What will Renney do?

BERNE, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Rangers head coach Tom Renney attends the press conference after the New York Rangers training session at the PostFinance Arena on September 29, 2008 in Berne, Switzerland.  (Photo by Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)

With the passing of Labour Day weekend, and a horrendous display by the Eskimos, we can officially start to think about the upcoming hockey season. Rookie camp opens with medicals Friday, a practice in Kelowna on Saturday and a game in Penticton on Sunday.

The Oilers are less than two weeks from the opening of the most anticipated training camp since 1989, the first year AG (After Gretzky). As camp draws closer I expect the Nation to set record numbers with hits and page views.

Let’s face it; all of you will be like kids on Christmas morning; eagerly anticipating what’s inside the training camp present. The most exciting thing about this year’s camp is the plethora of uncertainties:

  • How many rookies will make the team? [My answer: 3]
  • What number will Taylor Hall wear? (It shouldn’t be that exciting, but this year you are crazy about every aspect of camp) [My answer: 19]
  • Will Sheldon Souray be a distraction or will he be focused? [My answer: good for 30 games]
  • Can Sam Gagner take the next step? [My answer: 55 points this year]
  • Will Wanye finally get on the smooch cam? [My answer: No chance. No girl would go with him]
  • Who will play with Ales Hemsky? [My answer: 10 and 91]
  • Is Ryan Whitney as good as you thought last year? [My answer: No – he’ll be good not great]
  • Can Ladislav Smid stay healthy? [My answer: he’ll play 76 games]
  • Will Khabibulin be an asset or a liability? [My answer: Both – he’ll play well for 35 games]
  • Will Shaw/Telus/Bell pick up Sportsnet One? [My answer: Yes]
  • Where will Andrew Cogliano play? [My answer: Both wing and centre, then on another team]
  • Who will be the most productive rookie? [My answer: Hall, but barely]
  • Who will have the best Corsi number? (I keed I keed) [My answer: Penner]
  • Who will be captain? Do they need a captain? [My answer: They don’t need one to start the season]
  • What song will they play in the room after a win? [My answer: "Another one bites the dust" by Queen]
  • Will it have a clapping sequence? [My answer: Great clapping sequence]
  • Will Steve Smith make an impact behind the bench? [My answer: After the first 25 games, we’ll see it]
  • Can Ralph “Freddy” Krueger instill some Euro flair? [My answer: I doubt it]
  • Will Omark shock everyone and make the team? [My answer: no chance]
  • How many posters will Brownlee ban? [My answer: 3]
  • Will J.F Jacques be healthy by Christmas? [My answer: He’ll play in early November]
  • Will Renney use Stortini/Fraser? in a shut down role sometimes? [My answer: I can see it for a few games like he did in NY]
  • Will Dustin Penner play centre? [My answer: not full time]


You probably have asked yourself most of the aforementioned questions in the past month, but did you think about Penner in the middle? I hadn’t; until yesterday.

Ryan Rishaug and I were discussing the Oilers on my show, while the Esks were getting crushed in Calgary, and he brought up using Penner in the middle. He did it in a way that made me believe he expects this experiment to happen during camp/preseason.

Before you start pounding on your keyboard, let’s look at the pros and cons of playing Penner in the middle.


  • The Oilers don’t have any size down the middle with Horcoff, Gagner and Cogliano.
  • Penner thinks the game very well in his own zone.
  • He proved last year that when he applies himself he is an above average skater, so he should be able to handle his defensive responsibilities.
  • The Oilers have Hall and Paajarvi who can play LW.
  • As his confidence grew last year, his playmaking skills became more evident.


  • He can beat defenders wide on the rush when he moves his feet.
  • He is great along the boards in both zones.
  • He just got comfortable being a force on the wing.
  • He looked fatigued during the middle 25 games last year, so will he be able to stay fresh playing centre where he has to skate more?
  • You risk having him lose his confidence by not succeeding at a new position.
  • Is he a long-term fix in the middle?

My initial reaction was it wasn’t a great idea, but I was open to listening to the arguments of why it might be.

  1. By moving Penner to the middle then Hall and Paajarvi will be your top-two left wingers. Paajarvi has decent size, 6’2”, 200 pounds and so does Hall at 6’1” 190, and while neither is as large as Penner, neither is considered a water bug.
  2. You could play Penner with Hemsky and Hall and all he’d have to do is circle deep, take the pass and send one of them streaking up the ice.
  3. I’d rather let Penner learn the position, than see Hall struggle adapting to the NHL game and playing the middle.
  4. He could handle anyone in front of the net, and he is a better faceoff man than Gagner and Cogliano. And then you can use Horcoff in a shutdown/scoring role on the third line.

All valid arguments, but I’m still not convinced moving Penner to the middle is the best option.

Let’s look at his faceoff numbers compared to Gagner.

In their three years in Edmonton Penner is 49.5% in the draw and Gagner is 44.2%, but if you look closer, Penner really dominates on PP faceoffs, but isn’t very good EV.

