(Author's note: Sometimes it's difficult to be a somewhat lonesome Ducks blogger on the internet. If you want a scouting report on Ryan Whitney, for example, there's plenty of Pittsburgh Penguins bloggers to solicit. But generally, when people want a Duck fan perspective on a player like Chris Kunitz, seemingly a lot of people turn to me. Which is fine, for the most part -- but yesterday was a pretty busy day, and I got hit up by multiple requests to write something up. So here's what I wrote in the wee hours last night -- you may see versions of this pop up in different corners of the internet as it's also been distributed to various requesters -- but I'm a giver. My main concern as I wrote this was really: with 10 UFAs, how many of these pieces will I be writing in the next week? Anyways, onwards!)
Ah yes, some good times.
Of course yesterday’s big Pittsburgh-Anaheim trade involved three players, but I’m really only qualified to talk about one of them – former Ducks winger Chris Kunitz, who more or less had been a part of Anaheim’s big-league club since the lockout. I have a surface knowledge of Ryan Whitney (already nicknamed "Cotton Gin") and have never heard of Tangradi (though I’m notoriously awful at prospects), but I’ll try to end with a trade assessment, which is of course subject to change.
First off, a brief history of Kunitz’s seasons – in 05-06, Kunitz started up-and-down, and in fact was claimed off waivers by Atlanta before Brian Burke re-claimed him a week or so later. But as the season progressed and the Ducks became a western conference finalist, Kunitz helped form a speedy top line with Teemu Selanne and Andy McDonald. What was amazing about that line wasn’t so much its talent, but rather its unbelievable affordability. Teemu had signed a one-year $1M deal with incentives, Andy Mac and Kunitz (by virtue of neither ever being drafted) combined for another $1.1M, and yet the trio put up a whopping 93 goals and 216 points. Yeah, the bulk of that wasn’t Kunitz’s production, but he was a serviceable member of that line.
The cup season, he continued on that line for $1.4M (going off memory here, but everyone got salary bumps after Burkie ripped ‘em off in year one), and of course we know how successful that year turned out to be. I think the telling thing about Kunitz wasn’t so much in his counting numbers, but I wrote a post when Kunitz signed his extension about how he was Anaheim’s scoring enabler – Teemu and Andy Mac, Getzlaf and Perry, Niedermayer and Beauchemin, Pronger and O’Donnell – all of these players had better numbers when Kunitz was on the ice. Kunitz did get hurt in the latter rounds of the postseason (amazingly though, 8 of Anaheim’s top 10 forwards played every game that year), but returned by the end of the Ottawa series.
Doin' the alma mater proud
The last two seasons since the cup, Kunitz has shuffled around a bit. He’s played a majority with Getzlaf and Perry, but also gets used to spread scoring to the second line. The team has been less stellar, of course, but not a lot of that falls on Kunitz’s shoulders. He’s put his effort and points in, and generally has provided exactly what he’s provided before – speed, a willingness to shoot and hit, and an offensively complementary game. He might not be blessed with the best set of hands (I’m not convinced Kunitz picks corners when he shoots), and he’s not a guy who will necessarily carry a line, but put him with scorers and he will give them some space.
The question becomes whether those ride-along talents are worth his current $3.725M cap hit, but if used properly, it’s a fine deal. With Crosby, it’s a bit tough to say – to tell the frank truth, I’m a western conference anomaly who hardly ever watches Pittsburgh play – but it’s tough for me to imagine Kunitz stinking. He’s steady – his ceiling might not be as high as some players but his floor isn’t very low either. He’s not out of place on a top power play unit, but doesn’t exactly demand the time either. For a center-strong team like Pittsburgh, though, it should work out – he’s adaptable enough to ride shotgun on any of their centers’ wing.
Fare thee well, Kunie. You never really got a strong nickname like some of the longtime Ducks, but I think it’s safe to say that Anaheim loved having you. Perhaps my favorite Kunitz memory – and this is a little bit warped on my part – was the game against Nashville when Kunitz, barely provoked, dropped his gloves and started punching the closest guy to him – Marek Zidlicky. Zidlicky, bewildered at why he was suddenly in a fight, covered his face with his gloved hands to avoid the punches, but through some miracle in refereeing, both were given 5 minutes for fighting. I couldn’t stop laughing for the entire penalty.
The Penguins did well for themselves, I think (I’ve heard good things about Tangradi since yesterday, also), but I’m still pretty positive about this trade from the Ducks’ angle. This really represents GM Bob Murray’s first significant transaction with the Ducks – for the most part, all he’s done is play out the hand that Brian Burke left him with – and while proper commenting will happen in about a week when the dust settles, I think it’s a good gamble. Eli Whitney may have his flaws, but unlike Kunitz, I don’t think Whitney’s hit his ceiling; there is a real possibility for improvement. Kunitz’s energy will definitely be missed, but $3.7M is still a bit of salary to spend for someone to ride along on Getzlaf and Perry’s coattails -- this does represent the first year that Kunitz isn't really a salary cap bargain. And the salary on Cotton Gin isn’t that bad – I’d expect he’d get more if he were negotiating a new long-term deal today.
So at first blush Bob Murray, I’ll give a thumbs up – I’ll have to watch a few games that don’t end in a 6-0 loss before I really know what we’ve got in Whitney, though. And as to whether this triggers a subsequent Niedermayer or Pronger deal, I can only say this – the only person who knows what the Ducks need to do this deadline is the person who knows what Scott Niedermayer has planned for next year. Unless Scotty is willing to sign a Teemu-style bargain contract (psst, remember that 34-game vacation you got last year?), this much is now predictable: the trio of Niedermayer, Pronger, and Whitney won’t be playing together in Anaheim next fall.