There's always been some calculation behind the release of Sidney Crosby concussion rehabilitation news.
It'll arrive when the heat's turned up too high from those asking about his future, or after a damning report from the media along the same lines. This week's news — that Sid would travel with the team and begin skating on Friday in Florida — arrived at a time when the injury-decimated Penguins have lost six straight and are currently out of a playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
But what if there were other factors, beyond the standings, that necessitated this very public indication that he's on his way back?
Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote an incendiary column on the reaction to Crosby's injury rehabilitation, both from fans and from the Penguins locker room. The undeniable accusation: That Kovacevic's sources claim Pittsburgh players are losing patience with Crosby during these absences from the lineup, as other players battle through injuries.
A few, certainly not all, of Crosby's teammates are of the mind that he's been symptom-free for a while, though they have no medical basis for that. Some think he should be playing. Some simply think he should be doing more to communicate, or at least be as visible as concussed defenseman Kris Letang.
Last week in Pittsburgh, according to three sources, a group of players held a 45-minute meeting to discuss a temporary captaincy. Another source disputed that any such meeting occurred. If it did, were those players kidding?
One of the great mysteries in the already-murky matter of Sidney Crosby's health has been the real reaction from players. Not the platitudes they give reporters or the PR lines they straddle when discussing it — what they say behind closed doors or at the bar or on their iPhones.
The players I've spoken to about this in the last year on background have said the same thing: That they've adjusted to life without Crosby. Whether his injury is a cynical rallying point or just the reality of their surroundings, it's almost become like the Montreal Canadiens and Andrei Markov: There's no candlelight vigil for a player you're never sure will be well enough to contribute. You just put your head down, forge ahead; if and when he comes back, adjust accordingly.
To that end, maybe a discussion about a temporary captaincy was a functional one, seeing as how there may not be someone wearing the 'C' for the majority of this season and, perhaps, subsequent ones.
But it'd be awfully Pollyanna to believe these veteran players — and there's no question that's who'd meet on this — wouldn't understand the optics and ramifications of taking the captaincy from an injured Sidney Crosby. To even broach the subject speaks to a pessimism and frustration that's jarring when you consider the perceived cohesion of this team.
The frightening thing about this for the Penguins is that the players aren't alone in their doubt during this second concussion rehab. As Pensburgh recently noted, something's happened in the Pittsburgh fan base wherein there's much more cynicism about Crosby's condition now than during the nearly 11 months he missed in 2011:
I'm appalled to see so many people allow their emotions to totally take over their logic. I understand this is an emotional time with the six-game losing streak and uncertainty of Crosby's status, but this is getting a little ridiculous. How can anyone honestly say Crosby is faking anything after seeing his comeback game on Nov. 21st? That rush when Crosby netted his first goal and the ensuing celebration is proof that Crosby was finally back where he belonged and all of the stress and pain he endured completely exploded in front of us. The moment was raw and perfect because the emotion from a usually emotionless Crosby was so real.
But now how many of those fans who once held the "SID" signs at that game, thanking God that we are so lucky to have the greatest player on the planet, have become the conspirators totally disregarding everything Crosby has been for this city and organization?
Is this what we've become as fans? Have we lost that much faith and patience in our captain?
The majority of the fans haven't. Perhaps the same goes for the players. But there's no question that the push/pull has intensified between those who believe the "Ferrari's" spending too long in the shop vs. those who can't fathom how armchair neurosurgeons could be so callous.
Crosby's due to speak to the media today. He'll likely have to address this, although whether he chooses to is another story. But the majority of his supporters likely echo the final lines of that Tribune piece:
For right now, this is someone going through the toughest time of his life. And the Kid could use an assist, a helping hand when he's down.
Stop kicking already. It's not what we Pittsburghers do to one of our own.
This is all really the last thing a struggling hockey club needs.
UPDATE: From today's morning skate, a pretty amazing scene via Sam Kasan:
Everybody wearing makeshift C's on their sweaters after the Tribune report.
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