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Crosby makes it official, inks deal Young star hopes to watch and learn from his teammates

Young star hopes to watch and learn from his teammates

PITTSBURGH

ey Crosby scrawled his name at the bottom of the last page of the sheaf of papers, beaming like a boy on Christmas morning discovering his first skates and stick beneath the tree.

The newly turned 18-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., the No. 1 pick in the National Hockey League draft, made it official with the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday, signing a three-year deal as Mario Lemieux, the club's owner, looked on like the proud surrogate father he has become to Crosby and then added his signature to the contract.

The NHL's new collective labour agreement limits rookie players to $850,000 (all figures U.S.) in salary and $850,000 in bonuses based on statistics and playing time. Crosby could also earn slightly more than $2-million each season in team and league bonuses by winning the scoring title, rookie of the year and the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player.

Fresh-faced and handsome in a trim, navy pinstripe suit and open-necked pastel peach shirt, Crosby was illuminated by a dizzying show of camera flashes as he signed the document, all but a formality after the Penguins won the top pick in the draft lottery on July 22.

General manager Craig Patrick, smiling, said of the negotiations, "I surrendered right away."

Crosby arrived in Pittsburgh on Thursday, moving as planned into the tony home Lemieux shares with his wife, Nathalie, and four children in Sewickley, just outside Pittsburgh.

The player-owner Lemieux, who was re-signed by the club yesterday, is entering his 17th NHL season, almost as many years as his protégé has been on Earth.

Crosby skated for the first time in a week yesterday with some of his teammates, who include high-profile free agents, such as forwards John LeClair, Ziggy Palffy and Mark Recchi and defencemen Sergei Gonchar and Lyle Odelein, for about 90 minutes.

Later, and before tucking into a lunch of roast chicken breast and Caesar salad, he said making the jump from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to the NHL was akin to "boys playing with men."

"I'm trying to learn as much as I can out there, but I'm confident in what I can do," Crosby said. "I'm going to watch these guys, but I'm not going to be standing still.

"I'm looking at this as short term as possible. I'm going to push myself to raise my game as much as I can in camp. It's going to be a challenge to go from junior to the NHL.

"I feel very fortunate to be in this situation. 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 are enjoying an exciting revival in the Steel City since signing Crosby. They will open training camp on Wednesday with practices open all week to the public at downtown Mellon Arena before moving to their minor-league affiliate's arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Their season will open on Oct. 5 at New Jersey against the Devils. Crosby will make his NHL debut on Lemieux's 40th birthday.

"It feels a lot like the early '90s," upbeat Lemieux said of a time when the Penguins won two Stanley Cup titles.

"It's a lot more fun to play the game this year than it has been the last four years."

Crosby has already had a significant impact on the team. When he arrived in Pittsburgh for orientation last month, he was mobbed at the airport by fans and television crews.

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