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Summer, 2015

Sidney never really thought about what being one of the older guys on the Worlds team would mean. Mostly, it turned out, it meant that he had to watch the players every second.

He was walking through the room and caught someone -- Tyler Seguin -- saying, "Dick pic," and he froze.

"Seriously, dude, always works for me," Seguin continued earnestly. "Like, you just, whatever, and they -- whatever. It works."

Sidney felt his back muscles tightening. What the fuck were they teaching them in Dallas? Or, well, in Boston? Sidney didn't want to get involved in this, but if they did something stupid, the press -- he had to investigate.

Ekblad was sitting on the bench, unlacing his shoes and staring up at Seguin standing over him. "Seriously?" he said as Sidney walked over. "That seems like maybe a…bad idea?"

"It's either dick pics or talk to them," Seguin said, shrugging. "So you be the judge." He grinned. "I mean, start off with your good side, you know what I'm saying?"

Ekblad blinked, digesting this, and Sidney couldn't let this go any longer. "No," he said flatly. "Ek, don't. Don't take a picture of your dick, anywhere, anytime, anyplace, and definitely never fucking send it to anyone."

Ekblad straightened up unconsciously. "No?" he said, wide-eyed and intent.

"If you want everyone who can use a computer to see your dick, if you want your dick pic on the table during your next contract negotiation, if you want your kids to be answering questions about your dick pic in twenty years -- yeah, take one. Otherwise, don't be a fucking idiot."

"Um, okay, yeah, good point, thanks," Ekblad said, and Sidney nodded at him. As he walked out he heard Seguin saying something about absolutely wanting his dick on the negotiation table, but at least Sidney'd prevented a little ridiculous idiocy, saved Ekblad from himself. And Tyler Seguin.

Sidney mentally awarded himself a checkmark and went on with his day.

~

That night, Sidney took the whole team out to dinner and watched as Toffoli and Jones got progressively more drunk and flirted pathetically with Czech women, who all responded like they were adorable puppies: helpless and mostly useless but so, so cute and sweet.

At the suggestion of a couple of the younger guys, the team went to a bar afterwards, and Sidney went, mostly to make sure no one missed curfew. Early on, Barrie went to get another drink and got intercepted by a lady whose interest could not have been more clear and obvious. He smiled and nodded for a minute or two and then said, "Excuse me, ma'am, I have to go back to my team." She rolled her eyes as he walked away, and Sidney didn't entirely suppress his giggle.

An hour later, Seguin wandered up to a guy and started flirting like they hadn't all been continuously photographed all night long, and Sidney texted Flower about it. I swear I was never this stupid, he finished.

Flower texted back a few minutes later. Try that on someone who doesn't remember you trying to hook up with that roofer.

That had been -- definitely not Sidney's finest moment, and only Flower's quick intervention with Tanger's beer had saved him. Sidney needed to man up and pay it forward, even if Seguin was a giant idiot who clearly wanted to force himself and everyone else in the league to spend the offseason answering difficult questions. So Sidney walked over and smiled blandly at the Czech guy, mentally telling the photographers and press See? Nothing happening here. The guy lost interest in the no-language-in-common conversation pretty soon after that and left.

"Hey," Sidney said as soon as the Czech guy was gone, trying to keep his voice level despite the awkwardness of the situation. "If you want to be -- uh, um, open -- go for it. But if you're going to do that, um, you know, do it right, eh? Don't just get caught. You want to be in charge of the narrative." Sidney actually had eight carefully-constructed plans for different degrees of getting caught vs. coming out by choice, just in case, but he didn't think they'd work very well for Seguin.

"Yeah," Seguin said, and the smile fell off his face, which was frustrating. It was like Seguin never even thought about people watching them. "I'm not -- you know. I'm not."

"Right," Sidney said, and prepared to head to the bathroom, since that was his excuse for leaving the table at all.

"I just…" Seguin said, almost inaudibly, and Sidney turned back to him, game face on, his whole body posture designed to convince anyone who might later see this on YouTube that they were absolutely talking about Swedish goaltending. "Don't you ever, like, think about stuff?"

Sidney stared at Seguin and suppressed the first words that came to his mind. And the second. And the third. He eventually went with, "I guess."

"Yeah," Segs said. Then he looked up and grinned. "Hey, the night is still young, right? Let's get out there."

They were still in public, so Sidney kept his groan all on the inside.

Later that night, he texted Geno, I am surrounded by baby players who have never had a useful thought about ANYTHING that isn't hockey.

Geno texted back a picture of himself with an actual baby -- Max's, Sidney was pretty sure. The baby's face was covered with some kind of smeary foodstuff, and Geno looked so, so happy. My baby better!!!!!! Geno texted him.

No argument, Sidney sent back, and saved the photo to his Geno folder.

~

The knock on the hotel room door came after ten, so Sidney knew this was gonna be a fun one before he even got a look at Nate. "Sidney," Nate said as soon as the door closed behind him, "if a girl says she really cares about you but she's not sure if she can be who you need her to be, what does that mean?"

Sidney sighed. "Come on in, sit down," he said. Nate sat, and Sid handed him a bottle of water; hydration was always important, but especially in times of emotional distress. "It means she's breaking up with you," he said. Sidney could remember learning that one the hard way, and it had sucked, so he didn't even try to sugarcoat it.

Nate's face went slack with sadness. "But things are going really well," he protested.

Sidney really, really hoped this wasn't going to a crying place, although if it was -- well, better in his room than anywhere someone could get a picture. "She doesn't think so," he said.

Nate stared at the tabletop. Sidney, at a loss, opened the bottle of water and kind of nudged Nate's hand with it until he took a drink. After he swallowed, he said, "This fucking sucks."

