Bettman: Pens franchise ‘in strong hands’ with Lemieux, Burkle

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NASHVILLE — Gary Bettman has no concerns with the state of one of the NHL’s premier franchises.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, who in June were announced to be for sale, are “in strong hands” with co-owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, Bettman said on Saturday in his annual address at NHL All-Star weekend.

“For a variety of reasons, some of them which may be personal, they’re exploring their options, but their support of the franchise has never wavered, and they’ve been great owners,” Bettman explained. “If they choose to make some adjustments, I’m sure they’ll do only what’s in the best interest long term of the franchise.”

That Burkle and Lemieux were “exploring their options” came as major news in a tumultuous time for the Penguins. The offseason prior, the club fired head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero — two of the key architects of the club’s 2009 Stanley Cup win — replacing Shero with Jim Rutherford, and Bylsma with Mike Johnston.

Only one of them remains.

Johnston was dismissed midway through this season in favor of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton bench boss Mike Sullivan. Rutherford has survived, though it hasn’t been easy — the veteran front office executive has come under heavy scrutiny for some of his personnel decisions and, last summer, had to go public and explain that, despite the uncertain ownership situation, Pittsburgh was still “very appealing” for free agents.

MORE: Pens’ owners seeking $750 million for sale of team

The status of the Burkle-Lemieux relationship has also come under scrutiny.

Earlier this month, the pair refuted a report in the New York Post that Lemieux was “miffed” at Burkle for “messing up the sale of” the franchise. The Post, citing three sources, reported that Lemieux “wanted to accept” a recent bid for the Penguins, but that Burkle “turned it aside” in the belief that the franchise was worth more.

Shortly after the report broke, the co-owners issued the following statement:

There is no disagreement between us, and we remain completely aligned in both approach and philosophy.

“We continue to explore all of our strategic options, including a possible sale.

“There is not, and has never been, an established price for the team, and we are still in conversations with potential buyers.”

More Penguins damage control:

‘It’s absolutely not true’ — Lemieux denies report of ‘big falling out’ with Crosby 

Penguins insist they’re not mad at each other