Penguins' Lemieux to retire a second time

Tuesday, January 24th 2006, 12:10 pm
By: News On 6

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Penguins star and owner Mario Lemieux, one of hockey's greatest players, is retiring for the second time, a team official said Tuesday.

Lemieux, a Hall of Famer who won Stanley Cups and scoring titles and then battled through cancer and heart problems in a comeback, will announce his decision at a news conference later Tuesday.

The team official requested anonymity because a formal announcement had not been made.

Lemieux's retirement was first reported on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Web site.

The 40-year-old Lemieux learned in early December he has atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can cause his pulse to flutter wildly and must be controlled by medication.

Lemieux, the NHL's seventh-leading career scorer with 1,723 points, tried to return a week after being hospitalized with the problem, but it flared up again during a Dec. 16 game against Buffalo and he has not played since.

Lemieux has been practicing the last several weeks with the intent on returning this season but, with the Penguins stuck in a 10-game losing streak and with no hope of them making the playoffs, decided to quit playing for a second time.

He also retired after the 1996-97 season following years of back problems and a 1993 cancer scare in which he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, but he returned midway through the 2000-01 season and has played since.

However, he has again fought through injuries _ including two major hip problems _ that caused him to miss most of the 2001-02 and 2003-04 seasons. He had seven goals and 15 assists in 26 games this season.

Lemieux, a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 1997, led the Penguins _ the NHL's worst team before he was drafted in 1984 _ to successive Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992. He won six NHL scoring titles, three MVP awards and two Conn Smythe awards as the Stanley Cup playoffs MVP.

Lemieux, who wore No. 66 throughout his career, scored 690 goals and had 1,033 assists in 915 career games. He also became the first major pro sports star to buy the team for which he played, assembling a group that bought the team in federal bankruptcy court in 1999.

Lemieux's group has owned the team since but announced last week it is selling _ a possible prelude to the team leaving Pittsburgh in June 2007. The team has partnered with a casino company that is promising to build the Penguins a new $290 million arena if it obtains a slot machine parlor license for downtown Pittsburgh, but there appears to be little hope the team will stay if there is no new arena.

One reason Lemieux is selling is because he doesn't want to be the owner who relocates the team from Pittsburgh.

After his stunning return in December 2000, which surprised even his close friends, Lemieux helped the Penguins to the Eastern Conference final that season but the team has not made the playoffs since.