Your move, Pittsburgh

Mario Lemieux has enjoyed the highs and lows of life on and off the ice.

From winning two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins -- a team he'd later rescue in bankruptcy court -- to recovering from cancer and returning from back and hip injuries only to have an irregular heartbeat finally end his Hall of Fame career, Lemieux truly lives up to the nickname "Super Mario".

Which makes the last few days the hardest of all for someone who had done more than his share. First, on Friday a deal to sell the team for $175 million to BlackBerry patriarch Jim Balsillie ground to a halt when Balsillie pulled out of negotations.

Then a bid by Isle of Capri Casino for one of Pennsylvania's lucrative slot machine licenses was rejected by the state's gaming control board on Wednesday. With that went a promise to build a new $290 million facility to replace aging Mellon Arena and keep the team in Pittsburgh.

The Associated Press reported that the board voted unanimously to award the city's only slot-machine license to Detroit-based casino developer Don H. Barden's PITG Gaming. Barden's group proposes building a casino and entertainment development on the city's North Shore, near Heinz Field and PNC Park.

PITG has said it would contribute toward a new arena, but the team and the state would have to open their coffers as well. New homes for the Steelers and Pirates were negotiated only after county voters rejected a nominal sales tax increase.

''Had Isle of Capri been selected, it would have ensured the long-term future of the Penguins in Pittsburgh,'' Penguins CEO Ken Sawyer said. ''At this point, our franchise enters a period of uncertainty, with our lease at Mellon Arena set to expire this summer. We will re-evaluate all of our options before deciding on a course of action and making further comment.''

So. ultimately, will this end professional hockey in western Pennsylvania? Solving that puzzle is not easy. Land for the new arena has been secured, but no one is willing to blink when it comes to opening the wallet.

I can sympathize with Lemieux. I'm sure at some point he's had to say to himself, "What more can I do?" Much like a decade and change ago, today's Penguins are loaded with young talent but take a back seat to the Steelers and Pirates -- who haven't had a winning season since Bush the Elder was in office.

Perhaps, it's time to quietly let go. Let the Penguins fly away and set up shop in a new city.

1 comment:

The Girl in Black said...

Mario's just probably preoccupied with "pros vs. joes" on Spike.

PS: Haven't forgotten to call you back. Just working a ton and finishing shopping. This retail gig is starting to suck.