Deep Thoughts VIII: the great race

pennerdoghouse

Not since Bob Stauffer and I attempted to propel our fat asses over 40 yards in a foot race without taking the twister at Edmonton Eskimos training camp a few years ago has there been a sight as sorry as the Western Conference playoff race the Edmonton Oilers are involved in.

Stauffer and I had an excuse. First, we’re not very smart. Second, we were bored after watching countless days of drills. So, Bob and I decided it would be a good idea to provide comic relief for the players toiling under a blazing sun and embarrass ourselves by lining up for an, ahem, sprint.

We accomplished both in spades. Better still, we got to see the lowlights of the race — Stauffer beat me by a stride despite catching his toe in his pants and cart-wheeling across the finish line — on Global TV, complete with Chariots of Fire soundtrack, because Kevin Karius wasn’t going to pass up a chance to make us look like the jackasses we are.

But what of the Oilers, who have clicked it into overdrive — which I didn’t know you could do in reverse — and are racing backwards toward the playoffs like a runaway train?

Full reverse

Despite Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Oilers today sit in seventh place with 71 points despite a 3-4-3 record in their last 10 games. Can you feel the momentum?

While a 14-5-1 run in their final 20 games wasn’t enough to get it done last season, it’s beginning to look like playing .500 the rest of the way might do the job this time. I can only imagine that the Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks hope it is.

With Detroit, San Jose, Calgary and Chicago locks in the top four spots and Vancouver having the inside track for fifth place, the final three playoff berths are being contested, so to speak, by Columbus, Nashville, Edmonton, Minnesota and Dallas.

Aside from the Predators, 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, and Columbus, 6-4-0, the rest of the field is making like the Italian Army. Minnesota, which will do an impersonation as road-kill for most of the rest of the season, is 4-4-2 in its last 10. Dallas has staggered to a 2-7-1 mark.

Despite picking the Oilers to finish ninth and miss the playoffs in pre-season, I can see them making it. As Stauffer proved, if your competition is bad enough, there’s hope. If the Oilers are in a post-season spot today despite their last 10 games and a power play that’s 1-for-31 the last nine games, maybe they can get it done with their toes caught in their cuffs, too.

Dog days still

I’ve always believed if it walks like a dog, barks like a dog and craps all over the yard like a dog, it’s a dog.

And Dustin Penner, despite some reasonable statistical arguments to the contrary by Jonathan Willis before Craig MacTavish sat his lazy backside in the press box against Montreal, is a dog.

I’ll concede Penner might be the most effective left winger, at least statistically, the Oilers have. Big deal. That doesn’t change the fact he’s an under-achieving, unmotivated player who has the physical attributes and skills to be better than he is. But nooooooo. He can’t be bothered. That shouldn’t be a revelation to anybody.

On November 17 I wrote:

If you look hard enough, which some people have, you can find numbers that show PDP (Poor Dustin Penner), 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?

Dollars and Sense

Now, I understand that it’s not Penner’s fault the Oilers unwisely chose to throw a stack of money at him via an offer sheet. I don’t begrudge the big fella that dough. Anybody with half-a-brain would have grabbed that stack and run with it. Envy over Penner’s wad has zippo to do with what drives me nuts about him.

I’ll say it again: What grinds me is Penner shows no consistent inclination to earn a contract that was offered with the expectation he’d do his best and work to provide value in return, when I can think of dozens of players I’ve met over the years who’d do anything just to get a cup of coffee in the NHL at minimum wage.

So, forgive me when I feel the contents of my stomach rushing up my throat when I hear people trying to mitigate Penner’s indifference or make it sound like he’s somehow got a raw deal or has been picked on.

Sorry in Springfield

You know the situation sucks in Springfield when the Oilers are apologizing to fans of their AHL affiliate for an abysmal product even before the season is over. Such was the shame-faced admission this week.

“We are in the business of winning hockey games and we failed miserably in Springfield this season,” Oilers assistant GM and vice-president of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast said in a news release.

“On behalf of the Oilers we apologize to the fans in Springfield who have supported this team through a very difficult year. We will begin plans immediately in addressing the problems on the ice this season and promise that we will do everything we can to put a more competitive and winning team on the ice next year.”

One would hope those “plans” include providing talent capable of playing at the AHL level through the Entry Draft, which would fall to Prendergast and his scouting staff.

As it stands, the 19-37-7-2 Falcons don’t have nearly enough of it. Thin to start with, call-ups by the Oilers, injuries and brutal seasons by the likes of Rob Schremp have made for a long season for the local faithful.

Pity Rob Daum, saddled with this gaggle of grunts since parachuting in for fired Jeff Truitt Feb. 10. Going into action against Hershey Wednesday, the Falcons have lost six straight and are 3-10-1-1 under Daum.

Fact is, Scotty Bowman couldn’t coax this ECHL roster into the playoffs. I trust the Oilers brass will keep that in mind before laying any of the blame for what’s been an unmitigated failure at Daum’s feet.

I’m thinking somebody should get the proverbial can tied to their backside over the Springfield mess, but it isn’t Daum.

Just asking…

Isn’t it time Schremp and agent Scott Norton asked to be traded so they can get a second opinion?

With 7-32-39 in 54 games with Springfield, Schremp hasn’t only stalled on the development curve, he’s losing ground. In his first pro season, 2006-07, Schremp produced 17-36-53 in 69 games with Wilkes-Barre Scranton. In 2007-08 with Springfield, he had 23-53-76 in 78 games.

Schremp’s seen limited duty in just seven games with the Oilers since draft day, including four this season, and produced 0-3-3.

How long will it take after the Oilers back into the playoffs with a 7-10-3 record in their final 20 games before I get the first e-mail: “Brownlee, you IDIOT, didn’t you say they’ll miss the playoffs?” I’d say the over-under on that one is about six minutes. How could I not believe?

