PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby will keep at least one linemate around for the long haul.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and forward Chris Kunitz agreed to a three-year contract extension on Thursday that could keep him playing alongside Crosby until the 2016-17 season.
General manager Ray Shero says the new deal, which begins in 2014-15, will carry an annual salary cap hit of $3.85 million.
“It’s exciting for me and my family,” Kunitz said. “The stability of having an extra three years on a deal is really nice, but knowing that we’ll part of a classy organization, well-coached team and lot of great teammates, a team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup every year, that’s definitely an exciting thing.”
Kunitz, 33, has flourished since the Penguins acquired him from Anaheim in February 2009. Splitting time between Crosby and Malkin’s lines this season, Kunitz led the Penguins with 22 goals and finished second on the team with 52 points. He added five goals and five assists during the playoffs, including one of the two goals Pittsburgh scored during a four-game sweep by Boston in the Eastern Conference finals.
The extension continues Shero’s decision to maintain the core group that led the Penguins to the second-best record in the NHL this spring. The Penguins awarded coach Dan Bylsma with a two-year extension shortly after the season ended then promptly inked Malkin to an eight-year extension.
Pittsburgh is also negotiating with defenseman Kris Letang, who is entering the final year of his contract, and forwards Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke, both of whom will become free agents next week.
Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis formed hockey’s most productive line in 2013, combining for 144 points even with Crosby missing the final third of the season with a broken jaw.
“The way our management and coaching staff respect the players and their willingness to work with us makes it fun to come to the rink everyday," Kunitz said. "I don't know if you get that a lot of sports. A lot of our guys spend more time at the rink than other teams just because we enjoy being around each other, being around the facilities and being around the coaches. They make it enjoyable.”