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NHL Free Agency: should Penguins consider Chris Kunitz, Paul Martin?

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Both Kunitz and Martin’s contracts aren’t being renewed, and their current teams won’t be re-signing them. Should Pittsburgh take advantage?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

News broke today that both Tampa Bay Lightning winger Chris Kunitz and San Jose Sharks defenseman Paul Martin will not be re-signed this offseason by their respective teams, leaving an intriguing opportunity for GM Jim Rutherford and the Penguins to consider.

Both players have come and gone in the Pittsburgh organization and are familiar and celebrated faces by not only the franchise itself, but also the fanbase. Kunitz’s name jumps out a little more than Martin’s, as the 38-year-old recently left the Penguins just a little over a year ago after winning his fourth career Stanley Cup. It’s clear there’s a bit of fire still left in his tank, and I’m sure a one-year, $1 million contract would be an easy thing to throw into discussion.

I wrote a pretty extensive piece on if the decision to not offer Kunitz a contract last season was a mistake by the GM, and I still stick by my opinion that it ultimately was the right move. But a fourth line left-winger position for a cheap cost wouldn’t be such a bad thing for a team preparing to win its third Cup in four years. Here’s an excerpt pulled from that article:

“Ending up with a player like Dominik Simon on the same line with Crosby makes folks quick to get angry and frustrated about it as well, but you can’t expect this was going to happen. No one saw Jake Guentzel taking over playoff series in the first year of his NHL career, but he did. Simon had that same opportunity and fell flat. Hockey is weird and unpredictable. It happens.”

Simon didn’t turn out the way Mike Sullivan and Rutherford hoped, and his playoff performance is one easily forgotten, but it probably wouldn’t have stuck out so much if Zach Aston-Reese didn’t concussed for the remainder of the 2017-18 season and leave a massive hole on the fourth line. Having Kunitz may have helped depth-wise when the injuries came rolling — especially during the hard-hitting, gritty atmosphere the playoffs create — and having the chance to sign him again to fill this role is a nice thing to consider. Hopefully he won’t want two years again, and Rutherford can actually entertain the idea of bringing a beloved former player back to the organization. Otherwise, 38 is a hell of an age to make demands in the NHL, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Rutherford pass.

As for Martin, the Sharks opted to place him on unconditional waivers and buy him out for the final year of his contract (the third player in San Jose history) to free up about $2.83 million in cap space, making him a UFA. He’s been the king of always nearly missing out on a Stanley Cup ring. The 14-year veteran has been celebrated for his professionalism and for being an incredible teammate, best exemplified by the statement San Jose put out about him today:

He’s known for being that “glue-type” of player who’s an effective piece in all three zones. Martin spent five years with the Penguins, all of which never brought him a championship. But his time spent here has obviously never been forgotten.

However, I can’t see Rutherford eyeing up Martin, even with the team’s minor issues with defensive depth. He only played in 14 total games last season, tallying up a minuscule two assists. Not to mention Martin’s also getting up there in age as a 37-year-old. What he brings to a team just isn’t enough for what the Penguins have their sights on.

It’ll be interesting to see what Rutherford decides to do for the future of the team though, especially with the 2018 Entry Draft starting tonight in Dallas. The 2018-19 roster still has a few more tweaks and additions to make before puck drop in October.