Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had encouraging news to report on Sidney Crosby, an interesting item on Evgeni Malkin and more sound bites on a potential Jaromir Jagr return to the Steel City when he met with the local media Monday afternoon.
Bylsma is less than a week removed from winning the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year after leading the Penguins to a tie for the most points in the Atlantic Division despite playing the first half of the season without center Jordan Staal and most of the second half without his two stars at the pivot, Crosby and Malkin.
A concussion suffered in early January sidelined Crosby for the remainder of the season. He began taking part in Pittsburgh's morning skates late in the season and during the playoffs, but was never cleared for contact and eventually stopped skating when he had a mild reoccurrence of post-concussion symptoms.
"He came back to Pittsburgh after a hiatus or vacation with some of his teammates," Bylsma said. "The doctors here cleared him to go home and work out as he normally would be working out. He's been working out two times a day and progressing along his normal road of summer activity. That's what Sid has been doing. He's got another two and a half months ahead of doing that."
Malkin suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Feb. 4 game against the Sabres -- his first back in the lineup after a five-game absence due to a separate knee injury. Without their two stars, the Penguins ended up losing a seven-game series to the Lightning in the first round after being up 3 games to 1. Had they advanced, Bylsma said Malkin might have been ready to rejoin them at some point.
"He really believed -- and was trying to convince everyone involved -- that he was going to be coming back as soon as possible to play in the playoffs if we could have moved on (to the next round)," Bylsma said. "He was progressing to the point where that was actually a real possibility. He was really doing very well strength-wise and he was ahead of schedule in terms of what the doctors could do with his rehab."
As it stands, the Penguins figure to have a healthy and hungry Malkin ready to go when the puck drops on the 2011-12 season.
"We have heard through Sergei Gonchar, actually, that he's never seen Geno working this hard and looking this good and this motivated at this time of the summer," Bylsma said, referring to the former Penguins defenseman and close friend of Malkin. "So I expect a real motivated, a real focused guy and a guy who is ready to go for training camp -- is probably already ready to go. I think he'll be at full go coming into training camp and really motivated."
The current tandem of Crosby and Malkin, which helped the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup Finals and the franchise's third championship in 2009, has often been compared to the once prolific duo of Jagr and Mario Lemieux, which teamed up to bring Pittsburgh its first two titles in 1991 and 1992.
Jagr left Pittsburgh after the 2000-01 season, years before Crosby or Malkin even made his NHL debut, but there seems to be a realistic possibility all three could be teammates this fall. Jagr has made it known he would like to return to the NHL at the age of 39 and the Penguins appear to be at the top of his list of teams.
While being careful to term everything "hypothetical" at this point, Bylsma continued to seem intrigued by the idea of adding the former Hart Trophy and five-time Art Ross Trophy winner, who finished with 71 points for the Rangers in his last NHL season three years ago.
"I don't think we'd have to change everything drastically for him to able to fit in," Bylsma said. "If you watched Jaromir play in the World Championships, his play down low is outstanding. We're a team that wants to play in the offensive zone. There's a speed part to our game, but it really lies largely in playing in the offensive zone and wearing teams down. I don't think he has missed much of a beat in that regard to his game. Hypothetically speaking, that's where I see him fitting in."