Penguins can fly

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

The possible relocation of the Pittsburgh Penguins took big step toward becoming reality yesterday.

Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman went on record, discussing the option he has long been opposed to after word came down that the Isle of Capri group was not awarded a slots license that would have provided the Penguins with a new $290 million arena.

"The decision by the Gaming Commission was terrible news for the Penguins, their fans and the NHL," Bettman said in a press release. "The future of this franchise in Pittsburgh is uncertain and the Penguins now will have to explore all other options, including possible relocation. The NHL will support the Penguins in their endeavours."

What impact the decision made by the Pennsylvania Gaming Board has on the potential of the NHL returning to Winnipeg remains uncertain, but for the first time since the MTS Centre opened, it appears a team is available for relocation.

We know it's unlikely a new arena will be built in Pittsburgh, though several other options will be bandied about before the NHL seriously considers moving the Penguins anywhere.

We also know the MTS Centre could be a viable arena option if a rich owner -- perhaps someone like Canadian billionare Jim Balsillie -- buys the team and decides to try and move the organization to Canada.

It has been reported that Balsillie, the co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, revoked his offer to buy the Penguins because the NHL governors didn't want him to move the franchise to southern Ontario (specifically, in Hamilton or near his home in Kitchener-Waterloo). You would have to think that applies to Winnipeg as well.

One of the few people who might be able to shed light on the subject wasn't talking yesterday. Manitoba Moose governor Mark Chipman politely declined comment as speculation ran rampant that Winnipeg could be in the mix.

While Chipman was keeping his thoughts to himself, officials in Kansas City -- one of the cities openly pursuing an NHL return -- were not.

Kansas City is looking for a primary tenant for the $276 million Sprint Center, a state-of-the-art building set to open this fall, and they'd love to bring the Penguins to their city.

"Let's just say it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas," Brenda Tinnen, general manager of the Sprint Center, told the Kansas City Star after expressing disappointment for the fans of Pittsburgh.

Houston, Oklahoma City, Las Vegas and Portland are all other potential options for a Penguins move but all of them lack the hockey pedigree you can find in Winnipeg.

However, this isn't about moving a team to a hockey town. It's about dollars and cents and it's yet to be determined if Winnipeg could be a viable market for the long-term in the new NHL -- the one that currently boasts a salary cap and is aided by a strong Canadian dollar.

There are all kinds of factors in play, including the on-the-mark belief the NHL would prefer to have young star Sidney Crosby playing in an American market to help raise the popularity of the sport across the border.

Furthermore, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux wants to sell the team and it's likely he'll sell it to the highest bidder.

That means Winnipeg won't be at the front of the line.

A lot of Winnipeggers would be happy if the city is in the line at all.


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