The Penner Trade, Pt 2: Conversation with Derek Zona of Copper & Blue

EDMONTON CANADA - OCTOBER 7: Robyn Regehr #28 of the Calgary Flames checks Dustin Penner #27 of the Edmonton Oilers in first-period action at Rexall Place October 7 2010 in Edmonton Alberta Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

In honor of Dustin Penner's first game in a Kings uniform, I sent an email to Oilers' writer-extraordinaire Derek Zona, which unfolded like this:

Quisp: can we have an email exchange about Dustin Penner's supposed "laziness" and "inconsistency" which I can then post as a dialogue between us?

Derek: Sure.

Quisp: My guess (or maybe it's my hope) is that people think he's lazy and/or inconsistent because he's good-looking and quite large. I'm also guessing his numbers tell another story. 

[Derek's response was to link to a post by Benjamin Massey, his cohort at Copper & Blue. Here's a taste:]

 

An Open Letter to Steve Tambellini Regarding Dustin Penner - Benjamin Massey - The Copper & Blue

Dear Tambicakes,

Just how stupid are you?

[...] Penner was big but not a hitter, seldom looked like he was trying all that hard, didn't have the mean streak you associate with a power forward [...] He got results, Tambo. You don't have many players who fit that bill. He also, by all accounts, fit in great in Edmonton. He got along with his teammates, he was active in the community, he did everything you could ask a player to do off the ice. [...] Dustin Penner is a good hockey player. You traded him for Colten Teubert, who is not a good hockey player. He is so not good he couldn't get past Davis Drewiske and Peter Harrold on the Los Angeles Kings depth chart. And, not to pick on the guy, but who the fuck is Davis Drewiske? That's not an NHL defenseman, that's a Red Green Show character! He's -1 and has no goals on a team that's one of the favourites for the Western Conference title, and he's kicking Colten Teubert's ass. Teubert was ninth on his team in scoring among defensemen, and that team is the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL.

[...] You blew the last two seasons and now you've blown the next two as well. You are an enormous, fetid lump of stupidity, like scientists found away to distill pure awfulness into a solid and then molded it into the shape of a man, a shambling, mindless Frankenstein's monster who stumbled around and was capable only of hideous vocalizations, almost but not quite human, about "rebuilds" and "competing" and "the future". Mike Milbury can sleep a little more soundly in his bed tonight knowing that he is now only the second-worst general manager in NHL history.

[In other words, he's on the fence...]

Quisp: How do you feel about my "big and handsome" theory?

Derek: He doesn't look like he's doing anything because of his stride.  The video in the linked article I sent you [all the way at the bottom of this post] shows how fast he is.  He's barely striding and he's still pulling away from the defense. 

[here Derek inserts the link to his own farewell Penner post; I trimmed it down, but follow the link to watch the video clips; actually, never mind, most of them are linked in the paragraph following the big block quote here; either way, check them out; everything tastes better with video]

Farewell Dustin, You Served Better Than They Know - Derek Zona - The Copper & Blue
Dustin Penner's final game with the Edmonton Oilers was a perfect microcosm of his career as an Oiler. By the traditional numbers, Penner tallied an asist and a +1 rating. By the microstats, he was even on the scoring chances sheet and a plus in both Corsi and Fenwick on a night when most of his teammates were deep into the red. He spent the game matched against Boston's top line and still came out ahead.

When I wrote my article about my favorite post-dynasty Oiler, I didn't consider it possible that Penner wouldn't finish the season in Edmonton, and it stings more than a little to see him go. I didn't grow attached to Ryan Smyth like other fans did, likely because I was still bitter about how Jari Kurri's career ended in Edmonton. After Kurri and Esa were dispatched for the first rebuild, I didn't really take a rooting interest in players. That changed when Dustin Penner was being thrown under the bus by nearly everyone in Edmonton and I started to defend him.

[...]

I'm not sure how Penner will be remembered in Edmonton. His career as an Oiler was brief, and had such a tumultuous beginning that it's likely his remarkable accomplishments will be overlooked in time. [...]

