Reader Eli Asks – Are We Better Off Without Dustin Penner?

It’s always fun when a reader feels so passionate about a subject, that he or she takes the time to write an article and sends it to us for consideration. One of our readers, Eli, has strong opinions on Dustin Penner. When I first read this, my initial reaction was, “there is a lot of truth here…and some conclusions for which he will get a little grief.” So, read away, it’s a long one, and give Eli your unedited thoughts.

Following last season’s first round exit at the hands of San Jose, the Kings organization took a number of steps in the offseason, including the massive trade for Mike Richards and signing Simon Gagne, to improve the team from playoff caliber to Stanley Cup contender. Those moves, along with the Drew Doughty drama that captivated (and frustrated) most Kings fans, were the story of the offseason. However, the Kings, 16 games into the ’11-’12 season, sit ninth in the Western Conference and three points out of the Pacific lead (but Dallas has a game in hand). This is not how it’s supposed to be.

We can blame the coaching, management, or the players, but ultimately, it’s on all three parties to contribute to a winning team. Since management and the coaching staff have not significantly changed recently (not to imply they don’t have a hand in the Kings’ struggles of late), I can’t help but look at the roster and try to find ways my team could improve. This brings me to the question that has been raised repeatedly since before last season ended – a question I’m certain all Kings fans have asked themselves and each other. Are the Kings better off without Dustin Penner?

Rich Hammond recently interviewed Dean Lombardi about the recent struggles being faced by the Kings. At one point he asked him about Penner’s struggles. Dean characterized Penner’s conditioning as “not in elite shape but he certainly made the effort to get in average shape, and he is continuing here.” This highlights an important fact:

Dustin Penner is being paid like an above average player, and he is being played like an above average player, but his conditioning is average at best and his stats are below pedestrian.

For a “top six” forward (and projected 25-30 goal scorer) to have one point more than the team’s goaltender after 14 games is pathetic. Let’s not forget that he doesn’t use his size they way he should, often fails to finish a check (if he throws one), and fails to crash the net frequently. So what can be done? There are four options: waive him, trade him, scratch him from the lineup, or assign him to the AHL affiliate in Manchester.

If Lombardi chooses to waive Penner, it would mean any other team with enough cap space could potentially claim him and use him against us. It would also mean a roster and lineup spot would open up and some moves would have to be made to find a replacement. This would have the added benefits of our not having to pay all of Penner’s salary, allowing us to find a more effective option instead of him, and would free up cap space. However, it could be problematic because he still has immense potential, which could manifest upon being claimed by another team, and waiving him would leave the Kings scrambling to find someone effective who would not disrupt the chemistry preexisting in the lines. Lombardi might also be loath to waive Penner considering that he gave up a top prospect and high draft picks to get him, though. Plus, his superiors might not approve and I doubt Lombardi would want to jeopardize his employment with that move.

Lombardi could also dangle Penner as trade bait but, in all honesty, I don’t know if there is huge demand for a still slightly overweight, non-backchecking, power forward with average conditioning, two points in 14 games, and a $4mil a year contract. What could we get for that? Prospects? Almost certainly not. Draft picks? If so, probably nothing higher than a third rounder. Actual players? Maybe, but would that be anyone we want? The downsides would likely be that Penner, like other Kings to be traded away, could regain his magical spark (think Moulson or Purcell), and that the Kings probably wouldn’t get much, if anything, in return.

Terry Murray could maybe make Penner a healthy scratch for a couple of games. With some players, getting yanked from the lineup has a motivating effect and tends to bring out the best in them. That’s only some players, though, and Terry Murray hasn’t shown himself to be the greatest motivator out there. But I digress. We could stick Penner in the press box for a couple of games and continue to pay him money to do nothing. No open roster spot, no return, no gain (unless you believe in addition by subtraction).

Lastly, the Kings could send Penner down to the AHL. I’m on board with that. I propose we send Penner to Manchester until he can get his game back. Not as punishment for sucking, but to give him a chance to play without all the pressure he is undoubtedly facing and get his shit together against some weaker competition. This is pretty much a win-win.

