Tag Archives: Chris Kunitz

Ranking The Biggest Player Losses Due to Free Agency

Some of the most remarkable accomplishments that GM Jim Rutherford completed when transitioning the Pittsburgh Penguins team to this 2017 season was keeping pretty much all of the roster in tact and together. The only player that the Penguins lost was Beau Bennet and Ben Lovejoy, and with all due respect to Mr. Bennet, I don’t think any Pens fan cares or even missed him. Lovejoy played well as a defenseman for the Pens, but was quickly replaced. Now he’s struggling just to remain on the New Jersey Devils roster, rough switch.

Now the transition after back to back Stanley Cups going into ’18, becomes a more difficult path as players have received lucritive free agency contracts. It’s widely known in sports that players who win a championship normally grab large offers in the following off season of free agency. They deserve to be compensated for such a grand accomplishment, but it’s also remarkable about how the Pens were able to keep most of their guys while winning numerous cup championships in that time.

I’m thankful for each of these athlete’s effort as a Pittsburgh Penguin, seeing them go hurts but that’s the difficult nature that this business does. Even so, the Pens main to core group is still in on the roster. For now, here’s the players who left that are the toughest losses to the team.

  1. Nick Bonino:  Signed with Nashville Predators

Anchoring the 3rd line center role, Bonino would be a 2nd liner on most other teams if it weren’t for the Pens phenomenal talent. “Bonesy” brought grit, smarts, and reliability to the team. He provided top offense when needed and was always assuring to stop a top line with his defense, which is why he was the top penalty killer. While his play was more affective on the 2016 Cup team, there’s no better example of his heart and sacrifice last year than in this year’s 2017 Cup final (and win) when Bonino broke his fibula blocking a shot and than continued to finish the rest of the game. His departure leaves the biggest question on the Penguins for who will replace him, it won’t be easy.

2.   Marc-Andre Fleury: Drafted by Vegas Golden Knights

This probably would have been lower on the list if it wasn’t for the nostalgia wrapped around it. There’s no question Fleury is loved by all Pens fans, people were heartbroken when he was gone and his contributions through the years go on and on. Obviously Matt Murray is the starting goalie so that role is filled, but as a locker room presence and great teammate, it affects the psyche of the team. Flower even sat next to Sidney Crosby on all flights! 3 Stanley Cups including a great playoff run this year until Murray took over in the Eastern Conference Finals. What a career in Pittsburgh for him. He’s the only player on this list that spent his whole time as a Penguin, there’s great reason for that.

3. Matt Cullen: Retired……?

The original “dad” of the Penguins roster brought a winning yet calming pedigree to the Penguins. He stabilized a 4th line to make them just as dangerous as all the others. Cullen had a knack for capitalizing offensively at the most crucial times. He would constantly produce between 10-20 goals a season for the Pens, a phenomenal of scoring for a 4th line player. Carter Rowney will likely take his spot at center unless he gets the 3rd line, you can’t quantify veteran knowledge Cullen brought to the roster though.

4. Trevor Daley: Signed with Detroit Red Wings

Daley’s 2nd Stanley Cup victory was a little sweeter because he actually got to play in the finals this time. The previous win had him nursing a broken ankle. Daley was an offensive defenseman through and through that fit the Penguins system. Because Justin Schultz improved in succession from each year, he was clearly the 1 to sign back. Also we should get Kris Letang healthy again, making a the 1-2 defensive punch lethal. The Pens have alot of depth going on behind the blue line, so Daley was nice but certainly replaceable.

5. Chris Kunitz: Signed by Tampa Bay Lightning 

The 2nd longest tenured Penguin on this list, Kunitz experienced a wonderful time in a Penguins sweater. During his earlier time he was high level point scorer for the team, winging on the top line along with Sidney Crosby at center, Kunitz at 1 point was very prolific. His later years saw his role diminished to a protector role, taking the brunt of front net scrap ups just like Patric Hornqvist. Kunitz was able to change his game and help the team. His scoring fell off, yet he had his last great Penguins moments in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, scoring 2 goals including the winning goal in double OT. Unless he was coming back for smaller money, his body guard role was replaced by Hornqvist and Ryan Reaves. His scoring has long been taken by the stable of young guys like Conor Sheary, Jake Gutnzel and Bryan Rust all on lesser contracts. The Pens also have promising Daniel Sprong amongst others waiting in the wings to go. Kunitz time was up though it was a time worth remembering. In the twilight of his career, he has 4 (3 with the Pens) Cups and can prepare for retirement playing in Tampa. He will take on a veteran role there similar to the 1 that made him assistant captain here.

