The risk for the big reward: The Penguins should pay Crosby whatever he wants
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby battles for a loose puck against the Predators.
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby at the Consol Energy Center.
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Penguins general manager Ray Shero doesn't need my advice, your advice or anybody's advice. He's a smart man. He's very good at what he does. He gets it.
"What? Are we not going to pay Sidney Crosby?" Shero asked. "He'll tell us what he wants and we'll pay it."
That was in July 2010 when Crosby was, undisputedly, the best hockey player in the world. It was six months before he left the lineup for the first extended time because of concussion-like symptoms. He returned to play eight games in November 2011 before being out for another prolonged period because of more concussion-like symptoms that were attributed to a neck injury. Now, as a result, some consider him to be -- potentially -- damaged goods.
It doesn't matter.
The strategy has to be the same for the Penguins now as it was two years ago.
They need to pay Crosby whatever he wants for as long as he wants.
If you believe the speculation -- it has been ongoing for months because Crosby can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2012-13 season -- it could happen soon. CBC in Canada speculated over the weekend the Penguins and Crosby are close to a 10-year, $90 million deal. That doesn't seem quite right because of the money. It's foolish to think $90 million isn't a lot, but Crosby could do so much better on the open market. CBC's reasoning for him taking less here is that he's happy in Pittsburgh and wants to give Shero wiggle room to sign other players because he wants so badly to win multiple Stanley Cup titles. That's exactly what Crosby did with his previous contract for $8.7 million a year. I've never been one to hold it against any pro athlete for trying to get as much as he can. Careers are short and can end at any time. Crosby should realize that better than anyone. But if he's willing to take $9 million a year, that's great for the Penguins. It seems like a steal for the club, actually.
No matter what figure Crosby gets from the Penguins, it's going to have an impact on the rest of the team. The club can't pay more to Evgeni Malkin, who can become a free agent after the 2013-14 season. There's just no way. Malkin agreed to take the same $8.7 million a year as Crosby when he did his most recent contract, but it's unknown if he would offer a big discount again. It's also unclear what a new deal for Crosby would mean for Jordan Staal, who can be a free agent after next season. The Penguins might not be able to keep all three centers. It could come down to a hard decision for Shero -- Malkin or Staal. If I have to trade one, I'm trading Malkin. Staal is the type of excellent two-way player a team needs to win the Cup. But that's a topic for another day.
This is about Crosby.
It's shocking that there are many people out there who say he -- not Malkin nor Staal -- should be the guy to go, should it come to that.
The Penguins won't be paying Crosby just for what he has done as a player, although they certainly could. The franchise was largely irrelevant -- hard as that is to believe now -- when it won the 2005 NHL Entry Draft lottery and the rights to pick him No. 1. There would be no hockey team here if that pingpong ball hadn't bounced the Penguins' way. There would be no Consol Energy Center.
Former general manager Craig Patrick knew exactly what he lucked into with Crosby that wonderful day. "People have said he's got the vision of Wayne Gretzky and the goal-scoring and play-making of Mario Lemieux," he said. President Ken Sawyer knew what it meant to the franchise. "It's inconceivable that this team would be allowed to leave town, with the team we're going to have for the next 20 years."
Of course, the Penguins didn't go anywhere. Crosby, although not quite in the Gretzky or Lemieux category, has been a phenomenal player. He led the team to one Cup and to another appearance in the Cup final. The franchise is printing money because of him. Consol Energy Center is sold out for every game. Crosby is worth millions to the Penguins in sponsorships, merchandise sales and exposure. He's worth millions to the NHL as its always-willing, always-agreeable face.
If a team can't give that guy whatever he wants for as long as he wants, there should be no professional sports.
Here's the great thing about Crosby: The Penguins will be paying him more for what he's going to do for the franchise than what he has done. He won't turn 25 until Aug. 7. His best hockey still is to come. All indications are that he's well past his concussion-like symptoms. He could get hurt again, but so could Malkin, Staal or any other player on the team. You might have heard they play a brutal game in the NHL. Crosby is doing his normal offseason training for the first time in two years. Barring an unexpected setback, he will be ready to go full blast when camp opens in September. He quickly should take his proper place again as the world's best player.
Is it a risk to sign Crosby to a guaranteed huge-money, multi-year deal because of his concussion history?
I suppose, sure.
But it's a risk the Penguins have to take.
First Published June 12, 2012 12:00 am