Penner hung out to dry

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

It's about throwing your players under the bus.

For some head coaches (hello, Doug Berry) it can help get you fired.

The deposed Winnipeg Blue Bombers boss had a habit of going off on individual players during or after games, with a microphone or TV camera in the vicinity.

But even Berry's antics, which were usually a heat-of-the-moment thing, paled in comparison to what we're hearing from Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish.

Right about now I'm thinking Dustin Penner wishes he were back playing under Randy Carlyle again.

Because as hard as Carlyle rode the big Winkler product when they were both in Anaheim, he never delivered a public whipping quite like the one Penner received from MacTavish on the weekend.

In case you missed it, MacTavish not only banished Penner to the press box for games in Colorado, Saturday, and Detroit, Monday night, he also questioned Penner's conditioning, his desire and his attitude.

That doesn't leave much.

"He's not competitive enough or fit enough to help us, so why put him back in?" the Oilers coach said. "He's never been fit enough to help us. When we signed Dustin we thought he'd be a top-two line player. We thought the contract was a starting point for him, but he views it as a finish line.

"It's been one thing after another. I can't watch it, certainly not for another two-and-a-half years."

Wow.

Basically calling Penner lazy and complacent and bringing his salary into it is particularly damning.

You can't help but wonder, though, who'll be more damned in the long run: the player or the coach.

Because when a coach starts singling out players for criticism, he runs the risk of losing his locker-room.

There is a difference between MacTavish's and Berry's attacks, mind you.

Berry would direct his outburst at whoever messed up at the time, even a low-priced rookie or a foot soldier on special teams. Players see this and wonder why the so-called stars were getting away with playing like horse crap.

MacTavish, on the other hand, targeted one of his highest-paid players.

Penner, whose long, strange journey to the NHL produced a Stanley Cup championship in Anaheim two seasons ago, joined the Oilers last year on a five-year deal that pays him an average $4.25 million per year.

For that, he's produced a paltry four points in 16 games. Talk about a bust for the buck. Compared to Todd Bertuzzi by former Ducks GM Brian Burke, Penner readily admits he's underperforming.

Who knows, MacTavish's strategy, out of character as it was, may work.

Penner may be one of those players who needs a kick in the rear to keep him moving.

By saying several other players are in the same boat as Penner, but he can't bench them all, MacTavish is at least spreading the blame a little. He may feel this is his last resort.

But he's still taking a calculated risk.

If Penner, in fact, wasn't working as hard as some of his teammates, nobody will question the coach's tactics.

If he's seen as a scapegoat while some of MacTavish's favourites are getting away with the same thing, the coach could be in trouble.

There are already suggestions he should take a look in the mirror for the way he's used Penner this season, bouncing him from line to line.

In Anaheim, and going back to his days with the Manitoba Moose, Carlyle, acid-tongued as he was, rarely singled out a player for public criticism. When he did, he chose his words carefully, saying something like, "the player will be the first to admit he can play better."

It's an unwritten rule for coaches.

A rule Doug Berry unwittingly broke several times.

A word of warning for MacTavish: take a close look under that bus, as you toss.

There's room for coaches under there too.


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