We poked and prodded Dustin Penner in the Edmonton Oilers dressing room this morning to get a read on his state of mind. I’d suggest, given what Penner said, that GM Steve Tambellini do the same between now and the NHL trade deadline.
Given that his name and that of teammate Ales Hemsky are front and centre when it comes to the subject of players Tambellini can either build around or trade to acquire assets between now and Feb. 28 — any time in what remains of their contracts, for that matter — inquiring minds wanted to know what he’s thinking.
Is Penner happy in Edmonton? Does he see promise in the rebuild that is underway despite the team languishing at the bottom of the standings? Would he like to stay beyond the end of the 2011-12 season ?
The answers are yes, yes and yes. That’s something Tambellini might want to sit down and discuss formally with Penner and his agent, Gerry Johannson, don’t you think?
The sooner the better.
TIME TO TALK
"That’s something for my friends to read about," Penner said, asked by TSN’s Ryan Rishaug about his name coming up in trade rumours. "It doesn’t really bother me. It’s interesting.
"I think what usually happens is the people who get talked about the most usually don’t end up getting traded, at least in the past when I’ve seen it, so . . . I don’t know, it’s probably exciting for a lot of people, but to me, it doesn’t matter."
Penner, 28, has been a lightning rod for debate since the Oilers plucked him from the Anaheim Ducks by way of an offer sheet in the summer of 2007 after the Ducks won the Stanley Cup.
Seen by many, including the likes of former coach Craig MacTavish, as something of a satisfied player capable of being better than he is, Penner has taken more than his fair share of criticism.
He’s inconsistent. He appears disinterested at times. He’s not in shape. He’s not really a leader. On and on. Penner has heard it all during his time here, and some of the criticism has been warranted.
Warts and all, Penner leads the Oilers in scoring with 18 goals and 34 points going into tonight’s game with the Chicago Blackhawks. He led the team in scoring last season with a career-high 33 goals and 61 points.
So what to do with Penner? Trade him and continue the rebuild with assets you get for him? Keep him and build around him? A big part of what Tambellini decides is going to be based on what Penner wants because he can pick the team he wants to play for after next season.
So we asked, and asked and asked . . .
OVER TO YOU, STEVE
We asked Penner if this season feels different than last season, even if the on-ice results and the standings aren’t what he and his teammates would like them to be.
"Obviously, the culture has changed here," he said. "We’ve got a great group of young forwards and young players. I like to say we’re an up-and-coming team.
"As you’ve seen from the beginning of the year compared to where we are now, even though we’re in 30th place, there’s a stat we heard that 24 games have been either a one-goal game or an empty-net situation. If we end up winning half of those, we’re in the playoff hunt."
Gene Principe of Sportsnet asked Penner if he is enjoying his time here and if he’d like to stay.
"Yeh," Penner said. "It’s a great place. You know, I’ve been here for four years and it’s always nice to have that comfort level being with the same team, seeing the game faces, the training staff. You grow attached, even to you guys here."
Is that a conversation Penner has had with Tambellini?
"That’s more something for my agent," he said. "That’s why I pay him two per cent . . . I think we’ll have that discussion, probably. We’ve touched on it a bit, but it’s something you really don’t probably address during the season."
One more time, courtesy of the dogged and determined Dave Mitchell of CTV: So, Penner likes it here and wants to be here?
"I think I answered that," Penner said. "I like it here. I want to be here. It’s a great place to play, especially when you’re winning."
Just one more time for good measure, still with Mitchell like a hungry dog on a fresh cut of T-bone: Long-term? "Yeh."
It’s probably time to talk.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.