  • In 2008 Penner was 40% on EV draws, and 68.4% on PP. Finished 55% for season.
  • In 2009 Penner was 38% on EV draws, and 54.5% on PP. Finished 47.4% for season.
  • In 2010 Penner was 47% on EV draws, and 54.8% on PP. Finished 47.7% for season.


  • In 2008 Gagner was 35% on EV draws, and 62.6% on PP. Finished 41.8% for season.
  • In 2009 Gagner was 43% on EV draws, and 34.9% on PP. Finished 42% for season.
  • In 2010 Gagner was 46.9% on EV draws, and 48.7% on PP. Finished 47.4% for season.

Over their careers Gagner is 43.3% on EV draws while Penner is 44.7%.

Is the difference that significant to take faceoffs away from Gagner who should be a fixture down the middle for the next ten seasons?

If you move Penner to the centre, you are ensuring that Cogliano plays the wing. I know his faceoff numbers are atrocious, but he did improve by 5% last season, and with some added strength I’d be confident that he could improve by another 3-4% this season.

Will Penner be comfortable playing the middle? He was a force for the first 36 games scoring 19 goals and 38 points. In the next 25 he tallied five goals and nine points and then got a two-week Olympic break before tallying eight goals and 16 points in the final 21 games.

He had a solid 57 bookend games with a fatigued 25 in the middle. To me it looked clear that he wasn’t physically ready to play as much as he did early and he tired out. He has trained this off-season so he can handle 19-21 minutes a night for 82 games, but moving him to centre requires even more skating, and I suspect that would hinder him more than help him.

I suspect Tom Renney will try a variety of line combinations, or even just duos, during camp and the preseason with the hope he will find some chemistry, but I’m not certain moving Penner to the middle is the best experiment.

I’d rather see the most productive player last season, start this year in a position he is confident with, rather than learn a new one. It didn’t work with Fernando Pisani, and I don’t see why Penner would be any different.

  • It is amusing that the main reason people are even willing to move Penner is because they are afraid he will not repeat last season.

    How does it follow that we will be able to get a proven high quality center for a player many clearly consider unproven?

    As for the Penner-as-a-center question, I think I would fall to one side or the other based largely on Penner’s opinion of the idea.

    I absolutely love Penner as a player. I think if he was enthusiastic about trying to play center I would get behind the idea quickly. On the other hand if Penner is unsure about it then I wouldn’t even consider it.

    In short, I think his ability to make the move is entirely dependent on whether or not he wants to make the move and put in any extra work required to do so.

    • PabstBR55

      I suppose my thinking, and others alike, is that we saw two crappy seasons of Dustin Penner dogging it out on the ice, eating eclairs on the bench, not well integrated into the Craig MacTavish philosophy before we saw him break out.

      Some players are mercurial and perform under certain circumstances and for a very limited period of time. Penner may turn out to be a perennial 30-goal scorer, but seeing as how he’s only accomplished it once, lends me to think that we may obtain a valuable return for him now, rather than next summer (when there’s only one year left on his contract) if he poos the bed.

      If the Oil host a cup parade in 2015, will Penner be there? My inclination is no – so the strategy from management should be to seek the highest possible return for him.

      Edit: And no, I won’t f*#k with The Jesus.

      • Yeah, I understand the fear that he will not perform. I believe he will, but I certainly know where the belief that he won’t comes from.

        I even get the idea of trading him. You want to trade high, and if you believe he will not have as much value later then trading him now is the best move.

        What I don’t get is how some people are basically saying, “Penner’s unproven so let’s trade him for someone proven.”

  • Yeah lets move Penner to the middle. It didn’t work very well when we swapped him and Cole wings so i don’t understand how they figure he’ll just pick up the hardest forward position and be able to be a 1-2nd line center. While a good idea in theory I just don’t think it would work. The cons outweigh the pros but i guess if there’s ever a time an orginization can try a few things it’s now when the expectations are attendace at best. I think a better plan for Penner would be showcasing him. Put him in a position to succeed so we might have some trade bait for an actual center seeing as our top two LW spots look locked up for a couple of years anyway.

  • Since i was a kid, the Eskimos have been a juggernaught. Always a force, they set the standard for an entire league for decades. In five short years, Machocia absolutely destroyed what seemed like a constant in the CFL; a competitive Eskimo team. Congrats Danny. I don’t think a lot of people thought you had it in you, but you proved them wrong. I pity Mr.Tillman, or whoever gets the enviable job of fixing this debacle. What a joke…

    • Ender

      I was actually researching Cole when you posted. I remember how much he wanted to fit in when he arrived. ‘Left wing, right wing, center, sure, I can play anywhere I’m needed,’ he told us. It sounded to me at the time like a guy who was trying hard to say what he thought everyone wanted him to say. While anyone can play center (or off-wing), that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be any good there.

      When they talked to Hemsky about playing center, he just came right out and said he didn’t want to. Props for that. Why jeoprodize a good thing trying to be something you’re not?

      I worry that if they ask Penner to play center, he’ll be a good soldier. And try. And fail spectacularly. And that will be the beginning of the decline that will turn last season’s leading scorer into someone that we talk about less than Patrick Thoreson.

