Pens, Pittsburgh play let's make a deal

LANCE HORNBY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- There are 30 river bridges here, but spanning a gap in trust between the Penguins and local government in the next two months is vital to keep the team from troubled waters.

With their new arena in jeopardy after their casino partners were thwarted and potential Canadian buyer Jim Balsillie backed out, the Pens are off the market, awaiting help from the city and Allegheny County before looking seriously at a move elsewhere.

But Mario Lemieux's team can't hang in until its lease with creaky Mellon Arena is up at season's end, needing to launch next year's season ticket drive in the coming weeks, while the National Hockey League can't make its 2007-08 schedule based on a moving van.

The city craves an anchor tenant for a new downtown entertainment centre (estimated cost is $290 million US) and can't just let the Pens walk away. So the politicians sent out the first feeler a few days ago, suggesting the club pay $60 million toward a new home, broken down as $8.5 million up front, $2.9 million a year for 30 years, $1.16 million a year in giving up naming rights and responsibility for cost overruns.

The state of Pennsylvania's contribution would total $230 million, split almost equally over 30 years between tax dollars and money from Majestic Star, the winning slots licence bid.

While happy to see some progress on the home front, the club has not yet replied, no doubt hoping to make the government offer better terms after years of perceived negligence of the team's plight. Don't expect the Pens to simply hand over the lucrative naming rights, though the two sides must hash out parking and concession revenue.

Veteran winger Mark Recchi can't believe a deal won't be struck, given the need for a new building and the potential for a Stanley Cup contender with Sidney Crosby and Evegeni Malkin.

"This team is set for the next 15 years if you do things properly," Recchi said yesterday. "People have to realize that this city needs a new entertainment facility regardless of the team. If you sell out a building 300 nights a year, it generates a ton of revenue."

Meanwhile, the players soldier on, hearing constant rumours they're bound for Kansas City, Quebec City, Houston or even Waterloo.

"We can only control what's in here," Recchi said. "The only fortunate thing is that we have a lot of young guys who wouldn't have a big deal with being uprooted. But there are a lot of guys with families. And we all like the city and the fans. It's a great sports town."


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