The Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the most consistent teams since the lockout canceled the entire 2004-05 season. It’s no surprise when you consider that stretch of consistency coincides with Sidney Crosby’s National Hockey League tenure. The Penguins star has amassed over 200 goals and nearly 600 points in six NHL seasons, leading a franchise on the verge of relocation to two Stanley Cup Championship appearances and one title.
Pittsburgh knows they’ll be without Max Talbot, Mike Rupp, Chris Conner, and Eric Godard next season. The question is whether or not they’ll be without Crosby, and if so, for how long?
Crosby’s post concussion syndrome could easily be the most important storyline heading into the 2011-12 season, and for Dan Bylsma and the organization it’s certainly one they must be losing sleep over.
The Penguins showed last season that they have an ability most other teams in this league do not. Without Crosby and fellow star Evgeni Malkin (lost last February to a torn ACL and MCL) the Penguins surged up the conference standings. Players like Dustin Jeffrey, Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy, and Chris Kunitz all played huge roles for the eventual Atlantic Division Champions.
Malkin is said to be ready for training camp, but we’ll have to wait and see if it takes him some time to get back up to speed. Crosby is the wild card for a franchise that looks like a Stanley Cup contender if they can get their captain back in the fold.
Adding to the Penguins depth this season will be Steve Sullivan, signed to a very friendly one year deal by general manager Ray Shero. Sullivan has been slowed by injuries his whole career but has also proven the ability to be a legitimate offensive threat when he’s on the ice.
The Penguins blue line looks deep with Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, and Matt Niskanen at the top. They’re solid in goal behind Marc-Andre Fleury who will look to avoid the poor start to the season that plagued him last year.
If young players like Jeffrey and Letestu continue to develop and Pittsburgh has a healthy Crosby and Malkin for most of the season, there’s no reason Pittsburgh won’t be the favorite to win the Atlantic Division next season for the second consecutive year.
That’s a big if, however. The confusion that surrounds Crosby’s post-concussion syndrome seems to be getting stranger and stranger the closer we move towards training camp. The Penguins organization seems to have little clue about the availability of their franchise center heading into the season, and Crosby himself has been mum about the situation.
We know the Penguins need Crosby, but what about the league? With a revamped Versus/NBC Sports Network on the horizon you can bet the league is hoping a healthy Crosby returns to play sooner rather than later.
It’s clear that Vegas thinks Pittsburgh is one of the favorites in the East, but without Crosby the Penguins season is in jeopardy.