He will still have to go through waivers on his way down, but I don’t think anyone would want to claim him based on his performance since the Kings acquired him. If he is claimed, we are off the hook for at least part of his contract and free of the dead weight. If he goes unclaimed, we still pay the man, but at least he gets a chance to find his game again in the AHL, where he can’t hold back the Kings and lets another player get a chance to contribute. And hey, if he pulls a Souray and comes back guns blazing, even better! The only downside to that would be if he regains his previous form and we do call him back up, he would be subject to claim on re-entry waivers. Even if he were claimed then, though, it would still free up about $2mil the Kings could use in a trade or in the offseason (assuming we don’t actually win the Cup this year).

So firmly do I believe in the AHL path, that I say we could be better without Dustin Penner – at least temporarily.

Upon sending him down, we could redo the lines as such:

Gagne – Kopitar – Williams
Lewis – Richards – Brown
Richardson – Stoll – Clifford
Moreau/Parse – Fraser/Loktionov – Westgarth/Hunter

It’s extreme, I know, but bear with me for a second and I’ll try to explain.

I won’t discuss the Kopitar line. This line (and by that I mean Kopi) is the only line that has been producing anything during this skid. No need to over-tinker.

The Richards line will add Trevor Lewis at LW, in place of Penner/Parse/???. It may seem bold, because Lewis spends so much time on the third and fourth lines, but I think he, as the resident speedster on the team, would be an excellent complement to this line. Think about it: 1) the Richards line is being used as the shutdown line; 2) Penner and Parse are not and have not been excellent forecheckers or defenders; 3) Lewis is fast and he plays the PK (meaning he is a good defender); 4) he can get in on the forecheck and create havoc for opposing defenders making it harder for them to get the puck out of their zone; 5) Brown and Richards are both good defenders and they can score, so when that’s coupled with Lewis, who can get in on the dump and chase the puck down, it gives our chances for substantial offensive zone possessions a boost. That, in turn, should hopefully allow our D to join the party and get the Kings more scoring chances. Granted, Lewis hasn’t shown that he is top six caliber offensively, but if either Mitchell-Doughty or Scuderi-Johnson is out there on defense when this line is out, turning defense into offense should be possible.

The Stoll line gets Clifford and Richardson. Granted, Clifford hasn’t had the best year, but he’s young, he skates hard, he hits, he fights, and he needs a chance to get his game going. Plus, we really need a forward, aside from Brown, who can throw his body around a little, because certain 6’4″ 245 pound power forwards aren’t doing enough of it. Stoll is good, does his job well, and will stay on this line because his propensity for winning defensive zone draws is very high. Plus, his value on the powerplay is key too, so let’s not get him so tired, right? Richardson skates hard, is physical, can win draws if he has to, and can chip in some goals here and there in addition to playing any forward position.

The fourth line remains the energy line. Fraser showed he could contribute against Vancouver (and had his first goal as a King last night), but if Loktionov were called up he could create offense and play PP minutes too. Westgarth is trying to show he can actually play, like with that nifty assist on Clifford’s goal against Phoenix, Moreau is a gritty veteran but he takes too many bad penalties, Parse is Parse, and Hunter simply hasn’t looked up to form after the decent preseason that earned him the roster spot (though he did have an assist on Greene’s goal last night). This line will not get too much ice time unless we are up some, but Fraser is showing he can play and Loktionov could really use more NHL ice time to prepare him for the future as a fixture on the Kings.

What it boils down to is that, the way things are going, the Kings are better off without Penner. This is not a slight against him as a person, nor does it seek to attack his work ethic. He simply hasn’t produced for the Kings and there has to come a point where losses are cut. In something like 33 games with the Kings, he has scored two goals and six assists. Eight points. In something like 33 games he has 48 hits, 53 shots and, despite the Kings’ success on the PP this season, no PP points. He is only a minus 2 in that span, but that stat seems to only magnify the play of his linemates. Some might attribute this to the Terry Murray system, but consider: Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, Penner’s typical linemates until recently, have 35 and 42 shots this season, respectively, while Penner has 17.

