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Now that the Penguins' season is over, it was revealed that Sidney Crosby was not close at all to returning this spring, and if you've been following anything I've said or written, you'll know that was always my gut feeling.
More specifically, Crosby told media in Pittsburgh on Friday that he took a "step back’" about 10 days ago when he felt some symptoms return.
Concussion expert Dr. Micky Collins advised him to take a week off from skating, which he did. He still traveled with the team, which suggests that while he did have a step back, it wasn't a major setback as far as having massive headaches or not being able to sleep at night. But he did get a little foggy and that was enough to take a break. But all signs point to the world's best player being ready for next season.
"He's certainly going to be ready for camp," Pens GM Ray Shero told ESPN.com Saturday. "He had really ramped it up before taking a week off. I know you don't totally know with these things, but Dr. Collins has maintained the whole time that this is a manageable injury and that Sid will be fine. He's got lots of time now."
Interestingly, it was Evgeni Malkin not Crosby that was closer to returning had the Penguins' postseason continued. Malkin was supposed to be out the rest of season with a torn ACL, but his rehab was going so well he had targeted trying to return three weeks from now (during the conference finals).
Meanwhile, looking at Pittsburgh's offseason docket, half of the team's forwards are free agents. Pascal Dupuis, Maxime Talbot, Mike Rupp, Aaron Asham and Craig Adams among the UFAs. They've already been told by Shero that they can't all be back because of cap room. Some will, some won't. Alexei Kovalev is also an UFA but as expected, he was a pure rental and won't be coming back to the team.
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, once his season was done, confirmed to reporters the rumor that he had a concussion late in the regular season and that's what knocked him out of action more than a week.
In the wake of that, Sabres GM Darcy Regier is very concerned about goalie mask safety. There is no official safe standard for goalie masks across the league. Regier told ESPN.com Saturday that he will definitely make this a conversation point at the next GMs meeting at the Cup finals in June.
Kay Whitmore, the NHL's manager of goalie equipment, told ESPN.com Saturday that the league's first priority is always safety and that Regier's concerns are well-received. In fact, Whitemore and Regier have already spoken on the issue. Whitmore has also long wanted to standardize goalie masks.
Just like the visor debate, however, my sense is that this will come down to player choice. The NHL Players' Association has the hammer when it comes to player equipment. Still, very much a conversation worth having given the investment in starting goalies around the league.
There's a rumor that has made the rounds that the Rangers would somehow stash Chris Drury and his $7.05-million cap hit in the minors next year. Not going to happen.
"That's an unfounded rumor," Drury's agent Mark Witkin told ESPN.com Saturday.
The fact is, they can't. He's got a no-movement clause. You can't do a thing to a player with a no-movement clause.
So, Drury holds all the cards. He did come back from a serious knee injury this year and that's something he's going to look at this summer, how he feels physically. But I don't sense he's going to do the Rangers any favors and retire. He's either on the team next year or the Rangers bite the bullet and buy him out. A buyout would count $3.7 million against the Rangers' cap next season and $1.6 million in 2012-13.
The Rangers, of course, are expected to be heavy bidders on UFA Brad Richards come July 1. In the meantime, they also have two key RFAs: Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan.
New ownership with deeper pockets means Sabres GM Regier has the green light to be more aggressive and more selective this summer, whether that's in free agency or more likely via the trade route. He can add payroll.
"It means that the grocery store got a little bigger," Regier told ESPN.com Saturday.
The shopping list this summer?
"If we can add a little more offense, we need a bit more," Regier said. "And maybe someone who can add a little experience on the back end because we're a little young there."
The Sabres have seven UFA-bound forwards.
"Quite a few," said Regier. "Not sure yet how that's going to play out. We're still working through our player interviews. As a staff, we'll re-assess things and make some decisions. And there's some players who will make their own decisions, whether it's Rob Niedermayer or Mike Grier. They have decisions to make as well [retire or not]."
Tim Connolly is the biggest UFA for the Sabres, while Drew Stafford is the marquee RFA.
"He has options," Regier said of Connolly. "There aren't many centers this year who are unrestricted. We certainly would consider bringing him back, but it always comes back to price and term."
Late next week, Senators GM Bryan Murray will sit down and really start the coaching search process. He's had five to six applicants already. Murray was waiting to see if the first round would produce any new candidates but nobody got fired.
And finally a note on the second-round series I'll be joining Monday in Detroit. It's only one game, but a frightening trend re-appeared for the Red Wings Friday night that was their downfall a year ago against the Sharks early in their series: penalties.
Looking back, the Wings believe penalty trouble in last year's series, especially in the opening two games at San Jose, cost them big time in that five-game series loss. On Friday night, the Wings -- normally a very disciplined team -- took 16 minutes worth of penalties compared to San Jose's eight minutes; the Wings had only two power plays, while the Sharks had six man-advantage opportunities. The Sharks only scored once on the power play, but it's a trend that can't continue for the Wings to win this series.