Now that Zdeno Chara has signed with the Capitals (wait, what?), the Penguins have a new little feather in their caps. They now boast the longest tenured current captain in the NHL.
Sidney Crosby was named the Pens’ captain on May 31, 2007, after he had played two seasons and about 18 months after Mario Lemieux retired in the 2005-06 season due to a heart condition. The story is out there that Pittsburgh brass wanted to name Crosby captain earlier, but he deferred for a while out of reverence to Lemieux and in order to get his own career on track. By 2006-07, Crosby was the NHL’s only teenage MVP and ready to step into the duty. Crosby was the youngest captain ever at the time he was named it, though Edmonton’s Connor McDavid would go onto break that record.
Within a year the Pens of Crosby being named captain, they were in the Stanley Cup Final in 2008. Just over a year after that, Pittsburgh would win the Stanley Cup, with Sid leading the team in playoff goals and finishing second in points behind Evgeni Malkin.
The Penguins have a proud history of captains, only having four players serve as captain* since Mario Lemieux took the reigns in 1987, with the procession going Lemieux - Ron Francis - Jaromir Jagr -Lemieux - Crosby.
(*NHL teams were a lot more liberal back in the day about a different player than the “real” captain wearing the C when the captain was out with injury, which has led to Paul Coffey, John Cullen and Randy Hiller wearing the letter at times...Also the NHL had a charity auction and needed a player to wear the captain’s letter for it, so Steve McKenna once served as captain as a game for that purpose, but that doesn’t really count).
The “C” letter on the chest is a big giveaway, according to the rules this enables the player the “privilege of discussing with the referee any questions relating to interpretation of rules which may arise during the progress of a game.”
Two players are commonly generated to be alternate captains (not assistant!). Should the captain not be on the ice, an alternate assumes the official duties of being able to communicate with the officials. Technically, no other player is granted the ability to converse with refs about the play.
Malkin has served as an alternate captain since the 2008-09 season, however unlike days gone by, he has never picked up a C on his jersey when Crosby has been injured. But I guess maybe if you count a Russian “K” that he taped to his practice jersey as a show of support for Crosby when he was going through his concussion/neck injury, maybe that’s as close as he’s gotten.
Unofficially, wearing the captain’s letter is the responsibility to lead the team. Crosby has embraced that by being quick to welcome in everyone new to the team with a text or call and set the tone right off the bat of being a friendly and welcoming teammate and leader. As an article from the official team website wrote:
Crosby does whatever he can to help them feel like they’re part of the team, and that’s a responsibility the Penguins captain embraces year-round.
“He just always includes everyone. I think that’s the biggest thing,” defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “When you come to a pro hockey team, you have people who have families, different lives. But regardless if you’re a first-year rookie or you’re a 10-year vet, he’s going to include you in the text whether it’s dinner, whether it’s getting together here in Pittsburgh or on the road.
“That goes a long way when a guy like that is including you. It makes you gel as a team. It all starts from him, the things that he does people might not see.”
Like Dumoulin said, whether you are a new addition to the NHL roster via a signing or trade, or just on the fringes of the team that signs a contract as an undrafted free agent — a plugged in leader like Crosby who lives and breathes hockey and Penguins hockey isn’t going to miss too much.
Jordy Bellerive earned an invitation to training camp as an undrafted free agent forward. The day after training camp started, the team announced that Bellerive had earned a three-year, entry-level contract. After the news got out, the first person to approach Bellerive was, of course, Crosby.
“I came in and I was a nobody,” Bellerive said. “When I ended up getting my contract, he was the first guy to congratulate me. So that was pretty cool.”
[Summer 2018], after Bellerive suffered severe burns to his hands in a campfire incident that hospitalized him for 12 days, Crosby sent him a text right away to see how he was doing. It was so unexpected that it took Bellerive a minute to figure out whom the text was from.
“The text was signed ‘ -Sid,’ and I started thinking, who’s Sid?” Bellerive recalled with a laugh. “Then I was like oh, that Sid. Okay. Then this year, he was the first guy to come up and talk to me (at training camp). It was really nice of him and pretty nice to hear from him right when I got here, too.”
That type of leadership is old hat for Crosby, now going on 14 years of being an NHL captain. No one active has more practice at it now than he has.