Total Penguins: The Definitive Encyclopedia of the Pittsburgh Penguins by Rick Buker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is without doubt the most comprehensive, well researched, exhaustive, thorough resource on any subject I have every encountered in my life, in this case, the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s most impressive. Admittedly, it’s for a niche market. It won’t appeal to that many people and I doubt it’s sold well. But if you’re a Penguins fan, like I am, it’s completely invaluable. I can’t imagine a more important book to add to your library and your knowledge of the team and its history.
The book is a literally hugely proportioned 720 page hardback with stories and a synopsis of each season, beginning with the first expansion season of 1967 through the book’s publication date of 2010. Fascinating stuff. I particularly appreciated learning about the early teams because even though my dad and I went to Penguins games at the Igloo in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, I was so young, I really don’t remember the players and didn’t start to pay attention to them until the early 1980s, by which time the team had been in existence for 15 years. So I missed out on a lot of the team’s early history and players. And with each team’s synopsis, there’s a team roster listing each player’s stats, including games played, goals, assists, points, for goalies, goals against average, etc.
The next section of the book is huge! It’s about 120 pages of player profiles for EVERY player who has ever worn a Penguins uniform, even if it was just for one game. That’s stunning research. That’s simply amazing. It’s got their stats and everything, just like on old time baseball cards you used to collect when you were a kid. It’s freaking awesome! There are simply hundreds of them! I really enjoyed this section, although it took a long time to get through. It was fascinating to see all of the players we’ve had over the years.
The next section was on the coaches and general managers. A little less exciting, yes, but still, we’ve had some good ones over the years and it was exciting to read about Bob Johnson, Herb Brooks (of US Olympic fame), Scotty Bowman (the all time winningest coach in NHL history), Craig Patrick, and other big names who worked for the Pens. And, yes, it was even interesting to read about all of the owners the Pens have had over the years, although it was depressing to see how many loser, broke owners we had until Mario Lemieux bought the team in the late 1990s and ultimately saved the team from bankruptcy, keeping the team in Pittsburgh, where it belonged.
The next section is on the Penguins Hall of Famers. Very fascinating. As of this book’s publication, 17 former Penguins had been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s safe to assume former Pen Jaromir Jagr will make it at some point in the near future and it’s also a safe bet that Sidney Crosby will likely make it down the road too. There are a couple of other current Pens who have the potential to make it if they keep playing to their level of competition. The articles on these players are really well written and quite fascinating and give you an inside look at some special players. Of course, some of the players here are, naturally, Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen, and Bryan Trottier (who played most of his career with the Islanders, truthfully). The next section is interesting, too, though, because it’s the Penguins Hall of Fame, I guess, for those who don’t make the NHL Hall of Fame. These are for those who make a significant career contribution to the club who the league didn’t think merited a lifetime achievement award of the big one. I didn’t know all of these players and it was interesting to read about them. Some include Syl Apps, one of Pittsburgh’s first stars in the early ’70s, Les Blinkley, our first goalie, Anthony Cagglano, our longtime locker room assistant, Jean Pronovost, another early ’70s star, Vincent Lascheid, our organist of 33 years, and Ulf Samuelsson, our “enforcer” on our great early Stanley Cup teams. Very cool.
The next section is a 90 page section called The Stanley Cup Playoffs. It has a synopsis of every playoff series and most games from every year in the Penguins’ existence. It’s beyond in depth! I mean, this goes above and beyond research, above and beyond dedication. This book was only $29. I think this book is easily worth $100. The author spent 17 years — SEVENTEEN YEARS! — putting this together! That’s half a lifetime for some people. That’s the ultimate in dedication. Surely that should be worth more than $29. Anyway, it was fascinating to read about all of our playoff games we’ve had and to relive some of those moments of glory and agony. It started with St. Louis, moved to Philly, then to the Islanders, then I believe the Caps and Rangers became our playoff nemesis’s for a very long time (still are). In our Stanley Cup wins in the early ’90s, we beat Minnesota and Chicago. In this past decade, we’ve had to go at it with the Caps again, the Rangers again, Detroit several times, playing them twice for the Stanley Cup, winning in 2009. Pretty interesting stuff.
