Despite reports that his camp had been in preliminary contact with the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk about potentially joining Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby isn’t going to Russia.
Not just yet. Probably not at all.
By this New Year’s Day, it will have been two years since Crosby sustained his concussion in the 2011 Winter Classic. If the NHL lockout drags until then, that’ll be two calendar years since Crosby played a meaningful stretch of hockey in good health. Last year’s run 22 games to end the regular and postseasons may have been productive, but was hardly the kind of routine play that made him the league’s highest scorer in the first half of 2010.
However, Metallurg passed on Sid, eventually signing Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and Nikolai Kulemin to all three NHL contracts a KHL team can sign during a lockout.
There’s probably no KHL team, nor a team in any foreign league, that will be able to sign Crosby for the same reasons Metallurg passed on him. Crosby is going to be too expensive to recruit.
Crosby’s agent, Pat Brisson, appeared on a Canadian radio show and commented that it could cost anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000—per month—to insure part of Crosby’s $104.4 million NHL contract.
The snag is that most insurance policies won’t cover concussions. Makes sense, given that Crosby has played a whopping 63 games in the last two regular seasons due to post-concussion syndrome. Getting his NHL contract covered would require huge financial sacrifice on the part of the team employing Crosby as well as Crosby himself. The peripheral benefits of adding him to any roster are almost immeasurable, but $400,000 is a good place to start.
A full building and increased merch sales probably won’t be enough to cover the cost of Crosby’s insurance and salary. Former NHL and KHL coach Barry Smith says most KHL teams are too decentralized and do too little in attendance to make such expenditures viable.
“[The KHL] is almost like the old days in Canada, where every town had a factory or business which ran the team,” Smith said. “It’s very similar there. If you go to Magnitogorsk or Severstal, it’s steel. If you go to Neftekhimik, it’s chemicals. Traktor is heavy machinery. None of the teams make money. There’s no business model that says, ‘if we sell this many tickets or land this many sponsors, we’re going to break even.’ They’re not even close.”
Slava Malamud of Sport Express had this to say, from the same Globe & Mail story,
“They can sell out every game and still not make any profits because Russian [worker] salaries are low and the ticket prices are very low as well. In Magnitogorsk, where Malkin plays, there is absolutely nothing there except hockey. They have this incredibly successful team but for the first game of the season against Dynamo, the defending champions, they can’t sell it out.”
The bottom line? Crosby has become too expensive and too great a liability to play in any league but the cash-flush NHL, which is currently cultivating the terms of its next year-long shutdown in a dispute over—what else?—money.