Pittsburgh Penguins History: Lemieux Signs First Contract

Pittsburgh Penguins, Mario Lemieux. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins, Mario Lemieux. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Things between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Mario Lemieux started off rocky.

On Jun. 19, 1984, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that Mario Lemieux had signed a contract, while the details were scant, the deal ended a nearly month-long saga, that saw many different narratives develop.

At the end of the day all that mattered that Lemieux was finally a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Here is a quick look back at some of the events surrounding the signing.

Communication Breakdown

On or around Jun 4, 1984, negotiations between Lemieux’s agent Gus Badall (also represented Kirk Muller and Wayne Gretzky) and Penguins general manager Ed Johnston broke down.

Badali citied that Johnson and the Penguins were not willing to pay Lemieux market value. However, Johnston still intended to take Lemieux with the number one pick in the draft.

By the time the draft rolled around on Jun. 9, 1984, the situation had yet to improve.

In the days leading up to the 9th, Lemieux’s attendance was not guaranteed and at least a few teams were putting together offers to try and wrestle the number one pick away from the Penguins.

The Boston Bruins were one of the teams looking at making a pitch to the Penguins.

Bruins GM Harry Sinden eluded to the fact they would love to add a player of Lemieux’s prowess to their line-up. The Bruins held the 19th pick overall and had much deeper pockets than the Penguins and potentially would be able to sign Lemieux to a more lucrative deal.

No deals for the pick came to fruition and once Lemieux was chosen, he elected not to don the Penguins jersey for the customary photo-op or join the club join the Penguins at the draft table.

Hockey purists felt slighted by the move and thought it made the league look bad in front of the country, especially since it was the league’s first nationally televised draft.

A deal is struck

One of the key sticking points for a contract was the addition of an attendance clause that would give Lemieux more cash as attendance increased in Pittsburgh.

Johnston had stated that he had made one of the best offers ever to a player selected first overall.

Finally, a deal was struck, and on Jun. 19, 1984, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that Mario Lemieux had signed his first professional contract.

While the details were scant, the deal reportedly settled in at $700,000 for two years.

Things were starting to look up for Pittsburgh (well, in a few years they would)

Shuffling the deck

By the end of Feb., the central scouting had the top five players ranked in the following order

  1. Lemieux
  2. Al Iafrate
  3. Kirk Muller
  4. Ed Olczyk
  5. Craig Redmond

The actual order of the top five picks didn’t shake out much differently than the central scouting staff predicted.

  1. Lemieux
  2. Muller
  3. Olczyk
  4. Iafrate
  5. Petr Svoboda

Bonus: Home Sweet Home

When Lemieux refused to join the men’s Olympic team in 1984 it resulted in the QMJHL suspending the future hall-of-fame center. Lemieux was able to file an injunction and was able to play out the rest of the season.

One of the main reasons Lemieux declined the invitation from Team Canada was that he wanted to spend a “final” Christmas with his family before joining the NHL.

You may be surprised to learn that in Lemieux’s final season with Laval, the team averaged roughly 2,000 fans in an arena with a capacity of 3,200. That was probably due to the fact the Visons ran away in the standings early in the season.