Penguins

Shea-ved Ice: What Does Crosby’s 1st Skate Signify?

By: Casey Shea
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(Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Sidney Crosby made headlines earlier today when he took the ice for the first time since Jan. 5. While he only skated for 15 minutes, it was enough for the hockey world to explode over the news.

As a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, I got a little bit giddy over watching the video of him in full gear on the ice. I think that’s the knee-jerk reaction when the best player in the world re-emerges amid all the rumors of retirement.

Twitter went nuts and within minutes, Crosby was trending almost everywhere. I don’t think I’ve seen a guy get this much publicity about a brief leisurely skate since Mario Lemieux announced he was coming out of retirement.

Is it well-deserved? Absolutely, but let’s not start jumping to conclusions that he’s actually close to returning for a moment. After the initial shock wore off, I began to look at this from a couple different angles to find out what it means.

I’m not trying to be like the double-rainbow guy here, but I’ll present the following three ideas and then elaborate on where I think this situation is at.

Option No. 1 – The Optimist

The Penguins and Crosby have never ruled out his coming back this season. Today’s 15-minute on-ice workout would lend itself to his return sometime soon.

Normally, when you haven’t seen a guy on the ice for months this would the first step toward returning. Look at Arron Asham, Eric Tangradi and Mike Comrie. All have been dealing with injuries lately and all are back skating. Asham is even saying he hopes to be back in the lineup on Sunday against the New York Rangers.

Based on this theory, Crosby’s skate would be the first of what would be several steps to get back into the lineup for the playoffs.

You have to keep in mind, the only thing he’s supposedly done since Jan. 5 is ride an exercise bike. He’s going to need some time on the ice working himself back into game-shape.

Even when he does return to the lineup, you can’t expect him to pick up right where he left off. However, if there’s a guy who could step back in without missing a beat, it’s Crosby.

He’s going to need a couple of games to get his timing back and get back into the flow of the game. You can practice as hard as you want, but it will never match the intensity, speed and emotions of an actual game.

It’s already March 14, let’s say he works out hard with no setbacks or recurring concussion symptoms. A conservative time scale would suggest it could take two to three weeks for him to get back into game-shape.

On the long end of the scale, that pushes his return to the beginning of April and would give him four regular season games to get ready for the playoffs.

Again, this is assuming he’s symptom free, has no setbacks and he stays on a conservative recovery program.

Option No. 2 – The Pessimist

Believe me, I was just as excited to see the news about Crosby skating as anyone else. However, don’t read too much into it.

Today’s 15-minute skate only consisted of Crosby stick-handling through some cones and firing a couple pucks. We don’t know how hard he tried to skate or if he even broke much of a sweat.

It’s a great first step, don’t get me wrong. However, it could be the first in a long, long line of baby steps that will result in his return being pushed back to next season.

Again, the Penguins haven’t officially shut Crosby down, but the lack of updates on his progress over the last month could be a good indicator that the season is over for No. 87.

The longer he’s out, the more asinine rumors will start to emerge. For example, Bob McCown of the Fan590 in Toronto reported that Crosby’s family was urging him to retire.

Crosby’s father, Troy, has since come out and refuted the claim, which was then followed up by his son’s appearance on the ice this morning.

This next part is not meant to be the beginning of another rumor, but it is a thought about today’s skate.

Could it have just been a PR move by the Penguins to dispel all the rumors and basically show that Crosby is indeed alive and progressing?

No one knows the seriousness and potential complications of Crosby’s concussion. It could very easily take him until the middle of next season to return. It all depends on how the healing and recovery process goes.

Concussions are an unfortunate aspect of a physical game such as hockey. While the league adopted Rule 48 after Matt Cooke knocked out Marc Savard with an elbow to the head, it took someone of Crosby’s star-caliber to put the wheels of change in overdrive.

During today’s general managers’ meetings in Florida, they reviewed every concussion suffered this season and adopted a five-step plan in order to curb concussions in the NHL. Click here for the full story from TSN.ca.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand here.

Option No. 3 – Cautious Optimism

It’s great to see No. 87 back on the ice if only for a brief period. Considering the amount and magnitude of the injuries the Penguins have sustained this season, Crosby’s minimal progress is a welcome sight.

We already know Evgeni Malkin won’t be back until next season. Several guys like Mark Letestu, Dustin Jeffrey and Chris Kunitz recently returned to the lineup. Comrie, Asham, Tangradi and Brooks Orpik are progressing with each passing day as well.

Somehow, despite all the injuries the Penguins are still fourth in the Eastern Conference and are only three points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the conference and division lead. Seeing potential help on the way is very exciting, but it’s nothing set in stone.

It would be great if Crosby could return in time for the playoffs, but I don’t want to see the Penguins rush him back just to take a run at the Stanley Cup this season. The core of the Penguins is locked up for the foreseeable future, so there’s no real need to rush him back.

If he’s 100 percent, gets clearance from the doctors and has no ill-effects for an extended period of time, I’m okay with him returning. However, even if he’s at 99 percent, I don’t think he should be inserted into the lineup where he could be risking potential career-ending repercussions.

Savard’s career could be over after suffering another concussion this season. No one wants to see the same question marks surrounding the face of the Penguins and more importantly, the face of the NHL.

The NHL needs Crosby to come back and continue to carry the torch to grow the game. Like him or hate him, he makes casual fans stop and watch what he’s able to do with a stick and a puck.

So, where do I think we’re at?

I’m leaning more toward the pessimistic option. I’m not sold on today being just a PR move, but I also find it hard to believe that he’d be ready to go for the playoffs after supposedly sitting around dealing with concussion symptoms for two-plus months.

I haven’t spoken with anyone on the inside here. This is just my gut reaction based on what I’ve been told and what I’ve read about this situation.

Here’s hoping that I’m wrong and that Crosby is further along than any of us have been led to believe.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens.

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