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

  • swany

    RB while I agree with what you have said, do you really think Detroit is sitting there just licking there chops. They are giving up a boat load of goals lately, the Goaltending is worse than in 06, They lost to the Preds 8-0 and Cbus 8-2. while I agree the Oilers are toast I say they take the Wings 6 games. On PDP buy his ass out 1.84 mil(I think) for 6 years I eat that and get a little cap relief about 2.5 mil in space, no one wants him we can't use him he could be sitting on his sofa eating chips watching the playoffs next year it would be the best thing for both parties. SFF should get a bump when Omark and Eberle play next year, I really want to see if Omark can play over hear, he is doing great right now in the Sweedish elite league.

  • Rick

    CurtisS wrote:

    @ Rick:
    Can we at least try it and see what happens?

    If it's change for the sake of change I would actually prefer not. What would the end game be? Hire some MacT clone to a multi year deal and sit through a couple more similar seasons of the new guy getting a free pass because he is 'new'?

    I used to loathe Stuaffer's continuous mantra of philosophical differences with MacT because of how tiring it got to hear the same thing over and over but itis applicable and it takes me back to my original question in that – If MacT reflects the vision that management has, then is a coaching change for the sake of change enough?

    Someone higher up has to change the way they are seeing how the game should be played before they set out to find a coach to get it done.

  • Robin Brownlee wrote:

    Note to Wanye: ON must add one of those sarcasm things for times it isn’t obvious . .

    I've always found it useful to go with the international symbol for sarcastic sentences. The tilde: ~.

    Place the tilde before every sarcastic comment and then everyone picks up what you're laying down.

    For Example:

    ~Wanye Gretz has nice teeth and a great haircut!

  • Robin Brownlee

    shakey wrote:

    @ Robin Brownlee:
    Not if it means the 09/10 is a mirror image of this year…or the year before that…or the year before that.
    At some point we need to have higher goals than 8th place and the lighting in a bucket run every 15 – 20 years.

    topshelf wrote:

    @ Robin Brownlee:
    Anything can happen if you buy a lottery ticket too. When was the last time you won the lottery?

    Note to Wanye: ON must add one of those sarcasm things for times it isn't obvious . . .

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    I agree with you on Schremp, Robin, but just as a side point I thought I’d note that Schremp has been the best player in Springfield since Daum took over as head coach.
    Jeff Truitt has already paid for the debacle in Springfield – is there any possibility that Prendergast could find himself in some trouble over it as well? I’m guessing no, but I’d like your opinion.

    Somebody in the player development, and that includes Prendergast and the scouting staff, must be held accountable.
    The debacle of shutting down the Roadrunners and not even having a farm team was a front office decision and not something KP and his scouting staff should answer for, but the paper-thin talent at the AHL level, including prospects and free agent veterans needed to help the kids along, falls to KP and his staff.

    With Schremp, I've noted his play since Daum's arrival and I happen to think Daum's coaching approach would benefit him, but I've got to think Robbie knows there's no future for him in this organization. I'd like to see it play out differently, but it's not in the cards.

  • Rick

    CurtisS wrote:

    Fire the coach. It will solve ALOT of things.

    Here is a question;

    If MacT and the Oilers brain trust are as in sinc with each other as we are lead to believe in terms of how a team is supposed to be made up, is supposed to play and how the players are to be used, why should we have any hope that a new coach would do things any differently?

    Wouldn't any new guy likley be of a similar mold to MacT?

  • sameoldsameold

    Excellent article again Brownlee, despite what some of the the potato-chip eating, pepsi slurping, basement dwelling populous thinks, best writer in town.
    Can the oilers just suck up Penner's contract, waive him (not like anyone would pick him up at that amount) and make him earn his way back up?

    FMNF

  • Reggie

    shakey wrote:

    @ Robin Brownlee:
    Not if it means the 09/10 is a mirror image of this year…or the year before that…or the year before that.
    At some point we need to have higher goals than 8th place and the lighting in a bucket run every 15 – 20 years.

    or that a playoff spot means MacT is the coach in October. FMNF

  • CurtisS

    Our PP will continue to struggle with Penner and Nilsson spending time between 3 rd and 4 th lines and Pess box.

    Fire the coach. It will solve ALOT of things.

  • Mr P

    If the Oilers play like they did last night over the next 16 games they should pick up 10 wins and a couple loser points to finish with 93 points. That should be enough to earn a visit with SJ or Detroit.

  • Benhur

    Penner is an excellent player when he is motivated. He's got the tools but not the drive to excel obviously. But he is one of the best of a bad (dog) team. There are a lot of other players that could contribute more but don't. You can't blame Penner for the teams lack of effort and results. He is only a small part of the problem.
    Penner will continue to be an underacheiver probably for the rest of his career and that's what Lowe bought along with his impressive physical tools.
    MacT will be stuck with a high maintenance player until he's traded. It will be up to MacT to push the right buttons to get as much out of this horse as he can!

  • shakey

    @ Robin Brownlee:
    Not if it means the 09/10 is a mirror image of this year…or the year before that…or the year before that.
    At some point we need to have higher goals than 8th place and the lighting in a bucket run every 15 – 20 years.

  • shakey

    So are the Oilers going to send out apology letters after the 'should compete for the division lead' crap they started the season with?

    Change a few names and here you have it…

    “We are in the business of winning hockey games and we failed miserably in Edmonton this season,” Oilers GM Steve Tambellini said in a news release.

    “On behalf of the Oilers we apologize to the fans in Edmonton who have supported this team through a very difficult year. We will begin plans immediately in addressing the problems on the ice this season and promise that we will do everything we can to put a more competitive and winning team on the ice next year.”

    Scary how easy that was.