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Old 01-20-2006, 09:29 PM   #580
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Default Lemieux: Penguins are for sale

By JOE MANDAK, Associated Press Writer

Thu Jan 19, 12:52 AM

PITTSBURGH - The Penguins are considering several offers to buy the team, and keeping it in Pittsburgh will remain a priority but is not guaranteed.

A recent offer by a casino firm to build a new arena, an influx of young talent and the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement have made the time right to consider selling, Penguins owner-player Mario Lemieux said Thursday.

``We've had quite a few inquiries over the last few months,'' Lemieux said. ``I think the timing was right to look at them and explore them and see what our options are. ... We've laid the foundation for the future and hopefully in a way that they'll stay here forever.''

Lemieux and team president Ken Sawyer wouldn't identify the interested parties. Most of the prospective buyers approached them before Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. offered last month to pay $290 million for a new arena, if the gambling firm gets a license to operate a slot machine parlor in Pittsburgh.

Lemieux has said the team would stay in Pittsburgh if Isle of Capri gets the slots license and that any new owner would be bound by that agreement. Isle of Capri must beat out three others seeking the license, which isn't expected to be awarded until later this year.

The Penguins' lease on 45-year-old Mellon Arena, the smallest and oldest facility in the NHL, runs through June 2008, and Lemieux has said the team could leave the city if it doesn't have a new arena by then.

Asked why he's not waiting to see if the Isle of Capri deal is approved before selling the team, Lemieux said: ``I said before I'm not going to be the one that's going to move the franchise, and there's a possibility of that happening.''

But Lemieux said the team isn't being shopped in an effort to move it.

``There's some (interested buyers) from out of town, but that doesn't mean they're going to move the team to Kansas City or Vegas or Houston or all the towns that have been mentioned,'' Lemieux said.

Lemieux and Sawyer wouldn't discuss the team's value.

Mike Ozanian, a senior editor who specializes in sports franchises at Forbes Magazine, said the value of all NHL franchises has increased since before the lockout due to the salary cap. He estimates the Penguins are worth $100 million, but would be worth up to 30 percent more with a new arena.

Lemieux and Sawyer said the team isn't being sold out of frustration with its performance - the Penguins entered play Thursday with just 31 points, the second lowest total in the NHL - or because state and local politicians have yet to come up with a deal for a new arena.

``I hope none of you expected Mario to own this team forever,'' Sawyer said. ``He's done more than he should ... and he's teed this up perfectly for the community to jump at a great opportunity for this team to stay here.''

The team filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1998, after running up $120 million in debt under former owners Howard Baldwin and Roger Marino. Lemieux's group bought the team out of bankruptcy and he further boosted its fortunes by ending his 44-month retirement in December 2000.
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