All of us have reached that point.
The days of summer have grown long as the end of July comes into sight. The temperature outside has reached triple digits, confining many us to the indoors, staring blankly at our Twitter feeds, just waiting for something to happen now that Prospect Camp is behind us. Luckily, pictures have slowly surfaced of our players, especially Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, as they begin their workout routines in preparation for training camp.
The excess time has given many fans the opportunity to think, to dream, about the return of the injured stars who haven't seen NHL ice for months. The countdowns surrounding their returns have graced photoshops and have been used to instill fear in opposing teams who aren't "regaining" two of the best players in the NHL at the start of the season.
The Crosby and Malkin-less drought followed by their smooth recoveries from injury (as far as we know) has built high expectations in the NHL world from both analysts and fans.
But is it possible that this build up is forming unrealistic expectations for their returns in October?
Yes and no.
Expectations for Malkin are a little tricky. Since he lead the League in scoring in 2008-2009, we haven't seen a consistent Malkin take the ice. Nagging injury problems aren't the only cause, but also an overall lack of focus. Seeing this as a fan is frustrating, especially since we know just what Malkin is capable of when he's on his game.
Malkin wasn't doing half bad last season, almost hitting a point a game before getting his MCL/ACL leveled by Buffalo Sabre Tyler Myers. Even then, the hockey he played was largely forgettable—not Malkin hockey. His apology text to Ray Shero broke each of our hearts and silenced some of the criticism because it was clear Malkin was leaving when he knew he was capable of so much more.
Now that he's healthy and we're seeing quotes from Sergei Gonchar that Malkin has never been more motivated in training than now, he has a lot to prove this season.
So are expectations for Malkin too high for his return? Yes, in a way, but not really. It would be silly to expect Malkin to charge out of the gate with amazing hockey; it always takes some time to find your skates after extensive injury. However, Malkin is due for a good season. Had his level of hockey been higher leading up to his injury, I think people would be more willing to give him some more wiggle room. It has gotten to the point where people are wondering if we will ever see 08-09 Malkin again. They're impatient.
High expectations for Malkin are not only warranted, but a good source of motivation to put the mediocre hockey behind him. Barring any permanent damage knee surgery did to his game, Malkin is more than capable of exceeding these high expectations and we've already seen signs of it already.With Crosby, we have an entirely different situation on our hands namely because we're dealing with a very different injury.
By now, we're all familiar with the strange mystery that is concussions and how big of a question mark is stamped on a player's records when a concussion comes into play. There have been no news of setbacks since Crosby's double-blow from Dave Steckel and Victor Hedman and he seems to be training without any problems.
That desperation in Pens fans I noted earlier is especially prevalent when it comes to Crosby because so much is uncertain. Fans have spent time analyzing pictures of him, trying to figure out whether it looks like there's more muscle mass than before or not. Pictures of Crosby skating have been gobbled up by fans as if they're starving orphans. Seeing him take part in regular training is a huge sigh of relief; he's back, and he'll lead us to glory, many have said.
Expectations are high for Crosby's return, and unlike Malkin, this isn't a good thing. It's important to remember that Crosby has a history of starting his seasons "slow" and like Malkin, it would be silly for anyone to expect Crosby to play as if the last nine months never happened. We all know that Crosby has redefined the word "impossible" with drops of his sweat, but we have to remember he's also human. Anyone expecting 25-game-scoring-streak Crosby might be in for a shock. The problem with that shock is it's usually followed by panic.
"Crosby's concussion has totally destroyed his hockey talent!"
I'm not saying Crosby's going to string together only 50 points this season, but to expect him to be anywhere near the level of skill he was at last winter would simply be unfair. What I'm asking is for everyone to keep their heads when the season starts: don't get too high and don't get too low when it comes to Crosby. None of us will know if or how this concussion has affected him and his skill.
What we can expect from Crosby is that he's worked his tail off since receiving the green light to work out, unlike some people, and that effort will be present in every shift he takes.