Sidney Crosby speaks about his progress after his first skate since January

Penguins fans and fans around the NHL were thrilled this morning when news of Sidney Crosby taking to the ice for the first time since going down with a concussion in early January came out. Crosby getting back on the ice is tremendous news because there’s been zero updates as far as how he’s been progressing in his recovery from the concussion suffered after a hit from Victor Hedman.

After today’s skate, Crosby spoke with the press and gave his take on how he thought things went and where his mind is at now.

“I’ve had some good days here the last few, and I was able to get on a bike and exercise a bit. I didn’t have any symptoms doing that. I was given the opportunity to skate, the doctors said I could give it a try and see how I feel. So I did that today, and we’ll see moving forward how it goes.”

With the GM meeting going on in Florida and concussions being a major talking point, Crosby didn’t take the opportunity out to give his thoughts on what the league could and should be doing to help players out. Crosby was a bit more careful with what he thinks. Whether or not head shots should be banned has been asked, and when Crosby was asked about that today, he was careful in his take.

“That’s a great question. I mean, I’d like to say yes, but it’s more than just saying that. There’s got to be obviously some clarity and everything’s got to be looked at as far as how you do that. It’s a pretty fast game and there may be times when guys don’t target the head and they may come in contact with the head, so what do you do in that situation? So banning them would be the easiest, I guess, and the safest route. But at the same time, there are times when there is going to be accidental contact and how do you deal with that. That’s something that they have to work out. But as far as targeting the head, yeah. No matter if it’s from the blindside or straight on, if someone targets the head, then yeah, I think that should be banned. But when you’re looking at accidental contact and stuff, well, that’s going to be up to people making those disciplinary decisions whether or not it was targeted and things like that. But that’s kind of what needs to be talked about.

“But as far as deliberate head shots, yeah. You’re not going to lose anything from the game if you take that away. I don’t think you’re going to lose anything at all. I mean, if a guy has enough time to line someone up, then he’s got enough time to decide whether he can hit him in the head or not. I think that’s pretty realistic. But it’s whether or not it’s intentional, sometimes that’s tough to really know when you’re talking about a fast game like hockey. So that’s something they have to discuss. The easy answer is yes, but it’s just finding out how to do it the right way so that you still have that physical element but at the same time, guys are a little bit safer too.”

Even when you’re the best player in the game and you’ve dealt with a pair of rough head shots of your own, answering the question of what the best way to eliminate that stuff from the game is is extremely difficult to do. We are a bit surprised that Crosby didn’t take the opportunity to make a case to lay the hammer down to the GMs to get it right and get it done fast. Whether Crosby is comfortable with being the figurehead for this hot topic in the game or not, it’s on him to carry the flag for it  since those around the league are finally coming around on player safety because of what’s happened to him.

We understand that it’s tough to be “the man” and have all of this stuff thrown in your lap, but whether he likes it or not, Crosby is the guy that will help guide the NHL to change the game for the players’ benefit and health. Taking a moment out here to make his case would’ve gone over huge and had a profound effect on the discussions in Boca Raton. That said, if you think this is the last we’ll hear from Crosby on this matter you’d be wrong. He will be playing a role in all this when it’s said and done, just not hearing a bit from him today is a bit of a surprise.

As for if or when he thinks he’ll be back, Crosby is very hesitant to give any kind of timeline.

“I have no clue. I’m not thinking too far ahead as far as a time frame. I just want to get better. This is part of the way to do that. I’m just kind of taking that step and seeing how it goes.”

The Penguins would, of course, love to have him back for the playoffs and improve the Pens chances to win the Stanley Cup, but making sure he’s 100% right before doing that is far more important.

The most important question to ask yourself in any fantasy hockey league

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In many cases, the most pressing questions you’ll ask yourself as a young fantasy hockey manager – when you have all that glorious time – is “How do I finally win this league?”

(Sometimes, you’ll be more specific, asking “How do I beat my best friend/colleague/frenemy/potential romantic partner/all of the above?”)

