Penguins Go Cheap
The NHL is taking its expansion clubs to the cleaners
Inasmuch as the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are about to be sold for $31 million, what does that make an NHL expansion team worth? Obviously not the $50 million that the league is charging the Ottawa Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning, two franchises scheduled to begin play next season.
While those clubs struggle to raise the money—last week Tampa finally made a $22.5 million payment that was due in June—the NHL owners should be wrestling with their consciences. They have been exposed as charlatans who have failed in an attempt to artificially inflate the value of their clubs.
Even at a price of $31 million, Pittsburgh's prospective owners, retired rental-car executive Morris Belzberg and former Hartford Whaler executive Howard Baldwin, are going to have trouble meeting their payroll. Penguin defenseman Paul Coffey, who last Thursday scored his 1,053rd point to break former New York Islander Denis Potvin's NHL record for career scoring by a defenseman, is in the second year of his five-year, $6 million contract. Add to that the new contracts of right wing Mark Recchi ($3.6 million for four years) and left wing Kevin Stevens ($5.4 million for five years), and center Mario Lemieux's five-year, $12 million deal, and it's clear that current Pittsburgh owner Edward DeBartolo Sr. has overextended the Penguins' resources. This season DeBartolo raised ticket prices, but the extra revenue is only a drop in the bucket. For the Penguins to remain above water, Belzberg and Baldwin are going to have to trade or, more likely, sell one of Pittsburgh's high-priced stars. At age 30, Coffey is the one likely to be auctioned off.
The $31 million that Belzberg and Baldwin are paying DeBartolo is what the market will bear for an NHL club. (DeBartolo is selling his management rights to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena separately to Spectacor Management Group for $24 million.) The last two clubs to be sold, the Hartford Whalers and the Minnesota North Stars, also went for $31 million apiece.
The owners have an obligation to lessen the burden on Ottawa and Tampa. Since both clubs are being initiated into a league in which salaries are increasing faster than sources of revenue, cutting their franchise fees would be both honorable and smart.
The Son Also Rises
Michael Andretti clinches the CART championship
Michael Andretti, whose genes have never allowed him to drive a conservative race, was advised to cool it Sunday in the final Indy Car race of the season, the Champion Spark Plug 300-kilometer at Laguna Seca (Calif.) Raceway. If he finished fifth or better, he would win his first CART season-points championship, no matter how Bobby Rahal, the only driver with a chance of overtaking him for the title, fared. The rule of thumb in such situations is to "stroke"—that is, play auto-racing's version of the prevent defense.