Sidney Crosby is skating again, and I suspect even in the Pittsburgh dressing room there are private pools on how many games before he's back watching hockey at home in high-def. Heck, I'm writing this before Sid the Kid's return against the Rangers and realizing I'd better not post it right away in case he doesn't make it through all three periods.
He turns 25 in August -- does anybody expect he's still going to be playing at 28? Do I hear 27? 26? Does anybody, anybody at all, expect Crosby to be retiring in his 30s?
When Crosby scored the Golden Goal for Canada in Vancouver's 2010 Olympics all was right with the world. Canada and the NHL had a new hockey hero ready, willing and able to finally take the torch as the face of hockey from the Great Gretzky.
Super Mario never quite owned the title, because even when he was healthy and playing like he'd sold his soul for Messier's strength and Gretzky's moves, he never seemed willing to be the face of the game.
Back when he was a teenager Crosby was anointed by Gretzky as the player who might one day break all his records -- the same way Gordie Howe once offered his blessing to the Great One. And Crosby was already on course to challenge some records, topple others and invent new ones. He was the second youngest Hart winner in NHL history and the youngest captain.
Then, on Jan. 1 in the "2011 Winter Classic," Crosby had "his bell rung" by future hall-of-Trivial-Pursuits-answer, David Steckel, best known now and forever as, "the guy who smoked Crosby."
And instead of continuing his ascent to becoming the next Gretzky, Sid the Kid is on the road to being the next Eric Lindros -- the guy who coulda been one of the all-time greats if only he didn't have a glass skull.
I remember pundits saying that one day a superstar would get a serious concussion and the NHL would start taking head shots seriously. Today I suspect those pundits are preparing to carve up Marc Crawford for lunch ('cause Crawford's nickname is "crow" -- it'll be funny in a second, really).
Based on the changes in the game since the Crosby hit, I'm convinced hockey brass are about as likely to accept the science on concussions as Rick Santorum is to start taking his cues on global warming from Al Gore.
Players are still skating back out on the ice immediately after, "getting their bell rung."
Headhunters are still only getting suspended for a handful of games. Pat Lafontaine -- another superstar whose career ended early due to head hits -- hopes the NHL will use Crosby's case to introduce zero tolerance for head hits. But despite some progress, when it comes to dealing with penalizing dirty play, NHL general managers and execs still have notoriously thick skulls.
Last year I thought a Penguins team with Crosby would have made it by the Bruins (FYI, I took the Bruins and Canucks last year in my playoff hockey pool). This year I think the Penguins will be the Eastern Conference Cup finalist. If I'm right does anyone out there believe that as games get nastier each round, and refs misplace their whistles and redact their rulebooks that the greatest player in the game will still be skating in the finals?