PITTSBURGH – Sid the Kid is no longer a kid.
Sidney Crosby(notes) turned 23 on Aug. 7. He is entering his sixth NHL season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. And, yes, finally, he’s moving out of his boss’ house, though he cautions not to take the symbolism too far.
First of all, what you’ve heard is a myth.
“I’m not in his basement,” Crosby said.
Crosby has not been sleeping on a cot in a dark, dank dungeon. He has had his own space in owner Mario Lemieux’s luxurious home, and he is in no hurry to leave. Although he has bought a place of his own, he said he is still waiting for work to be done.
“I haven’t moved out yet,” Crosby said. “There’s no real set date. I don’t know. I’m comfortable there. I don’t think it has anything to do with my personality or me changing, to be honest with you. It’s more of making sure I find the right spot to move to, rather than...I could stay there for the next two years, and honestly, they’ve been great and told me whenever I want to leave, I can leave.”
It’s hard to say Crosby is growing up when he has been so grown up for so long. Opposing fans can whine about his whining, but Sid the Kid has been The Man and acted like one for years, both in how he approaches his hockey and how he handles the hubbub about it. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma actually added a couple of years to Crosby’s age by mistake the other day, referring to him as 25.
Don’t expect an episode of “Entourage” when HBO follows Crosby this fall for its upcoming reality series on the Penguins and the rival Washington Capitals. But, if anything, Crosby might be getting a little less mature. As polite, professional and private as Crosby is in the spotlight, Fleury said: “Maybe he’s loosened up a bit. Maybe he’s relaxed a little bit.” Pressed for an example, Fleury paused for a moment, hinting he was about to share a juicy story. Then he laughed and looked down.
“No, not this one,” Fleury said.
Aw, too bad.
But there is no question that Crosby is entering a new phase of his life and career. Not only is he about to move into a new home, he already has moved into a new office, going from the old Igloo to the state-of-the-art Consol Energy Center across the street. And now he has a new challenge before him.
Until May, when it came to the most important measure of success, the trend always had been upward. In Year 1 of the Crosby era, the Penguins didn’t make the playoffs. In Year 2, they made it but lost to the Ottawa Senators in the first round. In Year 3, they took the Detroit Red Wings to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final. In Year 4, they beat the Wings to win the Cup.
Crosby followed that by becoming an Olympic hero at the 2010 Vancouver Games, scoring the golden goal as Canada defeated the United States in overtime to win the tournament. It seemed he truly had the Midas touch.
Then came the 2010 playoffs. A big part of growing up is understanding you’re not invincible. It’s one thing to know it, but another to experience it. After scoring five goals in the Penguins’ six-game ouster of Ottawa in the first round, Crosby scored only once in seven games as they were upset by the Montreal Canadiens in Round 2. For the first time in the Crosby era, the Penguins took a step backward in the playoffs.
“You have high expectations,” Crosby said. “You expect to be in the final every year. But if anything, I think you appreciate how tough it is to get there, probably what it takes, even more so.”
It has been tough to win the Cup in any era, and one player has never made a team, no matter how great. Wayne Gretzky won four Cups in 20 seasons, Gordie Howe four in 26. Bobby Orr won two Cups in 12 seasons, Lemieux two in 18.
It’s even tougher now with the salary cap and fierce, 30-team competition.
The Penguins would love to give Crosby a winger who could be what Jari Kurri once was for Gretzky, but the cap forces you to prioritize. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin(notes) each have a cap hit of $8.7 million – combining for almost 30 percent of the team limit. That demands they carry a lot of the load themselves. The Penguins have been fine offensively, so they let defenseman Sergei Gonchar(notes) go and bolstered the blue line with Paul Martin(notes) and Zbynek Michalek(notes), trading some scoring for some defense. They were able to sign forward Mike Comrie(notes) because he came at the bargain-basement price of $500,000.
Crosby was the youngest captain in NHL history to hoist the Cup, at 21. But the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews(notes) was right on his heels this year, becoming the second-youngest captain to hoist it, at 22. There are a host of other stars eager for their turns, too, including the Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin and the Vancouver Canucks’ Henrik Sedin(notes).
You have to be realistic.
“I think every team would love to make the Stanley Cup final every year, but it’s not going to happen,” Crosby said. “I hope we don’t lose another time in the playoffs the rest of the time I play hockey, but percentages probably say that we will.”
Sometimes it seems Crosby can do anything. He showed up for batting practice at PNC Park before training camp and looked more Pirate than Penguin, smacking a 370-foot home run. He already has won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, the Art Ross as the scoring champion and the Rocket Richard as the goal-scoring champ. But he’s merely a superstar, not superhuman, and because he already has reached the pinnacle, the question is how much more he can grow.
Crosby can’t play more. He can’t play harder. The Penguins often think about using him more on the penalty kill, but his style of play burns so much energy – as he buzzes around down low – it would be counterproductive to play him 25 minutes every night. So Crosby tries to introduce wrinkles to keep everyone guessing.
“It’s easy for me to see the room that he has to grow because he is 25,” said Bylsma, forgetting Crosby is only 23. “He’s a young kid, and he still works. He still views the game as he has to get better in a lot of different areas, and that’s the way he approaches it. He focuses on certain things and things he can add to his game. We’ve seen that in the past, and he continues to do that. So I really believe that he’s going to get better and better in the next years to come.”
Crosby once was poor on faceoffs; he put his mind to it and improved dramatically. He concentrated on shooting more last season; he led the NHL with a career-high 51 goals. He has some things planned for this season, but will keep the specifics as close to his vest as long as he can.
“It’s a competitive league, and everyone is pretty aware of the way guys play,” Crosby said. “There’s not a lot of secrets out there. You’ve got to keep working hard on improving and giving yourself that edge somehow.”
Sid the Kid is no longer a kid. But being The Man is an ongoing process.