The week ahead should determine whether Matt Cullen remains in a Wild sweater.
With goaltender Niklas Backstrom re-signed, the Wild would next like to find a way to keep Cullen, a potential free-agent-to-be on July 5.
That will be challenging, however.
The Wild has only an estimated $2.8 million worth of salary-cap space remaining. Potential restricted free agents Cal Clutterbuck, Jared Spurgeon and Justin Falk still are unsigned. And Cullen might be able to command more than $3 million on the open market.
So, the math just doesn’t add up.
“Hopefully things will work out and it would be great to be back,” Cullen said Tuesday. “But I do understand the cap situation, and that’s kind of the fact of life in the NHL nowadays. We’ll see whether or not space can be freed to bring me back, and if not, I won’t have any regrets. I’ve enjoyed my time here, … but hopefully it’ll work out.”
General Manager Chuck Fletcher has talked to Cullen and his agent, and they understand that unless Fletcher is able to free up cap space via the trade or buyout route, there’s just no way to re-sign Cullen. The draft is Sunday in Newark, N.J., and typically the days leading to the draft and draft day make for the right environment for trades.
“Chuck’s been really honest with me and I know that I’ll be very honest with him and I’ll give him every opportunity to do what he wants to do,” Cullen said. “If it comes to the point where he knows he can’t get it done, he’s told me that he’ll let me know. And I believe him.”
Cullen, 36, who has scored 33 goals and 101 points in 153 games with Minnesota, is the Wild’s No. 2 center. He is integral on the penalty kill, in the faceoff circle and in shootouts. He says he never has felt better on the ice or more confident in his game.
If he doesn’t return, the Wild might move Charlie Coyle, who found a spot on the right side of the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu line last season, to second-line center. Coyle has been a center for much of his life.
“It’ll be interesting to see if the rest of the dominoes can fall in order to make it work out,” Cullen said.
Rest for Backstrom
With Backstrom now 35 and injuries starting to catch up to him the past few years, the Wild has indicated to him that he might want to take some practices off or spend less time on the ice during gameday morning skates.
Fletcher said he never has seen a goalie practice as hard or work as hard away from the ice than Backstrom. Backstrom said goalie coach Bob Mason wants him to start “saving his energy for the game.”
Backstrom admitted, “That’s something I have to work on.”
• The Wild has eight picks heading into Sunday’s deep draft, but none in the first round due to April’s Jason Pominville trade with Buffalo. Fletcher said he will try to trade into the first round.