On June 27th, the Pittsburgh Penguins signed winger Chris Kunitz to a three-year contract extension. The deal bumped Kunitz's pay up a modest $125,000 dollars, but will carry a cap hit of $3.85 million dollars a year. The move was a part of general manager Ray Shero's master-strategy to maintain the core group of the Steel City hockey club.
That, and Chris Kunitz was one of the first major moves Shero pulled off. That sort of thing leads to both parties building a loyalty to each other. Kunitz came to the Penguins during a stretch when Shero was building a Stanley Cup winning team. Michel Therrian was ousted has head coach and Dan Byslma ushered in. Bill Guerin and Craig Adams came aboard a week after the Kunitz trade. The kicker? Well, the team won the Cup and all those guys are still with the organization (Loyalty rewards!).
So the question becomes this: did Chris Kunitz get a extension because he deserves it or was Ray Shero thinking with his heart and not brain?
If you answered 'he deserves it', these will be your arguments
In the shortened forty-eight game schedule last season, Kunitz was amazing. He had 52 points (22 goals and 30 assists) that was good for eighth overall in the NHL. His plus/minus of plus 30 was second in the league and behind only teammate Pascal Dupuis's plus 31 (another guy that Shero traded for and received an extension this offseason).
Looking at Kunitz's career with the Penguins, and you'll see a scorer that's as constant as any in the league. After all, secondary scoring is why the Penguins traded then-stout defenseman Ryan Whitney for him. His 2011-2012 campaign was also stellar with 61 points (26 goals and 35 assists) and he's gone over the 50 point hurdle in five of his nine professional seasons.
Plus, there's his two sizable intangibles. Chris Kunitz is a healthy guy. He hasn't missed a game the last two years. From 2006 to 2009, he missed one game. That's a big deal when the team's captain has a history of the opposite. Oh, and speaking of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz has proven himself as one of the few players in the NHL that can hang with Sid the Kid on the ice. He's cemented himself on that first line, left wing spot for as long as Sidney wants him there. And a happy Sid means good things for the Pens.
If you answered 'Shero's not thinking with his brain', these will be your arguments
When his extension expires, Chris Kunitz will be thirty-six years old which means he's thirty-three years old now. Ever since the 2004-2005 NHL Lockout and the new rules changes that came with it, the game has become custom built for young men. Sure, Kunitz is fast now, but the next year? Heck, three months into this year? Old's old and sooner or later Father Time will hip-check Chris Kunitz.
And when he does, how wise will spending $3.85 million dollars a year on a slow, geezer look? Yes, his production is impressive, but that money could've been better spent. Guys like Mikhail Grabovski (29-years old and 61 goals over the last three seasons) and Viktor Stalberg (28-years old with 31 goals the last two years and four games missed) were available. They're young and skilled and cost less (both have a $3 million dollar cap hit). That's just a sampling. There's younger and cheaper talent out there. Instead of sustaining a great line for maybe three years, why not try and built one that can last six years? Or more? Risk is needed for success.
Chris Kunitz is a Penguin for at least three more years. Whether that is a good or bad decision depends on how hard Father Time hits him. And when. Kunitz could be a fine wine, just getting better with age. Or he's a fuse that's running out of gun powder. We'll just have to wait and see . . .
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