CORAOPOLIS, Pa. — His Range Rover was newer. His hair was grayer. And when Sidney Crosby emerged to greet a longtime Pittsburgh Penguins season ticket holder early Monday afternoon, he did so after a summer that ran longer than he would have preferred.
He also seemed to be of the what-can-he-do-about-it approach.
He doesn’t need the latest version of his preferred vehicle. He isn’t about to start dying his hair.
He does, though, have ideas about how to help the Penguins — before a chaotic last season, the most stable of NHL salary-cap era franchises — return to customary form as a playoff participant, if not a Stanley Cup contender.
“I just want to get on the ice at this point,” Crosby said. “It’s been a long offseason.
“When you start to get around the rink and everyone’s excited; the anticipation’s there, so that’s usually the time of year when you know it’s time to start.”
Not that Crosby ever stopped.
He and fellow future Hockey Hall of Famer Evgeni Malkin played in every game for the Penguins last season. That had never before happened.
Of course, neither had missing the playoffs since Crosby and Malkin joined forces to form one of hockey’s historic tandems. Seventeen seasons later, Crosby and Malkin find themselves as the public faces of an organizational overhaul the likes of which they have only ever experienced once before — when Jim Rutherford replaced Ray Shero as general manager during the offseason in 2014.
Two years later, the Penguins won the first of back-to-back championships.
Coincidentally, Crosby has only two seasons remaining on his contract. It’s almost as if there’s another short window for the Penguins to take a run at adding to the three titles won during the Crosby/Malkin era.
Crosby did not say anything of the sort Monday. However, the questions local reporters asked him were mostly about how new — if not fresh — things felt for the Penguins after arguably their busiest offseason.
Kyle Dubas is now running the hockey operations department. Erik Karlsson will presumably be running the top power play. Those were the biggest among many moves, part of an organizational reset initiated by the Fenway Sports Group ownership.
“He’s special,” Crosby said of Karlsson, a generational defenseman added to bolster a corps led by another one of those in Kris Letang.
“(Karlsson) can create a lot back there. He put up 100 points — that’s crazy.”
As for Dubas, only a year his senior, Crosby credited him with making moves that had “everybody excited.”
The Penguins didn’t rebuild. They didn’t get much younger. They may or may not be better built to win their first postseason series since 2018.
They are, though, different.
Crosby, a model of consistency, does not fear change entering his 19th season.
“It’s been a long (offseason), and there’s been a lot of change, a lot of turnover,” Crosby said. “We’ve all just been waiting in anticipation to get going.”
Training camp opens Thursday, with the preseason opener Sunday. The time in between won’t be enough for the new-look Penguins to get everything sorted out, but at least players and coaches can start the process.
Crosby hinted that whatever he needed to fully process an everything-gone-wrong season was addressed during the past five months spent not playing hockey.
“Motivation,” he emphasized, “comes from not making the playoffs.
“That’s a bad feeling when you’re watching and you’re not in it,” Crosby continued. “To know you were as close as we were — I mean, it was one point, basically, is the difference — you know how tight it is going in. But it’s just not fun watching.”
It isn’t in Crosby’s character to offer that watching the playoffs presumably is tougher for one of the most decorated hockey players to skate on a sheet of ice. He’s far too humble and respectful of peers, whether they be current or from the past.
But, who’s kidding who? Sidney Crosby — on the short list of hockey GOATs — wasn’t born to watch the most important games. Even at age 36, he lives to play in them.
Dubas’ summer work appeared targeted to give Crosby and company the best opportunity to still play when winter turns to spring (and if all goes great, when spring pushes toward summer).
“That’s why we play — to be in that position,” Crosby said. “The motivation comes from that.
“And then when there’s turnover and change, you just have to be open to it and make sure we’re ready to go. I mean, there’s always going to be a learning curve for any new group, but when there’s a lot of turnover, that’s just part of it.”
Crosby added he is “excited” for a challenge not faced since after his rookie season, the only other time during his tenure the Penguins failed to qualify for a postseason.
“You want to bounce back,” he said. “(If) it doesn’t go your way, you want to respond the right way and use it as a learning experience. Hopefully, that’s everyone’s mindset.”
Crosby cited a need for improved consistency this season. He lamented that long winning streaks were followed by long losing streaks and the failures in overtime, “especially in the first half.”
“When you start to break that down, that’s the difference between making the playoffs and not,” he said.
At this point, Crosby’s resume lacks for nothing, which is not to suggest he wouldn’t mind padding it. Even the greatest ones with nothing to prove are prone to childlike dreaming of getting their hands on Lord Stanley’s cherished silver chalice.
“All the new faces, like I said, everybody is just really excited,” Crosby said. “Everybody can kind of relate to that: When you come into a new situation, a new opportunity, there’s something to prove for everybody. Regardless of the situation, that’s usually how it works.
“We all feel that right off the bat here. As far as the energy’s concerned, I think there’s a lot there.”
(Top photo: Joe Sargent / NHLI via Getty Images)