Last season, Penner became only the second man in Oilers' history to lead the team in Goals, Assists, Points, and +/- in a single season (we all know who the other guy was). Beyond that, he cemented himself as a top-twenty wing in the NHL. In fact, only twenty wingers have scored more goals than Penner in the last four seasons and only eleven wingers have scored more goals than Penner in the last two seasons.

The Edmonton media had a field day piling blame on Penner[...]; the entirety of the North American media did the same.[...] To the casual observer and the "HIT SOMEBODY" fan, Penner never looked like he was doing much. But whether he looked the part or not, the one thing Penner did consistently was drive the play.

[...] I liked Dustin Penner because he embodied so much of what's right about hockey. He showed up to play every night[...]. [...] He had a sense of humor and was always quick to display it during intermission interviews. He spent three years mocking Gene Principe between periods and toyed with the local media by talking about things like Sour Patch Kids and Beer. [...] Dustin Penner brought life to a part of hockey that's largely unnecessary because of the need players feel to give stock quotes and fit the stereotypes. [...]

[Penner] didn't just defend his teammates on the ice - he made all of them better. The Amicus Brief shows how much better both Horcoff and Hemsky were when Penner was out there [...]. His size, durability, skill, and talent combined with his style of play allowed him to fit into any situation. He dominated play down low and was capable of maintaining possession for an entire shift. He could storm off the boards to the front of the net and he could make a touch pass to the point. His hands were outstanding for a player of any size. He stood in front of the net on the power play and allowed Sheldon Souray and Kurtis Foster to fire head-high slapshots at him during an era when no other Oiler would venture near the slot, let alone the crease. He carried poor linemates and turned them into even hockey players through nothing else than sheer determination and overwhelming play.

Throughout Craig MacTavish's very public attacks on Penner, Dustin never said a word to the press. He never showed up the coach or the team. He just kept playing, no matter what his role.

Penner also wanted to come to Edmonton. [...] [He] was a courteous and open denzien of Edmonton as well. I've gotten e-mails from Edmontonians about chance meetings and each person notes that Penner was willing to speak with them, was very polite, and gave them a chance to chew his ear off, even during the season in which he was scapegoated by both the organization and the city. [...]

The conclusion I reached in the Amicus Brief [MUST READ - Q] holds true today: The statistics used in the first three parts of this brief lead to one indisputable fact. The Edmonton Oilers are a stunningly better team when Dustin Penner steps onto the ice... As we've learned since then, the Oilers are a stunningly better team when Penner is there off of the ice as well.

Derek: Penner was also never afraid to defend a teammate, famously dropping Robin Regher after watching Ales Hemsky take a year's worth of shots from behind from the Flames dirty defenseman.  He came to Ladislav Smid's aid by one-punching Landon Wilson.  He came to Sam Gagner's defense after Jack Johnson boarded him, and he stepped in to fight Garnet Exelby after Exleby threw a horrendous cheap shot on Ales Hemsky.  He was the first teammate in after Drew Doughty leveled Taylor Hall.  If this team has had an enforcer in the last few seasons, that man has been Dustin Penner. There have been goons on the team, but at no point in the last three and half seasons did the goons actually do anything about dirty hits.  The only guy on the team to step in to defend his teammates was Penner.

Quisp: I have always laughed at the idea that, for instance, if player X runs Kopitar, the pay-back will be that our enforcer eventually will fight their enforcer, not player X. Like that's a deterrent. The enforcers are going to fight anyway.

Derek: Exactly.  And the only Oiler willing to step in was Penner.  And he stepped in nearly every time. 

Quisp: Penner reminds me of a tight end for the patriots 30 years ago whose name escapes me who was just so big and goofily handsome and moved so easily that everyone thought he was lazy. Not to overemphasize the handsome thing, but I do think people are unduly harsh on athletes who have the nerve to be talented and good-looking. Like its unfair or something. It is unfair actually. Those studly bastards.

