PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby remains confident he'll play hockey again.
When remains a mystery.
The Pittsburgh Penguins star said Wednesday he's continuing to recover from concussion-like symptoms that have sidelined him since last January, adding it's "likely" he'll return to play this season.
Yet the 24-year-old former MVP remains adamant he won't don his familiar No. 87 jersey until he's back at full strength.
"Maybe I can get by with 90 percent, maybe I couldn't but I'm not going to roll the dice with that," he said.
Flanked by Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero and the two doctors who have carefully monitored his progress after sustaining blows to the head in consecutive games nine months ago, Crosby shot down speculation he's considering retirement.
While acknowledging there's a "slight chance" he may never play again, Crosby quickly added "I wouldn't bet on that."
Guessing when arguably the game's greatest player will consider himself at full speed is an equally risky proposition.
Dr. Michael Collins likened Crosby to a Ferrari. Sure, Crosby can go out and skate. He just can't do the things he wants to do without experiencing a recurrence of the issues that have plagued him since January.
"Sid's 100 percent is different than anybody else's," Collins said.
Crosby's symptoms have included "fogginess" that at times made it difficult for him to drive or watch television. He's also endured painful migraines and likened the recovery process to a roller coaster. The good days far outnumber the bad ones, but the bad ones aren't gone completely.
"I'm lucky," Crosby said. "I feel like I'm in pretty good shape and on the right end of this right now."
Doctors don't anticipate the symptoms having any long-term effect on his day-to-day life, with Dr. Ted Carrick calling it "Christmas for Sid Crosby and the people that care for him."
The true test of his hockey future won't be determined until he gets hit for the first time in a real game. That will likely be months considering it's still uncertain when he can begin practicing with his teammates.
"We're going to introduce contact with Sid very carefully," Collins said, "and we're not even close to that."
Crosby has spent the summer working out in Canada and undergoing various tests to his vestibular system, which is directly tied to a human's movement and sense of balance. Crosby struggled with those tests shortly after his diagnosis and Carrick said only recently has Crosby shown progress when contact of any kind is involved.
Contact is going to be unavoidable whenever he comes back, though Crosby is hoping the NHL will take steps to crack down on head shots like the two that put his career in jeopardy.
The first came against the Washington Capitals in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, the second five days later against Tampa Bay. Crosby stressed he didn't feel obligated to play against the Lightning, saying his symptoms didn't really manifest until after he took the second hit. Crosby has refused to say whether the hits were dirty. He's not sure it matters.
"A guy's got to be responsible with his stick, why shouldn't he be responsible with the rest of his body when he's going to hit someone?" Crosby said. "Whether it's accidental or not accidental, you've got to be responsible out there."
Crosby doesn't believe outlawing head shots would adversely affect the game, even if there's no guarantee he'll ever be the player he was before the injury. He's as stunned at anyone by his slow and sometimes unsteady recovery. He thought he was making progress last month before his workouts were scaled back when symptoms reappeared after working at what he estimated as "80-90 percent."
"When I really fatigue myself or really stress (my system)," Crosby said, "I didn't really respond the right way."
What "the right way" will be going forward is unclear. Crosby has basically had to reacclimatize his body to working in space, trusting his right arm is where his mind is telling him it is, things like that. It's a long road. The end is in sight, but it's blurry.
"It's not easy to go through that, there's no guideline," Crosby said. "You've got to listen to your body, listen to your doctors. At the same time, end of day I know how I feel."