Some big news came from Russia early this morning with a source inside the Pittsburgh Penguins eventually confirming it, they’re going to attempt and sign Sergei Plotnikov. He plays in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and might be in line to play with Evgeni Malkin, should he sign.
Plotnikov is a 25-year old, left-handed, forward who is coming off of 36 points and 71 penalty minutes in 56 games played. However, his contract was strangely terminated in late April – as reported on DKonPittsburghSports.com.
What Does This Mean For Chris Kunitz?
Well, this presumed move only lowers Kunitz’s chances to remain on the roster for the 2015-16 season. After a very fast start to the past season, Kunitz hit a wall.
He suffered a fractured foot in the Penguins 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on December 2nd, 2014. He missed seven games and returned, but he was never the same. The reality of the situation is that the Penguins’ medical staff deemed him good enough to play, but his foot would not heal until he actually rested it.
In other words, Kunitz, like Blake Comeau, played through an injury that seriously hampered his performance. The most telling statistic you can discuss is that Kunitz scored eight goals in the first 11 games and then nine over the final 63 games played.
Kunitz was still the Penguins fifth leading scorer with 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) and made his presence known with 211 hits in 74 games played. Then in five playoff contests he was the second leading scorer with a goal and two assists. For a 35-year old forward, it certainly wasn’t a bad season, but the fans were expecting more.
Former general manager Ray Shero signed him to a three-year/$11.55 million dollar contract. His deal has an annual cap hit of $3.85 million dollars.
So with Plotnikov coming in, what about Kunitz? David Perron and Patric Hornqvist look to play alongside Sidney Crosby, the assumption would be that Kunitz would bump down to the second line and play with Malkin.
However, the Penguins have been looking for a Russian forward to play alongside Malkin and now they are about to get one.
It’s beginning to look like Kunitz simply doesn’t have a spot in the lineup anymore and $3.85 million is too much to pay a third or fourth liner.
Now it’s looking like the Penguins view Kunitz the same way, according to rumors and inside information, the Penguins are shopping Kunitz and Sutter. Those are their best two trade chips that still have value and losing either of them wouldn’t cripple the franchise.
The T. J. Oshie Rumor
The Penguins are in hot pursuit of the St. Louis Blues’ forward T. J. Oshie. They’re looking to try and acquire Oshie and are willing to give up a significant amount of assets to get him.
We’ve already discussed how Oshie fits with the Penguins and why he would really help the team and that’s found right here.
However, that isn’t the only forward the Penguins are looking at. Yes, Pittsburgh is actually looking at the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp.
The initial asking price is absurdly high and many around the league think he could be acquired for a second-round pick and a mid-high range prospect. But adding Sharp doesn’t help the Penguins because he, like Kunitz, is getting older and beginning to slow down.
Maybe Sharp would give the Penguins the best chance to win within a year or two, but isn’t a long-term solution. At least Oshie is still 28-years old and still flies all over the ice.
Will the Penguins pull the trigger on either of these players? We should know within a week otherwise expect the Pens to wait until the trade deadline to address their top-six forwards.
Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers