Concussions have made Sidney Crosby’s career a story of ‘what ifs’

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It was announced on Monday that Pittsburgh Penguins captain is sidelined for the time being with a concussion. At this point we do not know much beyond that.

We don’t know when exactly it happened (coach Mike Sullivan said at some point in practice on Friday), how it happened, or how long it could potentially keep him out of the Penguins’ lineup.

Even without knowing the exact specifics, given how much time Crosby has already missed in his career due to a concussion it has to be a huge concern for both his health and his career.

Because of the previous issues, which all started during the week of the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh when he took hits to the head from Dave Steckel and Victor Hedman in consecutive games, we already missed the chance to fully see what Crosby was going to be capable of in the NHL during what should have been his peak years in the league. If you buy into the belief that scorers produce at their peak levels between the ages of 23 and 25 (and there is plenty of evidence to suggest they do) Crosby was only able to play 99 out of a possible 212 games during that stretch due to complications from injury and a half season lockout.

It has already helped make his career one of the all-time great “what-if” careers in hockey.

When he was on the ice during those seasons he was scoring at a pace that was at a completely different level from every player in hockey. For those three years he averaged 1.61 points per game. Among the players that played in at least 50 games during those three years, nobody else averaged more than 1.20 points per game. The gap between him and the No. 2 scorer (his teammate, Evgeni Malkin) was the same as the gap between the No. 2 scorer and the No. 49 scorer. It probably cost him a couple of more scoring titles, maybe an MVP award, and perhaps even another Stanley Cup.

When he finally returned, there was always the concern that it would be an issue going forward. When his scoring numbers started to drop (probably due to the fact he was simply getting older than anything else) there always seemed to be a discussion that the concussion “changed” him or the way he played.

But as he remained on the ice and was able to play full seasons, those concerns started to get pushed to the back burner, especially as he started to dominate the NHL again.

Over those three years he added another scoring title and MVP award to his resume, and then won a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy this past season. He added to the list of achievements this September when he led Canada to a World Cup of Hockey championship.

Now that he has climbed back to the top of the hockey world and was in the middle of what might have been one of the most successful years of his career, he has another concussion.

And with that returns the concern for his long-term health and the impact it could have on him as a person and player.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.