“AS THE ARENA TURNS”
By Jan Snyder
Hi. I’m new to the website and I’ll be providing a look at some of the east coast teams. But before you say, “Oh, she has that east coast bias” let me tell you that I spend a lot of late nights watching the Canucks, Oilers, Flames, etc. Okay, sometimes it’s just to check up on my fantasy players, but I do enjoy the hockey and I even attended the outdoor game in Edmonton a few years ago.
As a born and bred Pittsburgher, the Penguins are my team. I moved to Texas the week after Mario Lemieux’s first retirement to follow my job, but a part of my heart will always be at the Mellon Arena – or wherever the team ends up. Heck, even my cat’s name is Mario LaMew!
Everything is in such disarray off the ice but on it, the team is so exciting to watch. With Sid the Kid leading the charge and “Geno” Malkin right behind him, they give a great effort every night. Sidney’s work habits and sheer love of competition seem to have rubbed off on the rest of the guys who are now working as hard as the Kid every shift. At just 18 years of age, Jordan Staal is a pleasant surprise. Sid is 19 and Malkin 20. The “old veteran” is netminder Fleury who is a ripe old 22.
With such a great future ahead of them, it’s hard to believe they could be skating in another city next season. The arena saga is such a long and tedious one – here is the short version. The Pens’ lease is up on June 30, 2007. The building is 45 years old and has no luxury boxes, an important revenue stream for any team. When the team went bankrupt for the second time several years ago, Mario rode in on his white charger and saved the franchise by becoming its new owner – something he didn’t really want to do. I think that is what eventually pushed him back onto the ice! He’s not the type to sit in an office or attend meetings all day.
Arena plans were sort of underway when 9/11 happened and the project got pushed to the back burner. But things on the ice kept improving – number one draft picks, winning the lottery and Crosby, Mario back to play on a line with him. But soon health issues forced Lemieux out of the lineup for good.
He started pushing for the new arena again, explaining to anyone who would listen that the team was unable to make any money in this old barn. But politicians being what they are and Mario probably being too nice and too patient – nothing got accomplished. The team did come out of bankruptcy and re-paid every single cent to every creditor.
All Mario wants is his money back, money that was owed to him from his playing days and one of the reasons he bought the team. At this point, with “Mr. Blackberry” pulling out of the sale of the Penguins and the gaming commission choosing to award the slot licenses to someone other than the Isle of Capri, who promised to build an arena, what other choice does Mario have?
Although my heart will break if the team leaves the city (even if they come to my new city, Houston) I can’t fault Lemieux for doing whatever he thinks is best. He’s tried for seven long years to get people to pay attention and no one has. This week Mario went to look at the facility that is ready for a team next season in Kansas City and met with officials in Pittsburgh.
I can’t believe that Mario will want to be forever known as the person who moved the Penguins – he enjoys the hero status too much. But I’m not sure that he won’t be pressured from the other investors to do just that. What a shame that would be and what a blow to Pittsburgh’s economy, which isn’t exactly booming anyway.
What will happen next?? Will they stay or go?? Stay tuned for the next episode of “As the Arena Turns” to find out!