Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Case for Trading Sidney Crosby

By Artistry (follow me on Twitter)

[Click here for the case against trading Sidney Crosby]

The Penguins aren't trading Sidney Crosby.  Let's get that out of the way up front.  He's the face of the franchise and the league, the captain and savior of the team, the hero of a nation and an entire generation of Penguin fans, a Stanley Cup champion, and owner of the highest points-per-game scoring average in the NHL this season. Trade Sidney Crosby? That would take balls the size of Saskatchewan. And in a market with a home sellout streak of 250-some games, it would be very bad for business. People in Pittsburgh love Sidney Crosby. We love Sidney Crosby. He's part of the fabric of the city, and he elevates Pittsburgh to a higher place on the cultural relevance scale. Sidney Crosby's not going anywhere.

But is there a case to be made for doing what only a month ago was unthinkable? You bet there is. Imagine you're Ray Shero, and you're out for a morning jog. A limousine with tinted windows pulls up to the sidewalk. The back window recedes, smoothly, slowly, steadily. Like someone with 690 career goals has his finger on the button. And suddenly, there's 66, in all his splendor.

"Get in the car," he says.

You don't need to be told twice. And once inside, Mario and Ron Burkle explain to you that you have a new mandate: Blow up the Big Three center model before we get swallowed by big new Crosby and Staal contracts. Be bold. Even revolutionary. Leave business considerations out of it. Forget sentiment. No one is untouchable. NO ONE.

So, Ray. What do you do?

Making the case, plus some trade proposals after the jump...

If this is purely about the product you'll be putting on the ice for the next 5 years and nothing else, the answer is easier than you'd like it to be. You trade Sidney Crosby. Here's why.

1) He's the biggest risk

Down the stretch of the regular season, as Crosby started to get his timing back, we were treated to some breathtaking plays.  The behind-the-back pass to Cooke against the Senators.

The game against the Devils when he abused Marek Zidlicky.

But where was the Sidney Crosby who rags the puck along the boards for shifts at a time? Where was the guy who is widely recognized as maybe the best grinder in the history of the sport?  Where was this Sidney Crosby?

The truth is, he never really came back. The Crosby we saw this spring was much more of a perimeter player. When the puck hit his stick, it was typically whipped right off of it and onto the tape of a linemate. And if you didn't notice the one time every game that maybe some defenseman let up on Crosby when he could have really put a shoulder into him, well, you either weren't paying attention or you didn't want to see it.

There were still some flashes of the old tenacity around the net, like that first period goal in Game 1 against Philly. But where was Sid in Games 5 and 6? Where was his intensity? It was as if somehow he wasn't really present. No concussion symptoms, he said. But when the games got fiercer, when the hits got harder and more frequent, when his undeniable competitive spirit compelled him to seek out more contact, his body didn't respond well. And he wished out loud that he felt better.

Now, Sidney Crosby still managed 45 points in 28 games this season, and 8 points in 6 playoff games, so the guy is no slouch. But forget his name for a minute, and look at your options.

Player A

A 25-year-old, two-time Art Ross Trophy winner as league scoring champion, Calder Trophy winner for rookie of the year, and Conn Smythe Trophy for MVP of the 2009 playoffs, this Russian mega-talent is coming off a career season. Among the more versatile and unpredictable scoring threats in modern NHL history. Not afraid to seize the moment. At his best when he's the focal point of the offense and power play and, let's face it, when Player C is out of the lineup. Rangy and hard to contain at 6'3, 195 pounds. Frisky. Under contract for two more seasons at $8.7 million per year. Adored by his teammates and fans. No long-term injury concerns. Has adorable parents.

Mr. and Mrs. Player A
Player B

A 23-year-old horse who can play big minutes in any situation. At 6'4, 220 pounds, he is just starting to  comprehend his own strength. Shrugs off defenders with ease. An imposing defensive presence since he broke into the league at 18, he is only now blossoming offensively, piling up 25 goals and 50 points in 62 regular season games this season. A consistent playoff warrior, he put the team on his back and scored 4 goals in two games when the Penguins faced elimination. His game is built on strength, not speed, so he should keep improving for the foreseeable future. A classic No. 2 center. Under contract for one more year at $4 million per year. Probably could be extended at roughly $6 million a year. Has brothers.

So many bros.
Player C

This 24-year-old was the consensus best player in the world until he was felled by a concussion in January 2011. Struggled on and off for some 14 months to get back into the lineup for an extended stretch. Experienced multiple setbacks. Called some bizarre press conference during which his doctors employed Christmas and Ferrari metaphors. Tom Brady got involved. Then there was something about his neck tissue. Came back to stay - we think - late in the regular season and was instantly the top assist man in the game. But he lost his favorite winger to Player A. Goal scoring fell off dramatically from his blistering pre-injury pace. No one could figure out how to squeeze him and Player A onto the same power play unit. Looked lost in the last two games of the season after a punishing collision with Player A. Game is built on explosiveness, which will decline with age. Under contract for 1 more year at $8.7 million. Will command basically whatever he wants as a free agent.

