The further that the Los Angeles Kings progress in the playoffs, the more I worry that Bryan Murray’s interest in impending unrestricted free agent Dustin Penner will grow with each goal or point that he adds to his totals.
Murray’s interest in the player dates back to 2004, when as the GM in Anaheim, he signed Penner as a collegiate free agent out of the University of Maine.
Penner spent the bulk of the following two seasons playing with Anaheim’s AHL affiliates but in his 2006/07 rookie season, he put up some impressive totals – 29 goals and 45 points in 82 games played – and helped Anaheim defeat Ottawa in the Stanley Cup Finals. (The bastards.) As a restricted free agent, Penner signed an offer sheet with the Edmonton Oilers (worth $21.25 million over five years) that summer which the Ducks chose not to match – in effect giving the Ducks Edmonton’s first, second and third round picks as compensation.
Through his first two seasons in Edmonton, he struggled to live up to the expectations that came with being an expensive player; both in terms of real dollars and the forfeited assets that management gave up to acquire his services.
Yet, having come off of a 17 goal and 37 point 2008/09 campaign, Murray, now GM of the Ottawa Senators, showed renewed interest in his former player.
When a disgruntled Dany Heatley requested a trade in the summer of 2009, Murray had arranged a trade (with or without the Heatley camp’s permission depending on who you ask) that would send the malcontent to Edmonton in exchange for Ladislav Smid, Andrew Cogliano and Penner. Ultimately, after being wooed at his home in Kelowna by President Kevin Lowe, and GM Steve Tambellini, the effing All-Star vetoed the trade so that he could facilitate a trade to a San Jose – a city in which he could proverbially screw the pooch in relative obscurity.
Since that summer, Penner was relatively productive in Edmonton – scoring 32 in 2009/10 and 21 goals before being moved to the Los Angeles Kings at the 2011 NHL Trade Deadline. However, in his time in Los Angeles, Penner’s offensive struggles have been well documented. In his 84 games with the Kings, Penner has scored 9 goals and 23 points. In other words, he has tallied 7 fewer goals and 14 fewer points than the maligned Bobby Butler.
Although the possibility of adding a big bodied presence up front who can play on the power play and potentially fill a spot on one of the team’s top two lines is tantalizing, concerns over his work habits, skating ability and the fact that his offensive totals have strikingly disappeared since arriving in Los Angeles, are real. Albeit, should Daniel Alfredsson retire, Penner could act as a presumably inexpensive buffer of sorts so that one or two of the team’s forward prospects aren’t rushed. And by playing him with Jason Spezza, one could hope that the talented first line center could inflate Penner’s totals enough to make him a sought after trade target come deadline day.
Is that best-case scenario enticing enough for Murray to want to bring Penner into the fold?
I am not convinced. For a 30-year old player who has only surpassed the 50-point threshold once in his NHL career, it’s probably a tad naïve to believe that Penner can sort himself out while playing under the microscope here in Ottawa. Hell, in light of the Senators’ current situation in which fans and the media will expect another playoff berth, would he even be a trade commodity next season if the Senators were fighting for a playoff spot?
Let him be some other organization’s reclamation project.