Dustin Penner is one of those players that can be described as a lot of different things to a lot of different people. He’s universally loved by his teammates and has likely frustrated every coach he’s played for. Many fans love him, others want to love him, but resist because of his point totals. Physically, he has all the tools most people look for in a modern NHL player.
And nobody puts more pressure on Penner than Penner himself.
One simple goal may have earned him his most recent contract with the Kings. After a largely disappointing 2011-12 season – one he entered in the best shape of his career and with high expectations – Playoff Penner was born in the spring of last year. His overtime goal in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final will go down as one of the biggest goals in team history. Not only because it sent the kings to the Stanley Cup Final, but it may have convinced everybody that another year of Penner in LA was probably a good thing.
Now, two weeks away from unrestricted free agency, the 30-year old left wing is at perhaps the biggest crossroad of a career already filled with more twists and turns than the best amusement ride roller coaster.
One thing is clear though – you don’t want to poke the bear.
In the midst of heavy soul searching and weighing his next move, Penner took to twitter to share his outrage at an online article filled with lies about his personal life.
“It’s not that I was upset at Rant Sports,” he explained, referring to the online site where the article was published. “Everyone thinks that he [the author] speculated that the Kings don’t want me back, or whatever he said that was hockey related. What bugs me is that – just have some integrity. When you claim that someone sold two houses and then sold his ex-wife’s house as well…which wasn’t even a house that I actually bought, I rather rented it. It just bugged me! He can say whatever he wants, but don’t just say, ‘well, he sold two houses.’ Actually, no, I don’t own two houses. And you should have a little more accountability for yourself, let alone whatever it is you’re doing as a profession.”
Oh, Penner wasn’t done. Far from it.
“To just claim something like that and then say – ‘Usually he’s a reliable source’ [after being publicly called out for the error]…Well, how about you just go check the city registry or whatever, and see ‘Oh, does he actually own two houses? Did he sell two houses? Maybe it’s not true.’ Figure it out! You can’t just make stuff like that up. I wasn’t necessarily picking on him, although that’s what it looked like. It was just, hey everybody, no one likes being talked about, especially when it’s with stuff that isn’t true. You can speculate about my off-ice stuff, and I know there’s a lot of TMZ-type journalism out there that they can just say whatever they want. I meant to make it funny and say,’Hey listen, I didn’t sell two houses, okay?’ Don’t make stuff up or don’t say that my agent talked to someone else. I just wanted to snuff that out because… because it annoyed me.”
Over the last few years, more and more ‘media’ seem to operate in this manner. Because of the growth in internet sites and social media outlets – and especially with large numbers of people repeating things they’ve read without crediting the original source – it’s become a new battle that athletes are having to deal with more and more everyday.
“I think it’s been an adjustment for everybody,” said Penner. “Obviously, twitter is probably how a lot of people get their news now because it comes so quickly. But, before you start taking things as facts, you should check a couple other news sources as a smart person. For me, I just go on twitter and see – ‘OK, TSN said this, from a Bob McKenzie source.’ He has integrity and he’s going to make sure he’s almost 100% right if he’s going to tweet something….(More) media should think – ‘I better make sure before I send this out there because there will be a lot of (unintelligible) headed back in my direction if I’m wrong about it.’ People like Rant Sports, they have to learn that. If you’re going to have 12,000 followers and feed the mouths, so to speak, of that many people, you should be a little more accurate than you are. I don’t hate the guy, I was trying to help him. I was doing my good deed for the day.”
It should be noted that the Rant Sports article has been heavily modified in the last 24 hours. So, mission accomplished.
With that settled, let’s move on to the real news. What’s in his immediate future and where might he be playing next season? If you’ve followed along on MayorsManor lately, you know all about the Kings’ cap problems and the fact there isn’t much money available – despite GM Dean Lombardi’s hope of bringing everybody back.