6. Ron Hainsey: Signed by Toronto Maple Leafs

Traded for at the deadline for insurance on defense, Hainsey progressed as the playoffs went on. I liked him in Pittsburgh, though there was no chance the Penguins would dream of giving Hainsey the money that Toronto did. As stated before about the Letang return along with some guys in the farm system, Hainsey was expendable. If the Pens need more help later in the season they can just trade for another Hainsey type player at the deadline for a similar end result.

Offseason Player Grades: Chris Kunitz

Regular Season Stats

GP:71  G:9  A:20  PTS:29  +/-:0  PIM:36

Playoff Stats

GP:20  G:2  A:9  PTS:11 +/- 6 PIM:27

Player Grade: B

I gave Chris Kunitz a B based on how well he did in the role he was given this season.  Because he is aging Kunitz took on a bottom six role for most of the season, he occasionally played a top six role.  He was arguably our most physical presence all season.  The reason his grade wasn’t higher was the fact that we are paying him $3.85 M.

Review

Despite Kunitz’s diminished role, he still came up big when he was needed.  He factored in on two of the biggest moments for the 2016-2017 season.  He scored a goal against Winnipeg that was assisted by Crosby and thus giving Crosby 1,000 points.  He also scored the double OT winner in the ECF against Ottawa to send the Penguins to the SCF.

Preview

After being one of the longest tenured Penguins on the current team, Kunitz signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning on a one year, $2 million contract. He will play a similar role to boost Tampa’s bottom-6.

Unsung Heroes

Overtime, Game 7; these are the games as hockey fans we love. Thursday night, the Penguins defeated the Senators 3-2 in double overtime to clinch their bid to the Stanley Cup Finals vs the Nashville Predators. The game winning goal coming from 37-year-old Chris Kunitz, which was his second goal of the night. This entire playoff, and regular season has been filled with unsung heroes. Yes, we have the three-headed monster in Malkin, Crosby, and Kessel leading the way in playoff points. But there are a few guys pulling some of their own weight. Names that stand out are Jake Guentzel, Chris Kunitz, Bryan Rust, Olli Maatta, and Brian Dumoulin.

 

Jake Guentzel- 2016-17 Regular Season– 40 GP | 16 G | 17 A       2016-17 Playoffs– 19 GP | 9 G | 7 A

What an amazing rookie campaign Jake has put together. Those who watched Jake play in WBS before being called up knew the type of impact he could have in the NHL, and what an impact he has made. Some may ask why he made this list of surprise players these playoffs, but I don’t think anyone expected a player with 40 NHL games to be in the top 5 of playoff scoring. Not to mention 3 GWG this postseason.

Image result for jake guentzel playoffs

Chris Kunitz- 2016-17 Regular Season- 71 GP | 9 G | 20 A |         2016-17 Playoffs- 14 GP| 2 G| 3 A |     

Chris Kunitz, what a guy. This is a player that Penguins fans have wanted to be dealt out of town for the last three years at least, and I am guilty of criticizing him as well. But with Kuntiz you know what type of player you are going to get. He’s the type of guy to battle in front of the net, finish his checks, and hey, even score goals when reunited with Crosby. Kuntiz has scored the most important goal of these playoffs so far (2OT ECF) so how could he not be a hero?

Image result for chris kunitz goal

Bryan Rust- 2016-17 Regular Season- 40 GP | 12 G | 4 A |            2016-17 Playoffs- 17 GP | 6 A | 1 A |

Rust is a player that really emerged last season when the Pens were faced with injuries and he made a similar impact that Guentzel is making this year. Rust is another guy that will finish his hit and grind in front of the net, but also comes up with some very timely goals. This post season, Rust has 2 GWG those goals being Game 5 vs CBJ, and game 7 vs Washington. Rust plays big in big games, so keep an eye out for him the Stanley Cup Finals.

Image result for bryan rust playoffs

Olli Maatta2016-17 Regular Season- 55 GP| 1 G | 6 A |              2016-17 Playoffs19 GP | 2 G | 5 A |

Maatta has been criticized time and time again, and granted he has not been the player the Penguins expected, he has held his own. Some unfortunate injuries have slowed Maatta’s growth, but minor things such as foot speed seem to be an issue for him. To Maatta’s credit he has played well this season, especially vs the Sens. Scoring two goals in as many games, and one being a GWG in the 7-0 victory, Maatta seems to be finding his way as of late.

