Chris Kunitz Extended Through 2017
When the trade deadline came around in 2009, the Penguins had reached a turning point. Michel Therrien had been fired and Dan Bylsma was the new head coach, fresh up from Wilkes-Barre.
With a new coach came a new philosophy. The defense-first mentality of Therrien was replaced with the north-south, bang and grind style the players immediately took to. Ray Shero also acquired Bill Guerin, the wily veteran captain of the New York Islanders, and a lesser-known commodity, one of Dan Bylsma’s former teammates from his days with the Mighty Ducks. Chris Kunitz.
Kunitz plays Dan Bylsma Hockey to the letter. He’s a fast skater, he hits through guys, and his hands have steadily improved since he arrived. Plus, he’s found chemistry with both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not something any player has been able to do. The way Kunitz plays opens space for those talented playmakers to do what they do best. Shero knows how important Kunitz is to this team, and signed him to a three-year extension. Kunitz will be 37 when it expires, and his physical style of play suggests he may not be very effective at that age despite his general durability.
At $3.85 million average annual value, Kunitz will receive a modest raise in what will likely be the last years of his career. Good for him. Now, that brings us to Sidney Crosby’s other linemate, Pascal Dupuis.
Dupuis, even moreso than Kunitz, has improved his game drastically in the past few seasons, an oddity for a player in his 30s. But Dupuis is a sound, smart hockey player who excels defensively, has the speed to keep up with Crosby, and has recently discovered a goal-scoring touch never seen before in his career. With free agency just over a week away, Ray Shero is working hard to strike a deal with Dupuis. But with Dupuis up for a new contract so soon, why did Shero make it a priority to extend Chris Kunitz before finalizing a deal with Dupuis?
The writing is on the wall. Chris Kunitz got the same contract Shero wants Dupuis to accept. The two are similar players, not necessarily in style or ability, but in their career paths and where they fit with the Penguins. In both cases, they fit on Sidney Crosby’s wings. Comparing their roles, their stats, and their standing with the team, it’s reasonable to assume they would get similar contracts. If Kunitz accepted what would likely be less than market value for his services, Dupuis will be expected to do the same.
Whether or not he will remains to be seen. If Dupuis chooses to pursue free agency, then he’ll make more money, and good for him. If he likes his situation here enough that he would give up a larger contract for it, good for the Penguins. Either way, the ball appears to be in his court.