Derek: I don't disagree with that notion, but so much of this comes down to the ease of movement for him and the fact that he doesn't throw hits.

Quisp: I'm somewhat old school and I actually remember when checking was literally that, strategically impeding your opponent, thus the two kinds of checks: stick checks and body checks. People like highlight reel hits - I do too - but forget the point , taking the player out of the play.  Which you can do without destroying people, by finishing, holding your ground, playing within the system.

My impression of Penner is that he's a smart player. Is that wishful thinking? Also I've noticed he's got a bit of a sense of humor, a trait to which I assign maybe too much value.

Derek: He's a very intelligent player.  He did go to University of Maine for a year.  He has a great sense of humor and is the best interview.  He constantly messes with the interviewer and loves to quote movie lines as responses.

Quisp: Do you happen to remember any of his movie quotes?

Derek: I don't off-hand.  But he's quoted Anchorman, Old School, 40 Year Old Virgin...

He is what you say on defense - holds the play, holds the point of attack, rides people off of the play and uses size and leverage to win battles and move the puck the other way.  He's very efficient.  One thing that people complain about is that he doesn't "hustle" after loose pucks and such.  He's actually smart enough to understand when he can reach a puck and when he can't, and he'll often peel off of the pursuit, or not start the pursuit at all, after a puck.  Rather, he reads the play, understands what's going to happen and typically moves to a superior defensive position.

Quisp: Terry Murray will love him then.

Dustin Penner, 45 Years Ago - The Copper & Blue
Lowetide often mentions Frank Mahovlich when he's writing about Dustin Penner. Mahovlich, the big winger that wore Penner's same number 27 for the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Red Wings, had many similar physical traits to Penner.

He had a long, loping stride, he was dominant on the boards in the offensive zone and was never afraid to stand in front of the net. Both men can and could play center when called upon and both men were and are under-rated defensive players.

There was another physical trait that the two shared. From the CBC biography of Mahovlich: "Leaf Coach Punch Imlach was a stern taskmaster, who considered the Big M’s fluid style a sign of laziness." [...]

Mahovlich's "laziness" scored 533 goals in the NHL and accumulated 1103 career points.

[...]

Not only do the two players have similar physical characteristics, but Mahovlich and Penner have are also tied together in that they are both independent, free-thinking, witty and often run up against the hockey machine. Mahovlich is famous for his holdout in Toronto [...]. Penner is famous for signing an offer-sheet and moving from a Stanley Cup team to the Oilers. Imlach thought Mahovlich was lazy and tried to work the laziness out of him. Penner is thought of as lazy and unmotivated and faced the scorn of Randy Carlyle and Craig MacTavish. Mahovlich had to deal with Imlach bad-mouthing him to the press, often to the point of rage. Penner spent a year under siege in the media at the hand of Craig MacTavish. Mahovlich was trashed in the media because his coaches and management turned on him. Penner has been trashed in the media because MacTavish turned on him. 

[...] In both of these cases, it was a case of management playing wag the dog. Don't mind that we're not doing well, look at that guy. Doesn't he look slow and lazy?

The physical similarities are striking, especially when you watch the videos below. First is a video of Mahovlich. I've started it :19 in so that you can see his warm up video. He looks like a bird of prey, swooping around the ice in long, graceful movements, yet he's moving quickly. Like Lowetide said: "The little men of the world always look like they're putting out maximum effort (Tie Domi looked like he was passing a kidney stone in full stride), while men like Dustin Penner (with long strides that often look plodding) are easy targets [...]."

And here's the video of Penner's breakaway goal against the Avalanche. Note that Penner doesn't seem to be putting much effort into his stride, yet neither Brett Clark nor Kyle Cumiskey, both of whom are skating furiously, sticks everywhere, legs flailing and arms akimbo, could get close. Fans that characterize Penner as "lazy" or "unmotivated" should remember this video.[...]

The Mahovolich video is no longer available. Here's a clip from Legends of Hockey. The second video is the Penner breakaway Derek cites.



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