The moment we’ve been waiting for all summer is here, and it’s almost hard to believe it’s finally arrived. Hockey season has returned, and we can all agree it’s about time.
What may be even harder to fathom is the 2017-2018 season will begin in the same fashion as the last, with the Pittsburgh Penguins raising another Stanley Cup championship banner to the rafters. Just 116 days ago, on a sheet of ice in Nashville, the Penguins were celebrating the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup and their second in as many years. Now, just under four months later, the Pens will cap off their second straight Stanley Cup summer with another banner in the rafters at PPG Paints Arena.
This year’s version of the Penguins will look much different than the one who partied with the Stanley Cup in June. Gone are Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Ron Hainsey, Chris Kunitz, and Marc-Andre Fleury. Bonino, Cullen, and Hainsey we only knew for a short time, but Kunitz and Fleury were major parts in the most successful era of Penguins’ history. All four will be missed — if some more than others.
Replacing the departed will be some familiar faces and some new ones. Matt Murray is now unquestionably the number one goaltender, and Carter Rowney will be a full time contributor. New guys Ryan Reaves, Greg McKegg, and Matt Hunwick will be asked to fill some of the most popular skates in team history. It won’t be easy, but they know the job, and soon they’ll know the expectations.
While the roster will look different in some ways, it will still look the same in many others. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel are still here. Kris Letang is healthy and ready to go. The kids Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel will be back alongside Sid. Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin are back in for the long haul while Olli Maatta and Ian Cole join them as well. The core of back-to-back championship teams is still in tact, and they are primed for more.
Winning in 2016 was the product of simply being the best team in hockey. Winning in 2017 was the product of a team being afraid of no one and refusing to be beaten. In the face of perpetual turmoil, they followed the advice of their coach and just played their game and were rewarded with the ultimate prize.
Now this year they will get the chance to do it all over again. Another Stanley Cup would complete the first three-peat since the New York Islanders in the early 1980’s. This is not new territory for the organization; they had the same opportunity in 1993, but we’re not going to dwell on that.
Legacies are already established, but they can always continue to be built upon. Another Stanley Cup would send this city into orbit. It will be harder than ever, but this team is built to do the impossible — they proved that much last season.
After the banner is raised, it will bring a close to another special chapter in Penguins’ history. Moments later, when the puck is dropped, a new chapter will begin, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get to do it all over again next year.
In reality, 116 days is not a very long time. It is not even 1⁄4 of a year, but when the sport you love is on hiatus, those 116 days can drag on forever.
Let’s just hope the saying is true: that good things do come in three’s.
Welcome back, everyone. Let’s Go Pens.