Keeping Crosby is risky business for Penguins | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaKeeping Crosby is risky business for Penguins

Posted: Monday, June 11, 2012 | 12:18 PM

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Sidney Crosby (87) played just 22 regular-season games this season, compiling 37 points. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) Sidney Crosby (87) played just 22 regular-season games this season, compiling 37 points. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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The 10-year, $90-million rumour for the Pittsburgh Penguins to re-sign Sidney Crosby is a little out of control because neither side is that far along in negotiations.

"The only thing on my mind is signing Sidney Crosby. We want him to be a Penguin for life. That's the goal. Nothing has changed." -- Penguins general manager Ray Shero in Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Dec. 17, 2011

Ray Shero's pre-Christmas quote was surprising, considering it came at a time when Sidney Crosby had played just nine games in a calendar year. But as we approach July 1, the earliest he can sign a contract extension with Pittsburgh, it sure seems like he and the Penguins are ready to restate their vows -- and for a long time.

Let me clarify one thing. The 10-year, $90-million thing is getting a little out of control. While it's possible those may be the final numbers, the two sides aren't yet that far in negotiations. But as reported on The Hotstove, I do think it will be at least that long and, for reasons you will soon read, believe $9 million is going to be the approximate cap hit. (I used those numbers as a framework when doing the legwork).

Crosby is entering the final season of a five-year, $43.5-million contract (average annual value: $8.7 million). During discussions for that deal, a lengthier term was discussed and eventually discounted.

There are a lot of reasons to wonder why the Penguins would want to do this. In doing some legwork for The Hotstove (and this blog), every NHL general manager asked about this kind of extension pointed out that no one knows what the new collective bargaining agreement rules are going to be.

More importantly, it's highly unlikely any Crosby contract can be insured against concussions, at least right now.

A friend of mine who works in the insurance business said, "The best they can hope for is he has a healthy year and someone decides to cover it a year from now." That is exactly when the extension would kick in.

Talking to five NHL executives, I asked each one the same question: "If you said to your owner, 'I've completed a 10-year, $90-million deal with Sidney Crosby, but we can't insure it,' what would he say?"

All of them thought about it for a couple of seconds and then said some variation of, "He'd do it." Although, the assistant added: "I'd like to see you ask an owner this question." I'm working on it.

"He's [Crosby]," said one GM. "You know, it's a risk, but it's a risk you take. I'm sure his injuries are a sensitive subject, but the Penguins have the medical reports. They know him better than anyone else."

Noted a second GM: "If you don't do it, someone else is going to."

Added a third GM: "If you sign him to this deal and he gets hurt in two years, you're going to look stupid. But if you don't, he plays the next 10 years like he can and goes down as one of the best ever, you're going to look even more stupid."

THE CAP HIT

Moving forward, the big question about Crosby is his health. "He'll want term. Security," said GM No. 3. Crosby did play the last 20 games of the season, including playoffs, without incident, but that's a small sample size.

Each of the executives said that if Crosby wants this security, he'll have to make a trade off on salary. "You can't have everything," one of them pointed out.

Under the current CBA, the maximum salary a player can make in one season is 20 per cent of the cap figure. With that number expected to be approximately $70 million for 2012-13, the ceiling is $14 million, give or take a few pesos (Brad Richards had the highest paycheque this past year at $12 million).

In a non-cap era, Crosby probably gets that. The Penguins are a consistent contender because they're a great team, but the organization is well aware the beautiful Consol Energy Center doesn't exist without his presence.

From 2000-05, seven players earned at least $10 million per season -- Peter Forsberg, Jaromir Jagr, Pavel Bure, Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov. Several others, including Joe Sakic, Chris Pronger and Rob Blake, were just beneath that threshold. Crosby is in that class.

Maybe there is a year or two in the new contract where he gets the max or close to it. Who knows? But he can't stay there because it would be impossible for the Penguins to win. Usually that means extra years tacked on the back at a lower salary to bring down the AAV.

But one of the GMs made an excellent point. Martin St. Louis signed a four-year, $22.5-million contract at age 35. That's $5.625 million per season. Would Crosby and his agent, Pat Brisson, want to risk playing at that age for significantly lower than his market value?

"I think everyone understands he needs a raise," said GM No. 3. "But ultimately, he has to think, 'Do I want to win three or four championships before I'm done?' Does he want to go down with Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr? Well, Gretzky had [Mark] Messier and [Jari] Kurri. Howe had [Alex] Delvecchio and [Ted] Lindsay. Orr had [Phil] Esposito and [Johnny] Bucyk. He [Crosby] is not going to win four Cups all by himself. You have to convince him to take the lowest end of the reasonable range."

"Nine million is the right number," said a fourth GM.

"They're going to have to deal with Evgeni Malkin next," said GM No. 1. "He'll want $9 million, too. He's the best player in the world right now." (NB: Both Crosby and Malkin are represented by the same agency, CAA.)

