When the Pittsburgh Penguins
announced they had agreed to a massive 12-season, $104.4-million US contract extension with Sidney Crosby
, the immediate chatter was the deal was way too much currency for a young player whose future has been clouded by recent concussion problems.
But you don't need us to remind you that Crosby was considered the game's best before he went on his 10 1/2 month hiatus
after suffering a concussion and then another 100-day break after another setback
with his head and neck problems last December.
There is no guarantee Crosby can return to the head of the class when the NHL resumes for the 2012-13 season. But he looked just fine in the 28 combined regular season and playoff games he suited up for this past season. He checked in with 11 goals and 45 points, and the Penguins went 16-10-2 with him in the lineup.
How a player emerges after enduring head-injury episodes like Crosby has in the past 18 months is unpredictable. Just take a look at the examples of Crosby's Canadian Olympic friend, Patrice Bergeron
, and Bergeron's Boston Bruins teammate, Marc Savard.
Bergeron played 10 games in 2007-08 before he was knocked out for the remainder of the season after getting slammed into the end boards by defencemen Randy Jones. Bergeron returned to action the following season, only to be crunched again by his future teammate Dennis Seidenberg in a game on Dec. 20, 2008.
This time Bergeron missed a month, but has been relatively healthy since. Healthy enough to win a gold medal with Canada's 2010 Olympic team - thanks to Crosby's overtime goal in the final - and to be named the 2011-12 Selke Trophy winner as the NHL's top defensive forward.
Savard, on the other hand, has not been as fortunate. He was the recipient of a vicious blindside hit from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke on March 7, 2010 and then suffered another concussion when he collided with his former Bruins teammate, Matt Hunwick of the Colorado Avalanche. Savard did not play last season
and it doesn't look like he'll ever make a return to action.
To lock up Crosby long term was a no-brainer for Penguins general manager Ray Shero. The salary cap hit for the Pittsburgh captain remains at $8.7 million, Crosby's preferred number because he was born Aug. 7, 1987 and he wears sweater No. 87.
The deal becomes official July 1, but it still has to pass the league's smell test. This Crosby contract is supposed to be front-loaded in similar fashion to the 17-year, $102-million deal Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the New Jersey Devils a couple summers ago. That front-loaded Kovalchuk contract later was rejected
by the league because it circumvented the spirit of the collective agreement. Kovalchuk would have been 44 years old at the duration of the deal.
The 24-year-old Crosby has one more year on his contract. This extension runs from 2013-14 to the end of 2024-25. The kid from Cole Harbour, N.S. will be 37 at the end of this new deal, providing he stays healthy because there is no doubt he will still want to play at that age.
But nobody can predict how Crosby's future health will play out. It was, however, a risk worth taking.
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