Philadelphia, PA – Based on talent and production alone, if any NHL player deserves a $100 million contract, it has to be Sidney Crosby.
Judging by the Internet's immediate reaction to the news that Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins agreed to a 12-year, $104.4 million extension on Thursday, there a few people who would say No. 87 doesn't deserve that money based on talent alone.
Since this is professional hockey in the year 2012, any substantive discussion about the massive contract extension will center around Crosby's concussion history. The burning question is, will Crosby's recent head and neck injuries wind up making this deal a poor investment for the Penguins?
Rumors of this extension have been swirling around for weeks now and when Pittsburgh dealt centerman Jordan Staal at last weekend's draft, the path to locking up Crosby long-term became even clearer.
Crosby's new deal, which cannot be signed until July 1 when the free agency period begins, will start with the 2013-14 season and will keep him with the club through the 2024-25 campaign. Just like his previous deal with Pittsburgh, the extension carries an annual cap hit of $8.7 million -- a number that the Pens have no problem shelling out for a healthy Crosby.
Of course, the problem is a healthy Crosby has been hard to come by for Pittsburgh since his concussion problems began in January 2011. He missed the remainder of the 2010-11 season after the initial head injury and didn't return to action until last November, when Crosby played in only eight games before a recurrence of symptoms forced him out again until March 15.
In the end, Crosby posted eight goals and 29 assists for 37 points in his 22 games during the 2011-12 regular season, so obviously production was not a problem for "Sid the Kid" when he was actually able to take the ice. He also added three goals and five assists in six playoff games during a disappointing first-round exit to archrival Philadelphia this spring.
While the prospect of another head injury eating into Crosby's playing time has to be a scary one for the Penguins, the team simply had to make this calculated risk. Even with teammate Evgeni Malkin putting together a Hart Trophy-winning season in 2011-12, Crosby is not only the face of the Pittsburgh franchise, along with Washington Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin he's the most recognizable player in the NHL.
There's also the fact that Crosby still is very young and it would be borderline insane to give up on him before he celebrates his 25th birthday this summer. The Penguins know the head injuries Crosby has battled over the last two seasons makes this extension a roll of the dice, but it's a gamble they are right to make.
Crosby has already accomplished so much at such a young age and Pittsburgh is crossing its fingers that there are more good years than bad ones to come. In 434 career regular-season games, the native Nova Scotian has 223 goals and 609 points. He also won the Art Ross and Hart Trophies at just 19 years of age in 2006-07 and later helped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup title in the spring of 2009.
For so many reasons, it's hard to second-guess the Penguins for making this deal. After all, the average fan fears a return of Crosby's concussion issues for general reasons, but the Pittsburgh front office has actually been in the room with Crosby and the various doctors who helped him through his head injuries.
While there is still so much science can learn about concussions, to say the Penguins have done their due diligence regarding Crosby's specific head issues would be an understatement.
In fact, after countless visits to doctors, Crosby and the Penguins learned that his most recent head injury was not a concussion after all, but instead was caused by soft tissue in his neck. That diagnosis made it possible to actually rehab the injury and not sit around and wait for it to get better, as is often the main course of action with concussions.
The bottom line is Pittsburgh knows this extension is a risk, but in a sport as physical as hockey, when isn't signing a guy for an additional 12 years a gamble?
The Pens realize that once you land a guy like Crosby, it's wise to give him what he wants, when he wants it and leave the hand-wringing to the Internet commentators.