On Wednesday, August 16th, the Minnesota Wild announced their free agent signing of back-to-back Stanley Cup champion and former Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cullen.
A Minnesota native, the 40-year-old Cullen returns home to the State of Hockey after previously spending three seasons with the Wild from 2010 to 2013. Born in the city of Virginia, Cullen spent his childhood learning to play the game in Minnesota. Following three state tournament appearances at Moorhead High School, Cullen remained home after a commitment to St. Cloud State University. He played there from 1995 to 1997, and was drafted 35th overall by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1996.
After the 2005 lockout, Matt Cullen won his first Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes. Former Hurricane and now Wild teammate Eric Staal had this to say about reuniting with Cullen: “Playing with him in Carolina, and just watching how he prepared daily, how he took care of his body, how professional he is, I’m not surprised he’s still going now. We had a great, phenomenal couple years together there, and I think his experience – what type of teammate he is and his ability to play in all situations – will be beneficial for our group.”
Cullen’s return to Minnesota comes on the heels of his second and third Stanley Cup wins with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Although the chance at a Penguin “three-peat” seemed tempting, he knew it was time to do what was best for his family. In an interview within the Wild organization, Cullen stated: “Minnesota is home and it’s a special place for me. — It’s not easy to say goodbye and it’s not easy to walk away [from Pittsburgh]. I’m confident in the decision we’re making and it’s the right thing for our family. But at the same time, it’s not an easy one.”
After signing a million-dollar, incentive-laden contract, the Wild hope Cullen can be the answer to their questions at the center position. With Las Vegas’ selection of Erik Haula in this Summer’s expansion draft, the Wild now have room for Cullen around the third line. He’ll most likely start behind established centers Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal for the start of the season. Other centers competing for the job include Charlie Coyle and Joel Eriksson Ek, who may be moved to wing spots upon Cullen’s arrival.
Although he may turn 41 this November, Cullen seems eager to take on another season. When asked what he thought of the Wild’s chances this year, he said: “Last year I thought that Minnesota was the best team in the West that we faced during the regular season. … It’s going to be a really hungry group to win, and I think that last season probably left a sour taste for a lot of guys [in the playoffs].” Wild fans will undoubtedly be excited to see the possible conclusion of Cullen’s storied career this season.