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Crosby signs $850,000 contract with Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- By adding No. 1 overall pick Sidney Crosby to a team already restocked with talented free agents, the Pittsburgh Penguins feel they've turned back the clock to the early 1990s --
when they were two-time Stanley Cup champions and perennial
contenders.

The terms of Crosby's three-year contract, $850,000 in salary
each season with the chance to double that with performance
incentives, were dictated largely by the league's new labor
agreement, making those figures less compelling than Crosby's
potential to make Pittsburgh hockey's best team once again.

"It's like it was back in the early '90s when we were coming to
camp with a chance to win a championship every year," general
manager Craig Patrick said of Crosby's signing Friday.

"I feel very fortunate to be in this situation," Crosby said.
"A lot of guys ... who are drafted early go to a team that's maybe
rebuilding, but that's not the case here."

The Penguins appear to be completely rebuilt as they prepare to
open camp Tuesday with a week's worth of practice in Pittsburgh
before moving to their Wilkes-Barre, Pa., minor league affiliate's
arena.

Crosby will make his NHL debut Oct. 5 -- Mario Lemieux's 40th
birthday -- at New Jersey.

When the puck drops that night, the Penguins will have completed
an offseason unlike any other, during which the NHL became the
first major North American sports league to lose an entire season
to a labor dispute.

The Penguins stocked up on high-profile free agents like
defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Lyle Odelein, forwards Ziggy Palffy
and John LeClair, and goaltender Jocelyn Thibault. Now comes
Crosby, who's helped sell tickets at a record pace since the
Penguins won the NHL draft lottery July 22.

In the NHL's last season, 2003-04, the Penguins averaged just
11,877 fans a game and finished with 58 points (23-47-8-4) -- both
the worst in the league.

Since winning the rights to Crosby, the Penguins have already
sold more tickets for this season than they did in the last season,
and believe their on-ice outlook is much improved.

"Five or six teams have a real good chance [to win the Stanley
Cup] and we feel we're one of those teams," said owner-player Lemieux, who has helped resuscitate the team's fortunes
several times with comebacks from injury and retirement, and by
putting a group together to buy the team out of bankruptcy six
years ago.

Crosby's contract terms were largely a formality dictated by the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement limiting first-year players to $850,000 in salary and $850,000 in statistical and playing-time bonuses. Crosby could earn slightly more than $2 million more each season in team and league bonuses, but would have to be the league's rookie of the year, scoring leader and win the Hart trophy as the MVP.

The negotiations were so simple that Patrick, who has a reputation as a hard bargainer, quipped, "I surrendered right
away."

Crosby has been touted as another Wayne Gretzky or Lemieux, who didn't quibble with that notion.

"I think so. Not only [because of] his talent, but the way he thinks about the game," Lemieux said. "He's dedicated to the game
of hockey. A lot of guys have had talent in the past, but to put
the mind that he has with his talent is special."

Crosby, 18, has scored 120 goals and 183 assists in 121 games
the past two seasons with Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior
Hockey League, and was Canada's major junior player of the year
both seasons. He became youngest player to score for Canada's world
juniors team when he had a goal at the championships at age 16
years, 4 months, 24 days.

Lemieux said Crosby was ready to play in the NHL last year.
Crosby is confident, but more cautious in assessing his ability to
measure up to Lemieux or Gretzky.

"I'm looking at it as short-term as possible. I want to have a
good camp and push myself to raise my game as best I can," Crosby
said. "Obviously, this is a new level, but the pressure has always
been there. I've always put a lot of pressure on myself to
perform."