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Gulls’ Baldwin Close to Buying the Penguins : Hockey: San Diego team’s co-owner involved in deal for defending Stanley Cup champions.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Gull co-owner Howard Baldwin, described by one hockey executive as having a lust for hockey, reportedly is close to getting back into the NHL.

Baldwin and retired rental car executive Morris Belzberg have confirmed they are close to buying the Pittsburgh Penguins, defending Stanley Cup champion. WPXI-TV and the Associated Press said the two will pay Edward DeBartolo Sr. $55 million for the team, which would stay in Pittsburgh.

The deal also involves Spectacor, which is involved in the renovation of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Spectacor executive Ed Snider and his son Jay own the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.

Rumors that the Penguins were for sale had been circulating since May, when the team defeated the Minnesota North Stars in the Stanley Cup final. At that time, Baldwin was getting ready to take control of the Gulls.

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He also was studying a return to NHL, which was no surprise to North Stars owner Norm Green just last month.

“Howard was determined to get back into hockey. He’s got a lust for it,” Green said.

During the NHL Board of Governors meeting in Montreal last month, Baldwin said he was involved in a deal for the Penguins, but refused to give any details.

"(It is) common knowledge that I’ve been working on the project for nine months now,” said Baldwin, onetime president of the World Hockey Assn. and executive of the Hartford Whalers. “Any other comment, other than to say I’m working on a deal, would be inappropriate.”

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Baldwin and Belzberg have worked together before. In 1990, the two engineered a deal that kept the North Stars in Minnesota. As part of that agreement, George and Gordon Gund, who threatened to move that team to Oakland, sold the North Stars and were allowed to own an expansion franchise in the Bay Area, the San Jose Sharks.

“There weren’t many people who could have stepped in at the time when the Gunds decided to sell,” said Green, who later became a partner in the North Stars with Baldwin and Belzberg. Early in the 1990-91 season, Green bought out his partners, becoming sole owner.

Green, who confirmed the deal was in the works in September, said the group’s knowledge of the NHL gave them an edge in gaining a team.

“There are lots of people who would love to get into the sports business, but in order to do that you have to have a person that knows the system,” Green said. “Howard knows the system.”

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The deal is not expected to be finished by today, when the Penguins open the season in Buffalo against the Sabres.

Baldwin was not available for comment Thursday.


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