Bow Wow

Robin Brownlee
November 17 2008 10:22AM

Poor Dustin Penner. Beset upon again.

This time a year ago, PDP was being unfairly criticized for being fat and satisfied as he slogged through the Edmonton Oilers first 20 games of the season with about as much gusto as a honey wagon worker thrusting his pipe down the last hole of the day.

You remember. PDP, his pay cheque multiplied 10-fold by the $21.25 million offer sheet GM Kevin Lowe used to pluck him from Anaheim, was being singled out without any consideration for this Stanley Cup hangover. Without regard for a short summer of celebrating. Had PDP's critics even considered he was being asked to play more? With all that, how could he look anything but fat, lazy and slow?

Zip ahead to now, and PDP is unfairly suffering the indignity of being publicly pooped on by coach Craig MacTavish, who unbuckled his trousers and dumped a load on the three-toed forward with the Oilers getting ready to face the Detroit Red Wings tonight.

That movement has caused PDP apologists to rise up with a big wad of excuse-scented bum wipe at the ready.

NOT PDP'S FAULT

How could MacT do this? Isn't it MacT's fault PDP is struggling mightily again? It's MacT, after all, who has mis-cast him, who has asked him to play out of position, who has given him the wrong linemates, the wrong situations in which to perform. It's clearly, some surmise, a desperate act by a coach trying to save himself, a coach whose team is tuning him out.

And besides, if you look hard enough, which some people have, you can find numbers that show PDP, still lugging that $4.25 million annual salary and all those unreasonable expectations like a millstone around his neck, isn't really THAT bad.

Well, yes he is. PDP is in MacTavish's doghouse again because, well, he's a dog. He's a big player who plays small and who plays only when he feels like it. PDP is a player, it's obvious, incapable of consistent commitment, be it to an off-season training regimen or the pursuit of pucks, opponents and excellence on the ice.

PDP is in the doghouse because he's not really interested in being the best he can be and because he doesn't play with the fire in his gut that many players, most of whom would give their left gonad to have his physical tools, do.

PDP is playing in the NHL. He's wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. What? There's more?

SEEN ENOUGH

Here's what MacTavish said:

"When we signed Dustin we thought he'd be a top-two-line player," said MacTavish. "We thought the contract was a starting point for him but he views it as a finish line. I can't watch it, certainly not for another two-and-a-half years."

The bad news, as PDP continues to show-up Lowe and the Oilers organization for thinking he was worth a stack of cash and draft picks by shrugging his shoulders and paying lip service to commitment, is the contract is for three-and-half more seasons.

In 2007-08, with the short summer and greater expectations and ice time excuses at the ready after winning a Cup with the Ducks, PDP showed up in abysmal shape. His fitness testing proved that beyond any doubt.

After scoring 29 goals in Anaheim, it took almost one-third of the season for Penner to get going. Through 26 games, Penner scored four goals and added eight assists for 12 points. He finished the season, most of it spent with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky on the first line, with 23-24-47 and a minus-12 rating.

Through 15 games this season before MacTavish kicked his big backside up to the press box against Colorado, Penner had 3-1-4 and was a plus-6 in 16 games.

"You can't throw gratuitous ice-time at a player that's inconsistent," said MacTavish. "It's his competitiveness.

"The frustrating thing for me is he has the game but he can't find it and you have to put the work in. He has a great set of tools but his legs are inconsistent. He needs more horsepower."

WHAT HE IS

Has MacTavish played a part in Penner's struggles? Sure he has. I didn't like seeing Penner moved off the left wing on the first line with Horcoff and Hemsky any more than I liked seeing Fernando Pisani force-fed into the middle from right wing, or having Eric Cole shifted to the left wing from the right side. I didn't get the thinking there.

But what I like even less is the lack of piss and vinegar in Penner's game, his reluctance to use the God-given tools -- size and strength -- he has. It's frustrating to see a big, strong man play so small. And no, I'm not talking about wanting Penner to become a tough guy or a board-busting plug who neglects the offensive end of the game.

That would be a waste, too, because Penner is one of those rare big men with great hands. I'd just like to see him knock more people on their asses, create more room for himself. Stick a glove in somebody's face.

