Following his retirement, the Penguins financial status fell into disrepair. After the Penguins filed for bankruptcy in 1999, Lemieux stepped in and bought a controlling interest in the team, keeping the organization alive.
Shortly thereafter, in 2000, Lemieux returned from retirement to play in the NHL. He retained much of his skill through his time off, being selected as a finalist in 2001 for the MVP award, though the Penguins struggled through this time. Lemieux would play until 2005-2006. In January 2006, Lemieux retired again, resolving away from player-owner back simply to owner. The spotlight in Pittsburgh effectively passed directly from Lemieux to Sidney Crosby, as Lemieux retired in Crosby’s rookie season, and has served as Crosby’s mentor.
For many fans of the game, Lemieux is the ultimate what if. An immensely talented individual who was derailed while at the top of his game by a deadly disease, many speculate what he could have done if he hadn’t had to battle cancer through the prime of his playing days.
The Mario Lemieux Story
Still, those who witnessed Lemieux, particularly from 1988 through 1992, know that he possessed the ability to transform a game, a player like few others. Lemieux’s talents on ice are often compared to Gretzky’s but a subtle difference between the two is recognized by hockey historians. Gretzky, the greatest offensive player in the game’s history was terrific all-around player, but a skillful playmaker and passer. Comparatively, Lemieux was a tried and true goal scorer. On the ice, Lemieux’s ability to finish was unparalleled, even when compared to Gretzky.
He’s certainly one of hockey’s greatest talents, and his perseverance through immense adversity is representative of the culture which consumes the game of hockey.