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Starkey: Sid's deal shouldn't constrain Malkin

| Saturday, June 30, 2012, 10:40 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin at Consol Energy Center 2012.

Evgeni Malkin was vacationing in Florida with former teammate Sergei Gonchar when word of Sidney Crosby's pending new contract reached him.

No, Malkin did not weep when he learned that Sid had again settled for an admirable but absurdly low $8.7 million annual salary, a figure some inaccurately view as the Penguins' individual salary cap moving forward.

“He was excited,” said J.P. Barry, Malkin's agent. “He's happy Sid is back long-term. They both crave the same thing — team goals.”

With Crosby poised to sign a 12-year, $104.4 million extension today — he is leaving more than $5 million annually on the table — the forward-spin question becomes: What happens when the Penguins enter negotiations with Malkin next summer?

Should he feel obligated to remain at $8.7 million, just like Crosby?

The correct answer is no, absolutely not, though it's instructive to note what happened the last time the Penguins' two biggest stars signed new deals.

Crosby, ever the superstitious sort — born 8/ 787 — went for $8.7 million annually on a five-year deal in the summer of 2007 (good for the Penguins he wasn't born 1 23187). He said at the time he would have no issue with Malkin receiving more.

Sure enough, a year later, Malkin had the chance to go higher.

“That was an option,” Barry recalled. “I basically advised him he could do that. He looked at all the options — including higher numbers — and said, ‘No,' and wrote down ‘8.7.' ”

So money was not Malkin's primary motivation back then. I'm betting it won't be next summer, either. But in no way should he feel constrained by Crosby's deal. He has every right to ask for considerably more.

Remember, Crosby already is a pitchman for Pepsi, Reebok and Tim Horton's. He has unlimited endorsement potential. Malkin might not.

Sure, Malkin might go for 8.7 again, but he has spread his wings over the previous three years. He is his own man now. For all we know, he could be the NHL's two-time defending MVP next summer. I have to believe he'd feel comfortable asking for more.

“That's a personal question for him,” Barry said. “My job is to give him the available options.”

But will Malkin and Barry view $8.7 million as an unofficial cap?

“Not really,” Barry said. “But I can't make a comment on what the parameters of the negotiations are until we see a new CBA.”

Indeed, the NHL and its players union are negotiating a new CBA, and nobody can project, for example, the new maximum allowable salary or contract length.

In exchange for giving an incredible discount, Crosby received the security of 12 years. Who knows what Malkin's options might be?

General manager Ray Shero gave no indication Thursday that Crosby's self-imposed cap would be everyone else's, too. Of Malkin, Shero said only, “We want to keep Gino happy and keep him be a Penguin for a long time.”

I asked Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, via email if Crosby would be OK with Malkin signing for more than $8.7 million annually.

Brisson replied that he and Crosby had not discussed the matter.

“I don't think it's about Sidney being OK whether or not Geno makes more or less,” Brisson wrote. “It has to do with having the right team and chemistry based on the rules and regulations of the new CBA.”

The off-ice chemistry between Crosby and Malkin, by all accounts, has never been better. It meant the world to Malkin that Crosby stepped in to help with his relief effort for the families of victims of the Lokomotiv plane crash in September.

Malkin always has been deferential to Crosby. The opposite is true, too. Consider that Crosby — who is, remember, the king of superstition — broke with his long-standing tradition of taking the ice last and allowed Malkin to do so when the latter joined the team.

“I really think they understand each other,” Barry said. “There's a lot of respect.”

There's always a chance Malkin will wake up one day and want his own team. But he enjoys the perks of playing in Pittsburgh, including the fact that Crosby draws most of the media attention.

“He loves the town,” Barry said. “He has a home there. His family comes and spends several months every year.”

Can we assume Malkin wants to spend the bulk of his remaining career here?

“I don't think he's thinking any other way,” Barry said.

In the meantime, another powerful Penguins duo deserves an ovation. Co-owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux were willing and able to assume the considerable risk of Crosby's contract, which is uninsurable against concussion-related injury.

These owners consistently do the right thing. They will make every effort to re-sign Malkin. If he asks for more than Crosby — at least annually — that should not be a problem.

For anyone.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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