"Yeah." Sidney mentally groped for some kind of -- fatherly wisdom or something. All he could come up with was keep working on your defensive game, which seemed like maybe not the thing to say here, so finally he just said, "Relationships are fucking hard."

Nate sighed sadly. "You said it."

It took another fifteen minutes to get him out of the room, but Sidney didn't mind. He was the captain, doing what captains did, after all.

Although he sure couldn't remember Mike Richards doing anything like this back in 2005. Sidney imagined that for about fourteen seconds, cringed, and vowed never to think about it again.

~

They were already in Europe, after all, so it made sense to hit a few points of interest before heading home. Sidney kind of hoped it would distract Nate, who had been moping around Prague like someone told him Santa wasn't real.

Cannes was fun, hanging with the guys was fun, everything was fun, even if he did still make sure to keep to his basic schedule, which meant he left bars and parties before everyone else most of the time.

And then there was the night with the knock on his door at 2:00 a.m.

He ignored it until he heard someone calling, "Siiiiiiid, can I come in?"

Shit. Someone would hear that and his room number would end up on the internet. Sidney jumped out of bed and hustled over to the door.

Nate. Clearly plastered as hell. He squinted at Sidney like he couldn't quite focus his eyes and said, "So I think I fucked up."

Sidney hauled him into his room and shut the door before he said, "Okay. Tell me."

"Uh, well, you know. There was a girl." Nate broke off and shifted from foot to foot, clearly embarrassed. Sidney folded his arms and waited. "And I was like, you know, waiting to get home to talk to Van, but then I was like, we're breaking up, like you said, and also her texts are like…we're breaking up. And there was this girl at the bar tonight."

Sidney groaned. "And you had sex with this girl even though you're still in a relationship?"

"Technically I'm in a relationship, but I mean not really in a relationship, because -- texts, you know, and…stuff."

Sidney took a deep breath and reminded himself that Nate was really young. "Okay, so you go back to your room, you are nice as fuck to that girl you picked up, and fucking make sure you buy her breakfast and a taxi in the morning. And then you call Vanessa tomorrow and get your marching orders. Don't be a dick about this."

Nate nodded, looking like a big sad puppy. "I knew it. I knew I fucked up."

"You can still fix this." Unless the girl he hooked up with was in it for money or publicity or something, but this was Cannes. There were so many way better targets than Nate here.

Nate nodded and turned to go. "You're so good at this, Sidney. You, like, you know stuff. I guess you've just -- like, done it all, right?"

For a split second, Sidney imagined telling Nate the truth, what he'd done and all the stuff he hadn't, and picturing Nate's face made him laugh a little as he said, "I've done my share of breakups, anyway."

"They suck," Nate said, like he was imparting deep wisdom.

"Yeah, they do. Go back to your room. And don't forget to hydrate before you get back into bed. Harder to do the morning after with a hangover."

"I don't get hangovers," Nate said with the serene confidence of a teenaged athlete, and stumbled out the door.

"Hydrate anyway," Sidney called after him, and went back to bed.

But he had a hard time getting back to sleep, so he pulled his phone back out. Hey, he texted to Geno. How are things with Anna?

We break up.

Shit. Sidney hadn't been intending to bring up anything painful. I'm sorry.

She maybe right, Geno sent.

That was bullshit. Anyone would be lucky to date Geno. Not if she's breaking up with you.

Geno sent back ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, so Sidney sorted through his emoji keyboard and eventually sent back a poodle. Geno liked dogs, after all.

Fifteen minutes later, when Sidney put down his phone again, he had no problems falling asleep.

~

Europe was fun, but training called, so Sidney took his gold medal home and began his offseason routine.

Things went normally for days, and then he got a text from Ekblad. Hey, can I give your number to another hockey player? (Matt Dumba, #55, Wild.) We were talking and he has a question and I thought maybe you could help him out?

Sidney was still trying to figure that out -- like, help with his backhand? -- when he got another text from Ekblad that just said, Thanks. And then another. This is Aaron Ekblad, by the way. (#5, Panthers, also from Worlds.) And, finally: Sorry to bother you. Thanks.

Sidney ended up texting back just to stop the apparently endless flow of self-effacing texts. Sure. Just make sure he knows this number is only for players, not anyone's brother or cousin or girlfriend or anything. If it gets out, I'll have to change it.

Ekblad texted him, I told him. Thank you again.

A minute later, a text from an unknown number came in. Hey dude it's Matt Dumba55 thanks for helping out Shrek says ur the guy so what do u think if u banged a lady and her dude like a few times but then u kind of couldn't anymore because ldr no but then it's the offseason so u can travel again and they're asking u on vacay with them is it on or nah.

It took Sidney about a minute to parse that one, and another minute to convince himself that he'd parsed it correctly. Then he took a deep breath and typed, If you want to go on vacation with them, and you think it would be fun even if you're just friends, then go. If you want to do other things with them again, wait, see how the vacation is going, and then talk to them about it. Make sure you have your own room and a flexible ticket back in case things get awkward.

Five minutes later he got back, Thanks dude ur def the guy I'll let u no how it go.

Sidney stared at his phone for a second. Then he pressed a few buttons and texted Duper, The kids coming up sure have different problems than we ever did.

Two hours later, Duper texted him back. SIDNEY CROSBY JUST DID A "KIDS THESE DAYS." I want you to know I already took a screenshot and texted it to the whole team.

There were times when Sidney couldn't remember why he'd ever given in and gotten a smartphone.

For the rest of the evening, Sidney got a series of texts, ranging from Bennett's incomprehensible emoji essay to Geno's endless series of )))))))))))s. Geno also included a picture of himself hugging a stuffed giraffe taller than he was.

