How Lemieux Turned a 1999 Salary Negotiation Into $350M

    • Mario Lemieux turned a 1999 negotiation over $26 million in deferred salary into a Pittsburgh Penguins equity stake.
    • He will pocket over $350 million in the team's sale.

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Mario Lemieux was a human highlight reel for much of the 1990s, but his best move may have come off the ice.

As part-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Lemieux will receive over $350 million from the team’s sale to Fenway Sports Group for around $900 million. In doing so, he is profiting from negotiations over his player salary from 1999.

  • The Penguins declared bankruptcy in 1998, citing losses of $37.5 million over the previous two seasons and deferred payments still owed to certain players, namely Lemieux.
  • Lemieux signed a seven-year, $42 million contract in 1992. He agreed to deferred payments to help the team through a difficult financial period caused in part by a lockout at the start of the 1994-95 season.
  • Still owed $26 million in 1999, Lemieux and the team struck a deal in which he received $20 million in equity and became part of a new ownership group.

Playing The Long Game

Lemieux purchased the team with Ron Burkle for $107 million, charting a course to pay off the team’s debt of $114 million.

Lemieux and Burkle nearly cashed out for $175 million in 2006 in a deal with businessman Jim Balsillie, but he walked away when the Penguins missed out on being awarded a casino license.

Lemieux will now pocket twice that amount while retaining a minority stake in the team.