The Kings are now almost a quarter of a way through a season where many considered them to be elite and some picked them as Cup contenders. If things aren’t panning out the way management (and the fans) wants, then decisions have to be made. If we won’t revamp our system, we have to at least trim the fat from the roster and give ourselves a chance by playing guys who might do a better job. It’s altogether possible that the Kings do send Penner down, do exactly what I laid out above, and continue to perform exactly the same. If that’s the case, though, at least we will know for certain that the coaching needs to be changed (personally, I already think it does), and we will give players like Lewis, Clifford, and to a lesser extent, Loktionov, a chance to show what got them spots on the team in the first place while gaining more experience and developing further.

Bold moves have were made in the offseason (I’m looking at you Doughty), and more need to be made to keep the team at optimum performance throughout the season and give it a shot at the Cup. Unfortunately, for Dustin Penner, that means time in a Monarchs sweater.

Note: Penner didn’t play 11/12 against Minnesota. Kings won 5-2. 12 different Kings had points. Kings outshot Wild 36-26. 1-5 on the PP. Most importantly, got the W. Coincidence, or evidence?

Categories: L.A. Kings News

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26 replies

  1. If Dean wants to move Penner, I would think that there would be interest around the league. Will he get another 1st back for LA, probably not, but that is due to how the Kings management has handled him. He’s produced everywhere but LA, something that could be said for a lot of players trying to play Murray’s “board-to-dot” style.

    Penner’s career average outside of LA (82 game season): 26 goals and 48 points. He has a high of 32 goals and 63 points.

    If you want offensive success in Murray’s system, you better be playing with Kopitar.

  2. I agree that Murray’s coaching system is stifling. Penner is not showing the laziness he was accused of at the tail end of last season. He’s not showing a lack of agressiveness. He is getting knocked off the puck a little more than I thought he would, but he’s going to the right areas, and taking shots.

    Not a lot of onetimers, and he isn’t picking up any garbage from the front. His play for the most part defensively has improved, while offensively he’s playing along the boards too much. Wish TM would put the former Philly players together, and let Kopi’s offensive prowess work its magic with Penner. Penner had shown some chemistry with Kopi, and it would be better than forcing a square peg into a round hole an Richards line.

    Wish we could get him going, but it’s not a perfect match for Penner, or the Kings. Problem is that the Kings can’t send him away, and if Penner just quits, he’ll ruin his career. For better or worse, he’s here for the season.

  3. In the 6th paragraph you seem to point out, and argue, that waiving him would likely not be an option. But then in paragraphs 9 and 10, you imply that we could send him down and he wouldn’t get claimed. I cannot fathom a situation in which some team wouldn’t claim him off waivers. At 4mil, he’s been a massive disappointment. At 2mil, he’s worth the gamble. If we could send him down without being claimed we’d have done so already.

    It’s quite clearly an issue of confidence ad i don’t think having him sit in the press box is the solution. He doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy that would be motivated by that tactic.

    We either trade him for whatever we can, or we ride it out and hope he can turn things around. I think, given his current value (or lack thereof), our only option is to feign confidence in his ability to right the ship and pray he does so in time help this team make a deep run. He might be more easily traded at the deadline to a team looking to rebuild. Say… NJ

    • Playoff points are ticking away. What ever comes of this needs to happen fairly quickly.

      Penner has played better lately, but in effect Penner’s errant passing has taken the Richards’ 5-5 offense out of the game. LA remains a one line club…

      As far as sending the man for conditioning, I doubt Penner would clear waivers. There are 9 teams with cap space, including the Islanders and Jets.

      I can not see DL licking his wounds (Turbert; a 1st and 2nd round picks) and walking away. I can however envision Penner as part of a package that would allow DL to declare victory and walk away

  4. I’m forget great requirements, but since Penned is on IR, isnt it conceivable to send him to Manchester on a conditioning stint? Its a fuck you, get your ass in gear move without having to risk losing him.

