LOS ANGELES — On July 16, veteran left wing Dustin Penner took his career full circle, returning to where his National Hockey League career began, and to where he won his first Stanley Cup in 2007, signing a one-year contract worth $2 million with the Anaheim Ducks.
That Penner would leave the Los Angeles Kings after a little more than two seasons should not come as a surprise. As previously reported in this space, the $6 million drop in the salary cap for the 2013-14 season has severely hamstrung the Kings. The only way they could have signed Penner was if he was willing to accept a very deep pay cut, deeper than the $1.25 million cut he took to sign with the Ducks.
Despite that, Penner indicated that leaving the Kings was not an easy decision.
“After last year, I probably had the chance to come back [to Anaheim], but I wanted to stay and spend [time] with the Cup in L.A., with the Kings,” he said. “After this year, I knew pretty much once that period started where teams can contact you before free agency, I knew back then there was a chance I could come back to the Ducks. I was weighing my options and seeing what would be the best fit.”
“It was a tough decision for me,” he added. “It’s tough leaving a team you won a Cup with, but I’m going back to a team I won a Cup with.”
Penner expressed some regret about his time with the Kings.
“I wish I could’ve contributed more, frequently and consistently, on a personal level,” Penner lamented. “I had a great time with L.A. Made a lot of great relationships that will span my lifetime. Winning a Cup in a city that hadn’t won one in 45 years—doesn’t get better than that.”
Penner indicated that he always believed he would, someday, return to Anaheim.
“I signed [with the Kings] before I was a free agent last year, but [signing with the Ducks] was in the back of my mind and I knew that it could be a possibility,” he said.
“It was just one of those things I felt in my gut,” he added. “It was really tough for me to leave back [in 2007]. It took me almost two weeks to sign the offer sheet [with the Edmonton Oilers]. I talked to a lot of people in my circle, and that was probably the best thing to do. They always said you could always come back, and now I’ve got my chance.”
Looking ahead, Penner is looking to re-kindle the success he had playing on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
“I’m excited about having a chance to play with those guys again,” Penner noted. “I started my career here in Anaheim. I’ve always wanted to come back. I think a lot of players who break in with a certain team always have that yearning to come back once they leave, because there’s so much familiarity with the area.”
“We’re all big guys who can control the puck down low and score,” Penner added. “It’s been awhile, and hopefully, there’s a chance for us to re-kindle that chemistry we used to have. But they have a lot of really good players on the Ducks. Bonino, Beleskey, Cogliano, Koivu, and a great defensive core. They were a tough team last year. I like the situation I’m walking into.”
Penner has maintained a relationship with Getzlaf over the years.
“I see Getzy in the summer, we have the same agent, so we end up seeing each other in the summer quite a bit, based on the training facility, and things like that,” said Penner.
“Getzy called me and said I should come back. I’ve known him for years and we have the same…circle of friends,” added Penner. “I’ve known there was a distinct possibility of coming back to the Ducks, and having the captain by your side doesn’t hurt.”
But what version of Dustin Penner will the Ducks get? Can he be better than the one whose time with the Kings was, at best, spotty?
“I think I’ve become better defensively,” he noted. “I think I can play to the level I played before in Edmonton. I just needed a different situation, and hopefully this is the one I needed.”
“Time will tell. I can’t really predict the future.”
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