On Thursday morning, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that forward Chris Kunitz was given a two-year contract extension. The move ensures that Kunitz will remain in Pittsburgh through the 2013-14 season, and the extension will pay him $3.725 million per year. He was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.
As the Penguins’ season got underway last week, Kunitz told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he is excited about the team’s forward corps of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. While he has enjoyed individual success in Pittsburgh, the story also pointed out that Crosby’s play has improved when he’s gotten to play with Kunitz.
In the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals run, Crosby had 15 goals while playing with Kunitz, and the following season, Crosby put up 51 goals and tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
Kunitz’s teammates see that he is valuable to a Penguins team that will be a contender for the foreseeable future. Pens forward Pascal Dupuis, who himself signed a new contract during the offseason, told Tribune-Review writer Josh Yohe:
“It’s how hard he works. You know exactly what you’re getting out of him on every shift. It’s nice to play on a line with a guy like that.”
Indeed, Kunitz has been valuable since he was traded to Pittsburgh from the Anaheim Ducks in 2009. The trade for him was made during a time when the Penguins were trying to get out of the Eastern Conference basement and make a playoff run.
In 20 games with the Penguins before the 2009 playoffs, he had 18 points and added three power-play goals. But he really took off in the Pens’ postseason run, as he tallied 14 points in 24 games. The Penguins’ third Stanley Cup also marked the second of Kunitz’s career, as he won with the Ducks in 2007. After posting just six points in the 2007 playoffs, his 2009 total became a career high in playoff production.
Although Kunitz played just 66 games last year, his 48 points were still good for second on the team behind Crosby. His seven power-play goals were also second, again behind Crosby.
It’s easy to see that this move will help the Penguins.
Kunitz just turned 32 years old and has missed time the last two years with injuries. However, when he is on the ice, he is an asset to the offense and the power play. His Stanley Cup experience will make him a mentor to the young players that will continue coming up through the Penguins system.
Kunitz has risen through the ranks after being undrafted out of Ferris State University and has been consistent since breaking into the NHL full time in 2005-06. He has scored at least 20 goals in every season but two, and has at least 30 points every year. Even when he missed 32 games in 2009-10, he still managed 32 points in 50 games.
The contract is also cap friendly. Even though Kunitz is valuable to the Penguins, general manager Ray Shero did not overspend and stayed true to his commitment of not giving older players long-term deals. The two-year deal allows room for other contract extensions and to sign solid free agents each offseason. Should Kunitz’s play start to decline, Shero could easily unload the contract on another team if there is a taker.
But a trade should be out of the question. Kunitz is the complete package for an offensive player. He has scoring ability, can chip in on special teams and has a strong work ethic. He enjoys helping his teammates become better, and if Dupuis is to be believed (which he really should be), Kunitz is a great locker room guy.
Now in his third full season with the Pens, Kunitz has become much more than a stop-gap acquired to help with a playoff run, and this is the perfect time to reward for him it.