Is this the last season Pittsburgh can win with Crosby? Before you close out this window or start firing away on Twitter and Facebook, hear me out on this. First, Sidney Crosby is one of the greatest hockey players of all time... as much as it pains me to say that. The amount of pain that man has afflicted on my Philadelphia Flyers is what I imagine it’s like to be a Knicks fan thinking about the Bulls. This article is about the conditions surrounding Crosby. For over a decade, Pittsburgh has been one of the most consistent teams in the NHL. But over the last few years, it has struggled to get back to its Stanley Cup-contending ways. Is that a sign that the franchise’s most successful era is coming to an end or do the Penguins need to simply fine tune some things? Time to dive into it! Case For: The End of an Era; Why not start with the bad part? The biggest factor of the Penguins’ short term success is health. For Crosby, he just started practicing this week after undergoing wrist surgery in September, but this is the second surgery on the same wrist in two years and that’s not the only injury to be concerned about. Crosby’s line-mate and fellow franchise icon, Evgeni Malkin, is expected to miss at least two months to recover from knee surgery. Already, that puts the Penguins behind teams such as the Flyers, Capitals, Rangers and Bruins, who are all reloading to turnaround recent disappointments and in the Pens’ division. Furthermore, the departure of key role players such as Brandon Tanev and Cody Ceci sets the stage for starting goalie Tristan Jarry for a massive bounce back season but will he rebound? In the first seven games of the season, the Pens face the Tampa Bay Lightning, the reigning champions, twice, the Florida Panthers, a top five scoring team last season, the Dallas Stars, who finished in the top five in power-play success rate (23.6%), the Chicago Blackhawks, who acquired Seth Jones, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who still have that stud Auston Mathews. Jarry will need to play Carey Price-caliber play in order to keep the Penguins in that opening stretch and without Crosby, the Penguins will need production on special teams, where they ranked fourth in power-play percentage (23.7%) across the NHL. Case For: Just a Bump in the Road; Alright, so now that the bad is out of the way, how do the Penguins assure that the last couple of seasons have been just bumps in the road back to glory? For one, acquiring center Jeff Carter from the Kings last season was a solid start. Carter played 54 of 56 games with the Kings and Penguins last season, which shows his astounding durability, but more importantly, Carter notched 11 points in only 14 games for Pittsburgh. With Crosby’s season debut likely to be delayed until the first home stand of the season, Carter’s offensive role will grow, which will only give Carter more freedom to flourish offensively but Carter isn’t the only veteran stall worth picking up the load. Kris Letang is healthy but more importantly, he’s heading into the final year of an eight-year contract, which will light a fire under him to convince Pittsburgh’s front office to resign him. Verdict: The Pens must look towards future; As much as it pains me to say this as a hockey fan, the window for Pittsburgh to capture another title is over. Crosby’s injuries will only compound over time and the key cogs that made Pittsburgh run (Malkin, Letang, Jarry) are aging and entering contract years. Without young talent (only four players under the age of 26) and an increasing reliance on veterans, Pittsburgh appears doomed to capture another Cup with The Kid. As with all predictions, this article could be completely wrong and I hope so because Crosby is in the same ring of hockey lore as legends like Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemiux, but it is time to close the book on the Penguins Renaissance.