PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby is optimistic about returning fully healthy for next season, but acknowledges he recently had a setback in his recovery from a concussion.
Crosby, who didn't play after Jan. 5, stopped skating with his teammates during off-day practices and morning skates midway through the Penguins' seven-game playoff series loss to Tampa after experiencing concussion-related symptoms.
"I started trying to ramp things up a bit as far as working out and skating, and I got a little bit of symptoms," Crosby said Friday. "I had a setback, all the stuff (headaches) that goes along with it. The progression had gone pretty well, but at the same time I still wasn't ready."
Crosby still has not resumed working out and intends to remain sidelined for an indefinite period, or until he can resume working out without fear of any setback.
"The great news is that he's got all kinds of time on his side right now. Dr. (Michael) Collins expects a full recovery. It's just a matter of time with this injury. I'm not concerned with it. With the season ending, it's disappointing, but from Sid's standpoint, the pressure and the question about when he'll come back goes away. Now he can go back to healing and feeling good about himself." --Ray Shero
"I've got to wait until I feel a bit better before I can really start doing anything," Crosby said. "They want to keep a pretty close eye on things. Hopefully, it's not too long, but (it will be) as long as it takes to feel better and, hopefully, start training for next year."
Crosby's comments Friday reinforced those made recently by Penguins General Manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma that the team captain was not close to returning. Crosby never was cleared for contact work during practice, a step needed before he could think about playing again.
"The great news is that he's got all kinds of time on his side right now," Shero said. "Dr. (Michael) Collins expects a full recovery. It's just a matter of time with this injury. I'm not concerned with it. With the season ending, it's disappointing, but from Sid's standpoint, the pressure and the question about when he'll come back goes away. Now he can go back to healing and feeling good about himself."
Crosby was feeling exactly that before the setback occurred a week to 10 days ago. He was skating close to full speed in workouts -- a Penguins' website video showed him exploding a water bottle atop a net with a backhander. Before he was hurt, the 23-year-old Crosby was enjoying his best season, leading the NHL with 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games.
"Exertion-wise I was almost going (full speed)," Crosby said. "Pretty close. When you do that, I think you can get an idea of where you're at. Obviously, I wasn't quite there yet. The fact that I was able to do some things, even though it didn't allow me to get back (to playing), in my mind that was a small victory -- to get on the ice and feel like an athlete again."
Injured teammate Evgeni Malkin (knee) felt the same way, Crosby said, grinning widely when he was able to skate -- even if only while wearing warm-up gear -- about two months after he had knee surgery.
Still, Crosby suggested he might not have been ready to play soon, even without the setback. There was ongoing speculation during the Penguins' two-week playoff run about when, and if, Crosby might play.
"My expectation was that I wouldn't play (in the playoffs), but I was trying to make sure that if there was any chance and it was possible to come back, that I was ready -- and I did everything I could to be ready for that," Crosby said. "It's frustrating and disappointing. You can't really control any of that. All I can control is what I was doing off the ice and trying to rehab. Unfortunately, it didn't work out."
Crosby was hurt after sustaining hard hits from then-Capitals forward David Steckel and Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman in successive games Jan. 1 and 5. Crosby complained only of feeling neck soreness following the Steckel hit, and was examined and cleared to play in the next game. He didn't play again after being driven into the boards by a Hedman hit.
Crosby may never know for certain whether he sustained one or two concussions in the two games.
"It's possible (he had two), but it's not the easiest thing to diagnose," Crosby said. "If you ask any guy who's been through it before, it could be the case. It wasn't because of the lack of care or anyone not being diligent as possible. It's just the way the circumstances were."
While some players are cleared to resume full activity following a concussion sooner than Crosby has been, doctors say each case is different and no two players heal the same -- if only because no two head injuries are the same.
"It's been really slow, but I'm not worried about that," Crosby said. "I feel like, from where I was a couple of months ago, things were a lot better."
Now, with 4½ months of recovery time available after the Penguins failed to advance to at least the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the fourth successive season, Crosby hopes that time is on his side.
"Having gone through that (a setback), you don't want to go through that again," Crosby said. "I don't want to sit here for a few weeks and pushing to work out and get back too quick. That won't happen. I just want to make sure that when I do start working out again, I won't have to deal with symptoms. I'd rather wait that extra bit of time and make sure that when I come back, it's all right."
Before the setback occurred, Crosby isn't certain how close he was to being cleared for contact in practice.
"I honestly can't tell you," he said. "The doctor didn't really talk as far as what was ahead. It was just getting through each step. I felt good there, (but) it's not a matter of waking up one day and getting cleared to do the next thing. You have to go through that stuff at least a week before you're ready to move forward."
The Penguins clearly missed Crosby -- and Malkin -- while being held to four goals in the final three games against the Lightning. The Penguins squandered a 3-1 series lead for only the second time in franchise history, and were eliminated with a 1-0 loss in Game 7 Wednesday.
When he does return, Crosby is aware that Penguins fans will be holding their breath whenever he gets hit early in the season. But he doesn't plan to alter the way he plays, if only because he knows he can't and remain the world-class player he's been throughout a career that began at age 18 in 2005.
"The first couple of games back, it might be a little weird to play in a game and get hit and go through that," he said. "Anyone who's gone through this will tell you, you need to get those first couple of hits in. I can't play different. I only know one way to play. I'm not going to change my game or anything like that. I have to play the same way. The reason you make sure you're recovered is so you can do that. If not, you put yourself in a pretty bad situation."