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Crosby Looks Back on Missing Playoffs: ‘We Didn’t Earn it’



Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby

Pittsburgh Penguins captain and face of the franchise Sidney Crosby reiterated Saturday that he hopes to finish his career with the team. He just doesn’t know if it will be Stanley Cup-caliber before he walks away, especially after, in his words, “We didn’t earn it.”

“I’d love to,” Crosby said of playing the rest of his NHL days with the Penguins. “That’s been the case since Day One. I’ve been fortunate to have been drafted here and (have) great memories. Got to play with two teammates specifically (Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang) for a really long time. So I’d love that to be the case.”

Dave Beeston, co-head of Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Penguins, said during a press conference Friday that “it’s very important that Sidney Crosby never plays a game in another uniform.”

Crosby and several of his teammates spoke with reporters Saturday, the day players cleaned out their lockers for the offseason. That day came earlier than it has since Crosby’s rookie season, 2005-06, after the Penguins failed to qualify for the playoffs.

Crosby has captained the Penguins to three Stanley Cups, in 2009, ’16 and ’17. They won one round in 2018, did not make it out of the opening round the next four seasons and now are dispersing around the globe in mid-April.

With two more seasons on his contract – and, he has hinted, more seasons after that – are the Penguins close to being a Stanley Cup contender again?

“It’s hard to say. That’s something you earn,” Crosby said. “You go through things during the year. It’s easy to sit here and say it on the outside looking in, but we didn’t earn it. I don’t think we’re far, by any means, but we didn’t find a way to get in (to the playoffs), and it’s tough because there’s not a lot of separation.

“(Record-setting President’s Trophy club) Boston’s had an incredible year. That’s pretty rare to see what they’re doing, but for the most part after that all the teams are close. It’s a matter of getting in there and after that seeing what happens. Just to not be able to get in there, that’s tough.

“But it’s hard to say. It’s something that you have to earn the right to be in that conversation, and, unfortunately, we didn’t do that.”

He did his part. He played all 82 games, did so at a high level commensurate with a guy named Sidney Crosby – especially for someone who is 35 – and led the Penguins with 93 points.

Still, the Penguins finished 40-31-11 with 91 points and finished one point and a tiebreaker behind the Florida Panthers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The team had only to beat two of the very worst teams in the NHL, Chicago on Tuesday and Columbus on Thursday, to clinch a playoff berth. The Penguins lost Tuesday, then were officially eliminated Wednesday based on game results that did not involve them. They clunked to the end with an overtime loss against the Blue Jackets.

“Just disappointed,” Crosby said. “We didn’t want to be in this position. We’ve had a few days after the Chicago loss and then knowing before the Columbus game that we weren’t going to be in the playoffs, it’s disappointing.

“And everything that happened (Friday), nobody feels good. I think we all feel responsible. It’s not a great feeling.”

What happened Friday was the firing of general manager Ron Hextall, president of hockey operations Brian Burke and assistant GM Chris Pryor.

Those most assuredly won’t be the only changes during the offseason after a campaign of blown leads and gut-check losses.

What sorts of changes or improvements is Crosby expecting or hoping for?

“I have no idea, to be honest,” he said. “When you lose, there’s always going to be change. But I think there has been a lot of turnover the last few years, so I think that it’s hard to predict. We lost in the first round in those (four) years prior, so given what’s happened this year, I would expect there to be more turnover again. To what extent, I don’t know.”

That doesn’t mean Crosby is without certain hopes for next season.

“I just hope that we learn from this. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “Regardless of the situation – whether you win or you lose in the first round, second round, whatever – you’ve got to learn from it. That’s something that we’ll have a lot of time to dissect it and learn from it. Hopefully, we’re a motivated group because of going through this.”

What are the biggest lessons?

“I think, just in general, how difficult it is to make the playoffs,” said Crosby, who has always maintained that but had it smack him in the face this spring. “I think you find out when you start going through specific games over the course of the year that you let slide. And you see how close we were.

“It’s tough. It’s a fine line. You understand that from having to compete and get there every year, but when you’re on the outside looking in and you have to look at all those situations, I think you realize even more.

“I think there’s an understanding the mistakes that we made this year. The big ones are just not putting teams away. We had leads. I think that’s probably what makes it more frustrating – knowing that we were in really good positions to win games, and we didn’t close teams out. It ends up being the difference between us making the playoffs or not.”