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Jay Feaster’s Blog: No pity for Oilers over Penner’s struggles

Dustin Penner signed with the Oilers in the summer of 2007. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Dustin Penner signed with the Oilers in the summer of 2007. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

That giant cough you heard last week when Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish called out, embarrassed and otherwise lambasted 2007 restricted free agent offer sheet signee Dustin Penner was the sound of 27 or so NHL GMs snickering over poor Mac-T’s predicament.

Those smirks may have been outright guffaws out of Buffalo and wherever Brian Burke was at the time; however, I am certain not too many of my former colleagues were pitying Mac-T and his under-performing asset.

For most GMs there was probably a sense of, “it looks good on you, Edmonton.”

That was my initial reaction to his comments, and as I read more and saw Penner’s statement to the effect that he had “always had a problem” with the “competitiveness aspect” of his game, I had to snicker even more.

Mac-T complained Penner’s legs are “inconsistent” and he needs more “horsepower.” He bemoaned Penner’s fitness level, not just presently, but since Day 1. He also noted, donning his GM’s cap, that when the Oil signed Penner to that five year, $21.25 million Group II offer sheet in August 2007, they thought it was a “starting point” and not an ending point.

If only I could feel bad for the Oilers and their serious case of buyer’s remorse.

What, exactly, did Edmonton think it was purchasing with that offer sheet? Penner was a 6-foot-4, 245-pound winger who had played two seasons of college hockey, two seasons in the American League and one full season in the NHL (plus 19 games in part of one other season).

In his full season he posted 29 goals and 45 points and was a minus-2 in 82 games. Prior to that, he had scored four goals, three assists and seven points and was a plus-3 in 19 games played.

After signing the offer sheet and landing in Edmonton, Penner played in 82 games in 2007-08 and recorded 23 goals and 47 points and was a minus-12, averaging almost three minutes more ice time per game than he had in Anaheim.

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How could Edmonton possibly know for certain, based on one good (not great, just good) season, that Penner’s 2006-07 campaign was the “starting point?” How can one season foretell a trend, especially when it happens in the context of magical team success?

Why did Anaheim not match the offer sheet? Did they know something about the player as a result of having signed him as a free agent out of college and spending two years developing him in the minors before giving him his NHL shot? Did they know his legs were “inconsistent” and his conditioning sometimes an issue? Did they know that the “competitiveness” part of his game has “always been a problem?”

That’s the reason GMs snicker. Edmonton didn’t know, but they hoped. They paid an exorbitant price and hoped for the best. They now have buyer’s remorse.

While Edmonton’s offer sheets were well within the rules and complied fully with the CBA, the fact remains those offer sheets caused one NHL team to dramatically overpay to retain one of its rising star players (and do so well ahead of when it otherwise might have had to budget to do so). And another NHL team to lose the financial and organizational investment it had made in the development of a good (not great) young player. The offer sheets ultimately changed the entire Group II landscape in the NHL for all teams, eliminating the one leverage point GMs had on players coming off their entry-level deals.

From my vantage point, it looks good on you, Edmonton!

Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.

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