Why Dustin Penner Is Still Fit for the Kings

The season has barely ended, and the most exciting Los Angeles Kings news this offseason may have already dropped.  With Slava Voynov re-signed, Jonathan Bernier traded, and at least five roster spots to fill at just over 6.6 mil of cap space, Dean Lombardi is between a ceiling and a hard place.  Already, some Kings fans are waving goodbye to UFAs Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi, stalwarts from the most successful consecutive years in franchise history.

“[W]ith the cap coming down, it’s all about making things fit.”

The GM stated last Sunday that his first call after acquiring Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens for Bernier was going to be to Scuderi’s agent.  But it’s hard to see how the Kings will be able to fit in “The Piece” at even his last contract’s 3.4 mil AAV (leaving Los Angeles with 3.2 mil for four players).  In fact, being the premier stay-at-home defender in a defensemen-poor UFA market, coupled with his reputation as a winner, probably earns Scuderi a nice raise.  So if something can be worked out, great, as solid defense should be prioritized.  But I’m not counting on Scuds’s return.

Dustin Penner Kings

Dustin Penner (Rich Kane/Icon SMI)

Which leaves Penner.  Coming off a 3.25 mil cap hit, he should cost less because of his wobbly regular seasons over the last three years.  But why would the Kings bring back a supposed scorer who’s put up just 11 goals in 117 regular season games with the team?

 

Penner Drives Possession

Penner’s main contribution to Los Angeles’s success isn’t scoring.  It’s puck possession, especially when it counts most.  While his teammates suffered from uncharacteristic problems with controlling possession during the playoffs, he stood out, whether on the third or second line.

[table id=106 /]

While his playoff possession numbers weren’t as outstanding in 2012, he faced the third-highest Relative Quality of Competition among LA forwards.  Puck possession and size are calling cards of the Kings’ identity, and Penner is a cover boy.

 

Penner Provides Quality Depth

There’s depth, and then there’s quality depth.  Depth is warm bodies, while quality depth is players who can play on a higher line, and arguably, belong up there.  Mike Richards and Jeff Carter can obviously handle first-line duties; Jarret Stoll can hold his own on the second.

We hope that Frattin can eventually crack the top-six, but he hasn’t proven it yet; Penner is a third-liner who has shown he can go up.   Re-signing Penner probably sends Frattin or Trevor Lewis to the fourth line, and that’s a good thing, the kind of quality depth that can overcome injuries and overwhelm the opposition, much like how the Chicago Blackhawks rolled lines on the way to the Stanley Cup.

 

Penner Should Be Cheaper

This point is tied with the common complaint that Los Angeles doesn’t need a regular season malingerer like Penner in their lineup.  Let’s focus on what’s more important: Regular season excellence or playoff performance?  I choose the latter every time.

If you demand both, you’ll have to pay more, which is exactly what the Kings can’t afford.  How else would it be remotely possible to re-sign Penner for say, 2 mil or under?

It’s actually a blessing in disguise that he’s not consistent in the regular season, as long as he’s consistent when it counts most.  He’s easily a three mil-plus AAV winger otherwise.  Also, it’s worth noting that he loves living in Southern California and recently stated that he’s “not closed to” coming back for less, depending on the overall market.

 

Penner Specifically Fits LA

In most other cities, Penner’s regular season struggles could cause strife with management and within the locker room.  Such was the case in Edmonton, when Craig MacTavish called him out publicly in 2008.

In LA, Penner is a popular clubhouse figure, and the relationship he has with Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi allow them to prod and scratch without losing him at key moments.  There really aren’t many locker rooms in the league, Cup contenders with the quality depth and organizational leadership, where his regular season M.O. would fly.

To further illustrate, let’s use a basketball comparison that also works for non-basketball fans.  At one moment of his career, Robert Horry was a malcontent on an average team, who threw a towel in his coach’s face.  In seven other moments, he was an NBA champion with the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs, a playoff warrior who happened to have a reputation for taking regular seasons easy.

Horry was most valuable to a championship-contending team, as Penner is to the Kings.

 

Penner Is a Winner

In his career, Penner has had conditioning issues, a perceived lack of focus, freak injuries, and consistently inconsistent regular season efforts.  And he also has two Stanley Cup rings, enough to stuff both ears with and keep chugging on.

Above all, he’s a winner, our Robert Horry.  “Big Shot Rob” was a role player who made the big shots to earn the moniker, just like “Playoff Penner” delivers the clutch goals.

