Sidney Crosby: 10 Questions About the Return of the Penguins Captain in 2011-12

Alison Myers@AlisonM_110Correspondent IMay 6, 2011

Sidney Crosby: 10 Questions About the Return of the Penguins Captain in 2011-12

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins talks to the media during a press conference after losing 3-1 to the Washington Capitals during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsbur
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby missed the final 48 games of the 2010-11 season with a concussion. He also could not play in the Stanley Cup playoffs and help the Penguins try to avoid being ousted by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Recently, Crosby told the media that he had suffered a setback while preparing to return. He hoped to come back during the past season but continued having problems with headaches and had to stop skating. There was never a firm date for his return, but he stated that he will be ready to play next season.

    There will be a lot of attention surrounding Crosby's return, both on a local level in Pittsburgh and on a national level.

    Here are 10 questions that we can speculate on about his return, even if we don't find out the answers until next season.

1. When Will He Return?

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins walks off the ice after being defeated 3-1 by the Washington Capitals during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Crosby first stated upon being diagnosed with a concussion that he was determined to come back before the end of the 2010-11 campaign. 

    However, that came and went, and in between, few words were said about Crosby's progress. Rumors were swirling around the Internet, but some of the things these rumors said never materialized as truth. 

    Crosby and the Penguins can say all they want about him being ready, but no one can say when his exact return date is for a variety of reasons.

    So when will Crosby be ready?

    Will he back on the ice for training camp, or will he need some more time off when the 2011-12 regular season starts?

    Unless someone can say for sure that he won't suffer anymore setbacks and will feel good enough to go, we can't give the exact date Crosby will don a Penguins jersey again. The uncertainty can be scary, but we will just have to deal with it until September.

2. How Will the NHL Be Impacted?

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    GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 08:  NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a press conference before the NHL game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena on March 8, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Get
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Crosby's concussion and recovery timetable was one of the NHL's biggest stories of the season. During the speculation about when or if he could return, a debate on cutting down on headshots emerged, along with a new policy for evaluating and treating players who got a head injury during a game.

    Crosby also missed the NHL All-Star Game as a result of his injury. He was not even available to come to the game and do press. Some thought it could negatively impact the All-Star Game.

    However, the ratings were still up 33 percent from the 2009 event and drew a 1.2 rating.

    Pittsburgh's games also reached a new record rating, averaging an 8.68 rating for games aired on ROOT Sports (formerly FSN Pittsburgh).

    Obviously, the TV ratings were not affected. The most hardcore fans will watch games and special NHL events whether or not Crosby is in attendance. The new format for this year's All-Star Game also encouraged people to watch, even if they normally would not.

    The area where the NHL will be impacted is to see whether or not they are serious about cutting down on head shots. There has been some additional controversy, but in the offseason, they can fine tune the rules even more and get another chance at cracking down next season.

3. Is He at Risk for Another Concussion?

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins battles for the puck against John Carlson #74 of the Washington Capitals during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvani
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    When it comes to concussions in sports, no two athletes deal with them the same.

    Some only miss a few games and are able to return relatively quickly. Others need months or even over a year to recover. Therefore, even though we know some things about what Crosby has been through, no one knows for sure how severe his problems are or what his doctor is telling him.

    However, we do know some things about concussions that can be applied to Crosby.

    For example, athletes who suffer one concussion are at a higher risk for a second one. They can also deal with second impact syndrome, which means they suffer another concussion before their first one is healed. This is most likely to happen in athletes who play before they are 100 percent healed.

    We do know that Crosby is taking his time coming back and not rushing his recovery. He is already doing the right thing.

    This does not mean he will never have another concussion, but his caution is making him less likely to cope with another not long after returning next season.

4. How Big of a Target Will He Be?

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 05:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates during warmups prior to taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 5, 2011 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    One of the concerns about Crosby's return will no doubt be whether or not other players will try to come after him.

    Hockey players have no problem delivering body checks and throwing hits, and Crosby probably won't be safe from any of this. Once he is back on the ice, he will be fair game for the physical play of the NHL.

    However, will he be subject to more than just usual hockey plays? Will one of his opponents deliberately try to injure him and give him another concussion?

    Very few players in the league go out of their way to hurt other players. That said, Crosby needs to be aware that he is a big target and take the necessary steps to protect himself. His teammates should also be willing to step up and defend their captain.

5. When Will He Be Able To Contribute Again?

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 28:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second goal of the game in the first period against the Atlanta Thrashers at Consol Energy Center on December 28, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justi
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    This is not Crosby's first experience with being out of the lineup for a long period of time.

