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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Penner's in a good place

Big winger should stay with L.A.

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Dustin Penner has a smile on his face, is heading for the Stanley Cup and making a significant contribution to the Los Angeles Kings. He should do what it takes to stay put and extend his L.A. confidential.

There will be money on the table at the end of this season and Penner could choose to chase it but he should know better than anyone it may not lead to good times. He's got hockey happiness with the Kings and it may cost him a few zeroes on his next contract but he must decide what's worth more: the bucks or the satisfaction he's currently enjoying as well as being surrounded by strong people that make him better.

Penner is winding up a five-year deal that paid him $21.25 million and lured him away from the Anaheim Ducks to the Edmonton Oilers. Then Oilers GM Kevin Lowe put an offer sheet on the table for Penner just weeks after he'd won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks and it was impossible to resist.

There were good moments in Edmonton, including a 32-goal season in 2009-10, but the expectations were almost as heavy as Penner was when he arrived at most training camps and in the end he was dealt to the Kings late in the 2010-11 season for defenceman Colten Teubert, a first-round pick in 2011 (Oscar Klefbom) and a conditional third-round pick in 2012.

While things in Edmonton were iffy for Penner, they slid to awful in L.A. and he scored just seven goals this past season and most had written his career off prior to the playoffs.

The 29-year-old and his wife filed for divorce in late February and he went into one of the worst funks of his career, going pointless in 14 of his last 16 regular-season games.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter, however, believed Penner was a key to his club's playoff chances and stuck with him. The first sign of a reward for that faith came when Penner scored the game winner in Game 1 of the Kings first-round series with the Vancouver Canucks.

"I guess when you're in a hole that no one can really dig you out of except for yourself," Penner said recently. "I put that pressure and that stress on myself to get me out of where I was.

"I had great support from teammates, family, friends, the organization as a whole."

Sutter doubled down on his Penner hunch and promoted him to a line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter after the first round. Now, after 14 playoff games, Penner has three goals and seven assists, including the overtime winner that pushed the Kings into the Stanley Cup final, and people are talking about his value in the coming free-agent market.

Kings GM Dean Lombardi will almost certainly make Penner an offer but at a considerably lower rate than he was paid the last five seasons. The early talk is the Kings will come in somewhere between two and three million per season and for a two-year term. That will be the first bid and Penner, in a weak free-agent market like this summer's, might be able to get someone to bid a little higher.

At 6-4 and 245 pounds with scoring touch, he has a skills package that most teams in the NHL covet. When Penner is motivated, he can be a difference maker. Someone will want him and be prepared to pay.

But from an outsider watching him produce and enjoy his role, it sure looks like he's found a crown that fits.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2012 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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