Because Pittsburgh Penguins star center Sidney Crosby is so consistent with his pragmatic approach to staying in the middle lane when dealing with the media, he rarely omits a surprising quote.
Honestly, what he said on Tuesday might not be all that remarkable either, but during the Penguins split day interviews, the team captain said something that made my ears brighten.
Crosby was on the podium behind teammates Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. With so little known about the new owner’s interest in keeping the franchise icons together, many questions have been asked about how the three people view their careers as they rise in their mid-30s.
Malkin will be 36 in July. Letang just turned 35 in April. Crosby will be 35 in August.
Surprisingly, Crosby would not commit for more than three more seasons when asked how much longer he wants to play.
“Three for sure,” Crosby replied quickly. “And then we’ll see. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But three, definitely.”
Normally Crosby was pragmatic in this answer too, because he has three years left on his contract. But if Crosby wants to work on an extension, he could do so a year before the end, meaning some of the decisions Crosby seems to know about are actually a year closer.
Decisions like whether to retire at 37. If he wants to play longer, how many more years? Is he structuring the next contract to be the last? Is he entering the open market for the first time in his career as a free agent and spending his remaining years in a city other than Pittsburgh?
Yes. I know. blasphemy, right?
Well, Marc-Andre Fleury has already been in three teams since he left. Jaromir Jagr played for half the league. Letang and Malkin can both retire in different cities. Ron Francis played in Carolina and Toronto for seven more years after leaving Pittsburgh.
Even Wayne Gretzky has played more seasons away from Edmonton (11) than with the Oilers (9). Not everyone is a city, a team like Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman.
Then again, these were two of Crosby’s youthful heroes, and it’s clear he sees the value of consistency when it comes to legacy building. It’s one of the reasons he’s never advocated for a roster overhaul since 2018, even after the team’s postseason struggles.
In a perfect world, I bet he’ll play past the three-year window he just opened. Or rather, the window thrown open by his contract. Crosby places great value on routine, habit and familiarity. I’d also bet the Pittsburgh window stays open.
Unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect anymore, is it?
Crosby’s mentor no longer owns the team. The organization’s president and two general managers who built the teams Crosby captained to championships have left. Likewise Fleury, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz. Soon to be Malkin, Letang and Bryan Rust too.
So is the familiarity of playing past the first round of the playoffs. That hasn’t happened since 2018.
What are the odds Mike Sullivan will still coach the team after 2025? Crosby has worked under five coaches in Pittsburgh. Does he want to break in a sixth or seventh before he’s done?
The mortality of the Penguins franchise in this era is something we’ve always been able to ward off in Pittsburgh. That’s because the players were good enough to never let it die. At the end of 2015, it seemed to be on the verge of doing so. But then “lace” became “cups,” as in two more for the trophy room in 2016 and 2017.
But now it would be nice to get back into a conference semifinals. Or, given the rebuild that’s likely to be 2022-23, maybe even just the playoffs for a 17th straight year.
We live in the “Neverland” of ice hockey because this is where the Peter Pan of the sport lives. Sid is still “The Kid” to us. But we only see him on TV and on the ice. Crosby is the one who needs to look at himself in the mirror and see the lines on his face.
And the history of the concussion. And the places where he’s taken countless smacks, trips, elbows, cross checks and cheap shots. He’s the one who needs to look himself in the eye and see the memory of long-dead teammates.
Ben Roethlisberger just went through it. He was also “the kid”. Before Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward retired. Then other kids like Maurkice Pouncey, Heath Miller and David DeCastro came after him.
Then they all withdrew from him, too.
Crosby was accused of being a hockey lifer. He will be the skating version of Tom Brady. He still plays and excels well into his 40’s. He loves the game and he loves training for the game. He will never want to leave. Besides, he’ll always do it in Pittsburgh.
I’ve always shopped myself. But Brady doesn’t play in New England anymore, does he?
What made the point about Crosby’s timeframe versus Malkin’s or Letang’s was how Crosby kind of chuckled at how confident these two were about projections beyond the three years he’d been talking about.
“Glad to hear Geno said three (or four) and Tanger…five plus probably,” Crosby joked. “None of these answers surprise me. They’re pretty standard for the course. But I’m glad they want to keep playing. You can. And they play at a high level. That’s good to hear.”
It was almost as if Crosby was saying, ‘Those guys can go there. However, I’m not ready to say that.”
However, if you ask me which of these three players will still be closest to the top of their game in 2025, it’s Crosby by a mile. I would have been less surprised if Crosby had replied “I’m aiming for another 10 years” than “three and we’ll see”.
Let’s hope it’s the former. And let’s hope it happens here.