Sidney Crosby has marked his return as imminent by not ruling out playing this coming Friday against Dallas. This will be the first time has has laced up since a season ending concussion in 2010. The impact of him rejoining Pittsburgh will be felt on various levels, beginning within the team, followed by the rest of the Eastern Conference and eventually the whole league. Needless to say, Crosby is by far the most influential player in today’s NHL.
The Pittsburgh roster will not actually deal with a serious overhaul to adjust for Sidney’s return. Crosby will most likely start with substantially less ice time than he is used to on the 2nd or 3rd line and work his way back up, cutting out a bottom two center in the process (Richard Park or Mark Letetsu). Neither are a substantial loss to the line-up and the immense depth of centers featured on the Penguins will once again be dominant. He will very quickly return to his job of 1st line center. The fact Jordan Staal will fall back to a 3rd line center on a team is unbelievable; the majority of NHL franchises would be lucky to have him as a star second liner (in only 13 games played, he has 10 points and is +4). The real winners in Crosby’s return are James Neal and Kris Letang. The Penguin’s PP will quickly return to its former glory with James Neal an additional threat to add into the mix. Pittsburgh is about to get a whole lot stronger, a serious issue for other teams considering the Penguins are already first in the East.
Every other team is crossing their fingers that Crosby wakes up tomorrow morning with such a bad headache that all he can do is lay in bed and vomit. Unfortunately, the Pens have been so careful with nursing Sid back to health that there really doesn’t seem to be anything stopping him at this point. Even without both Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins battled their way to the second round of the playoffs last year, still only losing to Montreal in a decisive game 7. Picking up where they left off, The Pens will once again be the unequivocally best team in the East as both a regular season and playoff force this year. The life of teams like Washington and Philly are about to get even more difficult, but Gary Bettman could not be happier.
Crosby’s return, along with the new disciplinary system implemented by Brendan Shanahan, marks a new era in player safety. Hopefully this will breathe a bit of fresh life into a league that has been plagued by so much controversy around head shots and concussions as of late. And with the NBA fan market ripe for the picking due to the lockout, a little bit of good press goes a long way to acquire new viewers for the league.
By showing restraint in the past when not 100% fit, Crosby has not only cemented his leadership skills, but proved that he will accept nothing less than his best. Sid the Kid will pick up fairly close to the rampage he was on last year of 66 points in 42 game, playing with the same vitality and raw talent that he has always displayed on the ice without a fraction of change in his game style.