Sidney Crosby is out indefinitely with reoccurring concussion like symptoms. Words that all Penguin fans and most civil hockey fans find terrible and concerning.
8 games into his first comeback attempt he started experiencing symptoms that he knows all too well and decided to act on the side of caution and shut it down. All fans of 87 knew there was the potential of something like this happening but it doesn’t change the disappointment of losing the opportunity to watch hockey’s finest player. Penguin fans are veterans of losing the best player in hockey to very serious conditions as they lived through all the ups and downs of Mario Lemieux’s various ailments which included but are not limited to Hodgkin’s disease, chronic back issues, hip issues, and what ultimately ended his career an irregular heartbeat.
The difference between Crosby and Lemieux is that no matter how close Crosby is monitored there is no guarantee that he will ever be over his condition. There is not an exact science to anything brain related. There is still so much unknown, and while great strides have been made the past 20 years on recognition and treatment of concussions, there is still much more to go. That will always be the most maddening part of any athlete’s struggle with this problem. The athlete will never know if they are “cured” or if they ever will be in the clear. They only thing they know is how they feel that particular day. One day they feel great and try to take the next step in their recovery and find that they are two steps backwards after the attempt is made. It is an unfair battle. It is not about being tough or resilient, the athlete is powerless. When talking about elite athletes, that has to be an awful spot for them to be in. So used to having control on the playing field, their training, their diet, their practice schedule, their levels of exertion and then they have no control at all over any of it. That would wear on the strongest willed competitor.
Crosby will get excellent treatment and he will be given the best chance to overcome this issue but it will be without any guarantees. There are a lot of comparisons that are being thrown out there by saying Crosby is the next Lindros, Primeau, or Lafontaine. I do not think those comparisons are fair because they could not have possibly been given the same quality treatment as there is now, there just was not the understanding about concussions as there is now. The example that I think fans of the Penguins and Crosby should be looking towards is Patrice Bergeron.
Bergeron was knocked unconscious in October of 2007 by a Randy Jones hit. This left Bergeron unable to play the rest of that regular season. Much like Crosby Bergeron had extended time off. He targeted coming back against the Montreal Canadiens in an April 2008 playoff series, the doctors held him back. He then trained all summer without symptoms, much like Crosby this past summer. He returned to play for the Bruins at the start of the regular season and found success. However in December he was hit again and suffered another concussion, not just symptoms. Up to this point Crosby has not suffered another concussion as he passed his imPACT test, he just has symptoms. The December concussion sidelined Bergeron for one month to where he was able to return to good/great form and have a successful finish to the year. Since then he has regained his footing as a great two way player and he has parlayed that into being a contributor for a Team Canada Gold Medal winning team in Vancouver and a Stanley Cup Championship for Boston.
No situation is similar when trying to compare players and their respective concussions but Bergeron’s story at least provides evidence that it does not have to be all doom and gloom for hockey’s brightest star. I am still cautiously optimistic for his future.
There are some issues that will eventually have to be addressed by Ray Shero moving forward. What do you do for 87’s next contract? It is not like when Lemieux was playing where you just keep paying the guy and wait for him to recover; there is now a salary cap that has to be managed. Having 8.7 million dollars tied up with much uncertainty is not a position of strength when it comes to composing a Stanley Cup contending roster. While you can get cap relief for somebody on long term injured reserve it is only for the time missed by that player. What happens if that player is in and out of the lineup with that kind of cap hit? You are not able to sign a significant player to replace Crosby because when he comes back the cap room disappears. I do not envy Ray Shero’s job.
The timing of Crosby’s injury is also a tough one for the league. The NBA is currently suffering in the court of public opinion from their lockout as well as David Stern’s snafus canceling multiple Chris Paul trades. The NHL has an opportunity to keep growing their product as they have been the past few years while the NBA is at best maintaining the status quo. The best way for the NHL to keep making gains is by having special players doing special things. Crosby was doing that before the Winter Classic collision with Steckel derailed his season last year, he then did that again with his comeback against the Islanders this season.
There are many other players in the league that are great. Will the league continue on without 87? Surely. Does that mean it is good for the league and it’s fans, no. The NHL as an entertainment entity is always better when it has quality assets. Right now it’s #1 asset is back to uncertain terms. That does not help the league.
The most important thing is Crosby’s long term health in a non hockey capacity. He needs to listen to his body and if that means not playing hockey then it is what it is. Take as much time as you need and if you can continue to play that is great, especially for Penguin fans. Hopefully hockey fans are not robbed of a generational talent and hockey ambassador like 87.