’t even play very well. He obviously recorded no points, but he also went minus-3 and averaged about 12 minutes of ice time per game.
9 Carter Rowney
Alberta native Carter Rowney shows up on our list here at number 9, and even though he’s a pretty good story, he still earns a spot on this list. Rowney is 29 years old, but he actually only played his first NHL games in 2016-17, finding his way into 27 regular season matches with the Penguins. Surely that type of inexperience will cost you in the NHL playoffs, right?
Well, not when you have Crosby on your team, apparently. After playing three full AHL seasons before 2016-17 and even spending time in the lowly ECHL not two years before the Cup run, Rowney played in 20 of the 25 playoff games for Pittsburgh in 2017. The right winger managed just three assists and no goals, but he played in most of the games so that’s... something?
It really was the big guns who carried the Pens to this 2017 Stanley Cup, and nearly everyone else was just along for the ride.
Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Jake Guentzel combined for 99 points (ranging from 21 to 28 each), and Justin Schultz (13) and Chris Kunitz (11) were the only other two skaters to crack the 10 point barrier. Nonetheless, Carter Rowney has a Stanley Cup ring and you don’t (unless you do, then I’m sorry for being a smarta$$).
8 Scott Wilson
When I look at the rosters of all three championship Pittsburgh squads since 2009, I actually think that the 2017 team was the thinnest. I’ve already discussed how brutal their defense corps was, but let’s not ignore that fourth line. Carter Rowney played 20 games, as mentioned above, and Scott Wilson also found his way into 20 games, which is truly unbelievable.
While Wilson is a few years younger than Rowney (he’s 26), it’s difficult to imagine him still having an NHL job by the time he turns 30. There’s no shame in this; the guy has already played 172 games in the world’s best league, which is at least that many more than I’ll ever play. That said, “Stanley Cup Champion” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the name Scott Wilson, but that doesn’t make it less true.
Just to throw Wilson a bone here, he did chip in three goals and six points in his 20 playoff games in 2017, and his regular season that year saw him register 26 points, a career high for him. Since the 2017 championship, Wilson has been traded twice; once by Pittsburgh to Detroit, and then again by Detroit to Buffalo, where he finished the season.
7 Philippe Boucher
It’s often forgotten that veteran defenseman Philippe Boucher was actually on the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins squad in 2009, but he was. I should mention that if Boucher wasn’t 36-years-old and playing the last few games of his pro hockey career at this point, he wouldn’t have made it onto this list. But, Boucher was done for by spring of 2009, and it’s a miracle he even found his way into nine postseason games that year if you ask me.
The 2009 championship team definitely had the most experience on the squad, and Boucher did add over 700 games of experience to the roster when he arrived at the trade deadline that season from Dallas. To say there was little left in the tank is a bit of an understatement though; Boucher played in only one Stanley Cup Final game, and received just 11:01 of ice time to boot.
This championship run was a good way for Boucher to cap off a career though, as he’d never won a Cup before that, despite having been on some pretty decent Dallas teams from 2002 to 2009. He announced his retirement in September of 2009 after it became clear that teams were no longer really interested in his services.
6 Eric Fehr
In much the same way as Philippe Boucher, Eric Fehr probably wouldn’t be on this list if he’d played for the Penguins during, say, the 2009 championship team. Fehr is here because he was a member of the 2016 team though, and it’s pretty safe to say that he’s lucky to be a Stanley Cup champion. He played a fourth line role for the 2016 team, and he found his way into 23 of the 24 postseason games.
The problem here is that Fehr had lost a step already, and since winning the Cup with Pittsburgh in 2016, he’s struggled to keep a job in the NHL.
He was traded to Toronto mid-way through the 2016-17 campaign, and then Toronto more or less banished him to the press box. He played just one game with the Leafs in 2016-17, and only four more in 2017-18 before he was dealt again, this time to San Jose for a 7th round pick.
He did finish this season with San Jose, and played in all their playoff games as well (10), but he also spent time in the AHL this year, playing 34 games with the San Diego Gulls. He put up good numbers there, perhaps proving that he still belongs in the NHL, but I still say that the 2016 version of Eric Fehr is one of the worst players to win the Cup with Sid.
5 Tyler Kennedy
Tyler Kennedy was a 4th round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2004, the year before the Pens took Crosby 1st overall. Kennedy didn’t crack the roster until 2007-08, but at the point he became a regular on the club, playing a depth role in the Penguins bottom six. Although Kennedy is just 31 today, he hasn’t played pro hockey since 2015-16, but he’ll always have the Cup ring he won as a member of the Penguins in 2009.
