April 19th, 2007- The Pittsburgh Penguins get bounced from the first round of the Stanley Cup Play-offs by the Ottawa Senators. The hockey world only caught five games of what the future of the NHL and play-off hockey will look like. Or did it?

In the 2006-2007 season, Sydney Crosby, age 19, registered 36 goals and 120 points in his second NHL year. Evgeni Malkin, age 20, contributed 33 goals and 85 points in his rookie year. Jordan Staal, age 19, scored 29 goals and 42 points. Combined points: 247. Combined years on planet earth: 58. These three young men, along with the 22 year old, 40 game winner, Marc-Andre Flurry in goal, is a nucleus of amazing potential.

If Crosby continues his trend and plays as many years as Gordie Howe, they are going to have to put a sign outside the newPittsburgh Penguins championship rings, ala McDonald's, saying "over 1 billion goalies served." And he's not the only one that can score. This is a cast of young gunslingers that folks in hockey-starved cities, like Boston and Chicago, would give up their limbs and first-borns for. I am a huge fan of this team, and I am a Ranger fan. We're supposed to throw beer at our Mothers if they are seen in opposing team colors.

The only thing I hate about this team is that they play in the same division as the Blueshirts. In this post-lockout era ("Post-lockout" is now a legit term. It may soon be used like the term "pre-historic," or you're looking at a "pre-war" apartment or a "post-op" transvestite), I have only been able to make it to two Ranger games. Each game has been against the Pens. The first game was in Crosby's rookie season; the next was this past season. The improvement was not only significant, it was downright scary. Every time Crosby got the puck this past season, he didn't look like Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. He looked like Michael Jordon. The entire crowd at Madison Square Garden went silent when he broke to the net with the puck, half in awe of his moves, half in sheer terror of the outcome. He won that game, by the by, in the final shot of a shoot-out. His supporting cast was just as strong. Did I mention that they all need someone else on the team to make a beer run?

So, the future is bright for this team and for the league. I'm sure all the fat cats and league officials in Toronto sit back after every goal and light cigars with Canadian dollar bills. Just wait. In a few years, this team will be...broken up, so Pittsburgh Penguins championship rings for sale.