2013-14 Season In Review: Chris Kunitz

Kirk Irwin

The season that was for Olympic gold medalist Chris Kunitz

Age: 34 (September 26, 1979)

Contract Status: Signed through 2016-17; $3.850,000 cap hit

2013-14 Stats

GP

TOI/GP

Goals

Assists

Points

78

19:09

35

33

68

Corsi For %

Corsi Rel %

Quality of Comp. (TOI%)

Zone Start %

PDO

52.3% (6)

5.2% (6)

30.0% (1)

50.9% (6)

102.6% (3)

(Numbers in parentheses indicate descending rank among regular Penguins players at his position, i.e. one of the team's top nine defensemen or top 14 forwards.)

Most frequent forward linemates

Linemates

Goals For%

Corsi For%

Total 5v5 time (1,127:19 for Kunitz)

Sidney Crosby

65.3%

53.5%

1,019:02

Pascal Dupuis

71.4%

55.7%

397:58

Lee Stempniak

68.4%

48.3%

145:18

Looking back on it, the sad realization that the Penguins plan never really replaced Pascal Dupuis, who went down with a torn ACL in December. Kunitz and Crosby never had a consistent right-winger, skating with Brian Gibbons, Lee Stempniak, Beau Bennett, Evgeni Malkin, Chuck Kobasew and even Brandon Sutter at different points of the season. None of those players (save the one-armed Bennett) are really great winger options for the first line.


Career year...Again

Players aren't supposed to be at their best at the age of 34, but Chris Kunitz has defied the odds his whole career- starting from being an undrafted player, passing through waivers at times before latching on and finding a niche in Anaheim, and then in Pittsburgh.

And what a niche it is. Kunitz is the winger du jour of Sidney Crosby, the best player in hockey. Crosby puts up unreal stats, and Kunitz is there to benefit from the opportunities that Crosby can create.

However, it would be disingenuous and borderline ignorant to think of Kunitz simply as the tag-along passenger to Crosby's brilliance. If playing beside stars were easy, more people (Eric Tangradi, Zach Boychuk anyone?) would be able to do it.

Not everyone can do what Chris Kunitz does, and hardly anyone in the league has finer stats than Kunitz- in the past three seasons Kunitz has 181 points in 206 games, 6th best among wingers in the entire NHL, and his points shares is 3rd in the league, behind only Alex Ovechkin and Phil Kessel. Well into his 30's, Kunitz has been among the very elite in the NHL at recording points.

Kunitz has recorded these points playing with Crosby (and Malkin), but also against the toughest of competition and increasingly this year with tougher zone starts. Kunitz is regularly among shooting percentage leaders (his 16.1% ranked 13th in the entire league this year) which leads to a high PDO, but that is often because Kunitz shoots and scores frequently from high-percentage areas. Get to the front of the net and good things happen, right?

Post-Olympics (where he scored a goal in the gold medal game), Kunitz seemed to slink away as the rest of the team did. He only scored 1 PPG in his last 20 games, compared to 12 in the 58 games before. The fall also coincided with sliding into the post of a net with speed in March in a game against Washington. Kunitz would shake it off and avoid major injury, but he never seemed to be fully himself afterwards, scoring just 3g+5a in the 13 playoff games.

GIF of the Year


Cropped_crosby-god_medium

Fitting that we highlight Kunitz as a result of a great play by Crosby to kick the puck over to him, but watch the veteran cross-check to Anton Stralman to buy himself the time and space to slam the puck home. That's what Kunitz does, that's why he's effective and that's why he scores goals that others can't.

Preseason expectations

Play with Crosby. Score lots of points. Be a beast on the power play in front of the net. Yep, we can pretty much check all of them off.

Verdict

It was another career season for Kunitz, who set personal bests in goals (35) and points (68) at an age where one just shouldn't be getting better, he somehow is. Now, the only question is, how much longer can he hold up this high rate of performance? Kunitz was the 1st Team NHL for left wing last year, and he might get 2nd team this year, he's a legitimate stud winger for Crosby, but he will also be 35 before next season begins.

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Chris Kunitz's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e. 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".

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