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Season in Review: Chris Kunitz

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A member of the Penguins' Old Guard had an...interesting year.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Age: 35

Contract Status: Free agent on July 1, 2017 (AAV until then $3.85M)


2014-15 Stats

GP

TOI/per game

Goals

Assists

Points

CF%

CF% rel

Zone Start %

GF%

PDO

74

17:53

17

23

40

57.1%

+5.1%

59.3%

55.1%

99.6


Most Frequent Linemates

CF%

GF%

5v5 Ice Time Together

Sidney Crosby

58.1%

58.7%

578:24

Blake Comeau

56.1%

63.2%

306:35

David Perron

61%

43.5%

282:19

Evgeni Malkin

58.6%

54.2%

250:17

In one sense, it was business as usual this year for Chris Kuntiz. He spent a lot of time with Crosby and the two of them continued the dominance we've come to expect from them. On the other hand, two newcomers made their way into Kunitz's rotation. Both Comeau and Perron were unlikely suspects to spend so much time with Kunitz, but as a testament to Kuni, he did very well with both of them in terms of possession. Looking at the bigger picture, that shouldn't be surprising: Kunitz generally made everyone better this year.


The Good

Kunitz was a monster possession player again. His CF% was great and his dCorsi (which controls for variables like teammates, competition, and zone starts) highlights that he was doing better than expected. Kunitz's shot rates were also really good this year; they were right in line with previous seasons. That's encouraging because it shows that Kunitz succeeded in the things he has the most control over. Shooting percentage can fluctuate a lot, even over the course of a year, which is why we always like to look at shot rates before passing judgment on a player.

The next question is whether Kunitz was getting off the same quality of shots this year. It doesn't seem like he was. He took fewer shots from in tight this year and his average shot distance was more than five feet greater this year compared to last year. This is something to work on over the summer. Kunitz needs to drive to the net more and get most of his shots from within 15 feet of the crease. He's not as effective when taking shots from further out because he lacks the laser that a player like Neal had.


The Bad

The results were not there for Kunitz. His 5v5 pts/60 last year was 2.18, which put him comfortably among the top first liners in the league. His 5v5 pts/60 this year? 1.29, which paints him as a middling third liner. Nick Spaling and Steve Downie had better even strength results than Kunitz. What's more, this was a trend that was most pronounced at the end of the year. Kunitz scored one goal and two points in his last twenty games. That's pretty pitiful, especially because the Penguins needed him to step up in the face of injuries.


Preseason Expectations

The expectations for Kunitz this year were high. That was because he was coming off career highs last year (35 goals, 68 points). His age was one reason to temper expectations somewhat. But there was no reason to expect anything less than 25 goals and 50 points, at least, this year. Kunitz gets regular time in the top six next to one of two generational talents. And when the team isn't at even strength, he's usually on its first powerplay unit. A guy getting the benefit of those circumstances is expected to produce on a regular basis.


Verdict

Kunitz didn't have his best year this past season. No matter how you slice it, you expect (and need) more than 17 goals and 40 points from a first line winger who gets to play with Sidney Crosby. The big question going forward is whether this year was an anomaly or rather the beginning of his eventual decline. If it's the former, then the Penguins can get pretty good value through the end of his contract term. If it's the latter, they might be plagued with another bad contract.

I think it's much too early to raise the white flag for Kunitz. Despite his age, his underlying numbers were good this year. And he set career highs at 34 years old last year, highlighting that age is not as big an impediment as it may seem. I expect Kunitz to bounce back next year, though 35 goals and 70 points is probably too much to expect. Nevertheless, he'll have an easier time putting up more regular points if the Penguins fix their powerplay this summer. In the meantime, the takeaway should be this: Chris Kunitz isn't going anywhere and that's not a bad thing. He's a good hockey player, and the Penguins need to get more of those this summer.

***

Feel free to rate Chris Kunitz's season. A one indicates that you were massively disappointed in him; a ten indicates he exceeded even your wildest expectations.