PITTSBURGH - In the spirit of the season, let's offer a quick state of the team assessment of Pittsburgh's three pro teams:
Two are between seasons, while one is currently just past the midpoint. Let's start with the active team:
State of the team: Championship contender
The Penguins are cruising through the regular season so far, leading the Eastern Conference of the NHL despite injuries to key players and uneven play.
If it counts for anything, the players have acknowledged they need better performances as they approach the playoffs.
Despite their 37-14-2 record, there are reasons to be concerned about the Penguins. They don't have an experienced backup goalie, they lack secondary scoring and No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang hasn't had a good season to this point.
General manager Ray Shero needs to pick up an experienced right wing to replace Pascal Dupuis, who was lost to a season-ending knee injury. He probably needs to get a playoff-tested backup goalie, too.
That said, it's nice to be comfortably in first place while looking for answers.
It's all about the postseason for the Penguins. Given the overall weakness of the Eastern Conference, this season will fall short of expectations if they're not in the Stanley Cup final.
State of the team: Coming off the first postseason berth in 20 years, but showing some flaws.
Andrew McCutchen was the National League's Most Valuable Player and Pedro Alvarez hit 36 home runs, but the strength of the Pirates last season was pitching.
The starting rotation was surprisingly good, and the bullpen was amazingly effective.
Can that happen again this year? The rotation will take a blow if A.J. Burnett isn't adequately replaced. The spotty offense doesn't appear to be improved.
There could still be additions between now and the March 31 opener. If there aren't, it's hard to see the Pirates matching last year's success.
State of the team: Caught between past glory and having a plan for future success.
Back-to-back 8-8 seasons tell you what you need to know about the Steelers.
They haven't been awful, but they haven't been a playoff team either.
The mission this offseason is to rebuild the defense. They could use a run-stuffing nose tackle, they may need help at linebacker, and they definitely need to overhaul the secondary.
Can they get that all done in one offseason? It's a tall order, but it's also too early to draw any conclusions about the 2014 season.
The picture will become clearer after the free agency period and draft.
So the overall state of the teams? It's not the city of champions, but all three teams have a chance to contend.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org