Recently, Mark Spector remarked that the Dustin Penner signing may be the worst in the last two years. That seems blatantly wrong on its face when you have contracts like Wade Redden's kicking around but leaving aside the fact that it's certainly not the worst, I actually think it was a risky but potentially good play. To this point, it's still pretty difficult to evaluate and I'd like to take some time here to explain why. Most of us remember the Brian Burke tirades, but here's a refresher:
"You go right now from entry-level to what used to be the third contract, thanks to two offer sheets from Kevin Lowe."
That sentence sums up his basic position nicely. It's a pretty funny statement because it's blatantly false. To start, the second contract certainly wasn't disappearing for everyone (think guys like Nilsson, Kesler or Lombardi). It was disappearing for top line players but that wasn't because of Kevin Lowe. Here are a few examples of top line players signed to big money long-term deals before the Penner offer sheet took place with Penner included in his rightful place and Getzlaf and Perry added in since they were Burke signings:
Ilya Kovalchuk:6.4M is 16.4% of 39M Cap
Rick Nash: 5.4M is 13.8% of 39M Cap
Martin Havlat: 6M is 13.6% of 44M Cap
Patrice Bergeron: 4.75M is 12.2% of 39M Cap
Ryan Getzlaf: 5.325M is 10.6% of 50.3M Cap
Eric Staal: 4.5M is 10.2% of 44M Cap
Corey Perry: 5.325M is 9.4% of 56.7M Cap
Ales Hemsky: 4.1M is 9.3% of 44M Cap
Sedin Bros: 3.575M is 9.2% of 39M Cap
Dustin Penner: 4.25M is 8.4% of 50.3M Cap
Now, many here may disagree with Kevin Lowe's talent analysis of Dustin Penner as a first line left wing but given that's how he was used in his first season here and given the quotes from Lowe at the time, I think it's quite obvious that's what he thought he was getting. The offer sheet angle was new, but good RFAs were getting coin and 3+ years before Lowe ever gave it to Penner on his second contract (although Lowe was a part of this change anyway with that beauty Hemsky deal). Taken in this light the upside and downside of the contract are apparent. If Penner is unable to fill the role of 1LW he is going to be overpaid for a nice long while. If Penner does fill the role of 1LW he is going to be a bargain. He doesn't even need to post great numbers for it to work either because in a PvP role, breaking even will be good enough for the guy at the bottom of the pay scale.
So how has Penner done as a 1LW? Honestly, I think he's been fine. He's had some success on the PP and while he's not great at EV when he, Hemsky and Horcoff have been going against the other team's best they have been able to come out on top. This would seem to me to be enough to make the contract signing a success. The Oilers are able to win the PvP matchup with a pretty cheap first line. Success! And yet... laughably, the fact that the line was coming out on top was not enough and this season Penner has seen himself demoted to the fourth line and diminished his role on the PP making his contract look like (and effectively be) an enormous bust. If the Oilers move Penner for pennies this summer it will be a huge mistake. At the very least they should be taking out the pump for next season so that he can look like a cheap but reasonable top line and PP option. Personally, I hope they keep him and put him in a PvP role so that they can afford luxuries (having all of Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert and Grebeshkov) or overpayments (Moreau, Staios and Pisani) in other places.