And I don't care if he's put in less than optimal situations in which to perform -- ill-matched linemates or situations be damned, force the issue, show some fire, kick some ass.

WHAT IF?

What would you have if you could take Penner's body and physical tools and graft Ethan Moreau's heart, grit, character and competitiveness into the package? An all-star, that's what. But you can't, so you get what we have here. PDP is a player who'll score 25 goals without a truckload of commitment when, based on physical tools and talent, he should score 30-40 goals and have an impact on the game even when the puck won't go in for him.

You get a player who could be so much better, so much more than what he is -- the kind of player so many less talented plugs can only dream of being. And you get excuses for why he's not remotely close to being that player, and the disappointment and frustration that comes with his obvious lack of passion for the game.

Worse, it's not likely to change. Penner is what he is. Like I said, he's in the NHL. He's wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. There's more?

What a waste.

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 10:47AM
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Robin I'm copying and pasting my comment from the Righteous Sack Beating into here where it's more appropriate.

I agree with you there, but put your MacT love drink down for a minute. You would know Dustin Penner better than anyone here, was this the right way to motivate him? Watching Kelly Hrudey Saturday night talk about Al Arbour, he said that players sometimes lose respect for the coach if they single them out publicly. Not only did MacT call him out, he threw him under the bus and backed over him a couple times as well. Is this the right way to motivate Penner is my question? Or will this be another case of Oiler fans jumping ship after one year and shipping another slumping player out of town only to have him succeed under a non-MacTavish regime. You know what Penner is like as a person, I don’t.

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#2 Rick
November 17 2008, 10:48AM
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That pretty much sums it up.

Lots of entertainment in Oiler land today. I am surprised that there are so many cross hairs on MacT though.

One of the points getting harped on is that MacT moved him off the top line in order to play Cole and Penner has suffered because of it. A point mentioned here as well.

The thing is, wasn't Cole brought in because they felt they needed a higher calibre player to play with Hemsky?

We can second guess the RW vs LW thing till the cows come home but there is one simple thing that we shouldn't lose sight of.

They got Cole because Penner's game wasn't seasoned enough, high end enough or gritty enough based on LAST seasons play to properly compliment Hemsky.

All this BS about MacT playing Penner away from the top line would be a non issue if Penner did what was expected of him last year because if he had, Cole likely isn't in Edmonton to gum up the works in the first place.

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#3 Travis Dakin
November 17 2008, 10:50AM
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That's thing thing that I just don't get... He just doesn't ever show emotion. How can you play on a team with noted work horses like Horcoff and Moreau and not feel shamed into trying harder. I just can't fathom the thought process. Where is the pride?

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#4 The Towel Boy
November 17 2008, 10:51AM
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Does this make Penner the new Goat? Baaaah?

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#5 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 10:55AM
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Rick,

I know I'm going to get some beaking here for this (I'm looking at you Brownlee) but I find it ironic when MacTavish preaches about accountability based on performance. He has been the coach for 8 years with 7 of them being mediocre at best, as well as 1 trip to the Stanley cup. This time has been rebuilt twice for him, firstly around CP who left for Anaheim and secondly with the players we have now. With Savard being fired early in the season, Melrose last week, when does the coach have to become accountable for his performance. Not only to prepare the team for the game ahead, but to motivate them day in day out. MacTavish's comments about Penner, be them true or not as he is playing poorly, are hilarious due to the blatant degrees of irony. Craig MacTavish has become the poster boy for job security despite he decisions to try Pisani out at center, and now his potential experiment to try Smid out on the wing. Defending him at this point is laughable, and I've been saying this for a couple years. The only reason he did not get handed his pink slip was a win against San Jose and a Vancouver loss in the last regulation game in 2006.

We can critisize Penner until the sky caves in, like I said he is playing poorly. Yet, he scored 29 in Anaheim before coming here, much like Lupul scored close to 30. They come to Edmonton and stagger and look how Lupul played last year after getting away from the MacBlender. Accountability? Yeah right.

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#6 Rick
November 17 2008, 11:00AM
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baggedmilk Says: Watching Kelly Hrudey Saturday night talk about Al Arbour, he said that players sometimes lose respect for the coach if they single them out publicly.

