Jim Rutherford went to a familiar face in the likelihood of rounding out the Penguins forward group, pending a training camp invite or two, in the signing of 38 year old forward Matt Cullen to a one year, $800,000 contract.
Cullen and Rutherford have a history together as Cullen played four seasons (2005-06, 2007-2010) with the Hurricanes and the two won a Stanley Cup together in 2006.
Rutherford signed Cullen in summer of 2005, traded for Cullen in July 2007, then traded Cullen to Ottawa during the 2010-2011 season.
Cullen entering his 19th season and likely last year, was seeking to join a Stanley Cup contender after the Nashville Predators opted against resigning him.
Off the ice the Penguins are getting an exceptional person and a player who is very popular inside the room but what matters is what the Penguins are getting on the ice as the narrative of the Penguins having a leadership problem has been the easy thing to attribute to their struggles in the post-season the last several years.
Cullen who turns 39 in November, had 7 goals and 18 assists in 62 games. He was 54% in the faceoff circle. 84% of his points came at even strength with 21 ES points.
Two reasons Cullen’s been able to play so long and into his upper 30’s:
“Great hockey sense and still a great skater,” a Western conference scout said of Cullen.
The Advance Analytics crew are likely to be very high on the Cullen signing.
Cullen posted a 53.48 CF% and Cullen averaged 1.70 points/60 5 v 5, 8th on the Predators. By comparison Cullen’s 1.70 points/60 5 v 5 is higher than David Perron (1.65) and Chris Kunitz (1.29) had last season.
The Cullen signing fits three trends from Jim Rutherford of late.
1. Good Skater
2. Versatility to play wing or center
3. Good Analytics
Cullen’s ability to play wing was important as the Penguins have five NHL caliber centers, though, Eric Fehr won’t be ready to start the season and the Penguins internally believe he won’t be back until close to December.
As for later in the season, Fehr and Cullen being able to play the wing position well won’t handcuff the Penguins.
The Penguins have totally gone away from grit and toughness with their recent signings and that continues with the Cullen addition who is rarely going to throw his body around, 10 hits last season.
Not regarded as a great defensive player, Cullen’s PK role with the Predators also started to fade some last year as he averaged only 0:48 per game shorthanded and was used as a 4th forward pairing. His role on the PK is likely to increase in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins have certainly gotten more skilled in the bottom-6 and as training camp inches closer, among the burning questions with this group is going to be 1. is there enough youth and 2. are they going to be too easy to play against?