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?
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 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.