Pittsburgh – Sidney Crosby no Easily intimidate. But the future of the Pittsburgh penguins made him worried.
center Yevgeny Malkin and defenseman Chris LetangCrosby’s teammates in all three of his Stanley Cup wins were at the end of their contracts last season. Loom free agency. Rarely has a team, in hockey or any other sport, been able to keep an aging core together that hasn’t advanced past the opening round of playoffs in four straight seasons — let alone find a way to do so under a fixed salary cap.
“I was sweating,” Crosby told ESPN. “You know how it works. The longer it takes, the closer you are to free agency, the better your chances of experiencing it. You try to balance optimism with realism about the fact that it was possible [they’d leave]. “
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan led all three players to Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017. He couldn’t imagine how Crosby would lead Pittsburgh without owners and Letang on the roster.
“It was hard for him,” Sullivan said. “Those three have been through a lot together.” “They’ve had a fair amount of successes, but they also have their disappointments. I think it means a lot to him to keep trying to win; but in particular, to keep trying to win with these guys.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like for Syed if he went through it. I’m glad we don’t have to find out.”
Letang, 35, signed a six-year contract on July 7 worth $36 million. Five days later, Malkin, 36, signed a four-year, $24.4 million contract. It was after news leaked that Malkin intended to test free agency, when tense talks with Pittsburgh finally came to a halt.
Sullivan remembers being optimistic that they would both return to Pittsburgh—until he heard about Malkin’s negotiations, that is.
“I always thought we’d get it done, maybe until the last 48 hours before the free agency with Gino,” he said. “That was the only time doubt crept into my mind. But in my heart I thought we’d be able to keep these guys. I know what that means to them.”
What does that mean for Crosby?
“Just…happy,” he said. “Relieved. Then he immediately thought, ‘Well, we have a chance.'” These guys stay. Now we have to do something with it. “
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Brian Rust he is Part of the band too.
“Yes, I might be the third backup singer,” he said.
Rust, 30, was expected to generate a lot of interest as an unrestricted free agent. The suite was a perfect complement to Crosby and Jake Goentzel On the top line for penguins, and skate well when matched with two owners too.
There were times when Rost wasn’t convinced the core would stay together. He remembers sitting in his locker after losing Game 7 in overtime to the New York Rangers last May and not being able to shake off the horror.
“I was like, ‘Oh… … is this my last chance with this team?'” he said. “Because of how the business works, and because the cap is what it is.”
Rust turned out to be the first member to stay with the band, signing a six-year contract extension on May 21 worth $30.75 million. He didn’t test the waters to see what other fortunes there are from NHL competitors. He feels that free customers who stayed with the penguins are doing well financially, with Pittsburgh realizing they won’t get big stay discounts.
“Everyone should do what is best for themselves and for work, but [also] As a team and as individuals. These guys want to win. They want to be here. I’m no different. This point has been made clear, but we will not lose out individually.”
Letang was another player that many expected could test the market. Despite entering his 17th season in the National Hockey League, his effectiveness as a defensive man has not diminished. He played 78 games last season and scored 68 points, with an average snowboard time per game of 25:47. Letang finished seventh in the Norris Trophy, the fourth consecutive season in which he received the votes.
He would have raised the blue line for many contenders. There was also talk of him joining his former agent, Kent Hughes, in Montreal, where Hughes is now general manager of Canadiens.
Litang was never sure if he would end up staying with the penguins. “Otherwise I would have signed the previous summer. It could have been easier, right?” He said while laughing.
His conversations with Crosby hinted at this uncertainty.
“Sid is probably my best friend,” Litang said. “We talked about the whole summer and the whole year.” “We were not sure if that would happen. So we are happy that we are behind and we can look forward.”
penguins Holy Trinity, Crosby and Letang do not have many skeptics about their continued supremacy in their advanced age.
Malik is a different story.
Former Hart Trophy winner and Conn Smythe underwent major knee surgery before last season, in which his right anterior cruciate ligament was repaired for the second time. While his points production remained strong – he scored 42 points in 41 games, including 20 goals – he appears to have missed a step. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that Malkin’s lunge attempts have fallen significantly, as he made 0.57 per 60 minutes before two seasons before knee surgery in 2021 compared to just 0.22 lunge attempts on average last season.
“In many cases, Malkin skate looked like what you’d expect of a 35-year-old from less than a year after his second knee injury,” wrote Mike Devabo of the Gazette.
As the transition game is key to Sullivan’s system, this impacted Malkin’s effectiveness strongly. Sullivan described Malkin’s 5v5 game as “interrupted” last season, but said last week that he hasn’t made many adjustments to Malkin’s use based on that decline.
