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Pens' Crosby comfortable with 'C'

| Friday, June 1, 2007

Upon taking over as coach Dec. 15, 2005, Michel Therrien knew where the Penguins were ultimately going -- wherever Sidney Crosby would take them.

As one of his first official acts, Therrien made Crosby, then an 18-year-old rookie, an alternate captain.

"The plan was to groom him," Therrien said. "It was a big plan at the time."

Therrien's grand plan to have his club's best player gradually grow into the role of its unquestioned leader came to fruition Thursday when Crosby accepted the Penguins' captaincy.

"It feels comfortable," Crosby said of becoming the youngest captain in club and NHL history at 19 years and 297 days. "I know that to accept something like this you have to be in it all the way. I'm ready to take this responsibility."

Such was not the case prior to the start of last season or shortly after Christmas. In both instances, Crosby was offered a captaincy rank that had gone vacant since team icon Mario Lemieux retired Jan. 24, 2006 due to a heart condition.

Crosby politely declined each attempt to slap a "C" on the upper left chest of his sweater. Therrien called those respective decisions a true sign of the young star's growth as a leader.

"I knew after Mario retired that we had a special kid that was going to be our big kid for a long time," Therrien said. "He was not feeling comfortable having the 'C' before, and it was a big sign of leadership that he turned it down. We wanted him to be comfortable with being the captain."

Crosby appeared quite at home holding up a black Penguins sweater donning his familiar No. 87 and its new letter. That Lemieux, his landlord and owner, handed him the item was symbolic evidence that the hockey guard in Pittsburgh has officially changed.

"This is no surprise to anybody at all," defenseman Ryan Whitney said of Captain Crosby. "It's been his team for a while now."

General manager Ray Shero no doubt realized as much, which is perhaps why he continuously stressed that Crosby had "earned this captaincy."

"It's a natural progression that he becomes the captain," Shero said. "It's not because he's the best player, it's because of all the other things he brings to the table. He embodies what we want in terms of passion, hard work and the will to win.

"A lot of times the best player on a team is not the captain. But with Sidney it makes sense. This was not given to him. It was earned."

Crosby will turn 20 on August 8, and it is entirely possible by then that Shero will have provided him with something of even more value -- an offer to extend his contract well into the next decade.

Shero can begin negotiating an extension with Crosby on July 1. The Penguins will likely seek to lock-up Crosby through at least his arbitration-eligible years and possibly through his first few free-agent seasons.

Crosby said he is not thinking that far ahead. After all, contract disputes are unbecoming of a captain. Ask Vincent Lecavalier, previously the youngest captain in NHL history, who was stripped of his title in Tampa after missing part of the 2001-02 season due to a holdout.

"(Contract talks) are something that will be talked about more now," Crosby said. "It will be good to get some conversation going. With this going on it wasn't time to talk about a contract.

"We're going to talk ... but I'm more than confident that everyone is going to be happy with it."

Notes: Crosby said his broken left foot has healed. He added that he is ready to begin skating, though he normally does not hit the ice until July. ... Shero offered no update on talks to re-sign veteran forwards Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi. Shero extended contract offers to each player May 23. ... The Penguins will join Toronto, Ottawa and Florida in a four-team tournament consisting of each club's first-year, entry-level players starting Sept. 6 in Kitchener, Ontario. The tournament will precede the opening of training camp, Sept. 13. Team prospects participating in that tournament will include defenseman Kristopher Letang, center Ryan Stone and right wing Jonathan Filewich.

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