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Montreal: a possible destination for Sidney Crosby?
Credit: Capture d'écran / Screenshot

We couldn’t agree more with Martin Leclerc that Sidney Crosby doesn’t deserve such a sad end to his career with the Penguins.

Seen from here, because he played in the QMJHL, because he expresses himself well in French, because his father Troy was drafted by the Canadiens in 1984, because the Tricolore is his childhood team, because he sometimes comes to Quebec on vacation and, quite simply, because it would make a damn fine story, it’s only natural to associate Crosby with the Canadiens as a possible end-of-career destination.

But does the idea make sense for the Habs, and does it make sense for Crosby, who will no doubt be weighing up a few scenarios?

We’ve already touched on the possibility of seeing Crosby in Montreal in our articles here and there of late, but let’s dive more rigorously into the analysis of the dossier as if we were inside the heads of Crosby and Hughes.

At the same time, it’ll give us a chance to talk about construction, rather than rebuilding or renovations!

From Crosby’s point of view…

An athlete will never lose by saying he wants to finish his career with the team that drafted him. It’s beautiful. It’s noble. It’s classy.

Crosby could even simply finish his contract in Pittsburgh and retire at age 37 in the summer of 2025.

But like so many great and not-so-great players before him – Brodeur, Bourque, Koivu, you name it – it’s far from certain that his career will end with his hometown team.

Crosby has always followed a Spartan lifestyle (little or no alcohol, etc.), which goes a long way to explaining his spectacular performance for a player of his age, especially at 5-on-5.

He’s got three more good years in him, and he knows he can still help a team in a leading role.

Crosby is a winner first and foremost. Losing must be eating away at him right now, and he surely realizes that it’s only going to get worse next year.

A decision this summer?

No doubt Crosby will sit down with Kyle Dubas at the end of the season and discuss his future. After all, he’ll be eligible for a contract extension on July1, and everyone will want to know where he stands.

That’s why I believe that, by mutual agreement, he’ll be tempted by the idea of ending his career elsewhere rather than rotting away in Pittsburgh.

And if we agree that the final decision will be his, where might he be tempted to go?

Boston, Colorado…

Of course, Crosby has two great Nova Scotian friends: Brad Marchand and Nathan MacKinnon.

Both play for organizations that wouldn’t be shy of a center of his caliber, and who could make interesting offers to the Penguins.

Casey Mittelstadt here, Pavel Zacha there, draft picks and so on.

Boston and Colorado can still think about the Cup for a few more seasons, and all this is undoubtedly very appealing to the main interested party.

Massachusetts is also only a few hours from Nova Scotia, and Colorado isn’t the worst place to play hockey…

Or Montreal?

But then, Montreal, a well-run organization on the upswing and a beautiful city that’s fun enough if you get away from the “orange cones” caricatures, isn’t that much further from Cole Harbour.

In fact, it’s virtually impossible for Crosby not to have at least one small thought for the Habs.

The Nova Scotian has always proudly represented his country, and being part of a team aiming to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada in the foreseeable future would be a great motivation for him at the end of his career.

An exciting challenge if you don’t mind the pressure!

Crosby knows Suzuki well enough to have rubbed shoulders with him at the All-Star Game and, on a lighter note, even lent him some pants (!) on that occasion.

He’s also a former teammate of Mike Matheson and trains in the summer with Justin Barron, for whom he’s already had good things to say.

And, of course, he won the gold medal in Sochi with a certain Martin St-Louis as his teammate…

In short, he’d already have a nice little fan club by the time he arrived.

In Montreal, Crosby could replace father figures like Price and Weber, who will be present in the 2021 Cup Final with Suzuki and Caufield.

As the doyen of a talented core on the verge of reaching an interesting level of maturity, he would take a ton of pressure off the youngsters’ shoulders, while not having it all on his own.

A fine role worthy of this “modern-day Béliveau”, as Martin Leclerc describes him in the same article.

Then there’s the deep love and respect Montrealers have for him.

To imagine yourself at the Bell Centre on several Saturday nights a year for a few seasons, to experience the exhilaration of the playoffs, to have the chance to accomplish some memorable feats, how could this not speak to an athlete of his calibre?

In short, I don’t see why Crosby would cross Montreal off his list of possible destinations.

On the contrary, being in his shoes, the Quebec metropolis was pretty high on my list. A place where he could add a whole new conclusion to his legend and increase his legacy.

But Boston and Colorado would be there too, and their Stanley Cup chances will be greater in the very short term. And there may be other places that could tempt him…

So, it’s up to him to choose the kind of challenge he wants for the end of his career.

In Hughes’ mind…

First of all, in terms of hockey, Crosby would seem to me to present a fairly interesting profile in the eyes of the Habs.

In great shape, always very competitive, a natural leader for the young core, three-time Stanley Cup winner, gold medallist, etc., Crosby would have a lot to offer the CH. Crosby would have a lot to offer the Tricolore.

And money would not be a problem.

As early as this summer, Kent Hughes would have the budget to accommodate Crosby’s salary and offer him a new contract that would take him through 2027-2028, the zenith of the Habs’ overall rebuilding process begun in 2018.

Crosby will not command $12 million in his next contract. There are whispers that he’ll be looking for a three-year deal in the $10 million range

That’s not unreasonable for a player like Crosby.

A short three-year extension is also interesting for Hughes, probably a more tempting alternative than courting rather dubious players in their early thirties with long 7-8 year contracts.

The main question for Hughes (and perhaps for Crosby), however, comes down to timing.

Is the summer of 2024 the right time to bring in a piece like Crosby? Is it too soon?

If our analysis of the last few weeks is just about right, if the Habs are in Year 6 or 7 of their overall rebuild (Suzuki acquisition in 2018) and 2023-2024 marks the last season where we’ll be aiming for last rather than first, then it’s certainly time to think about building, expanding, adding pieces.

The challenge is to determine whether Crosby will still be a top performer when the Montreal core peaks somewhere between 2026 and 2028. Will Sid the kid still be worth his weight in gold by then?

Hughes’ answer would have to be yes.

Crosby is an above-average athlete, and if a smart star player like Joe Pavelski is still flirting with the point-per-game mark at 39, a determined generational player like Crosby – if he continues to stay injury-free – will have no trouble performing well into his 40s.

The worst that could happen would be for him to slow down a bit offensively, but he’d still be very effective from 200 feet; a kind of above-average second center.

And whatever happens with a Crosby in the line-up, you can be sure he’d grow a few “youngsters” alongside him, leaving behind a fine legacy.

What could Hughes offer the Penguins?

Could Hughes be so aggressive this summer that he offers a top-7 pick next June?

That would seem a little unreasonable, considering that the team’s young core is still missing a few foundation pieces, and that there will still be 18-year-old future stars to pick up for free in the stands, even at No. 6 and No. 7.

It’s a matter of choosing the right one!

That said, the Tricolore could easily make the Penguins some interesting offers.

They could give up their late first-round pick in 2024 (Jets) and/or the Flames’ first-round pick in 2025 (which won’t be a top-10 pick anyway).

He could also include one or two young defensemen and/or forwards like Owen Beck and Filip Mesar.

In short, a package of 3-4 quality youngsters likely to please the Penguins wouldn’t be hard to imagine and assemble.

The “Crosby file” will be the talk of the NHL in the coming months. It already has.

And Montreal, for all the reasons mentioned, will not be outdone.

Far from it.

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