COLUMN: The Bigger Picture

Penguins fans usually have a lot to fret about. Injuries are usually one of those things, and this season is no different. For a while, it was Sidney Crosby‘s concussion issues. Would he ever come back? Would he be the same player he was before the David Steckel hit? During the Mike Johnston era, there were so many things to pick apart and all of us wondered if the Penguins would ever be able to score again.

There’s always something going on. It sucks. The Penguins are banged up and they just lost to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday, who are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. I think just about every Pens fan gets that feeling that just when things seem like they’re finally about to be alright, something else goes wrong.

Not to worry. There is a bigger picture here.

It’s February. Yeah, there’s a lot of injuries on this team right now, and yeah, the Metropolitan division is wicked awesome right now, but are the Penguins really in a bad spot? I really don’t think so. We have yet to see what General Manager Jim Rutherford is going to do at the March 1st trade deadline. Also, remember last year when Evgeni Malkin went down with an injury around this time of year? A lot of people were fretting if we’d even make the playoffs. And even if we did, we wouldn’t be in a very good spot. The Penguins went on to form the HBK line and won 14 of their last 16 games to finish 2nd in the Metropolitan Division, only behind the President’s Trophy winner Washington Capitals.

I think everyone knows what happened once the playoffs started. Bottom line is this: try not to freak out over what’s going on right now. There’s a bigger picture. It starts in April. The Penguins will be there. Keep it in your mind how special this team is. They can do amazing things.

A lot of emotion has been poured into this season, and it seems fitting since it’s the 50th anniversary of the conception of the team; a team that has dealt with adversity since pretty much the time the puck dropped in 1967. This year, we have the looming departure of Marc-Andre Fleury hanging over our heads. Probably the worst part of it, other than the fact that he’s such a likeable guy on and off the ice, is that we don’t know when it could happen. Trade deadline? After the season? If so, when? I’m a Fleury fan and I hate to see him go. It’s going to be hard to picture someone else stepping between the pipes for 60-plus games other than Flower. He’s been a huge part of why the Penguins have had consistent success over the last ten seasons.

The bigger picture is that there is a mega-talented, overwhelmingly mature 22 year-old goaltender in Matt Murray, who in some people’s eyes, was a candidate for the Conn Smythe in last year’s Stanley Cup run. The upcoming expansion draft to give Las Vegas their first professional team in the four major pro sports leagues is forcing the Penguins to pretty much choose between Fleury and Murray. It’s not just practical to pick Murray, but vitally necessary. It’s one of those situations where you have to fight nostalgia and think with your head, not your heart. Not that we don’t love Murray and what he’s done for this team in such a short time, but Fleury has given us every reason to fall in love with him since he was drafted in 2003. It’ll be hard to see him in a different sweater.

Do I want the team to be healthy? Do I want to win the Stadium Series game at Heinz Field against Philadelphia? Do I want to win the division? Yes to all. But is it the end of the world if some or none of those things happen? Nope. Especially if the Penguins make another deep run into June. 

This team is still special. It’s a different season than last year. I still believe in this team. I know many of you do as well. Just remember the bigger picture. Jim Rutherford, Mike Sullivan, and everyone on the roster remember and know how to get to the ultimate prize. And they’ve given us every reason to trust them. Trust the process, no matter how tough it gets.

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