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Penguins

Crosby making immediate impact on Penguins

| Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Penguins haven't officially drafted forward Sidney Crosby yet -- that will come next Saturday in Ottawa.

"We're not trading him," said general manager Craig Patrick on Saturday during a press conference at Mellon Arena attended by several major Canadian television networks that have been following the Halifax, Nova Scotia, native for years.

But the 17-year-old leading man of NHL prospects is already having a big impact on the franchise.

According to team president Ken Sawyer, Penguins ticket salespeople worked until 11 p.m. on Friday, the day the Penguins won the draft lottery and the right to draft Crosby, and were back at it at 7:30 yesterday morning. Sawyer said they sold season ticket packages to customers from 10 different states including California as well as Ontario, Canada, in the 24 hours following the lottery announcement.

Sawyer also expects the added revenue will bump the team out of the bottom half of NHL earners.

"It's been quite a 24 hours as I'm sure you can all imagine," Sawyer said yesterday. "I think we will reflect on this 24-hour period as probably the greatest 24-hour period we've had in terms of building a team since 1984 (when Mario Lemieux was drafted). And it's quite different from 1984 because we have a great nucleus of players in our system."

The press conference itself was also quite different from the last one held in the Igloo Club at Mellon Arena in March 2004 to announce lower ticket prices for the following season. At that point the Penguins had the lowest payroll in the league at just over $22 million and were still losing money.

They also had the lowest average attendance of any team in the league at 11,877 per game and were bracing for the lockout that eventually wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.

Sawyer said it would be hard to put a dollar figure on how much getting Crosby will add to the value of the franchise. But based on the increase in ticket sales, Sawyer said he's expecting the Penguins will no longer be ranked in the bottom half of league revenues.

That means they won't qualify for revenue sharing money under the new collective bargaining agreement, but Sawyer didn't seem concerned about the loss.

"What (getting Crosby) does is it eliminates our concern about recovering from three years of rebuilding and one year of no hockey," he said. "Having Crosby plus Mario and all the other players we do have, we'll be in good shape. But we would love to be in a new arena where we can truly make sure that every year we have a very competitive team."

Sawyer said the Penguins' payroll this year would likely fall somewhere in the middle of the league-mandated range of $21.5 million to $39 million, if not higher.

"We're losing some revenue sharing because our revenues are getting higher, but at the same time we're going to feel more confident and more likely to spend a little more than we would have (Thursday)," he said. "We're not going to be at the absolute top (of the payroll range). We don't feel we need to be there, we proved it in the past. But we're going to be absolutely competitive and it wouldn't surprise me if we're in the higher end above the middle."

Acquiring a playmaking, goal-scoring center was at the top of the Penguins' priority list for the free agent signing period beginning Aug. 1. With that need now filled in Crosby, Patrick said they can turn to other areas, including perhaps a veteran goaltender.

"It's something we'll look into," he said. "All our goaltenders are pretty young so we're going to look into that possibility if it makes sense for us."

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