Penguins' players try to ignore off-ice drama
Thursday, March 08, 2007
By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins keep winning. Their comeback, 5-4 shootout win at Ottawa Tuesday night kept them solidly in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and moved them to within seven points of the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Devils, who will haul a three-game losing streak into Mellon Arena tonight.
In a world with fewer distractions, that would make for a great story line.
But, with the team's future in the air and negotiations for a new arena apparently coming to a head, the players can't help but get caught up some in the off-ice news -- especially the development this week that Penguins owners believe they are at an impasse with state and local politicians and are stepping up their interest in relocating the club.
"We haven't really discussed it much. We've been pretty busy with playing," Penguins winger Colby Armstrong said yesterday after practice at Mellon Arena.
"But, at the same time, the new news kind of popped up. We'll see what happens with the new rink. It's out of our hands, but it's obviously of interest to us because it's the future of this team and everybody in this room."
Several players said they do not get updates from upper management and follow the efforts to get a new arena mostly through the same news reports as fans.
"It's getting tough at times [to ignore]," forward Jordan Staal said. "I don't think anyone in this dressing room wants to move. I think it's getting pretty close to crunch time, or maybe it's been like that for a while.
"It's upsetting. I know the fans really want us to stay."
The Penguins' future has been cloudy for some time. The club was for sale most of last year, but a transaction didn't materialize. Their lease at Mellon Arena expires in June, meaning they will be free to move to another city if there is no lease agreement and financing in place for a new local venue.
That has been a difficult juxtaposition for a team of young players that has exceeded expectations after finishing second-to-last in the overall NHL standings last season.
They are left chugging toward the light at the end of the tunnel on the ice and toward the darkness of an uncertain future away from the rink.
"I think the better we do, the more excitement it draws from the city and there's a bigger push for everyone to want to keep the team here and get a new rink for us," Armstrong said. "There's a lot of behind-closed-door stuff that needs to be done to straighten it out. We're not politicians or owners or anything in [the locker] room. We just have to worry about winning games.
"I guess if we had to do our part, it would be winning games. We've had great fans all year long. We just have to keep winning and playing well."
If the team does that, it no doubt will make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Postseason games at Mellon Arena always have been raucous, but there is a chance that it could be a lame-duck team by then.
"That would be tough," Staal said. "This town is ready to erupt pretty soon, especially if we make the playoffs. I definitely don't want to move. I love it here."
For some, the drawn-out process of deciding the team's future has gotten to the overload point.
"You hear little bits and pieces," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Everybody is getting kind of tired about hearing about everything without anything happening.
"Guys are still interested, obviously, but we've had so many games that it's gotten kind of pushed aside in our locker room."
Center Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL in scoring and has become the face of the league in many ways, is another player who does not invest too much emotion into the team's off-ice plight.
"It's been such an up-and-down thing the whole year. It seems like it's always changing, always different stories," he said. "I don't really look into it that much. When the day comes to make a decision, you take that decision and move on. Hopefully, it will be to stay here, but it's out of our control.
"The fans have shown their support and done everything they can. It's up to certain people, and we'll see what happens."
When a decision is made, Penguins players can't count on Crosby for the news, even though he lives with the family of team owner Mario Lemieux.
"You would think Sid would be on top of it, living at Mario's house, but he's the one that's always asking the questions," Orpik said.