SI Vault
 
11 PITTSBURGH Penguins
Kostya Kennedy
October 04, 1999
When Judge Bernard Markovitz finished presiding over the bankruptcy court proceedings that led to the approval of Mario Lemieux's purchase of the Penguins on Sept. 3, he reflected on Lemieux's potential impact: "If he runs this team the way he played the game, we will all be pleased."
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 04, 1999

11 Pittsburgh Penguins

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

INSIDER

CATEGORY

SI RANKING

SKINNY

OFFENSE

2

Jagr leads explosive front line

DEFENSE

12

Penguin system makes no-name defense work well

GOALTENDING

14

Barrasso can still be top-notch netminder

SPECIAL TEAMS

8

Outstanding power play, below average penalty killing

COACHING

8

Constantine is right coach for so-so defensive team

When Judge Bernard Markovitz finished presiding over the bankruptcy court proceedings that led to the approval of Mario Lemieux's purchase of the Penguins on Sept. 3, he reflected on Lemieux's potential impact: "If he runs this team the way he played the game, we will all be pleased."

Penguins fans immediately expressed their happiness. Within hours of Lemieux's takeover, the Penguins sold nearly 100 season tickets, and at press time the team had sold about 9,100 season plans, up 800 from last year's total. Lemieux, 35, the most dominant athlete in Pittsburgh history, who retired after the 1996-97 season with 613 career goals, has become the linchpin of the Penguins' marketing campaign. His likeness appears on billboards throughout the city, clad in his old uniform as well as in a business suit. He swiftly endeared himself to the faithful by slashing some ticket prices by 20% and creating $10 seats for children. "I want kids to be able to come see their heroes," he says.

One of those heroes, league MVP Jaromir Jagr, recently celebrated the opening of his sports bar in the Czech Republic by donning a red wig, lipstick and a full-length dress, a Rodmanesque stunt that caused only slightly less excitement than Jagr generates in a typical game. He led the league with 127 points last season, and Lemieux has pledged to keep Jagr, a right wing who will earn $10.4 million this season, in Pittsburgh for the rest of his career.

Before Lemieux stepped in, the club needed help with its finances, but the Penguins are in fine shape on the ice. Jagr is complemented by a dynamic offense that includes centers Martin Straka (35 goals last year) and Robert Lang (21) as well as multitalented wingers Alexei Kovalev and German Titov. The defense is unspectacular, but coach Kevin Constantine's system makes good use of the marginal talent, and he has the ability to motivate them to play their best.

Since Constantine took over as coach in the summer of 1997, the Penguins have adapted to the loss of Lemieux, withstood last summer's free-agent departure of elite center Ron Francis and weathered a bankruptcy that threatened to shut down the team. Over that time they've gone 78-54-32, and Constantine has kept the team focused. He's in the last year of a three-year, $1.2 million contract, and he deserves an extension.

Lemieux is leaving such matters to general manager Craig Patrick. For now the new owner is concentrating on making a strong impact in the community. And just as in his playing days, Lemieux's methods are winning over Pittsburghers.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

1