Some things kind of made having a smartphone worthwhile.

~

Sidney decided Dumba was a one-off. Ekblad had clearly been way out of his depth and floundering, and then he'd remembered Sidney's dick pic advice at Worlds. But it wasn't like it was going to happen again.

That pleasant delusion lasted until he got an email from Nate. The subject was just a series of question marks, and Sidney braced himself when he opened it.

Nate Mac
To me

What should I tell him?


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
From: "Nugget93"
To: "Nate"
Sent: June 1, 2015
Subject: Marriage?


Hey, so, if a girl says you have to propose or break up, which would you do?


Sidney read it and resisted the urge to bang his head against the nearest hard surface.

To Nate Mac

Tell Nugent-Hopkins that if he's asking his friends what to do about this, that's a sign that he SHOULD NOT GET MARRIED.


Sidney checked his email again an hour later, sort of worried about the situation brewing there; the Oilers definitely didn't need any drama in players' personal lives to improve their chances of getting yet another high draft pick.

Nate Mac
To me

Can I tell him you said so?


Sidney responded immediately.


To Nate Mac

Yes.


And he hoped that settled it.

~

And then the Combine happened. Sidney usually barely paid attention to it; it was just an organized media event like any other, and it was one he hadn't had to be involved in for years. But on June 4, he got a text from a number he didn't know. It just said, Hey can I ask you a question?

Sidney stared at his phone, waiting for more, but his anonymous correspondent had apparently said all he was going to, so eventually he responded, Excuse me, who is this?

Sorry dude it's Lawson Crouse from the Frotenacs.

How did you get my number?

McDavid has it in his phone under In Case of Hockey Emergency.

Sidney stared at his phone, struggling with that. It beeped again a few seconds later, when he was still processing.

He says it's something to do with MacKinnon?

Sidney sighed. Text me a picture of yourself holding a piece of paper with your name and phone number and today's date written on it.

It came through on schedule, and when Sidney googled Lawson Crouse, it was obviously the same dude.

So am I clear?

Yes.

Dude, this is like secret agent stuff! Or an AMA!

Sidney blinked at that. AMA? Like the American Medical Association? But he figured he probably didn't actually want to know the answer, so he just sent, Okay, ask your question.

Is it cool to hook up at the combine?

And that question was like a punch to the gut, something Crouse surely couldn't have known would hit Sidney so hard or so on the mark. A whole bunch of memories went through Sidney's mind in quick succession -- the way having a hotel room felt like freedom, the cameras everywhere, the dumb risks they took without knowing what idiots they even were -- until he managed to shake it off. As soon as he did, he wrote, No. Don't hook up at the Combine, and sent it. He typed out, Don't be an idiot, but hesitated over the Send button. It wasn't a dumb thing to want. It was just, like so many things, a dumb thing to let yourself have.

Sidney deleted the words. Then he turned off his phone for the night.

A sleepless hour later, he turned it back on. He had four new messages -- one from Crouse, which just said, Aye, Cap'n Canada, and three from Geno. Geno was apparently on a beach somewhere; in the first photo he sent, he was grinning at the camera with the ocean spread out behind him.

The second one was Geno in a much smaller bathing suit than usual, lying on a chaise longue. He had sunglasses on and headphones in, and he looked -- Sidney blinked and tried to force his vision to shift, so he could see a teammate instead of a hot guy. It was impossible. Necessary and impossible.

The third message was just text; Geno said, Wish you here????

Definitely, Sidney sent back. It was honest and about as far as he could reasonably go.

Then he found his messages with Flower -- his inbox had gotten so fucking crowded -- and sent, I swear all Geno wants from life is to torture me.

When he woke up the next morning, Sidney found Flower's response: Not quite, but thanks for playing.

Sidney wondered why all his friends were so bad at communicating. And then Crouse texted him again, and he wondered why all the prospects and rookies were so damn good at it.

~

Sidney stayed tense through the Combine -- and he actually followed it a little -- but his phone stayed clear of unknown numbers. In mid-June, Matt Dumba texted him: a picture of a very rumpled king-size hotel bed someplace with a lot of sunshine, followed by BEST VACAY EVER THANKS UR THE BEST, so he assumed things were going well there.

Otherwise, all was silent on the NHL problems front. Even the Draft went pretty well. On June 25, Lawson Crouse texted again:

So I bet no hookups at the draft either.

Sidney sent back, Good bet.

But when do we get to have FUN?

Sidney barely suppressed an eye roll as he sent back, Getting paid to play hockey is pretty fun.

Getting laid, though
.

You have the rest of your life for that. You'll have 15 years for hockey, maybe, if you're lucky. You do the math.

The pause after that one was longer than usual, like Crouse might actually be thinking, but then Sidney got two messages from him in quick succession.

Wait does that mean

Never mind didn't mean to hit send

So whatever Crouse was thinking, it probably wasn't about keeping his mind on the game.

~

When the message popped up from Seguin, Sidney decided to ignore it. He spent half an hour imagining all the reasons Seguin might want to get in touch with him, though, and he couldn't come up with anything good, so he opened it.

It was, in fact, not good. Hey you ever? With a teammate?

Sidney thought about his answer for a long time -- he needed something that wouldn't incriminate him, because he didn't think Seguin was enough of an asshole to tell anyone, but he did seem like exactly the kind of moron who let his friends use his phone while he was drunk. But he didn't want to lie. In the end, he just went with, Not a good idea.

The lack of messages after that was worrying. Two hours later, the phone beeped, waking Sidney up, and it was Seguin again. Yeah right yeah dumb I know im just

Sidney hesitated for a minute or two. He wanted to go back to sleep. But he was worried, so he sent, You want me to call you?

Nah im good np sorry

Sidney sighed. He kind of missed the kids and their mostly ridiculous problems, because the thing was -- it wasn't like Sidney'd never thought about it. Of course he had. But he knew better, and it was stupid, and it wasn't like fucking someone was better than having him as a friend. And it definitely wasn't worth losing him entirely.

Sidney picked up his phone and scrolled through his messages with Geno. When he got to the photo with the stuffed giraffe, he realized he'd never actually responded to it, so he saved it and sent it back, adding, I'm not impressed until you've got one you can ride on.

About thirty seconds later, Geno answered, You wait. I'm impress you, Sidney Crosby. ))))))))))

Sidney felt the grin on his face as he typed out, You can try, I guess.

Definitely better to have someone as a friend. Definitely.

~

Sidney's wistful nostalgia for the easier problems of the hockey's younger set lasted for almost a full day.

What up? It's Hallsy.

Sidney sighed, glad his impatience wouldn't come through in his typed out, I know. But honestly. Did Hall really think Sidney somehow magically erased everyone's phone numbers after Worlds, or had he just completely forgotten giving his number to Sidney? Or that he was ever even in Prague? What?

Then Hallsy took Sidney's mind off that by sending, So, like, sex tape. I know I shouldn't show my face. Anything else?

Sidney made an actual sound at that, out loud, a sound he hadn't even known he could make. Then he typed, The only thing you need to know is don't do it.

But no one would know it was me

DON'T DO IT.

But what if I didn't even have anyone else, just me, like just a little -- dick pic in motion?

DON'T DO IT.

What if I just kept it on my phone, didn't send it, just to show?

DON'T FUCKING DO IT.

Well how else am I sposed to say hey, remember me?

Sidney squeezed his eyes closed and forced his neck and back muscles to relax. Then, consciously not grinding his teeth, he typed out, Imagine the phone call to your mom after it gets on Deadspin.

...Okay. Point. That fucking sucks, but point.

After a pause, Hall added, I guess just flowers or some shit. How do you even impress someone with that?

Crisis apparently averted. Sidney took a deep breath. It was weird. He'd never realized just how many disasters were seething beneath the surface of the NHL, waiting to become full-blown scandals and media circuses. They were actually really lucky, all things considered, that this shit only blew up a few times a year.

It was a travesty and a shitshow that the teams left these guys just kind of floundering on their own with this, though. Somebody needed to put together a life cheat sheet for hockey players.

Probably "No sex tapes EVER" should be the first entry on it.

~

Dude I think I caught something or maybe did some damage like my dick just does not look right can I send you a pic see what you think.

Sidney didn't even bother asking who his unknown texter was. It could be Gary Bettman and the answer would be the same. No fucking way. Go see a doctor and DON'T TAKE PICTURES OF YOUR DICK.

He mentally moved the sex tapes thing down to number two on the list and put "Never, under any circumstances, take a dick pic" up in the top spot, because hockey players seemed to be irresistibly drawn to taking dick pics.

Then he realized he'd only done half the work on this one, picked up his phone, and texted the unknown number, Also, no matter what your test results say, in the future use a fucking condom like a fucking adult. The equipment guys and the trainers always have some.

There. That was a job well done.

~

I've got a question. The text came complete with a photo of Brendan Gallagher holding a piece of paper with his name and phone number and the date on it. Sidney wasn't sure if he was glad there was an established routine or horrified about what he'd apparently established a routine for.

Sidney sent back, How did you get my number?

Desjardins who got it from Brown who got it from Seguin I think. Okay to ask?

Sidney forced himself not to think about his phone number pinging all around the NHL and AHL and focused on the task at hand. Go.

I have a girlfriend.

And that was apparently all he was going to say. Sidney suppressed a sigh of irritation and typed, Congratulations.

No, but she wants to do something, and I'm not sure I should.

Maybe this was just the Hall problem again? DON'T MAKE SEX TAPES.

No! Dude, no, I'm not STUPID. She just wants to -- um, did you ever take it?

Sidney didn't know whether to be pleased that Gallagher, at least, was not in the same Bad Idea draft class as Taylor Hall, or seriously worried by the implications of the question. He sent back: Take what? Come on, use real nouns.

Like. Pegging. Did you ever?

Sidney googled quickly and then sent back, No, I've never done that, but there's nothing wrong with it. He didn't feel like he needed to tell Gallagher that the only reason he hadn't done pegging was that it involved a woman. Brendan Gallagher was not on the Need to Know list for information about what Sidney did with his ass.

Okay, well, last season -- I'm pretty sure Prusty was just joking, but

Sidney waited.

He said, I think he said that taking it can…change you.

Sidney blinked and typed, Trust me, nothing you do in bed over the offseason is going to have an effect on your play. He thought about that, remembered past questions, and added, As long as you're practicing safe sex.

No, I'm just. What if it makes me, like, like it? Can her doing that to me make me, um, into dudes?

And that, right there, that kind of shit was the reason Sidney was not being a good little role model and coming out. He knew he could survive the interviews and the articles, but he'd end up wanting to beat half the league to death. No. It can't.

But Prusty said…idk I'm just worried.

If you don't want to do it, don't do it. But if you do want to do it, or you're willing to try it because she wants to do it, don't let dumb locker room jokes from Brandon fucking Prust stop you.

For real? You sure?

Sidney squinted at his phone, considering. Normally he didn't say this kind of stuff to guys on other teams, but -- surely he was entitled to some entertainment in return for having to hear this absolutely ridiculous question. Look at who Prust is marrying. You really think he wouldn't take it from her in a heartbeat if that's what she wanted?

