When Lemieux retired following the 1996-97 season, he had appeared in eight NHL All-Star Games, had been named the winner of the Hart Trophy as league MVP three times, the Art Ross Trophy six times as league scoring champion, the Conn Smythe Trophy twice as playoff MVP, the Pearson Award four times, won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, the Bill Masterton Trophy, won two Stanley Cups, had his number retired, been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and defeated cancer, which included scoring a goal and an assist on the day of his last radiation treatment, and then going on to win the 1992-93 scoring title by 12 points despite missing two months of the season and playing two dozen less games than the remainder of the players who finished in the top five in league scoring, Pat Lafontaine, Adam Oates, Steve Yzerman and Teemu Selanne.
At the time of his 1997 retirement, Lemieux had appeared in 745 games with 613 goals and 881 assists for 1,494 points.
While Lemieux was in retirement, the Penguins fortunes took a nosedive, and the club was some $90 million in debt. The situation became so bad that the club declared bankruptcy and was in danger of relocating or folding altogether. With Lemieux's deferred salary amounting to over $32 million, he was the club's largest creditor and made the unusual proposal to convert the debt the club owed him into equity in the franchise, a proposal approved by the NHL Board of Governors on September 1, 1999. Two days later a U. S. Bankruptcy Court approved the plan, making Lemieux the Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Penguins and the first former NHL player to become majority owner of his former team.
Several factors led the decision, as he young son Austin was too young to remember having seen him play when he first retired. Additionally, Lemieux was now fully recovered from the back injuries which had plagued his final few seasons when he last played. Also, there was the reality that Lemieux the player was Lemieux the owner's greatest asset.
18 days later, Pittsburgh's record was 15-14-6-1 as Lemieux took to the ice for the first time since April 26, 1997, three years and eight months prior.
During his first game back with the Penguins on December 27, 2000, Lemieux electrified the fans in Pittsburgh with an assist just 33 seconds into the game on a goal by Penguins captain Jaromir Jagr.
His three point night upon his return would leave Lemieux at 1,497 career points, while teammate Jagr now stood at 999 points.
The game on this date in Pittsburgh had barely settled in when Peter Schastlivy scored for the Senators just 1:36 into the game when he beat Penguins goaltender Garth Snow.
At 5:36 of the period, Lemieux hammered a shot from a near impossible angle from the left wing corner. After it hit Senators goaltender Jani Hurme, it somehow squeezed through Hurme and the post and over the goal line, but not before referee Don Van Massenhoven blew the play dead, having lost sight of the puck as it burrowed its way through the Senators goalie, denying Lemieux another point.
Robert Lang countered for Pittsburgh from Martin Straka and Lemieux on a power play at 10:15. Alexei Yashin put the Senators back on top from Shawn McEachern a little over two minutes later but Janne Laukkanen made sure the first period ended even at 2-2 when he put back a rebound just six seconds before the end of the period following a dazzling effort by Straka with the second assist to Hans Jonsson.
Martin Havlat put the Senators back on top when he converted a power play opportunity just 3:49 into the second period from Karl Rachunek and Jamie Rivers.
Lemieux then centered the puck from the left side and Jagr fired the rebound past Senators goaltender Hurme for the 1,000th point of Jagr's career. The assist was Lemieux's second counted point of the night and put him at 1,499.
1:28 into the third period, Lemieux fed Jagr again, who converted for his second goal of the night and Lemieux's milestone 1,500th career point.
Lemieux was not finished, however, as he completed the scoring with an empty net goal with just 12 seconds remaining for a final 5-3 margin with assists credited to linemates Jagr and Hrdina.
"That was something special for both of us," Lemieux said about the duo each reaching a career milestone on the same night. "Because we've played so many years together, and accomplished so much."
His four point night gave Lemieux a head shaking seven points in his first two games back after his three and a half year layoff.
The scary part for the rest of the NHL was, in spite of the apparent chemistry between Jagr and the returning Lemieux, he felt there was more to come. "I think we can get better," Lemieux said. "I think we're still, at times, not sure, especially with [Hrdina]. I'm still not sure what he's going to do. The more we play together, the more we practice ... I think we can be a lot better. And the more conditioning I can get in the next couple of weeks, to take my game to the next level, I think it will help the line a little more."
To put the excellence of Lemieux into perspective, only 11 players in league history reached 1,000 points faster than Jagr's 763 games, while Lemieux only required 747 games to reach 1,500 points!
Lemieux would eventually play 43 games that season, scoring 35 goals and 41 assists for 76 points (1.77 points per game) while Jagr would win the Art Ross Trophy for the fourth consecutive season with 52 goals and 69 assists for 121 points in 81 games (1.49 ppg), one of only two players, along with Joe Sakic (118), to surpass 100 points that season.
Today's first featured jersey is a 2000-01 Pittsburgh Penguins Jaromir Jagr jersey as worn the night Jagr scored his 1,000th NHL point. In Lemieux's absence, Jagr became the Penguins captain and wore the "C" from 1998-99 to 2000-01.
After hearing the fans longing for a return to the classic "Skating Penguin" logo, the team introduced a new black alternate jersey for the 2000-01 season, only with an altered color palette, as a pale shade of gold rendered in shiny fabric replaced the classic shade of bright gold used by the Penguins as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL and Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball. The new shade of gold was dubbed Las Vegas Gold.
After two seasons of use as the team's alternate third jersey, it was promoted to being the team's primary road jersey and a new white version became the home jersey. While the main crest was once again the classic Skating Penguin logo, the Robo Penguin remained as the secondary shoulder logos through the 2006-07 season when both jerseys were replaced as the league switched to the new Reebok Edge jerseys for the 2007-08 season.
Today's second featured jersey is a 2000-01 Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux jersey as worn during his second game back from his three and a half year retirement when he scored his 1,500th NHL point, making this the first time he had worn this new style Penguins alternate jersey.
This was one of the rare times a Lemieux jersey did not feature the captain's "C" or at least the assistant captain's "A" once Lemieux was named team captain back in 1987. Lemieux would return to the captaincy for the 2001-02 season through the remainder of his career.
Today's great video are classic Lemieux moments, focused on his return to the ice in 2000, including highlights from the night he and Jagr both hit their milestone point totals.