When Matt Cullen decided to head home following the Penguins’ second consecutive title defense and play for the Minnesota Wild, it left even general manager Jim Rutherford shocked as Rutherford believed all along that Cullen was coming back for one more run at the Stanley Cup. Ultimately, neither Minnesota or Pittsburgh won the whole thing.
Here we are a year later and on July 1st, 2018 Matt Cullen returned again to play for the Penguins. Now at 41-years old – he’ll turn 42 in November – Cullen would like another chance to prove he can help the Penguins. The competitive desire is still there but is age possibly going to catch up to him or can Cullen be a nice piece of the Penguins’ bottom-six?
The decision to head to Minnesota was more of a family decision for Cullen than it was a hockey decision. He still played in 79 games but fell out of favor of the coaching staff mid-season and began playing lesser minutes and eventually was scratched for a few games before re-entering the line up. Cullen posted 11 goals and 22 points in that time frame playing primarily fourth line minutes. That’s a respectable number especially for a 40-something year old in today’s speed-driven league.
It is hard to envision Cullen getting into 79 games again with the Penguins in the upcoming season but he could absolutely play a role with the team. He likely will be a healthy scratch at times, a decision that won’t be easy because the coaching and management staff respect Cullen immensely, but with players like Dominik Simon and Teddy Blueger looking to also see some playing time, the Penguins will need Cullen to prove he is better than guys almost half of his age.
Cullen did have two points in the five games Minnesota played in and scored Minnesota’s first goal of the series. He is still a productive player and at a league minimum contract, it’s not like the Penguins are risking much with the signing. Cullen fits the Penguins’ system decidedly better than he did in Minnesota and still has the wheels to be at least a contributor. He will get his chances to play and likely will make his final run at a Cup in Pittsburgh with the Penguins. Then again, we’ve been thrown for many loops in the Cullen saga.
With Cullen and Jack Johnson being added to this years’ team, the Penguins are deeper than they were in recent seasons and have more of a cushion, at least on paper, in case of injuries hitting their team again.