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Chris Kunitz hopes for long-term stay with Pens

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal can become free agents in the summer of 2013.

This coming summer, the wing they both love playing alongside could be free to leave, but Chris Kunitz hopes he still will be wearing black and gold. He wants to finish his career with the Penguins.

"That would be ideal," he said. "That's exactly right."

On the final year of a deal he signed with Anaheim, Kunitz will make $4 million this season before becoming an unrestricted free agent. Kunitz, who turned 32 last week, likely will have trouble receiving more than a two-year deal from the Penguins, given general manager Ray Shero's preference to give short contracts to players older than 30.

Still, Kunitz clearly wants to stay in Pittsburgh.

"This is a great core of young guys," he said. "It's a great bunch. I love playing with them."

And they love playing with him. Crosby, Staal and Evgeni Malkin frequently praise Kunitz, whose simple but effective game makes him a comfortable linemate.

Consider the success Crosby has enjoyed with Kunitz:

• Crosby scored 15 goals during the 2009 Stanley Cup run with Kunitz on his left wing.

• Crosby scored a career-high 51 goals during the 2009-10 season with Kunitz on his left wing.

• Crosby was playing the best hockey of his career last year with Kunitz on his left wing before a concussion ended his season.

Pascal Dupuis has played many games on Kunitz's line and understands what makes him so valuable.

"It's how hard he works," he said. "You know exactly what you're getting out of him on every shift. It's nice to play on a line with a guy like that."

Dupuis offered some advice regarding Kunitz's lack of a contract for next season.

"He can't think about it," he said. "If you do think about it, you won't play your best hockey."

Kunitz opened the season Thursday night in Vancouver on a line with Staal. The two have thrived together before -- notably in 2009, during Kunitz's first few games with the Penguins.

"It's all the little things that he does," Staal said. "He's so good on the walls, he's such a good skater and he passes the puck well. Honestly, there isn't anything that he doesn't do well."

Staying healthy may be the lone exception. Kunitz has missed 48 games during that stretch, but his effectiveness hasn't been hampered by the injuries. In only 66 games last year, Kunitz scored 23 goals, his second-best NHL output.

"He does a lot of things that don't always end up on the scoresheet," Dupuis said. "But then, he does end up on the scoresheet a lot."

Kunitz figures that being a favorite of the team's three star centers isn't a bad bargaining chip.

"Definitely," he said with a smile. "And I like playing with them, too."

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