The signs were there.
Though it'd been months since his January 2011 concussion, Sidney Crosby was still having symptoms that persisted well into summer's pre-season prep period.
An extended recovery, coupled with the brief transition time between the all-go signal and ice play, made me sense the Penguins' captain was alright but maybe not all right.
Understandably eager to return to active duty after getting necessary medical clearance for contact, when the puck dropped on this current NHL season Sidney took to the rink with a cautious optimism while his betters held their collective breath.
I had hoped El Sid would sit out the 2011-12 NHL season. Sure, everyone takes a hit when the League's marquee man is out indefinitely, but no one person is bigger than the game and I never heard of a player regretful he took too much time to recover.
Concussions are tricky. Don't need a medical license to know that much. They can clear-up pretty quickly or linger long. And scientists often don't know exactly why.
Blows to the head or neck region (med-ops newest possible source of his on-going concussion-symptoms) are serious stuff. The human body's built to withstand some abuse but there are limits, of course.
Crosby says he wants back in, "ASAP" ("Crosby" / Lexis - PTR / Yohe / 2-19). But what do ya' expect? The man's a warrior. You've gotta' read between the lines.
"I feel like I'm getting better" the Penguin VIP said recently. "The headaches are a little more tolerable than before." "You have days when you're getting a little better... (and) you have days when (symptoms) get worse." "It's kind of a roller coaster" ("Crosby" / PTR).
"(A) little more tolerable," he says. He's a real trooper. But you don't have to be a sport psychologist to surmise just how concerned he is about his future health.
Should he sit the rest of this season? I'll go one better. The only sensible course of action now: retirement, with a caveat. If by next summer he's been long symptom-free, reconsider. In today's sport world retirement is a book slowly closed and often reopened.
But it's important to go all-in and utter the word 'retirement.' In Sid's case, it may be a strategic mental-bridge to cross. Otherwise, every action is a half-baked proposition.
Hindsight's 20 / 20. Can't fault ownership or Crosby too much for giving it a go this season. Nobody takes to the ice unless they pass muster with NHL rules on concussions.
Instead of harping on when this man will skate again, management, media & fans oughta' send Sidney a different message: heal-up & hang-em up, kid. If you never return and call it a career, that's just fine. It's been a good ride, we're grateful and the game is better for the short time you had in it.
I hope the Penguins' star fully recovers and regains his former self. If not, a premature retirement doesn't have to be a tragedy. It could be impetus for real change in the NHL.
An early Crosby exit can spur on rule changes that return the NHL to an earlier state when hockey, not head shots, dominated play. Violent hits and fisticuffs to be sure, but a League where the Hanson brothers (Slapshot) were the exception and not the rule.
Most hockey men have little interest in cheap-shoting and beating on others. It ain't MMA. What most will do, feel they must do, is retaliate, for pride and their teammates. As such, players need a grounding, a mental sanctuary of sorts. They need a reason to make the wiser, harder choice and pass on retaliation because the penalty is way too stiff.
But fight fans rule NHL hockey and Mr. Bettman has shown small interest in taking them head-on. Instituting a blood-test would be a brave first push-off.
What does the future hold for Sidney? One thing's for certain: he'll never play at full strength if he doesn't at least sit this season out. Whatever's ailing him, be it head or neck injury, the experts, as skillful & diligent as they are, haven't yet found the net on Mr. Sid's condition.
Time, and lots of it, may be the diagnosis Sidney Crosby needs to hear.