COMMENTARY | In signing forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to a pair of max-term contract extensions, Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray has become the first NHL general manager to dip his toes (and his owners' wallets) into the new pool of top-dollar contracts.
For Anaheim, that pool is a combined 16 years long and $135 million deep.
It's a steep cost to pay, but the new collective bargaining agreement is unlikely to keep teams from overpaying their star players--to wit, not a single thing ever has.
Anaheim provided a good first look at the economics of the new NHL. Still, despite the safe assumption that the game's stars will continue to be paid like stars, the deals provide only a glimpse of how the market will play out from here.
Neither Perry nor Getzlaf, two of the most eagerly anticipated UFA's-to-be, tested free agency. So it remains to be seen what the cost structure of the new CBA will do for players on the market. And the NHLPA's salary middle class. And restricted free agents, and grinders, and rookies, and veterans.
And so on.
To wring the truth out of any NHL front office, no one will know the long-term implications of these deals until they've reached the long term. However, if anything can be said to be certain, it's that none of this will affect the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As difficult as it has become to lock down talented players in the salary cap era, the Penguins have managed to do so time and again without having suffered a significant casualty of talent because of free agency and cap limitations.
Point to Jordan Staal's departure if you like, but Staal wasn't re-signing in Pittsburgh. Not even at a reported 10 years and $60 million, the same deal he received from the Carolina Hurricanes on the first day of the 2012 NHL draft. His departure was unrelated to the Penguins' financial ability to retain him.
(And, in strictly hockey terms, turning a player widely known to have one foot out the door into an established third-line center, the 7th-overall pick and a former Hobey Baker-finalist was a coup, and minted the blueprint on how to handle departing stars in the salary-capped NHL.)
The Penguins are relatively stable heading into 2013-14, but chaos is set to ensure shortly thereafter. Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are both due to hit free agency in summer 2014 and will be the biggest names to reach market should they choose to, but both can re-sign with the Penguins as soon as this summer.
Given their anticipated (and well-earned) raises and a stagnant salary ceiling, could one or both of these players become the Penguins' first real casualty of cap limitations among their crop of home-grown stars?
Given Shero's record of re-signing his own personnel, probably not.
And definitely not for nothing in return.
After having lost defenseman Justin Schultz to the Edmonton Oilers for nothing last offseason, Murray had to either get Getzlaf and Perry under contract or move them for assets in return while he still had the ability. Teams just can't afford to repeatedly replace top talent lost to free agency.
That was a lesson Shero learned in losing Marian Hossa at the start of free agency in 2008 and dared not repeat by hanging onto Staal through the final year of his deal. If Malkin and Letang reach the same point Staal did, they'll be done with the Penguins before their current deals are. Staal's trade to Carolina set the bar for how such contracts will be handled.
However, another bar was set by two of the Penguins' other stars last season, deals in which Shero and the Pens seemed unaffected by the influence of the market at large.
Sidney Crosby's newest contract extension, signed on the first day of its eligibility and enabled by the front-loaded cap hit variance still legal before the new CBA was written, gave away plenty in total salary in exchange for term. It also helped the Penguins stay relatively flexible to pursue other talent while remaining under the cap ceiling.
Whatever Crosby's cap-percentage max salary could have been, someone would have paid it. His contract is a huge hometown discount, even at more than $104 million.
This won't limit what Malkin, another top-flight center, should make on his next deal. Remember, Malkin can't get more than eight years and Crosby and the Pens have generally acknowledged that Malkin's AAV could and likely will exceed Crosby's.
However, Malkin is perhaps the exception to a rule. It sends quite a message when the team's captain and the NHL's best player leaves about $5 million a season on the table to benefit the team and his teammates, and the effect resonates with players old and new in all parts of the line-up.
Penguins players know they are giving some to get some. That is, surrendering potentially higher dollars in exchange for playing on an annual contender with a new building in the United States' premier hockey market.
This was certainly in effect when Shero landed another favorable contract last February, when James Neal inked a 6-year, $30 million extension five months before he would have been a free agent.
At the time of his extension, Neal was the fourth-leading scorer in the NHL and had topped 30 goals for the first time in his career. Neal was in a contract season in 2012--he didn't get so far as the trade deadline, instead opting to re-up with the Penguins at a relative bargain.
Four players topped 40 goals last season. Aside from Neal, each of Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Marian Gaborik is making more than $7 million per season. Neal will earn $5 million in each year of his deal, and is again among the NHL's top-five scorers with 17 goals.
Crosby and Neal are examples of Penguins stars who have signed at big discounts in order to benefit the team, but its role players have signed bargain deals as well. Pascal Dupuis, Tomas Vokoun, Matt Cooke and others have signed deals with the Pens that fall short of contracts earned by similar players with similar stats.
The appeal of playing in Pittsburgh seems to have been worth the money left on the table.
Will Malkin and Letang be so charitable? It's generally accepted that Malkin will make more than $10 million per season if he demands it. Malkin has opted to sign team-friendly deals in the past. His first contract following his entry-level deal matched Crosby's annual salary, in which he accepted a 5-year, $8.7 million deal in 2008.
This was the summer after a season in which he was a handful of points and votes shy of winning the Art Ross and Hart Trophies, and easily could have earned more by letting his agent chum the free agent waters with a 100-point center in his early-20s.
Letang wasn't a Norris favorite when he signed his last deal. Now he is, and stands to more than double his current $3.5 million annual salary on the open market. Malkin's deal will naturally take priority over Letang's, and the money left following his extension will have a lot to say about what the Pens can pay their top defender.
Like Malkin, though, Letang runs the risk of moving from a contender in Pittsburgh to an also-ran franchise with dimmer Cup hopes, should he opt to sign with a lesser team for a greater sum.
The new CBA rules will clearly affect what the Pens are able to do with their top pending UFA's. However, the appeal of free agency has had little bearing on the team's own players in the past.
Whether that's a trend that changes with Malkin and Letang is almost entirely up to them.
James Conley covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and is an Editor at SB Nation's Pensburgh. He owns the Pittsburgh sports blog Slew Footers and has attended Penguins home games with credentials.
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