It's news around here whenever the NHL gets something right, so let's hear it for the Pittsburgh Penguins and their reported new arena. Several media outlets in Steeltown are reporting that the team will announce a deal Tuesday with local and state officials for a 30-year lease on a new $290 million building that will open in 2009.
The club announced last week that negotiations were at an impasse and stepped up public flirtations with other cities, particularly Las Vegas, which has been campaigning hard for a pro team in any sport, and Kansas City, which is looking for tenants for a new arena. Houston has also been in the mix.
Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena is the oldest in the league, and the Penguins have suffered there. The team has struggled to earn sufficient revenue from the outdated building. It went into bankruptcy in the late '90s and was only saved by a takeover effort by star player Mario Lemieux.
For all that, Pittsburgh remains one of the better markets in the NHL. With an on-ice revival led by 19-year-old Sidney Crosby, who this weekend became the youngest player in history to record two 100-point seasons, the Penguins waddling off to possibly become the latest NHL hockey town-to-Sun Belt city failure story was just about the last thing the league needed.
Well, that and another vicious on-ice assault, which it got Thursday night on Long Island when Chris Simon of the Islanders leveled Ryan Hollweg of the Rangers with a two-handed stick swing. Hollweg wasn't seriously injured. Simon was suspended for the rest of the season Sunday. Business as usual in the NHL, which is averaging about one of these incidents every other year -- and keep in mind the league lost a year.
When the Penguins announced the impasse last week, word was that commissioner Gary Bettman would get involved. That's never encouraging news, but it looks like Bettman, who lacks the power to force the Penguins to accept a particular deal but can make it difficult for the team to move to another city, did some good.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Penguins will pay $3.8 million a year toward construction, plus $400,000 per year toward capital improvements.
That doesn't appear to be as good a deal as taxpayers could have had last year, when the Penguins announced they had an agreement with Isle of Capri Casinos for the company to build the team a new arena as long as the company got an exclusive state license to run a slot-machine casino in Pittsburgh. The arena would have been next door. But a state board awarded that license to another company.
With 14 games to play the Penguins are a solid playoff team, fifth in the Eastern Conference and with a good chance of hosting a first-round series. They trail the Ottawa Senators by one point for fourth place but have a game in hand. With a core of Crosby, 20-year-old Rookie of the Year front-runner Evgeni Malkin and 22-year-old goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, the future is bright.
That it looks like that future will happen in Pittsburgh is a win for the NHL, which will take any kind of win it can get.
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Live curling! For a price [PERMALINK]
Fantastic news, curling fans. The World Curling Championships will be webcast live starting this week on something called NBC Sports on Media Zone.
I think I was on mediazone last time I got into some poison ivy.
The women's matches start Saturday in Aomori, Japan, and continue through March 25. The men's championships, March 31 through April 8, will be played in Edmonton, Alberta.
Curling is the world's greatest sport that isn't one of the world's greatest sports, and this a great leap forward, the opportunity for people who don't live in places like Canada and Minnesota to watch live curling in a non-Olympic year without having to go to Canada or Minnesota.
Not that there's anything wrong with going to Canada or Minnesota. But I have dry cleaning out.
I once argued with border agents for three hours because I wanted to go to Canada so badly. They thought my three friends and I were a band trying to get to Vancouver to play a gig without proper documentation and fee paying, just because we were four men traveling together in a van. We didn't even have any musical instruments!
It was a charge no less outrageous for being true. We'd ditched the instruments in a hardware store in Everett, Wash., as many bands do, or did, I don't know. In hindsight we should have brought some fishing gear. Anyway, we managed to charm our way across the border and the gig, with borrowed gear, was pretty good.
But not as good as a good curling match, more than 40 of which will be available live online, according to NBC.
"We think curling is a perfect example of how we can use our digital platform to bring a growing sport to a market that's hungry for sport video," said NBC vice president Perkins Miller in a press release, and seriously, that's true, though the $19.99 price tag for both competitions -- $14.99 for either separately -- is awfully steep, if you ask this curling fan.
This is a great example of how the Web -- practically invented to serve niches -- can be a service to sports fans, a nice counterbalance to the seemingly inexorable march of sports on television toward premium cable, pay-per-view and exclusive deals that limit availability. Niche fans are accustomed to paying for what they want, so maybe I'm misjudging, but I think that price is going to have to come down a bit.
Still. Live curling. That's good news.
Previous column: Snub Sunday
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