Just heard Player C is available
So, Ray, what do you do?

2) He'll net the biggest return

Just as the Penguins would be loathe to part with Crosby because of the boost he gives their image and their business, other teams would pay a premium to get him for those very reasons.  Did we mention he's an icon in Canada? Scorer of the Golden Goal, anyone? The Toronto Maple Leafs would package the province of Nova Scotia in a trade for Sidney Crosby.

The Golden Goal Tax
And there is still that secondary point about him being the most productive point scorer in the league.  Of course there is risk, but what franchise desperate for a Stanley Cup wouldn't consider going all-in on an all-time great in the prime of his career?  [This is how you'll sell this, Ray.]  You don't want to settle for trading Jordan Staal for the 8th pick in the draft. Believe me.  If a team thinks they can sign Sidney Crosby long term - and don't worry, we'll help you clear cap space - the offers will come rolling in. Ray Shero is looking for your best winger (not a Top 6 winger, your BEST winger), a top young roster player or prospect, a top 4 defenseman, and, oh yeah, another valuable roster player. We need to even out the salaries.  Why, you ask? Because...

3) We're throwing in Paul Martin

Yes, you heard right. If you want Sidney Crosby, you're taking Martin's $5 million salary. We know that you know it's the only way to clear the $13 million we need to accommodate the players you're about to send us. You're welcome.

Sometimes you can't have the beautiful woman without her venereal disease, too.
So let's let the bidding begin, shall we?

There's Lou Lamoriello on the line, offering negotiating rights with UFA Zach Parise, David Clarkson, Adam Henrique, and Adam Larsson (looking at around $12 million combined) for Crosby and Martin. Maybe Paul can find himself again back in his old stomping grounds. Oh, and they like Sid, too.

Oh, hello Colorado. You'd like to send us a package including Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, negotiating rights to David Jones, and Erik Johnson (now around $12 M combined) for Crosby and Martin?

Stephen Harper? THE Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, is that you?  You're offering a 20 year lease on the Athabasca Oil Sands in Northern Alberta and 80% of the profits from the Keystone Pipeline for Crosby and Paul Martin?

Amazing on the half-boards.
Good evening, Edmonton. Jordan Eberle, Ales Hemsky, and the #1 overall pick, which we would then package for a top defenseman, for Sidney Crosby and Paul Martin? That is SO nice. We'd just like to leave enough cap space to sign Ryan Suter, too.

Toronto, you want to trade us your entire roster? That's not enough. Goodbye.

We're just spitballing here.


This will never happen. But that doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do.


  1. I love it, personally! I'm a HUGE fan of keeping Jordan Staal for everything he brings to the team. I'm also one of the people who felt like the team chemistry just tanked when Sid came back to the lineup for the second time. Don't get me wrong, I love Sid, but he was NOT himself in the playoffs (then again, neither was Geno, but Geno stepped up BIG when Sid was out and that counts!!!). That first period hit by Ginger Boy in Game 6? And Sid just takes it? Nope. Not good enough. Financially and from a business perspective, your proposals are sensible.

  2. No - it's not the right thing to do. Ever. Under any circumstances. I don't know whether to say that people have short memories or just crazy expectations: probably both.

    1) Suddenly Sid's the lesser player? Please. Like you said, he put up 45 in 28 games. That's 1.6 ppg! And he did it having not played hockey for over a year, walking into a stretch run, and with crap for wings because Geno had to be catered to. Good god, what were you expecting?

    Everyone universally says it takes a good 6 months to a year before everything comes back. But the best player in the game doesn't even get a fricking healthy summer before he's accused of "not looking like himself"? Jesus, that's just ridiculous.

    2) Everything you said we could get for Sid we could get for Geno too. Maybe more. Geno's also a much poorer faceoff man (this is a big deal) and lacks Sid's maturity. When adversity hits, Geno doesn't step up - he skates circles around the offensive zone, refuses to give up the puck, and renders the other four guys on the ice useless. And then guys like Neal and Tanger follow suit, trying to do everything themselves and be the hero. I don't doubt that Geno cares - that's just not the type of leadership I want on my team or that will win you a championship.

    This year, for the first time, we saw a team in Geno's mold, not Sid's: you know, the team that flamed out in the first round and looked awful doing so.

    3) Staal's skills are less replaceable than Geno's offense. He's also the most significant leader on the team outside of Sid and Orpik (who won't be around too much longer). Everyone agrees this team's issues are on defense, not offense. But you trade your Selke nominee?

    Geno's offense is much more replaceable money-ball style.

    4) No one wants to say it - but we can't depend on Geno playing his whole career here. At some point, he'll go home to Russia. I really don't mean to play on stereotypes: it isn't about the enigmatic Russian thing - just the draw of home. He's won two Rosses, a cup, a Conn Smythe, and in a couple of months, a Hart. He has no reason left to stay. And you know the KHL will be throwing money at him the second his contract is up to come home and be THE MAN in all of Russia. Maybe he still stays in the NHL for one more contract after this one. But you can tell by what he says that he feels incredible pressure to do the right thing for Russian hockey - and that he's thought about going home.

