Crosby driving Penguins ‘in every facet that he can’ during Stanley Cup Final

Sidney Crosby turns 30 years old in August.

He has the chance Sunday to win the third Stanley Cup of his career — in his fourth final, which included a loss to Detroit in 2008 — and second in as many years. He may also repeat as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, which would further add to his illustrious time in the NHL since entering the league as a teenage phenom is 2005.

Sitting second in Stanley Cup playoff scoring this spring behind teammate Evgeni Malkin, Crosby turned in one of those classic, dominant performances in Game 5 against the Predators. It started on his first shift, splitting the Nashville defense and ringing the puck off the post. He drew a penalty on the play, and then set up Justin Schultz on the ensuing power play to start what turned into a rout for the Penguins.

“He’s one of those unique players. He has that sense when it’s time to raise his level, and he’s one of the very few that can raise his level that high,” Penguins forward Matt Cullen told Postmedia. “Seeing the way he started the game, took the team on his shoulders and he said, follow me. It’s fun to see, fun to be a part of.”

Read more: Crosby, Penguins rack up some historic playoff numbers

His performance had its controversial moments, too. He had a well-documented dust-up with P.K. Subban. He threw a water bottle onto the ice, though he contended afterward that he didn’t try to throw the bottle.

But in the end, what the Penguins will care about the most is he had three assists in a lopsided win, giving him seven points in this series. That leads all players in the Stanley Cup Final, which began with Predators goalie Pekka Rinne as the favorite for the Conn Smythe and Crosby second on that list.

The latter has taken his play to another level in the past two games, ever since being held without a shot on goal in Game 3. Keep in mind that Crosby has played 208 games — NHL regular season, Stanley Cup playoffs, and World Cup combined — since the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign. (And remember, he was the best player at the World Cup only a few months removed from last year’s playoffs.)

That is a lot of hockey. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Crosby.

“I think being with him that he’s always had the motivation to be — maybe the best working hockey player out there,” said Chris Kunitz on Saturday. “Somebody who’s going out there to drive your team in any way, in every facet that he can.”

Agent: Schultz likes Pittsburgh, but wants to be ‘rewarded’

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Justin Schultz took a significant pay cut to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year.

He doesn’t begrudge the deal he signed, as the Penguins have been a big part of turning his career around.

One assumes winning a couple of Stanley Cups has been pretty fun, too.

That being said, the 26-year-old defenseman wants a raise.

“We took a one-year, discounted deal to come back from last year and build upon what he did,” Schultz’s agent, Wade Arnott, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The player took a lot of the risk. The player performed. Now the player should be rewarded.”

Schultz, a restricted free agent, had a career-high 51 points in 78 games last season. Those 51 points were the seventh most among NHL defensemen — just five fewer than this summer’s biggest UFA, Kevin Shattenkirk, managed.

Schultz then added 13 more points in the playoffs, as the Penguins managed to win it all without Kris Letang.

For the record, Schultz wants to stay in Pittsburgh. The question is whether the Pens can afford to keep him, or if they’d be better off selling high in a trade.

“We’ll probably have some more direction here this week with where we’re going with [a possible extension],” Arnott said. “But we’ve had some good discussions.”

After Stepan trade, Zibanejad negotiations become even more crucial

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For a good while, the center position in New York was largely carried by the one-two punch of Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.

Now, the Derick & Derek show is no longer.

Stepan was shipped out during draft weekend in a blockbuster deal with Arizona. Brassard exited a year earlier in a move to Ottawa that brought Mika Zibanejad to the Blueshirts.

Zibanejad, 24, was acquired by GM Jeff Gorton in the hopes of one day becoming New York’s No. 1 center. He certainly showed he was capable this season — despite missing nearly 30 games with a broken fibula, he put together a fine offensive regular season and then surged in the playoffs, finishing with nine points in 12 games.

And now, a big negotiation sits on the horizon.

Zibanejad is a restricted free agent coming off a two-year, $5.25 million deal with a $2.625M cap hit. As we wrote earlier, Gorton is “open to anything” with regards to the extension, saying he’d be willing to go either short- or long-term.

One has to think Zibanejad has a ton of leverage. His acquisition price (Brassard) was significant, Stepan is now gone, and so too is depth center Oscar Lindberg, who was acquired by Vegas at the expansion draft. Right now, New York’s center depth consists of Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and maybe some spot duty from J.T. Miller.

Lias Andersson, taken seventh overall at Friday’s draft, said he wants to make the Rangers this year. But there’s no guarantee he’ll even play in North America this season, as Gorton could opt to send Andersson back to the Swedish League for further development.

The free agent market isn’t especially inspiring down the middle, unless someone thinks they can land Joe Thornton, and there’s no doubt Zibanejad’s seen the paydays scored by some other good, young, top-line centers. Winnipeg gave Mark Scheifele $49 million over eight years, while Calgary gave Sean Monahan $44M over seven.

Is Zibanejad at their level? If you surveyed folks around the league, the answer would be probably no. But he could be soon and, what’s more, the Rangers may be forced to pay him as if he already is.

Sabres bring back defenseman Fedun on two-year deal

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Taylor Fedun, the Sabres depth defenseman that was set to become a UFA on Saturday, has agreed to a two-year, two-way extension, Buffalo announced on Monday.

Fedun, 29, appeared in 27 games for the Sabres last year, splitting time between the NHL and the club’s AHL affiliate in Rochester. He was a very productive player for the Amerks, scoring 23 points in 29 games.

Moving forward, most expect Fedun to continue in the same role he served this year — a guy that can provide veteran stability at the minor league level, and fill spot duty at the NHL level when injuries strike.

Ottawa extends Pyatt — two years, $2.2 million

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Tom Pyatt, the veteran forward who enjoyed some success reuniting with Guy Boucher in Ottawa last season, has re-signed with the Sens on a two-year, $2.2 million deal, per TSN.

Pyatt was a steady contributor for the Sens, scoring nine goals and 23 points while appearing in all 82 contests. He averaged over 15 minutes per night and was a vital part of the club’s penalty kill, leading all forwards in blocked shots.

He also appeared in 14 playoff games, scoring twice.

Prior to playing in Ottawa, Pyatt had skated under Boucher in Tampa Bay. They spent parts of two years together with the Lightning, before heading off to Switzerland — Pyatt with Geneve Servette, Boucher with Bern SC.

Pyatt was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Saturday, but clearly liked the fit in Ottawa. He’ll get a pay bump — up from the $800,000 he made last year — a bit more long-term security, and possibly a bigger role with the Sens moving forward.

Ottawa has already stated it will cut ties with veteran tough guy Chris Neil, and decisions are still looming on UFA forwards Viktor Stalberg, Chris Kelly and Tommy Wingels.