Chris Kunitz brings championship experience, veteran versatility to Blackhawks
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He has won multiple Stanley Cups. He’s a former 30-goal scorer in the twilight of his career. He’s tight with several veteran Blackhawks. He has made Chicago his adopted hometown. And he signed on the cheap for a chance to prolong his career in whichever role he’s needed.
Meet Chris Kunitz, the Patrick Sharp of the coming season.
‘‘My wife’s from the suburbs,’’ Kunitz said after signing a one-year, $1 million contract with the Hawks on Sunday. ‘‘I think 10 or 11 of our summers, we’ve lived in Chicago. So our ties go back deep.
‘‘We’ve had Stanley Cup parties there. We’ve done family reunions. We still have some family around the area. I’ve skated with a lot of the Blackhawks in the summer and trained with some of their guys. Really familiar with some of the guys that played [at the] world championships and Olympics, stuff of that nature. So we’re just excited to be part of an unbelievable organization that has a chance to win every single year.’’
It seems unlikely that Kunitz — who will be 39 by the time the season starts — will be the guy to put the Hawks back over the top after a last-place campaign. The last of his six 20-goal seasons came in 2013-14, when he scored a career-high 35 goals as Sidney Crosby’s linemate with the Penguins. But the veteran left wing thinks he has plenty left in the tank, having played in 99 games with the Lightning last season — all 82 regular-season games and all 17 playoff contests.
Hawks general manager Stan Bowman was quick to point out that Kunitz scored 13 goals last season despite playing in a checking-line role. And, like Sharp, Kunitz can be used as depth scoring in the bottom six but also can serve as a proven fallback option in the top six. After all, Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz still are looking for a left wing.
‘‘When I got to Tampa, [I] kind of learned the game from a different angle of maybe not being one of the go-to guys but being somebody that can move up and down the lineup [if] there are injuries or guys are hurt,’’ Kunitz said. ‘‘Obviously, coach [Joel] Quenneville moves guys around quite a bit, so it’s intriguing on my side of it. You can go out and help your team win at any moment, and that’s kind of how I’ve looked at these last couple of years of my career.’’
With 263 goals in 966 career games, Kunitz should bring at least some offensive punch. But Bowman thinks Kunitz, a four-time champion (once with the Ducks and three times with the Penguins), can be just as valuable off the ice.
‘‘We have some veteran players that have done some special things — obviously, winning three Cups with the Blackhawks — but [we have to] help them a little bit,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘Sometimes everything falls on their shoulders, not only to lead the way but to mentor young players. That’s where bringing in a veteran on a shorter-term basis can help.’’
Bowman cautioned you can’t win with ‘‘just a bunch of young guys,’’ but you can’t win with ‘‘just a bunch of older players,’’ either. Despite the Hawks’ significant struggles last season, Kunitz said he thinks they have the right mix in place. And after years as a top guy, Kunitz just hopes to be a small piece of a winning puzzle.
‘‘You’ve seen some of their young guys taking a big step into their second and third years and really contributing,’’ he said. ‘‘Obviously, the veteran guys are the star power of the team that really control the locker room and stuff, but I think it’s an exciting team to be a part of. They have that desire to get back to the Stanley Cup.’’