Any beat writer in the NHL who has had the privilege of covering Matt Cullen (I've gotten to twice, once in Florida, once here in Minnesota) will tell you what type of upstanding person he is.
Honest, accountable, as nice as can be.
Cullen, a former St. Cloud State standout, who grew up in Virgina and Moorhead, Minn., is a 14-year NHLer. He had his 15th year stolen because of the 2004-05 lockout. He's staring at the possibility of having his 16th NHL season wiped out, too.
He turns 36 on Nov. 2 -- the day he thought a week ago (when things were looking good) would be the start to a full, 82-game 2012-13 season.
Now that's vanished. And he doesn't understand why.
I just got off the phone with him, and he went on a passionate rant about getting back to the bargaining table:
Russo: You've had to go through this twice now. Where is this thing heading?
Cullen: “We’re now on a slippery road. It’s a scary thing. Of course, everybody wants to get the best deal. Everybody’s frustrated and dying for this thing to work out, but once the full season is off the table, it’s understanding all of a sudden everything goes south. After experiencing it last time, it’s not fun once you start seeing more bickering and more getting entrenched in your ideas that, ‘We’re right. No, we’re right,’ sort of thing. Last time we saw that, and it went the wrong way fast.
“I really hope that we can get this back on the rails and get back in the room talking here and get this thing done and get back on the ice. I think all of us understand that the window is very short before this thing can get really ugly. I know it’s on its way, but I really hope that in the next short period here, something can happen and we can get back in the room and make something happen because in all reality, it’s very close.
“I mean, I don’t care [about the rhetoric] in the media and on Twitter or whatever from both sides. It’s very close. It’s like, we’re both at 50-50. We’re extremely close when you look at the whole big picture. It sure seems like it would be an absolute shame to lose more hockey when we’re so close. Just get in the same room and get this thing hammered out. Really, when you look at the numbers, it’s extremely close. We were miles apart not that long ago and now we’re very close (laughing). Now, we’re walking out of the room?
“I don’t understand that one bit. I mean, can we all just sit in the room here? We’re really close. Let’s finish it up. That’s the most frustrating thing. We were all preparing last week to get ready for camp and playing games in a week. It was like the curtains were lifted and ‘here we go.’ And now it’s closed? I mean, are you kidding me?
“That’s the thing that is so hard to comprehend. Everything was playing toward, ‘Holy, we’re getting really close here. We’re right on the edge of this happening. We’re both talking [the same language], 50-50.’ OK, let’s just clarify some stuff, let’s do these small minor details. Now is not the time to do the public relations stuff and let’s act ticked and I’m going to blame you. We were right there. Like, can we get this done? It’s so close, and now we’ve gone separate ways and the world is ending? Well, how does it go from so close to the season’s going to be canceled?
“It’s frustrating, so I can understand everybody else’s frustration from a fan’s standpoint, to the player’s standpoint. Everybody’s frustrated, and a lot of it stems from the fact that we finally have made some progress and both sides have moved together a little. How do we go from that to all of a sudden now we’re not talking? That’s the frustration. Let’s get back in the room – everybody – and sit down and get this done. That’s what we’re here to do. It’s not like we have anything else going on in our days. Let’s get this done. This is Priority One. Let’s go.”