Rennie, 1,000 Words: The Crosby Comeback Part 2

Sidney Crosby will make his second highly anticipated return to the ice tonight in the Big Apple. (Dinur Blum/Flickr)

Tonight, Sidney Crosby will skate on a line between Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke against the New York Rangers and for at least a few minutes, everything will seem just a bit better.

Of course, it won’t be. This recent proliferation of concussions (whether it really is new problem or just seems like it) is still a scourge on the game. And we can hector back and forth on reasons and solutions, but if a league and game can’t protect its best players — including The Best Player — there is a systemic failure that needs to be addressed going forward.

Crosby’s second comeback is less about his rightful return, and more about hope (and the absence thereof) that he’ll be able to play for the rest of the season. There’s a career to re-boot, more cups and medals to be won — but is Crosby even capable of getting back on the horse? In the Toronto Star, Dave Feschuk interviews Eric Lindros, perhaps the first famous concussion victim about what, if anything, will need to change to Crosby’s game for him to play out his career safely:

No. 87 appears, at the very least, to be on nobody’s timetable but his own. And for those who’d like to see his career continue, it’s likely a positive sign that, in the nine games he has managed since the now-infamous 2011 Winter Classic collision with David Steckel, he has seemed unafraid to engage in hard contact. Lindros said he knew the end of his career was nigh when he began to dread a trip through the neutral zone.

“You can’t play with fear,” said Lindros, 39.

Over at the Vancouver Province, Cam Cole has the same point. If the narrative in December was ‘How good will Sid be?’, now it’s ‘How long can Sid last?’:

Could Crosby avoid unnecessary contact, and would he be the same player if he did? What of the opposition? Does anybody seriously doubt that each team he will face has at least one player willing to test the soundness of his skull? Maybe that’s why “wait til next year” sounded like the better alternative. Not because it would be safer, although Cherry might be right about that. But because it would delay the moment of truth — the moment when Sidney Crosby gets run over, as he surely will, and the audience holds its breath.

It’s so different this time because now we know Crosby is that much more fragile. Which is ironic, because after the first return — starting at the moment he barreled in on the hapless Anders Nilsson and went backhand shelf  — made him seem briefly immortal. Now, it can’t be brief. Questions will be asked immediately if he looks cautious, which is ridiculous because caution is what will save Crosby’s life.

And what we want so desperately is for this to be a hockey story — not one about concussions or soft-tissue injuries. And certainly, Comeback 2.0 comes with a different pressure. It’s no longer just about Crosby’s health, it’s about what role he can play in the postseason aspirations of the Pens as the National Post’s Bruce Arthur writes:

In other words, he will be playing against teams playing desperate hockey, against players whose futures could be changed by a playoff spot, or playoff position. If all goes well he will be playing in the accelerated ferocity of the playoffs, on a team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations, and he will have to re-establish a connection with a team that is used to following the magnificence of Evgeni Malkin, who has been playing a game with which most players are unfamiliar.

It’s a weird dichotomy. It makes no sense whatsoever that we could lose one of the most skilled players of his era before he even turns 25. But as it’s been argued elsewhere, there’s really nothing material keeping Crosby in the game. He just wants to play. Just needs to play, maybe.

And if he’s ready and his organization is ready, who is anyone else to stop him? We’re all lucky to get to watch Crosby play. But how much luck does Crosby need to keep going?

– Scott Rennie, Managing Editor

@scott_rennie

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