Pittsburgh Penguins: What to Expect If Sidney Crosby Is Unable to Return

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Pittsburgh Penguins: What to Expect If Sidney Crosby Is Unable to Return
Crosby's offensive production was sorely missed during last season's first round loss to the Lightning.

For Penguins fans, the Sidney Crosby concussion saga has been the most talked-about story of an otherwise uneventful summer. 

Unfortunately, it's a story that those closest to Crosby haven't been willing to elaborate on.  GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma have both made comments about Crosby's health but have kept the details about his symptoms in the fog.  Bylsma claims that he hasn't even spoken to Crosby about his progress.  Shero admitted that Crosby was still experiencing some post-concussion symptoms but didn't expound on any specifics.  From Pensburgh.com:

"There are going to be some symptoms with this injury, but nothing where he's had to shut it down or anything," Shero said. "He's pushed himself, which is good."

Six days later, CTV Atlantic reported that Crosby had "cancelled all of his scheduled on-ice workouts" in a Halifax, Nova Scotia arena that he trained in for most of the summer.  The report also made the assumption that Crosby would not be ready for training camp, which starts in three weeks.  The report cited unnamed sources and was quickly denied by Crosby's agent.  From ESPN.com:

"Sidney hasn't been shut down by anyone. He has simply adjusted his summer program accordingly to the different needs for the appropriate recovery," Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, said, "Sidney will address the media at the appropriate time in order to give everyone an update."

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It's hard to know if Crosby's workouts were cancelled because his concussion symptoms were too severe or if he really is just moving on to another phase of his recovery.  But no one, not even Bylsma, denies that there is a possibility that Sid will not be ready for camp.  NBC Sports reports that the head coach has mulled over different possibilities for training camp, some of which don't include Crosby on the ice.

So what kind of success should we expect from the Penguins if Crosby misses a portion or even (brace yourself) the entire 2011-12 season?

As tragic as it would be to see such a unique talent sidelined for a long period of time, the Penguins are still a very, very dangerous team without him.  For evidence of this, we should look at how the team performed with and without their superstar last season.  Crosby was, for all intents and purposes, injured halfway through the year, which is convenient for statistical comparisons.  Before his injury on January 5, Pittsburgh was 25-12-3.  The Crosby-less Pens nearly mirrored that record, going 24-13-5.

I'm not arguing that Crosby is inconsequential to the success of the Penguins.  That would be foolish.  What I'm saying is the Penguins have enough depth across the board to be a highly competitive team, even with the best player in the world on the bench.

But, if we venture back to last season once again, the stats tell us that the Penguins missed Crosby's production the most during crunch time: the Stanley Cup playoffs.  It's not a perfect comparison, so take these stat lines for as much as you think they're worth:

GM Ray Shero updates the media on Sidney Crosby's progress.

Last season, with Crosby out of the lineup, the Penguins scored a mere 38 points against the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs and lost in seven games.

In the first round of the 2009 playoffs against Ottawa with Crosby in the lineup, the Pens put up 66 points and beat the Senators in six games.

Here's the kicker.  In that 2009 Ottawa series, Crosby tallied 14 points.  In the Tampa Bay series, all of the Penguins centers combined only had 13. 

To me, that's a testament to Crosby's Lemieux-esque ability to take his game to the next level when the situation calls for it.  That, more than anything, is what the Penguins will miss most about Crosby if he isn't able to return to the ice this season.  They've proven they can win without him during the regular season, when the pace is slower and the intensity is turned down.  Whether they can triumph with the pressure of the Stanley Cup playoffs bearing down on them remains to be seen.

If the hockey Gods are flying with Pittsburgh, the Penguins won't have to confront this situation any time in the near future.

As a Pens fan, here's to hoping those hockey Gods have a full recovery planned for the kid from Nova Scotia. 

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