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The Pittsburgh Penguins won an unprecedented draft lottery in the summer of 2005, in which all thirty teams had weighted chances to win the first overall pick of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. The Penguins chose junior league superstar Sidney Crosby from the QMJHL.
With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed by the owners and players to end the 2004-05 NHL lockout, the Pittsburgh Penguins began rebuilding the team under a salary cap. They signed big-name free agents Sergei Gonchar, John LeClair and Zigmund Palffy, and traded for goaltender Jocelyn Thibault from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Crosby stole the record previously held by past rookie of the year Dale Hawerchuk in 2005-06. Hawerchuk had been 100 days older than Crosby in 1981-82 when he scored 103 points for the now-defunct Winnipeg Jets.
Sidney Crosby accomplished plenty in his first season as a Pittsburgh Penguin. From withstanding the rigors of the NHL, to playing without Mario Lemieux, then adjusting to the role as alternate captain, and becoming the youngest player in league history to score 100 points, expectations were definitely met.
However, there was one feat the future, or more suitably, present star forward couldn't pull off; he failed to lead the Penguins out of the Eastern Conference basement.
After a 58-point season in 2003-04, some believed the Pittsburgh Penguins was on the way up after the lockout when general manager Craig Patrick raided the free-agent market to complement a young roster.
Veteran forwards John LeClair, Zigmund Palffy and Mark Recchi were added along with all-star defenseman Sergei Gonchar and goaltender Jocelyn Thibault.
However, it didn't take long for the plan to blow up in Patrick's face as the Penguins lost their first nine games under second-year coach Ed Olczyk. Two weeks later, Thibault was lost for the season with an injured hip that required surgery.
What followed was a run of eight losses in nine games that dropped Pittsburgh's record to 8-17-6 – worst in the East – and led to the dismissal of Olczyk.
January was perhaps the toughest month. Pain from a lingering shoulder injury forced Palffy into retirement after 11-plus NHL seasons.
Shortly after that, Lemieux, the Penguins' part owner and best player, retired after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. A devastated Pittsburgh squad would lose seven of its next eight games.
Riding the outstanding play of Crosby, the Penguins went 8-11 over their final 19 games but still finished last in the East and 29th overall in the 30-team NHL.
On a brighter note in Pittsburg, New GM Ray Shero opted to keep his pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, tabbing the third of the four Staal brothers with the second overall selection. Jordan is a lanky pivot that could turn out a lot like his older brother, Eric. The Pittsburgh Penguins grab another top young player who could be a great addition to Crosby and Malkin.
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