    • He’s already committed himself to the team in the off season. He moved closer to the practice facility. He’s being asked to play a “board-to-dot” game and hasn’t been a liability on defense. Sending him to Manchester won’t “fix” Murray’s system for Penner and he will still get few scoring chances per game, just like the rest of the team that isn’t on Kopitar’s line.

      The injuries are a big problem. He just starts to get a groove going and then has to sit for a few games.

      Kings will have to hope that he can improve by the time the playoffs roll around and can supply some secondary scoring in the playoffs. When your team struggles to score 2 goals a game, Kopitar is probably going to be involved in most of them and if you aren’t his line mate, you aren’t scoring.

      Until the Kings can get that extra goal consistently from their middle 6, Penner and the third line will struggle to get goals.

    • This guy looks like Penner but he is actually carrying the puck and skating hard. Are you sure it’s not someone else that looks like him on the Oilers cuz this looks nowhere near the Penner I’ve seen.

  5. “Gagne – Kopitar – Williams
    Lewis – Richards – Brown”

    … Let me see if I have this straight. Your answer for second line left wing is to say that the Kings are better off without Penner because he’s not scoring – and yet to replace him, you’re going to promote one of the few guys who’s scored fewer points than Penner has? Not only that, you have Loktionov listed at part-time fourth line center, along with Fraser?

    Are you Trevor Lewis’s mother? Mrs. Lewis, your son has 4 goals in 99 career games. He doesn’t belong as a top six forward for any team in the NHL. He has 41 goals in 182 games in the AHL. Over an 82 game season, that’s 18 goals a season. In the minors. Look – I like Trevor. He’s a good guy, as far as I know. But his role is to play defense and kill penalties, to get the puck out of his zone and out of danger. Playing him on the second line would make the offense worse than it is now. The Kings need MORE goals from that line, not fewer.

    Loktionov could really use more NHL ice time to prepare him for the future as a fixture on the Kings

    … OK. So why do you have him penciled in as your part-time fourth line center? And how would you propose he get PP minutes? By pulling Lewis off the line?

    Fraser is showing he can play

    … He’s played all of two games, right??? He has a goal, yes. That’s cool. Problem is, he had three all of last season. He might have hit his peak already.

    Note: Penner didn’t play 11/12 against Minnesota. Kings won 5-2. 12 different Kings had points. Kings outshot Wild 36-26. 1-5 on the PP. Most importantly, got the W. Coincidence, or evidence?

    … They also lost 4-2 against Buffalo without him. Coincidence, or evidence? See how using the results of a small sample size (like one game, for instance) as a way of determining whether a team is better off without a player can be a bit unfulfilling? The Kings are 8-7-2 overall, without the shootout, and they’re 6-6-2 with Penner. Not too big of a difference, is it?

    It’s altogether possible that the Kings do send Penner down, do exactly what I laid out above, and continue to perform exactly the same. If that’s the case, though, at least we will know for certain that the coaching needs to be changed

    … For certain??? What about the other personnel? Are they blameless? What if someone else goes into a slump? Do they send him down? What if more than one player is struggling offensively? Do you automatically blame the head coach if it’s anyone not named Dustin Penner? Why? See the logical pitfall you fall into when you try to single out one guy on a team that’s struggling to stay over .500?

    Bold moves have were made in the offseason (I’m looking at you Doughty)

    … That was a great bold move, and in case you haven’t noticed, Doughty has 7 points in 12 games, right about at his career scoring pace, despite having missed the oh-so-important training camp.

    The Stoll line gets Clifford and Richardson.

    … In closing, I agree with this line 100%.

    • Your continuous mocking of training camp is tortured.

      • … Oh COME ON. Continuous mocking? Hardly. Hey, if I had a choice, I’d obviously prefer Drew go through it than not go through it. Happy?

        It does matter, but do I think that it has the significance that a lot of people added to it? Nope. Especially in the case of someone like Doughty. Does Superman need a barbell? Heh.

