A worry-free guide to the 2017-18 Penguins season

Yes the third line is an issue. If it’s not fixed by spring, then start to panic.

Guess who's back.

Guess who's back.

Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the opening of the 2017-18 NHL season and, more precisely and preferably, the start of the Penguins season.

The Pens open at PPG Paints Arena at 8:00 p.m. tonight against the St. Louis Blues and will unveil their fifth Stanley Cup championship banner. Sounds like a pretty successful season right there even if they don’t win a single game.

Since it is the start of the hockey season, it’s also “season preview season” in which hockey experts, and also the likes of me, attempt to forecast what is to come based off of the rosters of each team. But I’m not going to do that. In fact, I only have one stone cold lock prediction for this Penguins season: The lineup they’ll raise a banner with tonight will look nothing like the one that will attempt to win a third consecutive Cup this spring.

Sorry, kids. Most of those guys are gone.

Sorry, kids. Most of those guys are gone.

Max Petrosky / For The Incline

There has been much weeping and gnashing of teeth among Penguins fans this offseason over the losses of Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Trevor Daley — not to mention saying goodbye to Marc-Andre Fleury. (I should mention: I have to keep this column short because I have a counseling session in an hour about my still raw Fleury emotions.)

As much as most would have liked to keep all those guys, and even second dad Ron Hainsey, the biggest gripe has been about their replacements. “How do the Penguins expect to win another Cup with the likes of Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney getting heavy minutes at third-line center?” goes the complaint.

Greg McKegg

Greg McKegg

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First of all, don’t disparage Greg McKegg. What he may lack on the ice, he more than makes up for with a name that is fun to say. But second, and perhaps even more important, the Penguins do not expect to win another Cup with the likes of Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney getting heavy minutes at third-line center. How do I know this? Because Stanley Cups are won in June and it is currently early October. Calendars are our friend.

Recent history tells us this: The 2015-16 Penguins did not start that season with Daley or Carl Hagelin or Justin Schultz. And Matt Murray, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Tom Kuhnhackl were all minor leaguers many Pens fans had never heard of. Mike Sullivan was their coach in Wilkes-Barre. And at the start of last season, guys who played huge roles in the Cup run — Rowney, Chad Ruhwedel and Hainsey — were not at all part of the picture. History shows much will be different by the spring.

If you’re not a fan of history, just listen to Pens general manager Jim Rutherford, who yesterday said, “I’m okay with this roster going into the season. But I also recognize that, at some point, we’re going to have to look at the third line. It doesn’t necessarily mean McKegg or (Carter) Rowney will be out. It just means that they may get moved around. In order to get where we all want to get, we’ll need to strengthen that area.

Dangerously close to disparaging Greg McKegg, Mr. Rutherford, but I’ll let it slide just this once. That said, for all of you fretting about the opening night roster, I encourage you to embrace my alternative, fret-free Penguins fan lifestyle.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins-Championshp Parade
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As a worry-free Penguins fan, I hold these truth to be self-evident:

  • The Penguins have won back-to-back Stanley Cups.
  • The Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, both still in their primes.
  • The Penguins are coached by Mike Sullivan.
  • The Penguins made the biggest acquisition of the NHL offseason by acquiring one of the sport’s most talented defenseman, Kris Letang — perhaps you’ve heard of him — from the injury list.
  • The likes of Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese are waiting in the wings down in Wilkes-Barre.
  • Most any roster issue can be addressed before the deadline via trade thanks to a solid farm system and a full compliment of 2018 draft picks.
  • The Penguins have won back-to-back Stanley Cups.
  • The Penguins have won back-to-back Stanley Cups.

So, no, this opening night Penguins roster is not ready to win the Stanley Cup. It has a few weak spots. Not everyone out there is worthy of a nickname like Kegger. But absolutely every other team in the NHL would trade their roster for what the Penguins have without a moment of hesitation.

Instead of worrying about April, May and June, enjoy tonight. Enjoy this dynasty era of Penguins hockey every time the team takes the ice. Everything will work itself out by the time the playoffs start. That’s how it always happens in Pittsburgh.