A little more than eight years and four months ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins traded defenseman and former No. 5 overall pick Ryan Whitney to the Anaheim Ducks for left wing Chris Kunitz. With both teams addressing needs in the deal, it was originally viewed as a good hockey trade.
But it quickly became a lopsided trade. Whitney never reached the 14 goals and 59 points he posted during his second season in the league. Actually, he never posted even 40 points in a season again, and played just 82 games for the Ducks.
In total, Whitney played 481 NHL games and retired at the end of the 2013-14 season. Kunitz dressed for 569 games over the last eight and a half seasons with the Penguins, becoming one of the cornerstones of the franchise. Kunitz is one of just five Pittsburgh players to win three Stanley Cups.
The soon-to-be 38-year-old left the Steel City on the first day of free agency, though, signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Still, he will forever be remembered for his time in black and gold.
Here are the top five moments of Kunitz’s career with the Penguins:
5. Kunitz & Sid Beat Rangers in Game 2 – 2015 Playoffs
Pittsburgh entered the 2015 playoffs having lost 11 of its final 15 games and just barely held onto the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. As a result, the Penguins faced the defending East champion and Presidents’ Trophy winning New York Rangers in the first round.
Heavy underdogs, the Penguins lost Game 1, but with the help of his old warhorse (Kunitz), Sidney Crosby scored twice and broke a streak of one goal in 19 playoff games. Kunitz also scored the eventual game-winner on the power play in the third period.
Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end of Kunitz playing with Crosby on a full-time basis, but the Crosby-Kunitz magic for one night at Madison Square Garden was loads of fun. For a brief moment, it even felt as if the eighth-seeded Penguins had a chance in the series. Pittsburgh would lose the series, though, in five games, falling four times by a score of 2-1.
4. Kunitz Destroys Kimmo Timonen, Fights Scott Harnell
We couldn’t have this list without a big, nasty hit. After taking a 2-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round in 2009, Kunitz set the tone early in Game 3 at Philadelphia by absolutely destroying then Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look for yourself:
Kunitz had a lot of great hits over his tenure with the Penguins – in fact, he recorded 1,452 hits in the regular season alone and 419 more in the playoffs – but this one was special because it was in the postseason and against Philadelphia.
This was also Kunitz’s first season with the team. There isn’t a much better way to endear yourself to your teammates than “laying the wood” on a division rival.
3. Sidney Crosby’s 1,000th Point
Kunitz didn’t play with Crosby much this past season, but when he did, special things happened.
On Feb. 16, Crosby outworked a Winnipeg Jets defender and set up his old friend in the slot. The score made it 2-0 Pittsburgh, but the goal meant a lot more than giving the Penguins an early lead. It also made Crosby the 86th player in league history with 1,000 points.
Unless Kunitz returns to the Steel City before he retires, this will be the last regular-season goal he scored with the Penguins. But, Kunitz did score a somewhat meaningful goal in the 2017 playoffs.
2. Overtime Winner Against Islanders
Until this past spring, Kunitz had one playoff game-winner in overtime. It came during Game 3 of the first round against the New York Islanders in 2013.
Pittsburgh dominated the lockout-shortended season, rolling to 72 points in 48 games. Had they played 82 games, the Penguins were on pace to record a franchise record 123 points.
But in the first round, they were in a dog fight. The Islanders stole Game 2 to tie the series at 1 and grabbed an early 2-0 lead at home in Game 3. Kunitz helped lead the Penguins back with a power-play goal and an assist to take a 4-2 lead.
Still, the Islanders didn’t give up. Shaky goaltending and defense allowed New York to tie the game in the third period. Another power-play opportunity, though, ended the game, as Kunitz tallied the game-winner 8:44 into overtime. Crosby had the primary assist.
1. Double OT Winner Versus Senators
This was an easy one. Kunitz hadn’t scored since Feb. 16, but he found the back of the net in the second period of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.
Tied 2-2, the game went into overtime, and despite dominating possession, the Penguins couldn’t score. Game 7 then headed into double overtime.
At 5:09, Crosby found his warhorse one last time.
Including the playoffs, Kunitz played 695 games with the Penguins. He was a gamer, showing up every night and playing hard. Going undrafted, Kunitz had to if he was going to survive in the league. He always did what the team asked and never complained.
First and foremost, that’s how Kunitz should be remembered. But he’ll also be remembered for scoring one of the most important goals in franchise history.