For months the buildup toward July 1 and the fates of possible free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise have been heating up to a boil that will dominate Sunday and the days that follow until both sign. Many hockey fans have been stalking the news of University of Wisconsin defenseman/free agent-to-be Justin Schultz, a player most haven't seen live, in hopes he'll pick their team.
It's all hype that would have paled in comparison to what we could have seen next summer. A 2013 free-agent class that could have included Sidney Crosby would have been hockey's version of LeBron James and "The Decision."
But the Pittsburgh Penguins made sure that won't happen. They made sure it likely never will happen.
They announced Thursday afternoon that they agreed to terms on a 12-year, $104.4 million contract extension that begins in 2013. It's a deal that has immediate ramifications extending beyond Crosby's paycheck.
• The Penguins dramatically enhance their value as a free-agent destination. Had this deal not been done before Sunday, there might have been concern among guys such as Parise and Suter as to whether Crosby was committed to the Penguins long term. That is no longer an issue.
The annual cap hit of $8.7 million means the Penguins still have cap space to work with moving forward. Crosby could have easily demanded more money, especially considering that rival Alex Ovechkin is earning closer to $10 million per season. But with this deal in place and his long-term security locked up, he still leaves the Penguins room to add more talent in the open market. Parise is going to have plenty of options if he's available at noon on Sunday, but the opportunity to try to win multiple Stanley Cups playing on the wing of the best player in the world could be the ultimate selling point.
However, one Western Conference executive wondered how many of these big contracts the Penguins can take on long-term.
"It's like anybody locking in their top players, you can only lock in so many of them at big dollars," he said. "Now they have done that. They have [Crosby], they have [Evgeni] Malkin to do still. They still have some pretty good hefty contracts there."
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