Penguins: Trade or Keep Chris Kunitz?

Like Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kunitz has been the target of trade talk during this young offseason. It has even been suggested that the Penguins should use their buyout on Sidney Crosby’s long-time winger. Even though Kunitz will be 37-years-old before next season starts, he still has value. So what exactly should Pittsburgh’s next course of action be? Quality cases could be made for both keeping, and trading Kunitz.

Keeping Kunitz

Kunitz may not be the same player that we saw a few years ago, but he is still driving possession as effectively as  ever. In fact, his possession numbers in 2015-16 were among the best of his career.

Season Corsi For % Corsi For % Rel
2015-16 55.7 4.2
2014-15 56.7 4.8
2013-14 52.3 3.7
2012-13 54.8 5.7
2011-12 57.9 5
2010-11 53.9 2
2009-10 56.3 4.6
2008-09 55.6 5.9
2007-08 57.3 7.8

His 18 goals and 40 points during the regular season combined with the 4 goals and 11 points in the playoffs are still pretty solid numbers considering his age and the physically demanding style that he plays.

Another reason to keep Kunitz beyond simple production, is the fact that there is nobody to replace him. I had suggested Beau Bennett, but now that he has been traded, that option is gone. Any potential free agent that would come close to the same impact as Kunitz would be far too expensive. Especially in this environment of GMs throwing money at players who may or may not deserve it. I had also thrown out the name of Darren Helm, but as the market is trending, Helm would cost far more than they would save by trading Kunitz.

As Jaromir Jagr and Matt Cullen are showing, age is just a number. They are still producing at high levels, so why couldn’t Kunitz?

Trading Kunitz

After the 2016-17 season, Kunitz will be an unrestricted free agent. At his advanced age (I know that I just said “age is just a number”) anything can happen. He could opt to retire after this year, or his production could significantly drop. There is risk involved in keeping him and getting nothing in return down the road.

Kunitz will be making nearly $4 million this year, which is a lot of money on a team that is struggling for cap space. That is money that could be used towards a younger replacement, or a contract extension for Nick Bonino. Many see the age, and salary as making a Kunitz trade a logical move. But there are many variables in play that have to be considered before such a move is made.

The Penguins need to see which way the wind blows at the start of free agency. Can they find a reasonable replacement? Are Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust going to deliver on the promise that they showed last season? There is risk involved in staying the course, or making a trade. But the answer certainly is not a buyout. Kunitz still has value. Whether that value is the highest in Pittsburgh, or another city remains to be seen.

Until next time.