Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Penguins are now Crosby's Team

Well, they were Crosby's team last season thanks to the departure of Zigmund Palffy and early retirement of Mario Lemieux.



Now that Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux has retired again, the Pittsburgh Penguins are moving on behind another big star.

General manager Ray Shero and coach Michel Therrien must decide whether 19-year-old Sidney Crosby - the team's best player and the face of the franchise - should wear the "C" as the team captain at the Oct. 5 opener against Philadelphia.

Other possible choices include forwards Mark Recchi and John LeClair. But they are not the big scorers they once were, and both have spent most of their careers with other teams.

Crosby, making an unannounced appearance Tuesday at the Penguins youth camp, said he wouldn't turn down the "C" but won't campaign for it.

"If one day whoever makes that decision decides they'd like me to have it, it would be a huge honour," said Crosby, designated by Therrien as an alternate captain immediately after the coach was hired in December. "But, at the same time, it's something you have to earn. That's not something you take lightly. For me it's my second year, so it's not something you're thinking about. I'm working on improving myself as a player and a person, and that's all I really worry about."

Crosby acknowledged he and Recchi had issues before the 17-season veteran was traded to Stanley Cup champion Carolina. Apparently, Recchi felt Crosby was too vocal and demonstrative about calls that didn't go his way, especially for a rookie. The two since have talked, and Crosby said he welcomes Recchi's return.

Crosby also has closely followed Penguins draft pick Evgeni Malkin's clandestine departure from his Russian team in Finland and his recent journey to the United States, where he hopes to join the Penguins for camp next month.

"It's a pretty amazing story," Crosby said. "What he went through is pretty unbelievable. He showed a lot of guts to go through that and come over here. I think everyone is just looking forward to having him here and making him feel as comfortable as possible."

Malkin, 20, and Crosby, 19, are expected to give the Penguins a dynamic and very young combination at centre. The two are a combined 39 years old, or nearly Recchi's age; Recchi turns 39 on Feb. 1.

"If we're both at our best and both lines are at their best, we're going to be tough," said Crosby, who has played against Malkin in the world and world junior championships.

Crosby, who spent the day instructing some players who weren't much younger than him, was pleased with his rookie season but knows he can improve. He became the youngest player in NHL history to have a 100-point season and only the second 18-year-old to do so, though it didn't prevent a fourth consecutive Penguins last-place division finish.

"You never want to gauge a season on your plus-minus and stuff like that but, being a responsible player out there, you want to be out there for more goals than against," said Crosby, a minus-1 for the season. "It's something I want to work on. I'm not a 10-year veteran, but I want to make sure I'm the leader out there and do my best to lead by example."

Captain or not.


While Crosby is the offensive leader, I see no reason to burden him with the C and put even more pressure on his shoulders. Steve Yzerman was the rare exception of a very young guy who could take the C on his shoulder with few problems. Chris Pronger, Vincent Lecavalier, and other youngsters have had problems with the added pressure of the C. Why not just give it to Recchi instead? Let Recchi deal with the refs and the ra-ra speeches and let Crosby focus on racking up points.

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