While it's Brisson's job to go in there and swing for the fences, one Crosby friend said common sense is going to prevail: "I just can't see him taking a deal that's going to cripple the team or be overly ridiculous. It's not him."

30 THOUGHTS

1. In talking with the various GMs, there was a pretty funny exchange with No. 2.

Q: "What would you want his cap hit to be?"

A: "Between $6-$7 million."

Q: "What? You can't do that."

A: "Well, you asked me what I'd want."
 
2. Here's how the NHL's insurance program works. Not every contract gets coverage, but those involved are protected for 80 per cent of the salary five years at a time and, as each year on a long-term contract expires, the next year is insured. There is a 30-game deductible, meaning a player must miss that much action before the coverage kicks in. There are also special terms for players over 35, but that will not affect Crosby.

3. The assistant GM quoted above said this kind of extension for Crosby and what it means for Malkin would absolutely result in a new address for Jordan Staal, although not necessarily this season. "You can't have $22 million invested in one position, especially if the cap gets tighter."

4. As mentioned on The Hotstove, there are reports out of the Czech Republic that Ondrej Pavelec has an offer from St. Petersburg. SKA, as it is known, isn't shy about tossing cash around. Whenever the KHL comes up, ask two questions. First, is the player happy in his NHL city? Second, how are negotiations going? Apparently, Pavelec likes it in Winnipeg. I don't know the second answer, but I'd assume not great. He was their MVP last season, but you can see a landscape where teams are playing hardball with restricted free agents because they hope contracts will be tighter under the new CBA. This is what Winnipeg must weigh: If we wait too long, will he jump for one year, especially if there is a lockout?

5. Equal time. Last week, I wrote about Patrik Elias' near-defection to the Rangers in 2006 and mentioned things fell apart -- after the two sides agreed to terms -- when New York wouldn't agree on a no-move clause. A member of the Rangers front office reached out to say they felt that, at the last moment, Elias didn't want to leave New Jersey and called Lou Lamoriello to make it work.

6. The days leading up to the draft -- and the draft itself -- are going to be very interesting. GMs say there are a lot of conversations right now as teams are calling around, trying to determine who is available and what is wanted. "There are a lot of guys who don't like their teams," one exec said. "And the free-agent market isn't great. Right now, it seems like most feel if you really want to fix your team, a trade is the best way to go." Right now, it sounds like the usual suspects -- Rick Nash, Roberto Luongo -- but it doesn't take long for other names to seep into conversations.

7. Until Sunday, Doug Wilson had made some kind of trade with 28 of the other 29 teams. The Brad Stuart deal made it 29 of 29. Detroit was the final partner.

8. There is a theory that if John Davidson lands in Columbus, Rick Nash may change his mind and want to stay. I'm not sure about that. I think Nash desires a fresh start.

9. Tim Wharnsby reported on The Hotstove that the Blues' negotiations to bring Brett Hull to run business operations hit a snag. Understand totally that it's Tom Stillman's toy now, but look at how far that franchise has come both on and off the ice. Why tinker with the momentum? Davidson, his hockey operations staff and Ken Hitchcock may not come cheap but they haven't underperformed. What can really hurt is players notice this stuff and wonder what it means for them. Things can really destabilize.

10. There are rumblings that Toronto will offer Luke Schenn to Edmonton for a swap of first-rounders. No doubt Brian Burke would like to make a huge draft splash. He loves the big stage. And I do believe the Oilers like Schenn and have discussed his availability before. But I just can't see it happening for the first-overall selection. That's not enough. It'll be interesting, though, to see how many teams think Schenn will be better off outside Toronto. Sounds like the Maple Leafs are aware of that and, as a result, ask for a lot in return.

11. Norfolk coach Jon Cooper, who led the Admirals to the Calder Cup championship, has two years remaining on his contract with Tampa Bay. Edmonton and Washington aren't sure if he's ready yet to be an NHL bench boss, but he had a such an impressive run that teams are going to want to get to know him. Could see him getting offers to be a big-league assistant, should he want it. Some guys prefer to run their own bench.

12. So what's going on with Brent Sutter in Edmonton? Not exactly news that the head coach vacancy is believed to be his if he wants it. Sutter still had time on his contract with Calgary and, even though he probably would have received (official) permission to talk sooner, he apparently decided to relax a little after the worlds. You also have to think that he'd want to know who the Oilers will draft and how they plan to upgrade all over the ice. It makes sense.

13. I wonder if the Ryan Smyth situation also has an effect. Even if the two sides agree on a contract, will there be agreement on his role? Before the NHL all-star break, he had 23 20-minute games. After the break, just three. Smyth is very popular locally and the new coach doesn't need to walk into a problem there.

14. It doesn't sound like the Islanders are interested in re-signing Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau. Sometimes, people look at guys like him and say, "He's only getting points because he's playing with John Tavares." While that may be true, it's always a gamble the next guy has the same chemistry with your star. Or that Parenteau will go somewhere else and get 67 points with a different star.

