Everybody waiting for the NHL’s best player to return needs to relax.
Penguins’ F Sidney Crosby continues to inch closer to an NHL return. Crosby has been sidelined since January 5, 2011, after suffering a pair of concussions.
While Crosby has been cleared for contact and continues to practice and skate with the team on a regular basis, there’s still much to be done before he can get back to 100% in a game situation.
Everything they’ve done in terms of Crosby’s recovery time, however, has been perfect.
What we’ve learned about concussions over the past decade is incredible compared to what we knew before. Look at some of the guys that have been affected by them throughout their careers–Eric Lindros, Adam Deadmarsh, Pat Lafontaine, Geoff Courtnall, Keith Primeau, Matthew Barnaby, Marc Savard, Scott Stevens, Steve Moore, Mike Richter. The list goes on and on and on. And in a worst possible scenario, we see former WWE Superstar Chris Benoit, who tragically killed his family and himself in a double-murder suicide in 2007. Scans of his brain showed that concussions, along with other head injuries, had deteriorated his brain to the extent of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient, with an advanced form of dementia, similar to the brains of four retired NFL players who had suffered multiple concussions, sank into depression, and harmed themselves or others.
By holding Crosby out properly, the NHl, Penguins and Crosby are demonstrating the correct way to treat a concussion. They can have serious and permanent damage to one’s brain, and they’re obviously no laughing matter. The team must continue to not put pressure on his return, as play it safe and slow is the best bet for his long-term health and value.
In addition, the team obviously doesn’t need him back ASAP. This team is not in an immediate win-now mode with a window of opportunity closing. This team is built for success for the next decade.
Right now, they’re among the best in the Eastern Conference. And dating back to last season, when the team was without Crosby, F Evgeni Malkin and F Jordan Staal–not to mention that all three are centres, which is where teams want to have the most depth–they still did well. In addition to their big-name trade deadline acquisition in F James Neal not producing after coming over in a trade with the Stars, they still recorded 106 points to put them in second place in the East. Simply put, this team is good without Crosby, but they’re even better with him.
Primeau recently commented on Crosby’s nearing return, saying,
“Whether he likes it or not, he has become kind of the face of it. Without knowing it or not as well, he’s become a real ambassador for the cause, especially in the way he’s handled it. Their whole organization, the way they’ve handled it, it’s been tremendous.”
One must ask themselves, however, whether or not the Pens’ medical staff maybe misdiagnosed his concussion from the start. On New Year’s Day, Crosby took a shot to the head from then-Capitals’ F David Steckel. Crosby went on to finish the game. Just four days later, however, Crosby was believed to have suffered another concussion, this time on a seemingly harmless hit from Lightning’ D Victor Hedman. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but had Crosby been pulled immediately and brought in for testing, would he have been back by now? Would he have missed any time at all?
“I get calls every day that Sidney’s probably coming back Thursday or Friday or Saturday, and you can’t [say that]. You can’t predict when that moment in time is going to be, and I think the most dangerous thing to do is to try to put a timeframe on it, because then the player feels under pressure.”
“People don’t realize it’s a pressure, but it’s a pressure and the player internalizes it. They want to be out there. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be out there.”
Ultimately, it comes down to this–are there more important things in the world than hockey? Absolutely. For starters, his own personal health comes first and foremost above all. The worst possible thing he can do is comeback early, take a bump and go all the way back to square one. If, like Savard, the concussions become so bad that it affects your day-to-day life, then is playing the game you love worth an early grave? Of course not. Savard’s career is likely over. Why? Because he came back too soon from a concussion, suffered another one, and can no longer get back to form without experiencing setbacks.
Obviously, upon Crosby’s eventual return, many questions will need to be answered. How does the team protect him getting hurt again? Will Crosby be able to take a hits? Will he return to pre-concussion form? Prior to the injury, he was on pace for career-highs, recording 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games. Granted, he (shouldn’t) pick up where he left off–no one should after a pair of concussions and without having played in a game in almost a full calendar year. But if he can’t ever return to the Crosby of old, how valuable is he as a player? Is he still the captain, the face of the Penguins and the NHL?
“If he happens to jump right back in and do it at a certain level, great. If it’s going to be a little bit slow coming, that’s OK. We’re just going to be thrilled to have him back at some point. That’s what we’re interested in,” said GM Ray Shero.
Micky Collins, director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh–one of the two experts handling Crosby’s case–created a fail-safe blueprint during the preseason for Crosby to return to games regular-season action, saying that he could “guarantee you that we’re not going to make any mistakes in this case.”
I hope he’s right–not just for his sake–as the entire world sits, waiting with bated breath, for the impending return of the best hockey player on the face of the planet.
But for now, the Penguins have promised to announce his return a day ahead of time for the fan and media frenzy to erupt. Crosby continues to skate with the team, reaching his maximum potential during practice, waiting for the same news that the rest of the world is waiting to hear.
“It’s a great story when he comes back. Every game we’re leading up to now, it’s putting everybody on the defensive. People are emailing, calling. We don’t want to overshadow the team,” Shero said.
Be patient. It will come. There are things more important than hockey in the world.
When the time comes, No. 87 will take to the ice again. Just not yet. We don’t know when–maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow–but soon.
As Barack Obama said, “everyone chill the fuck out! I got this!” Kind of. Not really.