Crosby found his voice in the months leading up to the end of the recent lockout. He stood front and centre, usually on the right hand of NHL Players Association head Donald Fehr, as the players pleaded their case and challenged the owners to meet and give. He came with Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle to the most significant meetings of the long dispute. He was informed, articulate, passionate and, unlike certain others, always calm.
For a hockey superstar to be so involved in the business of the game is unheard of, unless you go all the way back to Terrible Ted Lindsay and the early attempts to form a players’ union in the 1950s. No one among the elite of Jean Béliveau, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky – Crosby’s superstar role models – took on such a role.
Other current stars either ran off to play in Europe or waited the standoff out in hometown rinks. The other NHLers who spoke out – such as Chris Campoli, Josh Gorges or George Parros – are journeymen by comparison.
“I felt that there was a deal that could be worked out for both sides,” Crosby says. “I think the frustrating part of the process was when we weren’t meeting. I always knew that from our point of view we were always willing to meet, but when you hear that there wasn’t going to be any meetings for the next couple of weeks, well. … We had all that progress in New York for those few days, and then it was off the table. It just seemed like there was a better way.”
He was not naive enough to think a singular plea could solve the impasse, but he felt there was something larger than the squabble – the game itself.
“I care about hockey. I love the game. I felt like it wasn’t doing anyone any good, especially all the fans, but also the game that we had grown over the last seven or eight years – it wasn’t doing the game any good. So I felt like I needed to be vocal for that reason.”
Crosby’s longtime agent, Pat Brisson of Los Angeles, says that Crosby has always been acutely respectful of other players. When Crosby was a 16-year-old junior phenomenon with the Rimouski Océanic, he told Brisson to refuse the endorsement offers that flooded in after he signed with Reebok and Gatorade. He didn’t want to go too far, too soon.
Brisson remembers Crosby telling him, “It’s not right. I haven’t even played in the NHL yet. What will NHLers think of me?”
Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero has watched his captain grow over the past several years, and says he was pleased to see Crosby step up during the four-month lockout.
“It was good for the players,” Shero says, “but it was also good for him.”
Is it a new maturity? His agent questions that. “When I first met him,” Brisson says, “he was 13 years old and asked questions a 15-, 16-year-old might ask. When he was 16, he was talking like a 20-year-old.”
It might be more apt, he suggests, to say Crosby has become more reflective. He believes that the changes in the young man from Cole Harbour, N.S., have their genesis in Crosby’s struggles to overcome the fog of concussion, as well as in his own contract negotiations last summer, which led to a 12-year, $104.4-million (U.S.) deal with the Penguins.
Crosby spent much of his down time becoming more interested in the world apart from hockey. Along with Unbroken, he read other books about military events, such as Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and The Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 . He likes to watch Homeland , the television series about a CIA agent and a soldier returning from years as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan.
Brisson recalls coming back from a holiday with his wife to Bora Bora: Instead of just looking at vacation pictures, Crosby told them all about the Pacific island’s strategic role as a supply base for the United States. during the Second World War.