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It’s a step in the right direction for a league starting to gain some traction. The last time Crosby played on national television, the Penguins were losing to the Capitals in the Winter Classic, the highest-rated regular season game since 1975.

His presence would help hockey fill a bit of the void if the NBA’s lockout continues.

“It’s huge,” said Nashville’s Shea Weber, who played alongside Crosby on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team that won gold in Vancouver. “I mean he’s really the face of the NHL I think. He’s the most dominant player in the world.”

Or, at least he was.

Crosby isn’t sure what to expect whenever he’s cleared. He’d love to be the player who seemed to be in the middle of his prime last winter. He’s not sure when that guy will show up, if he does at all.

“I’d love to be able to say first game back I’m right where I left off but it’s pretty unrealistic,” Crosby said. “With that being said that’s where I want to be. This is the best I felt since I’ve played NHL and that’s what I want to get to. I want to get back there as soon as I can.”

After a restless summer spent wondering if its iconic star would ever return, so does hockey.

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AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Joseph White in Washington, D.C., and freelance writer Matt Kalman contributed to this report.