“Obviously, I’m curious about my future as well,” Penner remarked. “I’ve been on a few teams and done the ‘readjustment phase’ where you come to a new team and try to find your way. I love playing for the Kings and would love to play for them again. That being said, you have to do your due-diligence on both sides – where Dean, he has to balance numbers and a salary cap, and I have to see where I fit in. Every guy wants to play and hopefully we can work something out.”
After scoring just two goals in 33 regular season games, most in-the-know doubted Penner would be part of the team’s plans moving forward. Yet, like a classic villain in a scary movie, just when you think he’s gone forever, Playoff Penner reappeared.
With three goals this post-season, including another series-ending game winner vs. St. Louis in the first round, Lombardi was interested enough to reach out to Penner’s agent recently for a ‘feeling out’ phone call.
Given the cap situation, would Penner agree to another one-year deal? This year might be different. Last summer, part of the reason he agreed to it was because the opportunity to defend the Stanley Cup (something he didn’t get to do after winning his first Cup in Anaheim) intrigued him.
“Well that was just part of me coming back. The main reason was because I love my teammates, playing with those guys. We have a great group of individuals and that goes from my teammates up to the coaching staff and up to general management, just the organization as a whole. It was a great experience for me to come back, but obviously we felt that we could have won again and we were really close.”
Next came the words you’ll want to pay close attention to.
“As you get older, you put way more value on winning. That’s not to say that I didn’t value winning before. But you don’t know when you first get into the league how hard it is to win and how things need to line up. LA has worked really hard to get to where they are now as a team, the whole organization with the players and core they have…it’s a lot of players who want to play for LA.”
With that said, is he willing to come back on a short-term deal and/or for the discount that will probably be required?
“That’s something I’m not closed to,” Penner said. “But, that’s something I have to think about. I took less to come back last year, so it just depends how much, right? Let’s say you’re making 10 million dollars and to come back you’d have to come back for 1 million. That’s something you have to weigh in as well. Big discount…everything is relative. I’m just saying, for people to understand, it’s not a simple thing – ‘Oh, you didn’t take a pay cut’. Well, think of your job and your situation. If you we’re getting paid $50,000 as a writer for the LA Times and they said ‘Well, we’d love to keep you, but we can only pay you $10,000’ – but, the Orange Country Register offered to pay you $40,000, where would you go? You’d have to think about it.”
Translation – he made $3.25M last season, a full million dollars less than he earned each of the previous five years. He understands he’ll likely make less than that next season. How much less? Well, that remains to be seen. Lombardi has made it pretty clear he has a finite amount of money to spend on Penner, regardless of what the market says he’s worth. Meanwhile, from Penner’s side, he’s going to have to consider ‘market value’ into the equation.
“That’s the thing, that’s what I have to do – no one else can do it,” said the two-time Stanley Cup champion. “I have to take all the information I can get from my agents, people I trust within my inner circles and the information I get from the Kings. I have to weigh that and see what’s going to be the best decision for me. These decisions impact the rest of your life. Whatever you decide as a player, when you have options, that puts you on a different path in your life and you don’t know where that will be. I remember having the same kind of thought process when I got the offer sheet [from Edmonton in 2007], because I didn’t sign the offer sheet right away. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, look how much money. I’m just going to sign it and figure it out later’. I thought, well what am I going to do? On one hand, I’m going to move up to Edmonton, I’m going to be on a team that wasn’t as good as the previous team I was on, I’m there for that many years, etc. I talked to people who had played there and I saw the experience that they had. So, you have to weigh all those things and see, ‘How do I put up a monetary sum on that experience?’ You say time is money, energy, nothing but guts (?)… so there is a lot of different things you have to weigh in.”
We’ll have more with Penner up later this afternoon, Part II of the Penner interview is now up here – where he’ll talk about his injuries this year, surgery, the Jonathan Bernier trade, his best/worst memories of being a King (so far?), non-hockey summer plans and much more.
If you need more Penner in your life until then, some of the other conversations we’ve had with him over the past few years have been linked below for your convenience.
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