Sidney Crosby: Why the Pittsburgh Penguins Have to Shut Him Down for the Season
On Tuesday, March 6, Sidney Crosby was cleared for contact. Immediately after that announcement was made, speculation began to run rampant that Crosby would rejoin the Penguins for the run toward the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In fact, it was mentioned that Crosby would participate in the March 11 game against the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins.
After practicing with the team on Saturday, the decision was made that Crosby would not be participating in Sunday’s game. The next game opportunity for Crosby will be Thursday, when the Penguins travel to New York City to face the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.
If Crosby and the Penguins' team management do the right thing, they will not let Crosby participate in that game, either. In fact, the wise thing would be to completely shut him down for the season, bringing him back for the 2012-13 NHL season.
I know the temptation will be there to bring the best player in the NHL back into the fold, but that temptation must be resisted.
The first reason is that while Crosby is the best player in the game, he would be coming back at the worst possible time of the season. The Penguins have 14 games in the last 24 days of the season and if he rejoined the team for the Rangers game, he would follow that by playing the Devils and the Flyers in back-to-back games.
There will be a lot at stake in these games; the Rangers will be playing hard to hold onto their lead, while the Flyers and Devils will be looking to better their respective positions. There will be no easy shifts for Crosby in these games, no chance to ease into game play. There will be very little open space on the ice and the games will be tightly checked. Coming into a playoff atmosphere after playing just eight games in more than a year is not an ideal situation for anyone, not even someone as skilled as Crosby.
That long layoff is a huge concern for team chemistry as well. This team has played 59 games this season with Crosby. To throw him into the lineup would be nice, but at what cost?
Thinking that his reintegration into the team will be seamless is foolhardy at best. There will be a stumble when he comes back. Will it be a small one, or will it be a significant one? No one can answer that, so why risk it? A few points difference in the standings and the Penguins go from home ice in the first round, where they are currently 23-8-2, to playing on the road, where they are 18-13-3.
Another reason to hold him out is the team situation. When the season wraps up, there will be a total of eight free agents on the Penguins' roster, four restricted and four unrestricted. The reality is that of those eight, the club could probably afford to lose all of them and they would not really miss a step. Knowing that all your workhorses will be back and ready to go for the 2012-13 season, why integrate Crosby back into the lineup with so little time in the season.
The wise thing may be to allow the team, as it stands now, to make a run for the Cup.
They may not get there, they may fall short, but they will pick up confidence as a team and as individuals. If Crosby comes back and they make a deep run deep in the playoffs, all the attention will be on him and his performance, and how he got them to where they finished.
The most important reason to hold Crosby out is the big what-if that hangs over his head. What if he comes back, like he did earlier in the season, and gets knocked back out of the lineup? Will that hurt the team emotionally? Will that put a dark cloud over the franchise and Crosby’s future hockey career? Will the adrenaline high turn into a crushing adrenaline dump that the team cannot recover from before the playoffs?
Look at Crosby’s return as a risk-versus-reward scenario. Remove all emotion from the decision. Look at it as a business move and the decision is easy to make. It would be in everyone’s best interest if the Penguins and Crosby agreed that he should wait until Game 1 of the 2012-13 season to make his return to the ice.
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