Two days ago, we passed along a report claiming Matt Cullen would return for a 20th NHL campaign.
Yesterday, Cullen made it official — and made it very clear he wants to return to the Cup champion Penguins.
“Pittsburgh is where I want to go,” Cullen said, per the Pioneer Press. “It was a pretty special place for me, and it was a great fit for me and my family. I would really like for it to work out there.”
There’s little doubt Pittsburgh wants Cullen back, too.
The 39-year-old played this season on a one-year, $800,000 deal, which ranks among GM Jim Rutherford’s best moves of the campaign. He appeared in all 82 games, scoring 16 goals and 32 points, and finished second to Sidney Crosby in faceoffs won.
In the playoffs, Cullen had four goals and six points in 24 games and was a major thorn in Washington’s side during Round 2. After Game 4, Caps head coach Barry Trotz acknowledged Cullen was “having a hell of a series against us.”
Cullen was also hailed as a terrific dressing room presence and veteran leader.
“I do want him to return,” Rutherford told Sportsnet during the playoffs. “But we’ll deal with that at the appropriate time.”
The appropriate time has come, and won’t be easy.
The Penguins are pressed up pretty tight against the cap ceiling, which could make negotiations difficult. It’s fair to think Cullen could be looking for a pay bump, given how productive he was, and it’s very feasible other teams could make him an offer more lucrative than Pittsburgh.
He acknowledged as much to the Pioneer Press, but still insisted the Penguins are his No. 1.
“If the right opportunity comes, I’d probably take it,” said Cullen. “But right now I’m fully committed to trying to get back to Pittsburgh. It was a great fit for me as a player and with the family.”