Candian billionaire Jim Balsillie has withdrawn his offer to purchase the Penguins and where it goes from here is anybody's guess.
Penguins chief executive officer Ken Sawyer spoke at a news conference on Friday night and expressed disappointment.
"We were hopeful that this was going to come to a conclusion any day," Sawyer said. "All we know is that he and the league couldn't come to an agreement and he chose to give us a notice.
* Penguins News Conference
"The price and the terms, there was no problem there."
Representatives for both Balsillie and the NHL refused to comment on Balsillie's withdrawal, but sources tell TSN the deal started to fall apart a week ago today, when the $175 million transaction was supposed to officially close.
Sources say the NHL introduced a lengthy list of terms and conditions on the closing day that Balsillie would have to agree to if he were going to be approved as the new owner of the team. The sources added that those conditions included keeping the franchise in Pittsburgh under any circumstances and also provided for a scenario where the league could take control the franchise if it deemed it necessary.
In any case, it seems clear Balsillie was not prepared to meet those terms and conditions. He and the league apparently have been negotiating for the past week trying to find some common ground that would permit the transaction to take place, but sources say Balsillie grew weary of the process and served notice to the league he was terminating his offer to purchase.
Sources suggest the door isn't closed to Balsillie resurrecting his interest but only if the conditions of ownership are amenable to him. The NHL, though, appears intent on getting some firm commitment that the Penguins will not be leaving Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, the news obviously comes as great disappointment to Penguins' owner Mario Lemieux. Lemieux issued the following statement:
''Jim Balsillie delivered a notice of termination today, and it is our understanding that he has stopped negotiating with the National Hockey League to get the necessary consent to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins,'' Lemieux said.
''While these developments create significant uncertainty, the Penguins organization will re-evaluate our situation after the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board makes the decision on the awarding of the Pittsburgh gaming license.
''What is clear is the best way to assure that the team remains viable and in Pittsburgh is to award the gaming license to the Isle of Capri.''
A decision on a slots license application is to be made Dec. 20. If the license is awarded to the Isle of Capri group, which has an agreement with the Penguins to get a new arena built for the NHL team, the future of the franchise in Pittsburgh appears to be secure.
But if the slots license were granted to a group other than Isle of Capri, there is no guarantee the Penguins would be able to stay in Pittsburgh.
It is difficult to know how to spin what has happened here since neither side – Balsillie or the NHL – are talking. The best we can do is to speculate.
The NHL might be inclined to say its desire to include assurances the Pens stay in Pittsburgh, and Balsillie's subsequent refusal to grant those assurances, shows that Balsillie was strongly considering the possibility of relocating the franchise, perhaps to southern Ontario, where the headquarters of his RIM corporation are located. The NHL could maintain it was championing the cause of NHL hockey in Pittsburgh and protecting the Penguins.
Balsillie might be inclined to say the NHL blindsided him and the Penguins' Lemieux-led ownership group with a series of last-minute demands that would leave his $175 million investment greatly compromised and that he could never invest that sum and have his hands tied as tightly as the NHL was insisting.
Now? Who knows?
The first hint that something might be awry came earlier this week when a fax vote by the NHL board of governors was supposed to have been completed. Whether it was or not, we don't know. But the expectation was, initially anyway, that the approval would be swift and unanimous and could have been announced as early as Monday of this week.
Sources told TSN that the board approval might be withheld until after the Dec. 20 announcement on the slots license in Pittsburgh, that if the Isle of Capri received the license and the arena plans were going ahead then Balsillie would get board approval. But that if Isle of Capri didn't get the license, and the Pens' arena future was uncertain, there would have to be assurances from Balsillie to keep the team in Pittsburgh before league approval was granted.
As it turned out, those demands were made last week when the deal was supposed to close on Dec. 8.
The Penguins are expected to hold a news conference during the first intermission of their game against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh.