Crosby suffered a concussion in January 2011 and missed the remainder of the regular season and the postseason. After returning in November of this season, he took a hit from David Krejci of the Boston Bruins on Dec. 6 and has been sidelined ever since.
While initial reports over the weekend said Crosby had two fractured vertebrae, the Penguins released a statement saying that there is no neck fracture. Rather, he has a soft-tissue injury that could be responsible for causing concussion symptoms.
Once again, though, there is no timeline for his return to the ice (though he is skating), and general manager Ray Shero stressed Crosby will come back when he is symptom-free.
All of this drama has some wondering if the Penguins should strip Crosby of his captaincy until he is healthy. It's an understandable question; however, I really don't think that is necessary.
Here are some reasons why the Penguins should not appoint a new leader.
When Crosby was drafted with the first-overall pick of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, it was clear that Mario Lemieux was turning over the reins of the Penguins to the phenom from Nova Scotia.
Since Crosby arrived in Pittsburgh, there has been a rejuvenated interest in the team. The Consol Energy Center and Mellon Arena have sold out over 200 straight games. Crosby's jersey has been among the top sellers in the league even as he has sat out with injuries. He is considered a part of the team core that also includes Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Even though Crosby's return date is unknown, he is the most recognizable player on the Penguins roster. He will almost assuredly be on the team for the duration of his career.
Although the Pens have other talented players, this is clearly Crosby's team, and he should not lose the captaincy just because he is going through some health problems.
Before the NHL All-Star break, the Penguins were mired in a six-game losing streak. During that skid, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published an article saying some of the players held a team meeting to discuss the idea of a temporary captaincy.
As a response, the Penguins took the ice for their morning skate before against the Florida Panthers with the captain's "C" taped to their jerseys (Evgeni Malkin wore a K, but whatever). This showed they supported Crosby and did not feel it was necessary for their leader to give up his position. It also dispelled any myths of controversy in the locker room.
If Crosby's teammates continue to stand behind him and wish him good health, they won't allow anyone else to hold the captaincy.
This is not the Pittsburgh Penguins team from the early 2000s that missed out on the postseason on a consistent basis, or the young team that had to fight and scratch their way into a playoff spot, only to get swept out in the first round (happened in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators in 2007).
This squad has Stanley Cup experience and a championship to their name. Players like Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal are still young, but they have matured a lot. They can handle the ups and downs of a long season and a deep playoff run.
Pittsburgh also has veterans such as Steve Sullivan, Richard Park and Paul Martin that provide added depth.
Additionally, the Penguins have a history of putting up wins without Sidney Crosby. They did so in 2008 when he was out with a high ankle sprain and finished fourth in the Eastern Conference last year after he went down in January. Currently, they are on an eight-game winning streak and sit in fifth in the conference.
If the Penguins were continuing to lose or were sitting out of a playoff position, it would be necessary to consider a shake-up. But right now, they are doing just fine and are more than capable of performing regardless of Crosby's status.
OK, so we've been hearing that for a long time. A really long time, to be exact.
However, Pittsburgh Penguins management, Crosby himself and his agent all agree that Crosby will be back in the lineup once he is able to play.
In the statement linked to on the introduction slide, the Penguins remarked:
"(Dr. Alexander) Vaccaro, (Dr. Robert S.) Bray and UPMC doctors all agree that Crosby is safe, the injury is treatable, and he will return to action when he is symptom free."
In a press conference at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday, Ray Shero added:
There has never been an indication from any doctor that we've dealt with over the last year where he would have shut it down for the season and would have to retire. We've heard those rumors. Nothing has changed. We're going along the path, continue to try to manage these symptoms and get them under control, get a handle on this and get him back on the ice safely and as quickly as possible, but most importantly safely.
As long as Shero and Crosby's doctors still feel that he will be able to play again one day, regardless of how many points he may be able to score, his captaincy should be safe. It is not the same case as it was when Mario Lemieux retired the first time, where the Penguins had to prepare for a future without him and could have never imagined he would return in 2000.
If Crosby is frustrated with how long it is taking him to heal and return to top form, he is not showing it.
Over the weekend, rumors circulated that Crosby was upset that doctors had missed what was thought to be two fractured vertebrae. However, the Penguins and Crosby himself were quick to dispel the report.
Speaking on behalf of Crosby, Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma told NHL.com:
I feel, Sidney feels, he's gotten every possible support from the Penguins and the Penguins' medical staff in the situation he's in, to try to find an answer to where he's at, what his condition is, what is his best road for recovery.
He's gotten every available support from both the Penguins and from our medical staff and going other places and getting medical treatment. That's how we feel about it, and I know Sidney feels the same way.
Furthermore, despite his lengthy absence, Crosby continues to work hard on the ice when he can, as he skated for 45 minutes on Monday. He has also traveled with the team to road games and likely supports the team in ways that have not been revealed to the media. He has always been a team player who wants the Penguins to perform up to their abilities, and there is nothing that indicates this has changed.
As long as Crosby remains dedicated to the team while continuing his treatment, he is doing his job as a captain.
If you think there is a lot of fuss around Sidney Crosby and the Penguins now, can you imagine what would happen if he lost his captaincy and another player was asked to wear the "C?"
First of all, if the Penguins announced a change in captain, speculation and debate would run rampant about who the next leader would be. Every player experienced enough for such an honor would have to deal with pros and cons about a possible leadership role. People would have their own ideas as to who absolutely should or should not wear the "C."
Then, when someone was given the "C," he would be under a microscope. How would this affect team performance? Would the player's individual season suffer or prosper? Does he keep it together on the ice when things aren't going the Penguins' way, or is he the type of captain with a hot temper who yells at the referee over everything?
There is too much of a risk to ask Crosby to no longer be captain. The Penguins do not need anymore unnecessary attention and rumors around them.