The details of the contract are straightforward: Tampa Bay Lightning signed four-time Stanley Cup champion Chris Kunitz to a one-year, two-million-dollar contract. They are getting a 37-year-old left winger with a LOT of playoff experience. He’ll be the member of the Lightning with the most playoff experience under his belt (161 playoff games), even more than new defenseman Dan Girardi (122 playoff games).
From the press release:
Kunitz played in 71 games with the Penguins last season, notching nine goals and 29 points. He ranked second on Pittsburgh for hits with 216 while averaging 15:30 in ice time per game. Kuntiz appeared in 20 playoff games, registering two goals and 11 points. He netted the winning goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators to send the Penguins to their second consecutive Cup Final.
But what did Penguins fans think of his abilities as an aging winger? David Straub of Pensburgh has followed his career with the Penguins, and has this insight into his play:
In Kunitz’s upper 30s, he became much more of a bottom-six bruiser last season than he ever was in previous years. He had the lowest regular-season output of his career, with 29 points in 71 games. That level of production had the fanbase very frustrated at times, looking to him to be a scratch in the later part of the season in favor of one of the younger, fresher sets of legs.
In Kunitz’s last 3 years, he’s given over 200 hits.
But give Kunitz this much: when the chips were down, he was able to conjure the old magic he had with Sidney Crosby to propel the Pens to the Final. I don’t know if any other winger on the Penguins was attuned to Crosby’s tendencies as Kunitz was, and he used that at the perfect time over Ottawa. An iconic end to his Penguins career, if we’re being frank.
I could see him playing a very similar bottom-six grinder mentorship role in Tampa.
Kunitz also sees himself as a guy that isn’t necessarily a master of one thing, but can do a couple of things well. To that end, if Tampa needs to shuffle wingers around due to injury, he can see himself filling in on a couple of different levels depending on where he is needed.
These signings, of both Girardi and Kunitz, remind me of the 2014-15 season and Brendan Morrow. Is Yzerman looking to replicate that kind of leadership in the room? Will Kunitz work just as well with the kind of center Steven Stamkos is that he could with Crosby, or is he slated to go lower in the lineup?
So far, this free agency leaves nothing but more questions.