Sid the saviour in Pittsburgh

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:30 PM ET

NEW YORK -- The luck of the draw may have done more than improve the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday. It may have saved the franchise.

The Penguins are a team in desperate shape. Their home, the Civic Arena, is the oldest building in the National Hockey League -- and shows it. The team is on shaky financial ground and has little evidence of fan support. No Pittsburgh media attended the draft. The team has declared bankruptcy three times.

But when the first ball drawn in yesterday's draft lottery had Pittsburgh's number on it (12), the outlook immediately brightened.

Said Penguins president Ken Sawyer: "I think if there's any doubt in Pittsburgh about the Penguins and their future, it has been resolved on two counts today, with the new labour deal and now with Sidney Crosby and all the other players we've drafted over the past couple of years.

"We'll get the new arena. It's just going to take a little more time because it is tied to the money from the gaming."

The state legislature has been batting the proposal about, but it is understood that the Penguins will get a new building and the right to install video lottery terminals.

A significant portion of the profits from the machines will finance the new arena.

On the hockey front, the Penguins have the most highly regarded young goaltender in the game, Marc-Andre Fleury, and last year's second overall pick, Evgeni Malkin.

Malkin is contracted to play in Russia this year, but Pittsburgh general manager Craig Patrick says he doesn't know the status of that contract.

"He's signed in Europe," he said. "We're waiting for the new (International Ice Hockey Federation) agreement to get ratified or get in place, and we'll know more at that time about whether or not he can come over -- or wants to come over."

Some scouts feel that Malking has progressed to the point that he is now a better player than the player who preceded him in the draft, Alexander Ovechkin.

Whether Malkin comes or not, Patrick, who held his lucky four-leaf clover in his hand for the selection of the first ball, is excited about his team's future with Crosby on the roster.

"My mind just goes round and round and round with the possibilities in the lineups," he said, "so it's just a great day for our organization.


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