A while back, the Minnesota Wild admitted that sending away Andrew Brunette after the 2005-06 was a mistake as he had been a key performer in the team’s most notable playoff run in franchise history. Maybe the chance to correct itself was a partial motive as the club brought back another player it probably wished it still had the last few seasons. “Welcome back” was the refrain by many Wild fans across the Twitterverse as news quickly spread the team was able to reach a deal with fan-favorite Matt Cullen. Cullen returns after having played the 4 last seasons in Nashville and Pittsburgh respectively. The 40-year old is coming off back-to-back cups with Pittsburgh and many felt that the former Moorhead Spuds star would opt for retirement but he chose to come back for a 20th NHL season instead.
The 1-year, $1,000,000 deal is has a lot of incentive-based bonuses (bonuses said to be close to $700,000) built in which should keep him motivated if playing well in front his hometown fans wasn’t enticement enough. Cullen didn’t really want to leave Minnesota back in the summer of 2013, but the club decided to go in a different direction. Obviously it didn’t work out too badly for Cullen, but it is interesting he did have an offer to return to Pittsburgh so the chance to play in his home state was too good to pass up. Cullen had 13 goals, 31 points in 72 regular season games plus 2 goals and 9 points in last year’s playoffs as he went on to win his 3rd Stanley Cup in his career. He was a Selke candidate last season which should make him an ideal fit for the Wild’s 4th line who is looking to fill in the hole left by Erik Haula‘s departure in the NHL Expansion Draft this summer.
As to who will be playing on the wing with Cullen remains to be seen. One would think Marcus Foligno, who has yet to reach a deal with the Wild will be one of his linemates but after that there are a lot of potential possibilities including Chris Stewart, Landon Ferraro or rookie Luke Kunin. Personally I like Cullen playing with faster linemates as it allows Cullen to use his speed to its fullest advantage. After Cullen’s deal, it leaves the Minnesota Wild with about $2 million left in cap space which will likely be mostly used to re-sign Foligno placing the club air tight against the cap ceiling. Yet the addition of Cullen does give the team a little more offense, and his production last season was roughly the same as much-liked Haula so it seems like it was a sensible move.
Center depth was a concern after letting Haula and Martin Hanzal go and while the reality is that the team really couldn’t afford to keep them, adding Cullen to help fill that void at least for this season makes a lot of sense. Dailyfaceoff.com has the Wild forward lines as the following.
Stewart-Cullen-Foligno / Ferraro
I could live with that. Does that mean I think the Wild are set up for a deep run to the post season? Not quite, but I think they have improved their roster in a way that was necessary in order to at least be close to as good as they were a season ago when they had a franchise-record 106-point season. In the meantime we’ll celebrate the return of a favorite son and hope he can deliver more than just on sentimental value alone so in that spirit we serenade him with the ultimate ‘welcome back’ song in “Welcome Back, Kotter.” Welcome Back Matt Cullen!