Thirty is one magic number

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

The historic event happened at 1:33 of the first period.

At the start of the season it looked like it would happen about two-and-a-half months earlier.

Dustin Penner, at that moment, became the first Edmonton Oiler to score 30 goals in a season since Ryan Smyth scored his 31st just before the trade deadline on Feb. 27 2007 and the equally historic battle over $100,000 made him an ex-Oiler.

That, of course, was before the Oilers signed Penner to a five-year $21.25 million restricted free agent offer sheet to replace Smyth at left wing on the first line and then proceeded to give people like Shawn Horcoff contracts which would pay as much as $7 million for a season.

The question as Penner scored No. 30 and followed with No. 31 late in the game, was if this was a moment to be celebrated?

Thirty goal scorers are in short supply these days.

Penner became only the 20th player to hit the 30-goal plateau this season.

And only 15 of those are members of the 30-30 club, players with 30 goals and 30 assists which Penner will join with his next helper.

Penner was previously the most maligned of Oilers, viewed as a porky, lazy, soft, uninvolved, uncaring unprofessional player and certified coach-killer, despite scoring 23 and 17 goals in his first two seasons here.

But then there was the total transformation under Pat Quinn which saw him score 19 goals in his first 36 games and eight in the next 40 until scoring in each of the last three games.

That's kind of like shooting a 30 on the front nine and a 50 on the back and being happy with your round.

Penner didn't completely turn back into the player we watched here the previous two seasons. But he was a long way from playing possessed after Christmas.

And you had to wonder if the only reason he really got interested again was to get No. 30, which seemed automatic before Ales Hemsky and Nikolai Khabibulin were lost with season-ending injuries and the Oilers started their slide with Penner very much in the back of the bobsled.

"In the last several games he's shown an interest in what's going on," said Quinn. "In the last several games he's been that same sharp guy again. Maybe if he had that play all year he'd have 50."

But, again, 31 goals is an accomplishment in today's NHL and a kind of minimum number projected for Penner who had scored 29 goals on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in his first full season with the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.

"It feels good," said Penner, who wasn't any more of a joyous interview even with the historic pair.

"It's a personal best," he said when asked what it meant and what sort of statement it might have made, especially doing it with a 30th place team.

"Thirty goals is 30 goals. It doesn't matter what team you are on. It's tough to score 30 goals in this league."

When it comes to Penner there's also another stat besides the 31 goals that sticks out. He now a plus seven this season, heading a list of mostly minus Oilers players, including eight in double figures -- none worse than Patrick O'Sullivan's minus 36 and Horcoff's minus 27. Penner was also plus seven last year.

All of which brings up the question. Do you keep him? Or take advantage of his 31 goals ad trade him in the off-season like the Oilers attempted to do last year?

Or do you keep him, figuring that with Hemsky back and the Oilers a lot better with injured players returning, plenty of fresh young talent coming to town and (hopefully) a lot of the riff raff removed, he can repeat.

Do you stay with him as a long-running work in progress? Or do you move him now figuring he'll probably bolt in free agency at the end of his contract?

With so many small players, do you keep him for his size, even if he doesn't use it?

If you end up with Taylor Hall, also a left winger, do you make room for the kid to play on the first line with Hemsky? Or would having Penner around make it easier to bring Hall along on the second line?

There's also the thought about having Penner around if he's going to be a bad example in terms of professionalism to the young players.

But there's half a lineup of those guys. And none of them have 31 goals.

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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