There has already been a lot of talk that the Penguins will move goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the relatively short amount of time since the season ended, with Calgary rumored to have the most interest. But Fleury isn’t the only Pittsburgh Penguin that could find a new home next season.
Chris Kunitz has one more year left on the contract extension Ray Shero signed him to and is due to be paid $3.85M next season. For a team currently over the salary cap, this would be a great contract to shed. Not to mention that Kunitz doesn’t have a no trade clause and the team would have maximum flexibility in moving the 36-year old winger.
But why move Kunitz? Why now? Because his value has never been higher. He’s got three Stanley Cups and an Olympic Gold medal. He’s proved time and time again he can skate with great players, from Getzlaf to Crosby to Malkin and despite a tepid regular season in 2015-2016, the hard-nosed player had a great playoffs. Moves like this, sending out some older players to make room for young blossoming talent, became the calling card of the 2010-2015 Chicago Blackhawks. Moves like this, selling some of the smaller pieces while their value is highest, are what help keep championship-caliber squads championship caliber.
But where would Kunitz fit? Places like Calgary, New Jersey or Carolina with their young talent seem like decent landing spots. The veteran Kunitz could add something to those squads but there are two that really stand out as options.
The Coyotes need to hit the cap floor and taking on the Kunitz contract could be just what they need. Unlike other moves they’ve made, they will get an asset back in Kunitz. Kunitz can join the likes of Shane Doan to show their young burgeoning stars what it’s like to be a pro and bring a winning mindset to a team that hasn’t won all that much lately.
The teams also have a history of moves, most recently swapping twice on trade deadline day while preparing to play each other that night. Arizona has five picks in the first three rounds including two each in rounds one and two. However, there is an interesting wrinkle. The Coyotes, who own no fourth round pick in 2016, have conditionally traded their third round pick in 2017 to Philadelphia. That pick can become a 2016 fourth to Philadelphia, should they acquire one. The Penguins have a 2016 fourth round selection. Could they send their 2016 fourth to the Coyotes as a bit of a sweetener so they take the extra money of Kunitz’s deal, thereby allowing Arizona to keep their own third next year when the draft may be slightly deeper than this one?
Then what comes back? Ideally the Penguins would probably look at one of the extra picks the Coyotes have in round one or two, more likely the second round. These picks (New York’s first and an NHL compensatory pick in the second) would be a great way for Pittsburgh to move up during the draft, while saving money and replenishing their prospect stores.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are rebuilding but they still need veterans to skate with their youngsters. A single year deal for a player that has three Stanley Cups? That sounds like something they’d love to get in free agency. The Leafs have some money to spend and could offer the Penguins the rights to a restricted free agent or two that they don’t see fitting into their long term plans. They could also offer any of their “second picks” in the 2016 draft.
What are their “second picks”? These are the second pick in five of the seven rounds that the Leafs have acquired via trades. Kunitz for a third round selection that used to be New Jersey’s? For a fourth that used to be Colorado’s? Either sound pretty decent.
Now of course the Leafs, who have dealt successfully with the Penguins twice in the last year (thanks again for Phil!), would probably want something else. How about a 2017 third rounder? The third round of 2017 is the only round in the next two years they don’t currently have a pick in, so they could add another chance to bolster the rebuild there.
No matter what the logistics are, moving Kunitz this off-season would be a smart cap move by the Penguins. While it will draw a lot less attention than the pretty imminent trade of Marc-Andre Fleury, moving Kunitz would free up plenty of cap space and be a great example of selling while his value is highest.