“Nothing has really changed in how we use it,” Sullivan said. “He’s still a dynamic attacking talent and has the ability to take over the game on his own. There aren’t many of these players in the league.”
One of the changes Sullivan made last season that could run into 2022-23: Rast’s move to play for Malkin. Sullivan said Malkin’s best matches came with Rast on his wing, thanks to the latter’s ability to fend off attack and his defensive awareness. Crosby and Goetzel have spent time preparing for this season with the winger Ricard Raquelwho is not a “squad member” per se but signed a six-year, $30 million contract to stay in Pittsburgh before free agency this summer.
Rost was happy to see Malkin return. As with Letang, Rust couldn’t understand how the penguins could improve their ice impact without sacrificing a bit of ice if they let the duo walk.
“Someone else could come here, but why bother with this chemistry in the face of getting more of the same, when we know we have a team that can do something?” He said. “[Without Malkin and Letang]There could have been a lot of conversations about not being in this room. Thank God that didn’t happen.”
Letang said the feeling is mutual about Rost and Malkin.
“If you lose Gino, if you lose Rusty, can you really replace it? Does it get better if you don’t get it? I don’t think so.”
Does Litang think there is another Stanley Cup in this group?
“That’s what I definitely want.”
Mike Sullivan Mate Not only does he skate with Crosby, Malkin, and Letang during matches, but he is a member of the band as well. The contract extension wasn’t exclusive to players: Sullivan, who has coached the Penguins since the 2015-16 season, signed a three-year contract that pays him until 2026-27.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” Sullivan said of his essence. “It wasn’t all apple pie and ice cream. We’ve had tough conversations over the years.” “I couldn’t be more humble to keep coaching these guys. I just think they’re their world. It’s hard to keep a team together in the sport. That’s what I think is so great about these conditions.”
The Fenway Group, the new owners of the Penguins, have not refused to agree to new contracts for Letang and Malkin. Nor has general manager Ron Hextal, who has sought to build around veteran stars while they play the rest of their years in Pittsburgh.
“In a perfect world, Geno retires with a penguin. And I think Tanga is the same,” Hextal told a free agency. “These two players are from generations. They don’t come around very often.”
Rust thinks the Penguins’ recent playoff performance made Hextal’s call easier.
“There is a fine line between winning and losing,” he said. “There are some years when you get into it and only you can tell.” “You get dominated and you’re like, ‘Okay, maybe we need to make some changes. “But you can’t see not just last year, but the year before, that that was a streak we could have won and we should have won. And the management saw that too.”
On paper, these were opening round failures: a six-game loss to the New York Islanders after Covid cut a 56-game season short in 2020-21, and a seven-game loss to Rangers after the final season. However, both series had extenuating circumstances.
Nothing was going so well for the Penguins against the Rangers. DeSmith was injured during an impressive performance in Game 1, leaving the game in double overtime with a major muscle issue that kept him out of the series. Gary was out due to injury until match 7, when he substituted the stumbler Louis Doming Only to lose in overtime. defenseman Brian Dumoulin And both Raquel lost after the first match as well.
Pittsburgh was leading 3-1 in the series when Jacob Troup An injured Crosby hit Game 5, turning the series on his ear: Rangers scored three goals in 2:42 to take the forever lead, and scored three straight wins to take the series.
“We had a good team. It didn’t go our way. We played some of our best hockey in the playoffs and didn’t manage to win this series,” Letang said. “We had the team to do the running for, but we didn’t get the rebound we needed. The right thing to do was run again.”
This hunger thrives as part of the penguin culture. defenseman Jeff Petriwhich they got from Montreal, they felt it immediately upon his arrival at the training camp.
“What these guys have together is something special,” he said. “Obviously they made it to the top. The thing I noticed is not enough. They want to do it again.”
That’s why the band is back together: to make another push into the fourth Stanley Cup in the Sidney Crosby era. They know there will be doubt. Some will see this as a nostalgic play from a cast that refuses to turn the page on the glory of the past. Some will note that Father Time is undefeated and the Penguins have a combined age of 106 years – the competition window should close at some point.
But Sullivan and his players put forward the following counter-argument: Look at the past two seasons and tell us the window wasn’t there yet. He told us this band doesn’t have another top chart.
“When you look at those two groups – and both opponents went to the conference finals – we felt really good about our team,” Sullivan said. “Our key players were a big part of it. They are proof that there is still elite play in them.
“We realize that we are getting older. But we are not that old. There is a difference.”