It’s hard to not like Matt Cullen.
As a 38-year-old free agent last summer, he decided to sign a 1 year contract worth only $800K, simply because he felt as though joining the Penguins would give him the best opportunity to win the Stanley Cup, and what a signing it turned out to be for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Congratulations Mr. Cullen, not only did you get your wish, but you became an extremely popular and loveable player in Pittsburgh.
You put up 16 goals and 16 assists, good for 32 points, despite playing mostly as a 4th line center at the age of 38 (and 39 by seasons end). You were a huge mentor to the “Wilkes-Barre guys” such as Rust, Sheary, and Kuhnhackl. You were a role model to all of the players in the locker room, and many even made parallels between you and the ’09 Bill Guerin.
Heck, some of the young players and even the Penguins fan base started calling you dad, leading to the ever so popular #TeamDadWatch this offseason.
As much as I, and the rest of the Penguins fan base, would love to see Matt Cullen back in a Penguins sweater for what will likely be his last year in the NHL, the Penguins do not need Matt Cullen.
At this point in time, Oskar Sundqvist is more than capable of taking Matt Cullen’s spot as the 4th line center. Matt Cullen’s likeability is making it extremely hard to imagine him leaving Pittsburgh, but he is replaceable. So, what will happen to Matt Cullen? Will he come back 1 more year, or will the torch be passed down to Oskar Sundqvist?
Here are my thoughts as “GM for the day”
The Penguins are already in a tight cap situation. That being said, I read a report today from DKPittsburghSports that GMJR felt that he could fit both Cullen AND Schultz under the cap. Although this may be true, it would be pushing it, and we saw 2 years ago what happened when the Penguins had little to no cap space. Sundqvist can play, and not signing Cullen may free up more money to sign Schultz, which gives a huge jolt to the lack of defensive depth, especially after losing Lovejoy to free agency.
Matt Cullen is a leader and a role model in the locker room. Losing him just would not give this team the same feel as it did last year.
Cullen is slightly more versatile. Sundqvist is solid, but has not developed his offensive game yet, which is odd because it normally works the other way around. Sundqvist is solid defensively, but Cullen can score and play strong defense, and was also one of the Penguins’ top faceoff guys. He could even take a temporary spot alongside Sid or Geno if need be. However, I would not put Sundqvist in that kind of role.
Unlike the Penguins’ defensive depth, they have a ton of forward depth. If Cullen were to sign back with the Penguins, Sundqvist likely stays with WBS barring injuries, along with guys like Wilson, Sprong (who likely won’t be with PIT next year due to his injury), Uher, Porter, Simon, Guentzel…all capable NHL players. Also, remember that Fehr can play center, too.
Cullen would be nice to have, and no one would complain if he came back to Pittsburgh for 1 more year, but do the Pens really need to spend limited cap space on an aging Matt Cullen that will almost for sure decline after his spectacular performance last season?
As a side note, I have heard from multiple reliable sources that the Penguins gave Cullen a contract offer. The only other known team to offer Cullen a contract is the Minnesota Wild, which happens to be his hometown. Will Cullen come back to Pittsburgh where he had success, or will return home and sign in Minnesota?
Only time will tell.