The Ballad of Dustin Penner
Monday morning was the Pancakes with Penner event. This event was sparked from the controversial injury that caused Penner to be a late scratch on January 7th vs. Columbus. His back spasm-ed, but instead of giving the typical behind-the-curtain ‘upper body injury’ response, he offered some disclosure with a tongue-in-cheek anecdote. With the spectacle that escalated as a result, perhaps Penner, who has not had much trouble with injuries in his career, learned the benefit of discretion.
The event tickets were awarded via a raffle, with all money raised being donated to the Kings Care Foundation, and was publicized with help from Mayor’s Manor, who has been at the head of the entire ‘Pennercakes’ saga.
Let me be clear: it’s extremely generous for a player to offer his day off to a charitable cause in addition to reaching out to the fans. They don’t have to do so and those that do are truly role models. I mean that with the utmost sincerity.
What’s unfortunate about this event was the negativity looming around the player himself.
Dustin Penner, a one-time 30 goal scorer, found chemistry with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams upon his arrival to Los Angeles in March of 2010 before Kopitar’s ankle injury was the jumping off point of his descent to healthy scratch/pancake chef.
He went from savior to stooge as quick as- OK, Los Angeles has seen this sort of thing before.
Surely everyone remembers Jeremy Roenick’s shameful attempt of a season in Los Angeles in 05-06. But there was also Anson Carter, Jeff Halpern, Ladislav Nagy, Mark Parrish, Cliff Ronning, and Martin Straka to name a few.
Sure, many of those players were in the twilight of their respective careers and struggled with injuries.
But Penner is not yet 30. He has won a Stanley Cup. He has size and soft hands.
Is Los Angeles the place goals go to die? It seems like it sometimes. Especially when looking at the list of the inverse phenomenon: Matt Moulson, Teddy Purcell, Brian Boyle, and now, Wayne Simmonds. But I digress.
Last weekend, the Kings opted to try out a pair of 22 year-olds, with a combined six games and zero goals between them, not only in the lineup in place of Penner, but on his line with Mike Richards.
On Sunday, they each scored against division opponent Dallas. Dustin Penner was in the press box.
On Monday, Penner was doing this:
The caption on this photo reads: “Man.. its really hard to hate Dustin Penner.”
Dustin Penner, the man, seems exemplary. Dustin Penner, the athlete, joins a long list of whipping boys.
Is he cursed because he was given (and maintained- depending on who you ask) an athletic body, played with skilled linemates and put 32 pucks past NHL goaltenders in 2009?
It’s only fair to assume that much of his success, he earned. But at one point, he was given an opportunity. As fans of the game, we look at every day someone gets to play in the NHL as an incredible opportunity, and we expect it to be treated as such, especially as a member of our favorite team. We want the players on our team to have that ‘nothing will stop me’ attitude.
Why are fans so quick to turn on once revered athletes? Aside from off ice/court/field controversies, there are a number of examples of falls from grace that draw ire from sports fans. Brett Favre became a polarizing figure with his one foot in/one foot out routine for several years at the end(?) of his career. Alex Rodriguez was hated for a while in New York while he was struggling. Everyone seems to be rooting for Lebron James to fail after he chose the easier road in Miami.
I don’t mean to put Dustin Penner in the same light as the aforementioned superstars, but the concept is similar, just on a much smaller scale: once loved, now hated.
From what does this emotion stem? Home-team loyalty/betrayal? Or is it more than that? Envy? Maybe that is the crux of it.
We see these athletes, these humans, who are standing at the top of the mountain looking down at we who paid to catch a glimpse of what our heroes can do in what is essentially a meaningless game in the grand scheme of life. The level of adoration may not reach Beiber heights, but it can reach astronomic levels (see Tebow, Tim). And so, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Light can only be created from darkness. Yin and yang. Etc. Thus, it should come as no surprise that with astounding levels of adoration there exists outrageous levels of disdain.
Is this unfair? I don’t know. Perhaps that’s a pointless discussion. This phenomenon will never die. Too high are the expectations, too many aspiring young talents, too much envy.
It could be a part of our growing culture of instant gratification: we demand a talented team, filled with capable players, but more importantly, one that wins. When there is a winner, there must be a loser, thus, we cannot all have this. Perhaps this is why Gary Bettman has striven for so much parity, and the shootout and it’s resultant charity point exists. It’s quite genius when examined from this perspective, actually.
But Kings fans cannot be considered demanding, and least of all, impatient. Is it any wonder that fans are bitter, when the organization seems to do everything ass-backwards?
It hasn’t been easy being a Kings fan, but that statement is not meant as a plea for pity. It’s a defense for myself when Penner returns to the lineup tonight, and I locate the charitable, likeable, human Dustin Penner, and start throwing objects at him until I’m ejected. It’s all I can do, since I’m not good enough (and haven’t worked hard enough) to be in his place.
But in seriousness, Penner has a chance to turn a page and start a new chapter in his career tonight. Yes he’ll be on the fourth line, but we (his coaches and fans) just need to see that he cares. Throw some checks. Block a shot or two. I mean, ideally, score a goal. But if not, at least work hard, like Sutter said. Then, keep doing it. Keep working. We need you.
Sutter also eludes to the fact that there are two directions this story can take. It’s Penner’s choice which word goes before ‘Ballad':
‘Horseshit‘ or ‘Inspirational’.
One direction will cause our collective head-shaking grimace; the other, our compliments to the chef.