The Penguins announced Thursday that they have agreed to a 12-year, $104.4 million contract with Sidney Crosby.
And they have.
For the most part.
But, even after sharing a conference call to celebrate the deal, general manager Ray Shero and Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, were tinkering with some details, trying to make certain the money in the contract is structured in a way that the league office won't balk at approving.
Such a rejection has happened just once ---- the NHL refused to sign off on a 17-year deal between Ilya Kovalchuk and New Jersey in 2010 -- but Shero and Brisson are being careful because Crosby's contract will be front-loaded. That means it will pay higher salaries in the earlier years.
The league's concern about long-term contracts set up that way is that the team could be trying to reduce the salary-cap hit by adding several seasons at a significantly reduced salary at a time when the player might be inclined to retire.
Under that scenario, the team gets extra salary-cap space with which to work, while the player receives the bulk of his money without having to work the entire length of the agreement.
Shero, though, said he believes he and Brisson will configure the deal in a way that will not alarm the league, which cannot approve it until Sunday.
"I'm confident and hopeful that it will be accepted," Shero said.
Whether the league will be satisfied with the deal won't be known for a few days, but everyone else involved with it seems to be.
Crosby, who has one year remaining on his current deal, will get a contract that runs for more years, and pays more money, than any in team history. Indeed, it is the richest deal in total value in Pittsburgh sports history, edging the eight-year, $102 million deal Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got in 2008.
The Penguins, meanwhile, lock up a player many regard as the finest in the game for what likely is the rest of his career; Crosby will be closing in on his 38th birthday when the deal runs out in 2025. And they will do it for a cap hit identical to the one Crosby carries now.
"For a player of this magnitude and what he's accomplished in the league, for the [cap hit] to remain the same is very important," Shero said.
Not just because it holds down the team's expenses but because, as Shero confirmed, it sets the ceiling on the average annual value of contracts for all players in the organization.
That means nobody -- not big-ticket free agents such as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter that the Penguins are expected to pursue Sunday, and not homegrown talents such as Evgeni Malkin -- will draw an average salary higher than Crosby's.
Malkin, who has two years remaining on his contract, stands a pretty good chance of being offered one that's the equal of Crosby's. His present one is worth exactly what Crosby's is.
"It's almost like having two kids you're equally fond of," Shero said.
The maximum a player who signs as a free agent Sunday or later this year can be paid is about $14 million. Precisely what Crosby could have gotten if he didn't re-sign until next summer is impossible to say, but he obviously left millions of dollars on the table.
That translates to cap space Shero will have available to try to lure free agents. Cap space Shero can use in coming years possibly to avoid breaking up the franchise's core for financial reasons.
"He's never been reluctant to help the team," Shero said. "I appreciate that, and ownership appreciates that. It's very beneficial and it says a lot about Crosby."
Crosby, who has been training in Los Angeles, was not available for comment.
Washington left winger Alexander Ovechkin, who is working on a 13-year deal that expires in 2021, has the largest cap hit in the NHL ($9,538,462). Crosby and Malkin are tied for second, while Carolina center Eric Staal is fourth at $8.25 million.
The Penguins got Crosby's rights in a lottery held in 2005. Two decades later, he might still be on the payroll.
"He went to the franchise when the franchise was literally at the bottom and was part of the buildup of this franchise," Brisson said. "So he's emotionally extremely attached to the fans and the city of Pittsburgh and the organization.
"When you're negotiating a contract like this of this magnitude, as a player, it's important to understand what you want and where you want to be first. And Sidney understood that from Day 1.
"He was able to understand where he wanted to be. And he wanted to be in Pittsburgh."
NOTE -- The Penguins are expected to allow three forwards from their NHL roster -- Steve Sulllivan, Arron Asham and Richard Park -- to explore free agency Sunday. All will be unrestricted and free to sign elsewhere.penguins
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published June 29, 2012 4:00 AM