The Pittsburgh Penguins hope Sidney Crosby will be cleared for contact as he works to return from a concussion that ended his season in early January. There's no definite date set for his return, but they're hoping he'll be able to play by opening night or soon afterward.
But Crosby is not the only key player -- or even the only key Penguin -- who's working to come back from an injury that ended his 2010-11 season early. Here are seven other players whose return is critical to their teams' success.
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Crosby's concussion problems overshadowed Malkin's knee problem. But the 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy winner played just 43 games (two more than Crosby) before he was shut down for the season in early February with torn knee ligaments that required surgery. But unlike Crosby, it looks certain Malkin will be ready to go from the start of training camp. Coach Dan Bylsma said Malkin is bigger and stronger than he was before tearing the ligaments -- and that he's never seen Malkin train so hard.
"To see him training like that, two times a day, to hear him be real excited about coming back and being bigger and faster and stronger and get back to playing, it will be exciting to see him put his gear back on," Bylsma said.
Malkin had just 15 goals and 37 points in 43 games before his season ended. The Penguins need him to perform like the player who led the League in scoring in 2008-09 -- especially if Crosby isn't ready to go.
Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers
SOG: 112 | +/-: 7
The medical problems limited Pronger, the Flyers' top defenseman, to 25 points in 50 regular-season games -- his lowest total since 2002-03 -- and just three of Philadelphia's 11 postseason contests.
The Flyers say Pronger isn't likely to be ready for the start of training camp in mid-September and might not be ready for preseason games. But Pronger said earlier this month he's doing everything possible to be on the ice opening night, when the Flyers start the new season where their old one ended last spring -- at Boston, where the Bruins completed a sweep of the Flyers in May on the way to the Stanley Cup.
Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators
The back problems that sidelined Alfredsson for the season in early February were a big part of Ottawa's problems last season as the Senators failed to make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Alfredsson had back surgery in June and was back on skates in late August, telling the team's website that he felt he would be ready for training camp next month.
Alfredsson's 54 games and 31 points were his fewest in both categories since he joined the Senators in 1995, and his minus-19 rating was a career worst.
As captain, he's counted on to be a leader for one of the NHL's youngest teams, but at 38 and coming off back surgery, the bigger question is just how much he has left in the tank offensively.
Mark Streit, New York Islanders
The Isles' hopes last season took a major blow before the first puck was dropped when Streit, by far their best defenseman, injured his shoulder in a preseason scrimmage. He required surgery and missed all 82 games.
It was the first of a parade of injuries, especially to the defense corps, that saw the Islanders lose more than 600 man-games to injury, by far the most in the NHL. But none was more devastating than losing Streit, who quarterbacked the Isles' power play, was on the first pair for penalty-killing and averages upwards of 25 minutes a game.
The good news for the Islanders is that team doctors and trainers say he should be 100 percent for training camp. If he can return to the form he exhibited in his first two seasons on Long Island, the Isles could take a major step forward.
Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers
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Hall already had a goal and an assist in a game against Columbus on March 3 when he became involved in his first NHL fight, a scrap with Columbus' Derek Dorsett. Unfortunately for Hall and the Oilers, his left ankle twisted and buckled under him, ending both the fight and Hall's season.
Hall recently told the Edmonton Sun that he's having no problems with the ankle after 3 1/2 months of rest and rehab, and that he feels better than he has in previous seasons after the first long offseason break he's had since minor hockey -- in the previous two seasons before joining the Oilers, he led Windsor to the Memorial Cup title.
With 22 goals and 42 points in 65 games before going down with the ankle injury, Hall showed inklings of why the Oilers took him No. 1. Both he and the Oilers are expecting more in his second season, and combined with the return from injury of first-line forward Ales Hemsky (shoulder) and top-pair defenseman Ryan Whitney (ankle), the Oilers should be improved this season.
Derek Roy, Buffalo Sabres
Expectations for the new season are running high in Buffalo, where the arrival of new owner Terry Pegula has infused money, energy and new talent into the franchise. But another big reason for the high hopes is that the Sabres expect to have Roy, their first-line center, back after he missed the final 47 regular-season games last season with a torn quad tendon in his left leg.
Before the injury, Roy was a point-a-game scorer (35 points in 35 games). His absence left a huge hole in the middle, and though the Sabres were able to make the playoffs, they lost their first-round series to Philadelphia in seven games. Roy made it back for Game 7 and had an assist in the 5-2 loss.
With a full summer to rehab the injury, Roy should be ready to go when the Sabres open training camp. Getting back a player who averaged 73 points in his three previous seasons should add to a well-stocked front line that includes Drew Stafford, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and newcomer Ville Leino and make the Sabres one of the East's elite.
Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
Among the numerous things that went wrong for the Devils last season was the knee injury that took Parise out of the lineup for all but one game after the end of October. The Devils weren't exactly an offensive powerhouse with Parise in the lineup; without him, they fell so far out of the playoff race that not even one of the best second-half showings in NHL history could get them into the postseason.
Parise and the Devils worked out a one-year contract just before an arbitration hearing, but he could become a free agent after this season after deciding not to commit to the Devils long-term. With center Travis Zajac, who often plays with Parise, on the shelf for at least the first month of the season with an achilles tear, the Devils need Parise to be the player he was before the surgery -- and Parise needs a big season to show the Devils (or any potential employer, should he reach free agency next summer) that he's worth a major commitment.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks
Hiller's performance in the first half of the season earned him a trip to the All-Star Game. Little did he or the Ducks know it would be almost the last hockey he would play all season.
The Swiss goaltender was enjoying his best season when he came down with an illness that left him lightheaded and dizzy. He played only three games after the break and was on the sidelines as the Ducks were eliminated by Nashville in the opening round of the playoffs.
Hiller said earlier this month that he's still not sure what the illness was (vertigo is suspected, but nothing's been confirmed) or what caused it, but that he's been working out at home in Switzerland with no problems and expects to be in camp with the Ducks in mid-September -- with his fingers crossed.
"I'm feeling great in practice," he told reporters. "I see the puck well and everything. I'm definitely looking forward to be back playing as soon as possible. ... I definitely hope it's a one-time thing. If it is, I don't really care what caused it."
Follow John Kreiser on Twitter: @jkreiser7nhl