Two of the best follows on Penguins twitter are Jesse Marshall (of the Pensblog) and Ryan Wilson (of Hockey Buzz). Both will make you think, which is great, and both got me thinking when they talked about Chris Kunitz .
In a recent article, Ryan pointed out Kunitz's awesome 63.0% score adjusted Fenwick and summed him up with:
I think having realistic expectations of the top six forward group is extremely important when evaluating the team as whole. The Penguins actually have a really good group right now and Kunitz is a part of that. He is currently at .67 points per game which makes him an average first line player
Jesse also said today:
Name the mystery player that has posted this stat line over the course of the last six games: pic.twitter.com/7mg3OmOUir— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) March 10, 2015
Which made me think, have whispers of Kunitz's demise been overblown?
And, I guess the answer stems from how you address it. The numbers above cited by Jesse and Ryan are what they are- accurate and advanced stats that really can't be much better.
What's the rub?
Kunitz has scored 1 goal in the last 17 games, dating back to February 1. He's only got 2 even strength goals in the calendar year of 2015 (29 games) and only 5 goals in 2015 overall. Much of this drop in production has seemed to stem from the period post-injury, coming from Kunitz's broken foot and missed from November 29th- December 20th.
|Games||Goals||Assists||Points||PP Goals||PP Assists||Shots/game||+/-|
The pre-injury portion of the season Kunitz was scoring .87 points/game. This matched, exactly, his .87 points/game season last year when he put up a career year (35g+33a in 78 games). But since then, it's down to a more modest .54 points/game, which may be an adjustment too considering he switched lines for the first time in a while going from Sidney Crosby to Evgeni Malkin, which while not a big difference skill-wise, certainly is stylistically.
There's also the issue of a power play, which was hot early in the season, and has been ice cold of late, and those stats are also reflected in CK14's stat breakout above. Does Kunitz still factor into the top unit with Patric Hornqvist also moonlighting as a net-front option (and a right-handed shot, to boot)? There's also David Perron and Derrick Pouliot knocking on the door for top PP minutes and with Crosby/Malkin/Kris Letang not going anywhere, if "something has to give", all signs point to Kunitz.
It's great to see that Kunitz's underlying numbers are strong, but it's also important to remember that he's 35 years old and isn't going to be the guy who's scoring .87 points/game forever.
But it also shows the interesting side of living in the information age. 5-10-15 years ago, a player with a history of high production that only had 1 goal and 4 assists in his last 14 games might be considered in a big slump or over the hill. Now we can see some more context to show that underlying numbers are solid and a turnaround could be in the works. And it's interesting these days to see how theories fit between the head vs. the heart vs. the eyes vs. the spreadsheet.
Ideally Kunitz can kick his production up towards pre-injury and 2013-14 levels, and having strong possession numbers and the same amount of shots/game hopefully point towards evidence that a turnaround is possible.