...

I didn't see the Hrudey segment so I have to ask. When he said that was he suggesting that it was only the player called out that loses respect for the coach or suggesting that multiple players in the room starter to foster resentment?

If it's only the player being called out then wouldn't 'losing respect for the coach' be the same as 'feeling sorry for himself'?

As for the room, I do wonder if guys like Moreau and Staios and the ilk have MacT's ear when it comes to this kind of stuff? Moreau had some pretty pointed words for the team after the Toronto game. Freakishly similar to the tone of MacT's comment only with out naming names.

Just something to consider...

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#7 Travis Dakin
November 17 2008, 11:08AM
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My feeling is that Some of the young guys aren't pulling their weight and it's really starting to piss the older guys off. The older guys that were here when Edmonton was a tough team to play agaist because they would keep grinding and coming at you. Now there are all these high powered offensive guys and they are missing the heart. On the MacT side... How friggin hard is it to put the right lines together?

Nilsson-Gagner-Hemsky Penner-Horcoff-Cole Moreau-Cogliano-Pisani Stortini/Mac-Brodziak-Pouliot/whomever

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#8 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 11:11AM
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Rick,

Kelly was talking about the team as a whole. As in the players lose respect and not just the player in question. He said Al Arbour would call out a player in the dressing room in front of the whole team, but would not mention a solo name when doing his media scrum.

I'm not defending Penner's play because he's been awful, but the thing I don't think will motivate him is the Public throwing under the bus. Not only was he a healthy scratch he was also torn to shreds and had it posted on the Oilers official website.

How will MacT's comments motivate Penner when all it's done is caused a circus here in Edmonton and had other sources like the Paul Brown Show make fun of him all morning. Questioning his heart, fine. Saying he's just collecting his paycheque, ok. But that's for the dressing room behind closed doors and not on the Oilers website.

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#9 Rick
November 17 2008, 11:14AM
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baggedmilk;

MacT isn't infallible so don't confuse my defending of him as such a suggestion. I do think that he is a good enough coach to get THIS edition of the Oilers to where they want to be.

It seems that the Oilers nation, not just this site specifically, gets so caught up on the extreme swings of the pendulum that rarely does the more true middle ground ever get covered.

Let's look at where these comments are stemming from before we dismiss them as laughable. Starting with;

"We're too good a team to be accepting mediocrity." - MacT

From the Journal on Saturday regarding the benching.

I don't ever recall him pubically describing one of his teams in this manner and yet this year he has done it on a few occassions. So in that context it seems like calling out the players to do what is expected of them is completely fair game.

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#10 Travis Dakin
November 17 2008, 11:16AM
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Hopefully it will piss him off and he starts to play mean. Maybe "accidentally" clears the puck into his own bench and hits MacT....

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#11 RobinB
November 17 2008, 11:29AM
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Travis: I'd rather see him "accidentally" bull-rush to the net, knock a defenceman on his can and shove a goaltender and a puck or two across the line.

And if the rubber won't go in for him, how about the concept, silly as it night be, of doing something else to earn his pay cheque and ice time?

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#12 Gord
November 17 2008, 11:30AM
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So, does Horcoff get benched as well for the horrible performance he put in Saturday night? Probably not. He will use the same skill on his knees to get out of that as he did to earn himself a $7M/year contract.

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#13 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 11:32AM
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Rick,

I agree that the pendulum, as you put it, swings to both ends of the spectrum. I on the other hand have been looking for a change for a couple years now. It doesn't matter if the Oilers won 4 in a row, I still want new blood in this organization. I defy you to find another coach in the NHL that has had the job stability that Craig MacTavish has with a record so mediocre. Lindy Ruff? No sir. Barry Trotz? Nope. Both coaching pretty damn good teams.

In fact the Predators were supposed to finish close to last in the conference last year but ended up in the playoffs anyway. Think that's luck? Now, Rick, I'm not talking about you directly, but the Nation has had this type of frustration for far too many years now. Instead of promoting a guy with fresh ideas and a winning record, albeit a University record which is a completely different animal, Rob Daum was demoted to head scout to make way for Kelly Buchburger. How does this make any sense? A career punching bag that had heart but no talent? Sounds like another MacT guy to me.