While the bulk of the 2009 championship roster was made up of grisly vets, Kennedy was in just his second NHL season and 22 years old at the time. This was pretty much the peak of his career, however, and sure he played a role on the team, but I’m here to make the argument that almost any other NHL forward could have slid into the role Kennedy was in and the result wouldn’t have changed.
Kennedy continued to play for the Penguins for three and a half more seasons after winning the Cup with them in ’09, and heck he even managed 21 goals in 2010-11. That said, he’s now retired from pro hockey and spent time in the AHL in 2014-15—as the game sped up, it left guys like Kennedy in its dust.
4 Mark Eaton
While the 2016 and 2017 championship teams were infamous for having terrible defense, the 2009 squad had its fair share of duds as well. Playing a depth role on Sidney Crosby’s first championship team was one Mark Eaton, and I think it’s safe to say he was one of the more replaceable players on that winning roster.
Eaton did actually play every game that postseason with Pittsburgh, and he actually played pretty well through the first three rounds of the playoffs. The Penguins were able to win the Cup without much help from Eaton in the Stanley Cup Final against Detroit, though; Eaton struggled, as he went minus-6 in the seven game series and registered just one point.
When you think of top heavy squads, it doesn’t get much more stark that the 2009 championship team. Malkin won the Conn Smythe that year with 36 points, Crosby was a runner-up with 31, and then Billy Guerin had the third most at 15. Even guys who had a history of scoring weren’t putting up numbers. Jordan Staal, Miro Satan, and Pascal Dupuis combined for just 15 points. When you have two centers combining for 66 postseason points, though? That really masks some deficiencies.
3 Josh Archibald
Now we’re into the top three, the real heavy hitters. Forward Josh Archibald won the Cup with Pittsburgh in 2017, despite only playing four games in the playoffs and just 10 in the regular season. But, as the rule states, if you play at least one game in the Final then you get your name on the mug, and Archibald played one game in the Final against Nashville.
He played his three other games in the Conference Final, but let’s not throw the term “play” around too loosely here. Archibald’s TOTAL ice time in the 2017 postseason was just north of 31 minutes, so basically one Erik Karlsson game. Archibald has spent time in the AHL since winning the Cup, and he’s currently toiling away in the Arizona Coyotes’ system.
Archibald is probably better known for what he did during his day with the Cup rather than what he did to earn it. The summer after winning it all Archibald and his wife Bailey had a child, and when Archibald had his day with the cup he decided to get his son Brecken baptized in it. Yes, that’s right. Josh Archibald has a son named Brecken. Despite the photos being admittedly pretty cute, I can’t forgive the name.
2 Derrick Pouliot
When the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted Derrick Pouliot 8th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, they thought they were getting a key piece for the back end. Almost six years have passed since they called Pouliot’s name on the draft floors in Pittsburgh (they hosted that season), and it’s safe to say that Pouliot did not develop as they’d hoped, for he’s now a member of the Vancouver Canucks.
Pouliot was traded prior to this season, but he was actually in the Penguins system for both Cup wins—however, he was only on the roster for the 2016 championship team. He was demoted to the AHL when the Pens battled for the 2017 Cup, which should tell you everything you need to know about how crucial Pouliot was to the 2016 team (spoiler alert: not very).
Pouliot only played two games in the playoffs for the 2016 team, and he didn’t even get into a single game for the 2017 championship team.
He spent the bulk of that season skating with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the AHL, and he finally played his first full NHL season as a member of the Canucks in 2017-18. Jim Benning is hoping his Canucks can turn Pouliot into a real player, something the Penguins were unable to do.
1 Jeff Zatkoff
For a minute there, it looked like Jeff Zatkoff was going to be a full-time backup goalie in the NHL. He had decent numbers in his brief career as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup before Matt Murray came in and took his job (and then subsequently Fleury’s job). Zatkoff has responded well to the adversity, and the guy who spent most of his 20s in the AHL looks to do the same in his 30s.
Zatkoff was the backup for the 2015-16 season, and he actually saw more regular season game action (14 games) than did Murray (13). When Fleury went down with an injury he actually started the 2016 playoffs in Game 1, and turned in a solid performance. However, that was it for Zatkoff, as he lost Game 2, was replaced by Murray, and the rest is history.
After losing his job in Pittsburgh he saw no reason to stick around—or, more accurately, the Penguins saw no real reason to keep him around—so he signed in L.A. He played 13 games for the Kings in 2016-17, but they have since decided that Zatkoff just isn’t quite good enough for backup duty in the NHL, and he played all of his hockey in 2017-18 for the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL.
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