The Sidney Crosby concussion vs. the economics of the NHL

Yahoo! Sports NHL columnist Nick Cotsonika marked a dubious anniversary on Thursday: One year to the day that Sidney Crosby was hit from behind by Victor Hedman.

The ensuing concussion recovery kept the Pittsburgh Penguins captain out through the end of last season until Nov. 21 of this season. Crosby returned with a 4-point night. He had 12 points in eight games. He hasn't played since Dec. 5 after a post-concussion symptom relapse.

I want to believe, perhaps naively, that Crosby will be back this season. He's been around the team. He's been pushing himself in training. He's said this recovery isn't of the magnitude of his previous journey back to the NHL.

Ultimately, the decision will be made regarding what's best for Crosby. It'll be a decision influenced by his brain-trust — his father, his agent, maybe even that "chiropractic neurology" doctor who put a guy with a brain injury in a spinning chair. It's a decision the Penguins will have to abide by.

But they have a decision of their own to make on Crosby. He's signed through 2013, when he'll become an unrestricted free agent. He is, until proven otherwise, still the best hockey player in the world when healthy.

When. Healthy.

Which makes his next contract a fascinating and uncertain judgment call for GM Ray Shero.

Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet explored that in a proactive column on Friday, speculating that Crosby has no decision but to shut down his season and that Shero's outlook on a long-term deal may have changed after this second absence from the lineup.

From Sportsnet:

How can Shero not be nervous about what the franchise might be willing to pay Crosby on a new deal? Even if the Penguins still want to make him a "Penguin for life" with a new long-term deal (possibly 10 years and $100-million), it won't come with an insurance policy that protects the Penguins from a career-ending concussion. The franchise will be on the hook to pay him if he decides to retire. Now I'm no Warren Buffet, but that's one heck of a financial gamble to take on anyone, even if they did just build a new state of the art arena off the man's back.

Just so we're clear: Please do not confuse Nick Kypreos with Warren Buffet. Moving on …

The Penguins can offer Crosby a short-term deal, but will he and his agent, Pat Brisson, really be interested in that considering everything Crosby has done financially for the organization in such a short period of time? Brisson will want to hit a home run on this next deal. The problem is Crosby's latest setback changes the financial dynamics.

I'm not here to suggest the Penguins would ever turn its back on Crosby and not do him right. Mario Lemieux and the organization are far too classy of an organization, and Crosby being looked after past retirement is a given. But make one thing clear: there is a big difference between a debt of gratitude and signing a long-term contract as the undisputed No. 1 player in the world. And with Crosby still just 24 years old, it's a difference that far exceeds $100 million dollars.

First off, Kypreos makes an interesting point: How many teams are we going to see provide financial aid to players who suffered brain injuries during their playing days, via contractual obligations fulfilled while the player is in unofficial retirement? We're seeing it in Philadelphia with Ian Laperriere and, perhaps, soon with Chris Pronger. We're seeing it on Boston with Marc Savard, too.

Wonder if the next CBA will have anything to say about this?

As for Crosby … this is a tricky one. You expect nothing more from the Penguins than a total commitment to their star player, both in support for his health and in commitment to his continued employment with the franchise. But the franchise is a business; and what business makes a $100 million investment for which the return might be a complete crapshoot?

It's a cynical, cold thing to consider; like Darren Rovell penning a hockey column. But it's something Shero will, and already is, debating.

May we suggest a 15-year deal? That seems to be the going rate for chronically injured franchise players.

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