Chris Kunitz is under siege. For many columnists lacking other ideas for an angle after an unremarkable 6-0 win by the Canadians over a vastly outmatched Austrian team, Kunitz's apparent discomfort playing alongside world class talent is bubbling as topic du jour. Many are calling for Kunitz to sit for Canada's next game against Finland, and others are congratulating themselves for predicting he would be overmatched.
Chris Kunitz is a great guy and a good player but he's not the right fit for Canada's top line. Credit to all those that said it all along.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) February 14, 2014
Beyond the absurdity of making definitive declarations after six periods of hockey, here's what we know: While Kunitz hasn't looked comfortable, he shares one major thing in common with nine other forwards -- Patrick Sharp, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Rick Nash, Sidney Crosby, and Martin St. Louis -- in that none of them have any goals.
And it's not surprising that Kunitz doesn't shine in what is essentially an all-star exhibition game against inferior talent -- he's not as creative as his teammates, nor is he as naturally gifted. Those guys can reach deep into a bag of tricks to humiliate inferior opponents. Kunitz doesn't have a bag of tricks. He wears carpenter jeans with a hammer in the loop and measuring tape clipped to his belt.
The Things Chris Kunitz Does (title of Tim O'Brien's next book) are not the things that are necessary when beating on the Austrians, but they're going to be increasingly necessary in tight games against better competition: hammering defensemen, taking abuse in front of the net, deflecting pucks, and falling over when trying to stickhandle too much. It looks kind of awkward when he tries to fill that role against Austria and Norway, just like it would have looked awkward for Dennis Rodman to do Dennis Rodman things when the Dream Team was beating the Croatians by 50.
Team Canada is not the Dream Team. Things are about to get a lot tighter, and the role that Kunitz fills is going to be increasingly important. So yeah, he's an $80 Timberland boot in a closet full of $500 Ferragamo loafers. On a sunny day, he's clunky and awkward looking. But when the weather turns, the guys in Ferragamo loafers are up to their ankles in slush trying to hail a cab. Chris Kunitz is stomping through the ice at full speed.