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Crosby Veers from Script on Letang, Malkin Future: ‘It’s Not Going to Last Forever’

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby veered from the script on Thursday. The company line has been to ignore or claim to ignore the potential end of the greatest team core in the salary cap era and one of the greatest team nuclei in NHL history. Instead, Crosby admitted the unknown and wistfully acknowledged the end of Crosby-Malkin-Letang could be near.

Crosby will savor what could be the last ride of him and his teammates once bonded by youth, then by championship silver, and by maturity.

Franchise stalwarts Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin are pending free agents after the season.

“As much as you don’t want to think about it, it’s something that you understand could be a possibility…I think you try to enjoy it as much as you can and try to take it all in because you know that it’s not going to last forever,” Crosby said.

Crosby passingly referenced the crew has faced uncertainty before, but not quite like this. In 2019, there were the Malkin trade rumors. There were quiet Letang trade whispers in the recent past, too.

But management and the Pittsburgh Penguins ownership held the core together, even under trying circumstances.

Pittsburgh Penguins Changing

Now, everything is new. GM Ron Hextall will see the team to the next chapter. Mario Lemieux sold the team to the Fenway Group. And on Wednesday evening, President/CEO David Morehouse resigned.

“And whether it’s this year, down the road a little bit more, you only get to play for so long. So I think just trying to enjoy it and be grateful for the opportunity that we have to do it again,” concluded Crosby.

To everything there is a season.

 

 

This season, PHN has tried similar queries with Letang, Malkin, and Bryan Rust. Evgeni Malkin, who was the second overall pick in 2004 and made his NHL debut in 2006-07, deflected as he cracked up, “I’m like a rich guy.”

Letang flatly said they haven’t thought about it. “No,” he shrugged before getting into a stock answer about the opportunity of the playoffs.

Rust, who is also a pending free agent, had a similar response.

And those make Crosby’s soft admission more honest and genuine. He will stay. Crosby is a lifer, and he is still producing at elite levels. Sportsnet reporter extraordinaire Elliotte Friedman put the Penguins captain in his mix of three players to be the third Hart Trophy finalist.

In 68 games, Crosby has 84 points, including 31 goals.

Kris Letang has been among NHL defensemen scoring leaders with an impressive 67 points (9-58-67).

Malkin had serious knee surgery last June and didn’t return until February. He has not recaptured his best form but has 19 goals in just 40 games.

Crosby and Letang were part of the Penguins’ 2005 NHL Draft class. Crosby, of course, was the first overall pick, but Letang was a highly-touted third-round pick. The defenseman spent one more year in juniors before playing seven games at the end of the 2006-07 season.

That was the first time the Big Four were together, as you count Marc-Andre Fleury. Or the Five with Brooks Orpik, the Pittsburgh Penguins 2000 first-round pick.

Many of the Penguins’ marquee players and part of the team nucleus have come and gone, but three remain, 15 years later. The brightest lights followed the darkest moments of the franchise following bankruptcy, Mario Lemieux’s nailbiter fight for an arena that was just a few steps down the hallway away from the existence of the Kansas City Penguins, to the painful Generation Next and its $23 million payroll.

From the fight to exist sprang the fight for championships.

By the end of Letang’s second full season, he had only 52 points (18-34-54) in 144 games. Long-time fans may remember Letang’s disastrous struggles in the playoffs in 2007-08.

Or remember Malkin throwing haymakers on Henrik Zetterberg in a late Game 2 fight in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.

 

You may remember the wicked goals. Letang dancing around the offensive zone or scoring the 2016 Stanley Cup-winning goal. Malkin splitting defenders or galloping past them. Malkin’s career indeed has better highlights than that fight, but it was one of the primary moments those Penguins, who were said to be too young, too undisciplined, fought for their place.

Former Penguins head coach Michel Therrien laughingly told PHN the story of sending the boys home. After practice, they would stay on the ice. Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and Fleury would hang out for hours. All they knew was hockey.

