Sidney Crosby won’t be a free agent this Sunday. If Ray Shero and the Pittsburgh Penguins have their way, Crosby may never be a free agent again.
Marian Hossa won’t be a free agent this Sunday. He’s set to spend the rest of his hockey career in Chicago.
Those two will have more to say about Pittsburgh’s next free agent class than Zach Parise and Ryan Suter could ever hope to.
Like the Raleigh-bound Jordan Staal, Crosby becomes eligible to negotiate the terms of his next contract extension this Sunday. 2012-13 will be the final season of the five-year, $43.5 million extension he signed following the 2007-08 season.
Despite the cap-clearing maneuvers of shipping Staal (who was clearly intent on moving on) to Carolina and sending defenseman Zbynek Michalek back to Phoenix, top-flight free agents like Parise and Suter won’t be the ones who determine the course of Pittsburgh’s offseason.
It all comes down to Crosby.
When the July 1 clock strikes noon and general managers hit the phones, a few things will be certain. Shero will begin work immediately on his ‘Plan A,’ whatever it may be. ‘Plans B’ through ‘Z’ will have been worked out well in advance. And Crosby will re-sign with the Penguins.
At least, that’s the plan.
As THW’s Mike Colligan first pointed out, Hossa continues to play a part in all of Pittsburgh’s roster shuffling. It was the big winger’s 48-hour hostage campaign in 2008 that left Shero out of the free agent loop for nearly two days (Hossa finally settled on spending a year in Detroit), and a major theme has emerged in every major personnel decision the Penguins have made since:
Shero does not wait for you.
Shero didn’t wait for Sergei Gonchar and Dan Hamhuis in 2010. Neither defenseman had committed to signing in Pittsburgh that summer (prior to free agency Shero had exclusive negotiating rights with both). Moments after phone calls starting going out from Shero’s office in CONSOL Energy Center, Michalek and Paul Martin, or ‘Plans C and D,’ became Penguins.
Similarly, Shero did not wait for Jordan Staal last Friday. After the big center turned down a 10-year, $60 million contract offer, it became clear that he would not re-sign with the Penguins at any point in the coming season, nor during the 2013 summer (by which time his trade stock would have declined immensely).
The Penguins didn’t wait on Staal. Now Pittsburgh has two more blue-chip defensemen in an already stacked farm system and a more-than-adequate third center in 23-year-old Brandon Sutter.
Where salary is concerned, CapGeek.com now gives Pittsburgh $14.6 million to work with under the current CBA and Cap system with 18 players already signed to a contract. Of course, labor uncertainty means that number can change.
$14.6 million is a vastly greater sum than Shero and the Penguins are accustomed to having in-pocket on July 1. While a renegotiated CBA could scale back the current cap ceiling somewhat, any proposal that decreases this number significantly will be vetoed by Donald Fehr and the NHLPA.
To put it another way, owners are making more money than ever—a league-record $3.3 billion in revenue in 2012. The NHLPA flatly will not accept a significant pay cut.
Teams can plan on working with a $70.3 million cap ceiling until a new agreement determines otherwise, and Pittsburgh clearly has plans of its own.
If history holds true this Sunday, Crosby will have a new contract around 12:01 PM.
Pittsburgh likes to spend to the cap, and will very much look to do so again this summer. However, there is zero chance that the team will begin offering big-money, long-term deals to assets like Parise or Suter until the ink is dry on Crosby’s extension. They just won’t jeopardize his next deal.
Getting Crosby under contract right away means Shero will be free to attack the team’s needs without the worry of how Sid’s next deal affects the team’s payroll.
Signing a new deal so far in advance of one’s own free agency doesn’t always benefit the player and his agent (unless you’re Dennis Wideman). So how does Crosby’s camp benefit from signing so soon?
For one thing, Crosby is the face of the franchise and its highest personnel priority. The team implicitly stated as much when they parted ways with Staal.
Further, there can’t be any reasonable doubt that Crosby and the Penguins haven’t been talking contract for weeks now, despite what the team has called “general” discussions.
Whether Crosby and agent Pat Brisson want term, money or an equal serving of both, chances are both parties know what the deal will be and are simply waiting on Sunday to put it in ink.
If Shero’s first priority is re-signing Crosby, his second will be to approach potential targets with a clear plan and no hang-ups. One such hang-up would be a pending extension for Sid. However, Crosby has been more than amenable to compromising his own contract to better the team before, taking less than $9 million per season in a market that would have annually handed him more than $10M.
While Sid is the priority, they have to be hopeful that his new deal will be done in a way that allows them to pursue strengthening the team at other positions this Sunday.
“I sure hope it gets done quickly,” Shero said of Crosby’s next extension.
If the past is any indication, it will.
James was a Penguins contributor at THW and SB Nation Pensburgh and owns the Pittsburgh sports blog Slew Footers.