If Todd Bertuzzi signed in Anaheim thinking a low pressure, quiet, hockey outpost would be a comfortable situation to get his career back on track, he may be sadly mistaken.
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Thursday morning, the Ducks chose not to match Edmonton's five-year, $21.5 million offer sheet for Dustin Penner, the man many consider to be the next Bertuzzi.
Even Ducks general manager Brian Burke, in between comments that his (former?) friend Kevin Lowe was "stupid" -- apparently "gutless" and "classless" were not enough -- admitted Bertuzzi's signing put the Ducks in a tough position when it comes to resigning Penner.
Bertuzzi signed for $8 million over two years -- just $125,000 less per season than Penner's offer sheet.
Last season, Bertuzzi played 15 games, scoring two goals and adding 8 assists for 11 points.
Penner played all 82 games, scoring 29 goals and adding 16 assists for 45 points.
Yet all along, it was clear Burke would sign Bertuzzi. After the 2005-06 season, Burke hinted to season ticket holders at the select-a-seat he would go after Bertuzzi when he was an unrestricted free agent. Although he said he could not say much because of tampering, his intentions were clear.
Bertuzzi had five solid seasons for Burke in Vancouver, including a career high 97 points in 2002-03, but his career has been derailed by injuries since the lockout. Most troubling, the biggest problem has been his back, an injury that often fails to heal completely.
For $1 million plus incentives, Bertuzzi would be a good signing. For $4 million per season -- nearly as much as Teemu Selanne made the past two seasons combined while scoring 98 goals -- the contract made no sense at the time.
And now, the man who seemed ready to take Bertuzzi's torch as one of the game's better finesse power forwards -- if there is such a thing -- was essentially let go because of Bertuzzi's signing.
Oh sure, many will say there is no correlation. But look at the numbers -- Bertuzzi is locked up for two years. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are restricted free agents after next season, and after watching their linemate get a huge payday, do not count on either of them signing before July 1.
If Burke matched the Penner offer sheet, he could be put in the position of losing one, or both, of the other two young stars if an offer sheet came their way next summer. After all, Bertuzzi's money -- as well as the money of 38-year-old defenseman Mathieu Schneider (two years, $11.25 million) -- will still be on the books at the time.
Most of Anaheim's contracts last beyond the end of this coming season, so Burke had little option but to let Penner walk.
After the Bertuzzi signing, that is.
Nobody wishes ill will on Bertuzzi, and most Ducks fans are hoping he finds his form of the early part of the decade. Yet by the same token, Burke has lost several of the blue chip prospects he inherited when he took the reins two years ago.
Joffrey Lupul -- gone in the Chris Pronger trade. This one made sense, as the chance to get Pronger was irresistible.
Shane O'Brien -- traded for a mid-to-late first round draft pick.
Penner -- lost to an offer sheet.
Many are saying Penner will be under intense pressure in Edmonton, and they point to Lupul as an example. After a 28 goal campaign in Anaheim, Lupul scored just 16 goals and tallied 28 points with the Oilers last season.
Lupul was sent to Philadelphia for Joni Pitkanen, and many feel Penner could follow suit by failing to live up to expectations. However, there is no relevant comparison.
Lupul is an Edmonton boy, and his grandfather is even a minority owner of the Oilers. The pressure of playing in your hometown can be overwhelming anywhere, but in Edmonton, the pressure is ratcheted up a few notches.
Edmonton is a hockey town with incredible tradition. Players will be recognized everywhere they go, and playing there is like playing in a fish bowl. To be honest, it is an incredible environment and is one of the best places to play in the NHL.
Sure, the weather gets a little chilly and there is a lot of travel involved, but it is an intense hockey environment.
But for Lupul, the environment may have been a little too intense. In addition to being a highly touted local, Lupul was viewed as the key cog the Oilers received for Pronger. A pressure packed situation for anyone, never mind a 23-year-old hometown boy.
Penner hails from Winkler, Manitoba, a prairie town best known for cold weather and a strong Mennonite community. He is used to the weather and the culture of the area, but he does not have the hometown pressure -- not to mention, he is completely separate from the Pronger deal.
It is hard not to be happy for Penner. A young player who could not even make his local junior team, he went to a small junior college in Bottineau, North Dakota, and then played a year at the University of Maine before being signed to an entry level contract by Anaheim.
Now, he is incredibly wealthy, a young emerging superstar, and is on top of the world.
North America loves success stories and self-made people. Penner fits the bill as well as anyone.
Regardless of what Burke says about Lowe's recent performance, the fact is, the Oilers always find a way to be competitive. Two bad months at the end of last season seem to have made people forget about the Western Conference Championship the previous year.
Not to mention years of impressive playoff berths while the Oilers struggled financially, in large part because of the then-weak Canadian dollar.
The Oilers are no longer a small-market team. Their revenues were reported to be seventh of the league's 30 teams last season, and the loonie is nearing par with the American greenback.
Everyone has seemingly written off the Oilers for next year, but never count out an Edmonton squad. It is a hockey town, and hockey towns produce consistently strong hockey teams.
It was not desperation on Edmonton's part that landed Penner in Oil Country. Rather, it is a commitment to win, and a commitment to win now.
And suddenly, those Anaheim-Edmonton tilts appear nearly as compelling as they appeared last year at this time.
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