Mario Lemieux is making a comeback and bringing the Pittsburgh Penguins with him.
Lemieux's takeover of the bankrupt Penguins was approved today by the NHL's board of governors, climaxing a long struggle by the former hockey great and his associates to keep the team in Pittsburgh.
"There have been a few difficult moments and a lot of frustration, but I was always optimistic we would get it done," Lemieux said.
Only court approval remained to finalize the deal, and that's expected to be taken care of by a bankruptcy judge during a closing hearing Friday in Pittsburgh.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity to come back," said Lemieux, a Hall of Famer who led the Penguins to Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 before retiring after the 1997 season. "This is a dream come true, after 10 months working on the deal. I had no idea it would be this difficult. I'm glad we were finally able to put this together."
Until Lemieux came into the picture, there was still some doubt whether the Penguins would remain in Pittsburgh, or even in the NHL. The team went into bankruptcy last season and was able to meet its payroll only with the help of a bank loan.
With approval of Lemieux's takeover, the Penguins made it just under the wire. They're due to open training camp Saturday and will play their first exhibition game Sept. 11 against the New York Islanders.
Lemieux said he and his group of investors, numbering more than a dozen, have put together $52 million so far and hope to raise more money. He said the market value of the Penguins is currently $85 million, or the price of an expansion team.
Lemieux has the largest stake in the team, most of it coming from the $25 million in deferred salary the Penguins owed him.
Lemieux said the hockey operation would remain in the hands of General Manager Craig Patrick, and that he would take care of the business side with the help of others.
"I need to surround myself with smart people," Lemieux said. "This is all brand new to me."