Tim Benz: Sidney Crosby’s comments on his long-term future should give us pause

Tim Benz: Sidney Crosby’s comments on his long-term future should give us pause

Because Pittsburgh Penguins star center Sidney Crosby is so consistent with his pragmatic approach and staying in the middle lane when dealing with the media, he rarely lets out a startling quote.

Frankly, the one he said on Tuesday might not be that remarkable either, but, during the Penguins breakup day interviews, the team captain said something that made me cringe. ears.

Crosby took the podium after teammates Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Because so little is known about the new owner’s interest in keeping the franchise icons together, many questions have been asked about how the three people see their careers unfolding as they move forward. in their thirties.

Malkin turns 36 in July. Letang just turned 35 in April. Crosby turns 35 in August.

Letang said he saw himself playing another four or five years. Malkin said three to four.

Surprisingly, Crosby wouldn’t commit beyond three more seasons when asked how long he’d like to play.

“Three for sure,” Crosby replied quickly. “And then we will see after that. I don’t want to go too far. But three, definitely.

By standard, Crosby was also pragmatic in that response, as he has three years left on his contract. But if Crosby wants to work on an expansion, he could do so with a year to go, which may mean some of the decisions Crosby seems to be aware of are actually a year closer to happening.

Decisions such as, whether he wants to retire at 37. If he wants to play longer, how many more years? Is he structuring the next contract to be the last? Did he hit the open market as a free agent for the first time in his career and is he playing his final years in a city other than Pittsburgh?

Yeah. I know. Blasphemy, right?

Well, Marc-André Fleury has already been part of three teams since his departure. Jaromir Jagr played for half of the league. Letang and Malkin can both retire to different cities. Ron Francis played seven more years in Carolina and Toronto after leaving Pittsburgh.

Even Wayne Gretzky ended up playing more seasons away from Edmonton (11) than he did with the Oilers (9). Not everyone is a city, a team like Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman.

Then again, these are two of Crosby’s heroes in his youth, and it’s clear he sees the value in consistency when it comes to building a legacy. That’s part of the reason he’s never pushed for a roster overhaul, even in the wake of the team’s struggles in the playoffs since 2018.

In a perfect world, I bet he plays beyond that three-year window he just opened. Or, perhaps better said, the window his contract keeps open. Crosby loves routine, habits, familiarity. I’d also bet that window stays open in Pittsburgh.

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 Crosby-led teams to the championships are gone. Just like Fleury, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz. Soon too, maybe Malkin, Letang and Bryan Rust.

The same goes for the familiarity of playing beyond the first round of the playoffs. It hadn’t happened since 2018.

What are the chances that Mike Sullivan will still coach the team after 2025? Crosby has already worked under five coaches at Pittsburgh. Does he want to break a sixth or a seventh before finishing?

The mortality of the Penguins franchise in this era is something we have always managed to avoid in Pittsburgh. It’s because the players have been good enough to never let him die. He seemed to be on the verge of doing so at the end of 2015. But then “cusp” became “Cups”, as in two others for the trophy room in 2016 and 2017.

Now, though, it would be nice to make it to a conference semifinal again. Or, given the rebuild that’s likely in 2022-23, maybe even just make the playoffs for a 17th straight year.

We live in “Never Land” of hockey because the Peter Pan of sports lives here. Sid is still “The Kid” to us. But we only watch it on television and on ice. Crosby is the one who has to look in the mirror and see the wrinkles on his face.

And the concussion story. And the places where he took countless punches, stumbles, nudges, cross-checks, and low kicks. It is he who must look himself in the eye and see the memory of his long-dead teammates.

Ben Roethlisberger has just crossed 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 retired before him too.

There has been a presumption imposed on Crosby that he is a lifelong hockey player. He will be the skate version of Tom Brady. Still playing and excelling well into his 40s. He loves the game and he loves training for the game. He will never want to leave. Plus, he’ll still do it in Pittsburgh.

I have always adhered to it myself. But Brady doesn’t play in New England anymore, does he?

What made Crosby’s timeline stand out from Malkin’s or Letang’s was the way Crosby sort of laughed at the confidence those two had in projections beyond the three years that he had discussed.

“Glad to hear Geno said three (or four) and Tanger said… five more, probably,” Crosby joked. “I am not surprised by any of these responses. These are about course par. But I’m glad they’re looking to keep playing. They can. And they play at a high level. It’s good to hear.”

It was almost like Crosby saying, “These guys can go. I’m not ready to say that, though.

However, of these three players, if you were to ask me which one will still be closest to the peak of his game in 2025, it’s Crosby by a mile. I would have been less surprised if Crosby had answered “I’m aiming for another 10 years” than “three and we’ll see”.

Hopefully this is the first. And let’s hope it happens here.

Tim Benz is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless otherwise specified.

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