Best Of The Rest: Pittsburgh Penguins – Tom Barrasso
Welcome to LWOS’ Summer Hockey Series, Best of the Rest. Plenty of sites do a version of a 30 greats in 30 days series, but this year we are doing something a little bit different. We want to look at the best player from each team who is not in the Hockey Hall Of Fame. In order to do this there are some rules. First the player must have been a significant part of this franchise (franchises include their time in a previous city… see Winnipeg/Atlanta) and must be retired for at least 3 years, making them Hall of Fame eligible. To see all the articles in the series, check out the homepage here.
When people think of the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise, the first player that comes to mind is Mario Lemieux. Granted, he was one of the best players and captains to ever play in the NHL and was a catalyst to the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup victories at the start of the 90s. It’s one of many reasons why Lemieux finds himself in the National Hockey League’s Hall of Fame. Along with him are greats like Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, Paul Coffey, Joe Mullen and Bryan Trottier, whom were all part of at least one Stanley Cup win with the Penguins.
Pittsburgh also has its fair share of builders such as Scotty Bowman, who acted as director of player development and served the team as head coach from 1990 until 1993. Craig Patrick was recognized for his work as head coach and general manager between the years 1989 and 2000, while Herb Brooks‘ multiple positions with the Penguins franchise — head coach (1999-00) and head scout (1994-99, 2000-03) — helped earn him a spot in the Hall. The Hall has even inducted broadcaster Mike Lange and newspaper writer Dave Molinari for their work.
The Penguins seem to have it all. Builders, media, forwards and defensemen. What about goaltending? Marc-Andre Fleury looks promising for his age, with a Stanley Cup ring to his name and is the most-winning goaltender in Penguins history. While he is still playing and does not qualify for the Hall of Fame just yet, there is one other goaltender that is worthy of a mention.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Tom Barrasso
Selected 5th overall in 1983, Tom Barrasso became the highest picked goaltender in the history of the NHL at that time, much to the surprise of scouts around the league. The solitary goaltender who stopped pucks at ease and held the promise of being a franchise player had won Buffalo over. Since then, the aforementioned Fleury beat him out by being selected 1st overall by the Penguins, as did Rick DiPietro by the New York Islanders. Kari Lehtonen was selected 2nd overall back in 2002 and Roberto Luongo was selected just a pick before Barrasso (4th) in the 1997 draft.
He achieved many accolades during his career but one that is often overlooked is something Barrasso accomplished that no other goaltender had done before, no goaltender has done since and likely will never happen again. Barrasso went straight from the American high school hockey program to the National Hockey League, skipping the college and major junior hockey levels. What is even more astounding is the fact that he won the Vezina and Calder trophy while making the NHL First All-Star Team — as a rookie.
Barrasso had bested Harry Lumley by becoming the youngest goaltender to win a game in 1983-84 at the age of 18. The following year, Barrasso and Sabres back-up Bob Sauve were the recipients of the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the team with the fewest goals allowed. This time, Barrasso was named to the NHL Second All-Star Team.
Barrasso spent six seasons under the Buffalo Sabres management, playing all six with the NHL club and splitting one with their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, in the 1984-85 season. During his time with Buffalo, Barrasso posted a 124-102-29 record and his best season with the Sabres came in the 1984-85 season, where he posted a 25-18-10 record, finishing the season with a 2.66 goals against and 5 shutouts. Barrasso and the Sabres managed to make the playoffs just three times during that stretch and never made it out of the first round, their best effort being a 5-game elimination against the Quebec Nordiques in 1984-85.
During the 1988-89 season, after playing just 10 games with the club, Buffalo announced the trade that would send Barrasso and a 3rd round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins in return for Doug Bodger and Darrin Shannon. At the age of 23, Barrasso was the new face of the Pittsburgh Penguins goaltending picture and finished his first season in Pittsburgh with an 18-5-7 record. The following season saw Barrasso go through some hard times as he battled with an ongoing wrist injury that would later require surgery. Later into the season, Barrasso would injure his groin, limiting him to just 24 games. Barrasso managed to come back strong into the playoffs, leading the NHL in playoff shutouts and goals against that year.
