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Canadian Press
12/18/2006 6:24:06 PM

PITTSBURGH (CP-AP) - Owner Mario Lemieux says the Pittsburgh Penguins are finished with Jim Balsillie, criticizing the Canadian billionaire for backing out of a deal to buy the NHL team.

Balsillie, co-chief executive officer of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd (TSX:RIM), was quoted over the weekend saying he still might try to purchase the team despite pulling the plug on his agreement Friday. But Lemieux says that won't happen.

''We were shocked and offended that Mr. Balsillie would back out of such an important deal at the last minute - and less than a week before a decision on the funding of a new arena that will have far-reaching implications on our franchise, our city and our region,'' Lemieux said in a statement Monday.

''As a result, we intend to retain Mr. Balsillie's deposit because we believe him to be in breach of our agreement. We can say unequivocally that the deal with Mr. Balsillie is dead.''

While one potential owner is gone, another buyer has appeared. Toronto brewery owner Frank D'Angelo officially declared his interest in the Penguins on Monday.

Confirming what he told The Canadian Press on Sunday, the president and CEO of Steelback Brewery and D'Angelo Brands issued a statement Monday saying he is putting together an offer for the Pens in the wake of the Balsillie deal falling through.

D'Angelo said former hockey legend Phil Esposito was to co-ordinate a meeting with Penguins president Ken Sawyer. D'Angelo also repeated he has no interest in moving the Penguins.

''Absolutely not,'' he said in the statement. ''Pittsburgh has a rich history of championship hockey with an established fan base in the world's premier league. This team isn't going anywhere.''

Balsillie's deal fell through, according to sources, due to his unhappiness with the NHL's conditions in the final sale agreement that would see him make every effort to keep the team in Pittsburgh.

D'Angelo, whose bid for a CFL franchise in Ottawa was recently turned down, says he and billionaire partner Barry Sherman were teaming up to make an offer.

This is a big week for the Penguins. Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., has promised to build a US$290-million arena to replace the 45-year-old Mellon Arena - at no cost to taxpayers or the team - if it obtains a slot machine licence from the state.

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