The inspiration came from thinking about Team Canada and watching Sidney Crosby destroy the NHL two and a half weeks into the season.
Kunitz comes from a long line of players to play either collegiate or junior hockey for their full ride and then sort of toil in the minors for a couple of seasons. Some more extreme examples include Alex Burrows (F-VAN) and P.A. Parenteau (F-COL). But not every player is ready for the NHL after the draft, or even a few seasons of junior or college. For some guys, it takes years. For Kunitz (and the 2005 lockout was a factor, as it would probably have been his first full year), his first full season in the NHL wasn’t until 2005-2006, at the tender age of 26.
For his career, Kunitz is a 57 point/82 game player or 0.7 points/game. What’s more important of course is that since the start of the 2009 season, Kunitz has 200 points in 255 games with the Penguins. That works out to 0.78 points/game, or a 64 point pace in 82 games.
For his career, Kunitz has been a very solid NHLer. When you think of a 57 point pace for 82 games, it doesn’t seem like a lot. But 57 points is typically around the top 60 forwards in point scoring per year, or top two forwards on each team. When looked at it from a slightly different angle, you see how good a player Kunitz really has been.
We have to be a bit careful when looking at Kunitz’s career numbers. They are pretty skewed by very recent performance: In his last 57 games with Crosby in the lineup, he has 62 points (1.088 points/game) while he has 348 points in his other 531 games, or 0.655 points/game. That 0.655 points/game mark includes over 100 games with Pittsburgh (much of which spent with Crosby) and his time in Anaheim, where he played with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf for half of his 5v5 time. In other words, other than a really small sample of recent time spent alongside Crosby, Kunitz is a 53 point player, playing alongside stars. That’s not that great.
In 2007-2008, Kunitz’s third full year in the league, he put up 50 points in a full 82 game schedule. In 2008-2009, Kunitz put up 35 points in 62 games before being traded to Pittsburgh. Over those 144 games with Anaheim, Kunitz’s GoalsFor% – which is the percentage of 5v5 total goals scored in the games of a given team that belonged to that team – was 60.3% with Ryan Getzlaf on the ice with him and 63.5% with Corey Perry on the ice with him. When he wasn’t with Getzlaf, that number drops to 52.1% and without Perry it’s 49.3%. While Perry’s and Getzlaf’s dropped a bit without Kunitz, it’s nowhere near the plummet that he has without them.
Since joining the Penguins, Kunitz has found a nice home playing alongside Sidney Crosby. From 2008 through the end of last season, Kunitz spent 37% of his 5v5 time with Crosby as his centre. Considering Crosby only played about 68% of the regular season games over that span, that’s a lot of time together.
From 2008-2013, the duo of Kunitz/Crosby have combined for a 68.4 GF%, which is truly elite. Without Crosby, though, Kunitz is only at 57.2%. While that’s still a good mark keep this in mind; that 57.2% without Crosby includes over 1000 minutes of ice time with Evgeni Malkin, where Kunitz was a 64.6 GF% player. Without Malkin, Kunitz is just 61.2% (which includes his ice time with Crosby). So in other words, if Kunitz wasn’t playing on a line with Crosby or Malkin, he was pretty much just an above-average player. Have we noticed a pattern here?
This is where the disconnect with analytics can come in for some people. It’s pretty hard to differentiate using only the data whether it was Crosby that drove the possession for him and Kunitz, or the other way around; they were a 55.7 CorsiFor% duo from 2008-2013. Without Kunitz, Crosby’s possession rate drops more than Kunitz without Crosby. Normally, this would indicate that Kunitz, and not Crosby, drives possession when the two of them are together. If you’ve ever watched Pittsburgh play though, this is certainly not the case. What is likely is that when Kunitz wasn’t with Crosby (i.e. when Crosby was hurt), then he was on a line with Malkin (mostly).
The reason I wanted to dig a bit deeper on Chris Kunitz was because there’s a lot of debate of whether or not he should be on Team Canada. I’m firmly in the “No” camp, and here’s why:
From 2008-2013, Kunitz tallied 165 points at 5v5 in 4356 minutes of ice time, or about one point every 26.4 minutes. Of those 165 points, 78 of them came with Sidney Crosby on the ice (1614 minutes of ice time), or one point ever 20.1 minutes. So in 37% of his ice time, Kunitz tallied 47.3% of his 5v5 points.
There’s no doubt that the two of them work well together. But if anything should happen to Crosby (he’s not exactly a beacon of consistently full seasons), then Kunitz’s value takes a massive hit; without Crosby, Kunitz’s production rate drops nearly 24%. If something where to keep Crosby out of the lineup, you now have two useless roster spots
We’ll see what actually happens, but I really hope there’s a more versatile player on Team Canada than someone who has to play with a certain line mate.
In The End
Kunitz is a good hockey player. He’s been consistently among the Top 60 forwards in the NHL for several years now. He’s made a lot of money and won two Stanley Cups, a very solid career.
That said, he’s not one of the elite in the NHL. He’s a very solid player, but not a game breaker. A good career? Yes. Team Canada-worthy or a point-per-game player? Nah.