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Crosby believes Penguins can three-peat

Captain motivated to begin 30s with another Stanley Cup championship

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia -- He was "Sid the Kid." Now he's "Sidney the Mature Adult."

"I don't know if it has the same ring," Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said, laughing.

He's right. It doesn't.

Crosby turned 30 years old Monday, and he needs a new nickname.

How about "Three-peat Champion?"

"We're going to training camp with that in mind," he said. "It'll be a big challenge, but why not?"

Thirty teams will try to come up with an argument for Crosby starting in September, when he and the Penguins, winners of back-to-back Stanley Cup titles, open camp.

 

[Sidney Crosby turns 30: Birthday with the Stanley Cup | 30 things about Crosby | Top 30 Crosby moments

 

For all he has accomplished, and the list is long for the three-time Stanley Cup champion, turning 30 means Crosby has to get used to the idea that he's about to start what are traditionally viewed as the back nine years of an NHL career.

The thirty-something years is when it's supposed to get harder to stay on top and harder to win, especially in a league that is getting younger with star players Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews barely into their 20s or, in the case of Matthews, 19 for another six weeks.

For perspective, neither Wayne Gretzky nor Gordie Howe won the Stanley Cup after turning 30. Each won it four times in his 20s, but never three times in a row. Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr didn't win it after turning 30 either, although their careers were marred by injuries, as Crosby's very nearly was six years ago.

Video: The best of Sidney Crosby as he turns 30!

Crosby, who earned his spot in the conversation with them as one of the top five players of all-time by winning the Stanley Cup for a third time and the Conn Smythe Trophy for a second time in as many years, understands what turning 30 has historically meant for a player's career. His reaction to it is indifference.

"It's just a number," Crosby said. "Just a number to me."

Crosby's disinterest in his age playing a role in his career is warranted. Why would he feel any different after all that he has accomplished recently?

It'd be silly to argue against the monumental impact of Crosby's notable accomplishments in the past 26-plus months.

Participating in the 122nd Halifax-Dartmouth Natal Day Parade here Monday as the grand marshal, he was holding the Stanley Cup while a float carrying the Conn Smythe Trophy, the Rocket Richard Trophy, the Prince of Wales Trophy and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey championship trophy followed behind him. Crosby won them all last season.

Video: Fans serenade Sidney Crosby with 'Happy Birthday'

He also won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in 2016 after captaining Canada to a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Championship, which made him a member of the IIHF's Triple Gold Club (Stanley Cup champion, Olympic gold medalist, World Championship gold).

All of this has made it difficult, if not impossible, to challenge Crosby's status as the top player in the NHL.

"It seems like he's just getting better," said Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene, who occasionally trains with Crosby in the offseason. "It's so funny how it works, right? People are just waiting for the best to go on the decline. People wanted to burn him at the stake at the start of the 2015-16 season. People were saying he wasn't going to score 25 goals and he ends up having an unbelievable second half, wins the Cup, wins the Conn Smythe and follows it up with the World Cup MVP and getting another Cup and Conn Smythe. It's unbelievable how the second you doubt him he'll make you pay for doubting him."

Video: Sidney Crosby delivered on much-hyped promise

Crosby, though, will eventually have to adjust how he trains, probably more than he's used to, to stay at the top of his game for several more years. He'll probably have to push to do more while also trying to work in more rest. That's the balance an aging athlete has to strike. It can be more challenging to the ones who have lived at the top for so long.

However, Penguins assistant Mark Recchi, who played until he was 43, said Crosby's drive to train should allow him to play as long as he wants and stay on top for several more years.

"He's at the peak right now and he's got a number of years left at his peak because he has taken care of himself so well and because he knows his body better than ever now," said Recchi, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November. "When you're younger you're still trying to figure it out, but when you get to a certain point you know what your body needs to be successful, what you need to do. He knows exactly what he needs to do and that will keep him at the top for a number of more years, like five, six, seven years."

Crosby has pushed himself and attempted to keep his "Sid the Kid" instincts by training with younger players in the offseason, most notably 21-year-old Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon, who, like Crosby, is from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia and lives here in the offseason.

Video: Crosby brings Cup home in 2009, celebrates birthday

"And there's nothing lost there," said Cole Harbour native Paul Mason, who was one of Crosby's youth coaches and remains close with him. "He isn't thinking about the end. He's thinking about making sure he does what he can to be the best he can be for his team."

That he plays in Pittsburgh with younger players like Jake Guentzel (22), Olli Maatta (22), Conor Sheary (25) and Bryan Rust (25) also helps. Crosby said it gives him perspective on the mentality and drive of the younger players. It's perspective any veteran player needs to keep up.

"They come in pretty confident and they feel like they belong right away, and for good reason, because so many have shown they can play right away and have an impact," Crosby said. "It's good as far as pushing me and just understanding there are always guys coming and the game continues to get faster and faster. I like that."

Recchi said it's important for Crosby that the Penguins have won championships recently because it's proof that what he's doing is working and that changes aren't needed.

"He knows exactly how he has to play the game," Recchi said. "In fact, his two-way game is tremendous. I hope he starts getting some recognition for how great his two-way game is now. That's something I don't think he gets recognized enough for. I'd like to see him get rewarded for that. But he knows exactly how he has to play the game."

As for Crosby's drive to win, nothing has changed. If anything, Crosby seems more motivated to win again because it's the only way he can make his 30s as impactful and meaningful to his career and his legacy as his 20s.

"You have a window to be able to do this," Crosby said. "It's not something you take for granted. You have a window and I'm just trying to make the most of that window."

Crosby's window is still wide open. He could use a new nickname, though.

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