Sidney Crosby didn't say no.
He didn't say yes, either. But on Monday, the NHL's sidelined superstar said he could return from his 10-month concussion layoff as early as this weekend.
While the Penguins captain emphasized his status hasn't changed — and there is no target date for his long-anticipated return — he also said he isn't ruling out any game on the upcoming schedule.
Only a week ago, by contrast, he said there was no chance he would play last Thursday in San Jose or Saturday in Los Angeles. Pittsburgh is enjoying a five-day break before playing the Dallas Stars at home Friday and the Carolina Hurricanes on the road Saturday.
“That's a possibility,” Crosby said of returning Friday. “Just like however many games left there are (a possibility). ... I'd love it to be (Friday), but I would have loved it to be on the West Coast trip, too. There are a lot of different guesses but, like I said, everyone's guesses are as good as mine.”
There is guesswork involved because nobody seems to know for certain how much contact — or how little — Crosby must absorb during practice for his doctors to clear him to play for the first time since Jan. 5.
Crosby unexpectedly flew back to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles to meet Sunday with his concussion specialists, touching off talk that his return was imminent. However, he said he merely wanted to get the session out of the way so he could take part in team-building activities Monday and Tuesday.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma also said nothing has changed. Crosby goes through all drills during practices with his teammates, then is evaluated periodically by those overseeing his recovery to see how he is progressing.
“I just tell them how I feel. That's usually how it goes, giving feedback and letting them know how I'm feeling,” Crosby said. “They usually have tests or ways of evaluating. It's kind of a combination of what I'm telling them and their expert opinion.”
While Crosby impresses almost daily while practising — his speed appears to be the same as it was before he was hurt — his contact has been limited. Despite an occasional bump from a Matt Cooke or a Kris Letang, it doesn't begin to replicate the kind of full-speed, intense hitting that occurs during an NHL game.
“I thought he looked pretty good out there myself,” Bylsma said.
Crosby said there isn't much more conditioning work he could do to get ready to play.
“We are not waiting for an epiphany to make a decision,” Bylsma said. “He's progressing. He's going down that road. I'll reiterate to you again, there is not a timetable or a date right now that we know and you don't.”
Crosby also said it won't matter if his comeback occurs at home or on the road. As soon as he is told he is ready to play, he intends to play, no matter the opponent or the locale.
Next week, the Penguins are at home against Colorado on Nov. 15 before playing at Tampa Bay two nights later and Florida on Nov. 19.
Of course, there's also the superstition factor. Friday is Nov. 11, or 11-11-11. Crosby was initially hurt during a hard hit from the Capitals' David Steckel on Jan. 1 — or 1-1-11. Symmetrically, Friday might prove to be the perfect return date.
“I'm superstitious, but I wouldn't let that affect whether I came back that night or not,” Crosby said. “When I'm ready, I'll be back as soon as I can, no matter what the date is.”
Bylsma chose this week to conduct team-building exercises because the Penguins don't play from Saturday to Friday. In the past, the exercises have consisted of military-type drills that require teammates to help one another to complete a task or a project.
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