Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has come under some criticism for accepting less than market value to re-sign long-term. Find out why that criticism is baseless.

The recent  announcement Sidney Crosby would re-sign a new, lucrative contract with the  Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby made headlines around the hockey world.

At 12 years and $104.4 million, Crosby become only the third player in NHL history – New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin are the other two – to reach the $100 million mark.

It also comes in at a cap friendly number for the Penguins. At $8.7 million per season, it’s the same salary as Crosby earned per season on his previous deal, as well as keeping in line with his superstitions over the number 87.

Crosby could’ve earned considerably more per season – the maximum single player salary per season under next season’s projected salary cap is $14 million – but left money on the table to ensure long-term security with the Penguins, as well as giving them cap space to surround him with quality talent.

The move earned Crosby praise, as it’s rare in today’s free agent world to see a player of his caliber accept less than market value to stay with the only NHL team he’s ever played for.

Not everyone, however, was singing Crosby’s praises.

Sportsnet.ca’s Michael Grange, attempting to channel NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, imagined what Fehr might say to Crosby about his new deal.

Suffice to say, it wasn’t complimentary.

We have no way of knowing Fehr’s reaction to the Crosby deal, though I daresay in the coming days we’ll hear “whispers” from supposed “insiders” proclaiming his unhappiness/anger over the situation. Fehr will undoubtedly be questioned by reporters, where he’ll utter a talking point revealing nothing on the matter.

Grange accuses Crosby of being a fool for taking that deal, insinuating it hurts the PA’s negotiating position in the upcoming CBA talks, and sets a ceiling for the top players in the league.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since the imposition of true free agency in the NHL in 1995, and under the current salary cap system, there is no such thing as one player establishing a ceiling upon what comparable players can earn.

When Crosby signed his five-year, $43.5 million deal (at a cap hit of $8.7 million per) with the Penguins on July 10, 2007, he was coming off the best season of his career, winning the Art Ross, Hart and Pearson Trophies, and selected to the First All-Star Team.

One would assume, therefore, as the “best player in the world” – which he was considered that year – Crosby’s contract would’ve “set the bar” for all other comparable stars, including his great rival, Ovechkin.

Barely six months later, however, Ovechkin inked a mind-blowing 13-year, $124 million deal with the Capitals, at an average annual cap hit of over $9.538 million per season.

Over two years later, in September 2010, the New Jersey Devils finally got a league-approved 15-year, $100 contract for Kovalchuk, though at an average cap hit lower than Crosby’s ($6.666 million per season).

In the nearly five years since Crosby signed his current deal, only Ovechkin is earning a larger cap hit. Crosby’s teammate, Evgeni Malkin is currently enjoying the same annual cap hit ($8.7 million).

In terms of overall salaries, however, it’s a different story.

Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier, ($83 million), Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg ($73 million), Chicago’s Duncan Keith ($72 million), Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo ($64 million), Columbus’ Rick Nash ($62.4 million), LA’s Mike Richards ($69 million), Jeff Carter ($58 million) and Drew Doughty ($56 million), Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom ($67 million), NY Rangers Brad Richards ($60 million), Florida’s Brian Campbell ($57.143 million), Philadelphia’s Ilya Bryzgalov ($51 million), Carolina’s Eric Staal ($57.750 million) and Pekka Rinne $49 million) are making more money on their deals than Crosby on his current one.

Of course, many of those deals are considerably longer than Crosby’s five-year contract. Still, logic dictates if he’s the best player in the league, or the second-best, or third-best, most – if not all – of the aforementioned shouldn’t have earned more than he did.

In terms of single season salary, Brad Richards ($12 million), Buffalo’s Tyler Myers ($12 million), Kovalchuk ($11 million), and Lecavalier ($10 million) will earn more next season than the $9 million per season Crosby made in each of the first four years of his current contract.

They, along with Malkin, Ovechkin ($9 million each), Staal ($8.5 million), Mike Richards ($8.4 million), Keith, Jason Spezza, Christian Ehrhoff and Steven Stamkos ($8 million each), Marian Hossa ($7.9 million), Zetterberg ($7.75 million) and Nash ($7.6 million) will earn more than Crosby ($7.5 million) in the final season of his current contract.

Crosby’s current contract had little affect upon salaries and contracts for other notable NHL stars. His new one will barely create a ripple.

Fact is, teams will pay whatever they’re willing to afford under the rules of the current CBA, even going so far to bend those rules by exploiting loopholes.

The erudite Tyler Dellow of MC79Hockey.com, sums it up best in a recent post on the subject:

“NHL free agency is about supply and demand. If, for example, Evgeni Malkin became a UFA tomorrow, teams considering offers to him would be foolish to view what Crosby makes as a ceiling (assume, for the sake of this discussion, that Crosby is undoubtedly a better player and has no materially different health risk than Malkin). The mystery that NHL GMs are trying to solve when they sign hockey players is how to build a Stanley Cup contender for $X. In that context, whatever Sidney Crosby is being paid is irrelevant, except to the extent that if you pay way more for someone comparable, you have less money to build a supporting cast. Of course, maybe you then don’t sign Marc-Andre Fleury to a $5MM cap hit and the whole thing’s a wash.

The problem with thinking that Crosby’s contract sets the market is that there isn’t an unlimited supply of Crosbys that a team can buy. If a Malkin costs $12MM annually, a team can’t say “To hell with this, I’m going to buy a Crosby for $8.7MM.” Crosby’s contract doesn’t really set a market for anything. If he took less than the fair market price for his services, well, it’s up to the agent who represents someone else to explain to potential buyers why the value of their guy’s services is more than $8.7MM and that Crosby taking less doesn’t change what those services are worth.”