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For the Penguins and Pittsburgh, A Good Time to Start Over (Tuesday Slew)

Penguins Angst broke the barometer last season. Amid all the change, there's something a little like relief in the air.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Sports are dumb.

Remember that. Sports are dumb. Arbitrary. The stats don't matter. Almost everyone is going to lose, and we're all just customers, after all.

Get all that out of the way, and it feels safe to begin enjoying ourselves again.

That's where the Penguins have settled on the eve of this season. We can almost be fans again. Almost. The Penguins bore such a weight of expectation under Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero and The Core© that supporting the team (and fretting the expectations) began to feel less like fun and more like a job.

Nowhere was that more evident than on the team, where the weight of actual expectations placed on people with actual hockey jobs threatened to make the Consol Center as flat as the building it replaced.

With new leadership in all levels of the hockey operations guild, half a roster moved out of town and favorite status no longer the norm, the Penguins are almost a new team. The kind you can almost forgive yourself for cheering them along, despite past letdowns.


The Penguins are still Sidney Crosby's team. Evgeni Malkin is still here, and Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz. The defense prospects are still promising. Beau Bennett is still hurt. Everything is kind of, sort of the same. So much the same that one can be forgiven for #firingeveryone when the games aren't quite up to par, but different enough that everyone involved has earned a little space to breathe, for a change.

Awash with change but still keeping a few old standbys, the whole thing is familiar but unfamiliar, close but not quite there -- like being a block from your home and still utterly, hopelessly lost. This is Pittsburgh, after all.

For the first time in a long time, it feels like no one quite knows how they should feel about the team.

Thank god.

If we're all lucky (and will allow ourselves a bit of perspective), it can finally be time to exhale the Cup or Bust era. Or cough it up. Those colds aren't easily killed.

Byslma and Shero had no way to go but down following the Cup win in 2009. Not with Malkin, Crosby and Jordan Staal down the middle. Not with Letang, Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin along the blue line. Not with Ron Burkle's money. Not with Mario Lemieux's presence. Expectations from within and outside the organization had reached such a point that it took a not-insignificant retooling of a perennial 100-point team to unmask how absurd the whole deal had become.

Something had to give.

The front office and coaching staff are as familiar and different as the team itself. Bill Guerin and Jason Botterill are nice familiar faces for a front office that wasn't entirely bad at its job (props to the first liar amongst you to present an entire twitter archive without one mention of In Shero We Trust). Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston are key new voices in an organization that seemed too happy to sit around agreeing with itself.

Many of the core pieces remain. Some significant ones do not.

If we've got any bearing at all, then that's what it is. A middle ground, where nothing can really be second-guessed until Thursday brings the first puck drop of the regular season.

Things kind of changed. They kind of didn't. And that's not how the script is supposed to go.

No matter what, change was badly overdue. If we don't know how to react to it, all the better. No one is holding up the cue card on our hot takes the way every stretch pass, perimeter shot and playoff flameout could.

Pittsburgh could struggle to adapt to Johnston's new system and categorically refuse to cow to the new guy. They could blow through the regular season with a kind of ease that's driven by inspiration, rather than cultivated by fear of another oh-boy failure, and finally have the gas to make it back to the deeper parts of the postseason.

With so much yet to be figured out, there's very little yet to be said. So just wait it out. This team might win the Cup. They might be terrible and sad. But at least things are moving in a new direction, and for what was fast becoming a Groundhog's Day franchise, getting lost in it can't be anything but healthy.

So let them play a few games. If we all stop thinking about it, we might catch ourselves having fun again.

For this franchise and its fans, there's no more crucial change to be made.

Tuesday Slew is a feature that runs Wednesdays throughout the season. Shower James with your praise and adulation on twitter, @SlewFooters.