Oh yeah good point. Wait, do you think he HAS?

Sidney bit his lip and tried to resist and failed completely. Of course he fucking has. Ask him about it sometime.

Lol yeah okay that makes sense. Thanks bro. I got this.

Sidney made a mental note to get someone on the team to give him the lowdown after the first Habs-Canucks game next season, and headed out for lunch.

~

Tyler Seguin apparently got all his really terrible ideas after midnight. Hey so what if it's you and a teammate and a girl? That cool?

No.

Seriously? Marchy did it.

DON'T tell me stuff about other players.

Whatever, bro. Then I know players who did it.

That's their choice. It's none of my business if they aren't asking me.

Why can't it be my fucking choice then?

The thing was, Sidney could do this in his sleep. (Which was good, given the times Seguin chose to text him.) He'd had all these arguments with himself, way too many times. Actually, it kind of stung to know that his closest comparable in the league was apparently Tyler Seguin. You really think this is going to go away AFTER you touch his dick?

Sidney winced in sympathy at the long pause that followed. He knew how this felt. Finally, Seguin sent, Ya okay good point.

Sidney was just getting back to sleep when Seguin added a parting shot. Jeez, bro, don't you ever get tired of being hockey's good little boy all the time?

Sidney ground his teeth together, turned off his phone, and punched his pillows really firmly into place. It was none of Seguin's fucking business. He wanted the job. This came with the job. He'd always known the deal.

It took him a long time to get back to sleep, though.

~

Hi, it's Aaron Ekblad again. (Panthers #5.)

At least Ekblad was polite and never just texted a question out of the blue; Sidney had learned to appreciate that. Hi, Ek. What's up?

Can I give out your number again? It's for a teammate. Nick Bjugstad, #27. He already knows the terms and conditions.

And, hey, Ekblad asked before he distributed, although there wasn't much point anymore; Bjugstad might actually be the last professional hockey player in North America to get his number. Sure.

Thank you.

The pause that followed was much longer than Sidney expected, and then he got a text from a new number. Hi it's Nick. Sorry to bother you.

Sidney mentally awarded Bjugstad a prize for being the only hockey player ever to assume that Sidney had a life outside of texting with idiots. It's okay. What's up?

Uh, like, so the guys always say I have no game?

It was amazing. Half the time the younger guys had problems Sidney had never even imagined when he was on an ELC -- he thought here of Matt Dumba, apparently happily shacking up with some couple in the South Pacific somewhere -- and half the time they had problems Sidney remembered living through. With painful clarity. Don't worry about it. Be yourself, hang with the guys, you'll get there. Worrying about it is the problem.

Long pause. Sidney wondered if Bjugstad spent his offseasons on the Moon or something. It's not exactly that I'm worried, more that the guys keep trying to help me?

Sidney considered that one. So you don't actually want to pick up?

I mean, I do? But not in bars or whatever. It's weird and they might be drunk and I just, it's weird. And honestly I meet plenty of girls in parks and grocery stores and stuff, it's never a problem.

Sidney thought back to how he'd eventually solved that one, except he hadn't. It had been awkward for the longest time, and then eventually the guys gave up. In retrospect, he guessed someone had a quiet word with them, which was embarrassing. Also not really useful to Bjugstad. Then tell them to go fuck themselves if they're so desperate to get someone laid. They'll learn to get off your back eventually. Suddenly Sidney couldn't figure out why he'd never just said that. It wouldn't have been the dead giveaway he'd been petrified about.

I don't want to be rude though????

They're hockey players. They don't speak polite or they wouldn't be obsessing about getting your dick in every passing woman.

Okay?

Sidney could tell that Bjugstad would never actually say it, and sometimes you just had to work around people's minor weaknesses. Hey, give the phone to Ekblad for a second, okay?

Hi, it's Aaron Ekblad again.

Sidney wondered if he'd be introducing himself that way forever. "I'm Aaron Ekblad. Thanks for coming to my wedding, Mr. Crosby!" He typed back: You have a job to do, and it's an important one. Whenever the guys get on Bjugstad's case about not picking up, or if they try to help him, you say "Leave him the fuck alone, he gets more than any two of you."

Seriously? You want me to say that?

Team effort, Ekblad. Do your share here.

Ekblad responded immediately, in the only way he possibly could. Okay. Okay, I'm on it.

Good job. Tell Bjugstad to let me know if there's any more problems.

I will. Thank you. Goodnight!

Sidney sent back Goodnight. Then he opened Amazon and started browsing for a Bluetooth keyboard for his phone; he had to hold his hands in weird positions to use the iPhone keyboard, and he did so much typing on it these days he was a little worried about arm strain.

~

Sidney's phone beeped him awake during what he'd come to think of as the Idiot Hour: that period between one and two when bad ideas suddenly started seeming really good to a certain type of hockey player. He picked it up, saw Seguin's name, and cringed. Nothing good ever came from Seguin's texts.

Hey so what if I accidentally did kind of

And then nothing. You're going to need to finish a sentence, here.

I mean, if I did kind of -- do the thing? With the teammate?

Sidney winced. Shit. How did it go?

Good or I thought good but now he's fucking gone and I have to get on a fucking plane to LA for the espys in like six hours so wtf do I do?

This was -- actually a genuine problem, fuck. Sidney thought rapidly. Nothing for right now. You're both too close to it and you have to leave. Go do the media thing, fake it 'til you make it.

Shit.

Then in a few days, when you can get back up there, text him and ask if you can talk. Try to get him to meet you somewhere in person or at least call you. Sidney thought some more, his heartbeat speeding up like he was the one who'd done the stupid thing. Then find a way to work it out.

Fuck shit fuck

Yeah, it's going to suck but you've got to. Sidney actually felt vaguely nauseated with sympathy.

Okay, I’ll. Okay.

And this one -- Sidney didn't even know why he was doing it, but he added, Keep me posted.

Yeah. Okay. Thanks.

And there was no way Sidney was going back to sleep after that one. He was lucky he wasn't puking on the floor. So he opened his guilty pleasure app and started paging through his teammates' Instagrams. He looked at Tanger's public -- engagement photos, Alexander, random shit Kris got in the mail in his dumb subscription box -- and then Flower's private -- pictures of Estelle, pictures of scary-looking breakfast cereal, Flower and Estelle in matching bunny ears and fingernail polish, a very very pregnant Veronique laughing with her hands covering her eyes, like she'd seen something she could never unsee.

Eventually he ended up on Geno's, of course. He'd already gotten the picture on the rocking horses by text, but in general Geno looked like he was having a great summer, although Sidney had no idea what was up with the plastic cow, except that Geno gravitated to animals, even fake ones.

He got to one with a lot of Russian and hit Google translate. And then he texted Geno, Hey, everything okay?

Ya sure why?

Just a little worried. I was looking at your Instagram. That one picture with all the Russian.

Oh, yeah, that from when we break up. (((((( happens

I'm sorry. Sidney hesitated, then added, Anything I can do?

Tell why youre up. So late for you, old man!

Sidney tried to think of a really funny lie, but he couldn't. In the end he went with, Just thinking, I guess.

Thinking?? Dangerous!!!

Sidney stared at his phone for a long moment and typed out, You have no idea.

He should be grateful to Seguin, really. Nothing was as motivating as a bad example.

~

Tyler Johnson did the photo thing, too, which was a nice time-saver, with a printed-out sheet of computer paper listing all his data. And he got right to business, which was good, because Sidney was golfing with MacAndrew and MacKinnon and even Nate eventually took the shot. Johnson said, You had a wrist injury, right?

An actual hockey-related question. Sidney had forgotten those existed. Yeah. What's the situation?

Tweaked it in the playoffs. Doctor says it's a strain, nbd, just rest and rehab.

How's the rehab going?

Great. I mean, they say it's going great. I'm doing what they say.

That's the right thing to do. Get yourself a PT and a doctor you really trust, and then just work the program. That wasn't always the right thing to do -- sometimes people didn't exactly earn the trust you had in them -- but probably Johnson didn't need to worry about that.

Yeah, I am. Gonna be in perfect shape by the season.

Good news. Except, of course, that didn't explain the text. So what's the problem?

It's kind of embarrassing.

And apparently he was going to stop there. You texted me, Sidney reminded him. And you have no idea the shit I hear.

Yeah. Okay. It's just.

Sidney teed off while he waited, and checked his phone next while they were walking.

Johnson finally went with, I don't have a girlfriend.

I'm not a mail-order service.

No, I mean, like, I'm not supposed to strain my wrist, and I'm very right-handed, and -- seriously, what am I supposed to do?

"Sid? You gonna stare at your phone forever or are you gonna go?"

It took Sidney one over par to sink his ball, which he frankly blamed on Tyler Johnson, who apparently thought it was a great idea to text other players for masturbation advice. Then he typed out, Get creative, get desperate, or get a toy. Eventually you'll make it work.

I -- a toy?

Sidney groaned, apparently audibly, since MacAndrew looked up in concern. But he did remember this problem from his first wrist injury, waaaaay back when Johnson was probably still a fetus, and it had been kind of frustrating. He'd just had enough brains, pride, and basic googling ability to solve it himself. I'll send you some links later today.

Thanks, man, appreciate it.

And buy yourself a Bluetooth keyboard. Typing on your phone is going to fuck with your rehab.

Oh, hey, great idea! On it.

Sometimes it seemed like every hockey player in the world needed a keeper.

~

Sidney turned his ringer off for the entirety of Tanger's wedding and reception, of course. When he turned it back on, he had two texts. The first, from Emerson Etem, complete with attached name/number/date photo, said Hey so I want to buy my girlfriend a vibrator but I can't figure out which one to get. Any ideas? I looked for the most expensive ones but the laser kind seems hella weird and I just want something that will get her off like BOOM.

The second one was from an unknown number and said we've been together for two whole years and she still hasn't offered up her ass am I supposed to just go for it or what.

So, basically, a really normal offseason day around the league.

~

Sidney was actually relieved when he heard from Seguin. And it was even in the daytime, which was great, except for the part where he had to angle his phone pretty carefully to keep the waitress from seeing it.

Hey we talked.

Sidney took a deep breath. How'd it go?

We just talked about talking so I don't know? I'm heading out there, though. He invited me. That's gotta be a good sign, right?

Yeah, that's a good sign.

So, like, I'm flying out there now, just gotta keep it from getting weird, right? Gotta get things back to normal, right? It's not gonna be true love forever, that's stupid.

Sidney read that message a few times. You want true love forever?

Who doesn't?

That was -- actually a shot right on the mark. Yeah, Sidney sent back. Good luck.

~

Sidney had to assume Huberdeau was drunk, or he would presumably not have taken the name/number/date selfie in only tighty whities. Sid deleted it the second he got it, and by the time he was done, Huberdeau had already texted his question. Faike ma blonde voulait attacher un de mes bros pis de toute évidence j'étais partant alors j'ai dit oui?

Sidney tapped his phone in irritation. C'est quoi la question?

Un ami dit que ça compte pas comme un trip à trois parce que j'ai juste regardé.

