Aug 4, 2005 (published on www.tvnz.co.nz)
By Fred Lunjevich
From league bunnies to the hottest ticket in the NHL the Pittsburgh Penguins love the new salary capped version of the NHL.
The club was on the brink of self destruction in the past few seasons as it slumped to the bottom of the league in terms of wins, game attendance and of course, money.
But the Penguins have a new sense of vigour under new league rules.
Winning the NHL entry draft lottery and signing talented teen Sidney Crosby has given Penguin fans a reason to go out and buy season tickets while the team is now attracting the league’s top talents.
The club’s first major signing from the free agent market was Sergei Gonchar who was formerly of the Boston Bruins.
Gonchar has been the league’s highest scoring defenceman in the past six seasons.
Players that can’t get the big money they received under the old system will likely move to clubs that are genuine contenders.
Pittsburgh, for the first time in a decade, is one of those teams.
An evening of the playing field has done wonders for struggling franchises who found it difficult to buy players on the open market.
In 1998 the Penguins filed for bankruptcy after signing former scoring champion Jaromir Jagr to a $38 million contract extension.
Owner-player and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux stepped in and bought the struggling franchise but with a low payroll the team floundered at the bottom of the league.
He is now selling the Penguins to San Jose-based businessman William (Boots) Del Biaggio in a move that should sure up the club’s finances.
The Penguins reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2000-01 after Lemieux unexpectedly ended a 44-month retirement but has failed to reach the playoffs since. The Penguins lost 18 consecutive games and had the league’s worst record in the 2003-04 season.
But with the signing of Crosby and a league $39 million salary cap, it puts Pittsburgh back on the NHL radar as contenders.
Add to this Lemieux’s desire to return to the NHL despite turning 40 on opening night, October 5 and you have a recipe for winning.
Pittsburgh last won the Stanley Cup in 1991-92 after winning it the previous season also.