 Image result for olli maatta 2017

Honorable Mention: Brian Dumoulin- Dumo gets my honorable mention for this list. Next to Ian Cole, he may be the best defensive defenseman the Pens have. Logging 20+ minutes in almost every playoff game, he is faced with the task of shutting down teams’ top offensive lines. He is a valuable player to this Pens roster that often goes under the radar.

Image result for brian dumoulin playoff

This Penguins team is filled with superstars as we all know, but there are a ton of depth/role players that are just as important as Crosby or Malkin are. Role players play a key part in winning teams, and the Penguins have built their team using high end role guys. They played a huge part in the 2016 Stanley Cup Run, and will again be a key factor in the 2017 Stanley Cup run.

Chris Kunitz Enjoying Success At 37

When the Penguins traded defenseman Ryan Whitney to the Ducks to acquire left winger Chris Kunitz and prospect (at the time) Eric Tangradi back in 2009, no one expected the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup. They did just that.

At that point, they were clamoring to find a guy who could play with Sidney Crosby. Trading a guy like Whitney for Kunitz, both of whom were under control for 4 and 3 years respectively, seemed like a no-brainer to former general manager Ray Shero. His replacement, Jim Rutherford, is reaping the rewards 9 years later.

Kunitz isn’t the player he once was at 29 when the Penguins acquired him, but he’s still a very productive player for the role he serves. Playing recently on the fourth line, Kunitz’s production has amounted to 6 goals and 23 points in 45 games.

Kunitz’s career high came at age 34 when he scored 35 goals and racked up 68 points in 78 games. He posted 22 goals in an abbreviated season the year prior.

To give you an idea about how impressive those number truly are…

  • In his age 34 season, Jaromir Jagr scored 54 times. Granted, Jagr’s role has always been a sniper. Kunitz has always been considered the grindy type who MIGHT put up 20 goals.
  • In Erik Cole‘s age 33 season, he posted a career best 35 goals.
  • In 2012, both Teemu Selanne and Patrik Elias were both over 35 years of age. They scored 26 goals a piece.

Needless to say, this kind of production has been done before but Kunitz has sustained pretty good numbers even for a guy who’s playing bottom six minutes, which is normal for anyone at his stage of his career. But, if the need presented itself due to a rash of injuries, Kunitz could undoubtedly fill a top-six role. He wouldn’t put up the production he did five years ago but playing with someone like Crosby or Evgeni Malkin would allow for him to play at a higher level than he does with guys like Matt Cullen, Tom Kuhnhackl, or Scott Wilson.

What’s all the more impressive is that Kunitz’s type of a player, a grinder that can still score if needed, usually become less effective once they hit 30-32. The dominant player type such as Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin will likely still be able to put their team on the back at age 34 and beyond.

Kunitz is 37.

His most productive years have actually come during the portion of his career where the numbers start to decline. Of course, he spent those years playing on Crosby’s wing as opposed to playing in Anaheim with a center who wouldn’t be of Crosby’s caliber. Although, who is?

Currently, his cap hit is $3.8 million and is in the final year of the current deal. If he decides to return to Pittsburgh, it will be a well-below market value deal that can allow the Penguins to sign other necessary free agents to continue their Cup window. If he hits free agency, he could make north of $2 million. At this point of his career, Kunitz would likely rather want to go out as a winner. The only way he would leave, in my opinion, is if he headed to an up-and-coming team with young stars like Edmonton (see Connor McDavid).

As the Penguins embark on their journey into the playoffs, Chris Kunitz would love to win his fourth Stanley Cup in NHL history. If he were to do so, Kunitz would be the only active player in the NHL to have won more than three. Unfortunately, the same goes for most of the Chicago Blackhawks roster. So, let’s keep Chicago out of the picture.

    COLUMN: I Was Wrong About Chris Kunitz

    You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I don’t often admit when I’m wrong (because I’m usually right), but I’ll admit I was wrong about Chris Kunitz. For those of you that may follow me on twitter, when I live-tweet games, I usually have a Kunitz complaint or two in there. I am primarily an optimist, but I’m also a perfectionist and can easily pick apart someone’s game. I even do it to myself in my own hockey games. I could have a four-point night and get a win, but I’ll find ways to beat myself up over some missed opportunity. When Kunitz started to lose a step a couple of years ago, I immediately became way too hard on him.

