As the Pittsburgh Penguins' 2011-12 season opener draws near, the negative speculation surrounding Sidney Crosby has greatly subsided. In recent weeks, Crosby has seemingly experienced no setbacks while going through team drills and other conditioning in a non-contact capacity.
Despite the climate of conversation being dramatically more positive, the fact remains that Crosby, or any NHL player, is not ready for games if they are not taking contact in practice.
Because of that, the possibility remains that Sid will not be ready for the start of the season.
Based on the team's performance after many high-profile players were injured, that is not a reason to panic. This team just has to get itself ready for April and beyond in order to meet the fanbase's expectations.
The goal is not a President's Trophy. Nobody cares who the regular season champs are.
Luckily for Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins hold the belief that the definition of success will mainly come from the postseason. He will be given ample time, if needed, to gradually work back towards contact.
Coach Dan Bylsma will still have high expectations for the group he puts on the ice, until Crosby is among them. He won the Jack Adams Award largely because of how he coached the team in the second half of last season.
It is worthwhile to note that this short list of players who will need to step up does not include Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury. Their value is too obvious to waste time saying they need to "step up."
Geno and MAF will likely be keys to the season, both before and after Sid returns. An Art Ross-caliber forward and Stanley Cup-winning goalie tend to be important, regardless of the circumstances, oddly enough.
The guys in the slideshow are still very important. With their help, there is plenty of hope that the Penguins will not have to abandon their plans for a long spring and summer of hockey.