“It wasn’t a possibility,” [Penguins owner Mario] Lemieux said during a groundbreaking ceremony today for Pittsburgh’s new $290 million hockey arena.
“We had to do a few things to put pressure on the city and the state, but our goal was to remain here in Pittsburgh all the way. Those trips to Kansas City and Vegas and other cities was just to go, and have a nice dinner and come back.” …
“(Pressure) was felt, and that was the important thing. A lot of things happened throughout the negotiations. Ups and downs. That was just a way for us to put more pressure, and we knew it would work at the end of the day,” Lemieux said.
So what exactly did Penguins and NHL officials say to put “pressure” on the city of Pittsburgh?
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Feb. 2006: “The team’s lease expires in a year and if there’s no new building, there’s no way this club can have any future in Pittsburgh.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, Feb. 2006: “It needs to resolve itself in the next couple of months, otherwise they’re going to have to look at options.”
Lemieux, on the eve of a vote to approve the use of casino funds for a new Pittsburgh arena, Dec. 2006: “Wednesday will be a turning point in the franchise’s future. We decide the fate of the franchise. After Wednesday, we will sit down and evaluate all of our options.”
Lemieux’s careful words certainly left him room to say it was all just a legitimate negotiating tactic – especially since Bettman was put in the role of dropping the outright move threat, a common position for sports commissioners. But still, seems like there should be a better word for it.