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NHL Lemieux views bleak Pens future



Published: Tue, February 11, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The team is losing money and attendance is down by more than 1,000 a game.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins owner and player Mario Lemieux expects the team to lose money this year, leading to tough financial decisions this summer.

Coming off a stinging 6-0 loss to Florida on Thursday and his first ejection since 1996 after a fight with Panthers defenseman Brad Ference, Lemieux clearly was bothered by fact that the Penguins' attendance is down by more than 1,000 fans a game this season.

"I'm going to have to make decisions this summer," he said. "We've just got to make the numbers work. We can't allow this team to go back into bankruptcy."

Lemieux bought the Penguins out of bankruptcy in 1999, ensuring the team would remain in Pittsburgh.

"My role is to keep this team here forever, but, you know, I can't do this alone. I need the support of the corporate community and the fans, and, if it's not there, I've got to protect my interest," Lemieux said.

The Penguins already are looking at the almost-certain trade of Alexei Kovalev, the NHL's sixth-leading scorer, for economic reasons, just as they traded Jaromir Jagr two years ago.

Sabres get help

In Buffalo, the bankrupt Sabres received an additional $15 million line of credit and approval to pay four players their deferred salaries on Friday.

There were no objections to the request made by Sabres attorney William Thomas in Buffalo bankruptcy court.

The request for an additional line of credit was expected. Judge Michael J. Kaplan had granted the Sabres up to $25 million in debtors-in-possession financing when he approved an initial $10 million line of credit after the team filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month.

The Sabres are now expected to pay forward Curtis Brown, goaltender Ryan Miller, and defensemen Jay McKee and Brian Campbell a combined $541,666 in deferred bonus money they were due last month.

Without that payment the four could become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.

Before the Sabres played the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night, Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier said the Sabres had to pay the players.

"I don't know how it can go any other way," he said. "For the amount of money that these players were owed, as an organization we could not ultimately afford to lose those assets."




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