PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby acknowledged he recently had a setback and experienced symptoms during his recovery from a concussion, but the Pittsburgh Penguins star said he isn't worried that he won't be ready for the start of next season.
Crosby addressed reporters on Friday for the first time in weeks, on the day the Penguins packed up and dispersed after being eliminated from the NHL playoffs. He admitted that the reason he hasn't been on the ice for non-contact drills or practices for the past two weeks was because he had experienced headaches and other 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. "So, I had to take a step back. The progression had gone pretty well, but at the same time, I still wasn't ready."
Crosby hasn't played since Jan. 5, sitting out the final 48 games, including all of Pittsburgh's 4-3 series loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.
Training camp is less than five months away. Crosby said he will be ready.
"I feel like, from where I was a couple months ago, things were a lot better," he said. "Just being able to skate was encouraging. Hopefully, the next step doesn't have any hurdles and I can get ready for next season as usual."
The Penguins are hoping next season is business as usual, as most of the past campaign was anything but. In addition to Crosby — who was by far leading the league in scoring at the time of his injury — Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal also each missed roughly half a season with injuries.
The three star centers — Crosby and Malkin each are former scoring champions, and Staal a former Selke Trophy finalist — were the faces of the franchise coming into the year. But somehow, the Penguins still managed to finish with the second-most points in franchise history (106). They even contended for the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed down to the final week without them.
"The way we're built has been down the middle, and it's been that way since I got here," general manager Ray Shero said. "And when you've got Staal, Crosby and Malkin that all only play half a season, other guys had to step up. That says a lot about the team.
"It made for a story, and these guys were a story every night."
They were, right up until Wednesday, when Pittsburgh was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round for the first time since 2007.
That was a disappointing end for a franchise that won a Stanley Cup only two years ago and entered this season with the goal of adding another. But considering the circumstances of Crosby's concussion, Malkin being out for the year with a torn ACL and MCL, and Staal missing 40 games due to a foot injury, finishing with the second-most wins in the NHL was quite an accomplishment.
"This team and this group of players, what they've done this year, I feel like I watched them give a lesson in working hard, diligence, perseverance and being a good hockey team," said coach Dan Bylsma, who Friday was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year.
Crosby called sitting out the playoffs "frustrating" and that his expectation was that he wouldn't be able to play even if the Penguins advanced.
Crosby said he and his physicians have laid out no concrete plans for a summer program and that he has to wait a bit longer before he can continue physical progress. He added that his workouts had "almost" returned to the normal full exertion level. But the recent setback caused him to take a more deliberate approach.
"The great news is that he's got all kinds of time on his side right now," Shero said. "Dr. (Micky) Collins expects a full recovery, it's just a matter of time with this injury. I'm not concerned about it. With the season ending, it's disappointing, but from Sid's standpoint, the pressure and the question of when he'll come back goes away, and now he can go back to healing and feeling good about himself."
Crosby said he and Malkin related to each other as they rehabbed and helplessly watched their team in the playoffs. Malkin said Friday that he believed he could have returned had Pittsburgh reached the third round of the playoffs — less than four months after being injured — though team officials privately shake their head at such a prospect.
"It felt pretty strong," Malkin said, "and I think I could have played this year."
Malkin will continue to rehab in Pittsburgh for two more weeks before returning to Russia.
The Penguins also played the postseason without forward Matt Cooke. He was suspended for an elbow to the head of Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers. Cooke, one of the team's top penalty killers, was missed on a unit that went from the NHL's best in the regular season, to a major postseason weakness.
Cooke said he has changed his game after twice being suspended. He took a week away from the team after the McDonagh hit, which ended up resulting in a 17-game suspension.
"I worked on some things I needed some help with," he said. "I've been able to have a chance to work with some great people outside of hockey. And, I will continue to do so.
"Everyone knows the game has changed the last 15 years, and I want to come back and provide for this team and help this team win, and keep my word and do the things I said I would do."
The Penguins have been vocal about their desire for more stringent rules against headshots, leading to speculation they might attempt to sever ties with Cooke, who has become a league-wide symbol for those types of hits.
"He's a valuable player for us," Shero said. "And, we look forward to having him back and as a productive player for our hockey team."
Pittsburgh's two goalies and seven defensemen are under contract for next season, but 12 forwards are free agents. Ten are unrestricted, including Pascal Dupuis, Max Talbot, Arron Asham, Craig Adams, Mike Rupp and Alexei Kovalev. Tyler Kennedy is a restricted free agent.