Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

New Lightning forward Chris Kunitz: Not fancy, but plenty formidable

TAMPA — Monday was Chris Kunitz's day with the Stanley Cup. To celebrate, his children ate breakfast out of the Cup.

Lucky Charms, milk and all.

"We figured fourth time is the charm," Kunitz said.

It was a bittersweet day in that he said hello to an old friend — he has won four Cups — but also said goodbye to his life as a member of the Penguins after nine seasons in Pittsburgh.

"Just a closing of a chapter," Kunitz, 37, said Wednesday at Amalie Arena.

 

The new chapter begins next season in Tampa with Kunitz a key offseason free-agent pickup for the Lightning.

The forward brings 161 games worth of playoff experience to a team that is looking to rebound from last season's injury-marred campaign that left the Lightning just short of reaching the postseason.

He brings 14 years worth of NHL experience and a little grit to a team that could use some.

When Kunitz signed a one-year, $2 million contract July 1, general manager Steve Yzerman described him as a hard guy to play against.

Kunitz explained why.

"I try to play a straight-forward game, straight lines, try to be physical on the forecheck, turn pucks over, go to the front of the net, go around the battle areas, go through people rather than around them," he said. "I'm not a guy who's going to skate through the neutral zone and make a bunch of fancy plays, but I'm going to try and be a guy that brings that physical aspect to the game and someone who makes it tough to play against."

That will play in Tampa Bay.

 

Forward Tyler Johnson said Monday that he and his teammates have been texting and talking about the additions of Kunitz and defenseman Dan Girardi, the former Ranger who signed a two-year, $6 million deal.

"I think we added some good veteran guys," Johnson said. "All the guys I've talked to are excited for the season, and we're excited about what we can do. We can be a really good team this year."

Kunitz won Stanley Cups with Anaheim in 2007 and with Pittsburgh in '09 and '16 along with this year. He'd like to win another.

"The Lightning have an unbelievable chance to win a Stanley Cup," Kunitz said, "and that's the reason why we came here."

When asked how good that chance is, Kunitz said, "I would say it's in those top three or four teams that everybody would agree they're just that close. When healthy, any team with this dynamic of a roster can beat everybody every single night. They have position players who can win a game on their own, like a goaltender or dynamic forwards or D-men who can step up. (We want) to be one of the favorite teams that can go in and try to make a run at it."

 

The Lightning, after losing in seven games to the Penguins in the 2016 Eastern Conference final, returned almost the entire team last season.

There was roster turnover at the trade deadline and again with signings of Kunitz and Girardi.

"I think change is part of what a team needs," Kunitz said. "Sometimes when you're so close, everybody gets kind of complacent, so I think that's what teams try to do. Obviously, it's a professional sport, and guys move around all the time. When you've been a guy who's been in one situation, it's tough to see guys go, but it's also nice to have new relationships and meet other guys and have management show they are trying to make a change to make a team better."

NOTEWORTHY: Karl Goehring was hired as the AHL Syracuse goaltending and video coach. He played eight pro seasons, mostly in the AHL, including two stints with the Crunch. He spent the past seven seasons as a volunteer assistant coach with the University of North Dakota, his alma mater.

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