Crosby embraces leadership role in NHLPA

NEW YORK -- Sidney Crosby was front and center Thursday as 283 NHL players wrapped up two days of meetings ahead of the impending lockout, with the planet's top player lending unfettered support to his brethren in what may be a prolonged labor impasse.

His presence, and his willingness to talk about the issues, shows the leadership and responsibility that he has continued to accept in his superstar career.

Crosby was reluctant to take on such matters in his first few years, but his role as an active NHLPA member changed forever in the fall of 2009 when he took part in a players' conference call and told then-NHLPA head Ian Penny to get off the call. Penny had come under fire from some players for allegedly leading the charge in ousting former executive director Paul Kelly in the summer of 2009.

Crosby's role that night was a game-changer. Penny eventually left the NHLPA, and Donald Fehr was hired.

For better or worse, Crosby knew from that moment on that it was the point of no return as far as staying involved on some level with NHLPA matters.

Hence, his presence here this week.

"I understand that there's some responsibility that comes with it," Crosby told ESPN.com in a one-on-one interview Thursday. "I'm happy to support the guys. The way Don is leading us, the group that's here and all the other guys as well, we believe in what's right and doing the right thing and trying to address what's best for everyone involved."

Crosby, represented by one of the game's most powerful agents in Pat Brisson of CAA Sports, will keep tabs on matters moving forward. If the lockout persists for a few months, he might go overseas like many players.

"It's not something where tomorrow I'm just going to decide to go," Crosby said. "But depending on how long this goes, I've missed a pretty extended period of time the last year and a half. I'm a hockey player. I want to keep going. So yes, it's definitely something I'll think about."

He hasn't zeroed in on one specific league overseas, but he can't deny that if his Penguins pal Evgeni Malkin tried to lure him to the KHL in Russia, he wouldn't at least give it some thought.

"That’s definitely one I'd think about," he said. "There's other great leagues out there. Nothing specific at this point, but depending how far this goes, it's always an opportunity."

In the meantime, Crosby will continue his workouts mostly in Pittsburgh. I joked with Crosby that given his close relationship with Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, wouldn't the NHL and NHLPA have a better chance to solve their collective bargaining issues if Crosby and Lemieux got together to find a solution?

"It's a unique situation, but I don't think we sit there and take it personally," Crosby said of his relationship with Lemieux. "We know it's a business. It's almost impossible for us to have those discussions. He's one of 30 [owners], I’m one of 750 [players]. It's not going to get anywhere.

"There’s things that ideally we feel the same way about, but him and I are not going to get a lot done. It's a lot better if Don and Gary are talking than it is if Mario and I are talking. They're going to get a lot more done, let's put it that way."