Written by The Burgh Blog writer: Austin Tocco
Matt Cullen was not about to let his age get in the way of adding another Stanley Cup to his resume this year. The 39 year old played a pivotal role in the Penguins success throughout the entire season playing in all 82 games this year. Matt Cullen has bounced around the league quite a bit since he first got drafted in 1997. Starting in the Anaheim organization then signed as a free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes where he then won his first Stanley Cup in 2004. He then signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers. After the 2009 campaign, Cullen joined the Minnesota Wild for 3 more years. Cullen went to Nashville in 2013 and signed in Pittsburgh last summer. What a job by Jim Rutherford in signing this veteran, Cullen really reminded me of Bill Guerin when he played for the Penguins in 2009 aiding in their championship run. It really helps to have someone who has been through it all in the locker room. Cullen did more than put up points, he put yet another banner high above the Consol ice.
You cannot win the cup without that one gritty veteran who has been there before. Having won the cup in 2004 with the Carolina Hurricanes, Cullen’s resume was easy to notice this off-season. Cullen surprised a lot of people this year, scoring more goals than people expected him to. Cullen, for the most part, centered Tom Kuhnhackl and Eric Fehr. The fourth line for the Penguins provided depth that changed the way the game is played. The opposition not only had to worry about the first three lines featuring Crosby, Malkin, and the HBK line, but they had to worry about the gritty 4th line of the Pittsburgh Penguins because of Matt Cullen. The 39 year old was not scared or showed any signs of slowing down. Cullen attacked and attacked hard. He set up beautiful passes which led to many goals. The biggest positive out of Cullen was his ability to kill a penalty. His ability to use his stick on the penalty kill was absolutely amazing. His active stick led to many turnovers and sometimes even led to an odd man rush the other direction. If it was not for Matt Cullen, the Penguins would not have scored the amount of short-handed goals as they did. Cullen’s effectiveness on the penalty kill allowed them to finish 5th in the league in penalty kill percentage at 84.4%. Another huge reason the Matt Cullen signing was a success was how much of a voice he had in the locker room. I can guarantee when the Penguins hit rock bottom in December falling to 12th place in the Eastern Conference, Cullen was the one who kept the players heads up. He knows what it means to face adversity and he knows what it takes to get out of a slump like that, he experienced it throughout his career. Lastly, financially, the Matt Cullen signing was huge. As cheap as Cullen was to sign, he provided more than enough, statistically speaking. This signing made GM Rutherford look like a genius, I bet any other team wishes they had Matt Cullen this year.
The biggest negative regarding Matt Cullen, age. The times are catching up to Cullen whether he likes to admit it or not. Cullen will turn 40 on November 2nd of this year. Having said that, there is a player in the league that is 44 (Jaromir Jagr). Cullen clearly is indecisive about coming back next year which makes me a little weary about signing him to another 1 year deal. The veteran may call it a career following that championship run he just completed, and you could tell he gave it his all till the very end. Keep in mind, Bill Guerin retired following the Stanley Cup in 2009. I would really like to see Cullen come back next year. It will be an interesting conversation between him and Rutherford to see if he can come back and produce as much as he did this year.
2016 Statistics + Playoffs:
+/- : +8
Matt Cullen made $800,000 this year signing just a 1 year deal. Cullen is a free agent as of now with the probable option of retiring.
Overall Rating: A+