15. At an Anaheim Ducks fan event last weekend, GM Bob Murray revealed two important bits of information. First, Justin Schultz informed the team he will test free agency, as expected. Second, Murray will meet with Teemu Selanne this week, but added the future Hall of Famer's plans may not be finalized.
 
16. I had a chance to chat briefly with Mike Richards about the whole Dustin Brown trade-deadline craziness. Richards said he tried not to pay attention to what was going on, but admitted he hated hearing reports the Kings wanted make him captain instead of Brown. "I'd feel like hell if someone said that about me," he said. (Full disclosure: one of the reports came here).

17. Martin Brodeur's made it pretty clear that he's unlikely to retire. But Hockey Night In Canada producer Brian Spear and I almost fell off our chairs when he was asked how the Devils uncertain financial status affects his future: "Not for retirement, that's for sure, but for where I'm going to play next, that makes a big difference. There's a big unknown ... especially with the ownership, Lou [Lamoriello]. Regardless, I think with this organization, everything's going to stay put. We're going to be just fine ... I want to be a Devil as long as I can and, if they give me the option, I'll be here for sure." Couldn't imagine him in anything other than the Devils' red and black. Brodeur laughed, "We'd have to change my house a lot."

18. Brodeur's roughest performance in the Stanley Cup final was Game 3. Now that was after a cross-country flight and a 5 p.m. local start the next day. That's not easy for a 40-year-old who hadn't been out of his own time zone since Jan. 14. Let's see if it's an issue in Game 6.

19. The Devils' body English after the Game 3 defeat was awful. They looked so down and disappointed. The next day, it was 180 degrees different. I asked a couple of players how they changed their mood and one said, "Dwelling on how bad things are only makes you feel sh---ier." Said Zach Parise: "If you sit around feeling sad for yourself, you're going to get killed in Game 4."

20. Elias says Parise prepares as well for games as Scott Stevens did. That's very high praise because the championship Devils of 1995-2003 fed off their captain.

21. Parise is a big supporter (with the NHLPA's Goals and Dreams Foundation) of a Minnesota-based charity called "Defending the Blueline." It provides hockey equipment and association fees for children of military families. As a thank you, one father presented him with an American flag that was flown in Afghanistan. Parise keeps it in his Minnesota home.

22. Upon receiving the captaincy, he asked his father, Jean-Paul, for advice. (JP played 890 NHL games.) The response? "Make sure the young guys feel part of the team." The Devils put rookie Adam Henrique next to Parise in their room and Henrique says he doesn't accomplish anything this year without Zach's help.

23. Pete DeBoer on Drew Doughty: 'In my mind, he's the best defenceman in the world right now."

24. One of the things Doughty needed to overcome this season was the pressure of his new $56-million contract. Help came from Anze Kopitar, who struggled with his own long-term extension two years ago. "I had one of the worst years right after I signed," Kopitar said. "You know you don't have to stress yourself too much, but it's in the back of your mind that you have to perform, you have to score every night and, when things don't go your way, it can go south on you pretty quick. Not that I've talked about it a whole lot, but just reminding [Doughty] that there's 25 guys in there who are going to do it, not him by himself or me or whoever is in there. It's about the team and the sooner you don't worry about that too much, the better it is." (Thanks to The Hockey News' Ken Campbell for forwarding me the quote after I miswrote it).

25. Jim Hughson asked Darryl Sutter what he knew about Alec Martinez before arriving in Los Angeles. Quite a bit, actually. Martinez played minor hockey with Sutter's son, Brett, in San Jose. When Darryl's wife, Wanda, was cleaning out some storage space, she found old photos of the two kids together.

26. The whole Ilya Kovalchuk power-play scenario is fascinating to me. The contract makes him a lightning rod, even though he's competing through a painful back problem. But there's a real good counterpoint: if he's having so much trouble, why is he playing two minutes at a time with the man advantage? As one player not in the final explained, "A two-minute shift kills your next two shifts."

27. In Game 4, Kings penalty trouble put Kovalchuk on the ice for 4:58 of a 5:09 stretch. I asked him how hard it is to do that. "That's what summer workouts are for," he said. Totally deadpan, too.

28. Bryce Salvador is 36 years old, playing the best -- and most productive -- hockey of his life. He missed the 2010-11 season with a concussion. "It sounds strange," he said last week, "but that turned out to be great for me. You don't think that way at the time, but I came back healthy and rested. It's added time to my career." An unrestricted free agent on July 1, he'd like to stay in Jersey. But again, the team's situation clouds the picture.

29. Good on Toronto fans for their strong support of the Marlies run to the Calder Cup Final. Turning out in droves for AHL games, even playoffs, rarely happens in Canada's largest market. It also shows how much the city is dying for something to cheer for.

30. Finally, best wishes for Shawn Burr, who recently went through a bone-marrow transplant in his fight against acute myeloid leukemia. Early reports labelled the procedure a success, which is great news.

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