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Breaking Up is Hard to Do; ‘Brothers’ Crosby, Malkin, Letang Reflect

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Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby

Do you remember? It was Feb. 20, 2021, the night of Sidney Crosby’s major milestone 1,000th game, with no fans in the stands because of COVID-19, and the Pittsburgh Penguins star center standing on the ice as longtime teammates Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang presented him with a forged silver stick and a mosaic made of pictures from each of his first 999 games as part of a pregame ceremony.

You could see their eyes. They were misty. Crosby even later chuckled about how just looking at each other made it impossible to maintain dry eyes.

It wasn’t a night then to ponder what it will be like when the team captain and his two alternate captains learn that they will no longer all be members of the Penguins. It will probably be a private moment. They might even share that moment by something as normally impersonal as a text because of the distance during the summer.

But you can just imagine the mist will rise again.

And if you have been paying attention, you can imagine it could very well happen this offseason, with Malkin, a center, and Letang, a defenseman, pending unrestricted free agents and maybe headed elsewhere.

For 16 seasons, they have been Penguins teammates – the longest stretch for three players with the same team in NHL history, and one of the most productive stretches, with three Stanley Cups and lots of other hardware.

Crosby, from Nova Scotia, was already in the NHL for a year and already was ascending to a long-time unofficial ambassadorship as the face of the league, if not the sport, when Malkin, who is Russian, and Letang, who is French-Canadian, made their Penguins debuts in 2006-07.

Letang’s English was a little sketchy. Malkin’s was nearly non-existent. But they started to bond over their common language, hockey.

Tuesday, the three – Crosby, 34, Letang and Malkin, 35 — got perhaps the last chance to publicly talk about what they mean to each other while they are still teammates.

Letang reflected on the early days.

“Having the chance to play against him in the Quebec League, (Crosby) was always a model,” Letang said of their days as junior hockey opponents. “Even if he was the same age, it was like he does everything perfectly, how focused he is, and the dedication he puts into hockey is just amazing. So to have him alongside me and ‘Geno,’ it’s a treat for us.

“And Geno, I saw him grow as a player and as a person. We all know how good he was, and everything he’s accomplished throughout his career is just amazing, but to see the beginning of Geno, not speaking a word of English and after that being a guy who jokes around, having him more with the guys out for dinner.

“We kind of grew all together. You learn a lot more when you spend that much time with these guys.”

To the point where now they can nearly finish each other’s sentences as easily as they finish plays together.

Malkin, aka Geno, was both funny and poignant talking about the three of them.

“It’s amazing. It’s like my two brothers, one Canadian and one French-Canadian. I love them both,” Malkin said.

“It’s not just hockey; it’s life. We spend so much time together. We know each other pretty well.”

Hearing about Malkin’s brothers comment, Crosby laughed, then reflected.

“I think we all feel the same way,” Crosby said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to play together for a long time, been through a lot. I think (when) you look at all those experiences, there’s a lot of belief, a lot of trust in one another. With that, we’ve had success, too. So I think there’s also a confidence level. That’s very rare, and I think we all appreciate that.

“That being said, we understand that it’s not something that can happen forever, but, hopefully, a little bit longer. Hopefully, we continue to play together. It’s unique. It’s special. And, like I said, I think we’ve done a pretty good job as a group and as a team, so, hopefully, that plays into it, too.”

Three brothers. Trois freres. три брата.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan can’t hardly separate the three when he thinks about their impact. He was asked about Malkin and Letang – after all, Crosby has three more years on his contract – but Sullivan instinctively formed his answer around all three in one of his many soliloquies about his marquee stars and leaders.

“It’s hard for me to articulate what these guys mean to the Pittsburgh Penguins organization,” Sullivan said. “When you look at the legacy that has been built here over the last 16 years, those three guys are the cornerstone of that excellence. There’s probably a reason why these three guys have played for the same organization for as long as they have. From my standpoint, they’re the guys that have established the standard of what it means to be a Pittsburgh Penguin. They’re the guys that have built the culture of excellence that’s been created here in Pittsburgh that we’ve all enjoyed over the last 16 years during their career here.

“I can’t say enough about these guys and how driven they are, their desire to win, their care for the Pittsburgh Penguins and their teammates. They’re the standard, for me, of what it means to be a Pittsburgh Penguin, and they’re the guys that have put the work in day in and day out that has allowed this organization to achieve the level of success that it’s had during their time.”

Sullivan, who has coached the Penguins since December 2015 and led them to two Stanley Cups, doesn’t negotiate contracts, but he is expected to be part of the conversation with management when the Penguins rank their priorities for any offseason moves.

It sounds as if that will be nearly as difficult as a parent having to choose among their children.

“Well, it’s hard. You know, it’s hard,” Sullivan said, head down and appearing to be close to emotional. “It’s my job to coach these guys, and we care about them a lot. We build relationships over the years.”

He noted that considering them as team assets in team decisions is “I guess a necessary part of the business, but it’s difficult. These guys have been really important players for us. Their body of work speaks for itself. It’s my job to share my opinions, and I do that when I’m asked.”

They are three. Will they be two come training camp? One?

Crosby is not normally one to be overly contemplative or nostalgic, but this situation is foisting those things on him. He has seen friends and teammates come and go for most of his life.

It’s never been like this, with Malkin and Letang involved.