 

So assuming that Scuderi becomes too expensive, and Penner is willing to take a sizable pay cut, here’s my roster.  There are raises for Lewis and Alec Martinez; Scuderi, Brad Richardson, Keaton Ellerby, and Jordan Nolan are gone.  Linden Vey, Tanner Pearson, and hopefully, Bud Holloway, are in the wings.  The defense relies on Mitchell’s return; if he’s not 100%, he can be put on LTIR, and the Kings can spend past the cap for a suitable replacement.  Do you think Penner still fits the Kings?

CAPGEEK.COM USER GENERATED ROSTER
My Custom Lineup
FORWARDS
Dustin Brown ($3.175m) / Anze Kopitar ($6.800m) / Justin Williams ($3.650m)
Tyler Toffoli ($0.870m) / Mike Richards ($5.750m) / Jeff Carter ($5.273m)
Dustin Penner ($2.000m) / Jarret Stoll ($3.250m) / Matt Frattin ($0.488m)
Kyle Clifford ($0.714m) / Colin Fraser ($0.825m) / Trevor Lewis ($1.250m)
Dwight King ($0.750m) /
DEFENSEMEN
Drew Doughty ($7.000m) / Robyn Regehr ($3.000m)
Slava Voynov ($4.167m) / Willie Mitchell ($3.500m)
Matt Greene ($2.950m) / Alec Martinez ($0.850m)
Jake Muzzin ($0.635m) /
GOALTENDERS
Jonathan Quick ($5.800m)
Ben Scrivens ($0.550m)
——
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled with the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $63,246,144; BONUSES: $135,000
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $1,188,856

 

Sheng Peng
Sheng Peng plants ideas like Wilt Chamberlain on Twitter and Google+. He covers the Los Angeles Kings for The Hockey Writers.
Sheng Peng
@JTDutch Yea, it was a pain to gather all the Kings' data...but this is a worthy project at some point - 7 hours ago

7 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Penner hasn’t really shone at the #1 expectation for his position — making goals — but he is a strong player who more than covers the holes in the team’s playing. On the many occasions when the rest of his line couldn’t pass the puck right to save their lives, Penner was often able to take control and get them back on track. I really hate the idea of him moving on just because of money. Then again, as the lockout showed us, sometimes money is the only thing that matters to the people who control this sport.

    • Thanks for reading, Todd! Yup, money’s pretty much always king. It takes a special player to take less money than he’s worth and a special team to be attractive despite offering less money. With luck, either Scuderi or Penner (or dare I dream, both) are those special players; for the first time since the Gretzky years and perhaps for only the second time-ever, I think LA offers a special team.

  2. I think everybody was working on the assumption Scuderi would be going east. Maybe Kings know something definitively about Willie’s knee? Doesn’t change my feeling that you’re right about Penner. Thanks.

  3. Good article. I agree that Penner can be a difference-maker and his skillset is hard to find. Possession metrics, cap consideration, and playoff consistency are all a plus. When match-ups are most important (read playoffs), Penner gives the Kings value throughout the lineup, effective in the top or bottom six.

    This FA period will see two guys on the market who play the tough/skilled game Penner once did but with greater consistency and in more situations: Clarkson and Horton. Both are smaller but more offensive versions of Penner today (closer to Penner circa 2007) and will command top cheddar with Bickell/Chris Stewart’s new contracts as a baseline. I assume that Penner, who’s got three productive years left (maybe) will get offers from teams left out of the Horton/Clarkson sweepstakes that top 1 year/2 mil. He hasn’t justified a raise but with so few guys out there that can offer what Penner can, 2 mil is a sharp cut. As a Kings fan, I really hope he can’t live without the beach.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ryan! You’re probably right that 2 mil AAV won’t be enough. Perhaps we can offer Penns a longer-term deal, say 3 yrs/6 mil, so at least he has some security. It’ll be interesting to see how his market develops.

      Interesting quote regarding Scuderi negotiations from Lisa Dillman: “Lombardi indicated, via email, that he was continuing to negotiate with soon-to-be unrestricted defenseman Rob Scuderi’s camp and that they had come back to him with a workable number.” Whatever that number is, sounds like I might’ve been wrong about his departure.

  4. I personally am not a Penner fan, he is unpredictable, unreliable, and I also can’t see the hunger for winning in him. I hate the feeling that when you start to depend on him and he’ll always let you down, when you decide he is a complete loser then he’ll shine once for a while. It’s very confusing, out of control, like rolling dice.
    Good luck with all fans that still have faith in him, if Kings sign him again, then I hope you are right.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lisa! Penner is unpredictable in the regular season, but in the playoffs, I always see that hunger to win. Remember how happy he was when he scored the OT goal against the Coyotes that sent us to the Finals. That goal capped off one of the great redemption stories in team history, I think, considering how much the fans hated him before the playoffs that year. Of course, someone who’s reliable in both the regular season/playoffs is preferable, but we can’t afford that kind of guy with our cap crunch.

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