Chris Kunitz is 35 years old.
I mention this not only because it’s the elephant in the room, but also because he is one of the rare professional athletes who is older than I am. You see, Kunitz was born September 26th, 1979; while I, you’re humble author, was born October 11th of that same year.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “What does this have to do with anything?” Well, I know how my joints feel on a day to day basis and with all the punishment Kunitz has taken over his career, I’m truly surprised he can walk – let alone skate top-line on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
That’s what professional athletes do. They make the seemingly impossible look routine.
Please don’t make the mistake that I’m comparing myself to Kunitz in any way other than our age. He is a multi-millionaire professional athlete and I’m just a writer with bad knees from playing years of basketball. I do feel, however, that I can see in Kunitz what has already happened to myself.
I can see the step he’s lost, because I’ve lost the same step (albeit at a much earlier age).
Kunitz has been a fantastic addition for the Pens ever since the team acquired him and Eric Tangradi for defensemen Ryan Whitney back on February 26th, 2009. Since that time, he’s been solid.
He found near intimidate chemistry with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis, and has put up numbers beyond what was believed capable for him. Through this, Kunitz has kept the “Winger for Crosby” spot warm for so long that it became his.
His deceptive speed, overshadowed by the speed of Crosby and Dupuis, allowed him to enter situations like a wrecking ball. Currently, the wrecking ball mentality is still there, sharp as ever, but the drop off in speed has him more often arriving late to “the party”.
Prime Time or Pasture?
I’m not ready to put Kunitz out to pasture, nor am I comfortable with him playing wing on Crosby’s line. For someone that will make 3.85 million a year over the next 2 years, it’s not easy to move him naturally down the ladder. If money were no object, I’d happily skate Kunitz on the 3rd line, giving Brandon Sutter someone to play along side that isn’t a top Wilkes-Barre Scranton player.
However, this is reality and money does play a major part in such decisions. The Pens may feel compelled to continue skating Kunitz on the top line, if not for the money but because Crosby seems to regard him as a security blanket / good luck charm.
The best thing for the team may be to attempt a trade. Kunitz could fetch a draft pick, but the real value would be in clearing that 3.85 million from the books.
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, seeing Kunitz once again line up next to Crosby this fall could drive us all nuts.
I, for one, hope that Kunitz spends his summer with Indiana Jones; searching for the Holy Grail – as I fear it may be his only way to regain that lost step.
Lee is a contributor here at The Hockey Writers as well as at Pens Initiative. A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, he worked an internship at VH1 Radio in NYC and served as Editor-in-Chief of the Penn State – New Kensington campus student newspaper, The Nittany Pride. You can visit Lee’s website here: leecjsobotka.com.