The Pittsburgh Penguins captain has been diagnosed with a neck injury — more than year after his career was derailed by a hit in the 2011 Winter Classic — according to a statement released by the NHL team on Saturday night.
Crosby visited neurological spine specialist Dr. Robert S. Bray in Los Angeles earlier this week and learned of the neck injury, which has since healed. He's expected to see more doctors as his recovery continues.
"Those findings will be evaluated by independent specialists over the next few days," said the Penguins statement.
The news hit like a bombshell just hours before the NHL's skills challenge at Scotiabank Place. It originated in a sourced report from Bob McCown of Rogers Sportsnet before later being confirmed by the Penguins and Crosby's agent Pat Brisson.
The update provided yet another reminder of the pall Crosby's absence has cast over the sport.
Crosby's injury problems date back to a hit from David Steckel, formerly of the Washington Capitals, in the Winter Classic game on Jan. 1, 2011. He took a subsequent hit from Tampa's Victor Hedman four days later and has only played eight games in the 12 months since.
Even though his absence was attributed to a concussion, his most recent absence hinted at other troubles. Crosby passed an ImPACT test after last playing on Dec. 5 but still hasn't felt well enough to practice with the team.
The 24-year-old has resumed skating on his own recently, including sessions in Atlanta while seeing chiropractor Ted Carrick last week and in Los Angeles during his visit with Bray.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero spoke with reporters after the NHL's board of governors meeting on Saturday morning and sounded optimistic about Crosby's recovery.
"Hopefully we'll see next week as to where he is and we'll get the reports from California and compare notes to what's been done so far," said Shero. "We want to continue to look to see how we can get this under control and manageable so he can return to play."
The Penguins statement did not detail the nature of the injury or how long ago it healed. Media reports suggested that Bray found an abnormality with his C1 and C2 vertebrae.
Crosby made a stunning return to Pittsburgh's lineup in November, scoring two goals and two assists against the New York Islanders in his first competitive game in more than 11 months. In eight games this season, he had two goals, 10 assists and a plus-7 rating.
The native of Cole Harbour, N.S., is the hockey's most recognizable player. He scored the golden goal for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, captured the Hart Trophy in 2007 and became the youngest player to captain his team to a Stanley Cup in 2009.
Pittsburgh entered the all-star break sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference and are still hoping to welcome him back to the lineup this season.
"Let's just see what happens this week once we get some more information from his trip to California," Shero said. "I'm optimistic he's going to play."
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