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Matthews Gets Huge Payday; What Will Sidney Crosby Be Worth?



Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby

The Toronto Maple Leafs and star center Auston Matthews put pen to paper Wednesday afternoon, and Matthews will be the highest-paid player in the league by a good margin. In 2024-25, Matthews will make $13.25 million, about $625,00 more than Nathan MacKinnon and $725,000 more than Connor McDavid. Perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins noticed.

Matthews, 25, signed a four-year deal, contrasting the long-term deals signed by the best players in the game, MacKinnon, McDavid, and seemingly a lifetime ago by Sidney Crosby.

In one year, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, 36, will be eligible to begin negotiations on his contract, which expires after 2024-25 and carries the appropriate numerological AAV of $8.7 million.

Lesser players have long made more than Crosby, whose salary cap hit ranks 41st in the NHL behind such players as Dougie Hamilton, Jeff Skinner, and Jamie Benn. Crosby graciously took less to keep the Penguins’ roster stocked and in Stanley Cup contention. The 12-year deal he signed in 2013 paid dividends with back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017.

Even in 2013, the deal was at a team-friendly bargain. Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews made about $2 million more when he signed a max eight-year, $84 million deal with a $10.5 million cap hit.

As Chicago needed the funds to remain competitive after their three Cups, it was tied up in player-heavy deals with Toews and Patrick Kane.

Crosby will be 38 when his next contract kicks in, and unless he slows greatly, $8.7 million would again be an underpay and probably less than 10% of the team salary cap.

Matthews tweeted, “Feel fortunate to continue this journey as a Maple Leaf in front of the best fans in hockey! I will do everything I can to help get us to the top of the mountain.”

Matthews certainly deserves a hefty payday. He hasn’t scored under 40 goals in the last four NHL seasons, including the 56-game COVID season of 2020-21. In 481 career games, Matthews has scored 299 goals with 542 points.

If a player can chase down Wayne Gretzky and Alex Ovechkin in the goals column, it’s probably Matthews.

But his teammate William Nylander also needs a new contract before next July. In two years, Mitch Marner will also need a little bump in pay.

Matthews didn’t do his team any favors with a full value, if not a little more, contract. The cap-strapped Maple Leafs must work even harder to find the coins necessary to pay the others. And, in three years, the team might have to cough up even more money on a higher AAV. The Maple Leafs didn’t even get the benefit of eventually getting some value at the end of the deal.

Conversely, Crosby could have forced the Penguins into a dire cap situation 12 years ago; any team would have paid the best player on the planet full freight. Instead, he demurred, and the example was followed by other Pittsburgh Penguins but not by other players and teams. The Penguins had enough money for a solid top-nine forwards crew, including Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz.

Fast forward to the summer of 2024 or even June 2025.

Knowing Crosby’s team-first attitude, he won’t hold up the Penguins and could patiently wait until June 2025 without fear of getting stiffed at the negotiating table. But the Penguins’ ability to wait until the last minute to sign Crosby doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

If Crosby remains a point-per-game player through this coming season, he deserves to be paid as much on past performance as much as the coming future production.

The top 20 centers, averaging about one point per game, generally range between $8-$10 million, but the price is going up. Matthews’s deal proves that. With some irony, the lowest-paid of the top 20 scoring centers last season was Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, whose $6.1 million AAV was lowered by an extra year on the contract and receiving a 35+ designation.

J.T. Miller, 30, is on a new $8 million deal and notched 82 points in 81 games last season. John Tavares, 32, is still well paid with an $11 million cap hit for 80 points in 80 games.

So what will the 38-year-old Crosby be worth by 2025-26?

How about another little discount … $8.7 million?