|Pennermania, circa 2011|
Those just might be the least honest words to ever appear on MayorsManor.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of what’s turned out to be one of the most disappointing trades in LA Kings history.
After struggling for long stretches in the first half of last season the team went on a hot streak in the month of February and GM Dean Lombardi swung big at the trade deadline, picking up the most coveted name on the market – Dustin Penner.
While Lombardi paid a steep price – prospect Colten Teubert, a first round draft pick last year and a third rounder this year – conventional wisdom, at the time, was it was a good trade. The Kings added a proven goal scorer (he had averaged 25+ goals the prior four seasons) and they didn’t have to move anybody off of their current roster.
The fan sentiment around Penner today is far different than it was a year ago though.
With a goal vs. Vancouver, in just his second contest wearing a Kings uniform, he began a career-best six-game point streak. Pennermania was truly running wild in Los Angeles.
Since then, he has five goals and thirteen points, and most of the cheers have turned to boos.
While I didn’t speak with Lombardi this morning, something tells me he would say the same thing, if not worse.
Over the summer, Penner dedicated more time to off-season training than he ever had before and has little in the way of offensive numbers to show for it. As the Kings approached yesterday’s trade deadline, some speculated he wouldn’t be long for the team – either via waivers or by being dealt in a package to another team.
“I never thought I’d be put on waivers,” said Penner. “But, as for being traded or thrown in with JJ (Jack Johnson), I thought that could happen. Waivers never really crossed my mind – only when I read your twitter account.”
Scoring more goals would be an obvious answer to the next question, so I asked Penner if there was anything else he could have done to make the last year more enjoyable.
“Maybe not put so much pressure on myself,” he began. “I think when you get inside your own head you tend to do more damage than good.”
Coach Darryl Sutter has tried getting inside there as well. Recently, he made comments about Penner needing to ‘work his ass off’ if he ever wanted to get back in the line-up. That came during a stretch where #25 was scratched five out of six games.
“You know where you stand with Darryl,” Penner said. “I think I’ve been able to do that better [work hard], more consistently, over the last few games. He just wanted me to do it more often and not have a lull in my game – where I go from one game, like Tampa, where I played really well, to Florida, where I wasn’t the same guy. That’s what he wants, no drop off in my game. He’s made it a point to help me understand that.”
Like a lot of the Kings players, Penner was very complimentary towards Sutter in the first few weeks following the team’s coaching change. Given what’s gone down over the last month, has that relationship changed at all?
“I think it’s changed for everybody, and not in a negative way,” Penner explained. “When you go to a new team, once you get past that introductory phase, you start learning how to deal with each person as an individual. He’s been helpful with everybody. For myself, I still feel the same way as I did about him when he first got here.”
Over the last two games, Penner has nine shots on goal (five vs. Chicago and four vs. Colorado). That’s quite the increase from his seven shots total in the previous six games. Could being back on a line with Jarret Stoll have anything to do with this?
“It’s a pleasure to play with Stolly. Just by watching him work I think it increases the production of everybody on his line. When you’re on the ice with him you can see how focused he is and how intense he is, it rubs off on you.”
After all that’s gone down in the last year – with 19 games left in the regular season, a playoff spot far from guaranteed and a summer which will see him become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st – is there any scenario where he can see himself back in a Kings jersey next season?
“I love the organization and my teammates here,” Penner shared. “I would jump at the opportunity to be part of it. It’s something I think about in the back of my mind. But, realistically, you can only control what you can control. So, I don’t worry about what I can’t.”
As you might expect, finding a way to get the Kings into the playoffs is the current priority. He’s hoping for a ‘deep run’ and went on to say that if he was writing the script, he’d be a ‘contributing factor.’
February 28, 2012 was just another day though. One year after the trade that brought him from Edmonton to LA, Penner wasn’t looking backwards.
“I woke up today thinking we need a win. We need to beat the Wild and we need two points.”
Happy Anniversary. How about a goal to celebrate?