Once, some years ago, a handful of Pittsburgh Penguins players perpetrated a prank on a team staff member, and it went public. The most noted part in the chain of events seemed to be the relatively small role Sidney Crosby played.
Hahaha. Sid played along in a prank. Isn’t that precious?
Except that Crosby made it clear in casual conversation that he didn’t care much for being singled out like that. Others devised the plot and played a larger role. It bothered him that most of the attention seemed to fall on him.
That reaction was probably predictable. Crosby has worked harder than probably any one of us will ever know to be the best hockey player of his generation, and yet at his core there’s little he wants or enjoys more than just being one of the guys.
That’s right. He wants it both ways.
And you know what? He’s earned the right to have it both ways.
Today, Crosby might get some special treatment. After all, it is his birthday – you know, the whole 8/7/87 thing. Happy 32nd, Sid. It’s the offseason, training and all, so Crosby might be inclined to share his cake without having any. That’s just the way he rolls.
Metaphorically, there is no reason Crosby can’t have his cake and eat it, too. He can be his own man doing his hockey thing and doing it at a level even most of his hundreds of teammates over the years find mind-bending, and yet still enjoy the social and human benefits of being part of a team, being one of the guys.
One thing that facilitates that is Crosby’s personality. He’s a nice guy, approachable and respectful. (But don’t tell the folks in Philadelphia; no reason to spoil their well-honed snarl.)
You know that thing where Crosby supposedly always reaches out to players who join the Penguins with a welcoming text? Yeah, he does that. And it’s a good guess that it’s not just an obligation. He means it.
The guy seriously feels a kinship with teammates. When he won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2016 and ’17, he seemed almost embarrassed or annoyed with the thing in his hands. He passed it off to someone on the bench quickly so he could get on with the part where the whole team celebrates.
Don’t misunderstand; Crosby doesn’t mind being the one to pose with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and get the Stanley Cup first, and he knows his place in the traditional team photo on the ice with the Cup is front and center, but he also really digs the whole team involvement.
And Crosby won’t argue with the tradition where the team captain gets an extra day in the summer with the Cup. He has used those days to celebrate with his “extended teammates” – family, friends, neighbors, everyone around his hometown of Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia, everyone around Pittsburgh … you get the picture.
When he won the Cup for the first time, in 2009, one of the things he did with his time with the giant trophy was put it in one of those Gator carts and take it around to visit his neighbors near his summer lake home in Nova Scotia. Imagine getting that knock on the door.
So about that special treatment. Whether he likes it or not, there will continue to be times Crosby is singled out by fans or reporters or even his own management.
That’s a product of his career accomplishments, captaining the Penguins to three Stanley Cups and earning all sorts of other hardware, as well as being a strong ambassador for the team, the sport and the city.
Think about the value that represents to the Penguins.
That’s why, in the emotional aftermath when the Penguins got swept by the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs this year, nearly every sort of change was on the table.
That included, at least in the short term, considering a trade involving core players Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. General manager Jim Rutherford, as upset as anyone, even tossed out the thought in at least one interview that all-time great Wayne Gretzky got traded, so anything could happen.
In addition to that precedent, the Penguins had let long-time franchise goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury go to Vegas in the expansion draft, so gargantuan changes this offseason seemed feasible.
Outside of the team, there was enough unrest that some in Penguins Nation, through social media and sports talk shows, wondered if Rutherford or coach Mike Sullivan needed to go.
Eventually, the big move was trading away Phil Kessel, and Malkin and Letang, as well as the coaches and front office, were safe.
But through all of that, there was one untouchable. Guess who?
Never, not once, was the idea of cutting ties with Crosby even whispered.
For all the reasons outlined above, and probably a hundred others, separating Crosby from the Penguins remains an unthinkable proposition. And that’s how it should be.
Welcome to having it both ways, Sid. You’ve earned it.