Earlier this evening, the Pittsburgh Penguins released an official update regarding Sidney Crosby's status. As the most casual hockey fan knows, Crosby is believed to have suffered a concussion in the Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals in what appeared, to me, to be unintentional contact to the head.
At worst, David Steckel did not attempt to get out of Crosby's way, but interference does not constitute an intent to injure. While this may not be popular opinion among Pens fans, I sincerely believe Steckel acted with no malicious intent.
In the team's next game, a slightly more intentional shot was delivered by Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman. This hit was not exceptionally vicious by any means, but the combination of the two hits in succession apparently caused enough damage to provide significant concern over the NHL superstar's future.
Throughout the summer, rumors have popped up over and over again that Sid had "shut down" his workout program and that he would not be ready in time for the start of the season.
Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, even released a terse statement August 23rd saying, "Sidney hasn't been shut down by anyone. He has simply adjusted his summer program according to the different needs for the appropriate recovery." (Source article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)
Brisson then went on to lash out that "Sidney will address the media at the appropriate time in order to give everyone an update. As far as I know, training camp hasn't even started yet." (Source article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)
Apparently Team Crosby felt that the appropriate time was a day later, because the official statement was made (linked at the top of the article). To be honest, this has not been handled very well by Crosby or those around him. It seems a bit sad to me that they are reacting instead of being out ahead of it.
Yes, Crosby has a right to privacy, but there are not many bigger stars in the game. The information has to come from him and his camp, otherwise it becomes a runaway freight train.
So what do we learn from this statement? Big surprise here, but not one thing.
As I have stated over and over, we needed to stop speculating. A week or so back, I published this article, citing some real concerns for the Pens and also making some wild speculations, since that is what has been driving this worried "woe are we" attitude the fanbase seems to currently be obsessed with.
At any rate, the official statement mentions that Crosby has visited "leading specialists around the country to monitor his progress. Their conclusion is that he will make a full recovery—it just takes time."
While this would seem like good news on the surface, it is nothing more than fluff. While these specialists are certainly more qualified than I am in terms of anything more than grumbling on the Internet, we all share the same dismal success as "predictors of the future."
The prospect of a potential injury, rumors and speculation is too much. The Pittsburgh Penguins and their fanbase need to prepare for the 2011-12 season and both need to do so with the understanding that this issue could hover over Crosby until the day he retires, or it could go away and never come up again.
The official statement ends with the following: "He has been feeling a lot better but we wanted to give him all the time he needs to make a full recovery. He's only 24, and he's got a lot of great years ahead of him."
That is a polite way to set Pens fans up for the potential long and winding road that this saga will continue to be. Get used to it.
Concussions are not predictable, despite the need for NHL merchandise sales and TV ratings. Of course the Penguins are not the same team without Crosby, but will life go on as he tends to what is most important, his health.
The NHL should also continue to work towards the reduction and elimination of head shots, be they intentional or otherwise. Aside from the short-term injuries, such concerns as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) are also beginning to come to light.
This has been on my radar for a while, after former Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry was found to have it. You can read some of my thoughts on the matter from March 6, 2011 at my personal blog, shootinthepuck.blogspot.com.
While Crosby haters may celebrate this news, I know that I honestly do not wish someone like Alexander Ovechkin harm as he is exciting and what I want to see even though I do not like his team. The NHL is the greatest sport because of its players and their skill and intensity. Losing Crosby does not help anyone long term.
For what it is worth (not a hill of beans), I fully support any time that Sid has to miss as he attempts a return from this unfortunate set of injuries and setbacks. While it is immensely too soon to know with any certainty, Penguin fans need to be comfortable with the spectrum from "quick return" to "long-term career threatening injury."
Yes, both of those and any scenario in between are pure speculation. But if you are a Penguins fan only because of Sidney Crosby, the rest of 2011 (at least) may not be for you.
Back in July, when Crosby's return seemed positive, I believed that Evgeni Malkin would be the key to the season and wondered if he was better off at center or wing. If Crosby does not start the season, we have our answer to that question.
Regardless, we will carry on—just as we have through Lemieux's injuries and cancer, the many bankruptcies, multiple possibilities of moving and every other lousy thing that has ever happened to this franchise.
For all I care (as a half-season ticket holder), Sid can lay on the beach all season so long as he is ready to go for the playoffs. Maybe that is looking way too much on the bright side, but that is what all Penguin fans need right now.
Rally around the Pens. Rally around Crosby with support for whatever he needs to do. Hockey is starting soon, with or without Crosby. I still cannot wait for the puck to drop.