Penguins still interest Balsillie

Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie made a last-ditch effort Friday to purchase the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, despite claims by majority owner Mario Lemieux that the team is off the market.

Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie is making a last-ditch effort to purchase the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, despite claims by majority owner Mario Lemieux that the team is off the market.

Balsillie wrote a letter to the former Penguins captain and star forward that stated his renewed interest in the club and intentions to work toward an arena deal that would benefit the team and City of Pittsburgh.

"Despite recent difficulties, I continue to be very interested in the team and in working towards an arena deal that is a benefit to the team and to the City of Pittsburgh," Balsillie said.

Balsillie went on to suggest that he and Lemieux contact NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to resume negotiations. He urged quick action to avoid a sale to another buyer who would automatically move the team to another city.

Last week, Balsillie withdrew his $175-million US offer to purchase the Penguins. The co-chief executive officer of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. had signed an agreement to buy the team in October.

In his latest letter — published in Friday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — Balsillie said he was ready to start negotiating PlanB.

"On our side all the papers have been signed and everything is in place to close our transaction immediately but for the NHL Consent Agreement," said Balsillie. "However, we must move quickly."

Plan B scenarios to finance a new rink are under discussions at various levels of government and with the winner in a slots licence competition, Don Bardon.

Balsillieoffers Lemieux apology

In his letter, Balsillie also apologized to Lemieux, who had some choice words for the potential owner after he pulled his offer.

Balsillie told Lemieux he regretted "that you have interpreted our inability to reach an agreement as an offence to you or the team.

"That was certainly never my intent and I apologize."

Lemieux, who wasshocked and offended that Balsillie withdrew his offer, said Thursday that he would begin exploring relocation options in cities outside Pennsylvania.

"After seven years of trying to work out a new arena deal exclusively in Pittsburgh," Lemieux said, "we need to take into consideration the long-term viability of the team and begin discussions with other cities that may be interested in NHL teams."

Isle of Capri loses slot licence

Lemieux's comments came on the heels of Wednesday's announcement that Isle of Capri Casino, which had promised to build the Penguins a new arena, was denied a slot licence.

The company had agreed that if it got the licence, it would build a new $290-million US arena to replace 45-year-old Mellon Arena, the oldest arena in the NHL.

The Penguins' lease at the 16,958-seat facility expires in June 2007.

Kansas City, Las Vegas, Houston, Oklahoma City and Seattle are among the cities trying to secure an NHL franchise.

With files from the Canadian Press