    I guess it’s my own fault. I tend to have high expectations of a lot of Penguin players, after all, we do have the best in the world and other plethora of talents, ripe for the plucking. I saw Kunitz play a huge role on the 2009 Cup team, and saw the year Kunitz had in 2011-2012 when he was primarily on a line with Geno and James Neal and watched that line dominate. Kunitz was by far the third-best scorer on that line, but it was other parts of his game that helped make that line so dangerous, and helped pave the way for Geno to score 50 goals and Neal to score 40. He also had enough speed to be an offensive threat on the fly with Geno, and then again with Sid after his return and Mike Johnston put Crosby between Kunitz and Dupuis. Kunitz has always been a physical guy, willing to play hard in the corners and in front of the net, but also was equipped with a good scoring touch. When his scoring numbers went down, a lot of people started to dump hard on Kunitz. They were being unreasonably hard on him. People have these expectations that if you play with Sid, you should be an elite scorer. Chris Kunitz never was that and never will be. That isn’t his MO.

    I started to pull my support of Kunitz over the last couple years when I put together several factors. 1) His age was starting to show. He was losing a step that he had, and while he maintained his physical presence, it began to really become clear that his scoring touch had diminished, and that leads to my second point. 2) He was still playing on scoring lines with Sid or Geno. Now that’s more on the coach, but it was frustrating to see playmakers like Crosby and Malkin are set up guys for high quality scoring chances and not see them get buried in the net. This particular one leaves me baffled:

    w1080xh810_kun

    I mean, wow. That’s the epitome of one too many passes. It’s become a joke on twitter now between Pens fans, but I still can’t believe that. That’s about as close as it comes to a sure goal.3) I thought for a player on the decline, paying him $3.85 million could have been used elsewhere to get some help of defense or bring in another guy with some kind of scoring touch, especially since the Penguins are always right up against the salary cap.

    But these past couple of weeks have made me realize something. As I’ve watched more and more hockey played the game more and more myself, I’ve learned more about the game. I’ve learned that while the whole point of the game is to outscore the other team (which means you need scorers, defense, and good goaltending), it doesn’t mean there can’t be valuable players on your team that don’t light up the scoresheet. Guys who do the dirty work in the corners or get screens in front of the net, they don’t always get on the scoresheet, but what they did on a particular play is the main reason why a goal was scored.

    Does Kunitz have the scoring touch he used to? No. On arguable the fastest team in the NHL, does Kunitz look the slowest he ever has? Yes. Does he go through stretches where he may drive you crazy? You betcha. So why have I changed my mind? Why do what so few men can do; admit I was wrong?

    He’s by far the most physical forward the Penguins have. Hornqvist is up there too, and Horny has more of a scoring touch, but Kunitz lays the boom down all over the ice. He’s usually the top forward in hits. He plays hard in the corners. He does a lot of the things on the ice that go unnoticed. He’s a veteran guy, a really good leader to compliment great leadership in Crosby, he’s a great guy in the room who has the respect of his teammates and coaches, and he has a high hockey IQ. Listen, he plays an ugly game. You know what, for hockey, that’s perfectly fine. You need guys who play ugly games, especially on a team that’s filled with speed and skill guys. You don’t necessarily need an enforcer, but you need a couple guys that play hard and physical. The Penguins have that in Kunitz and Hornqvist. And man, their absence was very noticeable when they were injured.

    For the people that still don’t like Kunitz, go back and watch the games while he was out. It’s not the same team that scored 8 goals against Ottawa. They needed his physicality, his leadership, and most of all, his experience. The team has a lot of young players. They need guys to go to that can teach them more and more about the game at the NHL level. Kunitz has won three Cups with two teams. Been there, done that.

    I’m not saying to put him in the Hart trophy race, but he’s more valuable than people give him credit for. He’s not going to score 30 goals, and yeah, he’ll pass it one too many times again. But you know what you get when #14 steps out on the ice every night. Consistency is key to success. Yep, I was wrong about you, Chris. I won’t make that mistake again.

    Pride, Passion, Pittsburgh…Penguins?

    For those of you who love Pittsburgh’s baseball team, I apologize. This phrase doesn’t really apply to your team anymore. This really applies to Pittsburgh’s hockey team. The one at the ‘Paint Can’ on 1001 Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh.

    In a game where all hope seemed further than than the distance between California and Pennsylvania, a few players poked there heads out and did some big things when their team needed them the most.

    Scott Wilson took a puck that bounced away from a hit in the corner and scored. It looks as though Chris Kunitz may have pushed home a shot that rang off the post. The hitter and shooter off the post happened to be Patric Hornqvist.

