March 16 2008 06:49PM
(When Penner scored goals...)
"I'm going to get in the best shape I can coming into camp here and just play hockey. I've been doing that no matter what level I've played at the last six or seven years. "I've been able to succeed at those levels and I have no reservations of not being able to succeed now." —Dustin Penner, Aug. 3, 2007
"I think a lot of people look at the salary and the average based on what he was making last year, then they see it as a pretty big raise. "The way I see it, if Dustin continues to score goals at the clip that he's been, at some point in this contract, he's going to be highly underpaid." —Kevin Lowe, Aug. 3, 2007
I don't see how anybody, aside from those drawing a pay cheque from the Edmonton Oilers, can say with a straight face that Dustin Penner has been anything better than a flop this season. But they do.
Despite getting a 900 per cent raise in pay and better than a 20 per cent increase in ice time with the Oilers since leaving the Anaheim Ducks, Penner's got no chance of matching his 29 goals of last season and he'll be lucky to equal his 45 points.
Penner, 25, fresh from celebrating a Stanley Cup with the Ducks, struggled mightily for the first 20 games of the season, scoring 3-6-9. In his last 20 games, with the Oilers putting together a gutsy-but-doomed-to-failure push down the stretch, it's more of the same. With the Oilers wrapping up a three-game road swing against San Jose, Penner has managed just 4-5-9 in his last 20 games and has one goal in his last ten. He's been a passenger during the push, deferring in effort and execution to kids like Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner.
Maybe it's next season that Penner will be "highly underpaid," but I'd have a lot more faith in that possibility if he'd get with the program and show us something between now and the end of this season.
- In 2006-07 with Anaheim, Penner scored 29-16-45 and was a –2 in 82 games. He averaged 13:59 in ice time, mostly on a the third line.
- So far this season with the Oilers, Penner has scored 19-22-41 and is a –10. He's averaged 17:22 in ice time, with rare exception that time coming in top-six minutes, which is fourth among Oiler forwards.
- Penner was a difference-maker in Anaheim, scoring five game-winning goals. He's scored two with the Oilers.
At the start of the season, people explained Penner's brutal start by pointing out he'd had a short summer and that there was a hangover factor involved. There's some truth to that. His conditioning was also a question—that's a polite way of saying he wasn't in the shape he needed to be in when training camp opened. Excuse-makers also pointed out Penner faced an adjustment in going from the ice time he got in Anaheim to what he was getting here.
What? Increased ice time with the Oilers was a surprise? After going from earning $450,000 with the Ducks to $4.25 million, Penner got blindsided by the possibility he's be expected to play more? Surely, even with time allotted for parading around with the Cup, a guy could duck into the gym a few times in August or September after inking that $21.25 million deal, no?
Even if you're of the mind to let Penner slide on his first 20 games, what about these last 20? He's in shape now, right? He's used to the increased ice time now, right? So how come he's been less-than-ordinary?
Look, with the Oilers on the hook for four more years at $4.25 million per and having given Brian Burke draft picks in the first, second and third rounds this summer, riding Penner's backside out of town and writing him off as a failure makes no sense. None. With a full summer off this time around—you're not thinking otherwise, are you?—and a full off-season with a fitness regimen tailored to the demands of top-six minutes, there's every possibility Penner will become the kind of player Lowe paid for in 2008–09.
But let's not kid ourselves about this season.
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.