The Crosby Waiting Game

Crosby hasn't shook off his concussion. Jason Bridge/US Presswire

The management and fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins have been waiting patiently for the return of their team’s captain, Sidney Crosby, since January 5.  224 days later, there is no end in sight from Crosby’s concussion.  It is right for the Penguins to give Crosby as much time as he needs to recover, especially after similar stories and recent research.  However, one wonders how much time Crosby will actually need, and if he will ever be the same player as he was before.

Crosby was hit incidentally by the Capitals’ David Steckel in the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, and then pounded into the boards by Victor Hedman just four days later.  No one is sure which hit gave Crosby his concussion, but his head was unquestionably hit hard on both occasions.  Crosby has not played contact hockey since.

On their playoff run, the Penguins were clearly a step behind offensively without Crosby in the lineup.  Pittsburgh lost to the Lightning in 7 games in the first round of the playoffs.  Often times the Penguins could not beat G Dwayne Roloson, especially in Game 7, when the goalie shut out Pittsburgh.   Now, Crosby might not be able to help his team this upcoming year.

Fans might see the resemblance between Crosby and Bruins C Marc Savard, who has been plagued by concussions for the past few years.  Whenever he is cleared to play, it seems like only a few weeks away before Savard gets sent away to a dark room to recoup from another concussion.  Savard has been out for months at a time, and his return to the NHL is in question.  His talent is still good, but there is no way he can safely play without risking long-term brain damage.  The Penguins certainly can’t allow this to happen to their superstar.

However, you wonder how Crosby could avoid hits to the head at all.  Crosby is only 5’11”, and he skates low to the ice most of the time.  Any accidental contact between him and a player or really any clean check could put Crosby’s head in danger of being hit.  Unless he can skate a little more upright or somehow put on a few more inches, he could face a few more concussions.  Crosby’s skating ability reminds me of Bobby Orr’s puck possession skills.  He created huge success with his ability to defend the puck for players using his left knee, but that same body part was torn apart after so much abuse.  Likewise, Crosby’s quickness and speed comes from his skating style, but his skull could get pounded in that style because it is down so low.  His greatest skill could cut his career short.

The Penguins still want the full package of Crosby, so they will do their best to outlast the symptoms and get every rehab assignment in to bring him back to speed.  But no matter how long the Penguins wait, they won’t be able to say for sure if Crosby will be able to play with an edge or if he can avoid similar injuries altogether.  Even if Crosby is held off the roster for months after today, if he gets hit hard in the head again, will he be able to return to hockey at all?  It looks like only time will tell, but the NHL and sports fans everywhere hope that the game’s best player can return to peak performance without the possibility more scary injuries.

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