Early Tuesday morning, on what turned out to be a rare late-July day with actual hockey news, former Penguins forward Chris Kunitz announced his retirement from the NHL after 15 seasons, nine of which came with the Penguins. His decision was announced via the Chicago Blackhawks twitter account where the team also revealed that Kunitz will remain with the organization as a Player Development Adviser.
Forward Chris Kunitz announced his retirement following 15 seasons in the @NHL. Congrats on an incredible playing career Kuni!— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) July 30, 2019
Kunitz now joins the Blackhawks hockey ops department as Player Development Adviser, assisting Chicago's coaching staff as well as the @goicehogs staff! pic.twitter.com/PyypVzb469
For a majority of his time in the NHL, Kunitz wore black and gold as a member of the Penguins where he carved out quite a legacy on the ice. A legacy that will not soon be forgotten in Pittsburgh, and one the franchise honored with a special video tribute on their own social media accounts.
4 Stanley Cups.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) July 30, 2019
3 in Pittsburgh.
2OT goal we'll never forget.
1 incredible career.
Congratulations on your retirement, Kuni! pic.twitter.com/55X4Xi8GIV
Kuni’s award shelf got rather crowded throughout his time in the NHL, winning four Stanley Cups (three with the Penguins), and an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Games in Russia.
Acquired at the 2009 trade deadline from the Anaheim Ducks as a part of the Ryan Whitney deal, Kunitz carved out quite the career during his time with the Penguins. He is one of only five players to have played on all three Cup winning teams from this era of Penguins hockey, joining Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Aside from the three Stanley Cup titles, Kunitz was a mainstay on the Penguins and became one of their core players for almost a full decade. During his nine seasons with the Penguins, Kunitz played in 569 games, scored 169 goals, and recorded 388 total points. In addition to his regular season numbers, Kunitz added another 123 games, 23 goals, and 76 points in the playoffs.
He built quite the bond with Crosby and found himself playing on the top line alongside the Penguins all world captain more often than not. That chemistry helped make Kunitz into a lethal, though perhaps unexpected, weapon for the Penguins and helped garner him a spot on the 2014 Canadian Olympic team where he won a gold medal.
He was never a candidate for many individual awards, but he was named a first team All-Star following the lockout shortened 2012-13 season when he recorded 52 points in just 48 games, an 88 point pace for a full 82 game season. Kunitz’s highest career totals came in the gold medal winning season of 2013-14, where he scored a career high 35 goals and recorded 68 points but in 30 extra games from the year prior.
Kunitz leaves the game of hockey with many notable accomplishments, but a few others that will not show up in a box score or trophy shelf. We mentioned his chemistry with Crosby above, so it was fitting that he was the one scoring the goal which gave Crosby his 1,000th career point back in 2017.
Later that season, Kunitz finished off another pass from Crosby for a goal, but more on that a little later.
For as good on offense as Kunitz was with the Penguins, he also had a knack for taking the body and laying some crunching hits when the opportunity presented itself. Just ask former Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen who learned the hard way during the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Kunitz was a surprise inclusion on Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Olympics but he made everyone look like a genius with solid play throughout the tournament. Before he wore the gold medal around his neck, he scored Canada’s third and final goal of the gold medal game against Sweden.
There is one specific playoff overtime goal that comes to mind when talking about Kunitz, but you still have to wait just a bit longer. During the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Penguins were even with the Islanders at a game apiece before Kunitz closed the door on Game 3 with a power play winner in the extra frame.
Something like that would have been helpful in 2019 but I digress.
It was more than just his on ice contributions that made his time with the Penguins memorable, he also did much off the ice, like when he saved then Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma from a flying puck while sitting on the bench.
Despite not being your prototypical goal scorer, Kunitz recorded four career hat tricks over his 15 NHL seasons, with the most memorable coming in 2013 against the Islanders on ‘Sock Monkey Night’ at Consol Energy Center. Kunitz completed his hat trick in the second period, and fans celebrated by covering the ice surface with the complimentary Penguins sock monkeys.
Now the moment you all have been waiting for, the only correct way we could possibly end our Chris Kunitz tribute. Amongst all the accolades Kunitz has amassed throughout his NHL career, one stands above the rest, especially in the eyes of Penguins fans.
On the evening of May 25, 2017, the Penguins are in double overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Ottawa Senators. It was a torturous back-and-forth affair that pushed fans to the brink of expiring. The Penguins were dominating the overtime periods but the game was still undecided five minutes into double overtime. That’s when Chris Kunitz answered the bell with the goal that will etch him into Penguins lore forever.
Kunitz sent the Penguins back to the Stanley Cup Final and wrecked an entire franchise all in one shot. Perhaps the most impressive feat of his career.
Everyone remembers what happened about two weeks following that goal as the Penguins sealed their second straight Stanley Cup title and the fourth of Kunitz’s career. It was only fitting he recorded an assist on the Cup clinching goal by Patric Hornqvist in Game 6 against the Predators.
That summer, Kunitz left the Penguins after nine seasons, but what a fitting ending it was for one of the franchise’s most unlikely legends. It was perhaps a small miracle that Kunitz ever played a season in the NHL, let alone 15 given the start to his career years ago. We are truly blessed that we had nine good ones with No. 14 wearing the skating Penguin.
Once a Penguin, always a Penguin. Thanks for everything, Kuni. Best of luck in retirement and your job with the Blackhawks.