New arena is Balsillie's legacy in Pittsburgh

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Across the road from the aging Mellon Arena, the rink Steeltowners will forever fondly remember as the Igloo, they are working 24 hours a day on its state-of-the-art replacement.

And it isn't that much of a stretch to call the towering structure a shrine to and partial product of Jim Balsillie's first failed attempt at barging into the NHL club.

It was in 2006 that the Ontario billionaire swept in to attempt to buy the Pens, a team which was struggling on the ice and in a battle to secure public financing for said new arena.

The bid, reported at the time to be worth $175 million US, was ultimately rejected and withdrawn, even though Balsillie was willing to help finance a new venue.

It was also notable for being the first volley in the on-going feud between Balsillie and NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman.

Whether that ordeal fast-tracked the process of getting a new arena deal in place is up for debate, but the Penguins now are among the more successful and stable franchises in the league, working on consecutive sellout number 111 last night.

Predictably, Balsillie's latest attempt to get a franchise with his tentative deal to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes was a hot topic among Canadian-born players in the Pens-Caps series.

"Ultimately, I think they are going to do what's best for the game," Washington centre Brooks Laich said prior to last night's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Pittsburgh Penguins. "If a team is struggling, nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 or 6,000 fans.

"But we don't want to be bouncing teams around from city to city just looking to capitalize on a hot spot."

EMPTY SEATS

Case in point, Laich says, is the pre-Ovechkin era in the U.S. capital.

Like Pittsburgh, the Capitals have gone through their share of struggles where empty seats would routinely outnumber full ones by a decidedly wide margin.

"A couple of years ago, Washington wasn't a real hockey town," the Saskatchewan native said.

"Then you get a draft pick like Ovechkin and you can't get a seat in Washington. Sometimes teams go through spells where there's tough stretches."


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