A Look At The Decline Of Chris Kunitz With The Pittsburgh Penguins


Every year there seems to be a whipping boy on the Penguins roster that manifests a ton of criticism and debate among fans. Quite a few big names and very talented players have spent time among that crowd, including the likes of Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Kris Letang. This year, however, the attention has turned to Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz. And, well, it’s hard to argue that the attention is warranted in some regard.

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Chris Kunitz has been the long-term left flank to Captain Sidney Crosby and has made a name for himself as a hard-nosed winger that plays a power forward style, despite his small frame. He has added offensive production over the past few years that clearly made him a top-6 wing and a great fit alongside Crosby and preferred right wing Pascal Dupuis. At multiple points throughout it’s tenure that line was the top-scoring trio in the NHL. So, what happened? Kunitz’ production is down, but in the advanced stats world he’s having quite an impact.

Chris Kunitz currently has 39 points in 61 games played. So, roughly .64 points per game. He also ranks 2nd on the team with eight power play goals, trailing only Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin who each have nine. Is that enough production for a top-6 wing that carries a cap hit of 3.85m per year? Well, no. It isn’t.

Kunitz currently ranks 25th in points among left wings in the NHL. His .64 points per game is down from .87 one year ago. There have been multiple occasions in which he has shown an inability to finish in front of the net, an area that he has done the most damage throughout his career. That simply isn’t good enough for a second line LW that plays with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, after having spent most of the season alongside Sidney Crosby.

Here’s where things get tricky when evaluating Chris Kunitz. His drop-off in production and inability to capitalize on chances considered, he is at least still creating chances. And he’s doing it better than almost every other Pittsburgh Penguin.

Take a look at the chart below (via waronice.com).  Ideally, you’d want to be as far right and as low as possible.  Also, the larger your bubble the better, as that is based on your Corsi differential.

Chris Kunitz leads the Pittsburgh Penguins in CF% with 57.7, just ahead of Sidney Crosby who touts a 56.  One narrative has been that Kunitz maintains high possession numbers due to playing with stars like Crosby and his current line mate Evgeni Malkin.  However, when you analyze Kunitz’ WOWY (with or without you) charts, they disprove that logic as he bolsters a high CF% and FF% while playing with the likes of Brandon Sutter as well.  The words “possession black hole” have been used on numerous occasions to explain Sutter’s performance in that aspect, so you get the idea of how impressive that is.

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What does this data tell us?  It tells us that while Kunitz has clearly fell off in a big way in the point production department, he is still contributing in other ways.  He is still effective when paired with top-scorers like Malkin and Crosby as he generates offensive chances and opens up space.  Maybe he has been impacted by the recently reported iron deficiency that he is suffering from, but I don’t find it likely as a cause for his downward trend in production.  If anything, his possession numbers would likely be impacted the most considering it would make him more lethargic.  My overall opinion on Kunitz is simple.  He is still a positive attribute, but not at 3.8m per year.  He is aging and carries a contract that will prove to be a burden on this franchise.  Do I hate seeing Chris Kunitz in a Penguin jersey?  Absolutely not.  Would I move him in the offseason given the opportunity?  Absolutely.

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