Shero: Crosby remains priority for Penguins
OTTAWA — Sidney Crosby's yearlong bout with a concussion will not influence next summer's contract talks, Penguins general manager Ray Shero told the Tribune-Review, and the team remains committed to a long-term extension with the star center.
"The only thing on my mind is signing Sidney Crosby," Shero said. "We want him to be a Penguin for life. That's the goal. Nothing has changed."
Crosby's health has changed, of course. He remains out of the lineup with headaches, possibly indicating the concussion he sustained in January remains on some level, though an ImPACT test after the Dec. 5 game against the Boston Bruins did not indicate another concussion. He has played just eight games since Jan. 5.
Shero, however, expects Crosby to fully recover from his concussion issues.
"I'm under the assumption that he's going to play in the NHL for another 10 or 15 years," Shero said of Crosby, who turned 24 in August. "We all know he's the best player in the league when he's healthy. My mindset on Sidney Crosby is not changing. We want to sign him."
Speculation has surfaced that Crosby's health might affect the Penguins' approach to his next contract.
Crosby's current deal makes him eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1, 2013. The NHL's collective bargaining agreement states that the Penguins are permitted to exclusively negotiate with Crosby beginning in July 2012.
Shero said the Penguins "absolutely" are willing to take a financial risk that Crosby will regain full health.
"When Sid comes back, we'll see (greatness) in his game, just like when he came back in November," Shero said.
Neither Crosby nor his agent, Pat Brisson, were available for comment.
Several players leaguewide — including Philadelphia's Claude Giroux and Chris Pronger, Hurricanes center Jeff Skinner, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and Kings center Mike Richards — are out with concussions. NHL greats Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine had their careers cut short because of concussions.
When Crosby returns from this latest episode is unknown, but like last season, Shero refuses to rush Crosby.
"It's best to be cautious right now in this situation," Shero said. "The future is important. It's important to us and to Sidney. We have to make sure we're very careful with him."
Crosby won't be the only player on Shero's mind this summer.
Center Jordan Staal, whose offensive game has blossomed despite recently being hampered by a lower-body injury, also has a contract that expires in 2013. Shero would like to finalize a deal with Staal, 23, this summer.
Right wing James Neal, 24, who has scored 17 goals this season, is another who figures to have Shero's attention. Neal becomes a restricted free agent this summer.
"All summers are important," Shero said. "Now we're getting into the third contracts for some of our star players. So, yeah, it is a pivotal summer. There are important decisions for the organization to make moving forward."
The current CBA expires Sept. 15. Shero is hopeful an agreement will be reached beforehand and that a new salary cap allows the Penguins to keep their team mostly intact.
"You just have to project what the cap number will be," Shero said. "You do the best you can."
Neal's price increases with every goal he scores, and Shero does not sound interested in letting the winger walk.
"When we traded for him," Shero said, "we obviously thought he was a good player. He was the right age to grow with us. It's not just his goal-scoring. He's doing a lot of good things. He's a really good player. He seems to fit in with our forward group. To get him a contract at some point is a goal."
The goal, however, is making sure Crosby remains a Penguin — regardless of time he might miss due to injury.
"Nothing," Shero said, "has changed our mind about Sidney Crosby being our priority."
On the market?
Here are the Penguins' upcoming unrestricted and restricted free agents:
Player, Current, salary
LW, Steve Sullivan, $1.5 million
RW, Arron Asham, $775,000
LW, Steve MacIntyre, $600,000
C, Richard Park, $550,000
G, Brent Johnson, $600,00
C, Sidney Crosby, $8.7 million
C, Jordan Staal, $4 million
RW, James Neal, $2.875 million
LW, Matt Cooke, $1.8 million
D, Matt Niskanen, $1.5 million
RW, Pascal Dupuis, $1.5 million
D, Brian Strait, $861,677
LW, Eric Tangradi, $845,833
D, Alexandre Picard, $600,000
D, Robert Bortuzzo, $535,000
C, Joe Vitale, $512,500
Unrestricted free agents in 2013
RW, Craig Adams, $675,000
D, Ben Lovejoy, $525,000
*Should the current salary cap of $64.3 million remain in place for the 2012-13 season, the Penguins would have about $9.4 million of cap room.