If you think back hard enough, you can probably remember when there was a legitimate debate about who the best player in the NHL was.

A Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal, and an absolute insane start to the 2010-2011 season quickly quelled any question about Sidney Crosby being head and shoulders above his peers and the rest of the hockey world.

Then came the Winter Classic.

All of a sudden, the wunderkind that Penguins fans got to watch on a nightly basis, the best player on the planet, was sidelined indefinitely with a concussion.

The cruelest part of the entire ordeal, besides having the treat of watching Crosby play on a nightly basis, became the incessant rumor and speculation mill that started once he was out.

For Penguins fans, it’s been an agonizing 10 months. Not only have we proudly watched a group of scrappy, Bylsma soldiers churn out points and fight to the top of the league, we’ve also dealt with the distraction of hearing everyone outside the organization speculate about Crosby’s return.

Everyone probably has their own example; some random non-hockey fan waltzes up to you in the break room and starts a conversation off by saying: “Well I heard he’s got a tumor, might never play again, they’re gonna trade him and make him a coach!”

I hope I never hear that garbage again.

In a way, this is a throwback to what Mario endured.

Not on the injury level, on the appreciation level.

I’m 28 years old. I’ve loved hockey my entire life. But just due to my age, I missed a lot of the amazing Lemieux moments. The comebacks from cancer, the hat tricks in the first period of games that he couldn’t even bend over to tie his skates in due to severe pain.

If anything, it made me more appreciative of generational talents like Sidney Crosby. How blessed are we to have someone like this on our roster again?

Anyone familiar with Faceoff-Factor knows I spent a good bit of time defending Crosby from his worst (and dumbest) critics.

But it’s worth it. The flame wars are worth it because Sidney Crosby is the best player in the game, and he does it the right way both on and off the ice.

Tomorrow night is exciting for so many reasons. We can’t ignore the fact that the Penguins are still among the elite teams in the NHL without Sidney Crosby. Add in a healthy Crosby, who even at 50% is better than most of the National Hockey League forwards, and you’ve got an absolute juggernaut of an ice hockey team.

But it’s amazing to me, mostly, because we get to watch Sidney Crosby make magic again. We get to see those tip-ins out of mid air, we get to see that blazing speed and strength, and we get to see that dangerous dangle that exists nowhere else when 87 is missing.

It’s our nature as fans to complain sometimes. It happens at work, in the arena, and on this website.

If I could urge anyone to do anything, it’d be to sit back tomorrow night and savor that first shift like you would a bite of the best steak you’ve ever had.

Sit back, savor it, and be appreciative of what we have as fans in this area.

The best player in the world is coming back. Don’t let the chance to watch him pass you by. Enjoy this, because like Mario before him, nothing in this league is guaranteed.

As for the rest of the National Hockey League; take note.

Sidney Crosby is back.