Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Crosby’s Return Tempered By Marc Savard’s Situation

By Mike Chen

A few weeks ago, the rumor mill churned with the idea that Sidney Crosby might not be ready for Pittsburgh Penguins training camp.

You remember Sidney Crosby, right? Stanley Cup Champion, Hart Trophy winner, captain of the Penguins, and quite possibly the best player on the planet? The same guy who was on a career pace for points and goals when two knocks to the head put him on injured reserve for the latter half of the 2010-11 season.

The good news is that Crosby is doing his regular summer training routine. The iffy news is that he hasn't been cleared for contact drills yet. Whether that's a function of it being August or doctor's precautions, we really don't know. All we can tell is this: Crosby's better than he was six months ago, though he may not be 100%.

So, will he or won't he be back in time for training camp? The most sensible answer to that question is this: it doesn't matter, he should be ready whenever doctors tell him he's ready. We've seen the devastating effects of concussions on athletes that come back too soon, both in the short term and the long term. Marc Savard has unfortunately become the poster-child for concussion issues. Savard rushed back before he was ready, then had two stints of fairly ineffective play. Since then, he's been on the shelf battling the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome: dizziness, depression, memory problems, and more. Ask Savard and he'll say he came back too early, that his body wasn't physically ready for another big hit.

It's the type of cautionary tale that has defined this summer for Crosby. The training is there, and if he's like other concussion victims, there's a good chance that Crosby will be strengthening his neck and core in particular to prevent the whiplash effect upon impact — one common way to get a concussion. But in terms of jumping on the ice, taking hits, driving the net, and grinding in the corners, the questions are still there.

No one has stated in particular that Crosby won't be ready for training camp and the pre-season. It's just that they haven't confirmed that he will be there, which, of course, makes the rumor mill run rampant otherwise. While Penguins fans are anxious to see their captain return, there's no point in rushing him just to meet the milestone of Game 1. Marc Savard is evidence of that.

Instead, as frustrating as it is, this should be dictated by doctors, not by coaches, GMs, or Crosby's own competitive drive. The goal is to think big picture – perhaps another one, two, or three months means that Crosby will have a healthy trip through the rest of his career because he took the appropriate steps to recovery. You can bet that Savard, the Boston Bruins, Savard's friends and family, all of them wished he didn't rush to return. All that's done is put him into a more vulnerable position. Could an additional three or six months of rehab, conditioning, and recovery had given Savard the necessary shields for a safer career? No one knows, but one has to think that it wouldn't hurt.

If doctors clear Crosby for training camp contact, then all the more power to him. But you can bet that everyone involved understands that this isn't just another player; this is the face of the franchise and the league's marketing initiative. A few months of safety is acceptable if the result is good health for years to come.

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