Don’t get me wrong, Chris Kunitz is a good player. He has won Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh and Anaheim, has been a great in his role as a solid, top-six contributor over the years, usually good for around 60 points per season. The last two years he has stepped it up a notch, scoring over a point per game in the lockout shortened season, and is currently on pace for a career year. Kunitz is definitely a decent player, but he is not the best choice for Canada’s Olympic team despite his good chemistry with Pittsburgh teammate Sidney Crosby.
Steve Yzerman strategically built an Olympic gold medal winning team in the 2010 Vancouver Games, and was entrusted by Hockey Canada brass to do it again for the 2014 games in Sochi. One of the strategies that paid huge dividends in the last Olympics was picking several players either from the same team or who had played together before, in order to build chemistry quicker. This tactic has continued in Sochi, with Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and of course Crosby and Kunitz a few of the tandems that play together regularly in the NHL. What separates Kunitz from these players is he is not an all-star or game breaking player to the extent that both players in the other tandems are.
Versatility is also an important factor when picking the Olympic team. Guys like Getzlaf, Sharp, John Tavares, Patrick Marleau, and Jamie Benn are all very versatile, with the ability to play multiple forward positions. They are also all responsible defensively, with Benn and Sharp in particular, amongst the top two-way forwards and penalty killers in the NHL. The same cannot be said about Kunitz. He has played the vast majority of his career in one position (Left Wing), is not an elite two-way forward, and simply does not have the natural offensive talent that others on the team have. If he was more versatile, his place in the lineup could be warranted, however, he does not have the all-around abilities of other Canadian forwards, and does not warrant taking one of their places on the roster just on the basis of giving Crosby someone a linemate whom he has chemistry with.
Another issue of having Kunitz on the team and in the lineup is someone has to sit out to allow him to play. The first game it was Matt Duchene, the second it was Patrick Sharp, and today’s game against Finland, it was Martin St. Louis. Duchene was the third overall pick in the 2009 draft, and has established himself as a two-way number one centre in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche. He has also been Canada’s best player at the past few World Championships. Sharp, of course, is the versatile Chicago Blackhawks forward whose defensive responsibility combined with a proven 30 goal, 70 point scoring ability make him one of the best two-way forwards in the league. St. Louis is the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner and has been one of the NHL’s best offensive forwards since the 2004-05 lockout. When looking at the pedigree and talent of these three players alone, it is very difficult to justify having Kunitz in the lineup ahead of them.
The last reason-and most significant one at that-Kunitz should not be on the team has been his play so far in the tournament. Besides an absolute robbery by Finnish goaltender Tuukka Rask in Sundday’s game, Kunitz has been largely invisible. He is pointless in the tournament, and has even been taken off of Crosby’s line. Although it looks like it was a mistake to pick him based almost solely off of his chemistry with Crosby, Coach Mike Babcock can easily fix this mistake. Scratching Kunitz for the rest of the tournament would be the best thing for this team going forward. Based on pedigree and play in Sochi, there are 13 better forwards on this team, and those 13 players give Canada the best chance of bringing home Gold.
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