People strain to find “turning points,” but the Pittsburgh Penguins really seemed to pivot when they added Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz around the 2009 trade deadline. He might not be blessed with the greatest finishing ability for a top-six forward, but Kunitz is a fantastic fit for the Penguins’ system.
The team decided to show how true that is by handing him a two-year contract extension today. The full deal is worth $7.45 million, which works out to $3.725 million per year – the exact salary cap hit he’s currently registering.
Kunitz might not be a household name, but he’s a ferocious forechecker whose high-effort game works well with frequent linemate Sidney Crosby. His numbers are suffering a bit without the Penguins superstar – Kunitz has one point in four games this season – but he’s the poster child for Dan Bylsma’s North-South philosophies.
To some, Kunitz will always provide a compelling counterpoint to the guy he was traded for: Ryan Whitney. While Whitney has more offensive gifts – even as a blueliner – Kunitz creates mistakes instead of making them.
Here’s an interesting thing to chew on: as of this moment, Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin now hold the longest-running contracts for any Penguins forwards, as their deals run out after the 2013-14 season. Kunitz is clearly part of “the plan” in Pittsburgh.
While much has been written about the Boston Bruins’ depleted defense, there’s also a good amount of intrigue about the forward group, which will look dramatically different tonight compared to last year’s season opener.
Here are the Bruins’ expected lines versus the Jets:
Brad Marchand–Patrice Bergeron–Loui Eriksson
Matt Beleskey–David Krejci–David Pastrnak
Jimmy Hayes–Ryan Spooner–Brett Connolly
Chris Kelly–Joonas Kemppainen–Zac Rinaldo
The line most under the microscope may be that second one. In today’s Boston Globe, there’s a lengthy story on Krejci. The 29-year-old center with the big contract only played 47 games last season due to injuries. He finished with just 31 points.
So, where is Krejci’s game now?
Then there’s free-agent addition Matt Beleskey, a.k.a. Milan Lucic‘s replacement. Prior to scoring 22 times last year for the Ducks, the 27-year-old Beleskey had never tallied more than 11 goals in a season.
So, is Beleskey a legitimate top-six forward?
On the other wing, it’s David Pastrnak, the 19-year-old who, somewhat surprisingly, emerged as one of the top rookies in the league last year.
So, can Pastrnak take another step forward?
“It’s been a good three plus weeks where we’ve been able to kind of work individually, as a group, as a line, with different players and different personalities,” said coach Claude Julien. “We’re pleased with it. We’re optimistic and we just have to let things work themselves out too.”
Last night in Los Angeles, Kings forward Milan Lucic received a match penalty after skating the entire width of the ice to give San Jose’s Logan Couture a two-hand shove to the face.
Lucic didn’t hurt Couture, who had caught Lucic with an open-ice hit that Lucic didn’t like. Couture’s smiling, mocking face was good evidence that the Sharks’ forward was going to be OK.
This morning, Lucic was still in disbelief that he was penalized so harshly.
“I didn’t cross any line,” Lucic said, per Rich Hammond of the O.C. Register. “Believe me, if my intentions were to hurt him, I would have hurt him.”
While Lucic knew he deserved a penalty, he said after the game that he didn’t “know why it was called a match penalty.” His coach, Darryl Sutter, agreed, calling it “a borderline even roughing penalty.”
And though former NHL referee Kerry Fraser believes a match penalty was indeed warranted, Lucic said this morning that he hasn’t heard from the NHL about any possible supplemental discipline.
Nor for that matter has Dustin Brown, after his high hit on Couture in the first period.
In conclusion, it’s good to have hockey back.
Related: Sutter says Kings weren’t ‘interested’ in checking the Sharks