        I can’t wait for the rest of the season, and to see what he’s going to do. Already he’s over a half a point per game, his defensive numbers are looking great, and he’s just getting warmed up.

        • I agree with you. All the issues of DD missing camp, getting injured, and being slow to the task, will all be moot a couple of weeks from now, and won’t even be issues anymore as DD gets more playing time. In a handful of games DD’s already caught up to the pack, and will surpass them in no time. JJ’s played great, and yet offnesively DD’s only 1 point behind him for the team lead in points by a defensemen, and yet has played 5 games less, and missed camp.

        • He has finally started the Come around, it just took about 19 10 (phone sucks and fingers are fat = 19 instead of 10) more games than I would Have liked.

          Your Superman comment is Well taken and funny, I just hope Drew himself doesn’t have too much of that attitude.

          • He has finally started the Come around, it just took about 19 more games than I would Have liked.

            … LOL. The team hasn’t played 19 games. And, he was injured too, remember. Missed seven games because of that.

            Come on, all things considered, he’s getting it done. He just wasn’t scoring in the early part of his season; he was still playing good hockey out there. It’s going to come together for him, and you’re gonna see it. I think Drew’s attitude is right where it should be – he has the confidence/arrogance that goes along with being one of the team’s best players. His mental approach is solid, probably the most solid on the team next to Kopitar.

            To get back on topic, Penner’s going to be alright if he can get himself healthy. If he pots 15 or so in the second half of the season, and finds his groove in the playoffs, that second line will be a terror and everyone will be singing this guy’s praises. There will be crow to serve to everyone. He can still play the game. No one knows if he was 100% before this current injury or not; people can only speculate on it. I’m not willing to give up on him yet; not even close.

          • Ugh. Mistype. Meant to write 10.

          • I don’t think Doughty was playing great hockey his first 5-7 games, not really. His defense wasn’t where it should have been, too many mental lapses. In his last 5 games his d game has come around and his O has come around in the last 3-4, so yes he is starting to put it together. Missing camp was the end of the world, but he should have been where he just got to on day 1, but its spilled milk now.

            As for Penner, I think his issue is mostly confidence based. He thinks he got the monkey off his back by having a decent blind shot of his tipped in by Gagne, but I was skeptical when he said that. As for his health being a cause, I have no idea, it seems like he is easily hurt and heals on the slower side of things. Who knows if he’s had a nagging injury, certainly he hasn’t had anything reoccurring with us.

            I’m not ready to give up on him, but I do think he needs a kick in the pants when he gets healthy again. His game was looking a bit better in his last few games.

            When he gets healthy, I would also make one line change. I swap Williams and Brown. Williams has been struggling lately and I’m ready to see Richards with a more skilled look on his wing. I don’t want to break up Gags and Kopi, but I think our first line is running into a small problem of not having that primarily physical presence that Brown can bring.

  6. You know what’s gonna happen right if we get rid of Penner? The team he gets sent to he’ll start scoring goals there and we’ll be scratching our heads and asses as to why in the world he couldn’t do that shit here.

    If he doesn’t want to be here then why the dedication over the summer? I don’t get this guy.

  7. I like the idea of sending him down to Manchester to regroup. Just for a tiny second I am going to take his side….he knows he is under pressure from the team/coach’s/fans right now and I think that pretty much must stick in your mind a lot while you are playing. Sometimes we set goals we think people should meet but we are not him. I would not want to assume that kind of head trip.

    So I like Eli’s thought of the trip to Manchester…time to refocus, work on the conditioning and weight and get his mind back to working on the game.

    Just chill out and think about his hockey playing skills and what he knows he can do with them.

  8. I am about to pee my pants with excitement about this game. We need to score early and often. No scoreless first.

    I am excited for the Loktionov Brownie Riches line. Excited for #26 Voynov. Please score a goal Kopi and this night will be glorious. Doughty and Johnson defense at its best please. Lastly no bad penalties. Make sure those ducklings deserve it.

    Staples here I come. GO KINGS GO!!!


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