Fans get to witness Sidney Crosby's passion for his craft, and his commitment to it, every time he goes over the boards.
Crosby's teammates see it every day in the locker room, and in the Penguins' workout areas.
Jim Rutherford is aware of all of those things, and is as impressed by them as everyone else.
But he knows there are other ways to illustrate how Crosby immerses himself in the game, and everything about it.
"I could go through lots of things," Rutherford said. "But probably the easiest thing that everyone can see, if they knew what kind of car he drove, is that that car is in the parking lot longer than any other car. It's the first one in and the last one out."
And it's not because Crosby likes to get in early so he can stake out a prime spot on a couch in the players' lounge to watch television.
"If by chance it was, it would be breaking down shifts of his play, or somebody he's going to play against," Rutherford said. "It would be something related to hockey."
SWEAT FOR SUCCESS
Crosby's talent impresses.
And he seems to have been born with an extra competitive gene.
Or maybe about 50 of 'em.
But if he has one trait that overshadows the rest, it is his work ethic.
With the way he commits himself completely to everything about hockey, whether it's an off-season training regimen or a sharply focused effort to upgrade a flaw in his game -- remember the days when he was a mediocre faceoff man? -- it's tempting to think his tenacious approach must have its roots in his family tree.
Maybe a great-grandfather who worked 18 hours a day, 12 days a week, mining coal. Or an aunt who felt that reporting to her job as a waitress didn't really count unless she worked a double shift.
But no, it's nothing so dramatic. More nurture than nature, really.
"Just the way I grew up," Crosby said. "Playing on teams ... (the influence of) coaches and teachers. My parents made it a point to instill that. It's something I always took pride in. That, combined with being competitive. That's probably part of it, too."
Yeah. A pretty big part.
Mind you, it's not that Crosby doesn't recognize and appreciate the value of silver medals.
As long as it's other people who are getting them.
But he will enter the Penguins' 2019-20 season with one objective: Doing everything possible -- and maybe more -- to have it end with a parade down the Boulevard of the Allies.
Particularly after the Penguins' humbling -- if not humiliating -- sweep by the Islanders in Round 1 of the 2019 playoffs.
"Oh, yeah," Crosby said. "Big-time, now. Especially after last year. It's so hard to get there. You can't take it for granted at all. Just having it happen that quickly. To have (a chance for a Cup) there and be gone pretty soon after, that stinks."
It's not as if he needed that series for motivation, though. Crosby's commitment to squeezing all he can out of every last corpuscle is one of the sport's most enduring constants.
"I watch him every morning, when he comes in," Mike Sullivan said. "How he goes in the weight room and goes through his warmup routine. That can be a tedious process, but it's an important process, and he never takes shortcuts. I watch how he controls his diet. I watch how he lives his life. He gets proper rest. He hydrates the right way.
"He controls all of the controllables within his power, to give himself the opportunity to be the best player in the game. Not only does he want to be the best player, but he's willing to make the sacrifices and do what it takes. And he does it on a daily basis."
COMING OF AGE
Crosby is 32, an age when many players are, at best, entering the back nine of their prime years.
If those aren't already being discussed in the past tense.
Not Crosby. Not that anyone who works with him has had reason to suspect, anyway.
"I don't think (getting older) is going to affect him," Rutherford said. "Not the way he prepares, and the condition he's in. It's a little premature to be talking about that."
Fact is, most who know him seem to think Crosby is in the sweet spot at the intersection of relative youth and veteran wisdom.
"He has the benefit of experience and perspective," Sullivan said. "There isn't a whole lot that he hasn't been through in his career. He's had ultimate successes. He's had some disappointments. He's gone through injuries.
"He's been on a number of different teams with different team dynamics. I think all of that experience can only help a player, as far as understanding his surroundings and how to best lead in certain situations."
Crosby was the most celebrated prospect in years to enter the NHL when the Penguins drafted him in 2005. He quickly developed into one of the league's dominant players, taking his game to level few players in hockey history have reached.
Or could even fantasize about reaching.
While he remains at the pinnacle of his profession -- "He's still, in my mind, a top-2 player in the league," Kris Letang said -- that will change someday.
It always does.
And when that time comes, however far into the future it might be, Crosby will have to decide whether he should settle for being a better-than-average player in the game he has loved so dearly and for so long, or to walk away from it and begin crafting the Hall of Fame induction speech he will be delivering three years later.
"That's a good question," Crosby said. "I don't know. Every year, I go in with high expectations of myself and try to learn from the year before, no matter how it's gone. If that level can still keep me at a high one, that's what I like. We'll see."
Pondering that question probably isn't something he'll have to put high on his to-do list anytime soon.
"I don't think anybody can project (how long Crosby will be an elite player)," Rutherford said. "But he has the best chance of any player in the league that I know, because of his preparation and his conditioning and his ability. Nobody can predict. Is it three more years as an elite player? Is it five more years? I really don't know. But he's the most prepared to continue the longest."
'A HUMBLE KID'
Crosby has been the Penguins' captain for most of his adult life.
He had a "C" stitched onto his sweater on May 31, 2007, when he was all of 19 years, nine months and 24 days old.
At an age when earning a high school diploma was the most significant achievement a lot of his peers had managed, Crosby became the youngest player in NHL history to assume a captaincy on more than an interim basis.
Letang said Crosby leads mostly by example -- "Off the ice, in the gym, obviously, he puts in the work," Letang said -- while Sullivan believes "his leadership style has matured" over the years.
Part of that seems to be recognizing that captains do not have the exclusive right -- or responsibility -- to try to bring out the best in those around them.
"It's something I've learned, that (leadership) comes from a group," Crosby said. "As a captain, you try to do your part to lead. There's responsibility that comes with that, but I also think that having played with so many different groups of guys, you see the importance of everyone leading in their own way. It's necessary, if you want to win.
"I think leadership comes in a lot of different ways. It doesn't have to be a cheerleader. It doesn't have to be a super-vocal guy. But some guys, that's the way they lead, too. There are a lot of ways to go about it. But I think everyone just has to be comfortable, and everyone is a leader, whether they know it or not."
But few do it as effectively as Crosby, because commitment like his tends to be contagious.
"The thing that impresses me the most is probably that, for a guy who's as elite as he is, I never see any signs of complacency," Sullivan said. "He's always striving as an individual to improve his own game. He has an incredible appetite to win, and be the best."
Crosby has 1,216 career points, and sometime this season should become the 35th player in league history to reach 1,300. And while he is understandably proud of all he and his teams have achieved, Crosby isn't likely to jump-start a conversation by mentioning the three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals and countless trophies, plaques, awards and other honors he's accumulated at all levels of the game.
"The other thing I have so much respect for is just his humility," Sullivan said. "He's as grounded a superstar as I've been around. The way he interacts with his teammates, the way he interacts with the coaching staff, I just think he's an icon of what a player looks like, to represent an organization or a league the way he does.
"He really is a humble kid. I think he doesn't take things for granted. I think he has an appreciation for his teammates and his surroundings. In pro sports, it's easy to lose sight of those things. In my experience of working with Sid, he never has lost sight of that."
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