The biggest news in the NHL for the past six months hasn't really been news at all. A report leaks out that Sidney Crosby is facing setbacks in his recovery from a January concussion. Shortly thereafter, that report is refuted. It's happened several times, and it happened again on Monday.
While it's hard to figure out what's truth and which reports are completely false, it's hard to believe there could be this much smoke without any fire. It truly does appear that Crosby, the face of hockey, is having trouble getting over his concussion.
It's to the point where Toronto Star columnist Cathal Kelly is suggesting the recently turned 24-year-old should retire.
"Why would Crosby risk an invalid's life in order to return to a game he has already conquered?" Kelly wrote. "His trophy case is full. He has a championship ring and an Olympic gold medal. He's been league MVP, leading scorer and the consensus best player in the game. He's only 24 and his hall-of-fame bonafides are beyond questioning. His material needs are settled for a dozen lifetimes."
All of what Kelly says is fair (except maybe the use of the word "invalid." Is that OK?), but is it really worth shutting down what could be one of the 10 greatest careers in the history of hockey? The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no.
Those of us in Boston know all too well the devastating effects of significant concussions, and we know just as well what can happen when a player tries to return from one. Marc Savard's sad saga over the past two years has given us all a firsthand look at how a life — not to mention a hockey career — can be so wrecked by a brain injury.
With that understood, however, we also know that no two head injuries are alike. That's why we're understanding of the long road back for Crosby — a grace period that a superstar probably wouldn't be allotted as recently as five to 10 years ago. While neither the David Steckel hit nor the Viktor Hedman hit appeared to be the type of hit that generally causes significant head trauma, it's impossible for us to know what happened inside Crosby's skull.
It all brings us to now. Maybe Crosby will be ready to go for the Penguins in a few weeks when training camp opens, but several reports this year have said he won't be. Does that mean he should never play again for the rest of his life?
"There are no goals left for him in the game," Kelly wrote. "At best, all he achieves from now on is more of the same. He still has an entire life to lead after hockey, whether it ends tomorrow or in a decade. What's in the balance is how capable he will be of leading it fully."
Obviously, the thought of Crosby, a standup young man who's gracefully handled his role off the ice and has fulfilled expectations on the ice, struggling to live a normal life is a horrible one. Nobody wants to see that.
At the same time, as hockey fans, we'll selfishly feel cheated if we don't get to see Crosby's career play out the way we expected. Hate him for some of his questionable on-ice behavior or because he's not on your team, but you can't deny he's the best young player in the game. He was on pace for 132 points last year, somewhat impossibly getting better from his already impressive past. As fans of the sport, we know this type of talent comes along once in a generation — maybe. We want to see the next Hall of Famer dominate the game for the next 10-15 years.
But we are not Sidney Crosby. We won't feel the effects of every hit against the boards, every elbow to the back of the head, every headache, every ache and every pain. We won't have to go through any of the struggles, so we don't get to make the decisions.
For now, just like Crosby, all we can do is hope.