After saying it was the Pittsburgh Penguins or nothing, reflection and cash broadened Matt Cullen‘s horizons, Wednesday. The 40-year-old centerman who was an integral fourth line center and locker room leader during the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup runs has reportedly decided to sign with the Minnesota Wild.
This will be Cullen’s 20th NHL season. Last season, Cullen scored 13 goals and 18 assists in 72 games. He added 9 points (2g, 7a) in 25 playoff games. Cullen experienced a resurgence with the Penguins in 2015-16, with 16 goals and 16 assists, while playing all 82 games.
Credit great beat reporter Michael Russo of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis for the scoop:
— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) August 16, 2017
Cullen, a Minnesota native, played three seasons for the Wild, 2010-2013, and amassed 33 goals, 68 assists in those seasons. He also appeared in five playoff games for the Wild, with three assists.
The apparent move leaves the Penguins perilously thin at center. Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford said on multiple occasions the Penguins would wait for Cullen’s decision. It is likely a great surprise to the Penguins the decision to continue playing hockey will not be in Pittsburgh. The Penguins will have between $2.4 million and $3.2 million, pending Derrick Pouliot making the NHL club, to add at least one pivot.
Big, big loss for the Penguins.
The Penguins current depth chart at center is only three deep: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Carter Rowney. Rowney, a minor league journeyman who earned ice time with the big club this season, is 27-years-old and is primarily a defensive specialist without much offensive contribution. Rowney may also be more suited to playing the wing in the NHL.
To ask Rowney to become a full-time NHL center is probably asking too much.
With about four weeks until training camp, Rutherford can no longer hope to have four legitimate NHL centers in camp without signing a free agent or making a trade (trade is the far more likely and stated route). While many deficiencies may be overcome with centers Crosby and Malkin, it seems unwise to burn their legs early in the season while the team looks for options.
Rutherford is now on the clock. No one said a 3-peat would be easy. But, it just became a lot tougher without “Dad”.
Here are a few of the off-season articles Pittsburgh Hockey Now has prepared on potential NHL center targets for the Penguins: