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Old 02-10-2007, 02:47 PM   #734
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Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Lakewood,Colo
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Default Sadowski: Penguins' tale echoes of Quebec,00.html

The parallels are eerily similar.

A downtrodden hockey team finishes last in its division for several seasons, misses the playoffs and begins to build a powerhouse with young talent fetched with high draft picks.

Just when it appears the team is ready to make a run at a championship, the franchise is sold and moved to another city.

Sound familiar?

It happened with the Quebec Nordiques, who moved to Colorado in 1995 and won two Stanley Cups as the Avalanche, and the Pittsburgh Penguins could be on the same path.

Led by NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby and a host of other young stars, the Penguins are making a strong bid to earn a playoff spot for the first time since Mario Lemieux's comeback season in 2000-01.

The Penguins already have surpassed their points totals of the previous two seasons and are near a pace for 100 points, something they have done only three times. (It's remarkable the 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup teams only had 88 and 87 points.)

But unless the Penguins strike a deal with state and local officials to finance a replacement for 45-year-old Mellon Arena, the team and all its fresh talent will be heading elsewhere - possibly Kansas City, Mo. - after this season.

And the Penguins should only get better once youngsters such as Crosby, 19, Jordan Staal, 18, Evgeni Malkin, 20, and Marc-Andre Fleury, 22, mature. All were the first or second players taken in the past four NHL entry drafts, the rewards for four consecutive last-place finishes in the Atlantic Division.

Fleury has made the biggest strides. Rushed into action after being the first pick in 2003, he wound up in the minors each of the past two seasons and began this season with a 17-41-8 record as a Penguin.

Playing behind a much better group than in his first two NHL seasons, Fleury has learned to relax and already has posted 26 wins and four shutouts.

So far, coach Michel Therrien has been able to keep the players' minds on hockey when the possibility of moving after the season could easily turn into a damaging distraction.

That would be a real shame, and so would leaving Pittsburgh. Fans that stuck with the Penguins through all the bad times deserve to see them grow into one of the NHL's elite.
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