The Pittsburgh Penguins announced Thursday they've agreed to a 12-year, $104.4 million contract with superstar center Sidney Crosby.
Despite missing 54 games last season with a concussion and neck injury, Crosby is still the face of the NHL and arguably the best current hockey player in the world when healthy. As obvious as the contract seems, though, some fans and bloggers are questioning the timing as well as Crosby's injury history.
First, the details. As in his current deal, Crosby's annual salary averages out to $8.7 million. Considering he wears number 87, it's hard not to wonder if he demanded more money or was willing to take a pay cut for that to be the cap.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero usually avoids frontloading contracts in favor of more balanced deals, as in the case of Crosby's fellow Penguin Evgeni Malkin. Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski reports that under the current collective bargaining agreement (which is set to expire this summer) Crosby could make upwards of $14 million in the first season of his new contract. That would put him ahead of Brad Richards and Tyler Myers, who each collect $12 million.
Shero simply seems to have chosen his spot very carefully. The GM was able to unload Zbynek Michalek's $4 million cap hit and swapped Jordan Staal for Brandon Sutter, saving himself almost $2 million more.
Speculation has been ramping up around the idea that the Penguins will pursue pending free agent Zach Parise, who has a relationship with Crosby dating from their days at Minnesota's Shattuck St. Mary's prep school. With just under $56 million committed to a cap that's expected to increase to $70.2 million, Shero has more than enough room for not only Parise but possibly fellow free agent stud Ryan Suter.
Before he missed most of 2011-12 and the latter half of the previous season, Crosby won a Hart Trophy for league MVP, the Art Ross Trophy (awarded to the player who amasses the most points in a season), and the Rocket Richard Trophy (given to the player who scores the most goals). As if those aren't enough, he also captained the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship and scored the overtime goal that awarded Canada the Olympic gold medal. So, not really the type of player an organization would want to let slip away.
Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh is quick to point out that with all that success in mind the injury history isn't much of a concern. As massive as a $100 million contract sounds, it's nothing compared to the money Crosby is worth not only to Pittsburgh the team, but to Pittsburgh the city.
It's a risk to take for the team, who will have a whale of a time insuring the biggest contract in franchise history, but then again, financially, as we've said here time and time again, it's not a risk at all. Sidney Crosby is a cash cow and a cottage industry for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the NHL at large. Even if he can't play 82 games a season, he can and will be a focal point of the team's marketing and merchandising campaigns and the club will easily recoup his salary, many times over.
The next question for Shero will be Malkin's contract, which expires after two more seasons. He's a player that lacks Crosby's marketability but not the scoring touch. Malkin, like Crosby, is probably going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer by the time his career is through (although after this week's Shanahan snub nothing is certain) and he's filled the void more than once when Crosby missed an extended period of time.
The Pens Blog pointed out, This is as clear as a message as it could be to a guy like Zach Parise or Ryan Suter without talking to them before July 1. Crosby is going to be here a while, Malkin will follow suit, so come here, and let's dominate for a decade.
Even with Crosby's injury history, that's a tough argument to beat.