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.