From Jan. 28, 2019: PHN Extra Video: Therrien Explains Why Penguins Core is Special

“It’s winning. Winning, winning. They were teenagers almost, and I had to kick them out of the rink,” Therrien smiled back then. “They spent their days at the rink. That’s all they knew, spending time together. After 13, 14 years, the one thing you can tell, these guys still have the passion…”

 

Things didn’t always go well. The playoff meltdowns from 2011-2015 included blowing 3-1 series leads, selfish play, inexplicable retribution penalties, and other finger-wagging no-nos.

But they persevered. Two more Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017–still the only salary cap era team to win back-to-back Cups after full NHL seasons (no disrespect to Tampa Bay, who won the Bubble and the 2021 56-game season).

Head coach Mike Sullivan had something to do with the franchise turnaround, and legacy rebuilds, too.

“we’re in a business where change is inevitable. And it’s part of what we all sign up for. With respect to these guys and what they’ve accomplished and the legacy that they’ve built here in Pittsburgh, it’s impressive,” Sullivan said. “And they’re deserving of the recognition based on what they’ve accomplished. When I look at this core group of players, I believe they’re the best core that I’ve ever been around.”

Maybe it will be over. Maybe not. Crosby at least allowed for the possibility as new ownership and management get settled.

It’s been a ride unlike few others in NHL history and like none other in the 21st century.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Frank
Frank
7 months ago

Thank goodness. The Crosby comments are the official acknowledgement that what used to work so well . .. just does not anymore. That is not to say that many of the parts still do not have life in them, but rather they do not work HERE to achieve what they once did. I have no idea if they will re-sign Malkin and Rust and Letang and whoever, but I am reasonably sure whoever does will get a great addition that quite possible will flourish for 3 or 4 more years . .. maybe more. It does not matter, the issue… Read more »

Waldo
Waldo
7 months ago
Reply to  Frank

I wish thePenguins had dumped Rutherford and hired Guerin instead of losing him to the Wild. It’s hard to fire a 2 time champ though, I get it.

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
7 months ago
Reply to  Waldo

Amen

Zachary
Zachary
7 months ago
Reply to  Frank

You all would have thrown a fit if they traded Malkin, Letang, or Rust at the deadline and you know I’m right.

Frank
Frank
7 months ago
Reply to  Zachary

Well it has been a long time since I “threw a fit.” And I will guarantee you it would never be over hockey if one had occurred. So turns out you are wrong on several counts. And the sooner that “new broom” begins its sweep the better. I swear some Pens fans would have stood on the deck of the Titanic and suggested that it was “just a little water.” Relax . . . it is only hockey. I can guarantee you regardless of playoff outcome or UFA signings life will go on.

Pete Hoffman
Pete Hoffman
7 months ago
Reply to  Zachary

Wrong.

Lifeson74
Lifeson74
7 months ago
Reply to  Zachary

Letang Yes! Malkin Rust No! Especially with Rakell coming over.

PenPal
PenPal
7 months ago
Reply to  Frank

With prior Cup contending teams I would no doubt that Columbus would be crushed tonight. With this one . . . well .. I am not so sure. Probably . . . maybe . . . but not a lock. That says volumes when the current Columbus group poses a genuine threat. You mean the Columbus team that crushed Tampa last night? The “prior Cup contending teams” that you speak of also lost games against bad teams. Playoff teams lose to non-playoff teams all the time, it means nothing. Just in the past week we’ve had multiple upsets, including: Habs… Read more »

PenPal
PenPal
7 months ago
Reply to  PenPal

And how did last night go?

  • * The #1 team got absolutely crushed by the dead last #32 team, with a score of 2-10. Sure, there were excuses, but that’s still a real cup contender getting destroyed by the worst team in the league.
  • * Preds lost to Coyotes (#31), which actually hurt the Preds. If they had managed to get even 1 point, they’d of gotten an easier opponent in the first round.
  • * And other non-playoff teams (Jets, Vegas) beating playoff teams (Flames, Blues).

Looks like cup contenders aren’t as good at crushing easy competition as you believe.

Last edited 7 months ago by PenPal
Jim
Jim
7 months ago
Reply to  PenPal

Let them play a 7 game series and see who wins.

Zachary
Zachary
7 months ago

I wonder if Morehouse held back what the team wanted to do at times. I think his was a force out or get fired. I see the team keeping at least one, I could see them trading one at the draft or before free agency starts also. Malkin and Letang have no movement clauses, so easier said than done.

