How long do coaches stay with Kunitz?
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Q: At 9-2, it's hard to nit-pick, but Chris Kunitz needs to start contributing. He had many chances early in the New Jersey game, but couldn't convert. How much longer does the coaching staff stay with him before looking at other options for Sidney Crosby's left wing?
Joe Berret, Springfield, Va.
MOLINARI: Coach Dan Bylsma and his staff could change course at any time, of course, but current indications are that replacing Kunitz isn't getting serious consideration, even though he has no goals and just five assists in 11 games this season.
The fact that there really aren't many other viable options available for Crosby's left side might have something to do with that, but it's also true that, aside from his limited offensive production, Kunitz has earned good reviews from the coaching staff for his forechecking, hard work, physical play, etc. He's doing a lot of things that contribute to the success of his line and his team, even if they aren't reflected on his personal stat sheet.
That said, the Penguins couldn't have envisioned Kunitz going into this kind of protracted goal-scoring drought -- he has one in his past 40 regular-season and playoff games -- when they acquired him and Eric Tangradi from Anaheim for Ryan Whitney in February. He has scored 19, 25, 21 and 23 during the past four seasons, most of which he spent with the Ducks.
Being 9-2 obviously lessens the urgency to plug another player into the spot Kunitz has filled for most of his time here, even if the Penguins had someone who could do so. However, when they hit some sort of significant slump, which just about every team does at some point, it might be a lot more difficult for Bylsma to keep lines that aren't producing to expectations intact.
Of course, unless management determines that Tangradi or Luca Caputi is ready for steady work on a prominent line at this level, which is a lot to expect at this stage of their development, the Penguins don't really have anyone in the organization with the potential to be a consistent scorer who could move in alongside Crosby and Bill Guerin.
The bottom line is, there's no reason to think Kunitz will lose his job because of his goal-scoring struggles, especially if he continues to execute all the other aspects of it well.
Q: How is it that we never hear any suspicions of hockey players taking performance-enhancing drugs? Is the testing better in the NHL? Are hockey players more moral than other athletes (not likely)? Or is it that performance-enhancing drugs are widespread, but because we like seeing hard hits, we just turn the other way?
Brian Glaister, Seattle
MOLINARI: It would be naive for anyone -- be it a management member, league official or fan -- to believe that the NHL is free of performance-enhancing drugs. They are simply too pervasive in sports to think that hockey has managed to remain pristine. (As a side note, how the NHL's testing program compares to those in other sports isn't known, but if it actually was better, wouldn't it be more likely to detect violators, thus increasing the number of them?)
Those who argue that hockey players are less likely to use steroids than, say, linemen in football because they wouldn't benefit from the increased muscle mass the way some football players do could make a valid point, but that's not the only reason a hockey player would consider using them.
Steroids are reputed to make it possible for players to work out longer and more vigorously, which could accelerate the recovery process for a player who has been injured. That might be a short-sighted approach to dealing with a problem, but it's hardly unheard-of for an athlete to focus on an immediate objective without fully considering the long-term repercussions.
Finally, if an appreciation for hard hits really was connected to public tolerance for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, the NFL never would have considered having a testing program, let alone actually implemented one.
First Published October 26, 2009 2:35 pm