LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 02: Dustin Penner #25 of the Los Angeles Kings and Stephane Robidas #3 of the Dallas Stars battle for the puck in the second period at Staples Center on April 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
The title of this post is somewhat misleading, seeing as Kings GM Dean Lombardi appears to have abandoned what little respect he had left for Dustin Penner. That’s not to say Lombardi has zero respect for Penner, oh no. Make no mistake, Dean Lombardi would most likely slot Penner in the cleanup spot on his beer league softball team.
[...] At least that’s what we’re going to take from this golden quote from the Kings’ GM. Via Craig Custance of Sporting News:
"Dustin is at the crossroads of his career," Lombardi wrote in an email to Sporting News. "He can choose to use his athletic ability to either become a dominant power forward in the National Hockey League or be a dominant number four hitter for the El Cid Lounge in a men’s softball league — the choice is his."
When I first read that Lombardi quote in the Sporting News article, my reaction (like a lot of people's) was "Holy ****, Dean, tell us what you really think!" But sleeping on it, I don't think he's saying quite what everyone assumes he's saying. Everyone on earth is down on Penner right now, so it's easy to read that quote in that context and assume that Lombardi hates Penner and will unload him the first chance he gets.
But remember the whole dust-up that occurred when Lombardi said that Jack Johnson was terrible when he got to the Kings and had to be, essentially, rebuilt from the ground up? Did Johnson like that Lombardi said this? No, he didn't, and said so publicly. (And Lombardi apologized, too; he's obviously prone to speaking his mind with all the attendent risks of that.) But when the Johnson incident occurred, everyone concluded that Johnson would soon be traded, that Lombardi couldn't say that about a player he likes or values.
That's his style though. And, really, these are the kinds of conversations that go on behind the scenes all the time. We just don't usually hear about them. The Penner softball quote is both vintage Lombardi and exactly the kind of thing I would expect GMs to say to their staff behind closed doors about fifty times a day. As I said in a post a few months ago, this is Lombardi talking the way we talk -- like a sports fan.
My translation of the quote: Penner is expected to be a dominant top-six power forward next year and the only reason he wasn't a dominant top-six power forward this last year is that he was not prepared.
The difference between what he said re Penner and what he has said repeatedly re Anze Kopitar's conditioning or Drew Doughty's conditioning is that he appears to be much more upset about Penner's demonstrated lack of preparedness. In Doughty's or Kopitar's case, he was discussing further potential that is expected over and above a pretty high level of achievement. In Penner's case, he's responding to the fact that Penner didn't show up at all.
And that's not a breaking news item.
Nor is it a surprise that Lombardi is unhappy about it.
And he's already said Penner has to show up in shape and ready to go.
The only surprise -- which is no surprise at all if you know how Lombardi talks -- is that he can be hyperbolic and/or sarcastic about it.
Given how double-plus ungood Penner was in this past playoffs, I am strangely confident that Penner will show up next year. Penner - Ryan Smyth - Scott Parse - Kyle Clifford is a better left side than we've had in awhile.