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Kovacevic: Crosby deserves better

| Friday, Jan. 13, 2012

Want the truth about Sidney Crosby?

OK, you'll have it.

Let's start with three critical things you should know about the Penguins' captain, based upon conversations I've had the past few days:

1. He isn't fine.

Not yet, anyway.

He's still experiencing trouble with balance, and he isn't sure why. He doesn't even know if it's related to a concussion. More than anything, he's exasperated by a lack of answers.

2. He desperately wants to play.

It's preposterous to even type such a thing, but sadly -- and stupidly -- there are people accusing Crosby of skipping out on playing, both in the public and in the Penguins' locker room. Ray Shero actually felt the need to address it Thursday, saying, "This is a player that's not medically cleared to play."

Let me take it further.

How dare anyone question Crosby's desire, much less teammates who should know him best?

Has everyone forgotten so quickly who this extraordinary athlete is, about his passion �" no, obsession �" for the game?

How about silently playing a month on a broken foot in 2007?

Or that magical return against the Islanders?

Come on.

3. He loves Pittsburgh.

Loves the people, the city, the team and its fans. And he would dearly love to spend his whole career with the Penguins. I'm not guessing at this. I've heard it from his mouth again very recently.

This is someone who recently bought a house in the area, only to scrap it and begin building a new one more to his liking.

Does that sound like someone ready to bolt when his contract is up next summer?

The only thing more absurd than the notion that Crosby doesn't want to play hockey is that he's conspiring to get out of town.

It's dead wrong.

You're going to hear some of this stuff Friday when Crosby faces reporters at about noon in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But let me lay this out now: The Penguins, the public and, yes, Crosby all need to learn how to handle this situation better in the future.

That begins with the locker room.

A few, certainly not all, of Crosby's teammates are of the mind that he's been symptom-free for a while, though they have no medical basis for that. Some think he should be playing. Some simply think he should be doing more to communicate, or at least be as visible as concussed defenseman Kris Letang.

Last week in Pittsburgh, according to three sources, a group of players held a 45-minute meeting to discuss a temporary captaincy. Another source disputed that any such meeting occurred.

If it did, were those players kidding?

Look, I get that the players are feeling the heat during this six-game losing streak. They're used to thinking about championships, not squeaking past Winnipeg for eighth place. I also get that when they see James Neal and Craig Adams tough out injuries, it highlights everyone who isn't doing likewise.

But moaning about who's wearing the "C?"

If the Penguins are serious about turning it around, they should focus on attacking the Florida Panthers on Friday night with the same energy they showed Wednesday in the 1-0 loss at Washington. There are plenty enough viable leaders in that room right now who should be holding themselves accountable for this losing streak.

Then there are the tales of tussles between management and the so-called Crosby camp.

Crosby's father, Troy Crosby, and his agent, Pat Brisson, do keep close tabs on him, and that rubs some the wrong way. But my understanding is that the issues between those men and the team have been hugely overblown. Or at least they have been since some bickering over the Penguins' bungling of the original concussion a year ago. Communications are fine, and relationships are fine.

That's as it should be.

Crosby's contract expires in summer 2013, and it's imperative that it gets extended. No one associated with the Penguins, from the front office to the fourth line, could possibly think they'd be better off without him. He's the best player in the world. He's the franchise.

And I'll repeat: He wants to stay in Pittsburgh.

Crosby, too, must do his part.

He's 24 years old, and it's time he applies his trademark maturity toward handling adversity a little better and calling more of his own shots. He's lifted a Cup, he's won Olympic gold, and he's represented our city and his native Canada on a grand scale. He's an extraordinary young man, one eminently capable of this.

But for right now, this is someone going through the toughest time of his life. And the Kid could use an assist, a helping hand when he's down.

Stop kicking already.

It's not what we Pittsburghers do to one of our own.

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