The Penguins Aren't Trying to End the Lockout

Bruce Bennett

But it would be a lovely side effect of doing business.

At least publicly, it appears the Pittsburgh Penguins have become seriously involved in CBA negotiations for the first time.

Owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle have been in New York for the last few days, working across the table from players and NHLPA representatives Craig Adams and Sidney Crosby as the NHL and its labor union work toward ending the three-month long lockout.

Burkle, an all-star labor negotiator, apparently eased two month's of collective tension in his first day on the scene during Tuesday's informal meetings. Penguins players, for their part, have had nothing but praise for their boss.

With Burkle and Crosby bridging the sensitive-feelings gap that stunk up the room for two months and even Lemieux bringing his "mystical presence" into the discussions, it's been good feelings all around for what the Penguins are doing to help end this thing.

Except they're only trying to do the same thing as all those owners who shut down the season in the first place—make money.

The lockout has reached a critical point where a majority of its teams stand to lose a significant sum of money if any semblance of a real season isn't agreed upon, and soon.

For clubs such as the Penguins, whose hockey operations seem to stay in the black and whose multi-million dollar, publicly-funded arenas actually have a positive effect on the local economy, significant sums of money have already been lost.

If the lockout is let to go much longer, the gains to be had by playing an abbreviated season become less important than making sure each side gets what it wants in what will inevitably become a protracted, season-killing standoff.

And the Penguins stand to lose a great deal if there is no season.

For one thing, they'll forfeit a season's worth of revenues. The Penguins generate a lot of money out of CONSOL Energy Center. In the neighborhood of $120 million last season, according to Forbes' team valuation page. They also have some of the game's marquis names (which are responsible for no small part of said revenue), and those players are under contract and in their hockey primes.

They also have television deals to consider. Few teams play as many nationally televised dates as Pittsburgh and, locally, they outdraw every team in the NHL.

Remember, too, that they've got a five-year, 200-plus game home sellout streak to consider. A lost season is a threat to each of those assets.

Burkle has been praised for his openness and cooperation in working with grocery unions in California, and has been awarded for those successes. Still, he's candid about his desire to make money:

"People went around saying I was trying to be a do-gooder...That's a nice benefit, but the real reason we invest in these areas is to make money."

The same applies to his investment in the NHL.

None of this is to suggest the Penguins don't care about the season. Crosby and Adams are undoubtedly working towards a deal because they care about the game, and it's safe to assume that Lemieux, a former player, and Burkle, who has an everyman touch, would much rather see a season than not.

But if the Penguins were among those clubs still waiting for a deal that would ensure their financial wellbeing over the course of the next CBA, we'd be right back where we were this time last week, wondering when Lemieux and the Penguins would finally assert themselves in this process.

The club's in deep now, finally, and putting forth such forces as Lemieux, Burkle and Crosby means the Penguins are swinging a serious hammer in the negotiating room.

That's good news for everyone hoping for a deal, but it's only a lovely coincidence. The Penguins are just looking out for their own, like everyone else.

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