The Penguins: How they got here

Few people realize just how close we could have been to crowning the Oklahoma City Penguins the Stanley Cup champions. If it weren't for Mario Lemieux, the Stanley Cup would be parading down Oklahoma's single road, passing by all 18 of Oklahoma's hockey fans, all of them thinking, "Mmm, that would make a fine chili bowl, I tell you what." Then a gunfight would erupt and it would all be a bloody mess.

The reality was that at one point in the Penguins history they didn't have enough cash to pay their players, including Lemieux. Years of mismanagement by owners Howard Baldwin and Morris Belzberg, despite success on the ice, forced the organization to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1998. But years of withholding Lemieux's salary actually turned out to be one of the only good decisions the two owners could have made, because Lemieux used his $30,000,000 of deferred salary as equity to purchase the Penguins from his former bosses, avoiding relocation to the tumbleweed capital of the planet.

But the Penguins weren't out of the woods yet, not by a long shot, (tee-hee). Mario Lemieux, by now the first player-owner in NHL history, was facing his own problems in owning an NHL team. The 03-04 season saw the Penguins drop to last in league attendance, as well as last in the standings. That was, however, the season in which the Penguins took their first real step in rebuilding by drafting Marc-Andre Fleury first overall. Revenues were down the toilet, and relocation talk dominated the Penguin's community. Serious bids from Houston, Kansas City, and yes, Oklahoma (birthplace of the banjo), made it seem that relocation wasn't just a rumour, but a certainty. But by 2005, Mario Lemieux had figured out a way to pay everybody the Penguins owed money to (including every player) and managed a deal to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh for another 30 years, despite having higher offers from other ownership groups.

Today, thanks to the draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup champions. They have had franchise records in home attendance over the past two seasons, and are currently building one of the most modern arenas in North America; the Consol Energy Center.

Note the lack of tumbleweeds.

And wh
o do the Penguins have to thank for all this success? One man, and one man only, Mr. Mario Lemieux. You think the Penguins have gotten lucky in the draft lottery lately? Just think, if Pittsburgh hadn't won the first overall pick in 1984, the Penguins wouldn't even exist today.

I doubt Kirk Muller would have been as generous as Mario was.


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