Penguins add depth by signing veteran center Cullen
August 6, 2015 5:13 PM
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury makes save on Matt Cullen, seen playing here in April 2010 for the Ottawa Senators. The Penguins signed Cullen on Thursday.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins signed veteran free-agent center Matt Cullen to a one-year deal worth $800,000 Thursday, capping a productive summer for general manager Jim Rutherford.
Cullen, who will be 39 in November, is likely to be the final significant player added to the lineup before training camp next month and projects to be a fourth-line player.
A veteran of 17 seasons and 1,212 NHL games, Cullen played for Rutherford and the Carolina Hurricanes for four seasons and was part of winning a Stanley Cup there in 2006.
“He knows how to win, which is important to have guys on the team that have won championships before and know what it takes,” said Rutherford. “He’s very good with teammates. He has a presence and leadership. On the ice, he’s a guy that can move up into the top nine, maybe not the long term at this point in his career, but he’s a guy that can move around and accepts his role, whatever the coach asks of him. At this point in time, it really makes an ideal fit for the Penguins.”
Cullen, who also played for Team USA in the 2006 Olympics and at the 1999, 2003 and 2004 World Championships, spent the past two seasons with the Nashville Predators before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
He said there was tremendous appeal to signing with a contender.
“It’s a team that’s making a real strong push to make a run at it,” said Cullen. “There’s no secret I’m getting to the end of my career. So to have an opportunity to play with a team of this caliber is really exciting. I feel really lucky to have this opportunity.”
Cullen previously played for Anaheim when they were still the Mighty Ducks, as well as the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators. He expressed a desire to play at least one more season earlier this summer.
“He’s a real fitness guy. It’s good that I have a background with him, so I have a handle on where he’s at in his career,” said Rutherford. “Certainly, he’s a guy who is taking really good care of himself. His skating is still really good. I don’t have any concern of his age.”
Cullen said he knows what it takes to play at his age and did an honest assessment at the end of the season.
“My skating is probably my biggest asset. If my skating goes, my game goes,” said Cullen. “I’m aware of that. I train really hard. And to be real honest, if my skating had dipped, I probably wouldn’t have played again. That was a big part of why I kept my name in the free-agency pool. I feel like I still have a lot to offer.”
Cullen’s cost is ideal, with a cap hit below $1 million.
Rutherford said he is not pursuing any other players via free agency and is not pursuing any trades at this time, either, but would be open if the right deal emerged.
“I don’t anticipate anything as far as signings before camp,” said Rutherford. “As far as trades, we won’t be pursuing them at this point. If someone calls us with a good idea, we’ll listen.”
Rutherford also said the Penguins potentially could bring in some players on a tryout basis before camp opens in September, but the major moves were done.
It’s been a busy summer. After landing elite winger Phil Kessel from Toronto in a blockbuster trade in July, Rutherford moved Brandon Sutter for Vancouver’s Nick Bonino and young defenseman Adam Clendening. That left room to sign longtime Washington Capitals winger Eric Fehr.
Rutherford said he believes he has assembled a fairly complete lineup at this point.
“We’ve made some changes. We talked about getting more depth in our forwards at the end of the season, adding some more speed which gives us a chance to score more goals,” said Rutherford. “We made the commitment to go with younger defensemen. That’s a commitment we’ve made, and I feel we have good, young defensemen. It’s an area we’ll watch, but I feel good.”
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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