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Crosby set to sign $104.4 million contract

| Thursday, June 28, 2012, 1:14 p.m.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Sidney Crosby, shown here in an April 1 playoff game against the Flyers, has missed all but 63 games the past two seasons because of concussion symptoms. He and the Penguins agreed to a 12-year contract worth $104.4 million — all of it guaranteed. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
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DETROIT - JUNE 12: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 2-1 to win Game Seven and the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on June 12, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Sidney Crosby
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby celebrates a third period goal against the Devils at Consol Energy Center on March 25, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby during practice at Consol Energy Center Nov. 10, 2011. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review Penguins captain Sidney Crosby speaks to the media at his locker at Consol Energy Center April 24, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

The Kid was forever going to belong to Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

Now he's a career Pittsburgher.

“ ‘You can bet your house he's not leaving,' that is what I told people who would ask,” said Paul Mason, Sidney Crosby's youth hockey coach. “Sidney and the Penguins is the perfect match. I don't know any other way to describe it.”

Penguins general manager Ray Shero and agent Pat Brisson finalized a 12-year, $104.4 million contract extension Thursday, sealing Crosby's desire to “be a Penguin forever,” as Brisson described it.

A collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and its Players Association does not allow for the deal to become official until noon Sunday. At that point Crosby, 24, will be looking at another 13 seasons as captain of the Penguins, whom he joined as the first overall draft pick in 2005.

This marriage between Crosby and the Penguins will not end in divorce, former NHL general manager Craig Button said.

He called the scenario of a player spending an entire career with one team “unique” for the modern athlete.

“Even Peyton Manning is not an Indianapolis Colt anymore. Elite superstars, they move on,” said Button, now an analyst for NHL Network. “There is something rare about the athlete who stays with his one team start to finish.

“In hockey, you're talking about Steve Yzerman (Detroit Red Wings) and Mario Lemieux (Penguins). Guys like that cement the legacy of their franchise but also get a chance to say, ‘This is my team.'”

In a joint statement, Lemieux and fellow Penguins majority co-owner Ron Burkle described Crosby as “an ambassador for the Penguins and Pittsburgh.”

Crosby is building a house near Sewickley, a part of the region he grew to know well during parts of seven years he lived in Lemieux's guest house. The tight bond that formed between Crosby's family and Lemieux's — especially between Crosby and Lemieux's four children — proved paramount to his fondness for the Penguins, Mason said.

“Some of those conversations with (Crosby's father) Troy that first year is when I noticed how close the families were,” Mason said. “We had all speculated that Mario would be a good role model, but I don't think any of us knew how it would really develop. For him to go down there and have a family to attach himself to was probably the key component to the success he's had at and away from the rink. He has a support system there. It's been the great connection for him.”

At the expiration of his third NHL contract, Crosby will have made $159 million. This deal, which picks up with the 2013-14 season, is the longest and richest in terms of guaranteed dollars for any local professional athlete, and Crosby's $8.7 million average annual salary will continue to rank second in the NHL, along with fellow Penguins center Evgeni Malkin.

Crosby was eligible to command 20 percent of the salary cap, which was set yesterday at $70.2 million, pending a new CBA to replace the one that expires in September.

More than any NHL player, he could afford to leave money at the bargaining table.

Called by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman “arguably the face of our game,” Crosby is an endorsement magnet by hockey standards. The most recognizable of his long-standing business partnerships are with Reebok, Pepsi and Tim Horton's Coffee.

The Crosby brand will benefit from his commitment to the Penguins, whose local television ratings were highest for any NHL or NBA team last season. In eight seasons, Crosby has played in marquee hockey events such as the Stanley Cup Final and Winter Classic (twice each) and the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“Sidney will forever be associated with the attributes of excellence, perseverance, leadership, skill, hard work and success,” said Ed O'Hara, senior partner with SME Branding, a New York-based marketing company. “These are the attributes that most brands want to associate with.

“This, plus the fact that he is a smart, good looking guy with no off-ice issues, and it's a no-brainer that this (contract) is great marketing development, especially in the U.S. market.”

O'Hara said Crosby can “absolutely, if he stays healthy,” break through to a higher level of recognition among U.S. professional athletes.

Health has been an issue with Crosby the past two seasons, during which he became the public face of a concussion crisis in North American sports. He has played in just 63 games over that span because of concussion symptoms.

His off-ice plight and on-ice success — Crosby has won a scoring title, MVP, gold medal and the Stanley Cup — has endeared him to local fans, said Beano Cook, an observer of the Western Pennsylvania sports scene for seven decades.

Cook said Crosby is part of a select group of unequivocally loved local icons such as Lemieux, former Pirates Honus Wagner and Roberto Clemente, past Pitt Heisman Trophy-winner Tony Dorsett and four-time Super Bowl winning Steelers coach Chuck Noll.

“He doesn't walk around as if the world owes him anything, and people are drawn to that,” Cook said of Crosby. “He's not a diva. He's down to earth, talks to the media win or lose, and he just comes across as the guy every father and mother would want to see their daughter marry.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rrossi@tribweb.com or 412-380-5635.

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