It wasn't that long ago that the Pittsburgh Penguins were cruising through the Eastern Conference playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Their Cup dreams were spoiled by a more talented, more seasoned, well-oiled, red-and-white machine, but nonetheless, the Penguins' 2007-'08 Cinderella season was one for the ages.
A lot has changed between then and now. The Penguins' lineup looks quite different in February of 2009 as opposed to June of 2008.
Perhaps the biggest hole in the Penguins' lineup is one that can't be filled by a 40-goal scoring winger to play alongside Sidney Crosby, or a bruising power forward to occupy the area in front of the net on the power play.
The biggest hole has undoubtedly been a motivational one.
The replacement of Michel Therrien with Interim Head Coach Dan Bylsma was management's first attempt to bring about a change in the attitude of the locker room. However, the need for such a change could have been ruled out in July, had the Penguins not let Gary Roberts walk out the door.
In his one and a quarter seasons with the Penguins' organization, Gary Roberts took on a cult-like status, unknown to Pittsburgh since the days of Roberto Clemente, unknown to the Penguins since Le Magnifique.
The phrase "What Would Gary Roberts Do" (or WWGRD for short) appeared on wristbands, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and even hung from the F level of the Mellon Arena, courtesy of the Pensblog.
What Roberts provided to the young group of Penguins was something much more valuable than goals or assists.
Roberts provided the kind of veteran leadership that is obviously lacking on this year's roster, as well as the hell-bent determination, the fiery passion for the sport of hockey, and the two decades worth of experience that can't be measured on a score sheet.
Whether it was a stern scolding after a sloppy loss, a big hit in the corner late in a tie game, a harsh word for the officials, or a clutch goal from what became known as Mr. Roberts' Neighborhood, or the front of the net, Roberts was an ever-present leader of his new team.
Roberts provided guidance for the Penguins' youthful core of hockey prodigies, while displaying every quality, both on and off of the ice, that role models consist of.
The Penguins face quite a daunting task in the coming weeks. It's not going to be easy. As we have seen over the past two months, no win is an easy one.
The Penguins will undoubtedly be looking to their role players to provide a spark in each of their coming contests in order to alleviate some of the weight from the shoulders of their star players.
It will be in these times of adversity that the words, but more importantly the actions, of the Penguins' departed veteran arise in the hearts and minds of all Penguin fans.
Throw in whatever cliche you like—Don't Stop Believing, Time is of the Essence, There's No Time Like the Present—but remember that this thing isn't over yet.
As the Penguins embark on their final push for the post season, you can't help but wonder, and hope that the Penguins can remember what Gary Roberts would do.
Let's Go Pens.