Team will still lose money

Updated: December 2, 2003, 4:11 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Owner-player Mario Lemieux won't accept the $5 million raise tentatively promised him by the Pittsburgh Penguins' board as the money-losing team tries to keep its debt at a manageable level.

With the Penguins last in the NHL's overall standings and their attendance at its lowest level since the mid-1980s, president Ken Sawyer said Monday the team will lose about $5 million this season even with Lemieux's rollback.

Lemieux drew media and fan criticism after it was disclosed the board had nearly doubled his salary as player and chief executive officer to $10 million. Lemieux was given the raise even after the team shed stars such as Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang and Alexei Kovalev to cut its payroll to a league-low $23 million.

Lemieux makes $5.25 million as a player, or several million dollars below what most of the NHL's major stars make.

The pay raise, designed to make Lemieux's salary comparable to stars such as Jagr and Peter Forsberg, was contingent upon the Penguins reaching certain revenue levels.

With attendance down by a league-worst 3,200 per game from this time a year ago -- the Penguins averaged 12,076 for their first 11 home games -- Lemieux decided to not make the pay raise any issue any longer.

"Rather than wait for us to bring this up, Mario stepped up to key members of our board and said basically, 'My salary is going to be rolled back to where it was last year and the year before. We need to respect the bottom line,' " Sawyer said.

Lemieux, who has not spoken to reporters for nearly a month as he sits out with a left hip flexor, did not talk Monday about his decision.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press