King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The Pittsburgh Penguins fiasco: Another bad day for the NHL. Plus: NFL Week 16, Part 1. Farewell for Favre?


Salon Staff
December 21, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

Wednesday was a great day to be a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. If you live in Kansas City, Mo. Maybe Houston.

Those two cities, each boasting a ready arena and a rich guy interested in buying an NHL team and moving it there, are the two most likely destinations for the beleaguered Pens if they aren't able to put a new arena deal together soon. That effort took a major hit Wednesday.

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The Penguins had gone all in backing Isle of Capri Casinos' bid for the exclusive slot-machine casino license in Pittsburgh. The bid included a $290 million commitment to build a new arena for the Penguins next to the slot casino at -- and this statement is always suspect -- no cost to the team or taxpayers.

Wednesday the Pennsylvania Gaming Board unanimously awarded the contract to PITG Gaming, a Detroit company. PITG has also committed to supporting an arena, but on a much smaller scale. The company has agreed to contribute $7.5 million a year for 30 years as part of a so-called Plan B, which is one of those plans that ain't ever gonna happen.

This all comes in the wake of the collapse of a $175 million deal for Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie, whose company Research in Motion makes the BlackBerry communications device, to buy the team.

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Balsillie said he pulled out after he was "blindsided" by the NHL, which he says added a list of 11th-hour conditions before approving the sale. Among them: That he not move the team before 2013.

The NHL and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux deny the charge, and a furious Lemieux has said he'll keep Balsillie's $10 million down payment because Balsillie violated the sale agreement.

So whether Balsillie or Lemieux is telling the truth, it's another botched deal for the NHL. Just when it was on a little winning streak.

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That is, if you don't count the cratering TV ratings and waning attendance, and the escalating payrolls that have the Globe and Mail asking the reasonable question, "Why did fans have to endure a lockout?"

I can't pretend to know the ins and outs of Pittsburgh or Pennsylvania politics, but I know enough to know that you don't put all your chips on how a board will vote unless you're damn sure you know how that board's going to vote in advance. Especially when what you're betting on is a $290 million arena plan. This might sound crazy, but nowdays, $290 million doesn't build an arena.

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Balsillie says a five-minute phone call could reopen negotiations. Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Brenda Tinnen, vice president and general manager of the new, vacant Sprint Center, told the Kansas City Star, "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas."

NFL Week 16, Part 1 [PERMALINK]

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Minnesota (6-8) at GREEN BAY (6-8): Both teams are telling themselves they're still alive for the playoffs because they're only one game out of a wild-card spot. Problem is, of the 10 teams that wouldn't make the playoffs if the season ended today, six of them are within one game of a wild-card spot. To be fair, the Vikings would do pretty well in the various tie-breaking schemes, but they'll still need two wins and a lot of help to make it.

Fortunately for those of you too lazy to work out the various scenarios, they're unlikely to get those two wins. This game is most interesting for the quarterbacks. It could be the last one at Lambeau Field for Packers legend Brett Favre and will be the first one as a starter for rookie Tarvaris Jackson of Minnesota.

Good for Vikings coach Brad Childress for taking a look at the future and giving Jackson a chance to take his lumps with a playoff spot supposedly still available. It isn't, in any real sense, and no coach ever went broke sitting the likes of Brad Johnson with two games left and a 6-8 record.

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It's a surprising move given Childress' characterization of Jackson, a scrambler, as a project when the Vikings surprised everyone by taking him in the second round last spring, especially when you consider that Jackson missed some time after minor knee surgery.

It's easy to envision Favre pressing, trying to do too much for the home faithful, throwing three or four interceptions. But I think he'll rise to the occasion, assuming it really is an occasion, and Jackson, who has thrown 27 passes in two appearances, will take some lumps.
Buster's pick: Minnesota (coin)

Previous column: UFC president Dana White

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