Sidney Crosby: How Important is His Return to the NHL?

Andrew PreglerContributor IIIApril 5, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 05:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates during warmups prior to taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 5, 2011 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It's been over three months since Sidney Crosby was blindsided in the Winter Classic and took another blow to the head against Tampa Bay.

It's been over three months since the Penguins have had, arguably, the best player in hockey on the ice for their team. It's been three months since, arguably, one of the best players in hockey history has been on the ice to carry the banner of hockey and the NHL.

The impact Sidney Crosby has had on the Penguins, NHL and hockey in general can never be underestimated. He's helped regenerate a struggling franchise by winning a Stanley Cup. He's been a near perfect ambassador of the NHL from the age of 18. He became the face and hero of Canadian hockey after winning the Olympics on Canadian ice.

And now, rumors continually swirl about the health of the young 23-year-old superstar. And with two hits, there were rumors swirling that he was done. Done for the year, done for his career, done being that prodigy everyone in Canada and Pittsburgh wanted to see win.

As of now however, these fears were put to rest when Crosby skated with the team again. He has been participating in practices with the team, admittedly not at full participational levels. Aside from the obvious competitive advantage Crosby gives any hockey team, a huge source of anxiety over his recent concussion was the idea that another Bo Jackson could be unfolding before our eyes.

In an era where physical fitness has reached the levels of speciality it has, seeing a star athlete's career ended by injury is almost unheard of. But over these past few months, there was the potential that two sports in desperate need of a new image would fall victim to this.

In baseball, Stephen Strasburg amazed all fans with the incredible power and control he posed as a pitcher for a few short months. This was put on hold when Nationals announced that even with all of the care possible, Strasburg would need the now infamous Tommy John surgery in order to repair his throwing arm.

Granted, while Tommy John surgery has almost become routine for pitchers in today's game, missing all of 2011 has the baseball world holding it's breath.

Moving back to the ice, Crosby posed a very similar challenge. After all of the controversies surrounding concussions and blindside shots were brought to light for the first time, the poster child of the NHL fell victim to this injury on the biggest stage the NHL commercially has: the Winter Classic.

Unlike Strasburg, Crosby's injury is not routine in the sense that treatment has become perfected. "Concussion-like symptoms" can be experienced by almost anyone and see kept Sid off the ice. Losing a superstar like Crosby would almost surely be crippling to the NHL's image. Yes, Alex Ovechkin is just as good and popular, but Crosby has done everything a player can accomplish before his 24th birthday.

He is being mentored by a legend of the game who made a name both on the ice and from the owner's box. Crosby is far from 100 percent at this point, even he admits this. However, cautious optimism has been bestowed upon NHL executives tied into marketing and concussion research.

Concussions will be addressed in the NHL, whether it is handled like the NFL or more successfully is another matter entirely. Crosby will probably not even play in this season's Cup chase, but to the relief of Pens fans and other like-minded hockey lovers, at least it appears as if their superstar will be able to help rebuild and restore the game the game they love.