Crosby’s Deal a Win for Fans, Game; Loss for Agents, NHLPA

By Jason Menard

By taking far less than he could have, Pittsburgh Penguins’ superstar Sidney Crosby created a win-win scenario that, for once, includes the fans.

The old adage states that there is no ‘I’ in team. There is one, however, in Win – and historically when it comes to a player’s wallet, the only ‘win’ that’s ever mattered is obtaining the biggest, fattest contract. Players and their agents will pay lip service to home-town discounts and leaving room for other players, but when it comes down to the dollars and cents, any concessions are usually minor.

And while it seems odd to say that, with a payday of over $100 million, Sid took one for the team, by leaving a tremendous amount of money on the table,Crosbydid just that. By taking one for the team, he made it possible for the Penguins’ management to actually ice a team around him.

Yesterday, the NHL set its salary cap at $70.2 million dollars. As per the current collective bargaining agreement, one player can make 20 per cent of his team’s overall salary. That means a max contract this year could be $14.04 million dollars.

Sid’s deal? It’s reportedly a front-loaded deal that averages out to $8.7 million a year – a wink and a nod to the number 87 that Crosby wears on his back – over 12 years. In theory, Crosby will take home $104.4 million dollars on a contract that could see him stay a Penguin until he’s 37.

Crosby could have demanded slightly more than $14 million per season. And it’s safe to say that even if Pittsburgh balked at that amount, someone else would have stepped up to offer him that number once he reached unrestricted free agency. Even considering Crosby’s suspect injury history, some deep-pocketed owner would have been willing to roll the dice on his unique combination of talent, youth, and marketability.

Instead, he signed a contract extension that doesn’t even represent a raise on his previous deal – the $8.7 million cap hit is identical to the five-year deal that comes to an end in the 2012-13 season (although that deal was four years at $9 million, with the final season at $7.5 million).

If you’re looking for losers in this transaction, you may want to see how player agents and NHLPA’s union head Donald Fehr are reacting. Coming from the baseball world – a cap-free world where $104-million contracts represent chump change –Crosby’s decision could have a depressing impact on other players’ contract negotiations.

Not only does this set the bar in Pittsburgh – no player, not even reigning MVP Evgeni Malkin, will be able to command more than Sid the (Still Going to be Very Rich) Kid – but it’s going to have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the league. While contracts are done in isolation and some owners will overpay talent, it’s going to be tough for any agent to justify demanding more on an annual basis than Crosby’s $8.7 million.

Crosby showed a marked lack of ego here. It would have been easy (and certainly not historically unprecedented) for him to demand to be the league’s highest-paid player. Right now,Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin has the NHL’s largest cap hit at just over $9.5 million on a deal that will take him to 2021. Crosby and Malkin are tied for second, and Carolina Hurricane Eric Staal has the fourth-largest hit at $8.25 million.

Fortunately, instead of feeding his ego with victories in the boardroom, Crosby decided to strive for ego gratification on the ice by putting himself in the best position to win championships. And that’s been proven time and time again to require a competitive team.

Even with Crosby and Malkin’s combined $17.4 million cap hit, the Penguins still have just under $53 million to round out the roster. That’s a far sight better than had both players demanded max contracts. It gives them a fighting chance to not only retain its own talent, but also remain competitive for UFAs like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

The details haven’t been released on how front-loaded Crosby’s deal actually is (he could earn just over $14 million in one year, with the final years dropping significantly to balance it out). But if the team has the up-front cash to do this, it’s a stroke of genius – especially considering the precedents that have been set in the NHL.

The New York Rangers have 32-year-old Brad Richards signed to a nine-year deal that carries a $6.67 million cap hit. However, it comes with a $12 million annual salary for both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 before dropping off to $1 million per season for the final three years. And that’s when the salary balancing act tends to get a little tipsy, as Richard’s cap hit will be particularly heavy for a guy who will be 39 in his final season.

Sure, Crosby will only be two years younger when his deal expires, but who would you rather have right now? And with Crosby’s commitment to fitness, he will put himself in every position to succeed for those final years.

But there’s the rub. While Crosby will put himself in every position to succeed, but he may be failed by the one thing he can’t control – his brain injuries. Crosby’s concussion issues are very real and have already forced him to miss significant time.

We all hope that Crosby will be able to successfully see this deal through to its completion. We hope for this not just as hockey fans, but as human beings. When it comes to concussions, it’s not just quality of play that can be diminished – it’s quality of life that can be severely compromised.

But there are no guarantees in hockey. Beyond Crosby’s injury fears, Malkin could decide that money matters more and bolt for fiscally greener pastures; draft picks and trades could turn out to be busts; and other teams could rise up and surpass the Penguins.

While there may be no guaranteed wins on the ice, there’s a clear one off the ice – for today, at least. And that’s hockey’s fan base. Crosby’s already changed the game on the ice through his talent and innovative training techniques, but by putting his potential money where his mouth is, Crosby may have just done the same off the ice.

 

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