Pens won't fly to 'Peg

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

This time they mean it.

After making all kinds of threatening noises over the last year or so, the Pittsburgh Penguins say enough is enough. They're leaving Pittsburgh. Or, at least, they're ready to "aggressively explore relocation," to quote from a letter sent to government officials yesterday.

Pens co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle are fed up with the lack of progress in negotiations for a new arena (read: aren't being allowed to dig deep enough into taxpayers pockets), so they're going to take their toy elsewhere.

Probably Kansas City, where a sparkling new, $276-million arena awaits, ready to prove once again that hockey doesn't work in that city.

And where does this leave Winnipeggers who wonder why the Pens don't just pack up Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and bring them to Portage and Hargrave?

The same place we were at a year ago: waiting for the NHL's crazy economy to force two or three southern U.S. teams to run up the white flag.

Until that happens, the price of buying a franchise, either outright or in part, remains out of reach for a blue-collar hockey town like ours.

It's still a seller's market out there, with K.C. and Houston, just to mention two, lined up to test drive the next team that sprouts wheels.

NHL hockey is a borderline venture here. Conditions have to be perfect: a lower salary cap, a robust economy and a team that comes cheap.

Lemieux and Co. aren't willing to come cheap.

Which is why they're ready to leave Pittsburgh.

MOOSE MANIA? Mark Chipman, co-owner of our two-year-old arena and the Manitoba Moose, wasn't quick with the comment on the Penguins story yesterday, and it's easy to surmise why.

He doesn't want to take the spotlight away from the hottest team in the AHL.

When's the last time a Winnipeg pro team won 12 of 13 games?

If there was any doubt about first-year head coach Scott Arniel's ability, the former Jet has silenced them in the last month or so.

The Moose, a balanced bunch that seem to be able to play it anyway you like, are looking good for their first AHL division title.

It'll be interesting to see how Winnipeggers respond, especially if this team reaches the Calder Cup final.

OK, that's putting the cart before the Moose. But there's one sure-fire way to measure a city's emotional attachment to its hockey team, and that's playoff crowds.

INTO THE BLACK: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will make it official tomorrow: they're out of debt, probably for the first time since the 1980s.

"For the first time in decades we're going to have money in the bank, and the ability to stand on our own," board chairman Ken Hildahl said yesterday. "If we have a bad weather year... we can withstand that without having to go into panic mode."

That's due mostly to a nice profit from the Grey Cup, of course. Making money on a year-to-year basis in the current facility is still a hit-and-miss affair.

Which is why the Bombers are exploring private ownership.

The public gets a chance to speak out on the issue at tomorrow night's fan forum. Problem is, that event is usually little more than a love-in.

The team's board of directors has said they'll hold more extensive consultations, and they'd better.

It's only the biggest decision any Bomber board has ever made.

UPHILL CLIMB: The Saskatchewan Roughriders are taking some heat for signing troubled running back Hakim Hill, only to see him arrested for drunken and disorderly conduct down in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Riders obviously took Hill at his word when he told them he'd cleaned up his act.

You'd think a little more research would have been in order, considering new GM Eric Tillman's promise to polish the team's tattered image.


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