Deep within a fireproof cabinet somewhere in Ray Shero's office rests a folder marked with the following inscription: "Doomsday Scenario." If a general manager has to resort to this "playbook," then he's clearly living his worst nightmare.
I wonder, if at any point during this very strange Penguins season, did Shero have to lock his office door, pour himself a glass of scotch, down it in one frantic swig and rifle through a drawer of documents in search of one that would make even the most-composed hockey executive break into a cold sweat?
Shero's doomsday folder surely includes a detailed strategy on what the Pittsburgh Penguins should do in the "unlikely event" that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were ever lost for the season.
At this time last year, Sidney Crosby was the toast of the sports world, scoring the gold medal-winning goal at the Winter Olympics.
This year, Crosby is living off the grid, and because the Penguins have kept his condition hush-hush, we don't know if he's vomiting into a bucket every couple of minutes or slowly rehabbing his hockey skills by shooting pucks at his parents' dryer back home in Nova Scotia. Since suffering a concussion at the Winter Classic, and briefly appearing in the Pens' next game against Tampa Bay, Crosby has been MIA.
At first, we thought he'd be gone a few games, but then it turned into a few weeks; followed by possibly a few months; then maybe the whole season; and some pessimists-turned-concussion-experts have questioned if Crosby will ever play again. Wait, what!?
While all of this was going on, Evgeni Malkin was bumped into the boards on a random hockey play that resulted in a torn ACL and MCL. Because ligament tears are easier to diagnose than head injuries, we knew for sure Geno's season was over.
And, oh yeah, I almost forgot. Not only did Sid and Geno go down, but a whole bunch of other forwards (the guys responsible for scoring goals) have been injured. Though Chris Kunitz, Mark Letestu, Aaron Asham, Dustin Jeffrey, Eric Tangradi and Mike Comrie may not be lost for the year, they've missed a whole bunch of close games that we would have easily won with them in the line-up.
The Stanley Cup playoff race begins now, and regardless of how many times Shero may have peeked inside his top-secret file drawer this season, all he can do now is watch, given that the NHL trade deadline was Monday afternoon.
If you ever happen to be washing windows at the Consol Energy Center and have a telephoto lens handy, say, during a season in which two of the world's best hockey players have suffered serious injuries, you might be able to get a glimpse of that doomsday document.
I'm guessing it looks something like this:
Step 1: If Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ever suffer season-ending injuries, book family vacation for April. Season over.
Step 2: If Sid has recently been hurt, is not at 100 percent and hasn't participated in any full-contact hockey drills for at least two months, DO NOT let him play. Oh well, we don't win this year, but imagine all the Stanley Cups we'll win in years to come.
Step 3: (See above) If Sid demands to compete during playoffs, arrange a heart-to-heart chat with former-hockey-prodigy-who-didn't-meet-his-full-potential-because-of-concussion-issues Eric Lindros.
Step 4: At all costs, protect the cash cow Sid.
Step 5: Trade away a defenseman, preferably not one with sexy hair; not one who has competed in the Olympics; and not one who was signed as a free agent at the beginning of the year. Obtain young scoring winger. It will give fans impression that front office still has hope.
Step 6: Keep Sid's spirits high by amusing him with a trade for a player whom he beat up earlier in the season.
Step 7: If unable to rent Alexei Kovalev, call a well-rested Bill Guerin and determine if he has one more playoff run left in him. If interested, promise another retirement night and family vacation to Hawaii.
Final Contingency: If all else fails and the Pens have legitimate shot at going deep into the playoffs, contact Mario and see if he'd be interested in lacing them up one more time.