Rob Daum got the shaft from this organization, and I'm still shocked that he accepted the scouting position. I hope I'm wrong and that Craig MacTavish can get them into the playoffs and past the first round. Believe me I crave that success. That's why I log onto ON and that's why I write the weekly articles, but come on. How long do Oilers fans have to accept the strange and unsuccessful coaching decisions of a man just because he dawned the Oilers logo?

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#14 Rick
November 17 2008, 11:35AM
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Gord;

I agree that Horcoff has been terrible so far this year but the situation is a little different.

Horcoff has proven to be coachable, reliable, hard worker and so on. He has proven what kind of player he is capable of being.

It's a players established track record that dictates wether you have earned some leeway or not.

Horcoff has earned some leeway.

Penner is getting critizied for the same thing he was beeing critisized for last year. THIS is his track record.

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#15 Travis Dakin
November 17 2008, 11:37AM
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Robin- Much agreed but it is looking so much like that is something he just isn't capable of doing. He reminds me of Isbister. How Lowe kept telling us that he could be just like Bertuzzi if he tried. We waited... and nothing. Same with Penner. You are exaclty right about him being an Allstar if he actually had heart. And if he had heart, this team would be rolling right now.

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#16 Travis Dakin
November 17 2008, 11:40AM
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Not to forget that horcoff is coming off a major injury and clearly is a little tentative. He will get it together again. I can be patient with him. He is a workhorse that is all heart.

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#17 Rick
November 17 2008, 11:40AM
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baggedmilk; So this isn't about Penner, it's about MacT?

I wish more people would cut to the chase about their motives like you do, it saves a buttload of time.

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#18 Ender the Dragon
November 17 2008, 11:40AM
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Not only did MacT call him out, he threw him under the bus and backed over him a couple times as well. Is this the right way to motivate Penner is my question? baggedmilk

While I don't claim to know what's gone on behind closed doors in the past, I'm reasonably comfortable speculating that MacT has already addressed this issue with Penner behind closed doors on numerous occasions. This public ass-chewing is most likely something that MacT is doing as a last resort to motivate Penner, so let's not hang MacT for innappropriate motivational techniques unless we know everything else he's already tried. Sometimes, you just have no other choice.

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#19 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 11:47AM
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Horc can work his way out of his slump. He will take it upon himself to do so, but right now he isn't playing the greatest. Difference between Horc and Penner is that he admits he's not playing well.

But why not call a spade a spade, MacT wants to call players out based on their contracts. Why not mention that Horcoff is not playing like a first line center that will be paid along the lines of a Jason Spezza next year? Just because he can admit he messed up by not hitting the open net?

I can say all I want that I am going to work harder here at my job, yet here I sit on ON talking hockey. Until the results are there, saying "My bad on that one, boys" is nothing more than paying lip service to the tyrant that is Craig MacTavish.

He doesn't motivate, he belittles. That's why Joffrey Lupul scored 20 goals in 56 games last year, while only 16 in 81 with the Oilers.

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#20 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 11:52AM
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Like I said, I'm not going to defend Penner's play he's looked like he should be playing beer league. Every one of us that watches the games knows that.

So what is the point of publicly calling him out during a media scrum? As mentioned we don't know what happens behind closed doors, but shouldn't being a healthy scratch be enough of a public notice to show MacTavish's displeasure?

If you're a healthy scratch at $4 million per season, chances are it's because you're playing like crap. So why does he need to announce that Penner is soft, fat, ugly, smells bad and does nothing but Sudoku while the team works out. That's stuff for the dressing room, not the teams official website.

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#21 Rick
November 17 2008, 11:54AM
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Interesting that you bring up Lupul.

He got just got publically critisized himself last week adn demoted to the 4th line so it would appear that MacT isn't on an Island by himself in that regard.

Funny enough, since those comments Lupul responded with 2 goals in 3 games.

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#22 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 12:00PM
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Rick,

Then I hope Penner can come out and respond in the same way. When it comes to my displeasure with the coaching, I would like nothing more than to be wrong.

