In the midst of all the Dustin Penner drama, I started thinking to myself why would a well respected veteran general manager like Kevin Lowe go through so much trouble to bring over the 25 year-old Manitoba native to Edmonton. Penner, who appeared in all 82 games with the Anaheim Ducks last season, finished with 29 goals and 16 assists in his first full NHL season and played in all 21 playoff games with 8 points, which led to a Stanley Cup victory for the South California franchise. Lowe, before acquiring Penner, had already started some controversy when he went after Buffalo Sabres restricted free agent, Tomas Vanek. After a few days of speculation, the Sabres decided to match Lowe’s offer and keep Vanek in a Sabres jersey. It’s not hard to see why Lowe would go after Vanek, 84 points in 82 games in his second NHL season, 10 points in 16 playoff games, and an all around good attitude makes him a desirable player for any team. But then things started to get interesting, when news of Lowe signing Dustin Penner to an offer sheet of $21.25 million US over five years broke out. Ducks GM Brian Burke quickly addressed the media with regards to Lowe and everyone felt the uneasy tension between the two. Seven days passed and Burke decided he wouldn’t match Lowe’s offer thus Penner became an Edmonton Oiler. I kept thinking what Lowe saw in Penner that other general managers didn’t and then it came to me, he was trying to fill a void left by former Oiler, Ryan Smyth. Smyth, also known as “Captain Canada”, had left Edmonton to become a New York Islander at the trade deadline and when the free agent frenzy began, he was quickly signed by the Colorado Avalanche to a five year, $31.2 million contract. If you take a look at both Penner and Smyth they’re actually quite similar, both play a gritty, grind type game, in front of the net using their size as a weapon, crushing the opposing team, and both players are great examples of what are called “power forwards”.
It’s true, in today’s NHL there is a shortage of power forwards, if you think about only a handful come to mind, Joe Thornton, Todd Bertuzzi, Jarome Iginla, Brendan Shanahan and, of course, Penner and Smyth. It’s also a fact that these kinds of players are the league’s hottest commodities and thus massive multi-year offers are made. Especially after the lockout, it’s been harder and harder to find a power forward that doesn’t mind getting his feet wet but I think Penner is a clear exception. At 6’4, 245 pounds, Penner is one of the most intimidating forwards in game today, and the great thing about him? He doesn’t mind dropping the gloves or playing physical when needed and at the same time he can also score goals and make plays. Instead of calling Kevin Lowe a backstabber or hypocrite, I’d call him somewhat of a genius. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Penner tallying 70-80 points by the 2008-2009 season just because of the grinding physical style he plays.
I really think Lowe has struck gold with Penner, at approximately $4.25 million a season he’s not exactly a steal but I believe he’ll be worth the money in his time with the Oilers. Penner has the size, skill and determination to become the league’s best power forwards and I bet he’ll do just that. I can see him becoming an instant fan favorite in Edmonton, like Bertuzzi in Vancouver, Thornton in San Jose and Iginla in Calgary. Edmonton will never forget such an impact player like Ryan Smyth, but with a guy like Dustin Penner in the locker room, it’ll definitely ease the wound.