Bow Wow

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


  • 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.

  • Rick

    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.

  • Travis Dakin

    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?

  • 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.

  • Rick

    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…

  • Travis Dakin

    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

  • 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.

  • Rick

    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.

  • RobinB

    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?

  • Gord

    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.

  • 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?

  • Rick

    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.

  • Travis Dakin

    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.

  • Travis Dakin

    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.