A few weeks ago the Pittsburgh Penguins traded James Neal to the Nashville Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Hours earlier the Pittsburgh Pirates sent Jason Grilli to the Anaheim Angels in a swap of underperforming former closers, acquiring Ernesto Frieri. This got me wondering, what are the best trades in Pittsburgh sports history? Not just the best trades, but the top five trades? There have been many trades made by the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers over the years but only the top five can make this list. This subject can be debated for hours and days, but these are my top five.
5. The Pittsburgh Pirates trade Tony Pena to the St. Louis Cardinals for Andy Van Slyke, Mike LaValliere and Mike Dunne in 1987.
Tony Pena was an excellent catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early and mid-1980’s. Besides being a fan favorite as well as a favorite of manager Jim Leyland, he was a three time Gold Glove winner and a four time All Star as a Bucco. At first it seemed like a lopsided deal for the Cards as Pena helped them win the division and reach the World Series. However time was on the side of the storied Pirates.
Andy Van Slyke won five consecutive Gold Gloves roaming center field at Three Rivers. His best year was arguably 1992 when he finished with 199 hits and a .324 batting average. LaValliere won a gold glove as a catcher for the Bucs in 1987 and was with the team for seven seasons. Dunne had a productive year in 87’ but never managed to do much after. Van Slyke and LaValliere were major players in winning three straight division titles from 90’ to 92 which makes this the 5th best trade in Pittsburgh history.
4. The Pittsburgh Steelers acquire the Kansas City Chiefs first round pick (16th overall) in exchange for their first, third, and sixth round picks (picks 27, 92, 200) during the 2003 draft.
This deal being on this list may surprise a lot of people. The Steelers do not trade often, but when they do they seem to make a huge splash. This trade didn’t involve any players but looking back on it today, what the Steelers got in return can be considered priceless. With the 16th pick from the Chiefs, the Steelers selected a safety from USC named Troy Polamalu. Since drafting Troy, he has become one of the best safeties in NFL history and one of the greatest Steelers of all time. That’s saying a lot with the countless numbers of great players to put on black and gold over the years. No one could have predicted on that day in 2003 what Polamalu would bring to the Steelers during his career, but two Super Bowl victories and one NFL Defensive Play of the Year award later, this trade falls as the fourth best in Pittsburgh sports history.
3. The Pittsburgh Penguins acquire Marian Hossa, and Pascal Dupuis from the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for forwards Erik Christensen, Colby Armstrong and Angelo Esposito in 2008.
The Penguins were an up and coming team fresh off of their first playoff appearance since 2000-2001. The only problem was they needed a spark, something to get them over the hump of losing in the first round against Ottawa the previous year. Just before the trade deadline, Ray Shero acquired the top available player in Marian Hossa as well as Pascal Dupuis. This trade helped the Pens to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 91-92 and gave them the confidence needed to bring the Cup back to Pittsburgh the following season. Although Hossa was the major player in the deal, Dupuis turned out to be more important in the years to come. Hossa left following the Cup loss to Detroit, signing with the Red Wings. Dupuis has since been a top line performer next to Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on one of the best lines in the NHL. Hossa was on the losing end of the following years Cup Final as the Pens defeated the Wings in 7 games. Christensen, Armstrong and Esposito have done little since the deal where getting back Dupuis alone would have been worth pulling the trigger on the trade. The confidence brought to the team, a championship the following season and the continued steady play by Dupuis make this the third best trade in Pittsburgh Sports History.
2. The Pittsburgh Steelers acquire Jerome Bettis and a third round draft pick from the LA Rams for a second round pick in 1996 and a fourth round selection in 1997.
This may be one of the most lopsided trades in NFL history. The Rams wanted to run a more up-tempo passing offense and Bettis didn’t fit into their plans. They drafted Lawrence Phillips in the first round in 1996 which left little room for the bruising back from Notre Dame. All Bettis did while in Pittsburgh was become one of the best backs in the NFL, finishing his career as the 5th leading rusher in NFL history and in his last game as a professional he helped bring in the franchises fifth Lombardi Trophy. For the Rams, Phillips did little on the field and is better known for his troubles off of it. This trade comes in at number two because even with the Hall of Fame career of Jerome Bettis, and his 10,571 yards and 83 total touchdowns (78 rushing, 2 receiving, 3 passing) as a Pittsburgh Steeler, it took 10 years to yield a championship, unlike the trade which sits at number one.
1. The Pittsburgh Penguins acquire Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Greg Jennings from the Hartford Whalers for John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker in 1991.
This trade paid immediate dividends for the Pens. Ron Francis, a future Hall of Famer, was a strong two way player who knew how to put the puck in the net and make plays. Samuelsson and Jennings provided much needed toughness and grit to a team that needed it badly. Francis, Samuelsson and Jennings were all strong contributors to bringing back to back Stanley Cups to Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992. Samuelsson, a rugged defender, even scored the game winning goal in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against Minnesota in 1991, albeit in an 8-0 blowout. Has there ever been a more feared line in NHL history than Lemieux-Francis-Jagr? That’s debatable, but any conversation about the best line ever has to include the one completed when Craig Patrick made the number one deal in Pittsburgh sports history.