Blackhawks ink Chris Kunitz to one-year deal

Blackhawks ink Chris Kunitz to one-year deal

The Blackhawks agreed to terms with forward Chris Kunitz on a one-year deal, the team announced Sunday. It's worth $1 million, per Scott Powers of The Athletic.

Kunitz turns 39 in September, but played in all 82 games last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning and registered 13 goals and 16 assists despite averaging a career-low 11:57 of ice time. His 29 points would've ranked eighth on the Blackhawks last season.

"First thing about Chris is he’s got some versatility to the way he can be used by the coaching staff," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. "Talking to Joel [Quenneville] the last couple days, that’s one thing Joel was really excited about. He’s got a lot of ingredients to his game, competitive guy, and I think he can really sort of bolster our veteran group.

"We’ve obviously got some great players on our team who have won multiple Cups, and this gives another voice like that on how to play the right way and guide these young players into taking the next step in their careers. He was used primarily in a checking role last year, but he still scored 13 goals. He played a lot with Ryan Callahan. He did move up throughout the season. He played on more offensive lines as well. He obviously had a very long run there in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby on the left side.

"I think it’s probably too early to tell what line he’s going to be on, but I think he brings a lot of intangibles and intensity to the game. Like I said, in somewhat of a limited offensive role he still put in 13 goals, so he’s still got the ability to contribute offensively and he brings a lot of things to the table. I think as a coach, I know Joel’s excited about having that at his disposal. We’ve got some young guys that have a lot of ability too and want to see where they’re at with their development and what role they’re ready to take on next year."

Kunitz's ties to Chicago played a big role in him signing with the Blackhawks.

His wife grew up in the suburbs and because of that, he's spent the last 10-11 summers here training and skating with some Blackhawks players, such as Patrick Kane. Now they'll all reunite on one team and try revitalizing a group that hasn't advanced past the first round since 2015 when they won it all.

"We're just excited to be part of an unbelievable organization that has a chance to win every single year," Kunitz said. "They're going to put the right pieces in place to try to accomplish that and we want to come aboard and help in any way we can, [whether] that's playing a checking role, going out and shutting down other teams down or if it's getting moved up once in a while, I'm ready for all facets of helping a team to win and maybe helping some of the young guys along the way."

At this point in his career, Kunitz may be nothing more than a fourth-line player and a guy that can be a part of a penalty kill rotation that ranked 20th in the league with a 79.1 percent success rate. It's also a veteran, proven winner getting brought in to a locker room that's gotten younger over the last couple years.

Like the Blackhawks showed with bringing back Patrick Sharp last season, they like having a mixture of veterans and youth to help mold the latter into better players and showing them the ropes.

Kunitz, who is the only active player with at least four Stanley Cups, having won with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and three with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017), has been around long enough to know there needs to be a strong balance of them.

"I think that's a good dynamic for winning teams nowadays," Kunitz said. "You need the guys to have experience and a lot of teams are letting their young guys kind of propel their careers by giving them opportunities and I think you see that with the Blackhawks and some of their young guys taking a big step into their second and third years, and really contributing.

"Obviously the veteran guys are the star power of the team that really control the locker room and stuff but it's an exciting team to be a part of.

"They have that desire to get back to the Stanley Cup and getting into the playoffs and as you see anything can happen, so I think that's the goal from an organizational standpoint is to win a Stanley Cup and I think as players and guys that have done it, it doesn't matter how you get there as long as you can get into the playoffs and then make that push and become one of the best teams and try to win a Stanley Cup. That's what they're looking to do every single year."

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators


Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four or five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

In a 10-part series, we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-09 season, the start of the Blackhawks dynasty.

Starting a dynasty means you have to identify a group of core players to build your team around. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews were those guys, along with Marian Hossa, who joined that mix later on.

You also need a mixture of young talent and strong veterans to fill out the depth to become successful. That's exactly what the Blackhawks had at the beginning of their dynasty and throughout.

On the first day of NHL free agency in 2008, the Blackhawks inked All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal, which solidified Chicago as a destination players wanted to commit to long term. That same year, Kris Versteeg emerged as the Blackhawks' third Calder Trophy candidate in two years, Martin Havlat and Andrew Ladd set a career high in points with 77 and 49, respectively, while youngsters Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien began to make a name for themselves as valuable pieces to the puzzle.

"Real good group of guys," Joel Quenneville said on Oct. 18, 2008. "I can say that it's the first time I walked in the room where, wow, I was impressed."

Six of the Blackhawks' Top 10 scorers in 2008-09 were aged 23 or younger. The average age for the other four? 27. The youth movement was real and they all contributed in a big way.