The positive sight of Sidney Crosby joining his teammates on the ice in Tampa on Wednesday must be tempered with some reality.
"I don't have the expectation he's going to play," Penguins GM Ray Shero told ESPN.com on Wednesday.
That the game's greatest player is making progress and joining his teammates for the Florida trip is an important step. But it's only one step among others he'll need to take. And the Penguins have been clear on one thing: They are not rushing their prized possession back.
"I talked to Sid again today because I wanted him to hear from me: There's no pressure from me or the team nor his teammates to try and push this thing through," Shero said. "Because there's no such thing with concussions as we know. That's why he's not going to play in the regular season; let's get that out of the way first."
If he has to miss the playoffs? So be it.
"I said to Sid, 'I don't want to take any hope from you of playing this year, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sitting here waiting for your return or planning on it,'" Shero said.
There are many who will read into Shero's conservative statements by saying that's just the GM alleviating the pressure of expectations. Perhaps. But I sense that the GM, who has a 15-year-old hockey-playing son recovering from a concussion he suffered in the same month as Crosby, knows from experience that there's no payday in trying to push this in any way.
"With other injuries, you know when someone is two weeks away," Shero said. "Well, we have no idea with this.
"It's great news that he's making the trip. To be with his teammates again, that's part of it. It's good news where he's at, he's certainly progressing and going well. But it's a step-by-step thing."
As difficult as it is for fans to hear this again and again and again, there remains no timetable for Crosby's return.
"If he can play, then it's meant to be, and he'll play," Shero said. "But it won't be a rushed thing. It's going to be when he's 100 percent ready to play."
In many ways, the Penguins and Crosby are the victims right now of the team's impressive ability to remain a contender without its top two centers in the lineup. If the Penguins were sitting 10th in the East, we would not even be having this conversation; fans would want Crosby to return next season. As it stands, they see a savior potentially returning in April or May to put the team over the hump.
But Shero won't let the standings affect his judgment. Crosby will return when it's right and only when it's right.
"Hey, it might be September," Shero said. "And at the end of the day, there's nothing wrong with that. We just want him to make sure when he returns he's 100 percent. That's really where we are.
"I understand the enthusiasm from the fans and the speculation from the media, I mean, he's the best player, and he would certainly help our hockey team and our chances. But this is bigger than that."