Penguins players insist potential franchise move not a distraction

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Throughout the makeshift locker-room at a suburban ice rink where the Penguins practised this week, most members of the team expressed hope the franchise stays in Pittsburgh beyond this season.

Others seemed indifferent to potential relocation to Kansas City or some other city.

"We're curious at what's going on, but it doesn't effect us at all," coach Michel Therrien said. "We are focusing on what we have to do, but we read stuff in the papers like everyone else does. But our focus isn't on that. We've got confidence and a lot of faith in the people who manage our team, and they all have our support."

With the team's lease at Mellon Arena - the NHL's oldest facility - due to expire in June, the Penguins are a free-agent franchise in need of a new facility to remain financially viable.

Owners Mario Lemieux and Ronald Burkle met face-to-face with state and local government officials for the first time Thursday. The meeting took place hours after Lemieux, Burkle and other Penguins representatives met with officials in Kansas City about perhaps relocating the team there.

It was reported Saturday that a group from Oklahoma City was planning on pursuing the Penguins. Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., Hartford, Conn., Houston and Winnipeg also have been mentioned as possible relocation sites.

Given the highly-transient nature of hockey rosters, players are aware they might have to uproot their lives and families to move to another town.

The vast majority of Penguins players are foreigners with no ties to Pittsburgh.

Ryan Malone is the exception.

Born just south of the city, the 27-year-old played high school hockey in Pittsburgh. His father, Greg, is a former Penguins player and head scout.

"I tell all the guys here, hopefully at the end of year we are in the playoffs, and then you can tell this town is quite a hockey town," Malone said.

"Obviously, myself, I'd rather the team stay. But Mario has been very patient, so he's exploring other options," Malone said. "He'll probably take the best deal on the table, so you've just got to put it in the back of your mind and go out there and play hockey."

Pittsburgh is known as a football town, but the Penguins have played to almost 94 per cent of capacity this season. The franchise won two Stanley Cups in 1991-92.

Not too many players are worried about a possible relocation, defenceman Ryan Whitney said.

"I think everybody thinks this is a great place to play," he said. "The crowd is unbelievable. If we get a new building, I know myself and other people want to be here a long time. It's a great place to play, a great city, a great sports town. We all hope we end up staying here."


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