    In 2008, he missed 21 games with a high ankle sprain. Upon his return, he had an assist in a game against the Lightning. He played three games and posted four points, but then took an additional two weeks off because he felt his ankle wasn't as well healed as he would have liked.

    When he came back again, he was scoreless in his first game back. However, he had two assists in his second game back and finished the year with 72 points in 53 games.

    That year, Crosby returned like he had never missed a step and had a successful year despite injury problems.

    Will the fact that he had a concussion rather than a sprained ankle this time change that, or will he still be ready and eager to go?

6. Who Will His Linemates Be?

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 28:  Chris Kunitz #14 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his third period goal with teammates Sidney Crosby #87 and Pascal Dupuis #9 against the Atlanta Thrashers at Consol Energy Center on December 28, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pen
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Crosby started off last season playing on a line with Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz.

    Kunitz will be back for 2011-12. He had 48 points this season, an improvement on his 32-point campaign in 2009-10. He finished third on the Penguins in scoring.

    Dupuis had 37 points this year. He is an unrestricted free agent, though, and it is unknown if he is going to get an offer to stay.

    Should Dupuis leave Pittsburgh, Crosby will need another linemate.

    He might get to play with James Neal, one of Pittsburgh's trade acquisitions. However, Neal largely disappointed on his first stint in a Penguins uniform, posting just one goal in 20 games. He also only had one goal in the playoffs, a double overtime game winning goal that gave the Pens a 3-1 series lead against Tampa.

    Will Crosby get a chance to play with Neal, which could then give Neal a chance to improve on his point totals?

7. Can He Catch Up to His Rivals?

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins are seen during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Washington wo
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Crosby was having one of the best years of his career before he got injured in January.

    He had 32 goals and 66 points, and had he not gotten hurt, he could've been on pace for an Art Ross or Rocket Richard Trophy.

    How does he measure up to two of the NHL's other star forwards?

    Alex Ovechkin, the player Crosby is always compared to, had 32 goals and 85 points this year. Therefore, his goal total matched Crosby's, even though Ovechkin played more games.

    Ovechkin had 10 points in the playoffs. Crosby had 19 in the 2009-10 postseason.

    Steven Stamkos, the player who tied Crosby for the 2010 Rocket Richard, had another solid campaign. He was second in the league with 45 goals and finished with 91 points. But in the playoffs, he has just six points through 11 games.

    If Crosby is fully healthy and has good energy levels, there is no doubt he will be able to compete with Ovechkin and Stamkos once again.

8. Will He Be the Same Player?

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    UNIONDALE, NY - DECEMBER 29:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on December 29, 2010 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    By any standard, Crosby was already a successful player before his concussion.

    He already holds Penguin and NHL records. He has won a Stanley Cup. He has numerous NHL awards under his belt. He has put up at least 100 points in four of his six NHL seasons.

    Will he be able to get back to that same level of play?

    My first instinct, especially given the other evidence in this slideshow, is to say yes.

    But just like anything else, only time will tell.

9. Will the Penguins Be a Playoff Contender Again?

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 27:  The Pittsburgh Penguins stand during the National Anthem before the start of play against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy C
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    If Crosby had not gotten hurt, the Penguins would likely still be competing in the playoffs.

    But since what's done is done, let's take a look at what else hurt them in the postseason.

    In addition to not having their captain, the Penguins were also without Evgeni Malkin, who tore his ACL in February. They were also missing a physical player and strong penalty killer in Matt Cooke, who was given a lengthy suspension after elbowing New York Rangers forward Ryan McDonagh in the head. 

    They got solid play from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and offense from players such as Arron Asham and Tyler Kennedy, but that's nowhere near what they needed to carry them through a long playoff run.

    Sixteen players from this year's roster are under contract next season, and 13 of those players played in the postseason. Furthermore, despite missing Crosby, the Penguins still earned the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and were even fighting for the Atlantic Division title much of the year.

    When Crosby comes back, the rest of the NHL better watch out.

10. Is He Up for the Pressure?

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on while playing against the Washington Capitals during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jami
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Crosby has spent most of his life in the spotlight, and his time in the NHL has only made that spotlight bigger.

    He was the center of attention at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. His every move and word has been analyzed and picked apart by experts, newspaper reporters and fan bloggers. He had all eyes on him in 2008 and 2009 when the Penguins were playing the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Crosby has responded positively every time he is under the microscope. He answers questions with a sense of composure, and his on-ice play demonstrates he is anything but frazzled.

    When the Penguins once again had the odds against them in the 2009 Finals rematch with Detroit, Crosby became the youngest captain to lead his team to a Cup.

    So how will he react come next season, when everyone who is anyone in the NHL world has something to say about his return?

    It will probably be just another day at the office.