When word broke late Tuesday Sidney Crosby is scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery on his right wrist in the coming days, it went a ways toward explaining the superstar’s ineffectiveness in the 2014 playoffs. But it does nothing to change the fact the Penguins captain will face the most challenging season of his career this coming year.
The surgery, which won’t cause the 26-year-old to miss any games, won’t reduce the immense pressure he’ll be under with a revamped Pens lineup. Nothing he does in the regular season will silence the people who challenged his status as the planet’s best player. He can win the NHL’s scoring race and Hart Trophy as league MVP as he did in 2013-14 and people will shrug their shoulders. The only way he’ll shut them up is with a strong post-season performance that makes everyone forget about his one-goal, nine-point showing in 13 playoff games (including just three points in the second round) this past spring.
Of course, he’ll need help in that regard, and there’s valid debate about whether or not Pittsburgh’s new-look lineup is better than the one that blew a 3-1 series lead to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinal. Much of it will hinge on their new-look blueline, but, fair or not, the blame or credit will ultimately fall on him. Crosby knows this. He also knows fans and media won’t accept excuses, health-based or otherwise, which is probably why he steadfastly refused to admit he was injured when questioned about it during the Pens’ playoff run. When you have nearly superhuman hockey abilities like he does, you come to accept that people expect you to be superhuman in almost every regard.
There aren’t going to be immense on-ice implications for Crosby if he and his teammates fail to atone for the franchise’s disappointments in the past few seasons. He won’t be traded or publicly shamed by GM Jim Rutherford or owner Mario Lemieux. However, Crosby is fully aware his reputation needs burnishing and bolstering each and every season if he wants to be considered on par with Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and other multiple Stanley Cup-winning icons. Like all the greats, he knows winning is what matters most, and the Penguins simply haven't been winning enough of late.
A repaired wrist will allow him to fire on all pistons again, but it won’t quiet anyone down between now and next April.