Archive

Matt Cullen returns to Penguins, hopes for new ending to career | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

Matt Cullen returns to Penguins, hopes for new ending to career

With a resume that includes more than 1,400 games over 20 seasons and three Stanley Cup rings, the story of Matt Cullen’s career is a long and fascinating tale.

He didn’t like the way the last chapter was shaping up, so he’s writing a new one.

The 41-year-old Cullen unexpectedly returned to the Penguins on Sunday, signing a one-year deal worth $650,000 on the opening day of free agency.

“It’s a pretty cool opportunity at my age to come back and have a chance at making another run with this team,” said Cullen, a member of championship teams with the Penguins in 2016 and ’17.

When Cullen signed with the Minnesota Wild last summer, it was supposed to be his swan song. He would play one final season in his home state, allowing his wife, Bridget, and three sons under the age of 12 to begin to put down roots where they would spend their father’s post-hockey days.

The season didn’t go as well as Cullen had hoped. He had 11 goals and 11 assists in 79 games, but he wasn’t counted on to play an important role. A few times, he slipped into healthy scratch territory. It left a sour taste in his mouth.

When Minnesota was ousted from the first round of the playoffs by Winnipeg, Cullen had time to consult with his family and mull over their future plans. He wanted to play one more year.

When the Penguins signed Riley Sheahan last Wednesday, rounding out a full complement of four centers, Cullen figured his chances of returning to Pittsburgh had evaporated.

He was wrong. General manager Jim Rutherford called the next morning.

“When the phone rang and it was Pittsburgh, it didn’t take a lot to decide,” Cullen said. “I had sort of decided a little bit before. It’s been enough time to know.”

It’s not hard to see why Rutherford called. He wanted to add some scoring balance to his bottom-six, and Cullen had 29 goals in two seasons during his previous stint with the Penguins. He also wanted to add a positive influence in the locker room, and Cullen always has been known as a high-character player.

“We lacked some leadership last year. We lost some really key guys,” Rutherford said. “We had hoped he’d come back last year. We also feel with the character of Jack Johnson and Matt Cullen going back in that room, we’re going to get some of that back.”

Cullen’s return also gives the Penguins lineup versatility. With five centers under contract, coach Mike Sullivan could move Cullen, Sheahan or Derick Brassard to the wing.

Cullen said he’s looking forward to playing in multiple spots in the lineup. He also said he’s looking forward to returning to a style of play that fits his game.

“We play an up-tempo, fast style of game that allows you to use your instincts and your skills in both ends of the ice,” Cullen said. “For me, that was a perfect fit.

“I really enjoy being used in all kinds of different situations. It allows me to use the skill set that I have and the experience I’ve gained throughout my career to its fullest. As a player, that’s what you want, right? You want to be challenged and pushed to your limit and allowed to use your strength to help your team.”

Most of all, though, he is looking forward to writing a new ending to the story of his career.

“I guess there’s still a lot of competitiveness in me, and I think there’s a little bit of me that wants to prove I can still play and be a difference maker,” Cullen said. “And along with that, my boys and Bridget are probably more competitive than I am. They’re in the same boat. They know what a special situation we have in Pittsburgh.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.


gtrpenswild13012618
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby and the Wild' Matt Cullen tangle in the second period Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.
gtrpenswild02012618
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Wild' Matt Cullen takes a face off against the Penguins ' Jean-Sebastien Dea in the first period Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.
gtrpenswild01012618
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Wild' Matt Cullen plays against the Penguins in the first period Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.