The next two seasons were a dream. The 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons saw the Pittsburgh Penguins winning back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships. Despite battling through finger, foot and groin injuries, Barrasso set Pittsburgh’s single season record for most wins (27) in a season during his 1990-91 campaign, which has since been broken, but the Penguins would finally win the Cup that year. Back spasms and a bruised right hand would sideline Barrasso for parts of the 1991-92 season but again, he would return in grand form and raise the Cup once more, winning his second Stanley Cup.
While Barrasso would never return to the promised land again, he managed to post a 43-win campaign in 1992-93 with the Penguins, a season in which he played a total of 67 games. This remains a club record for wins in a season, although his best statistical season came five seasons later when Barrasso posted career bests in shutouts (7), goals against average (2.07) and save percentage (.922). His shutouts and goals against average remain club records, while his save percentage is just o.o1 behind the record recorded by Ty Conklin (posted during the 2007-08 season, a year in which Conklin played only 33 games) That year, Barrasso would record 31 wins in 63 games, but it would be the final time he’d hit the 30+ win mark, or even the 20+ win mark.
Barrasso played just one more full season with Pittsburgh in 1998-99, then was traded to the Ottawa Senators the following year after playing 18 games with the Penguins and posting a disappointing 5-7-2 record. Barrasso played just 7 games with the Senators, posting a 3-4-0 record with a 3.16 goals against and an .879 save percentage.
The 2000-01 season became somewhat of a sticky situation. Barrasso had demanded a two-year, $7 million contract from Ottawa, which they declined instantly. When Barrasso’s attempts to sign with another team fell short, largely due to his request to be named the team’s number one goaltender, Barrasso made the decision to sit the entire season out and surround himself with family. His father had passed away the previous year due to cancer and his daughter was suffering through a period involving cancer as well. With father instincts kicking in and the fact that he no longer was able to land a starting job with an NHL team, Barrasso stayed home.
He would sign the following year with the Carolina Hurricanes for the 2000-01 season and then spent the next two years with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the St. Louis Blues, being sparsely used both seasons as he played a combined total of 10 games between the Leafs and Blues. On June 18th, 2003, Barrasso signed a Group III UFA contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which enabled him to retire as a Penguin. On that day, Barrasso did just that as he retired from the sport of hockey.
Barrasso played at the international level as well, notably the 1984 and 1987 Canada Cup, the 1983 World Junior Championships the 1986 World Ice Hockey Championships and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games. His success at this level is minimal, as he earned just one silver medal in 2002 as a member of the United States Winter Olympic team, however he played just one game during the tournament.
Outside of the ice rink, Barrasso has done some remarkable things in the real world. He founded the Ashley Barrasso Cancer Research Fund during the time his daughter battled and won her battle against neuroblastoma cancer. Barrasso was also inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and two years later, he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. His legacy has left a presence that has since been un-matched. Barrasso currently leads the NHL in most assists and points over a career by a goaltender (48) and is tied for most consecutive playoff wins in one season (11). If you combine two consecutive playoff seasons together, Barrasso leads the NHL in most consecutive wins all-time (14). Barrasso finds himself ranked second all-time for most wins by a U.S. goaltender (369).
On the Penguins alone, Barrasso currently leads the franchise in the following departments: career ties, career points, career penalty minutes, wins in one season, shutouts in one season, lowest GAA in one season, most points in one season, most points in one playoff season, and countless more records. He also sits second (to Fleury) in career wins, saves, and shutouts. His role and impact left on the Penguins franchise has been unmatched since the arrival of Marc-Andre Fleury and even then, Fleury still has mighty shoes to fill and some catching up to do.
A silver medal at the Winter Olympics, two Stanley Cup rings, a Vezina trophy, a Calder trophy, multiple All-Star appearances and something that no goaltender could possibly ever achieve again in the history of this game, is there any reason Tom Barrasso shouldn’t be in the Hockey Hall of Fame? He’s already in two separate Halls already, perhaps it is time to make it three and give him the ultimate nod as the final curtain to a fantastic career.
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