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NHL To Fix Pen's Problem

The National Hockey League, concerned that the Pittsburgh Penguins' bankruptcy will delay planning for next season, is about to press for the case to be resolved.

The league, which supports Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux's bid for the team, could ask a U.S. bankruptcy judge as early as Wednesday to begin the process to terminate the franchise.

Although the league wants Lemieux to gain control of the team, it is concerned that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Bernard Markovitz will not hold a confirmation hearing on Lemieux's plan until June 24.

The league earlier set a May 31 date for the Penguins' case to be wrapped up, and William Daly, the NHL's vice president for legal affairs, said June 24 may be too late.

In June, players sign contracts, season ticket-selling campaigns begin and game schedules are set. If a Lemieux plan is not approved by the end of this month, the league could move on its own, without bankruptcy court intervention, to relocate the team or dissolve the franchise.

It also could fold the Penguins' franchise, then award it to Lemieux. But, under that scenario, the Penguins probably could not play in the Civic Arena because of the current franchise's long-term lease to play there.

"We are very, very concerned about the 24th," Daly told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We're studying whether we can live with that date."

Lemieux, who is owed $32 million by the team, and his 10 partners have bid $50 million for the Penguins. The NHL has endorsed his plan.

But Mark Cuban, a Dallas-based Internet company founder, emerged last week as a potential buyer.

He and his brother, Dallas employment attorney Brian Cuban, are suburban Pittsburgh natives. Brian Cuban said Monday that he and his brother have met with Lemieux and also plan to meet with current Penguins co-owner Roger Marino and another potential buyer, Florida investment banker Charles "Chip" Gesner Jr.

Gesner helped Kevin McClatchy buy the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1996.

"We will meet with anyone willing to save the team and keep them in Pittsburgh," Brian Cuban said. "Anything's possible."

Harry L. Manion III, Marino's attorney, and Gesner said they would welcome a partnership with the Cubans.

"They're local guys," Gesner said. "They bring a lot to the table. I'd love to have them part of it."

Gesner, who represents up to seven undisclosed investors, said he is negotiating a reorganization plan for the Penguins. He declined to say when his plan would be submitted to Markovitz.

Mark Cuban helped found, an Internet site that carries radio and TV broadcasts, sporting events and concerts on the World Wide Web.

The company recorded $22.4 million in sales last year, a 145 percent increase over 1997.

The Penguins filed for bankruptcy in October. The team has an estimated worth of $75 million to $95 million and owes aproximately $145 million.

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