Matt Cullen (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Matt Cullen could have hung up his skates after winning the second Stanley Cup of his career in his 18th season in the league. But the 39-year-old is coming back because he sees a chance for the Pittsburgh Penguins to repeat.
At 39 and having just won the second Stanley Cup of his career, Matt Cullen had a chance to go out on top. But the 18-year veteran, who contributed four goals and six points during Pittsburgh’s Cup run, sees an opportunity for the Penguins to win back-to-back championships so he’s sticking around for at least one more season to take a shot at consecutive titles.
The Penguins announced Cullen’s signing Wednesday to a one-year, $1-million deal, and Cullen said that most of the Cup-winning squad is sticking around helped push him towards signing.
“That factored into my decision a lot,” Cullen told PittsburghPenguins.com’s Michelle Crechiolo. “It doesn’t happen often that you win the Cup, but also doesn’t happen that you have virtually the same team back to try to go after it again the next year. We have a really special group and I really, really enjoyed being part of the group.”
The decision may have been made much earlier than it was announced, however. Cullen told Crechiolo that he had a gut feeling about coming back for another year, but wanted to take his time before making a firm decision. Once that was made, Cullen and the Penguins had to hammer out a deal, which wasn’t easy given Pittsburgh has no wiggle room under the salary cap.
“It was just a matter of working everything out,” Cullen told Crechiolo. “It took a little bit longer than probably any of us would have long expected. Sometimes that’s how it works and it was always one of those things where it felt like it was just a matter of time before it got done.”
The $1-million contract actually sees Cullen get a raise over the past season, which is a rarity for players his age. He came to Pittsburgh on a one-year, $800,000 deal following a seven-goal, 25-point season with the Nashville Predators, but he posted one of the best seasons of the past several years of his career in 2015-16, notching 16 goals and 32 points while appearing in all 82 games.
Cullen was never the most effective offensive player during his career, but he always hovered in and around 35-50 points. Over the past few years of his career, that has dipped ever so slightly, but his production isn’t the biggest thing the Penguins are brining him back for.
During the post-season, Cullen played an important role as a veteran presence in the bottom-six, especially in the defensive zone. Reliable, mobile and good in the faceoff circle, Cullen may not have showed up on the score sheet often in the post-season, but he was a key contributor in his role.
Now Cullen and the Penguins will hope he can replicate his performance from the past season as part of a roster that has only lost two players — defenseman Ben Lovejoy and goaltender Jeff Zatkoff — who were contributing members to the Stanley Cup victory.
“We all go into it knowing there are going to be challenges and it’s not easy to repeat,” Cullen told Crechiolo. “But to get a chance to go after it again with almost the same group, I mean, that’s pretty cool.”
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