The team is ready to take the loss to put a winning team on the ice.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins expect to lose at least $7 million this season despite a more favorable NHL labor agreement, player salary concessions and a big jump in ticket sales created by adding rookie Sidney Crosby.
Owner-player Mario Lemieux said Tuesday that his ownership group decided to increase the payroll by about $9 million, from $22 million in 2003-04 to about $31 million, in an accelerated effort to contend for the Stanley Cup immediately.
"We've been rebuilding for three years, it's time to put a great team on ice and, to do that, we're willing to lose [money] and we're going to lose more money next year," Lemieux said. "We're prepared to do this to have a chance to win. We feel this is a great opportunity for us."
Group remains intact
Lemieux's group, which recently chose to remain intact rather than carry out a planned sale to California businessman William "Boots" Del Biaggio, bought the team in federal bankruptcy court in 1999. Since then, it has diligently repaid debt and, to keep from piling up new losses, trimmed payroll by shedding players such as Jaromir Jagr, Alex Kovalev and Robert Lang.
The Penguins shifted course last month by adding defenseman Sergei Gonchar, goalie Jocelyn Thibault and forwards Ziggy Palffy and John LeClair during a rebuilding project made possible by the end of the labor impasse that shut down the 2004-05 season and also by the drafting of Crosby.
"Getting Sidney allowed us to go out and get Gonchar right off the bat, and I think that was a key signing for us," Lemieux said. "Once we did that, the players realized we wanted to put a great team on ice and that gave an opportunity to go after Palffy and all the other guys."
As a result, the Penguins -- last in both the overall NHL standings and attendance in 2003-04 -- now expect to contend again before Lemieux, who turns 40 on Oct. 5, retires in another year, two or three. Also, they could increase their chances of getting a new arena if they can again fill Mellon Arena on a nightly basis.
The Penguins have sought for years to replace the 44-year-old arena, the NHL's oldest and smallest, but have been unable to persuade state or local officials to construct a new building.
"If we have a great team and the politicians see the excitement we bring to the city, and the taxes we generate for this community, I think it's an easy sell," Lemieux said of a new arena. "But politics doesn't always work that way."
Loss based on playoff berth
Lemieux said the $7 million loss is based on the Penguins reaching the second round of the playoffs and would be higher if they did not do so. Even with sellout crowds projected for most games this season, the Penguins lack the significant luxury box and suite revenues most teams generate from their arenas.
"People are all excited, saying we're going to make money now, but in this building, that's the best we can do," Lemieux said. "Even if we go to the finals, we're not going to make money."
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