But Pittsburgh's NHL team could leave if a deal for a new arena isn't set soon.
PRESTO, Pa. (AP) -- Owner-player Mario Lemieux said he is more encouraged about the Penguins' future in Pittsburgh than he was last year, promising Thursday the team will be greatly improved as soon as this season under the new NHL labor agreement.
Lemieux also said the Penguins' proposed new owners will have more money to spend on star-quality players than his group did.
But Lemieux warned that the clock was ticking on the team's future in Pittsburgh. Unless a new arena deal is in place when the Penguins' Mellon Arena lease expires in 2007, he said, the team is all but certain to leave.
"People are starting to talk about it [the arena], and I'm optimistic the right thing is going to happen to create a new facility for the city and the Penguins," Lemieux said. "I think, at the end of the day, it will happen."
Other potential revenue source
Although city and Allegheny County officials and Gov. Ed Rendell have said there is no public tax money for the arena, Lemieux said he is convinced that newly enacted slots machine legislation can be the conduit for the arena money.
Lemieux revealed that the Penguins are talking to various groups -- presumably, casino operators -- about a venture guaranteeing arena construction. He said he expects the downtown Pittsburgh casino license to be issued in late 2006.
"We're still talking to a few people, but we haven't settled with anybody yet," he said.
Lemieux said he also expects lots of talking once the labor deal is done -- namely, with some of the numerous free agents that will be available.
The Penguins have only about $10 million to $11 million committed in 2005-06 player salaries, meaning they could have $20 million or so in cap money available to upgrade their roster. They finished last in the NHL standings during the 2003-04 season.
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