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#23 jeanshorts
November 17 2008, 12:15PM
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I think the only real solution here is to dig up the bones of Toe Blake, reanimate him, and throw him behind the bench. If a corpsey coach doesn't motivate the boys, then I don't know what will. Then again, he'll probably step down half way through the season and sign with the Leafs after months of speculation, and hours worth of coverage on TSN.

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#24 Bruthah
November 17 2008, 12:43PM
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The thing I don't agree with is benching him back to back games. One is a good motivator, or should be. I mean, lets look at the money issue. Sitting him for 2 games is paying him $100,000 for dressing up in a suit and watching from the press box. I think this is calling MacT's higher-ups an idiot for paying him that much AND for that long. That's a big investment to see nothing in return. Katz didn't buy this team to waste money.

Maybe he did, he is a billionaire.

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#25 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 12:44PM
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Rip into him and then bench him for two. Awesome way to see if he responded. Awesome.

MacT is an idiot.

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#26 jeanshorts
November 17 2008, 12:47PM
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I don't know if it's a pot shot at management, as much as him saying, no matter how much you get paid, everyone is on the same level. If you play like ass then you are going to sit. I agree two games is a little much, but hopefully it will serve as a wake up call to Penner and the rest of the team, that there is plenty of guys in Springfield that are ready and willing to take whatever ice time they can get.

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#27 Bruthah
November 17 2008, 12:54PM
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JS : Can they bring up anybody from Springfield without current players having to clear waivers to go down?

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#28 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 12:56PM
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Penner needs to go out and buy a bottle of Grey Goose and apologize.

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#29 jeanshorts
November 17 2008, 12:57PM
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Good question. I have no idea. Someone get Lowtide in here!

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#30 Rick
November 17 2008, 12:58PM
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I didn't care for it when MacT didn't give Garon a chance to respond after critisizing him for the Pittsburgh game either.

If you are going to call out a player, particularily a core player, you should give hima chance to shove it back in your face.

He sent Penner the message by benching him, he drove it home verbally yesterday and now he should give Penner the chance to respond.

If he doesn't respond then sit him again.

Particularily against Detroit. There is no one on that team that requires a Boulerice or Strotini to play against and even at 6 minutes a night, Penner would atleast provide a glimpse of wether or not he got the message.

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#31 jeanshorts
November 17 2008, 12:58PM
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It's too late to apologiiiiize. It's toooo laaaaatttteeee. Yeah, ah, a.

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#32 Bruthah
November 17 2008, 01:03PM
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This has gone from a motivating tactic to a disciplinary action. Penner isn't 4.

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#33 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 01:04PM
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Rick,

I agree completely. Detroit has no enforcer, what's the point of having Huggy Bear out there.

Even Lowetide is predicting the end for MacT.

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#34 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 01:13PM
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Haha Hey JS, we've had an uncanny ability to predict the future this year. I wonder if this coaching situation will be another notch in the jeanshorts and baggedmilk belt. Screw Miss Cleo, we're legit.

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#35 Travis Dakin
November 17 2008, 01:14PM
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I'm assuming that it is now a two game benching because of the way Penner responded off the ice in the room. We didn't see it but it's obvious to me he aggravated MacT more.

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#36 Bruthah
November 17 2008, 01:15PM
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BM : 'CALL ME NOOOOOOOOOW!' lol

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#37 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 01:19PM
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Haha Brutha, it's true. We called made fun of Kyle Wellwood and he started playing sweet hockey. We called that Melrose would get fired early, there he went. I made fun of Steve Stamkos he scored 4 points his next two games. (although I'm still hoping he's the next Alexander Daigle)

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#38 jeanshorts
November 17 2008, 01:21PM
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We also motivated both the Leafs and Pens to wins against the oilers. Single most influential blog on the internet!

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#39 The Towel Boy
November 17 2008, 01:22PM
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I have to wonder about making him sit out two in a row.

What's the point of sitting a dude, ripping him and then not letting him respond by playing. Unless there's more to the story than we know...it just seems a little odd.

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#40 Rick
November 17 2008, 01:26PM
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baggedmilk Says: Even Lowetide is predicting the end for MacT.

