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Numbers Game: Kunitz, Whitney trade places

Scott Cullen
2/26/2009 1:55:49 PM
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Seeking scoring help on the wing, the Pittsburgh Penguins dipped into their reservoir of puck-moving defencemen and shipped one to the Ducks.

Numbers Game examines the trade and the junior star who may make the difference.

The Penguins Get: LW Chris Kunitz and RW Eric Tangradi.

Kunitz, 29, has been a solid, if not spectacular scoring winger for the Ducks over the past four seasons, topping out at 25 goals, 60 points and a plus-23 rating in 2006-2007.

This season, Kunitz has 16 goals, 19 assists and a plus-9 rating and he leads the Ducks with 148 hits.  His hard-driving style does tend to make him a good complementary part of a line with more skilled players. 

In Pittsburgh, that opportunity should present itself with Sidney Crosby, an opportunity that should improve Kunitz's production significantly over the final 20 games of the season. 

While Kunitz isn't going to be a massive upgrade on Crosby's wing, he is an improvement on the cast of characters that have rolled on and off Crosby's line, and if Kunitz can produce on the wing, it could allow the Pens to keep Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on separate lines and provide better offensive balance.

Kunitz is signed for another three years at $11.4-million and a cap hit of $3.725-million per season.

Tangradi is a fine power forward prospect who is having a great year with Belleville in the Ontario Hockey League, ranking second in the league (behind John Tavares) with 87 points in 52 games. 

The 6-foot-4, 221-pound left winger is signed to an entry-level contract and it's conceivable that he could compete for a spot with the Penguins as soon as next season.  It's certainly possible that, in the long run, Tangradi will be a finisher on the wing with either Crosby or Malkin.

With Sergei Gonchar returning and Kris Letang developing steadily, not to mention Alex Goligoski down on the farm, the Penguins could easily afford to move Whitney in order to make this deal happen;  a deal that gives them immediate and long-term help on the wings, and could very well provide a pair of top-six scoring wingers. 

The Ducks Get: D Ryan Whitney.

Whitney, 26, is trying to regain the form that he showed earlier in his career, like in 2006-2007, when he scored 59 points and was plus-9 in 81 games. 

While Whitney has terrific size at 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds, he doesn't always use it and his defensive play does leave something to be desired, particularly this season when he's a team-worst minus-15 in only 28 games.

On the other hand, he can jump into the play, is very capable moving the puck and has a big shot from the point so those offensive skills do make him attractive.

Whitney has four years and $18.5-million remaining on his contract, at a cap hit of $4-million, so he's obviously going to play a prominent role with the Ducks.

Immediately, Whitney figures to be on the second pairing and second power play unit, but the question is, whether Whitney's presence will make it more palatable for the Ducks to deal Chris Pronger.

If the Ducks keep Pronger, they have a formidable defence and will look to some young players to fill the scoring void up front.  Rookie Bobby Ryan will continue to play a prominent role and would figure to take Kunitz's spot on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, while fellow rookie Andrew Ebbett can anchor the second line with veterans Teemu Selanne and Brendan Morrison.

To measure out this deal in the long run, it will depend on whether the Ducks turn around and move Pronger, or if Scott Niedermayer retires because, given the current situation, it looks like the Ducks could very well regret including a promising young forward like Tangradi in this deal if Whitney doesn't become an elite defenceman.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca




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