Sidney Crosby talks Malkin uncertainty, playing beyond his contract

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, center, is presented with a gold stick and plaque by Kris Letang, left, and Evgeni Malkin, right, in honor of his 500th career goal before the start of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Pittsburgh. Crosby scored goal number 500 during a game on Feb. 15, 2022, against the Philadelphia Flyers. (Fred Vuich/AP)

HENDERSON, Nev. — Sidney Crosby is thrilled the band has stayed together, particularly because the threat of a summer breakup was so real.

With fellow career-long Pittsburgh Penguins and three-time Stanley Cup champions Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin both heading toward free agency in July, the captain got nervous.

Crosby admits he was furiously texting his teammates and close friends in those shaky days leading up to July 13, checking in to see if there had been any progress in negotiations.

Yet even after Letang re-upped for six years and $36 million on July 7, there seemed a legitimate possibility that Malkin would walk.

Crosby exhaled when Malkin was extended for four years and $24.4 million on July 12, mere hours before the deadline.

“I was sweating. When it gets that close, anything can happen. It was getting right down to the day, and there was a lot of uncertainty,” Crosby told Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek during a recording of the 32 Thoughts podcast.

“You know it’s a possibility. You want to think positive, and you want to be optimistic, but there’s still a chance it might not happen. So, I think that uncertainty is tough. I’m sure it was tough on those guys. It was definitely for me — just not wanting to go there mentally.

“You don’t want to be on the ice thinking, This could be our last game playing together. But the reality is, it could’ve been. So it’s great that they’re back with us. Yeah, it made me sweat for sure.”

Contrary to rumours, Crosby said he didn’t make overtures to management to make sure the Letang and Malkin deals got finalized.

“It’s pretty obvious how I feel. I mean, it’s not like I have to declare that. I think it’s pretty clear how I feel about those guys,” Crosby said.

The three Penguins stars enter this season just 118 wins shy of becoming the winningest trio of NHL teammates in history.

Letang will be 41 when his new contract expires. Malkin will be 39. Crosby will be 37 when his current contract wraps in 2025.

All three could retire together as lifelong Penguins.

“That’d be amazing. I think that’s something we’d love to do,” Crosby said.

“Higher up on the list is winning together again. That’s our motivation. Those guys are wired that way. They’re not just playing to retire. And that’s why they’ve had success for as long as they’ve had.”

Crosby is still performing at an elite level in his mid-30s. He ripped 31 goals and racked up 84 points in 69 games this past season, then added 10 points in six playoff contests.

Yet he’s hesitant to start pondering NHL life beyond this contract.

“I’m thinking about three more years and then seeing what happens from there. I know it doesn’t do me any good to look past that. I know I want to continue to play high level,” Crosby said.

“I’ve played a lot of hockey. It’s something that takes a lot of effort. You’ve gotta be invested in your body because a lot of things need to go right in order to play at an older age. So, yeah, I think that three years is my focus. From there, I’m just gonna see where I’m at.”

Crosby allowed that, occasionally, he thinks about what to do with his life after his playing days are over.

“Your mind tends to go there as you get older, for sure. You understand the situation. And it’s a really difficult position because as an athlete, you want to be in the moment. You don’t necessarily think too far ahead, but reality is, that tends to happen a little more as you get older,” he said.

“So, just kind of find that balance of knowing that’s reality but enjoying the moment and getting the most out of yourself and enjoying every day. It’s a great game. It’s the best job in the world, and you want to play as long as you can.”

Whenever that time comes, Crosby wants to be able to say he made the most of his NHL window.

“I don’t take it for granted one bit. And I love it. So, to me, it’s easy to get up with that mentality every day,” Crosby said.

“And I think just having that mentality, when that time does come, I’ll appreciate it. But I want to know that I left it all out there.”

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