      If we have to keep the guy, play him on the wing where he’s at least demonstrated some competence. Better yet, find someone who thinks Penner can sustain last year’s pace and get what you can for him. The clock on his contract is ticking. Krejci from Boston has been suggested. I’d like a bit more myself, but at this point I have to admit that all things considered, I’d take that deal if it was the only one out there.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      The team hasn’t really been all that good since they had to actually scout their talent instead of buy it. The cap has really missed with the Eskies.

      • a lg dubl dubl

        Got to love the internet, where any idoit can say whatever & never backs it up. If winning is measured by Grey Cups, since 2000 – Mont 2, Cal 2 BC 2 Edm 2 TO 1 Sask 1. In the 90s – TO 3, Cal 2 WPG, Edm, BC Balt Ham 1. You don’t want to see the 80’s.

        • Jason Gregor

          He said since the cap came in place. And that is a valid argument, but every other team had the chance to spend money, and some did, but they never matched the success of the Eskimos. Now though the Esks have gone from the best run franchise to bottom three in a very short five years.

        • Spydyr

          In a 8 team league winning one or two times every decade is nothing to be proud of. It is simple mathamatic odds.And the 80’s um that was 20-30 years ago……kind of a while back.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Think there’s an arrangement in place to retire #4 after Lowe retires. So if Hall is offered and takes #4 I’d guess it’s evidence that that we’ve got a potential superstar that doesn’t mind sharing.

  • The Duke of Hafford

    Am I the only one who thinks that Souray is going to get picked up on re-entry waivers? If it is only going to cost $2.25 million each of the next two years to claim Souray than that is a great deal for most teams. And for any team that has to get to the cap minimum, he looks even better because his $5.4 million would count as the cap hit.

    • Ender

      You may be one of the only ones. I’ll let the masses speak for themselves, but I personally don’t think the Oilers are in a hurry to spend a chunk of their cap for the next two years on a guy they ran out of town.

      And because Souray’s cap hit is shared just like the actual salary, he’s not as helpful to that second team’s floor as you seem to think.

    • Jason Gregor

      He would have to be put on waivers again before he is on re-entry waivers. I don’t see the Oilers sending Souray to the minors, then recall him only to lose him for nothing and be on the hook for half.

  • I’m taking Eberle as the Rookie leading the scoring this year. Older than the other guys, looked a step ahead physically in development camp, and pure clutch.

    I think Hall will be given his oppotunities all year long, but Eberle will earn them.

    • Ender

      I think I agree. I’m not certain that a Calder comes to Edmonton this season, but of the rookies that are playing here I’d lean towards Eberle as the early favorite.

      Of course, things could look very different by the end of pre-season.

      • Look out for P.K. Subban , by years end he will be compared with Drew Doughty!!

        Having 3 potential rookies will work against them when it comes to the p.p. I don’t see any of the forwards suited to play the point on the p.p. 9 skilled forwards 6 positions. Yes Horcoff, You know He will get p.p. time.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    So, just so we can keep things straight going into the Eskies game Jason, if we can beat the Stamps by 89 pts or more on Friday, can we still win the season series…if we finish the season tied?

    • Ender

      I really don’t think it would be possible to lose a CFL game by 89 points without getting fined by the league for throwing the fix.

      In any case, I doubt the Eskimos could score that many points even against the Calgary Colts. Maybe if they played the OilersNation ~Allstars~. I nominate jeanshorts for QB in that contest. I’ll get my camera.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        I’m not one to read between the lines Ender, did i just catch a glimpse of Wanye puts the “special” in special teams in your last paragraph? The thought of this 15 minute feature film has youtube legend written all over it.

        I’m visualizing the cast of the Red Green show versus the team formerly known as the double E (Evil Empirates)

    • Jason Gregor

      No my man…The Stamps would still have won two of three…but I like your thought process to try and find the positive. 89 points, ha. Will they score 89 points in their next four games combined would be a great bet.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I kinda figured Hall would get #4, why else would he say “I’ll decide closer to the media conferenceabout it” in his last interview.

    If I was gm i wouldnt consider trading Penner til closer to the deadline this year. I do like the idea of the big guy in the center position tho, hopefully he’s trained his bag off this summer and has a better cardio so he dosnt fizzle in mid december again.

    Im hoping Renney might try this 2nd line combo at some point: (LW)Hall,(C)Gagner,(RW)Cogliano; I think half of Cogs’ problem last year is he had nobody on his line that could keep up to him and i think Hall might be that guy. If AC fails theres always Eberle to jump up to the 2nd line to fill in the RW spot nicely

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Gregor hit the nail on the head. Penner doesn’t have the conditioning to be a #1 Center, as we saw when he hit the wall before the Olympic break. Keep him on the wing and rotate Gags and Brule and keep Horcoff as the #3 guy with PK time.

    Please, please Renney move on past the favourites MacT had and get Horcoff the hell off the PP. There are too many players that actually have skill that could cash in on Hemmer’s magic.