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.