Time can change a lot of things, and sometimes life foists different priorities upon your mind. You might find yourself more interested in less glorious things like taking care of debts or aiming for promotions. This pivots, then, to what I believe is the most important question a potential fantasy GM must ask: “How much work do I really want to do in this league?”

Every week, PHT plans on running at least two fantasy-focused columns, and the beauty of these is that they can appeal to fantasy owners of all types. Joey Alfieri’s add/drops can be helpful to those who crunch spreadsheets like potato chips, but it can also be a one-stop guide for those who don’t have time to go deep on every Rotoworld column.

Speaking of Rotoworld, it’s a fantastic resource for fantasy hockey and other sports. Check out Gus Katsaros’ bit on struggling forwards such as Joe Thornton as just one great example.

This Thursday space is going to serve as an open-ended discussion of fantasy hockey: the narrow triumphs, crushing and seemingly arbitrary defeats, and tactics that may lie a little outside of the box.

In this specific case, here are a few suggestions if you possess the rare (but valuable) self-awareness to realize that you might not always be able to give your team(s) your maximum attention.

Lean on workhorse goalies

In many cases, it’s wise to fight the urge to take big name goalies in fantasy. Instead, you are often better off loading up on true difference-makers, whether they be the true high-scoring defensemen like Brent Burns or game-breaking forwards who still might be around in, say, rounds 3-5.

It’s a little different if you know you’re not going to monitor every goalie battle, or merely want to keep things simple.

A workhorse such as Braden Holtby shoots up your rankings in this case. On the other hand, someone facing a backup threat (say Steve Mason vs. Connor Hellebuyck) might not be worth the hassle.

Old over new

It’s exciting to identify the next breakthrough stars. Young players can be exciting because they have the chance to make those quantum leaps. The lockout that knocked out the 2004-05 season was memorable in that way:

Eric Staal in 2003-04: 31 points in 81 games

Eric Staal in 2005-06: 100 points in 81 games

Being able to forecast those leaps provides one of the most precious sensations in fantasy: feeling smart.

On the other hand, that takes its fair share of research, aside from instances where you’ve specifically keyed on prospects that interest you. Rookies can be big risks in fantasy drafts because of the threat of them only getting a “nine-game audition” before their teams avoid burning years off entry-level deals.

(Note: this might not apply to the Edmonton Oilers.)

If you know you don’t have time to make contingency plans and/or don’t want to study points per minute to try to find the next Viktor Arvidsson, you might just want to stick with more stable, established veterans.

Rotoworld Podcast: Can’t Stop Kucherov

Avoid the Gaboriks

Injuries can be random in sports, hockey included. Just ask Steven Stamkos, whose poor luck seems borderline freakish. Hockey history is dotted with painful “What if?” questions about icons like Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux down to nice scorers such as Ales Hemsky and Marian Gaborik.

(Sami Salo, meanwhile, likely often asked “Why me?”)

Injuries can be especially deflating for less-hands-on types, so maybe shy away from, say, Kris Letang.

Find some quick references

Following PHT is a good start to stay abreast of some of the largest developments in the NHL.

If you’re trying to make quick decisions, Rotoworld’s injury page can provide a quick reference so you know if someone might come back soon versus a case that might be murkier.

There’s a solid chance of a future column discussing some resources that might help those in a bind in drafts or even setting lineups. Stay tuned.

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It’s possible to win your league even if you’re not making weekly tweaks like some of your more obsessive competitors.

The key is to be practical … and lucky. Yeah, luck is a pretty nice thing to have in fantasy, and life. Here’s to a fun 2017-18 from a fantasy perspective, regardless of your level of commitment.

(Although, don’t be that person who totally abandons a team, leaving a bunch of players with season-ending injuries in your starting lineup. That’s bad form.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Deutschland Cup roster provides early look at U.S. men’s Olympic hopefuls

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The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are 111 days away and we got our first look at some of the names who will compete to be on the ice on the men’s side vs. Slovenia for USA Hockey’s opening game.

There were 29 players named to the U.S. roster for next month’s Deutschland Cup where the Americans will take on Slovakia, Russia and Germany. Tony Granato will serve as head coach and Chris Chelios, Ron Rolston, Scott Young and Keith Allain will serve as assistants. Of the 29 players, 21 have played in the NHL and are names you probably recognize.

FORWARDS
Ryan Stoa
Mark Arcobello
Chad Kolarik
Andy Miele
Brian O’Neill
Brian Gionta
Jim Slater
Dan Sexton
Broc Little
Sean Backman
Drew Shore
Ryan Malone
Ryan Lasch
Robbie Earl
Garrett Roe

DEFENSEMEN
Chad Billins
Bobby Sanguinetti
Tom Gilber
Ryan Gunderson
Noah Welch
Matt Gilroy
Jonathan Blum
Matt Donovan
Mark Stuart
Dylan Reese
Mike Lundin

GOALTENDERS
Ryan Zapolski
Brandon Maxwell
David Leggio

The biggest names on the roster are 38-year-old Gionta and 37-year-old Malone, who have 1,653 games of NHL experience between them. It’s a veteran list, with an average age of 31.

“There’s a lot of guys here that know how to play and have been successful players and have found a niche for themselves in their career at various stages,” U.S. general manager Jim Johannson told Stephen Whyno of the The Associated Press. “The Deutschland Cup for us is a little bit to find some separation of these guys, whether that’s pure pace of play or performance.”

USA Hockey submitted a list of 81 eligible players to the IIHF and there is the possibility of seeing a handful of NCAA and AHL players not playing in the Deutschland Cup skating in Pyeongchang. A final 25-man roster is expected to be announced around Jan. 1.

Canada previously announced two pre-Olympic rosters over the summer and participated in the Sochi Hockey Open and Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in August.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Where do LA Kings go after Jeff Carter injury?

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The Los Angeles Kings continued their hot start to the season Wednesday night but lost a big piece of their offense in the process.

During their 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, forward Jeff Carter suffered a lower-body injury in the first period and did not return. A team source told Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider that it’s “going to be a little while,” and TSN’s Bob McKenzie Tweeted Thursday morning that Carter was cut by Jeff Petry’s skate and he’s hearing it will be “multiple weeks” before a return is possible.

Carter has three assists in six games this season and has been key cog in the productive “That ’70’s Line” with Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1 and are the only remaining NHL team yet to lose in regulation.

With Carter now gone for the foreseeable future, where does this leave LA’s center depth? After Anze Kopitar, it’s quite a drop off. And you wonder if the short-term solution here is signing Brooks Laich, who wasn’t signed after attending training camp on a tryout deal but has continued to practice with the club. He’ll come cheap and as long as they don’t need to fill that void for far too long, Laich is a veteran who’s familiar with the organization. He’s a decent first try to take over that spot before general manager Rob Blake needs to look down on the farm or to someone on the outside.

Blake, who’s expected to address Carter’s situation sometime on Thursday, has time to figure out his next move(s) with the Kings off until Saturday when they begin a six-game road trip.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

US women’s hockey team gets Wilma Rudolph Courage Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. women’s hockey team received the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award on Wednesday night at the Salute to Women in Sports hosted by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

In April, the hockey team won its fourth consecutive world title and seventh in eight tries. The U.S. beat Canada 3-2 in overtime in the title game in Plymouth, Michigan. The team had threatened to boycott the world championships on home ice last spring before USA Hockey agreed to improved salary and benefits.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received the Billie Jean King Leadership Award at the 38th annual gala. Rice, a professor at Stanford and former tennis player and figure skater, was recently selected to lead an NCAA commission to study college basketball after a federal investigation uncovered bribery and fraud.

Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer also was honored. The longtime Cardinal coach reached 1,000 NCAA career victories in 2017.

Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore and Olympic swimming sensation Katie Ledecky were selected sportswomen of the year.