What a lot of people haven’t discussed is that Crosby’s contract expires after the 2012-13 season, in the same way Staal’s does. Currently, he is playing on a five-year, $43.5-million contract he signed before the 08-09 season. The salary cap charge is $8.7-million annually. Because the deal was front-loaded, Crosby has earned $9 million in each of the first four years of the deal and actually takes a pay cut, to $7.5-million, next year to play out the deal. Once the Penguins get past July 1, they can officially open negotiations on an extension with both players (a provision of the current CBA), although there is nothing to prevent them from informally exploring the landscape, even as we speak.
When Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk and Mike Richards and all those players were signing those lifetime contracts (with the Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers respectively), the agents for Crosby and Malkin (CAA, based out of Los Angeles and Calgary) settled for five-year deals, on the sensible grounds that it provided flexibility for both the player and the team. Malkin signed a contract identical to Crosby’s, and it will expire in two years time. At the very least, the Penguins need to explore - now rather than later - a sense of what Crosby’s intentions are going forward.
Years ago, when Crosby signed his contract originally, there was some thought that the Montreal Canadiens might have a shot at signing Crosby when he hit free agency for the first time (the 24-year-old Crosby turns 25 in August). Montreal was the team he supported as a youth; and wouldn’t he be a nice building block for new GM Marc Bergevin who, as it happens, counts Penguins’ owner Mario Lemieux among his close friends. But Crosby wasn’t particularly well treated by fans at the Bell Centre during the Canadiens’ playoff series win over the Penguins in 2010, and his affection for that team has allegedly waned.
Shero cut his managerial teeth in the Nashville Predators organization before joining Pittsburgh, and so, he traditionally tends to err on the side of conservatism. The biggest moves he’s made (Kunitz for Ryan Whitney, Alex Goligoski for James Neal) are modest transactions compared to the tremors that a move involving Staal, or (far less likely) Crosby would make.
In his post-season comments, Shero acknowledged that with the uncertainty over how the next collective bargaining agreement is going to unfold, it may be difficult to keep all three of the Penguins’ top centres - and some have even suggested that Malkin should be the odd man out.
But given how Shero operates, the most likely outcome is that all three are in Pittsburgh colours in September, and the Penguins adopt a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to their strength down the middle - postponing the discussion until they see what a new CBA looks like, which would then give them a far clearer look into what the future may hold.