A Pittsburgh sports team has made big news for signing one of their star players to a long term contract extension. Hint: it wasn’t the Pittsburgh Steelers.
At the risk of repeating myself, for the second time this week the Pittsburgh Penguins have done something the Steelers have thus far failed to do. Yesterday, they successfully inked superstar center Sidney Crosby to a 12 year $104.4 million contract extension which effectively keeps him in black and gold for the balance of his career. The new deal, which works out to a tidy $8.7 million per season, natch, is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is that it’s a reasonable compromise for both sides.
What a concept.
I know it seems strange to say the Pens got a deal when they agreed to pay a guy with a troublesome history of concussions over a hundred million dollars but for the best hockey player on the planet, it’s actually a bargain. Guys such as Marian Gaborik, Patrick Kane and Scotty Gomez each make around the same amount per year and none of them can touch a healthy Sid in terms of pure skillz. Crosby could’ve demanded to be the highest paid player in the NHL and there would’ve been no question he deserved it. If the Pens didn’t or couldn’t pay him, 29 other teams would’ve been more than willing to do so.
But he didn’t. Making nine million dollars a year, it’s not like he’s going to be living in Sto-Rox and eating Beef O-Roni out of a can (Unless he wants to. Mmm…) but at the same time he left money on the table. Under the current system, Sid could be making two or three million more per season easily. And given that the nature of sports salaries is to keep going up, who knows what a marquee superstar will be worth four or five years from now. By signing for what he did, he could conceivably be walking away from another $25-30 million over the course of his playing career.
Why did he do that? Well, it’s like I said in my previous post about Jordan Staal, the NHL is a salary cap league. If you give all your money to one or two players, you have to scrimp and save on the others. Crosby would rather skim a few million off his paycheck so the team can go out and make itself better than take all he can for himself and say to hell with everybody else. What a novel concept!
Which brings me back to the Steelers and Mike Wallace. Unlike Crosby, Wallace isn’t the best player in his league. Wallace isn’t the best at his position. One could even argue he’s not even the best at his position on his own team. Yet he wants a contract which would set a new standard at wide receiver while putting a major dent into the Steelers’ salary cap. There doesn’t seem to be any room for compromise either, despite the Steelers good faith efforts.
I guess I shouldn’t expect better from some greedy bastard whose chosen nickname is Young Money. But Sid’s situation really does illustrate the value of character. I’m not saying the Penguins are the greatest franchise ever or anything. The Steelers are still Pittsburgh’s crown jewel with a level of success which speaks for itself. However, a lot of that success was built with guys like Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward, guys who didn’t play just for paychecks, guys who actually took pay cuts or signed for less than market value because they put a premium on winning. If Wallace truly represents the new breed of Steeler, I can’t help but fear for what the future holds.
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Friday was a crazy day for Pittsburgh sports fans. While the Pittsburgh Pirates continued their improbable run at first place in the NL Central by defeating the Detroit Tigers, the Penguins were hosting the 2012 NHL Draft over at Consol Energy Center. Naturally, the Pens dropped the biggest bomb of the evening by trading budding superstar Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for a solid if unspectacular young center and a couple of prospects. The loss of beloved player like Staal was met with much sadness as I haven’t seen teenage girls this upset since pictures of Justin Bieber kissing Selena Gomez hit the internet.
The men in the audience greeted the news with a sense of resignation as the Penguins really had no choice in the matter. Staal is entering the final year of his contract and just 24 hours earlier had rejected a ten year offer from the team that would have paid him a couple million per year less than he could get on the open market in exchange for a long-term commitment. It was the best the Penguins could do in a league where teams with an abundance of star power are hamstrung by the NHL’s salary cap. Having rejected Pittsburgh’s best offer, the Pens were faced with the prospect of Staal departing via free agency with nothing in return so they chose the lesser of two evils.
Any of this sound familiar?
The situation the Pens found themselves in with Staal is very similar to the one the Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing with disgruntled wide receiver Mike Wallace. Both teams play for leagues where a salary cap forces them to prioritize how they spend their money. And both teams are blessed with an abundance of talent which may sound like the sports version of #WhitePeopleProblems (follow me on Twitter!) but is indeed an issue because you can’t pay everybody. The net result is both teams are faced with making very difficult decisions when it comes to handing out contracts.
Admittedly this isn’t a perfect analogy. There are some key differences between the NHL and NFL, not the least of which is the players. Staal would’ve showed up on Day 1 on training camp and played every shift as hard as he played when he was a wet behind the ears rookie until the Pens’ season ended. He wouldn’t of held out or spent the year bitching and moaning about his contract like NFL players are known to do. Hockey players honor their contracts which can’t be said of guys like Mike Wallace, who continues to hold out, most recently missing last week’s mandatory mini-camp. Even Steelers President Art Rooney II is growing a bit frustrated with Wallace’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the reality of his situation.
