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Starkey: Pens corner market on 'hometown discounts'

| Saturday, July 6, 2013, 9:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Pascal Dupuis celebrates his short-handed third-period goal against the Senators on Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

It's a pretty good bet that a professional athlete is lying when he makes one of the following proclamations:

• “It's not about the money.”

• “Free agency? I love it too much here to ever leave.”

There is one place, and maybe one place only, where those words consistently ring true: The Penguins' locker room.

These guys have left enough money on the table to buy their own franchise. They tell of former teammates who left for bigger paychecks wishing they could come back (Rob Scuderi just did).

How is this happening?

Players will tell you it's a combination of things: The city's livability, the chance to win each year, the way the organization treats people, the chance to play with two of the world's best players, the camaraderie. All of that and more.

Start with the city. That might sound hokey, but when Pascal Dupuis sacrifices maybe $400,000 annually to accept the Penguins' four-year, $15 million offer, I listen.

“You notice that people who go away to college, go away to work, end up coming back to Pittsburgh,” Dupuis said. “I've been here for six years, and I can see why. I've made a lot of friends away from hockey. My kids have made a lot of friends. By the time this contract is done, it'll hopefully be 10 years.”

But what about the money?

“How much more do I need?” Dupuis said. “I thought of it that way. Do you want to mess with how things are working for the chance to get $200,000, $300,000 or maybe $400,000 more a year? I didn't.”

We can disagree with some recent Penguins decisions but cannot dispute that ownership and management have created an alluring atmosphere for players. Right down to the smallest details.

“You guys don't even know,” Dupuis said. “We have the biggest stick budget in the NHL by about a million. Everybody is A1 — the athletic trainers, the equipment guys. Anything you need, you'll get.”

In the locker room, it starts at the top. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have kissed many millions of dollars goodbye on their past two contracts. They also set a daily example at the rink.

“They work their (rear ends) off,” Dupuis said. “You always know who the leaders are.”

More of the many hometown-discount tales:

• Chris Kunitz just finished a season in which he was named a first-team NHL all-star. What might another good season have gotten him in a league where Alexander Semin makes $7 million and creaky Vincent Lecavalier just signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract in Philly?

We'll never know. Kunitz accepted a paltry $125,000 raise on his new deal — up to $3.85 million per year, or more than $700,000 less than Lecavalier.

Granted, $3.85 million is a lot of money to me and you (assuming you are not Bill Gates). In NHL terms, it's an unbelievable bargain.

• Brooks Orpik could have taken more money in New York (Rangers) or Los Angeles the last time his contract expired.

• Kris Letang might have gotten, what, $10 million more had he waited to test the market next summer, especially if he had a Norris Trophy in tow?

Letang isn't given to elaborate quotes, but he opened up to the Trib's Rob Rossi about why sticking around was important to him.

“There are no worries here,” Letang said. “Not like in New York, with the media. Not like in Montreal, where you can't go to dinner without everybody knowing what you had to eat. Yeah, in Montreal, it would have been fun to play in my hometown, but it would have been tough for my family.”

Letang meant no disrespect to the great cities of Montreal or New York, but as Dupuis said, the comfort level here is priceless.

“The Penguins treat their players well, but Mario and Ray do great things for players' families, as well,” Letang said. “I've seen that with guys like Dupuis and Geno. I thought about all that. Maybe it's the same way other places. I don't know. I know what it's like here.

“I want to win. I also want to be where it feels right.”

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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