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How The Oilers Feel About Dustin Penner

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Dustin Penner’s season in 10-game segments:

Oct. 12 – Nov. 1: 10GP - 2G – 0A – 2PTS, +2

Nov. 2 – Nov. 29: 10GP – 3G – 3A – 6PTS, +6

Nov. 30 – Dec. 22: 10GP – 4G – 3A – 7PTS, -2

Dec. 26 – Jan. 13: 10GP – 1G -3A – 4PTS, -4

Jan. 15 – Feb. 7: 10GP – 2G – 3A – 5PTS, -1

Feb.8 – Feb. 28: 10GP – 2G – 3A – 5PTS, +2

Mar. 3 – Mar. 24: 10GP – 1G – 4A – 5PTS, +3

Mar. 26 – Apr. 10: 8GP – 2G – 1A – 3PTS, +1

Penner was first called out by Craig MacTavish on November 16th. At the time, he had 1 goal and 1 assist (and a +5 rating) over the previous ten games. Over the next ten games he recorded five goals, five assists and a +4 rating. Before we praise Craig MacTavish as a motivational genius though, it’s a good idea to view the context.

Over the ten games prior to being called out in the media and healthy-scratched, Penner was bouncing between the third line and the fourth line. Over the ten games after being called out, Penner played two on the second line with Gagner and Nilsson before being promoted to the first line with Horcoff and Hemsky. It’s also worth noting that to start the season, Penner was placed on the RW of an ineffective third line with Ethan Moreau on LW and Fernando Pisani at centre – a position he stayed at for the first eight games of the season.

My feeling is that Penner was used ineffectively by MacTavish, but also that both MacTavish and the Oilers as a whole had decided that Penner was not first line material. At the start of the season MacTavish (who gave Penner a ton of opportunity in 2007-08) banished Penner to the third line and replaced him on the power-play with Erik Cole. How much did that matter?

Penner’s production at even-strength actually increased over last season, but MacTavish slashed his ice-time by more than two minutes per game. His power-play points production declined slightly, although it should be noted that the power-play was at its highest efficiency with Penner in front of the net; despite this MacTavish knocked him from the first to second unit for much of the year, meaning that Penner averaged about a minute less per game with the man advantage overall.

Penner did not have a great season and much of the blame for his current predicament rests on his shoulders; however, he vastly improved upon his performance over the previous season, and Craig MacTavish responded by using him less and not using him to his strengths. My suspicion is that MacTavish felt he gave Penner too much rope in 2007-08 (he was generous with ice-time, and Penner was given choice linemates) and had decided, along with the rest of the organization that Penner really wasn’t suited to first line work. When Penner came back as an improved player it wasn’t enough; the organization repeatedly tried other options because they’d already made up their mind. It seems obvious, based on their moves in the summer and over the season – the full list of players they either wanted to try or actually tried is impressive:

  • Marian Hossa (summer)
  • Jaromir Jagr (summer)
  • Erik Cole
  • Robert Nilsson
  • Ethan Moreau
  • Liam Reddox
  • Ales Kotalik
  • Patrick O’Sullivan

It’s an extensive list, and it shows where this team’s mindset is on Penner because at least five of the players on that list were decidedly less qualified than Penner for the position. The Edmonton Oilers (with some justification) don’t view Dustin Penner as a first-line option, and a new coach may or may not change that. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him moved for whatever they can get this summer, although it would probably be a mistake if they did.