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Only Sidney Crosby can decide when to return

Sidney Crosby is everywhere these days, everywhere on television that is, where he's flogging his new clothing and equipment line in advance of the new hockey season. These are actually pretty cute spots and they follow an equally charming promotional campaign last year. No doubt about it, Sid The Kid is getting better in front of a camera as every season passes.

And while Crosby still cannot exercise full out the way he needs to in order to return to active NHL duty, outwardly he looks good on the tube – fit and trim and ready for action.

If only it weren't for those lingering concussion symptoms, which will not go away, even now, some nine months after he last played an NHL game for the Pittsburgh Penguins in early January.

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Crosby is scheduled to provide an update on his condition to reporters in Pittsburgh Wednesday, the first time he'll speak to the press since around mid-April.

Afterward, Crosby is scheduled to fly to New York to participate in an NHL preseason media availability, an annual gathering that most closely resembles those movie-star junkets where everybody gets about six minutes alone time with the stars. Last year, it was an opportunity to talk about the 2010 Olympic aftermath and the fact that Crosby was finally moving out of Mario Lemieux's house into new digs of his own.

The world was his oyster then, and the only meaningful injury he'd suffered in the first five years of his career was a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss 29 games in the 2007-08 season. Crosby seemed bulletproof, a player who didn't mind going into the heavy traffic areas of the ice, but had the same uncanny ability that all the great ones did to protect himself when he got there. He could sense contact coming and never put himself into a vulnerable position. Then the Washington Capitals' David Steckel ran over him, from behind, in an outdoor game, where none of the usual rules or arena conditions applied, and his life hasn't been the same since.

But to think that Crosby, at 24, will make any kind of momentous announcement Wednesday about his future in the game is unrealistic. Some pundits have been calling for him to retire this summer on the grounds that he has nothing left to prove in the game, and why risk a debilitating permanent injury now that he's already had one concussion.

Fair enough, although you wonder: If anyone is truly that concerned about Crosby's health, why is he not writing similar warnings to the St. Louis Blues' David Perron, or to the Toronto Maple Leafs' Matthew Lombardi, or all the other players at every level of hockey who also suffered concussions last year and weren't able to return to action? Shouldn't we care the same about every concussion victim and not just the high-profile ones?

In all probability, Crosby will simply provide an update on his recovery, that although things may be better than they were in April, he is still not all the way back yet, and until he is all the way back, he won't run any unnecessary risks by playing before he's ready.

Presumably the point he'll make is that everybody heals at a different pace and Crosby has a couple of pretty good role models to follow in terms of the timetable of his recovery – the Minnesota Wild's Pierre-Marc Bouchard and the Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron, for two, both of whom needed extensive periods on the sidelines to recover from their concussions.

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Bouchard missed more than 100 games over two seasons, but made his way back last year and played pretty well considering his lengthy absence. Bergeron, a world junior and Olympic teammate of Crosby's, similarly went through a long convalescence following a concussion early in the 2007-08 season. There was some thought that Bergeron might never play again either, but he took it slow and didn't rush and has had three mostly healthy seasons ever since, culminating in last year's virtuoso performance in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final against the Vancouver Canucks.

So Crosby will be patient and ask for patience from everybody wondering what comes next, in his career and in his life.

Maybe it'll work out and maybe it won't; concussions are unpredictable that way.

But the least we owe him is a chance to recover on his own terms, at his own pace, and then make a decision about his future when he's ready, with all the available information at his disposal. Unnecessarily hustling Crosby to the exits, before he's had a chance to fully recover, seems as irresponsible as trying to rush him back into the lineup before he's ready to return.

He'll know and he'll decide. It's his life. Let's let him be the one to decide how to live it.

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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