Now that the Pittsburgh Penguins season is underway, hockey fans everywhere now watch for the return of Sidney Crosby. It seems possible that he could be cleared for contact in practice before the end of the month.
While it is easy to think of how much better things will be when Sid returns, overall, the Penguins fanbase is not panicking or stressing. Fans of other teams may ask, "why?"
The simple answer is that many Pens fans have been through this before, and not just with Crosby. Many of us learned how to pace our emotional investment in the team during the Mario Lemieux era.
We have watched so many games without Lemieux (and to a much lesser extent Crosby) that we approach the border of delusion. On many occasions, I have convinced myself, or heard someone say that "they play better without Lemieux/Crosby because the team doesn't stand around watching them do everything."
While that is exaggerated, the fact that many Penguins teams have kept things together during the absence of the star is not. Look no further than last season for proof.
The second half of the season saw Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and just about anyone else that could skate miss time due to injury. Multiple players were called up from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm team and the team still finished with 106 points.
This certainly is not to suggest that anyone in the team or fanbase is indifferent to Crosby's return, just that nobody is hitting the panic button. There are a few reason why, check them out.
Defense has become the focal point of this team under Coach Dan Bylsma. Consider Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson an extension of the defensive group.
The team believes it has two top-tier pairings with Brooks Orpik/Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek/Paul Martin.
Deryk Engelland, Ben Lovejoy and Matt Niskanen each compete for the fifth and sixth spots when everyone is healthy.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Penguins roster design the past few seasons has been the lack of a top-flight scoring winger. While this may still be true, one thing the team is not lacking is forward depth.
From afar that may seem trivial, but consider that since Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre play the same system players can be plugged in and out with ease.
This global approach to player development may not produce 50-goal scorers, but it does produce a legion of players who would willingly skate through the wall for the team.
One positive for Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff is their credibility. Bylsma, Todd Reirden, Tony Granato and Giles Meloche were not superstars in their careers.
They may not be able to fully relate to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but they can certainly show the rest of the roster how to use the little things to their advantage.
Positioning, hard work, skating and determination are the keys to success for this team.
The main reason that nobody will hit the panic button for the Penguins is that there is plenty of time to achieve the team's main goal.
While winning the division and conference will be in Coach Bylsma's sights, lifting the Stanley Cup will define the success of this group.
There is a long time between now and the playoffs, and Sid can take his time in returning to make sure everything is done right.
Crosby's medical team has clearly expressed that with the proper amount of patience, his head will return to pre-concussion status. As such, you would be a fool to hit the panic button.