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NHL Free Agency: Penguins Sign Jack Johnson, Matt Cullen

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Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0]

One man has been signed and sealed for several days, for better or worse. The other pulled a stealth maneuver, rare in today’s media climate.

Both Jack Johnson and Matt Cullen have something in common, though. They functioned as the entirety of the Penguins’ haul on Sunday, the first day of NHL free agency.

Johnson, 31, signed a five-year contract worth $3.25 million annually, while the 41-year-old Cullen agreed to a one-year contract worth just $650,000. The team officially announced both signings during a press conference at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry. Our Shelly Anderson will have further coverage.

Johnson’s arrival has seemed preordained since the middle of last week, when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey reported that there was heavy mutual interest. Cullen spent last season with the Wild in his native Minnesota, presumably as a swan song to a long, productive career.

Both men have something else in common besides new addresses: They each suffered through what were arguably their worst NHL seasons in 2017-18. Both were healthy scratches at points during the year, with Cullen riding the bench at midseason and Johnson sitting out the playoffs in Columbus, displaced by former Penguin Ian Cole.

In terms of numbers, Johnson matched a career low in goals (three) and points (11) in his final season with the Jackets, in addition to dragging his team’s share of even-strength shot attempts (Corsi) at a rate of 5 percent. Cullen scored 11 goals for the Wild, but his 22 points was a career worst and he pulled down Minnesota’s shot share by 8 percent.

Johnson and Cullen also saw significant year-over-year decreases in ice time, but the Penguins are obviously banking on both drawing upon their previous experience to be successful in new environments. Cullen could feasibly skate at center or wing on the fourth line, while third-pairing minutes seem reasonable for Johnson.

More to come from Shelly on scene.

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A lifelong hockey addict, Matt has been fortunate enough to make his career in his sport of choice, working in high school, juniors, college and the pros in various multimedia roles. Previous to joining PHN, Matt was a credentialed Penguins/NHL beat reporter for the past two seasons, including coverage of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. He signed on with PHN in Feb. 2018 as co-owner, contributing commentary and analysis in various forms.

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