Puck Daddy - NHL

"If it comes to choosing between Malkin and Staal, Staal would be cheaper (though not cheap), and Malkin would fetch a better return in a trade. Not that I'd advocate dealing a 21-year-old wunderkind who might turn out to be the best hockey player on the planet, but from a Penguins' perspective, this seems like a logical train of thought." - Joe Starkey, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Starkey's pot-stirring column is predicated on two thoughts that are certainly up for debate. The first is that the Pittsburgh Penguins would be somehow forced into dealing Evgeni Malkin should they sign Marian Hossa and Jordan Staal, even though Malkin has been talking about a multi-year contract that wouldn't break the bank at Ovechkin levels.

The second is that Malkin is a burgeoning egomaniac, unable to handle the cult of celebrity surrounding Sidney Crosby and desirous to be the big cheese in another NHL city -- because, you know, he's really thrived in the spotlight. "How long will Malkin want to play rhythm guitar instead of lead?" asks Starkey, apparently unfamiliar with the livelihood of one Keith Richards.

All this Malkin stuff aside, the Penguins are playing a dangerous game with the future of their payroll. As you know, Mirtle and I don't agree on everything, but we agree on the Penguins signing Hossa: Inking him until he's 36 years old when you have several players under 24 that need massive pay raises is just bad business.

I don't believe keeping Hossa will cost the Penguins Malkin, because I feel like they'd rather become a top-heavy team like Tampa Bay before they watch Geno skate away to a rival. But even at a presumed discount, Hossa's deal will have several years of repercussions, so why risk it?

Several writers have recently answered that question like this: Whatever Sidney Crosby wants, Sidney Crosby gets; salary implications be damned.

When Crosby signed his extension in July 2007, it was more than an adventure in numerology surrounding "87." His $8.7 million salary cap hit per season was an attempt to allow the Penguins to continue to surround him with the right talent to win. Hossa is obviously the kind of talent Crosby had in mind; the Kurri to his Gretzky. The always entertaining Mark Madden of the Beaver County Times believes bringing Hossa back would be a high-end gift to the captain:

Ownership leaned on general manager Ray Shero to get Hossa and may now be doing the same by way of wanting to keep him. That's not a bad thing. Mario Lemieux knows how to win, and Penguins fans should be overjoyed anytime Ron Burkle's desire for championships manifests itself.

You need a big-time sniper to win championships. Hossa is a big-time sniper, one who finally distinguished himself in the playoffs with 12 goals in 20 games. The Penguins don't anticipate any problem keeping Crosby for the balance of his career, but giving Crosby a gift that keeps on giving for seven years sure wouldn't do the cause any harm. Just making a genuine big-money bid to keep Hossa should resonate well with Crosby.

But the real question is whether Crosby's influence with the Penguins is so significant that he could be driving, directly or indirectly, the campaign to sign Hossa. That's what primoz forever is getting at in what the blog clearly labels a conspiracy theory:

Does Crosby have a say in Pittsburgh personnel moves? DOES HE? He so does, doesn't he random figure I am directing these questions at. Think about it people, Hossa poses no threat to Crosby's longterm reign of terror and his involvement ensures Crosby's point crown for the duration of Hossa's contract. If Malkin stays he certainly won't have the luxury of an All-Star scorer on his wing. F--king Crosby. I hope Malkin haunts you for years to come, ya traitorous, hairless bastard.

Yikes. Don't hold back so much next time. Only Sidney Crosby could stoke this level of paranoid emotion in fans.

While I don't buy the fact that Crosby would urge the Penguins to retain Hossa as some sort of stats-based spite to Malkin, there's no question that he understands the value of an all-star wingman. And by that I mean Mario probably has VHS tapes of he and Jagr combining for 300 points a season playing on a continuous loop at casa de Lemieux.

The Penguins should stay away from Hossa, but don't blame Crosby if they can't and certainly don't blame him if the team sheds some good young talent because of this decision. No, the Penguins' brass only have themselves to blame; as Steven Ovadia writes today on Puck Update, Pittsburgh was "one of the NHL teams asking for a salary cap so they could afford to hold onto their young talent." You reap what you sow.

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