It is supposed to be Sidney Crosby's valiant return, both to the National Hockey League and to the rink where he scored the golden goal for Canada at the 2010 Olympics.
But the prospects of Crosby being ready for the NHL season opener between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on Oct. 6 seem slimmer and slimmer by the day.
In the last week, there have been two separate reports that the Penguins' captain has suffered a setback in his recovery from concussions suffered in January, and would miss more action during the 2011-12 campaign. Those brain injuries sidelined Crosby for the remainder of last season and the playoffs, and have affected his off-season work.
The most recent report came Monday from CTV News, which said that Crosby has suspended his off-season training, including on-ice workouts at a Halifax rink. The report said the Nova Scotia native experienced another setback and would not be ready for the start of Penguins training camp on Sept. 17.
The report was refuted by Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, who said his client's off-season training "hasn't been shut down by anyone," rather amended to address the different needs of his recovery. The Penguins did not respond to a request for comment Monday, but general manager Ray Shero has previously said that he expects Crosby to arrive in Pittsburgh about one week before camp.
Shero also made a suspect remark about not knowing what symptoms Crosby is experiencing, while head coach Dan Bylsma claims he hasn't even asked his superstar player how he is feeling.
Though it sounds as if Crosby's camp is circling the wagons and concealing another setback, a concussion specialist said it is possible for athletes to experience symptoms months after the injury without necessarily suffering a setback.
Dr. Mark Aubry, the chief medical officer of the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada, said it's not that unusual for symptoms to linger up to two years, and to return when the injured athlete attempts to exercise.
"There will always be a small percentage of players … where the concussion symptoms will last longer than expected," said Aubry, an Ottawa-Gatineau physician. "Some will settle overnight, some will last one to two years. There's a wide range."
Crosby admitted to a setback in April after the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs minus their captain. He had been skating at nearly full speed, but was not cleared for contact at practice. The team has routinely said that Crosby will not return to the lineup until he is 100-per-cent healthy.
Hockey fans in Vancouver are hoping that that day comes before the opener Oct. 6, because it shapes up as a heavyweight clash between two Stanley Cup contenders who are loaded with star power. The last time Crosby played a competitive game in Vancouver, he scored the overtime goal that gave Canada a victory over the United States for the Olympic gold medal in men's hockey.