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Penguins offer no updates on Crosby, Letang

by Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby remains off the ice, and the Pittsburgh Penguins still aren't offering an update on their star center's health.
Crosby hasn't played since Dec. 5 or practiced since Dec. 7 due to concussion-related issues, which also forced him to sit out the final 41 games of last season and the first 20 games of this season. Crosby hasn't talked with reporters since Dec. 12, when he disclosed he was experiencing a reoccurrence of concussion-like symptoms.
While Crosby and the Penguins regularly updated his status earlier this season, coach Dan Bylsma isn't currently doing so. Bylsma is responding to all questions about Crosby with the same answer: "No update."
Bylsma is giving the same response concerning defenseman Kris Letang, who has been out since Nov. 26 with a concussion. Letang isn't practicing more than a month since he was hurt, a sign that his layoff also could be an extended one.
The concussion problems are robbing the Penguins of the NHL's most skilled player -- Crosby had 12 points in the eight games he played this season -- and a fast-developing defenseman with exceptional offensive skills. Letang has 3 goals and 19 points in 22 games, a strong follow-up to his breakout 2010-11 start in which he had 6 goals and 30 assists at midseason.
In each of the last two seasons, Letang, 24, was being mentioned among the early contenders for the Norris Trophy. Last season, Letang's production fell off after Crosby left the lineup; now, Letang's own concussion is keeping him off the ice.
Next week will mark the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 1 and Jan. 5 games in which a pair of hard hits -- one by the Capitals' David Steckel and the other by the Lightning's Victor Hedman -- helped sideline Crosby during what was becoming the best season of his career.
The Penguins, of course, were extremely hopeful that the 24-year-old Crosby's concussions issues were behind him when he returned with a characteristic flourish by scoring two goals during a four-point night against the Islanders on Nov. 21. But Crosby played only seven more games before being sidelined again.
Just as they did during his nearly 11-month layoff from Jan. 6-Nov. 20, the Penguins are being cautious with Crosby, who regularly talks with doctors and concussion specialists about his condition. He will not be allowed to play again until his baseline neurological testing matches that of his pre-concussion state of more than a year ago.
While the Penguins aren't issuing regular updates on their superstar's condition, general manager Ray Shero recently told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that they remain optimistic Crosby will have a long and productive career. Crosby's current contract runs through 2012-13, and Shero said working out a new deal will be a major focus next summer.
"I'm under the assumption he is going to play for another 10 to 15 years," Shero told the Tribune-Review. "We all know he is the best player in the League when he is healthy. My mindset on Sidney Crosby is not changing. We want to sign him."
The Penguins own exclusive negotiating rights with Crosby through July 1, 2013, when, if he is not re-signed, he could become a free agent. Shero and Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux have no intention of letting that happen.
"When Sid comes back, we'll see (greatness) in his game, just as he did when he came back in November," Shero predicted.
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