|Despite being out of the Penguins lineup since the end of March, Darryl Sydor has kept himself ready to play. Sydor video|
For a defenseman with 16 years of NHL service and two Stanley Cups rings, Sydor told NHL.com that the challenge he continues to face being the odd-man out of the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup ranks up there as one of the most difficult of his career.
"Besides the passing of my mom when I was playing in Dallas, to deal with that while playing, this has to be the toughest," Sydor said after yet another rigorous morning workout with some assistant coaches and the rest of the club's healthy scratches.
When Penguins GM Ray Shero traded for Hal Gill at the deadline, the team was left with seven NHL-ready defensemen. Since Shero acquired Gill for the sole purpose of giving the Penguins a physical, stay-at-home defender, he wasn't going to be benched unless he played himself out of the lineup.
Coach Michel Therrien was saved from making any quick decisions because Rob Scuderi broke his thumb just about five hours after Gill became a Penguin. When he returned a month later, Therrien used seven defensemen for four of the next five games.
Since using seven D-men wasn't going to be his plan for the playoffs, Therrien made the decision to cut it down to six again starting March 31 against the New York Islanders.
Kris Letang was the odd-man out against the Islanders, but Sydor became No. 7 two nights later, and with the Penguins rolling through the postseason injury- and illness-free on the backend, he hasn't been able to get back in.
"Physically I'm ready to go, but you always hear about the mental side of the game and now is when I have to be strong," Sydor said. "Who knows? Knock on wood, but anything can happen, someone can get sick so I have to be ready."
He has stayed ready, but he's done it quietly. The last thing Sydor wanted to become was a distraction.
"He could obviously be out there, but it's a tough situation when it comes to that and he's handled it great," Ryan Whitney said. "Every day he's smiling around the rink and he's having a good time. He has such a great attitude and he's being such a leader by not sulking or being upset. He could have the right to be."
Sydor said it's just not in his makeup to cause problems by being selfish.
"It's obviously not fun or easy being the competitor I am, and knowing how I can be in important situations in important games, but you have to deal with it the right way," he said, "My team is winning. My teammates are doing well. So you have to stay positive for them and stay strong."
So instead of preparing himself to play in games, Sydor is keeping his body ready on the off chance something happens to one of the Penguins' top six defenders.
"I'm obviously skating a lot more so I'm getting in better shape," Sydor said. "And, maybe it helps my teammates that if they ever have a situation like this in their careers they can look back and see how I dealt with it."
To quantify Sydor's value to the Penguins, all you have to do is look at the predicament the Philadelphia Flyers faced in the Eastern Conference Finals. Don't you think coach John Stevens and GM Paul Holmgren would have loved to have a two-time Cup winner to pull out of the press box when Kimmo Timonen was ruled out with a blood clot, and then Braydon Coburn went down with an eye injury?
That notion isn't lost on the Penguins.
"It does give players, coaches and myself confidence knowing he could go in and do well," Shero said. "With the team doing well he happens to be that guy out, but he can jump in there and do a great job for us."
Sydor is prepared should that be the case.
"He's a 16-year vet with two Cups; let's face it, he can do it," Scuderi said. "If they felt they needed to make a change it wouldn't take much to put him in."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.