In Kunitz, the Lightning are getting a four-time Stanley Cup champion -- a guy who knows what it takes to win. On the other hand, fantasy owners shopping for wingers are looking at a 38-year-old who just failed to break the 30-point barrier or score a power-play goal for the first time since his rookie year of 2003-04. A steady 20-goal scorer in his glory days playing alongside Sidney Crosby, the veteran has devolved into more of a role player and figures to take on a bottom-six assignment with Tampa Bay.
Kunitz has won two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh and a third with Anaheim, but entering his age-37 season, he’s no longer a top scoring threat. He potted 17 goals and added 23 assists in 80 games, registering the lowest point-per-game scoring rate (0.50) since his rookie season in 2003-04. His peripherals can still help fantasy owners – he compiled a plus-29 rating, 56.0 Corsi For percentage and a career-best 264 hits – but his profile has changed from point producer to bottom-six grinder. With the Pens so close to the salary cap, it wouldn’t be surprising to see general manager Jim Rutherford move Kunitz’s expiring contract at the trade deadline, if not sooner.
Kunitz delivered a career year with 35 goals and 68 points two seasons ago, but the way he flagged down the stretch in combination with his advancing age foreshadowed last season's steep dropoff, as he shaved 28 points off his total despite playing in just four fewer games. His ice time took a hit -- falling under 18 minutes on average for the first time in five years -- and the soon-to-be 36-year-old is at risk of seeing that number fall again this year. Ostensibly, he opens the season as the Penguins' No. 1 left wing alongside Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel -- a dream assignment. But David Perron earned time alongside Crosby after the Pens acquired him last year, and the team also brought in KHL import Sergei Plotnikov to play left wing, so Kunitz has plenty of competition. He's going to have to show that he can still run with the big boys, because the Pens have no room for a 40-point man on their top line.
Kunitz set career highs in goals (35) and points (68) in 2013-14, but tailed off as the season progressed. The 35-year-old left winger totaled 55 points in 54 contests through January, but ended the campaign with only 13 points in his final 24 games. Furthermore, he produced just two power-play points during his slump. It's possible that the first-time Olympian simply wore down during the long season. He'll line up next to Sidney Crosby once again in 2014-15 and fellow linemate Pascal Dupuis will also return after missing much of last year. Even if Kunitz doesn't challenge his career numbers again, he's a good bet to reach the 50-point plateau.
Kunitz eclipsed the point-per-game mark for the first time in 2012-13, netting 22 goals and 52 points in 48 contests. He also contributed with 16 power-play points (9G, 7A) and finished second among top-50 scorers with 104 hits. A late-season slowdown -- 13 points in his final 20 contests -- is a warning to fantasy owners not to overvalue him on draft day, however. Kunitz will likely skate with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis once again, giving him plenty of value as a multi-category player. That said, expecting more than 60 points out of the 34-year-old would probably be a mistake.
Yet another Penguin who reached his career high in goals, Kunitz netted 26 while adding 35 assists and 18 power-play points in 2011-12. The muscle behind the Evgeni Malkin-James Neal line, the Regina, Saskatchewan native registered 180 hits, most among Pittsburgh forwards. He also finished third with 230 shots. Kunitz might be one of the lesser heralded fantasy assets in Pittsburgh, but he's a consistent threat in several fantasy categories. There's a chance he moves back onto a line with Sidney Crosby, but lining up with Malkin or Crosby is like picking between cake and ice cream. There's good reason to expect 55-60 points from Kunitz in 2012-13.
Kunitz is an unheralded, injury-prone linemate of Sidney Crosby who has missed 48 games in the last two seasons. He scored 48 points (23 G, 25 A) in 66 contests in 2010-11 and figures to pick up points at a similar pace going forward. Kunitz's physical style lends itself to the monthly injury, so don't expect him to suit up on a nightly basis. At the same time, he's shown an ability to play alongside Crosby that few others have offered, making him a worthy fantasy selection. Kunitz also collected 155 hits in limited action, giving him added value in leagues that count such a statistic. Expect another 40-60 point season from Kunitz, just be ready to replace him whenever he gets hurt.
Kunitz was slammed with injuries last season. He ended up needing surgery to correct an abdominal issue, sustained a torn groin, and was bothered by a bum shoulder. So, if Russian Roulette is your game, Kunitz could be the revolving ball that determines your do-or-die fate. On the right side of the bet he will showcase lengthy tears of offensive wonderment, but a bad gamble could mean that the myriad of injuries has crept back up and haunted his game. For what it's worth, Kunitz is coming off a stellar postseason in which he posted four goals and seven assists. Are you feeling lucky?
Kunitz has scored somewhere between 21 and 25 goals in each of the last three seasons. He struggled with one goal in 24 playoff games last year, but that appears to be more likely a blip on the radar than a long-term problem. Kunitz's scoring rate with Pittsburgh last year -- 18 points in 20 regular season contests -- figures to fall off, but he still has a chance to eclipse his season-high point total of 60.
Playing on Anaheim's top line offers Kunitz plenty of opportunities to produce, but that could change if Teemu Selanne is re-signed before the start of the season. Kunitz is a big part of the Ducks scoring output (21 G, 29 A last season) and playing along side of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry along with plenty of power-play shifts means if he stays healthy he has a good shot of making a difference on your fantasy team and putting up numbers comparable to his 2006-07 breakout season when he had his first 25-goal campaign and along with 35 assists. Kunitz has played 80-plus games for three consecutive seasons, with 50-plus points twice during the span. With Getzlaf establishing himself as an elite playmaker and scorer, Kunitz can do nothing but ride those coattails and continue to improve, even if he bounces around between Getzlaf's line and Brendan Morrison's group.
Kunitz had a breakout campaign last season, tallying 60 points (nearly 20 more than his previous season's output) while ranking fourth on the team in that department. He was just signed to a four-year contract extension so he should feel more comfortable knowing that the Ducks want him around and think of him as a big part of the team's success.
Kunitz could be bumped from the Ducks' top line, depending on how the cards fall with Stanislav Chistov, so avoid expectations of anything more than 40-point season until his linemates are determined.
Although he might make the team, Kunitz won't provide much fantasy value until he has some true NHL seasoning under his belt. We'll give him at least one full season before we give you any recommendations.