After the Isle of Capri was unsuccessful in their bid to obtain the states gaming license, the Pittsburgh Penguins received another lump of coal in their stocking. Mario Lemieux majority owner of the Penguins had a press conference stating,
“…It is time to take control of our own destiny. Accordingly, starting Thursday, the team is off the market, and we will begin to explore relocation options in cities outside Pennsylvania. After seven years of trying to work out a new arena deal exclusively in Pittsburgh, we need to take into consideration the long-term viability of the team and begin discussions with other cities that may be interested in NHL teams.”
Let the tears begin to flow Pittsburgh. After hearing days of rhetoric from Bill Daley, Gary Bettman's right hand man, Former perspective buyer Jim Balsillie, and even from Super Mario himself. The ownership group is going to go the same route that Jim Balsillie wanted to go, and that even the NHL themselves were going to allow Balsillie to go.
More importantly is why did Mario Lemieux wait so long to 1) sell the team he didn’t want, 2) work with the city to get a new arena, and 3) decide when relocation becomes their best option.
Since Mario took over the team in 1999, he has not accomplished his number one objective. Get a New Arena. Yes, he did pull the team out of bankruptcy but would he have done this if the Penguins organization didn’t owe him approx $57 Million? Odds are is that Lemieux would not put up his own money just to pull the team out of bankruptcy. Mario Lemieux ended up losing far more money then actually gaining what was owed to him.
According to many sources there are 5 cities in America who will welcome an NHL franchise with open arms. Why would some of these markets want a hockey team is beyond me. Can anyone actually picture a team in Okalahoma City? Sure they are sharing a basketball team and it is doing marginally well, but a hockey team?
The 4 other cities that would take the Pittsburgh Penguins are Las Vegas, Kansas City, Houston and Seattle. If you are done laughing about the prospect of a hockey team in Okalahoma City, then is there actually seriousness about NHL doing well in Kansas City or Las Vegas. That I know of, Kansas City has a facility all set up for an NHL hockey club with seating for approximately 18,200 ‘fans’ and has been calling Gary Bettman and the NHL for serious consideration. Putting the Penguins in Las Vegas would give the bookies another sport in which they could take your money. After having one franchise fail in the desert (Phoenix Coyotes), even with a brand new facility, is there a need to have another dying franchise in the desert?
Placing the Pens in a market like Houston and Seattle are not horrible choices. Houston seems like a far-fetched place considering that the NHL and the sport of hockey is purely a regional sport, not a national one. Since the Dallas Stars moved from Minnesota they have been successful and with their string of playoff runs are favourites in the city home to the Cowboys and the Mavericks. Just based on their success gives the city of Houston a good chance of being the place the Pens should relocate to. Seattle really seems like the city of choice. The man behind the Seattle bid is former co-head of Microsoft Paul Allen. Sure he sold of 68 million shares of the company and made a boat load of money, but the guy still owes 138 million shares. Now this is a perfect alternative to Jim Balsillie for owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Seattle should be the biggest frontrunner in getting the Penguins because of their location alone. Allen can easily build a 19,000 seat multipurpose arena, he can throw in the Sonics to maximize revenues even. Seattle is no more than 4 hours from Vancouver. If the NHL owners do not want Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin to be in Canada, this is the next best thing. There are at least 6 WHL junior teams within a few hours of Seattle, including the Seattle Thunderbirds. Having Crosby much closer to a huge Canadian hockey market like Vancouver will attract all these fans that will buy the season tickets or buy ticket packages even pay top dollar for single tickets. This area of the United States is a booming hockey location just like the Maryland area. There will be financially stable owners pushing for team success, they can team with the Sonics in one arena for a faster Return on investment, they would still own the rights to Malkin and Crosby for another 5 years starting in 2007, and there is a large deposit of fans wanting professional hockey.
The only thing left to do is pick a name… how about the Seattle ColbEagles. Have some good ol' Stephen Colbert support can only help things, ie: Saginaw Spirit of the OHL