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
7 months ago
Reply to  Zachary

Morehouse protected Sullivan and Crosby’s wishes. Team got older and softer

Jstripsky
Jstripsky
7 months ago

Something has to give during the off-season. Will Hextall/Burke sign players with size, grit and jam or look for speed and skill? One set matches what management wants and the other is for how the coach wants to play. Who wins that power struggle? Would Sullivan change his coaching philosophy to play a different style of game if necessary or will he be part of the upcoming changes?

Of course all this goes out the window if the Pens make a magical playoff run and Geno, Letang and Rust return on team friendly deals.

Lifeson74
Lifeson74
7 months ago
Reply to  Jstripsky

I’m sure Rakell will stand out if anyone. Better move him to the priority list to sign here!

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
7 months ago
Reply to  Jstripsky

Wonder who will win? Blysma took Shero down, because Shero allowed him to control Roster. Mike Babcock won all those Cups with GM’S team and talent. Became smarter than everyone. Never will Coach like Blysma in NHL again. Yinzers, watch again the quick playoffs elimination.

Uros
Uros
7 months ago

Nothing lasts forever except Carter, however cheap he is. It’s OK to trade, but letting go of still productive HOF players in free agency is a big no-no. It’s not a good way of running a business. Rust may be gone, but I expect Letang and Malkin to sign. After that trade them, or him whoever he may be, if you want. Sitting idly by and watching contracts expire and players walk while keeping bad contracts because they didn’t expire is a road that leads straight to hell.

PenPal
PenPal
7 months ago
Reply to  Uros

That’s not how it works. Letang and Malkin aren’t going to sign, giving Pens a home discount, just be traded weeks later. Don’t be surprised if their contract, wherever they sign, have full NMC similar to Carter’s. And if they do agree to a trade, it’s not going to have a huge return – similar to what happened in Giroux trade, they’d waive for the one team they want to go to and the Pens will have no leverage in negotiations. As for smart teams not losing “productive HOF players in free agency”, that happens. If the team is not… Read more »

Josh
Josh
7 months ago
Reply to  PenPal

This guy👆💯… 👏

Uros
Uros
7 months ago
Reply to  PenPal

I don’t see anything where I say they should’ve been traded at the deadline. Carter was a rental and he was kept. Not all rentals go to the bin. I understand he’s cheaper, but value for money. I’d be way more into salary dumps, and we have a lot of salary to dump, than letting these two walk. I admit that I shouldn’t have said to trade them after they sign, but it wasn’t really about that. It’s about value for money. And there are a lot of players that haven’t earned what they’re paid and it’s not these two.… Read more »

PenPal
PenPal
7 months ago
Reply to  Uros

Carter was not a rental, he had a full season left. Rakell is a rental – we have no more guarantee that he’d resign with the Pens than any of our preexisting UFAs. Rentals and our own UFAs are both able to sign after the deadline. They are also both able to walk away in free agency. In both cases (trading for a UFA rental or keeping our own UFAs) we are trading futures for an expiring contract. They’re the same deal, yet fans treat one as positive (trading for a rental) and the other as a negative (keeping our… Read more »

Uros
Uros
7 months ago
Reply to  PenPal

I meant they shouldn’t have been traded ever. The point you’re making is clear to me and I repeat I have misspoke about the trade vs letting them go, but I just see more use in letting people with contracts that are not pulling their weight go than these two. Other than that I thought Carter was to retire at the end of last season playing a total of 14 games for the Pens. I might have misunderstood that part.

Lifeson74
Lifeson74
7 months ago

Would love to see Fleury come back somehow and finish his career here!

David
David
7 months ago

It will be heartbreaking to see any of them go. But the biggest factor is salary cap. Geno makes $9.5 million per year — which is more than Crosby makes. There is no way they will sign him for anything close to that. He is oft injured and even though he can still score — how many years? The best move for the Pens is to let Geno move on, keep Letang, and use the money to sign Rust and Rakell — if all of that is possible. I also suspect Kapanen has played his last game with the Pens.