Dave Molinari on the Penguins: A weekly look at the team, the issues, the questions
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Just because The Kid could max out does not mean he has to
There are lots of reasons why Sidney Crosby should -- and almost certainly will -- be named captain of the Penguins next season.
He is their best player.
He is their hardest working player.
He's the face of the franchise, as adept at selling the game -- and tickets -- as he is at setting up goals.
A consummate professional who is committed to -- no, consumed by -- the idea of doing all the things he does so well even better. A lot better.
And who, above all else, wants to win. Now. Always.
And who might even be willing to sacrifice some cash to help make it happen.
According to the NHL Players' Association, the league's collective bargaining agreement prohibits the Penguins and Crosby's agents from formalizing a new contract before July 1, 2008, after his three-year, entry-level deal has expired. That means any talk about the finer points of his next contract is strictly hypothetical at this point.
Still, it is worth noting that Crosby -- regarded by many as the finest player in the world, even though he is only 19 -- says he will at least consider the idea of seeking less than the maximum salary allowed by the CBA if it would help to make it possible for the Penguins to keep their promising young nucleus intact.
"With the way it is now, you'd think about it, because that's such a huge issue," he said. "I can't say that [a reduced salary would be acceptable] now, but you never know."
Individual players are allowed to earn up to 20 percent of their team's salary-cap ceiling in a given season. So, if the league's payroll maximum would be $50 million for Crosby's first year on his next contract (2008-2009), he would be entitled to make as much as $10 million.
There's little question that he could command such a salary -- if the Penguins weren't prepared to offer it, some of the league's other 29 clubs surely would -- but with young stars such as Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal and Ryan Whitney up for new contracts the next few years, having enough money to satisfy everyone could be a monumental challenge for general manager Ray Shero.
Of course, if his best player would settle for less than he's entitled to ask for, that could set a precedent teammates might be hard-pressed to ignore, especially if they put more of an emphasis on contending for championships than on maximizing their individual earnings.
And while it's safe to assume the NHLPA and Crosby's agents won't be thrilled by the thought of him giving even cursory consideration to the notion of settling for less-than-market-value money, that kind of thing isn't unprecedented.
Other elite players -- New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur comes immediately to mind -- have settled for reduced salaries because they didn't want to leave their team and wanted to help it remain competitive.
Whether Crosby ultimately will follow that example is impossible to predict, but, if he doesn't, it won't be because he never bothered to ponder the possibility.
"It's not something that I'm going to tell you right now would never cross my mind," Crosby said. "Because it would cross my mind. But whether or not it would happen ..."
Wood you believe ... ?
Noah Welch doesn't use a wooden stick simply out of respect for the game's traditions, or because he wants to stand out from his teammates.
But he doesn't seem to mind being one of the few NHL players who hasn't gotten caught up in the concept of better-hockey-through-chemistry and abandoned his wooden stick for a composite one.
"I actually like being one of the only guys who uses it," said Welch, the only Penguins player still using one. "I actually used a two-piece [stick] in high school, then tried a wood [one] my senior year and just liked it a lot better. And I've stuck with it since."
Welch said wooden sticks give him "a better feel for the puck," something missing from the composites.
"I tried a one-piece ... and it was just awful," he said.
Welch's teammates have noted his preferences in equipment.
"I get a couple of comments here or there, but I don't mind," he said. "If you make a mistake, here come the comments about the wooden stick.
"But I guess the flip side is, if you let a rocket go from the point, you can just point at your stick and let them know that's why [you were able to do it]."
And there is, he said, one other big plus to using a wooden stick. One that has absolutely nothing to do with how it affects his on-ice performance.
"When it gets close to being broken, or flimsy, I just give them to little kids," Welch said. "Which is kind of neat for them."
Score one for the goalie
Sidney Crosby doesn't often get shown up by a goalie.
Or as a goalie.
Both happened after a practice last week, however, when Crosby borrowed Marc-Andre Fleury's glove, blocker and stick and faced breakaways from a few teammates.
One was Fleury, who scored in rather spectacular fashion, as he cruised down the slot, then executed a spin-a-rama as he approached the net and flipped a backhander behind Crosby.
"I wanted Sid to know what it feels like to get scored on," Fleury said, smiling broadly. "I just stuck it in his face."
The final indignity for Crosby: Fleury scored the goal while using Crosby's stick.
It wasn't all bad for Crosby, though. Fleury said it was apparent that Crosby has spent a little time in goal, if only while playing street hockey.
"He has some decent technique," Fleury said. "You can see he's worked on it."
Fleury, by the way, likes to play up front when competing in pickup games, although he acknowledged that he doesn't expect to supplant Crosby as the No. 1 center.
"That's a big step for me," he said.
By the same token, Crosby isn't likely to take over as the go-to goalie. Not immediately, at least.
"You never know with that guy," Fleury said. "But maybe not this year. Probably not."
First Published January 21, 2007 12:00 am