With the free agency market just about tapped and no significant player movements to talk about, the hockey world has found a new topic of discussion.

The issue on everybody's mind is whether Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby will be back on the ice at the start of the 2011-12 season.

Oddly enough, this conversation has seemingly been caused by the lack of new updates concerning the status of Crosby, who last played on January 5 before sitting out the remainder of the 2010-11 season with concussion symptoms.

The fact that Crosby has yet to be cleared for contact seems to be fueling speculation that the NHL's biggest star won't be ready to take the ice when his club begins the regular season on October 6 in Vancouver.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero has remained non-committal about whether Crosby will be ready for the opener. Some people likely believe that Shero does know the answer to the burning question and is simply trying to be coy. It's hard to blame folks for thinking that considering the way NHL GMs and head coaches often toy with the media when it comes to injury news, but concussions are a completely different story than the usual bumps, bruises and tears.

In fact, one of the reasons concussions are so scary is that it's nearly impossible to attach a schedule to recovery from a head injury. The nature of concussions is that every case is different and needs to be treated according to its own individual time frame.

Naturally, since Crosby is just 24 years old and is making $8.7 million a year as Pittsburgh's franchise player, the club is being even more careful in managing Sid the Kid's comeback.

According to Shero, Crosby has been working out on and off the ice back home in Nova Scotia, and while he still experiences concussion-like symptoms from time to time, he has not had to shut down his rehabilitation.

And really that's all the Penguins need to know at this point. As long as Crosby is allowed to continue his progress, Pittsburgh will bide its time before checking to see if he's ready for contact. Shero said that evaluation will come about a week before the start of training camp next month, and until then we shouldn't expect any definitive news about Crosby's status for the upcoming season.

The public's desire to be updated on Crosby's health is actually good news for the NHL, which wants to see the four-time 100-point scorer back on the ice as much as Shero. Crosby casts a long shadow over the NHL landscape and it's a positive sign that even the lack of news about Crosby's status for the start of 2011-12 is drumming up interest.

The Penguins seem to have already come to grips with the reality that Crosby's long-term value is worth more than him making it back for the start of this season. It's time for the rest of the hockey world to take the same approach.


The hockey world suffered another tragic loss when former Vancouver Canucks tough guy Rick Rypien was found dead Monday in his Alberta home. Rypien, who had signed a one-year deal with Winnipeg back in July, was just 27 years old.

No cause of death has been reported, although police have labeled the tragedy as "sudden and non-suspicious." The circumstances will be revealed in due time, but for now it's better if we simply keep our thoughts and prayers with the Rypien family.

Of course, speculation about the role of drugs will be hard to suppress considering Rypien's death comes just months after the passing of former New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard, who overdosed on a combination of alcohol and oxycodone back in May.

Unfortunately, Rypien will likely be remembered most for the time he shoved a fan in Minnesota. That happened last October and, after serving a six-game suspension, Rypien would play in just six more games at the NHL level.

Rypien seemed genuinely contrite after the infamous incident in St. Paul and he even took a leave of absence last November and didn't return to the game until he skated for Manitoba of the AHL in March.

Although undersized for an enforcer at 5-11, 190 pounds, Rypien earned the respect of many of the league's toughest players as he compiled 226 penalty minutes in just 119 NHL games.

Some of those players have saluted Rypien on Twitter and other social media sites, including Paul Bissonnette of the Phoenix Coyotes who called Rypien "one of the toughest pound for pound guys in the league."

Rypien will be remembered as a valued teammate and fearless competitor. It's a shame that his toughest battles seemed to happen off the ice.