It should be as difficult to describe a deal that will pay the superstar in excess of $100 million as a bargain at the price, but that’s exactly what it is.
At the time, of course, the deal seemed significantly riskier for Pittsburgh. A term in excess of a decade seemed like a massive risk for any player, and especially for one who had played just 63 of a possible 164 regular-season games over the preceding two years when the contract was signed.
Retired NHL star Jeremy Roenick was one of the loudest critics of the deal, telling NextSportStar.com’s Josh Rimer (transcript via The Washington Times) that teams signing long-term deals were “committing contract suicide” and that Pittsburgh was being particularly foolish.
[Y]ou have the Pittsburgh Penguins who give the guy who has the biggest concussion problems in all of hockey a 10-year deal or whatever Sidney Crosby got. I hope this concussion clause is in there. I think Sidney Crosby is the best player in the game, don’t get me wrong, but when you have concussion problems the way that he has in the last year and a half and you give him a 10-year deal, is that smart business? I don’t think so.
Roenick’s fears may yet be borne out—there are, after all, 11 seasons left on Crosby’s deal—but concerns about his concussion history have abated as he comes off of a season in which he was healthy enough to play 80 games. That he’s missed only 14 regular-season contests in the two campaigns since the deal was signed means only that his health has been good so far, not that his concussion problems are permanently in the past.
The other big risk Pittsburgh took was in signing a deal before the end of the 2005 CBA. In July 2012, that deal was set to expire and a lockout was on the horizon as the league pushed players hard for a reduction in the amount of hockey-related revenue allotted to pay their salaries. At the time, the outcome was uncertain, save that the league was the likeliest winner. As it happened, the NHL managed to push the player’s share of HRR from 57 percent down to 50 percent, a significant reduction that momentarily stalled salary-cap growth.
But that’s another risk that looks like a smart decision in hindsight for two significant reasons, the first of which is the continued rise of the salary cap as the league continues to rake money in hand over fist. The NHL is poised for another big bump in revenues as a new long-term television deal begins in Canada.
The other reason is that, like Roenick, the NHL wasn’t in favour of decade-long contracts (and the associated practice of backdiving, which served as a workaround of the NHL’s salary cap). We’ve seen the impact of that decision as the cap hits associated with superstar contracts continue to rise now that it is no longer possible to tag on a few cheap years to the ends of deals.
Because the Penguins signed Crosby’s deal under the old paradigm, they were able to tag three years on the end of the deal in which Crosby is paid only $3 million per season. Without those three years, his cap hit would be $10.6 million, a figure pretty comparable to the $10.5 million average annual value on the contracts recently signed by both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews recently. This way, Pittsburgh gets Crosby at a cap hit of nearly $2 million per season less.
Because Crosby was still quite young when he signed the deal, there’s also a pretty decent chance that he’s still playing in Pittsburgh when those cheap years come around. He’ll have just turned 35 when the first of them arrives; barring serious injury, he should still certainly be playing at age 35, 36 and 37, when he’ll earn $3 million per season in actual salary.
It’s a contract that couldn’t be signed today. It’s also a deal the Penguins probably couldn’t have gotten at any time other than at the end of a season in which Crosby was hurt for three-quarters of the schedule.
For his part, midway through the 2013-14 season, Crosby told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi that he didn’t regret his decision.
I definitely wanted to make sure that me, personally, I gave myself every chance to win,” Crosby said. “That doesn't mean someone else has to do that. But if I'm 45 and I look back and say, ‘I did everything I could... I worked as hard as I could, took less on a contract, did everything I could to give us a chance to win,' I can live with that. That's the most important thing.
Less than a year into the contract, Crosby’s already talking about having taken less to give the Penguins a better chance at assembling a contender. The deal looks like a bargain already, but if Crosby’s health holds, it’s only going to look like a better and better deal for Pittsburgh as the salary cap continues to rise and other leading NHL lights sign at even higher cap hits.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.
Salary information via CapGeek.com.