“Yeah, it’s different just because of the fact that we are getting older and there’s so much history,” Crosby said. “I think … you reflect a little bit more because of the fact it’s something we’ve had to talk about and think about all year.

“It’s not easy. I think it’s amazing how those guys were able to kind of put that aside and continue to play the way that they did. It’s never easy when you go through that situation.

“It’s reality and part of the business, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, either.”

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Shelly is a columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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Frank
Frank
1 month ago

Their season is over less than a week and I think this is the 310th article I have seen about “end of an era,” “core break up” “trips down memory lane.” OK OK. Enough with this already. Thanks for the play. They were great. Love the cups. Hope they stay. We get it. I appreciate the need to write a column but this story is “beaten like a rented mule!” What is worse nothing is going to happen for another 6 weeks!

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

Stop with the crocodile tears already. This team won two Stanley Cups without MAF and one without Letang. It’s long past time to man up, and the GM will have ample resources to do it. It’s about Cups, remember? If that’s no longer the standard, then Fenway Sports needs to come clean with the dwindling fan base and tell us otherwise.

Last edited 1 month ago by Paul
David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

Actually, they won ZERO without Fleury and ZERO without Letang. In fact, Fleury played the first two rounds in the 2017 championship.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  David

Matt (Money) Murray was between the pipes for both clinchers. (Uh, remember the back-to-back shutouts in the 2017 Final?) MAF was little more than a passenger. But the guy sooooo cuddly and has such a cute smile . . .

Last edited 1 month ago by Paul
Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

The penguins will be worse without them, just like how they were worse without Fleury. REBUILDING IS FUN!! 💩💩💩💩💩💩

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
1 month ago

Nice article, Shelly, even though some don’t appreciate it.

Luke
Luke
1 month ago

It is long past due… Teams are judged on what they do IN THE PLAYOFFS. This is the 4th year in a row they lost in the 1st round – 1 and done. I live in Tampa Bay – enough said. Still a Pens fan but look at the Lightning Organization. They do it right and have the formula ( and world class goalie ) to win this year and next … The Fenway Group does not care about these players who are UFA….they care about ratings, bottom fiscal line and profits. Huge Huge changes are coming and it is… Read more »

MGgolm
MGgolm
1 month ago

Wouldve traded Malkin 4 years ago and wed be reaping the benefits.

Steve
Steve
1 month ago

I’ve wanted to trade Letang and Malkin for 3 years now. If Rutherford didn’t screw everything up with the ridiculous contracts he handed out to other guys, it may have been tenable to keep them. Not anymore. Please get rid of these overpaid defenseman. They’re not horrible but they make too much money.

Ourstars
Ourstars
1 month ago

Run it back….. People love tearing things apart and watching the mighty fall. If the Pens didn’t have to play with a 3rd string goalie they would still be playing today. If Crosby doesn’t go down they’re still playing today. If crazy Ricky doesn’t go down I bet he would’ve been good for a goal which means we’re still playing today. Name a player that averages a point a game that would be cheaper or the same price as Geno? Letang would be even harder to replace for the money he would play for. For a defender his caliber they… Read more »

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Ourstars

I was thinking i was outnumbered in the comments section. THANK YOU!!! AGREE 100%

Ourstars
Ourstars
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

I’m totally on your team Rob. And you’re completely on point about Crosby asking for a trade if they decide to burn the team down. A rebuild is the last thing he would want to do during his last three years of his contract. I’m also pretty sure the Penguins should hire us as consultants. I could find time on the weekends. One last thing. Listening to Geno talk on clean out day makes me scared for any team he’s playing against next year. The dude is pissed and a pissed Geno is a beast. Let’s all hope he’s wearing… Read more »

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

Let your top defenseman and #2 center go. Sends a great message to the fans. Crosby should ask for a trade. Why stick around? I hope management has a better plan than that!

Uros
Uros
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

Well, they signed Carter for two more years and then dismantled the best PK unit in the league for scoring help. Playoffs = Tons of PP goals conceded and zero scoring help. They also continued not addressing the goalie situation as the previous management. So, what more can they do? Let their, not no. 1, but only defenseman and 2nd line center who would be 1st line center on any other team walk. Don’t worry, it’s all good business and management is great. It’s the players failt. You’ll see how happy you’ll be when Malkin and Letang run us over… Read more »

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Uros

Trust me, i am already not happy, or uneasy is a better word. Nothing has even happened yet so i have nothing to be upset about yet. Trying to be optimistic. I really don’t like how people say this is the best option for the team. They had another 100 point season and got cheated out of their first round series. Retooling would be a better option, not rebuilding. In my opinion, that is. These people clamoring for rebuilding most likely haven’t seen those in the past.

Uros
Uros
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

Absolutely, 100% agreed. I’m also hoping for the best, but fear the worst. Fortunately there are fans that see what happened this and last year. With better goaltending last two years or, at the very least, the stellar PK unit from regular season this year, this team could’ve gone far, regardless of calls and non calls. All we needed was just one kill.

Richard Norcross
Richard Norcross
1 month ago

Appreciate what you have,fans. I had a hockey team in Hartford that won an Avco Cup in the WHA. Never won anything in The NHL. I believe The Pens won their 1st Cup after Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelson were traded to Pittsburgh. Question of the day. Who are John Cullen and Zarley Zalapski?🤔

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

Some of us do appreciate. Others don’t

Tony
Tony
1 month ago

Give them one year deals don’t break up Gen talent build a team around them

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