“It’s a hard text to write, to somebody who’s made such an impact on my career,” said Kunitz on TSN. “Coming here, playing with a player of his caliber … following everything he does takes your career to another level.”
Kunitz has lived a charmed life in the NHL.
After winning a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks, he was acquired by the Pittsburgh Penguins, clicked with Crosby and amassed 388 points in 569 regular season games, as well as 53 points in 126 playoff games. He won three Stanley Cups as well as Olympic gold in 2014, as many felt Crosby’s presence solidified him on the roster.
But saying he’s had a charmed life is sort of backhanded praise, in the sense that it underplays his abilities and importance to the Penguins: His physicality, his versatility and his aptitude for big moments like that double-overtime winner in Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators.
He turns 38 this September. His ice time has declined in each of the last three seasons, to 15:31 last season, when he had 29 points in 71 games.
But for what the Lightning are looking for, he fits the suit: They were hunting Justin Williams as a veteran winger with a winning pedigree, but he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes. So they get Kunitz, for one year and $2 million, to add savvy and depth to the lineup with little impact on their cap. (Or, perhaps they cast him in a prominent role with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov?)
With Kunitz in Tampa Bay, Nick Bonino in Nashville and Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas, it’s all going to feel a little different for Crosby and the Penguins next season. But then it’ll feel different for Kunitz, too.
“You can take the memories with you,” he said. “I look forward to playing with another team with a young core, with a chance to win. That’s why you play the game.”
To get there, the Lightning will have to get through some of Kunitz’s old friends.
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