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.

    • ubermiguel

      Time to get some jerseys made up.

      KLowe must have realized his number’s never going up to the rafters, and that this kid’s got a better chance of that happening.

      Kevin Lowe: another name to add to the Wall of Honour list (in a few years when time has dulled the criticism of his front-office days).

  • m@s f@s

    Thanks for saving this blog from the start Ender. The reason I signed up last night was narrow-minded people with only one word to type.
    Back to Hall though, I honestly can’t see him wearing any other number. This kid is the Golden Boy of Oil management…he gets what he wants. And so be it, more wind in his sails to start the whole thing off in my opinion.

    *Down with Bettman*

  • Ender

    Hall wearing #4 is weird; I’m pretty sure I heard it whispered from more than one place in recent weeks that Hall didn’t really want to wear #4. Looks like either he changed his mind, or someone in the Oilers PR department changed it for him.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’m thinking at tomorrow’s weekly meeting of the suits, they’ll decide to give Richie Hall the axe on Saturday. They shouldn’t stop there, they should put some distance between Hervey and that dressing room, not sure shouting FIRE THAT FUGGER! into the coaches office serves any real purpose. With Hervey and Dan Mackinnon micro managing things, it appears things are only getting worse. A couple more weeks of this and it surely will be Tillman time. Ed Hervey is a fine judge of football talent but he looks a little out of his element with the additional workload. Dan Mackinnon, not really sure what his role must be with the football club….is he even a football guy? I know he certainly isn’t popular amongst the players and the dressing room crew.

    • Jason Gregor

      What additional workload has Hervey taken on? He was in charge of scouting before, and managaing the cap. That hasn’t changed really. This team isn’t that talented. People who think changing the coach will make them better are taking the easy way out. They need some more talent. Better O-line, Receivers that can catch, D-linemen who can get pressure and players who play with emotion.

      Maciocia left this organization with little talent and even less depth.

      You could fire Hall now, which will likely happen after the season, but then the season is a complete waste. Bringing in a D coordinator and head coach for final eight weeks wouldn’t work. Hall’s problem is he won’t hold his players accountable. How he hasn’t had a chat with his receivers about catching the ball is shocking.

      Also curious about your “Fire that fugger” comment. Was that heard on the broadcast last night. I was on air watching it in mute.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Maybe we should turn our attention to what Ed has done for us lately. He’s had his role for what, 2 or 3 yrs now, i know i can be difficult to get players signed and come up here but what’s he done for us for players lately? Him and his sidekick MacKinnon seem more worried about parking for the staff at the stadium and who should be taking water to the players during stoppages in play.

        Hervey yelling into the coaches room was moments after the Aug 6th home game against the Argos.

        • Jason Gregor

          Everyone in the organization will be evaluated between now and the end of the season, and Hervey has to fall into that category.

          I’m sure they are more concerned about the team than staff parking. As for yelling into the room, I never heard that and will look into it. Thanks.

          • Chris.

            Does Shawn Belle count as a rookie? My gut tells me that Souray will no longer be an Oiler by October 7th… If my gut is correct: Belle has an excellent chance to make the opening night roster despite having a two way deal.

          • Jason Gregor

            Belle is far from a rookie. Over 320 games in AHL and NHL won’t make him a rookie in my mind.

            And if Souray gets traded that still leaves, Gilbert, Whitney, Smid, Foster, Vandermeer, Strudwick and Peckham ahead of Belle, not to mention the Oilers will probably get a D-man back in Souray trade. Belle could be one injury away from a call up, and I’m still one who wonders if he will finally show the skill that got him drafted in the first round.

        • Chris.

          Ritchie Hall: “C’mon guys. we’re still 1-1 in the new season.


          Ritchie Hall: “We can still make the playoffs!”


          Ritchie Hall: “I know we can beat out B.C. I KNOW WE CAN WIN in Regina in the Quarter Final!”

          Mummble!!! Murmour!!! Cheers. Chatter!

          Ritchie Hall: “The Grey Cup is in Edmonton! Home Field Advantage awaits in the Playoffs… All we have to do is put a full 60 minutes together in McMahon Stadium!”


      • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

        You could fire Hall now, which will likely happen after the season, but then the season is a complete waste

        So is me inviting friends over to watch the Eskimos.

    • Hervey should teach his minions how to catch a ball, then Moe Lloyd can take everyone up to the mountain and talk to the wizard. FWIW this lot of incompetence has tainted the word “professional” but if you are seeking leadership from Moe freaking Lloyd… it actually stands to reason.

      I give Gregor props for not laughing in his face when he came out with that wizard nonsense….. simply unbelievable.

