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Kid A

As the Penguins spill back onto the ice this month after their longest off-season since 2007, the angst over Sidney Crosby’s future seems poised to hang over the entire exercise like a black (and gold) cloud. It doesn’t have to be that way.

For starters, the specialists with whom the Penguins’ captain has worked and visited since his January concussion agree he will recover. That’s not a guarantee, but you only have to look as far as the Stanley Cup ring on Patrice Bergeron’s finger to remember that young players with lingering and frustrating concussion symptoms can and do return to the game.

It takes a focused and determined athlete, and that’s a given with Crosby. It takes good medical advice, which by all accounts he is receiving. And it takes patience, which the Penguins have shown from the start.

For me, it’s not exactly climbing far out on a wispy limb to picture Sid back on the ice, torturing the Flyers just like in the old [sic] days.  As for the question about when he gets back, I keep wondering: why the hurry and worry? Let the kid heal.

Camp without Crosby? October without Crosby? November? There’s absolutely no reason to believe any of those scenarios will conclusively extinguish the team’s hopes of getting back to the Cup. They don’t award the thing in October, and a glance back at the team’s history underscores plenty of reason for optimism.

Let’s go back 21 years to the fall of 1990, with the Penguins coming off another failed regular season. Fighting a very serious disk-space infection in his back and facing some heavy questions about his future, Mario missed the first 50 games, at which point the team was a mere five games over .500. He returned and the team captured its first Cup. Yes, there was a little trade in March of that year that helped things along, but those were quite bleak times for the Penguins.

Now let’s go back five months to the conclusion of the 2010-11 season. The Penguins wound up playing 34 games without Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and yet piled up 42 points in those games, a pace that would translate to 101 points over the course of an 82-game season. That’s not only playoff territory but, with a little luck, first-round home ice territory.

Precisely as expected, Pittsburgh struggled to score goals in those 34 games but still found a way to win, thanks to Marc-Andre Fleury and some general pluckiness.

But let’s remember that out of those 34 games in question, the Penguins played 29 without Eric Tangradi, 21 without Arron Asham, 17 without Mark Letestu, 14 without Matt Cooke, 14 without Dustin Jeffrey and 13 without alternate captain Brooks Orpik. Jeffrey (knee) may not be ready for the start of the season, but Orpik (hernia) should be. The rest are healthy.

They’ve also got the reigning Jack Adams Trophy winner in Dan Bylsma, so the team is in good hands behind the bench. They’ve got a healthy and by all accounts determined Malkin ready to return as an elite scorer. And they’ve got Jordan Staal coming off a full summer of workouts for the first time in two years and Fleury coming into the prime years of his career after a magnificent season.

We all know there are no guarantees that this team will simply pick up where its predecessor left off. But it’s hardly crazy to picture the Penguins humming along at a 100-point pace for a while and waking up one day to find Crosby back in the lineup reprising his role as the best player on the planet.

At which point pessimists might be hard to find.

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