The next section is called The Greatest Games and it is the best and worst games as picked by the author and also the games with the best fights, which I really enjoyed since I miss the old days of fighting in the NHL and am often annoyed that fighting in the NHL has largely been curtailed. I found it amazing to note that one year, back in the early ’90s, 11 Pens players had over 100 penalty minutes on the year. This year, our leader has 65. No one will end up with 100 or anywhere close to it. In the old days, it wasn’t uncommon for enforcers to wrack up 300-400 penalty minutes a year. Now, if a player gets even 150 in a year, he’s considered a mega-tough guy, maybe even dirty. What a joke! I’ve read what Gordie Howe and some of the older former hockey players have said about today’s game and while they admit today’s players are very talented, they think they’re babied and coddled and they’re scared to mix it up and the league has gotten scared to let their players get hurt, even though in the old days, players were charged with, get this, MURDER on ice (not that I’m encouraging that, but you get the picture), so that today’s players, while more talented than yesterday’s players, would probably get the shit beaten out of them thoroughly by yesterday’s players, literally. Who cares what the final score is? The oldies would probably still win. Good point, Gordie.
There is also a section on the arenas, which is somewhat interesting, but far less so than the other sections. There’s only so much you can do with that. There also another section on all acquisitions, sales, trades, and drafts, which is mind blowing, considering how many people you’re talking about over such a long period of time. It’s amazing how much research went into this book. There’s an additional section on other Pittsburgh hockey teams and I had no idea about this. There have been many, including an NHL team called the Pittsburgh Pirates back around 1925. But there were Pittsburgh hockey teams back in the late 1800s, believe it or not. Quite possibly the first semi-professional hockey teams in America with the first real hockey rinks. Teams came from all over North America (including Canada) to play the Pittsburgh teams. There was a minor league club called the Pittsburgh Hornets that played there from from 1936-1967 that went 770-705-174 and won three Calder Cups, including in their last year in existence. Apparently the fans there loved that team.
The last section is a very long 150+ page section on statistics, awards, and honors. It has about any statistic you could possibly think of, no matter how obscure. It’s unreal. The awards and honors are what you would expect, of course, but include minor ones as well, ones you’ve never heard of. But the stats just blow you away. The all time All-Star team Selections. The All-Star Game Selections. Individual and team playoff records. All-time playoff goaltending leaders. Shootout wins and losses. By game, date, winning goal, winning goalie, final score and more! Single game records in just about anything. It goes on and on. You could keep learning for months. It’s stunning.
So, this is an amazing book. My only complaint, and this is no fault of the author, is that since it was published in 2010, it’s a bit dated. It only has Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Letang, etc., stats through 2010. It’s 2016. I’d like to see where these players rank now in career standings! Back then Crosby was in the list of top ten scorers. Malkin was not. I know now Crosby is probably in the top five and Malkin is in the top ten easily. I also know that Fleury has surpassed Tom Barasso, my former favorite goalie, as the team’s all time winningest and winningest playoff goalie and I’d like to see that reflected in that stats. But until the publisher decides to come out with a new edition, that won’t happen. And frankly, I don’t see how the publisher could have made any money on this project. I’m sure they lost money. The book simply would have been too costly to make with too little revenue generated to recoup their expenses. So I don’t anticipate another edition any time soon, if ever, which disappoints me. So, that disclaimer said, this remains the greatest resource I have ever seen for anything. Obviously, it’s the greatest resource for anything related to the Pittsburgh Penguins, of course. Obviously, it’s a great hockey resource. There are tons of pictures and numerous stories of other teams, players, and coaches and their interactions with Penguins teams over the years, so even if you’re not the biggest Pens fan in the world, you still *might* find this interesting. Perhaps. But frankly, it’s for a niche market. To me, it was a gift from heaven. To me, this is just about the biggest five star book I can think of. To me, if you’re a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, there is no other book you should read before this one and I can’t recommend this book more strongly.