  • wyseguy

    got my tickets to the Oil – Canucklehead prospect game for this Sunday in Penticton. After hearing so much about these kids over the last couple of years, I’m excited to finally see what they’ve got.

  • oilerdiehard

    I heard Rishaug bring that up. I was thinking why are they surprised about the Penner at center thing? I guess they missed a few editions of Oilers Lunch.

    I say that because sometime in August Bob had Renney on Oilers Lunch. A fan sent in a question about whether Renney would try Penner at center.

    He said yes he probably would try him there at some point. He then talked about how they are a little small at the center ice position. Though he also through in a little caution how it is unknown yet if Penner can skate and cover that much real estate in the time needed sort of thing. Something to that effect. But it sounded like he was already thinking about trying it prior to that question.

    • Jason Gregor

      I’ve heard Renney talk about it before briefly, but that doesn’t mean I think it is a good idea.

      It sounds like they are really going to try it rather than just experiment for day or two in camp. I’m not a fan of it, and I’ll be a bit surprised if it works longterm.

      • C-DOG

        I agree with you on Penner. When rebuilding a team, shouldn’t players be put in position were they can best succeed and not worry about short term weakneses.

        Penner does not have the stamina and is not dogged on the puck like the elite natural centres, plus when carrying the puck he skates with his head down. Why mess with a good thing, if he struggles than fans will be all over him again, it will mess him up mentally and ruin his trade value.

        Why not play Penner and Hemsky together and have Hall play with them on the p.p. I beleive both wingers will have career seasons. Then look to trade one or maybee even both of them to strengthen weaker positions. Maybee the Stall / Malkin on the wing expierement does not work out in Pittsburg or something else comes avail. Penner and Hemsky are both U.F.A’S in 2 years and Staal is a U.F.A. in 3 years.

  • Ralph “freddy” may very well surprise you. Of the many coaching clinics I have attended, his presentation on team building was simply astounding. I was so enamored with it that I got his book translated into english. So for my dollar the biggest influence on this years squad may very well be the least heralded, and from what I gathered….. ralph is just fine with that.

    The mighty Quinn talked the talk, but Kruegers portfolio of achievements speak for themselves, he actually kinda made a silk purse out of a sows ear with those swiss squads, not sure what role renney has picked for him but hes the real deal.

    I dont think “euro flair” might necessarily be his thang but he can make something out of nothing and given this squad and its holes, that might be a challenge cause theres a whole lotta nuthin up the gut. Thats hard to hide, especially in this conference, but hey… whats life without a monumental challenge. Just ask wanye and that smooch cam thing.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Re Penner to center: Interesting idea and probably wouldn’t hurt to at least try it in the pre-season.

    My gut says he should probably play where he was most succesful though.

  • longbottom/P.Biglow

    I say leave Penner as center, since you are rebuilding and Gagne has improved his faceoff % every year keep him as #1. Put Brule/Cogs #2 and Leave Horcoff #3 as he was comfordable there last year. Let the kids make their mistakes from it. Whats the worst that can happen we get anouther lottery pick?

  • Ender

    You know, if the Oilers need a center so bad (and they do) and it makes sense to take Penner off the wing to make it work (the argument for Hall and Pääjärvi on LW makes sense) then why do things by halves? Why run all of the risks that Gregor has pointed out in trying to turn Penner into something that he hasn’t been before?

    Wouldn’t it be better to take advantage of the fact that Penner’s value is on a high note after last season? Why not trade him for a proven center that we know can do what we need? There’s got to be a team that needs a solid LW more than a center. Moving Penner will never be easier or fetch a bigger return than right now, and I’m awfully scared he isn’t going to repeat last season.

    • a lg dubl dubl

      As long as the Oilers don’t mess with Penner’s position and try to manufacture a #1 centre, he will score 35 goals with all the talent around him, part of the reason he slumped last year was because he was discouraged with the losing and Pat Quinn for no legit reason took Brule of his line, not a legit excuse though.

      I beleive he now see’s what he can accomplish and he enjoyed the spotlight. Having Hemsky back and being a u.f.a. in 2 years will keep him and Hemsky motivated for their last big contracts.

      Trading either one or both would still be a good decision, because it is asset management and dealing from a position of strength.

    • PabstBR55

      Here here. Penner had a great season by his standards, but I’m doubtful that he can sustain that performance over the long term. There’s just something about a big body that I feel can’t take a lot of tread.

      Who has a plethora of centres? Boston? Who needs big wingers? Boston.

      Penner to the B’s for David Krejci. Maybe we could toss in Cogliano for Joe Colborne (another C rated as one of their top prospects).