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Mario Lemieux

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Biography

Mario Lemieux (born October 5, 1965) is a retired professional ice hockey centre who played 17 seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League (NHL) between 1984 and 2006. He is also the Penguins' principal owner and chairman of the board, having bought the team out of bankruptcy in 1999.

At the start of Lemieux's career, the Penguins were in financial turmoil and there were rumours of relocation. The team declared bankruptcy after the 1974-75 season, and by 1983, they were averaging less than 7,000 fans per game — less than half of their arena's capacity.

The next season, Lemieux finished second in league scoring with 141 points, behind Wayne Gretzky's NHL-record 215 points. He won the Lester B. Pearson Award as the NHL's best regular-season player as voted by his peers. Lemieux missed 17 games of the 1986-87 NHL season — his point production slipped, and the Penguins once again failed to make the playoffs. However, he played in the Canada Cup during the summer of 1987 and set a tournament record 11 goals in 9 games; his last goal, which clinched the Canadian victory, came against the Soviet team with 1:26 remaining in the third period. Lemieux cited his Canada Cup experience as the reason for his elevated play later on, stating, "Remember, I was only 21 years old at the time. To be around guys like Wayne and Mark Messier and Paul Coffey was a tremendous learning experience".

Despite significant back pain, Lemieux persevered by leading the playoffs in assists and points and, more importantly, leading the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup over the Minnesota North Stars. Lemieux took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for his performance.

Through most of the 1990's, the Pens' owners badly mismanaged the team. As a consequence of the team's free-spending ways earlier in the decade, the Penguins asked many of its big-name players to defer their salaries; the players, including Lemieux, obliged in order to stay in Pittsburgh. This forced General Manager Craig Patrick was forced to make many personnel moves that were widely criticized by fans. It only later came out that the owners' poor financial management was the real culprit, when the team went into bankruptcy.

By agreement with the NHLPA, Lemieux was paid the average league salary of about $1.4 million and it was from this amount that his union dues are calculated and deducted. He did not vote in owners' meetings, delegating this role to a Penguins vice-president.

As a player, Lemieux was represented by agent Steve Reich of Pittsburgh, who handled all of Lemieux's marketing through his agency, Reich Publishing and Marketing.

On January 24, 2006, Mario Lemieux announced his second and permanent retirement from professional hockey at the age of 40. This followed a half-season in which he struggled not only with the increased speed of the "new NHL" but also with yet another threatening physical ailment, a heart condition called atrial fibrillation that caused him to experience irregular heartbeats.

On March 13, 2007, Lemieux's ownership group announced a final agreement for a new multi-purpose arena to be built across the street from the current Mellon Arena. The deal will keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh for at least 30 years. Lemieux was instrumental in negotiating this deal, despite efforts to move the team to Kansas City.



 


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