RE 09-10: Dustin Penner

The curse of the big man in hockey is that his stride makes him look lazy. A little imp like Tie Domi used to excite the crowd with choppy little strides and a grimace, while Dustin Penner looks like he is lollygagging or that the wind just blew him in the right direction. Dustin Penner looks (like Peter Mahovlich and Joe Thornton and many others) like there should be another gear.

Penner ran up against a frustrated and angry coach last winter and when MacT got going the hits just kept on coming:

  • “When we signed Dustin we thought he’d be a top-two-line player.”
  • “We thought the contract ($4.25 million average for five years) was a starting point for him, but he views it as a finish line. I can’t watch it, certainly not for another 2 1/2 years.”
  • “You can’t throw gratuitous ice-time at a player that’s inconsistent.”
  • “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.”
  • “He has to get his game to a level where he can help us. To this point, it hasn’t gotten there.”

I don’t think the coach was referring to the long stride mentioned above when saying those things, I think he was talking about results. Dustin Penner had played 16 games to that point and scored 3 goals: two on opening night and another on the 8th of November. 16gp, 3-1-4 +5 were his totals at that time and from that point on the big man went 62gp, 14-19-33 +2 through season’s end. We are a house divided when it comes to Penner, so it’s important we can agree MacTavish wasn’t ripping style, he was concerned about tangibles.

One more thing-the theme of this post is the following: he’s just not that good.

  • Boxcars: 78gp, 17-20-37, 61pims
  • Shots: 137
  • Plus Minus: +7
  • Corsi: +7.0
  • GF/GA ON: 45-32
  • 5×5/60: 1.71
  • 5×4/60: 3.15
  • Quality of Competition: 2nd level
  • Quality of Teammates: very good 2nd level
  • FO %: 47.4% in 114 sorties
  • 09-10 Cap Hit: $4.25M (capgeek)
  1. What do these numbers tell us? Despite appearances (and more than his share of defenders), Dustin Penner didn’t deliver enough offense to deserve the 1line. Further, I don’t know that he ever will; math never told us he would cover this bet, Kevin Lowe did. MacTavish had him on the feature line most of the time and the boxcars tell a strong story. We know Penner isn’t a creator of offense, but he needs to cash in more than he did this season and it’s not clear he has the ability. Underlying numbers that also tell some things are the 5×4/60 number–Penner should have had a much bigger impact on the powerplay–and a shot total that falls well short of new recruit Patrick O’Sullivan (who is poised to eat Penner’s lunch this winter unless Penner can impress Pat Quinn). On the positive side, Penner’s plus minus is the best available, as is his Corsi number. My own feeling is that he played with the two best forwards on the roster when playing the toughs, and faced the soft parade when he was in the doghouse. Shawn Horcoff had no such luxury, which is why his numbers look less impressive. Ditto (to a lesser extent) Ales Hemsky.
  2. How could the numbers be better? I’m not much for phrases like “compete level” or “his legs are inconsistent.” The math tells me he should have been better (Dustin Penner stopped shooting the puck last season) and he wasted a massive opportunity. However, it’s even more than that: Penner is the best of the current hands available, but he’s a complementary piece and based on the pricetag (money and picks) he should be a featured player in his own right. Penner is being paid to either spike that line with his own skill set (size, hands, intelligence) or to create on a line built around him. We need to agree: he’s just not that good. Now, that’s different than useless or a waste of a contract. However, he’s not building on that 29-goal season he had in Anaheim and we should acknowledge his linemates and toughness of opponents that season and that despite appearances there are better options for Horcoff and Hemsky out there and available. Dustin Penner is an option for the 1line this fall but he might not be the best one and if the Oilers are to make the playoffs this would be an area to improve.
  3. What about Gagner? Because of the offer sheet, because of the giant contract, Penner is going to get another chance and then another after that unless they can deal him. If not the 1line, then what line? I think Quinn will either move him to center with Cogliano (and say Nilsson) or possibly team him with Gagner.
  4. What about Quinn/Renney? Increasingly, and certainly since the Heatley inferno, the Oilers are pointing to the coaching staff as the big change in town. Experience tells us there will be a honeymoon period: the player saying “I’ve found a new life” and the coaching staff nodding their approval. The problem is you develop a past, and the instant the results aren’t there then we’ll be back to hearing about compete level and the jimmy legs. The answer (again) is that Penner was never a guy who could cover the bet.
  5. Will Quinn continue to play him against tougher opposition? Doubtful. I don’t think Penner will play a lot with Horcoff or Hemsky this season, and can’t imagine him forming a shutdown trio with someone like Pisani. That kind of role doesn’t play to his strengths anyway.
  6. What Else? I mentioned it in the reasonable expectations post about Penner a year ago and it applies at least a much now: center. Quinn has had success bringing along big centermen (Antropov) so maybe he can unlock the key for Penner. The good thing for Penner is that he has size and some skill so there’s no line he can’t play on. For instance, if it’s November and he’s once again deep in the doghouse, Quinn can place him at center on a “Coke Machine” like with Jacques and Stortini. I doubt it’ll come to that, after all he can score enough goals to stay in the top 6F and has been part of an outscoring unit. If only he could do that without being a complementary player on said line, then maybe the 4.25M number wouldn’t hurt so much.
  7. What Else Else? I’ve gone on record as being a MacT supporter but I think the coach crossed a line with Penner. This isn’t the old days when Al Arbour could rip Denis Potvin a new one and no one said a word, this is a different era altogether. I understand Dustin Penner is working very hard this summer on conditioning and hope he comes to camp and proves all the naysayers wrong. As much as the math tells us one thing, a quicker step and a confident start can make up for a lot.
  8. How Important is Penner to this team? The money is huge so they need production. More than that, this represents a mammoth fail for the Oilers as an organization. They gave up a first, second and a third plus millions and millions for a 17 goal scorer. Penner’s name must be a bile-causer for some of the suits in the Oilers employ. If Tambellini can offload him, he’ll be a hero. If Quinn can make a player out of him, they’ll build him a statue. If Dustin Penner can emerge from this season past as an actual NHL player, he’ll own the fucking city. Book it. But remember: the math has never told us he was more than he’s proven to be. There’s no Miro Satan in Cape Breton linescore on the resume. If Dustin Penner has a big season, it’ll be on a line that features the Oilers best players and a great big slice of the powerplay.

By The Numbers

  • 06-07 5×5 per 60m: 1.92
  • 07-08 5×5 per 60m: 1.34
  • 08-09 5×5 per 60m: 1.71
  • 06-07 5×4 per 60m: 4.01
  • 07-08 5×4 per 60m: 4.07
  • 08-09 5×4 per 60m: 3.15

Predictions Past 2008-09

  • Predicted: 82gp, 30-23-53 (.646 per game)
  • Actual: 78gp, 17-20-37 (.474 per game)

Prediction for 2009-10: 80gp, 20-21-41 (.513 per game)

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