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Kovacevic: Payback for Crosby? Pay Parise

| Friday, June 29, 2012, 12:16 a.m.
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) is shoved by the New Jersey Devils' Zach Parise (9) in the second period during an NHL hockey game at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
Canada's Sidney Crosby (87) and USA's Zach Parise (9) greet one another after Canada beat the USA, 3-2, in the overtime period of a men's gold medal ice hockey game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The most misguided myth tailing the Penguins in recent years is that Sidney Crosby has never had a big-time winger. Not true. He's skated alongside Mark Recchi, Marian Hossa and Bill Guerin, even shared a few shifts with the greatest player in NHL history.

Go ahead, look it up: On Dec. 16, 2005, Mario Lemieux's final game was on Crosby's left wing.

The Kid's had plenty of help.

But then, that's been the problem. There have been too many wingers, too many changes and not enough elite talent.

It's time to change that. And by time I mean this weekend.

Sign Zach Parise.

Get it done, Ray Shero.

Clear the ledger for the noon Sunday start of free agency, trade Paul Martin to create another $5 million in cap space, have a new No. 9 sweater stitched up (he and Pascal Dupuis can drop the gloves over it later), double-check that Martin's really gone, then book that nonstop out of Newark. Preferably with a 12:01 p.m. takeoff.

Think of it as the fitting sequel to the seismic news Thursday that Crosby became, really, a Penguin for life by agreeing to a 12-year, $104.4 million extension.

The deal itself wasn't a surprise, but the terms were in that Crosby's average salary will work out to - what else? - $8.7 million, the same he's making now and way below next season's NHL individual maximum of $14.03 million.

Has the No. 1 star of any sport ever settled for that much less?

Shero wasn't stretching it when he said "the team is very happy, very comfortable with the deal," even with concerns about Crosby's concussion history.

The Penguins did the right thing, and so did their captain.

Crosby made his concession, in part, because he's "really emotionally attached" to the Penguins and Pittsburgh, as agent Pat Brisson put it. No one should ever doubt that.

But be sure Crosby also took less to help lure Parise. And be very sure this all came to light yesterday for a reason.

Think the Penguins planned to limit coverage of this huge an event to a mere conference call with Shero and Brisson?

Think they wouldn't usually wait for Crosby to be in town?

This was all a giant Bat Signal sent over the New Jersey skies.

And that's fine. Whatever it takes, get it done.

For all we know, it already is done. There's cause to believe more than a seed has been planted. Crosby and Parise have been friends going back to prep school in Minnesota, and they're still tight enough that, when Parise and the Devils were in the Stanley Cup Final just now, Crosby shared a Staples Center suite with Parise's family.

Conversations happen. Ask the Staals.

Moreover, Parise sounds as if he has every intention of hitting the open market, telling the Newark Star-Ledger earlier this week: "If that does happen, my agents have done a really good job to prepare me for it."

But let's assume Parise isn't already Pittsburgh bound.

The Penguins have to pony up regardless. Parise is in his prime at 27. He's coming off 31 goals, a Cup run and a $6 million salary. To get him, it'll take multiple years and about $8 million per. The Penguins do have $15 million in cap room thanks to the trades last week, but that burns up quickly.

Have I mentioned Martin's got to go?

Shero does have other targets, notably defenseman Ryan Suter of the Predators. But the Penguins are blessed with young defensemen. There's no need there. Forget other forwards, too, unless you're excited by the Islanders' PA Parenteau or the Coyotes' aging Shane Doan.

Shero wasn't offering clues yesterday, other than to say, "We know who the free agents are out there, and we're certainly in a different spot cap-wise than we were a week ago."

Good. Put it all into Parise.

The potential benefits are immeasurable. The Evgeni Malkin-James Neal-Chris Kunitz line would have a legit alternate threat. The infusion of 30-plus goals to the roster makes a fine fail-safe if Crosby gets hurt. And the power play ... well, that's a puzzle for another day.

Listen to how Dan Bylsma last week described his ideal winger for Crosby: "You look for the speed, the aggressiveness, the attack on the puck, someone who likes to work down low, the confidence to play with a star. ... You're not necessarily looking for an All-Star guy, though that would be a good thing."

If Bylsma wasn't talking about Parise - we're assuming this isn't a done deal - then it's his precise profile.

Wayne Gretzky found his Jari Kurri early on.

Lemieux eventually found his Kevin Stevens.

Malkin has his Neal.

Crosby just gave at the office to get one of his own.

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