PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Sidney Crosby is as baffled as anyone.
The Pittsburgh Penguins' superstar said after skating with the team Friday he feels like he is improving but, nearly 2 1/2 months since he last played, he remains troubled daily by concussion-like symptoms.
"It doesn't consistently get worse or better," Crosby said. "It's a roller-coaster. They're not fun."
The Penguins have said Crosby won't play again until he is symptom-free from the concussion-related issues that have perplexed hockey's biggest star for 14 months. Therefore, the timetable for his return remains as indefinite as ever.
And, as the NHL season winds down, Crosby is battling the calendar as much as the headaches and other concussion-like side effects that simply won't go away. The Penguins have less than one-third of their schedule remaining—25 games, including three in four days starting Saturday.
"I'm trying to get back," Crosby said. "I'm hoping to get back as soon as possible.
"I'm not going to pretend I know when that is. I won't say I'll be ready in a month or two weeks or a week. I wouldn't be going through of all of this if I didn't want to play as soon as possible."
While the Penguins no doubt would welcome their captain back for only the playoffs, they would prefer to get him at least a few regular-season games before that. Crosby has played in only eight of Pittsburgh's last 105 games, counting last season's playoffs.
Crosby skated Friday with his teammates at the Penguins' suburban practice rink only because he couldn't find an available ice surface elsewhere. He also did so last week during Pittsburgh's visit to Montreal.
But Crosby is not yet cleared to practise or to engage in contact, hurdles he must clear before he can play again.
"Regardless of the fact that it's not a change in status for him, it's still good to see him out there and see him with the team," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Certainly you see a lot of skill and speed when you see him skate."
When the Penguins will see Crosby in a game again is the U$8.7-million question—or Crosby's estimated salary for a season in which he has appeared in games for only two weeks.
The NHL's undisputed top player until a concussion sidelined him exactly halfway through the 2010-11 season, Crosby also missed the first six weeks of this campaign. He returned with a characteristic flourish by scoring twice and setting up two other goals Nov. 21 against the New York Islanders, but two weeks later was on the shelf again with concussion-like symptoms.
Those symptoms still haven't vanished. Crosby also was diagnosed late last month with a soft tissue injury in his neck, but treating that problem has not made his headaches and other concussion-related issues go away.
"You have days when you feel like you're getting better and the symptoms aren't quite as bad. Other days they're a little worse," Crosby said. "Everyone has different symptoms. That's the tough thing about getting a gauge on it. It doesn't always seem consistent."
General manager Ray Shero has said repeatedly Crosby won't play again until he is symptom-free—the same conditions that existed before he returned earlier this season.
"I feel like I'm getting better, which is good," Crosby said. "I'm still not symptom-free. I'm progressing, but I'm not ready to take a hit yet."
Currently, Crosby is at about the same stage as he was in mid-August, or about a month before training camp began and three months before he would play again.
While Crosby said his motion and balance issues are better than they were during his nearly 11-month layoff, it is the troubling persistence of his concussion-like symptoms that is clouding the return of hockey's top player.
At a news conference in early September, one of Crosby's concussion specialists predicted he would have no concussion-related issues return once he began playing again. Instead, they were back within weeks.
Those two goals he scored against the Islanders are his only two in the last 416 days.
By age 22, Crosby had achieved nearly everything possible on the ice—winning a Stanley Cup, the Olympics, an Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy. He was the NHL's marquee star and Canada's most celebrated athlete.
Now, at age 24, he isn't sure when he will play his next game.
"That's really all I'm worried about," Crosby said.