Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Wild signs Matt Cullen to 3-year deal; Source: Wild signs Eric Nystrom

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news, Wild player moves Updated: July 1, 2010 - 6:57 PM

Update: I got two texts from sources: Eric Nystrom signed with the Wild. Eric is the son of one of the great Islanders of all-time and one of my favorite players, Bobby Nystrom "Mr. Islander."

Nystrom, 27, offers pure grit and character. Former Michigan Wolverine. Working on confirmation through team and contract details, but hearing it's a 3-year deal.

And confirmed at 6:57 p.m. 3 years, $4.2 million

After a marathon day in which he fielded offers from several teams, center Matt Cullen has chosen to sign with his homestate Minnesota Wild. In a text: "Done deal, I'm comin' to Minny."

It's a three-year, $10.5 million deal ($3.5 million AAV), which is the top-end of my guesstimate on last blog. Modified no-trade.

It's the third time the Wild's pursued him in free agency, and this time he decided the time was right in his life that he could handle playing at home. With three young children and at 33 years old, he felt he was mature enough as a player and a person.

The former Moorhead High star and St. Cloud State forward scored 169 goals and 461 points in 880 games, is a strong-skating, two-way center. He’s a quality penalty killer, can win faceoffs, contribute on the scoresheet (averaged 46 points the past five seasons) and play the point on the power play.

He’d also bring 63 games of playoff experience and a Stanley Cup in his resume.

The Wild's also in on some other things, including an affordable defenseman. Whether that happens today or in the coming days as free agency continues, we will see.

Here's a feature I wrote on Matt during the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. Again, remember it's dated: 

By Michael Russo
 
EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Growing up in the Iron Range in the mid-80s, Matt Cullen and his two younger brothers fell in love with the Oilers.
Sure, they liked the North Stars, “but they never were as good,” Cullen said, and Edmonton was in the midst of a dynasty.
The Cullen’s father, Terry, a former high school hockey coach who played three years semi-pro in Green Bay of the old United States Hockey League, would flood the backyard of their Virginia, Minn., home.
“We had knee-high boards so we wouldn’t lose the pucks in the snow banks because the snow would be up to our heads,” Matt Cullen recalled with a giant smile.
Like thousands of other kids, the Cullen Bros. strapped on their skates, threw on some elbow pads and grabbed their sticks for hours upon hours of imagination and merriment. 
The three boys pretended to be Oilers.
“I was Gretzky because I was the oldest, so I had first pick,” Matt said. “The next youngest, Mark, he usually was Mark Messier. And the youngest, Joe, he’d usually be Jari Kurri.”
“My dad,” Matt giggled, “we didn’t let him be anybody.”
Nearly 20 years later, a fully-bearded, constantly-smiling Matt Cullen is not only facing the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals, the 29-year old Carolina Hurricanes forward is two wins from claiming a Stanley Cup over the team he once worshipped.
It’s like a childhood fantasy, one that bestows goose bumps.
“You think about the tradition of the Oilers and the names that have worn that jersey, I can’t tell you how cool this is and how much I appreciate this,” said Cullen, who’s Canes visit Edmonton for the first time in Game 3 tonight.
 
Things turn from bad to good
 
Cullen, who had three assists in Wednesday’s Game 2 victory and is fifth on the Canes with 16 points, has plenty of reasons to cherish every second of the Canes’ playoff run.
The last couple years have been trying for Cullen.
In 2003, the former Moorhead High and St. Cloud State standout was traded from Anaheim, where he was drafted in 1996 and played 5 ½ seasons, to Florida, where his career turned for the worse.
First, his old team, the Mighty Ducks, advanced all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Cullen was jealous, depressed to not be a part of it and wondered if he’d ever get another chance.
“It was some of the toughest nights of my life,” Cullen says now. “Luckily I had my wife [Bridget] with me. I couldn’t even watch the games. I was glad my friends were doing well, but I was there for so long and only had a cup of coffee in the playoffs.”
Things would get worse. His Panthers coach, Mike Keenan, wasn’t a fan when Cullen was acquired in 2002-03. He rode him hard and felt he was too soft. Even though Keenan was fired in Nov. 2003, a sports hernia essentially ruined Cullen’s season.
When Iron Mike returned as general manager in June, Cullen predictably wasn’t offered a contract. His confidence was shattered. But after signing a free-agent contract with Carolina over his home-state Wild, Cullen decided to play in Italy during the lockout.
“It was hard on Matt,” said Terry, his father, who coached 21 years at Gilbert, Roseville, Virginia and Moorhead. “But he went to Italy and got back to doing the things he does best. He scored several goals in a particular fashion, which in the NHL he didn’t get a chance to do. It was fabulous for him and it boosted his confidence.”
Cullen rejuvenated his game by scoring an Italian League-high 27 goals and 60 points in 36 games for Cortina.
With Cullen again feeling good about his game, he scored a career-high 25 goals and 49 points in 78 games this season for Carolina.
“It’s rewarding to be able to show I can play,” Cullen said. “I got here and [coach] Peter [Laviolette] told me I could do things and attack. You know, ‘Just go play.’ It was something I hadn’t heard a lot. I heard a lot of, ‘Don’t turn the puck over.’
“It was a tough choice picking Carolina over Minnesota. But it just came down to Carolina really wanting me and having high hopes for me to be important. It was good to hear that for the first time in awhile.”
Like he was promised, Cullen played on lines with offensive talents Eric Staal and Ray Whitney all season and into the playoffs. He plays the point on the power play, has been strong defensively, has racked up points and has even supplied the jam in the playoffs Keenan felt he lacked.
“I knew it was in me,” said Cullen, a free agent this summer who may again draw interest from the Wild.
 
Proud Papa
 
And his father couldn’t be prouder. Terry’s middle son, Mark, 27, a former Wild prospect who played 29 games for the Blackhawks this season, is a free agent. So is Joe, 25, who played this past season in Ottawa’s system. And Matt says 22-year-old sister, Anne, may just be the best athlete of the four.
She was a national champion and All-America diver at Concordia, where she just graduated.
“It’s beyond what anybody deserves,” Terry said. “I’m very proud, but most proud that these are some really, really, fine people.
“I don’t think there’s anybody playing more thankful than Matt. He appreciates what he has, he appreciates this opportunity to get to the top of the mountain. He appreciates it because he knows how hard it is and how he may never get there again.
“Being 29 rather than 21 makes him much more aware of that.”
 

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