Since Ray Shero became Penguins general manager in May 2006, he has given out long-term contracts worth more than $425 million to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Marc-Andre Fleury. Apparently, he is close to pushing the total to nearly half a billion dollars with a new deal for Kris Letang.
Isn't it about time the boys start giving a little more back to Shero and the franchise?
It wouldn't be quite accurate to suggest the Crosby-Malkin era has been a bust. The Penguins did win the Stanley Cup in 2009 after going to the Cup final in 2008. But the return on Shero's investments since then haven't been much. The team is 3-4 in playoff series. It lost in the second round in 2010 and the first round in 2011 and 2012. It went to the Eastern Conference final this season, which is pretty good. But it was swept by the Boston Bruins, which is pretty bad.
Penguins owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux are paying for so much more than that.
Shero clearly still believes in his core players. Forget about the Tyler Kennedy trade Sunday for a second-round pick in the NHL draft. He had become a spare part. After a painful 1-0 defeat June 7 to the Bruins in Game, Shero quickly gave a two-year contract extension to coach Dan Bylsma. He announced that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who was benched for backup Tomas Vokoun in the postseason, will return next season as the No. 1 netminder. He gave Malkin and Kunitz long-term extensions. Then, Sunday, RDS of Canada reported that Letang agreed to an eight-year, $58 million deal, although neither his agent nor the Penguins confirmed it. If it goes through, it will bring Shero's spending on his eight top players to $485.8 million, according to capgeek.com.
The good news is Crosby, Malkin and Letang, if signed, almost certainly will play their prime years with the Penguins. Crosby, who signed a 12-year, $104.4 million extension last summer, is signed through the 2024-25 season. Malkin, with his eight-year, $76 million extension, is signed through 2021-22. Letang also would be signed through 2022.
What's troubling is that is enormous money to invest in three players in a salary-cap league. Crosby will continue to have a cap hit of $8.7 million. The new contract for Malkin kicks in for the 2014-15 season with a $9.5 million hit. Letang's new deal also would start in 2014-15 at $7.25 million. All of it makes it difficult to believe the Penguins will be able to keep valuable winger Pascal Dupuis, Crosby's linemate, or superb role player Matt Cooke.
Shero is smart to take the gamble. It was an easy call to keep Malkin with Crosby. As Dupuis noted after the Boston series, "They are 1 and 1A as the two best players in the world. Why wouldn't you want to keep them both?" Teammate Brenden Morrow, who is not expected back next season, added, "You could throw some meat and potatoes with those guys and have a heck of a hockey team. You keep those guys and [Letang] and you're going to have a heck of a hockey team for a long time here."
The apparent extension for Letang is a bit more of a surprise, but it still will make sense. The negotiations were reported to be acrimonious. It's nice that the two sides apparently haven't allowed a good business deal to become personal. Letang is a great young player with a huge upside. He was a finalist this season for the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman in the NHL and could win it more than once before his career is done.
Letang had better win multiple Norris trophies.
Crosby and Malkin had better win multiple NHL scoring titles and most valuable player awards.
These Penguins had better win a few more Stanley Cup titles.
Shero's faith in his team has come at a heavy price. He is giving the boys a chance to win every season for many years to come. It's not just Crosby, Malkin and likely Letang who are locked up. Winger James Neal is signed through the 2017-18 season at $5 million per year. Kunitz is signed through 2016-17 with a cap hit of $3.85 million. Fleury and defenseman Paul Martin are signed for two more seasons at $5 million per year.
It's long past time for the players to really start earning the big money. They certainly have the talent to do it. That's why Shero is wise to keep his team largely intact. But he won't be patient forever. Neither will Burkle and Lemieux. Eventually, they will get tired of investing in underachievers.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published July 1, 2013 4:00 AM