Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby's Return Makes Pens a Cup Favorite

Mark FischerContributor IIMarch 6, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 5:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against the Boston Bruins on December 5, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

It appears as if the hockey world won't have to wait much longer for the much anticipated return of Sidney Crosby.

Per TSN, Crosby has been cleared for contact. Although there is currently no timetable for his return, it should be noted that there is a possibility Crosby will resume game action as early as this upcoming Sunday.

If—and that's a big, big if, mind you—Crosby can regain his pre-concussion form and stay healthy, be sure to pencil in the Pittsburgh Penguins as a Stanley Cup contender, if you hadn't already done so.

Already sitting comfortably in a playoff spot, the addition of arguably the greatest player in the game today, would only push the Penguins over the top.

With the absence of Crosby, lengthy center Evgeni Malkin has done exceptionally well—again—in carrying the Penguins on his back. Add Crosby to the mix, and not only do you gain another potent goal scorer, but you also take pressure off the former.

Not to mention the rather unexpected surge of left winger James Neal, who has helped filled the void left by Crosby. After struggling mightily during the latter stages of last year, Neal has since silenced the critics, maintaining close to a point-per-game pace.

Oh yeah, and then there's this guy who goes by the name of Jordan Staal. Ever hear of him? He's only a Selke Trophy candidate year in, year out, who's defensive play excels come late April, May, and June.

The only cause for concern on the offensive front should be the lack of depth. Outside of the players mentioned above, point production is hard to come by.

On the defensemen side of things, Kris Letang continues to elevate his game, despite reoccurring post-concussion symptoms—ah, sound familiar? When healthy, Letang quarterbacks one of the league's most dynamic powerplays.

And while goaltender Marc-Andre Fluery has struggled at times, his overall play this season can be characterized as solid, suggesting he is very much capable of putting up 16 wins in the postseason for the second time in his career.

Face it folks, love 'em or hate 'em, the potential return of Sidney Crosby would make the Penguins a clear favorite to win their second Stanley Cup in four years.