Sidney considered telling him that if he was that bored, he could always work on his behind the net game. Instead he typed, Pourquoi tu te demandes ça?

Huberdeau answered, Purity score ultimate fight challenge! Tabarnak, mon honneur est en jeu là. The sad part was that Sidney totally understood the French, but the English was just a collection of words. Purity score? What the fuck was that?

In the end, Sidney decided he probably didn't want to know. Instead, he typed, Demande à ta blonde si elle compte ça comme un trip à trois. Fie-toi sur ce qu'elle en pense. Any woman who had sex with this guy was presumably used to that kind of shit.

Merci, parfait, merci, t'es merveilleux. Je vais tellement gagner.

Sidney shook his head and switched his screen to Flower. I think my written French is improving.

Flower responded, And yet you text me in English.

Well, you need the practice.

Funny, because I know exactly how to tell you to go fuck yourself. Flower added in a shot of himself flipping off the camera, but it missed the mark, because Estelle was asleep on his chest.

Awwwwww.

She's got a cold, she needs to sleep sitting up, Flower sent back, like Sidney would ever question the decision to have your child sleep on you. Just looking at the photo made his heart thump painfully, partly because it was cute as hell, partly in helpless envy.

Sidney realized he'd been looking at the photo too long and quickly sent back, Recliner. Seems like a good job for you.

But Flower knew him way too well. You'll get there, Sid.

And Sidney had never had any doubt about that. It just -- once, it had seemed like perfect sense to wait until his career was over, but with every year that passed, it got harder.

~

So dude you Tinder?

Sidney blinked and typed, Who is this, please?

Johnny Gaudreau! He sent a picture. He was holding the paper in his teeth so he could do two thumbs up. Sidney had no idea who had actually taken the picture and didn't really want to think about it too much.

No, I don't Tinder. Sidney shuddered in horror.

Oh man, you gotta, sooooooo many hotties.

Thanks, I'll pass. Did you have a question besides the Tinder thing?

Well, it's like, Tinder manners shit. Tinder manners and hockey manners, so I was like, CROSBY, you know?

I can give it a shot.

That's what SHE said! Before Sidney could figure out something suitably disparaging to say, Gaudreau added, But like seriously I swiped right on the wrong girl, dude.

Who?

Uh, turns out she's Galchenyuk's sister. No fucking clue why she was in town in the offseason, so fucking unfair.

Why were you in Montreal? But that wasn't the problem. He was getting distracted. Did you treat her well?

We didn't bang, so I couldn't. :( She was like not on the first date or some shit. What the actual? College was easier.

Then let her worry about her brother.

But I can chirp him about it next year right?

Sidney considered that. Up to you, but Grimaldi's more your weight class.

Gaudreau replied to that with an emoji of an eggplant, for some reason.

~

Heeeeeeeyyyyyyy.

Seguin. Sidney blinked, swiped to the message, and typed Are you stoned?

Yeah for real. But bro I need to say thanks, because we worked it out.

You and the teammate?

Yeah. He freaked a little, got a lot high, decided he couldn't have a relationship because, whatever, Stupid Captain Bullshit, but then I was like bro you miss a thousand of the shots you don't take or whatever, and he blew me. Romantic as fuck!

Wow. Way more detail than Sidney wanted, but -- he found himself ridiculously happy anyway. Congratulations, he typed, and forced himself to ignore the jealousy that went along with the happiness.

Totally gonna get a selfie with his dick in case he freaks out again.

NO. But seriously, good going, happy for you.

I'm the best! But you're like fourth best, bro, I love you.

Drink some water before you sleep.

On it. Peace out!

Sidney put down his phone and flopped back on his couch, grinning. Somehow he felt lighter than he had ten minutes before. He kind of wanted to share it. He didn't think too much about why as he opened his phone again and texted Geno a picture of himself.

Geno responded, You look happy!!!! Win at golf?????

Just having a good day all of a sudden.

))))))))))))))))))))

Yeah.

~

yo it's wilso check me. Sidney did, and the photo was definitely Tom Wilson.

Okay, he sent back.

dude this is embarrassing but I don't wanna be Seguin so I gotta ask

Sidney almost dropped his phone. Was this a fucking epidemic in the league? What? he sent cautiously.

remember back in the lockout

Of course Sidney did. It had been -- maybe before the start of this kid's career, right. Yes.

we laughed at him being a shitfather in switz right but I kinda get it like I know how to do laundry but I dont do it during the season because lats takes care of it but now my fucking clothes keep falling apart and they never did when lats did it

Sidney stared at his phone for a long, long moment. Are you asking me which washing machine cycle you should be using?

woah they have cycles

Sidney groaned. Google exists.

yeah but okay the thing is can I ask my girl to do my laundry

Ninety percent of everyone's problems could be solved by a robot that just texted NO to hockey players on a regular basis. Unfortunately, Sidney didn't have a robot, which meant he pretty much had to be the robot. He typed back, NO.

okay fine but like this is not where im good you know I have other talents

Come the fuck on. How old are you? Are you fifteen?

im 21!!!!

So act like an adult and don't ask your girlfriend to wash your clothes. Sidney realized he was leaving some important stuff out and added Or clean up after you or buy your groceries.

harsh

Basic.

fine whatever

Five minutes later, Wilson added thanks.

And Sidney didn't think any more of it -- just another hockey player who needed to learn the facts of life -- until a few days later, when he got a message from an unknown international number that said, Sidney Crosby, you such a nice boy, help my baby Caps out!!!!

Sidney swallowed hard. Ovechkin?

Yes yes, oh wait, you need photo, of course!!!

The picture Ovechkin sent was of him with his arm around a very attractive woman. She was holding up a paper that said Love you forever, kiss kiss from Ovi.

