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Oilers Watch: Penner can't be blamed for all Edmonton's woes

Poor Dustin Penner.

Okay, perhaps “poor” isn’t the ideal descriptor of the Oilers left winger, what with his $4.25-million-a-season-for-this-and-the-next-three-seasons salary and all. Still, you’ve got to feel somewhat sorry for a guy who is firmly inside the coach’s doghouse and is being singled out for Edmonton’s so-so start to the 2008-09 campaign.

I mean, have you looked at the Oilers’ plus/minus statistics lately? Have any idea who leads the team in that category, with a plus-8 that is a full five points better than his closest teammate?

You got it – Dustin Penner. The same dude Craig MacTavish introduced to the underside of Edmonton’s careening bus last week when the coach called the player “not competitive enough or fit enough to help” the team.

In fairness, plus/minus can be one of the more misleading statistics in pro sports. And there is much to be said for making players accountable for their conditioning and performance.

But it isn’t only Penner who has caused the Oilers to lose five of their last eight games. He isn’t the root cause of Edmonton’s 27th-ranked penalty kill, nor his team’s poor faceoff percentage (at 46.5 percent efficiency, the third-worst in the league).

No, it has truly been a team effort that’s put the Oilers in the middle of the Western Conference pack. And maybe that’s where Edmonton deserves to be at this point in the franchise’s development, in spite of MacTavish’s pre-season crowing that his squad could legitimately challenge for a championship.

Whatever the case, the last thing either Penner or the team needs right now is for him to be isolated and ostracized for his sins, however distasteful MacTavish finds them.

Until he does improve, Penner is virtually untradeable because of his contract – and there’s no chance management will dump his salary in the American League.

Really, Penner and the Oilers are stuck with each other for a fair time to come. And though the marriage between the two seems rocky, it is in the best interests of both parties to work things out.

This column also appears in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.

Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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