Every coaching tenure comes to an end at some point so who knows.

This may very well end up being a pinnacle moment as what finally sinks him, but if it does I am thinking this is the start of his demise and not the finishing touches on it, which is how I took Lowetide's comments.

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#41 Travis Dakin
November 17 2008, 01:28PM
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jeanshorts Says: November 17th, 2008 at 1:21 pm We also motivated both the Leafs and Pens to wins against the oilers. Single most influential blog on the internet!

Yeah about that.... Quit it! as Awesomely hilarious as the battles are, I am starting to think you two weild way too much power for your own good. You must learn to apply your magic for good.

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#42 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 01:36PM
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TD, You're right. That's why next time we're going to tell the other team how much better they are, how great their arena is, and how much better looking their fans are.

We will be guaranteed the win that way.

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#43 Travis Dakin
November 17 2008, 01:37PM
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Like Eminem in 8 mile! Tell them how much we suck! yeah that's the trick.

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#44 The Towel Boy
November 17 2008, 01:38PM
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...don't forget to praise their city.

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#45 shakey
November 17 2008, 01:42PM
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jeanshorts Says: 'I don’t know if it’s a pot shot at management, as much as him saying, no matter how much you get paid, everyone is on the same level. If you play like ass then you are going to sit.' If thats the case then why did he bring up Penner's contract when ripping him for his play? If what you're paid means nothing then why as a coach bring it up?

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#46 Ender the Dragon
November 17 2008, 02:08PM
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The Towel Boy Says: I have to wonder about making him sit out two in a row. What’s the point of sitting a dude, ripping him and then not letting him respond by playing. Unless there’s more to the story than we know… Bruthah Says: This has gone from a motivating tactic to a disciplinary action.

Both good points, and I bet if you got the straight goods from MacT as well as some of the other people in the dressing room, you would indeed find that this has gone beyond motivation. I would bet that what we're seeing is the visible reaction to something specific that Penner did lately to push MacT over the boiling point. I don't think this is all just about lack of production. That's just what MacT could get away with stating publicly.

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#47 Rick
November 17 2008, 02:16PM
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Ender the Dragon Says: .. to something specific that Penner did lately to push MacT over the boiling point.

...

That's impossible, Penner doesn't push ANYONE over...

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#48 RobinB
November 17 2008, 02:19PM
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Shakey: "If thats the case then why did he bring up Penner’s contract when ripping him for his play? If what you’re paid means nothing then why as a coach bring it up?"

Who said what you're paid means nothing? Did MacTavish? Where did he say that? Or are you going by jeanshorts interpretation? I wouldn't hang my argument on that one.

It bloody well does make a difference what a player makes, especially in the world of the salary cap and especially in the case of a player who had his pay increased 10-FOLD by the Oilers.

And I'd be mighty twisted as a coach, a GM and an organization if a player I'd invested that much money, not to mention draft picks, in repaid me by playing the way Penner has.

How many times do think Penner has been told to shape up and get his backside in gear behind closed doors before MacT went public?

Penner had all of last season to show something. Do you think the Oilers go out and get Erik Cole this summer if Penner shows them any REAL drive and desire in his first season?

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#49 baggedmilk
November 17 2008, 02:32PM
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Robin Brownlee,

You've been avoiding me, and I'm going to pull your mantastic facial hair until you answer me. With MacT screaming for accountability when does he become accountable for the performance of team? Craig MacTavish represents job security like little black babies with flies on their face represent world vision. They go hand in hand.

You are right, he probably told Penner to move his butt as many times as the days are long, but does that make mentioning his contract appropriate? As mentioned, that not only makes Penner look like the floater he is, but also questions K-Lowe's decision to toss him the offer sheet.

It seems hypocritical to point the finger at everyone but himself.

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#50 RobinB
November 17 2008, 02:42PM
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Baggedmilk: Yes, mentioning the contract is appropriate in these special circumstances. If a player doesn't respond and try to perform to a level that somewhat justifies hitting the jackpot after one full season in the league the way Penner has, he never will.

Are the Oilers suckers for making Penner rich? Well, he's sure making them look like it, isn't he?

As for accountability, MacT becomes accountable when Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini make him accountable.

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