The date and the phone number weren't there, but it wasn't like Sidney had any doubts.

Just want to say thank you for take care of baby Caps in offseason! so hard when they leave nest!! You worry so much!!! But Sidney there to step in!!!!!! Send you gift, say thank you, thank you Sidney!!!!! )))))))

Really unnecessary.

No response. Sidney wondered if Ovechkin had his Nova Scotia address and realized if he didn't he'd have zero difficulty getting it. He sighed and made a mental note not to answer the door for a few days, just in case Ovechkin sent him a stripper.

Actually, Ovechkin sent him a cheesecake gift basket, which was both thoughtful, because it was amazing cheesecake, and not, because offseason eating plan. Sidney ended up inviting over his sister and about eighteen cousins to help him get rid of them. He got a bite of everything and then got to watch Taylor and the cousins drink too much wine and yell dramatically at the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. It was a good night, and a good way to wind up the offseason at home, since he'd be heading back to Pittsburgh in a week.

He sent Ovechkin a thank-you note.

Ovechkin sent back, You very very welcome, Sidney Crosby!!!!!!!! You give, I give back!!!!! So beautiful )))))

~

Sidney had his return to Pittsburgh routine down cold; he knew what planes to take, when to get there, what to text his housekeeping service to have waiting for him. He spent the first day back around his house, unpacking and looking for minor things to fix, and by the evening he was in Pittsburgh mode and waiting impatiently for the season to start.

He texted Shanna from the front office to find out when the other guys were scheduled to come in, so he could plan a few dinners, show Kessel around. She'd apparently been expecting him, because she immediately emailed him a spreadsheet.

Everything looked normal, except that Geno was already in town. Usually he came in right before training camp and spent the first day looking vague and hungover from jetlag. Sidney hoped this didn't mean he was injured and needed to see the medical staff, and thought no more about it until he got the text.

I hear you giving advice and I'm having problem???

Sidney double-checked the number and typed Come on, Geno, what's up?

Serious! Real problem! Ask you for help!

Fucking Ovechkin, had to be. But Sidney figured he was probably due for a prank or two. Sidney Crosby, NHL Advisor, at your service, he typed.

You know I want marry, and kids. family!

Yeah. Sidney knew. Oh, did he know.

But never works. Always "you so distracted" "you even here with me?" "you not serious enough." I'm plenty serious!

Sidney couldn't tell if it was a prank or not, so he treated it like Geno was serious. If he wasn't, this would just make it funnier, at least for everyone else. It can be hard to find someone who's ready to be a hockey player's wife, he typed.

This time I think a lot, all summer, because thinking hard. But I think -- maybe they have point. Maybe I'm still want what I shouldn't.

Sidney read the words over and over, because they meant something to him, but obviously they didn't mean that to Geno. He just couldn't figure out what Geno was trying to say. Yeah? he finally sent.

Gonch say years ago I'm hung up on teammate, need get over it. I think maybe still my problem. Hung up on teammate, not over it. I wonder all summer, does teammate want, too? And think maybe time to ask.

Sidney read the words and felt his whole body flush. He read them again. Then he exited out of messages, went to his contacts, and hit Geno's US number.

"Sid," Geno said. He didn't sound like he was joking.

"Are you -- are you fucking -- is this a joke?"

"No!" Geno said. "I'm not -- I'm joke about funny things. Not this."

"I. Wait. Do you mean me?"

"You think I'm text you because of Sunshine? Of course you."

Sidney's heart pounded like he was streaking up the ice with two d-men in pursuit, and he knew better, he knew the answer to this one. But. He thought about waiting fifteen years for your life off the ice to start. About Seguin's blowjob-ever-after. And he thought -- he thought maybe he'd been wrong.

Over the summer, he'd given a lot of advice to a lot of hockey players, and most of it boiled down to just a few things: if you want it, try hard. Be kind. Don't be stupid. Make it work. Maybe they could make it work. He wanted it enough to try. And he wasn't going to let Tyler fucking Seguin be braver than he was. "I." Sidney cleared his throat and started again. "I, okay, yeah, I know how to solve this problem. You at your house?"

"Yes. I'm here, no one else." Geno sounded hopeful.

"I'm coming over. Be right there."

"I'm wait," Geno said.

Sidney hurried. He'd been waiting long enough.

The next morning, Sidney rolled over in Geno's bed and found his phone. There wasn't a single text from anyone, which seemed like a sign the hockey gods approved of his choices. Sidney scrolled through his endless inbox until he found Lawson Crouse's name and opened a new message. Hey, he typed. Once you sign the contract, you can hook up with whoever you fucking want to. And then he reflexively added, As long as you're practicing safe sex and getting real consent. He remembered the First Rule of the Hockey Player Life Cheat Sheet and finished up, And don't make sex tapes or take any dick pics.

A few minutes later, Crouse sent back, thanks bro!!!!!!!!! Gonna nail this.

Sidney smiled, closed his phone, rolled back over, and put his arm around Geno, who was still asleep. They needed to get up, get protein and calories in them, make phone calls, work out, be hockey players.

But they could spend a few more minutes in bed first.

Epilogue: July, 2030

"Aaron, as you head into retirement, can you tell me -- was there a mentor in your early career, someone who gave you advice that helped you become the player and person you are today?"

Aaron thought about that one, looked down at the podium, and then reminded himself to look up at the interviewer and smile the way he was supposed to. "I think Sidney Crosby gave me the best advice I've ever gotten," he said.

"What was that?"

Aaron's smile was real this time; he had to struggle not to laugh. "You'd have to text him for that yourself, sorry. And I'm not giving out his number anymore."