Even though Sidney Crosby is a shoo-in to be chosen Tuesday as one of the captains who will pick the teams for the NHL all-star game, do not be surprised if he declines to participate, even if he recovers from his concussion.
The word filtering out of the Pittsburgh Penguins is that Crosby is an angry young man, angry enough to pull his considerable star presence from one of the league's showcase events because he does not think the NHL is doing enough to protect its players. An NHL source said Crosby is not likely to tell the NHL he is withdrawing from the all-star game to protest the fact neither player who hit him on the head was suspended. However, he could easily decline and cite the need for complete recovery from a mild concussion.
The source said Crosby, who showed up at the all-star game in Montreal two years ago even though he sustained a knee injury and could not play, is not inclined to do any more such favours right now.
At this point, though, it is not known if Crosby, who has not played since he was hit from behind by Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman, will be healthy enough to participate. His agent, Pat Brisson, said Monday that Crosby is "progressing well but he has to be symptom-free before he resumes any physical activity. He says he feels better but he's not there yet."
With the all-star game less than two weeks away on Jan. 30, it is reasonable to assume the Penguins, who stopped giving daily updates on Crosby's condition last week, would not be distressed if he took a pass. If Crosby elected not to play until Feb. 1 against the New York Rangers, the Penguins' first game after the all-star break, it would be a recovery period of almost four weeks.
Brisson declined to say if he thinks Crosby will skip the all-star game. He did say from the standpoint of the injury "it's all about timing. The game is coming quickly."
The first hit Crosby incurred was in the NHL's Winter Classic on Jan. 1 when he was blindsided by David Steckel of the Washington Capitals. The second was Jan. 6 when Hedman hit him from behind. Neither Steckel nor Hedman was penalized under the new rule on blindside hits to the head, which calls for a major penalty, a game misconduct and an automatic league review for further discipline in the form of fines and suspensions. Steckel did not get a penalty during the game while Hedman received a minor penalty for boarding.
Brisson said he believes Crosby suffered the concussion, which was the first of his career, as a result of the first hit by Steckel. There was some controversy because the Penguins said the concussion came after the second hit, by Hedman. The Penguins were criticized for allowing Crosby to play after the Steckel hit, but Brisson said the only symptom he felt at first was a sore neck. Brisson said both he and Crosby think the Penguins' medical staff handled the situation properly.
"I firmly believe the Steckel hit was what propelled the concussion," Brisson said. "But you didn't have the symptoms [of a concussion]coming out until three or four days later. All he thought he had at first was a sore neck."
While Crosby has not said publicly he is angry enough with the NHL to boycott the all-star game, he did make it clear shortly after the Hedman hit he feels both players should have been suspended. Brisson said Monday the league has to toughen the head-shot rule to include any hit to the head. Neither he nor Crosby were happy that the NHL ruled the Steckel hit was accidental, thus not worthy of a suspension.
"If you accidentally hit someone with your stick and cut them, well, too bad, you get a penalty," Brisson said. "The league needs another step forward [with the head-shots rule]
"If you accidentally hit someone on the head, you should be suspended for a game. It makes it easier on everyone if there is a penalty and a suspension. Players will be more careful."
Brisson, who is one of the most powerful player agents in the NHL as the co-director of Creative Artists Agency's hockey division along with J.P. Barry, plans to lobby for more teeth for the head-shots rule. He wants his fellow agents to join him.
"It is our job to be a voice for the players," he said. "When the Titanic sunk in 1912 there were not enough lifeboats so they changed the rules.
"The brain is the same one players had 45 or 50 years ago but their bodies are much different. They are much bigger and faster. The hits are much harder."