On the flip side, if the NHL operated under NFL rules, perhaps Staal would still be a Penguin. There is one key difference between leagues and it’s a pretty big one. Wallace, like Staal, will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Unlike Staal, however, Wallace can be Franchised tagged by the Steelers, basically tying him to his current team for an additional season. Now the Steelers tagging their young speedster would create a massive cap hit (about $9 million) which is the hold-up in signing a new contract in the first place – well, that and Wallace’s ridiculous notion that he’s worth LarryFitz money – but it does provide a bit of a safety net that the Penguins simply didn’t have.
Differences aside, I still can’t help but look at the Penguins proactive response to dealing with one of their stars’ impending free agency and wonder if the Steelers haven’t bungled a similar situation. They theoretically could still deal Wallace if he continues to be a monumental pain the ass but the time to get anything close to fair value in return has passed. At this point, it seems the Steelers are stuck with either reaching a deal or riding out a tumultuous season with a disgruntled Wallace providing a constant distraction. Conventional wisdom is you never truly win when you trade away a star player but I think the Penguins did their best to mitigate the damage. Have the Steelers?
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Two notable things happened on Wednesday. The big sports news of the day was the Indianapolis Colts releasing Peyton Manning. Locally, the Pittsburgh Penguins unveiled a statue of the greatest hockey player to ever lace up the skates, Mario Lemieux. Watching both events unfold, I couldn’t help but think of the recent purge by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Breaking up is always hard to do. The Packers divorce from Bret Favre was full of drama and if some of Favre’s snide comments towards his successor are any indication, there are still hard feelings. Not to mention Favre ended his career playing the Vikings, who are to Packers fans what the Browns are to us. On the flip side, Manning’s press conference is already being hailed as the standard for athletic break-ups. While we should expect nothing less from football’s version of Mr. Perfect, I have to admit to getting a bit choked up listening to his heartfelt words.
And I ordinarily can’t stand the guy.
Manning’s situation is no different than that of Hines Ward. Both were synonymous with teams who achieved great success. Both are classy individuals who did a lot of good for the community. And while they may have seen their best days, both intend to continue playing football in 2012.
Where was Hines’ press conference? Why was the release of the greatest wide receiver in Steelers history made by a PR statement? And where was Hines? His only response to being released was a short paragraph issued through his agent. Why didn’t he request a chance to personally express his feelings about moving on after fourteen glorious years in the Black and Gold?
When Chris Hoke retired a couple months back, the Steelers had a press conference where Hoke spoke touchingly about his time in Pittsburgh. With all due respect to Hokey, he’s hardly been a major part of the team’s success. Aaron Smith was amongst Hoke’s teammates who showed up to wish him well. Why didn’t Smith rate a similar send-off when he was recently released?
Now maybe the players were offered a chance to speak but declined. Smith has always been a blue collar player who shuns the spotlight. But Hines, well, Hines has never met a microphone he didn’t like. If he declined a proper farewell, it’s because that famous chip on shoulder has grown a bit larger to include the Steelers thinking he’s washed up.
There’s certainly some evidence that this divorce is more of the Favre variety as Hines recently posted a whiny little message on his Facebook page asking fans to express their anger over his release. Okay, it was supposedly posted by a member of “Hines’ team” and it was quickly taken down when people on FB and Twitter began mocking it unmercifully but I find it hard to believe anybody posts things in Hines’ name without at least checking with him first.
Then again, it’s equally plausible the Steelers never reached out to him or Smith. Steeler Nation considers their franchise the classiest in the NFL if not all of sports and that opinion is largely warranted. However, one area where they’ve consistently fallen short is how they deal with their ex-players. The Steelers have always put the Steelers first while the actual players who made them the greatest franchise in NFL history have been secondary. That’s why Mario Lemeiux gets a statue outside Consol Energy Center and the Pirates have more statues than World Championships yet the Steelers only choose to honor their founder, Art Rooney.
I have no problem with honoring our beloved Chief but the Steelers have the greatest dynasty in football history, they can’t come up with some way to acknowledge those players? And they can’t put aside any tension or hard-feelings for twenty minutes to allow Hines one last farewell? I expect better from the Pittsburgh Steelers. We all should.
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Last night, Sidney Crosby returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins after suffering a concussion nearly a year ago. Today, I return to the blogosphere. What a great day for Pittsburgh sports fans!
Seriously, though, while football is my first love, hockey is a close second. I was born the same year the Pittsburgh Steelers won their first Super Bowl so I’m not really old enough to remember the Steel Dynasty. The first championship I actually experienced as a fan was the Penguins’ 1991 Stanley Cup. And to Tina DiCapula’s ever-lasting chagrin, you never forget your first time.
For those ex-’Burghers out there, the atmosphere around town was absolutely electric once word got out that Sid was returning. We take our sports very seriously here and there has been no subject of greater importance or which inspired more angst than the condition of Sid’s noggin’. Once the game got underway, Sid rose to the occasion by scoring on his first shot roughly two minutes in. The crowd went absolutely insane and all was right with the world.