"Obviously, we all hoped we didn't have to go this way," Penguins general manager Ron Hextall said. "In the end, we did everything we could to avoid this, but it was the best way to proceed. I think the focus was having Sid back at 100%, or as close to 100% as possible. This was the proper avenue to go."
Crosby has been dealing with and playing through this injury for years now. He ended up undergoing arthroscopic surgery on the same wrist - his left - on Aug. 31, 2020, and was fortunate not to miss any games. But at the conclusion of this past season, Crosby had to go through a process to figure out if he could get through another year without having another surgery, which took weeks.
First, Crosby had to let his body rest and recover following a shortened and condensed campaign that featured a lot of intense hockey in a short period of time. From there, they had to see how Crosby's injury reacted once he started ramping up his training as the offseason progressed. After ruling out all minimally-invasive options and much discussion, it was determined that surgery was the solution.
"I think if we all, including Sid, had known this a month or two months ago, it would have been great," Hextall said. "But we are where we are, and I think on the positive side, we have four weeks before we play a regular-season game."
The Penguins will likely be without both of their franchise centers once the puck drops on the 2021-22 campaign, as Evgeni Malkin is still recovering after undergoing surgery on his right knee, which was announced on June 4. Hextall said that an update on his status would be provided once they get around training camp.
"This is going to be a group effort to kind of make up for the deficit that we have here," Hextall said. "There's no sense crying about it. Every team goes through it, and we're going through it. We still have to find ways to win games. We need different guys to step up on any given night, and we're going to have to play a hard brand of hockey."
Hextall said the Penguins are not planning to place Crosby, 34, and Malkin, 35, on long-term injured reserve to try and add a big-name center. Because while the team could exceed the salary cap during that time, they would have to get compliant after they returned.
"We can't add a big-dollar player here, because they're both going to be back," Hextall said. "This time of the year, you don't replace players like that. I think we've got some guys from within that we're excited about."
Hextall said that down the middle, Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger are going to get more responsibilities, and they'll need both centers to perform. After that, Hextall said that the following players would have opportunities that may not have been there in a normal circumstance:
Evan Rodrigues: The coaching staff loves the 28-year-old, and management re-signed him to a one-year contract this summer. The versatile forward, who collected seven goals and 14 points in 35 games last season, has stepped up through injuries before.
Radim Zohorna: The 25-year-old impressed Penguins brass during his rookie season with his ability to quickly transition to the smaller ice surface and adapt his game accordingly. "Big Z," who is 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, is a power forward with a lot of potential.
Brian Boyle: Speaking of power forwards, Zohorna could learn a lot from this veteran. The 36-year-old was inked to a professional tryout contract just last week, and brings a ton of size (6-foot-6, 245 pounds) along with a ton of experience, as he's played over 800 games across 12-plus NHL seasons.
Dominik Simon: The 26-year-old is back for a second stint in Pittsburgh after spending last season in the Calgary Flames organization. Prior to that, he played in parts of five seasons with Pittsburgh from 2015-20, appearing in 173 games and recording 64 points (19G-45A). He's got good skill and hockey sense.
Michael Chaput: The 29-year-old joined the Penguins organization this offseason after spending last year with Arizona. In total, he has played parts of eight seasons in the NHL with the Coyotes, Columbus, Vancouver and Montreal.
Hextall acknowledged that in addition to having guys find another level offensively, the Penguins will need to tighten up their defense and goaltending in order to weather the storm. But he believes that they will, and added that having a light schedule in terms of divisional games early on will help.
"We have enough talent to hold the fort till Sid gets back and then when Geno gets back," Hextall said. "So we look forward to having the two of them back, and it'll be like an addition made to our team. So we've got some heavy work to do early in the season. We have to get off to a good start."