NEW PLAYERS 10
NEW RULES HELP
BETTER THAN '03-04? YES
The Penguins arrived at their first day of training camp to find reporters from 11 TV stations, 11 newspapers and a handful of radio outlets. The media horde wasn't there for 39-year-old Mario Lemieux, the dominant scorer in NHL history. Nor did they want to greet Pittsburgh's newly imported All-Stars: John LeClair (three 50-goal seasons), Ziggy Palffy (six seasons of 30 or more goals), Mark Recchi (13 seasons of at least 20) and Sergei Gonchar (241 points since 2000-01, most for an NHL defenseman).
"It was all for Sidney," says Tom McMillan, the Penguins' vice-president of communications. "And it didn't stop after the first day. We've never had this kind of attention before a season."
Sidney, in case you've been living someplace where the terms next Gretzky and NHL savior don't travel, is Sidney Crosby, the 18-year-old No. 1 draft pick from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, whose prodigious offensive skills (120 goals in two seasons of juniors) and personable demeanor (as evidenced during an Aug. 4 appearance on The Tonight Show) are supposed to rescue the NHL from obscurity.
His first order of business, though, is to save the Penguins, who finished last in the league in 2003-04 and lost $3 million that season. Upon winning the draft lottery on July 22--"We won it at 4:30. The phone at our ticket sales office started ringing at 4:31," says McMillan-- Pittsburgh's once dismal outlook changed overnight. Now Lemieux believes the Penguins are one of "five or six teams with a chance to win the Stanley Cup."
That would go a long way toward persuading the city to build the team the arena it sorely needs (which would give the club reason to abandon thoughts of relocating). Even without a title, the Penguins, whose average attendance of 11,877 was a league worst in '03-04, have already sold more tickets than they did for all of that season. Crosby has already made Pittsburgh hockey relevant again. --K.K.
New netminder Jocelyn Thibault buys some time for goaltender of the future Marc-Andre Fleury, 20, to develop.
Sidney Crosby [rookie]