    Hornqvist just had one of his patented games tonight. He actually dumped the puck in on the play where he hit Brendan Dillon in the corner and then forced Braun to turn it over right onto Wilson’s stick for a goal. He pounced on a rebound with his net front presence and banged it off the post. He was given credit for the goal but upon second look, Kunitz may have finished it into the net.

    Horny was in front of the net making Martin Jones’ night as hard as he possibly could. When Jones had a puck slide under his pad in the third, Hornqvist went in hit and shoved and shoved hoping he’d lodge the puck over the goal line. It didnt work, but he showed the heart and hustle. That’s what Patric Hornqvist does. That’s what Patric Hornqvist brings. Tenacity.

    That’s just one man. There are four guys who deserve the spotlight tonight.

    “No pressure.”

    Those were the words uttered by Mike Sullivan to the four defenseman on the Pens roster for the night who were healthy enough to go back out for the third period. Those four defenseman include: Brian Dumoulin, Trevor Daley, Ian Cole, and Justin Schultz.

    With Kris Letang already out for tonight, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, playing in his first game since only playing 34 games last season, both went down with injury. This left the four aforementioned names to be left out to die in the third.

    Except, the Penguins turned a two goal second period deficit into a 3-2 victory. This happened with FOUR defenseman. Incredible stuff.

    Run it by me and I’ll tell you that’s some pride. That’s some passion. Without Letang and captain Sidney Crosby, the Penguins lead an impressive comeback on the Sharks further proving that their victory last year was just that. A simple, overmatching victory.

    The Sharks peppered Marc-Andre Fleury with 34 shots tonight. He only cracked on two occasions. Martin Jones was very stellar and then an inspired third period happened. The Pittsburgh hockey team lit him up for three goals in that period.

    “We can win them ugly,” Ian Cole said after the game to reporters around his stall. That you did, my friend.

    So the next time the Pirates try to shove that “Pride. Passion. Pittsburgh Pirates.” slogan down your throat, just know that it’s really the Penguins who exemplify that.

    Something About Kunitz And Not Fitting In Anymore

    For many years now, Chris Kunitz has been a part of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nine years if we are being exact. In those nine years, the Penguins have won two Stanley Cups. You can’t say that he didn’t have an impact, especially for the first cup run, but I wouldn’t say he was vital to the Penguins team. Let’s take a look at Kunitz’ career with the Penguins.

    At the trade deadline of the 2008-09 season, former Penguins General Manager Ray Shero sent Defenseman Ryan Whitney to the Ducks and brought in Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi. Kunitz would play 50 games for the Penguins that season wrangling 39 points and became one of Crosby’s right hand men. If you noticed, that same season the won the Stanley Cup, giving Kunitz two rings (the other was in ANA).  In that post-season he scored one goal and 13 assists on the way to the cup.

    He scored over 60 points twice with the Penguins, one of those a total of 68 points with 35 goals in the 2013-14 season. Since then, he has scored 40 points twice. There are a few factors into that. Kunitz plays a sort of “old-school” style of hockey. A hitting total of 1,254 should explain that well enough. Most guys who play like that tend to not age pretty well, along with the guys that they are hitting. That leads into the other factor, he’s kind of getting old. Kunitz is now in his 13th NHL season, and his 37 years old. The fact that it has taken him this long is a huge testament to how great Sidney Crosby is.

    Now, the Penguins system of play has changed. They used to put rough and tumble guys around stars Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but GM Jim Rutherford has changed the style. They have shifted into putting raw speed and skill around the stars. Youth has been a huge part of this with the rise of Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust. Also, new trade additions Trevor Daley, Phil Kessel, and Carl Hagelin are all excellent skaters. This leaves Kunitz, an aging player who doesn’t have the legs to keep up with the young guys. It is only a matter of time until they begin to outscore him as they learn the ropes of the NHL. The fact is, the game is changing to the opposite direction of Kunitz play.

    What does this mean for his career? Well, Kunitz is in the final year of his contract with the Penguins. Though he doesn’t really fit in with the system anymore, the Penguins likely won’t trade him. His contract will run out and the Penguins will not resign him. For the rest of his time here, he can serve as a mentor for the young guys. The rest is completely up to him. He has the choice to either retire as a Pittsburgh Penguin or try to sign with a team just trying to hit the salary cap floor, but his career with the Penguins ends at the conclusion of the season.

    All stats are according to www.hockey-reference.com.