C Lemieux to return, Pens agree to terms with five others
PITTSBURGH - Owner and captain Mario Lemieux confirmed Thursday that he will return to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2003-04 season.
Despite missing 15 games, the 37-year-old center was sixth in the NHL in scoring last season with 28 goals and 63 assists. In a news conference Thursday, Lemieux said he was excited about the upcoming campaign.
"I feel great, I've been working out and I'm really looking forward to getting back on the ice," Lemieux said. "With some of the guys we have back and some of the young players we have coming up, it should be a very exciting year for us."
The financially troubled Penguins were forced to unload All-Star right wing Alexei Kovalev in February to pare an already austere payroll and floundered late in the season.
In September 1999, Lemieux led an ownership group that brought the Penguins out of bankruptcy. He is the team's CEO and chairman of the board.
Pittsburgh also agreed to terms with five other players Thursday, including a pair of 36-year-old veterans expected to skate on a line with Lemieux. Terms of the contracts were not revealed.
Right wing Kelly Buchberger and center Mike Eastwood are Pittsburgh's first acquisitions this offseason after the club re-signed defenseman Dick Tarnstrom on Wednesday.
"Kelly and Mike are established veterans that will provide solid leadership and experience for our younger players in addition to providing depth at the forward position," Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said.
The rugged Buchberger had three goals and nine assists with 109 penalty minutes in 79 games with the Phoenix Coyotes last season. In 1,111 career games, Buchberger has 104 goals, 201 assists and 2,188 penalty minutes.
Eastwood split last season with the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, totaling three goals and 13 assists in 70 games. A teammate of Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk with the Winnipeg Jets from 1994-96, Eastwood has 83 goals and 134 assists in 701 career games.
Pittsburgh also will retain left wing Rico Fata, center Toby Petersen and defenseman Rob Scuderi. Fata was acquired in the Kovalev deal and collected five goals and eight assists in 27 contests with Pittsburgh. Petersen and Scuderi spent last season with Pittsburgh's American Hockey League affiliate, Wilkes-Barre.
The Penguins staggered through a 16-game winless streak and finished next-to-last in the NHL with 65 points. They have missed the playoffs each of the last two years.
Forced into retirement by persistent back pain, Lemieux made a remarkable comeback in 2000. He collected 35 goals and 41 assists in just 43 games after sitting out three seasons.
A nagging hip injury limited Lemieux to 24 games in 2001-02, but he won a gold medal with Canada at the Salt Lake City Olympics.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
MORE NHL HEADLINES
- Peverley gets standing ovation at Stars game
- Penguins' Neal diagnosed with concussion
- Backstrom to get silver medal despite drug test
- Sharks slip past Isles for 5th straight win