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Starkey: Crosby mystery thickens

| Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011

Progress. Symptoms. Call me crazy, but I don't see those words as compatible when it comes to Sidney Crosby's concussion recovery.

Yet, there they were again, in an email response I received from Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, on Wednesday. The question seemed simple enough: What are the symptoms Crosby has been experiencing this summer?

Headaches• Dizziness• Balance issues?

Penguins general manager Ray Shero was asked the same question Monday. His mind-boggling response: "I don't know the exact symptoms."

What• If the man running the franchise's day-to-day operations — the man responsible for making contingency plans if Crosby is unable to start the season — doesn't know, who does?

I figured Brisson was a good bet. I asked him to identify the symptoms.

Brisson's reply: "Sidney progressed a lot this summer. As Ray mentioned, he had occasional symptoms here and there. Camp is in a month. We will know better then."

So the mystery continues. Crosby's ordeal has been shrouded in haziness since the moment he was leveled by David Steckel near the end of the second period of the Winter Classic.

Start with the still-unanswered question of why team physician Charles Burke — who was stitching a cut on Matt Cooke's face when Crosby went down and was not aware of the hit — was not summoned to take even a cursory look at Crosby before the third period.

That was seventh months ago.

I don't mean to be an alarmist, but how can one not be alarmed at events of the past week?

First came a tweet from Josh Rimer, who produces "NHL Home Ice" on Sirius radio. Rimer, from what I gather, is well respected in hockey circles. He tweeted that three sources told him Crosby 'won't be ready 2 start the season.'

If the claim were bogus, you figure somebody from Crosby's circle would have shot it down immediately. Nobody did. Certainly not Crosby, who has not been heard from since April and is only sporadically in touch with team officials.

Shero hardly crushed the claim. He lauded Crosby's "progress" and said Crosby has maintained a normal offseason workout routine, but he also spoke of "symptoms" and said his star player wouldn't be "pushed" for the opening of training camp Sept. 16 or the season opener Oct. 6 at Vancouver.

Go back nearly four months, to the end of the Tampa Bay series, and ask yourself a question: Was this the Crosby update you were expecting to hear in mid-August?

Me neither.

This is by far the biggest local sports story of the summer, though you wouldn't know it from the tepid reaction around town. It's as if people don't want to acknowledge the very real possibility that Crosby's issues could keep him off the ice indefinitely.

Back on April 30, when Crosby revealed he'd suffered a setback, Shero said, "The great news is, he's got all kinds of time on his side right now."

That no longer is the case. Camp is right around the corner.

I feel frightened for Crosby. I can't help but wonder if his brain will be the equivalent of Mario Lemieux's back — an injury issue that never really goes away. On the other hand, things can change quickly when it comes to concussions. An athlete can wake up symptom-free one day, as Minnesota's Pierre-Marc Bouchard did last year, and resume a high level of play.

Of course, Bouchard had missed 112 games on account of a single hit. His comeback was halted early in the 2009-10 season when flu-like symptoms were linked to post-concussion syndrome.

In St. Louis, the Blues have announced that winger David Perron will not be ready for camp and has not even begun workouts. Perron was concussed last November on a hit from San Jose's Joe Thornton.

Crosby, at least, is able to work out. But if intense exercise is triggering symptoms, how could the Penguins be comfortable clearing him for contact in less than a month?

Chalk it up as one more question with no clear answer.

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