    Say Geno leaves in 5-6 years and you've traded Sid. Then you are really, really screwed. You know Sid will be here for his career - another 10-15 years, not 5-6. To me, it's a certain thing that Geno will go home eventually; it isn't a certain thing that Sid has been destroyed as a player by a concussion, which everyone seems to assume (cough, cough, Bergeron).

    5) You conveniently forgot to mention the CBA - but it's a huge factor in what happens with these signings. You also sign Sid and Staal because their contracts are up now and Geno's is up a year from now.

    You won't get the return this summer that you would get next summer for any of them because no one knows what the cap will look like, whether it will include an amnesty clause for a bad contract, etc.

    And if you sign Sid and Staal this summer, you have one more shot with this core. And hey, maybe things look different next summer and you find you can sign Geno. Yay! Oh, wait, whoops, we already traded Jordan Staal...

    1. Brandy, this clearly lit a fire under you, which was the idea. I know it's a provocative argument. Let's take your points one at a time.

      1) I don't disagree that it's too early to say that Sid won't make it all the way back, but as of right now, he represents the biggest risk. Remember, the premise of my argument is entirely artificial: Shero has a mandate to trade one of his big 3 centers this summer. (Of course, in reality, he doesn't need to do that. We could still decide to keep all three.) I expected nothing more from Sid than what we got from him this spring. But he is clearly not all the way back yet, and I think it's equally clear that there is a significant risk he never will be. More significantly (because he's still great), there's a significant risk he'll sustain another concussion. I don't see how that's an avoidable conclusion, as much as I wish it wasn't so.

      2) I agree that it's entirely possible Geno could command similar value, only because, as discussed, Sid is a riskier bet. If you really believe we can expect good health for both going forward, you have to give more for Crosby. Adding the biggest name in hockey to your team has incalculable marketing value.

      I won't rehash Geno's attributes - you know them very well - but I will say this: I think the issue you raise about leadership is there with Sid or without Sid. Crosby is the captain, and who instigated that epic Game 3 meltdown? Wasn't Letang following Sid's lead when he got kicked out of that game? I also think it can be corrected with maturity and bringing some Gary Roberts/Billy Guerin types back in the locker room.

      3) I don't think we should trade Jordan Staal, and I thought I made that clear. I hate the idea.

      I'm not convinced Geno's offense if so easily replaceable.

      4)Again, I'm not assuming Sid's career has been "destroyed," just acknowledging the very real possibility that he won't give you the production Malkin will going forward. Any way you play this, it's a gamble. For every Bergeron, sadly, there are 10 guys who are not Bergeron.

      5)Of course we don't know what will happen with the CBA. This is an exercise in make-believe. We're in a vacuum here, and you need to make a choice, with all of the unknowns out there in the unforeseeable future (the CBA, Sid's health, Geno's presumed Russia love). I understand your "never trade Sid" reaction, but I certainly don't think that under the parameters I've set out the notion is ridiculous. Far from it.

      By the way, did I mention that this will never happen?

    2. Look, I usually agree with you guys, and I was agreeing with you with respect to Staal.

      I just don't and won't buy the assumption that Sid is the bigger risk. I told you why I think Geno is riskier. Sure, there have been guys that lost their careers due to concussion. But there aren't 10 concussion victims to every Bergeron. Probably 1/3 of the guys in the league have been through a concussion, and the majority are playing now. Are we dumping Tanger too? He had two this season. The guys who lose their careers are those who refused to take the appropriate time off. Savard didn't. Sid did. The one thing every doctor agreed on was that the head heals like every other part of the body. And for that matter, Geno could get a concussion Game 1 in Oct. It's not sufficient reason for trading a guy who puts up over 1.5 a game.

      As far as the maturity - Sid has his moments, and he certainly picked a fight in Game 3 to try to wake up the team. He's done it before, and he'll do it again. It was carefully calculated (even if probably the wrong decision).

      But I don't see Sid's GAME change in moments like that - I do see Geno's change. I can deal with what happened in Game 3 from Sid, because games like that happen rarely and it's limited to a fight or a slash in a game that's already out of hand, behaviors that hockey players are taught to use to change momentum.

      Geno's GAME changes when he gets frustrated - bad turn overs trying to stick handle through 4 guys and multiple stupid penalties. And it doesn't just happen rarely: it happens all the time and happened in this series when the team needed him most.

      I love a lot about Geno - and he's a breath-taking player. But he's not the guy to emotionally anchor a franchise, hockey-wise or otherwise. You're right the Pens will never trade Sid - and it'll never happen for lots of very, very good reasons.

    3. I take your point about Geno. And I do hope you're right about Sid. For the record, Finesse has his own, independent thoughts on this issue.