Sidney Crosby had never attended someone else’s Stanley Cup party. So, when he helped fellow Nova Scotian and good buddy Nathan MacKinnon celebrate this summer, Crosby let loose. As he recently joked, Crosby was the “fifth drunkest person there.”
Are we seeing a relaxed Crosby going into his 18th NHL season?
“He’s as intense as ever lately,” said MacKinnon, who has long trained with Crosby during summer breaks.
That intensity was on display Monday morning at the Penguins’ practice facility, where Crosby led drills while setting a frenetic pace during one of the final informal player workouts before training camp opens Thursday.
Yet, a few hours later, we saw the relaxed Crosby again: smiling as he pulled up to a suburban Pittsburgh home to deliver a special package to Penguins season ticket holders. He posed for a picture to help the family’s eldest son, the captain of his junior varsity high-school club, ask a girl to homecoming (she said yes). Later, Crosby clutched tightly a makeshift, homemade drawing featuring his No. 87 from the family’s youngest daughter. A few signed autographs and pictures later, he was off to deliver another package to another family.
Intense, then relaxed.
On Tuesday, Crosby worked on a different version of the dueling vibes. Again, his day would begin by shepherding one of the informal player workouts at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. Afterward, he was the main attraction for an annual golf outing with team advertisers. That meant putting aside his competitive side at least a little — he says he wants to be great at golfing — to do the honors around the sponsors.
Intense, then relaxed. Even conciliatory.
Perhaps this is the latest version of Crosby, whose importance to the Penguins remains unequaled after all these years. He remains their greatest on- and off-ice asset, a steward for the organization, a leader held in such high esteem by everyone collecting a check from Fenway Sports Group. Even prospects hoping to play with Crosby, such as winger Nathan Legare, notice how special Crosby is from afar.
“Sidney Crosby sets the standard pretty high,” Legare said. “All anybody has to do is buy-in in the same direction. I think when you see the best player work 100 percent every day, you wake up and want to do the same thing. He’s the best in the league and he’s the greatest example you can get.”
Penguins management kept Crosby in the loop during offseason negotiations with his longtime teammates and dear friends Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang this summer. Crosby addressed his involvement in those negotiations Monday, saying he “tried to stay up to date with everything” and adding that “I don’t want to bug guys.”
Still, Penguins and NHL sources reaffirmed to The Athletic that Crosby made his feelings known to management that his wish was for “Geno and Tanger to stay,” and also that Crosby visited Malkin at his home in Miami to “check on his friend when the talks weren’t going great,” a league source said.
It all worked out. The Penguins’ Big Three is together. GM Ron Hextall chose to bring back the so-called band (with a few new additions on defense) to take another shot at a fourth Stanley Cup title that has eluded Crosby since his back-to-back championship/Conn Smythe outburst in 2016 and 2017.
Crosby snuck a World Cup of Hockey/Most Outstanding Player accomplishment in between those Cup runs with the Penguins to cement his place as the unquestioned player of his generation. He was in his late 20s then. He is 35 now and is no longer a consensus pick as the world’s finest hockey player — or even its most in-demand.
He did participate, as he always does if healthy, in the NHL’s annual media summit last week in Las Vegas. He wasn’t the sun around which the event revolved, though. In fact, Crosby was able to skip out on talking to national print and online reporters, leaving that task to the like of the Avalanche’s MacKinnon, the Oilers’ Connor McDavid and others. And when those others were polled about who is the game’s best player, Crosby was not selected; in fact, only one player selected him as the second-best player in the NHL.
For Crosby to even be in the conversation among the very best after 17 grueling seasons is a testament to his talent, drive and historic greatness. Then again, he remains fiercely proud, and former Penguins teammate Ryan Malone guessed that Crosby hears when people say the elite among a younger generation — fronted by McDavid, MacKinnon and the Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews — have surpassed him.
“I promise you he doesn’t think that,” Malone said.
Neither does MacKinnon, the NHL player outside of Pittsburgh who knows Crosby best. During his Cup day and also their training sessions, MacKinnon picked up on a freshness to Crosby.
“I think he’s at a new chapter in his career,” MacKinnon said. “He wants to play as long as he can at an elite level and that’s the new challenge to him … which is pretty cool.
“Sid had such an amazing season last year that he should have been up there for the MVP maybe as well. Obviously, the points and stuff weren’t as high, but everything he brings to the game — everything — I don’t think there’s another guy I’d want on my team.”
The good people of Pittsburgh need not worry. Crosby has three years remaining on his current contract. He told The Athletic’s Josh Yohe he wants to play another six seasons and has publicly stated he wishes to retire with the Penguins.
As this past summer showed, Crosby’s wishes are the Penguins’ command.
What else does Crosby want? Well, at MacKinnon’s party, Crosby couldn’t help but notice something that’s gone missing from his life.
“It just brings back memories,” he said of visiting with Lord Stanley’s silver chalice. “The parties. The experiences. And everything you go through when you win.
“I think it’s a good reminder of just how much it brings people together. You see (MacKinnon’s) family and friends and, you know, the people that are a part of it … when you’re on the other side of the party like that. And that was cool to see.
“And that’s something that makes you more motivated to want to do it again.”
—The Athletic‘s Sean Gentille contributed to this story
(Top pic: Charles LeClaire/USA Today)