The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t believe superstar center Sidney Crosby experienced a setback in his offseason training despite a reoccurrence of post-concussion symptoms.
While Crosby reported such symptoms following vigorous workouts in his native Nova Scotia, Penguins general manager Ray Shero said Monday, “I think he has progressed really well this summer. He is happy with his progress.”
Shero added: “He’s pushed himself pretty hard, which is the good news. I think that’s to be expected. (With) this injury, he’s never had to get to the point where he’s had to shut himself down or anything.”
Shero did not say what the symptoms were, but Crosby was bothered by headaches after he absorbed hard hits in successive games Jan. 1 and Jan. 5 and again after he resumed working out last spring. Crosby, the NHL’s leading scorer at the time he was hurt, missed the second half of the season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pittsburgh was knocked out by Tampa Bay in the first round, when Crosby was forced to stop practicing because of the headaches. He resumed working out after returning to his summer home in Halifax.
With the Penguins still a month away from the start of training camp and seven-plus weeks away from their Oct. 6 opener at Vancouver, Shero would not speculate when Crosby might be cleared for contact. Crosby, who turned 24 on Aug. 7, must gain such clearance before he can take part in full practices or play in a game.
During the weekend, a Twitter report said Crosby might not be ready for the opener. But Shero doesn’t seem to believe that the highly-talented and highly-motivated Crosby, who broke into the League at age 18 in 2005 with great expectations and has fulfilled nearly all of them, has had a major setback.
“He’s happy with his progress,” Shero said. “Training camp is a month away, so there’s no expectation for me that he won’t be ready or will be ready. … All in all, it’s been a good summer for him getting back home and really getting back into his workout routine on and off the ice, so we’ll see what next month brings us for training camp and, of course, Oct. 6 for the regular season.”
Because their Stanley Cup-winning captain’s offseason has gone well otherwise, the Penguins have no plans to ask him to shift his offseason work to Pittsburgh so he can be more closely monitored. They also did not detail any plans to send one of their trainers to Nova Scotia to check him out.
“The good news is he continues to work out and has worked out hard,” Shero said. “When he went back (to Nova Scotia) he has a progression plan with his trainer, Andy O’Brien, which he’s gone through.”
Crosby routinely returns to Pittsburgh a week ahead of camp to skate with teammates. Until then, he remains cleared to train — except for contact — on and off the ice.
“His spirits are good,” said Shero, who said he texts or phones the former NHL MVP regularly.
Shero emphasized again that the club’s priority is to make sure that Crosby’s career is not jeopardized.
“The thing for me and for the organization is the bigger picture with Sidney Crosby, making sure that he is 100 percent cleared and ready to play when he does come back,” Shero said. “He’s not going to be pushed to come back to practice to play.”
Given Crosby’s competitiveness, the Penguins understand they must be careful to make sure he doesn’t return prematurely.
“I want to make sure that a year from now, three years from now, five years from now, that he’s still the best player in the League,” Shero said. “(We’ll) take the appropriate steps and go from there.”
Shero’s son, Chris, an amateur player in Pittsburgh, also had a concussion about the same time Crosby did last season. As a result, Shero said he is much more knowledgeable about an injury that doctors learn more about each year.
“I don’t have Sept. 16 on my calendar for him (Crosby), or Oct. 6. My only concern is his long-term health, keeping in mind he’s a hockey player, a 24-year-old kid,” Shero said. “I want him to feel good about himself. He’ll be back at some point to play hockey. We’ll see another four weeks from now when he gets back, get him evaluated, and go from there.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said there are contingency plans for the upcoming season that don’t include certain players, but that such schemes are routinely made because of the possibility of injuries. In past seasons the Penguins have lost players, such as defenseman Sergei Gonchar, to significant injuries even before a season began.
Crosby was shaken up when he absorbed a blindside hit by the Capitals’ David Steckel late in the second period of the Bridgestone Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Heinz Field. Crosby stayed in the game and did not report any concussion-like symptoms afterward.
He played again in the Penguins’ next game, Jan. 5 against Tampa Bay, but left the ice after his head struck the boards following a hit by the Lightning’s Victor Hedman. Crosby, who had a League-high 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games when he was hurt, hasn’t played since.
Crosby resumed skating March 31. But he stopped working out about a week into the Penguins’ seven-game loss to Tampa Bay when the symptoms surfaced again.
Since making his debut in the 2005-06 season, Crosby has 215 goals and 357 assists for 572 points in 412 career regular season games, winning the 2006-07 scoring title with 120 points. He missed two months of the 2007-08 season with a high-ankle sprain, but returned later that season to lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final. They won the Stanley Cup a season later.