In all, Kunitz played 1,022 regular-season games, mostly with Pittsburgh, mostly skating on a line with Sidney Crosby. The left winger was one of the great stories of the modern era as he crafted a career out of nothing.
“First and foremost, I'd like to sincerely thank the Anaheim Ducks, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks," Kunitz said in a statement. "Every one of these organizations was the ultimate example, not only to me, but to my children, on what true professionalism should be.”
"Secondly, I'd like to thank the owners, coaches, trainers, management. Your love for the game, the team and the community was exemplified daily. I am very fortunate to have worked with every one of you.”
"Finally, to my teammates, thank you for everything. As a young player you taught me to give my very best. Your leadership helped mold me into the player I knew I could be. I was given the opportunity to play with the very best teams and the very best players, and I'm grateful for the laughs and the friendships that we shared together. Thank you for making my childhood dream come true."
Undrafted, Kunitz played four years of NCAA hockey at Ferris State without attracting any offers from any NHL team, but shortly after he graduated with a degree in marketing and business Anaheim signed him as a free agent.
It took him three years to establish himself as a bona fide NHLer, during which time the Ducks put him on waivers and later re-claimed him from Atlanta after the Thrashers waived him.
Then, in the spring of 2007, he helped the Ducks win their first Stanley Cup. The next year he played for Canada for the first time, at the 2008 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Quebec City.
Canada advanced to the gold medal game, only to lose in overtime to Russia. It was the only World Championship tournament of Kunitz’s career.
He was traded to Pittsburgh at the deadline during the 2008/09 season, and that’s when his career took off. Just a few weeks later, the Penguins won the Cup, Kunitz’s second in three years, and he frequently played with Crosby on the team’s top line.
A reliable and steady player, he stayed with the Penguins for eight-and-a-half years and was a key member of the team’s other two Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017. In the latter, he scored the conference finals series winner in double overtime of game seven against Ottawa, and in the finals, against Nashville, he assisted on the Cup-winning goal.
During this time he was also named to Canada’s Olympic team for Sochi in 2014, winning gold in his only Olympic appearance.
In the summer of 2017, he signed as a free agent with Tampa Bay and a year later with Chicago. In all, his teams made the playoffs 13 years in a row, missing only his first and last seasons.
Four Stanley Cups, one Olympic gold, one World Championship silver, and more than 1,000 NHL games. Not bad for a player no team wanted for more than four years.