Here’s a look at other Penguins stars who had battles with serious injuries/illnesses and how they faired in their returns-to-action.
Although Mario Lemieux’s career statistics and accomplishments are, without question, some of the greatest of all-time, could they have been higher if not for an injury-plagued career?
After coming off a 199-point season in 1988-89, Lemieux missed 21 games during the 1989-90 season due to back problems. He finished fourth in scoring that year, tallying 123 points (45 goals, 78 assists). This back injury escalated, however, and Lemieux underwent off-season surgery, causing him to miss the first 51 games of the 1989-90 season. When he returned, the Penguins went on to not only make the playoffs but also make history, winning their first-ever Stanley Cup over the Minnesota North Stars in six games. Lemieux notched 16 goals and 28 assists throughout the playoffs and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player.
The next season, Lemieux only played in 64 games, once again, due to his ailing back. No matter, as Mario won his third Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s scoring leader and led the Penguins back into the playoffs. During the Patrick Division finals against the New York Rangers, Adam Graves slashed Lemieux’s left hand, subsequently breaking it. He missed the following five games but still led playoff scoring with 16 goals and 18 assists as the Penguins went on to win their second straight Stanley Cup and Lemieux his second straight Conn Smythe Trophy.
His back troubles finally behind him, Lemieux was playing the best hockey of his career during the 1992-93 season and was on pace to break Wayne Gretzky’s single season goal (92) and points (215) record. However, due to a shocking announcement in January of ’93, Lemieux told the public he was diagnosed with cancer. He missed the next two months of the season while undergoing radiation treatments, but returned to lead the Pens to 17 straight wins. The team finished first overall with 119 points, a franchise record that still stands today. Despite missing two months of the season, Lemieux won his second straight scoring title (160 points; 69 goals, 91 assists), beating out Buffalo’s Pat LaFontaine by 12 points.
The back problems returned and Lemieux underwent another back surgery in the summer of 1993, forcing him to miss 58 games the next year. He returned in 1995 and finished the season, once again, as the league’s leading scorer (161 points; 69 goals, 92 assists).
He won his sixth scoring title in 1997 with 122 points (50 goals, 72 assists) and announced his retirement after his final game of the season in Philadelphia, leaving the ice to a standing ovation. Lemieux came out of retirement in 2000 and continued to lead the Penguins in all offensive categories until he retired for good in 2006.
Up until the time of his injury in 1993, Stevens had for straight seasons of 40 goals or more. During a playoff game against the New York Islanders in ’93, though, Stevens went in for a routine check on defenseman Rich Pilon. Instead of catching him clean, Stevens’ face collided with Pilon’s visor and Stevens fell hard, smashing his face off the ice at the end of his fall. Stevens’ face was essentially completely broken and facial reconstruction surgery was required for Stevens’ to continue playing hockey.
He was healed in time for the 1993-94 season and played in all 82 games that year, finishing with 41 goals and 47 assists. Stevens was traded after this season to the Boston Bruins along with Shawn McEachern in exchange for Bryan Smolinski and Glen Murray.
Stevens’ career was never the same after his spectacular years in Pittsburgh. After several disappointing seasons and stints with the Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, Stevens returned to the Penguins in 2001 before retiring in 2002.
After 19 seasons of work, most of the with the Penguins and many of them plagued with injuries, Barrasso is considered to be one of the greatest U.S. born goaltenders ever.
His first major injury to his right wrist forced him out 43 games during the 1994-95 season. He came back strong the next season, winning 49 games and posting a .903 save percentage. He sat out the majority of the 1996-97 season with a recurring injury to his shoulder, which required surgery.
Returning the following year, Barrasso came back and played well. He played in 63 games for the Pens, winning 31 and posting a save percentage of .922.
Problems with the front-office Pittsburgh forced a trade following the season, and Barrasso played out his career with the Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs. On the day Barrasso decided to retire, he signed a one-day contract with Pittsburgh to be able to retire as a Penguin.