Tim Benz on Pittsburgh Hockey Now is sponsored by Blush Gentleman’s Club.
For a while now it has seemed like there were three options for Matt Cullen:
1. Play for the Penguins
2. Play for the Minnesota Wild
3. Play for no one and retire
Well now there appears to be a fourth option:
4. Play for ‘Murica!
Over on DK Sports Radio, I spoke with former Penguin assistant coach Tony Granato. He was recently named the Team USA Olympic Hockey coach for 2018. And Granato says not only is he considering Cullen for a spot on the team in South Korea, he’s considering him for the captaincy.
“Matt Cullen is a guy I would obviously consider. He’s a leader. He’s got great international experience (this would be Cullen’s sixth stint with Team USA). And he’s obviously a winner for what he’s done in Pittsburgh. So that’s a guy I would certainly entertain to put on our roster. And he is certainly a guy who you would consider to be a captain.”
That may sound like high praise for a guy who played on a fourth line last year, and who is now considering retirement from the National Hockey League. But if he doesn’t retire, he wouldn’t be eligible to play.
After all, no players under current NHL deals will be allowed to participate in the Olympics. So Cullen may be captaining a team that includes college players, Americans playing in Europe, and (per The Hockey News) the likes of Chris Bourque and Chris Connor.
So, uh, maybe the 4th line with the Pens or Wild ain’t so bad?
Then again, Tom Kostopoulos and Max Talbot are apparently under consideration for Team Canada. So maybe “Cullen and the Kids” have a chance.
Of course, the prospect exists of players “going rogue” and bailing on their NHL teams, for Olympic rosters. Most specifically, some Russian players are apparently considering such a move.
So what if that happens?
“If it did open up at some point where (Alexander) Ovechkin and some of the other Russian players could go that they’ll make some concessions that the other countries could have some pro guys as well. But I don’t think that will happen,” stated Granato. “We’ve got a list of about 85 players to us that are playing professionally in Europe or on AHL contracts.”
Cullen doesn’t fall into either of those categories. And Granato says he hasn’t contacted Cullen directly yet but that the Minnesota native “is aware that the potential opportunity to play in the Olympics is there.”
“His situation is that he still has opportunities to play in the NHL. So we will wait on his decision. And if he is available we would love to have him.”
Boy, there’s a lot of waiting on with Cullen isn’t there? Not bad for a 40-year old coming off just two goals in 25 post season games (both occurring in 7-0 and 6-2 blowout wins). Jim Rutherford is, like last year, leaving an open door and preserving cap space for Cullen to come back. As the Penguins GM told DK’s Josh Yohe on July 30th: “We’ll have to wait on him. It’s one of those things that you just respectfully give a guy space for. Nobody should be pressured into a decision like this, especially when you’re dealing with someone who is as good of a person as Matt Cullen.”
It was just about this time on the calendar when Cullen made his announcement that he’d be returning to Pittsburgh (August 17th). And Granato anticipates contacting potential players this week.
One scenario that could exist is that Cullen doesn’t sign an NHL contract, takes the next few months off, spends more time with his family, avoids the rigors of the first half of the NHL season, and starts training for the Olympics after the holidays. Then when the Olympics end in February, he signs with the Penguins again on a prorated veteran minimum contract as almost an early trade deadline acquisition.
Of course, this idea likely assumes that Jim Rutherford will make a trade for an affordable third line center before training camp begins and Carter Rowney can hold onto the 4th line center spot.
However it shakes out, options are aplenty for the skating version of “Pittsburgh Dad” to keep playing if he wants. “He’s a competitor. He’s a great skater. And efficient skater. A winner and he loves the game,” gushed Granato. “He’d be an inspiration for a younger guys.”
“Captain Cullen” does have a nice ring to it. Then again a fourth Stanley Cup Ring has a nice ring to it too. And that could happen if he returns to Pittsburgh.
Must be fun to be recruited again at 40.