Matt Cullen doesn’t know if this is his swan song to a successful NHL career that started 18 years ago with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, but if it is, the former Moorhead High and St. Cloud State standout is trying to enjoy every moment of this season with the Nashville Predators.
Just in case, the 38-year-old wants his three sons to remember it, too, so Cullen has tried to bring Brooks, 8; Wyatt, 6, and Joey, 4, to as many home games as possible.
“Last year, when I signed a two-year deal, I went all along treating it like this would be my last,” said Cullen, who spent 2010-13 with the Wild. “I don’t know if it will be or not, but I wanted to really take it all in and treat it like it was. I didn’t want to take anything for granted and miss it.
“I feel really good. I like my game, I like how I’m playing, so I don’t know. I haven’t gone down that road yet, so I’m just trying to really have fun with this.”
There’s been a lot to enjoy for Cullen and the Predators. As the eldest statesman on the best team in the NHL, Cullen has been reunited with his favorite coach, Peter Laviolette. The Predators’ first-year coach and Cullen won a Stanley Cup together with Carolina in 2006.
“When I came here, I was really glad Matt was here,” Laviolette said. “Any time you experience something with players and go through what we did in 2006, there’s always a connection, there will always be that bond. Those were special times. You keep those relationships maybe more so than others. It’s not often a coach and player can be together almost 10 years after an experience like that.
“I lean on Matt a lot. There’s not a lot of guys in our room with Stanley Cup experience, and Matt is one of them. He’s played great for us. He’s a multi-functional player, I depend on his versatility to play a lot of different roles, and as you become more seasoned as a player, you’ve got to be able to keep your speed and that’s still his greatest asset.”
As unexpected as it was for Nashville to be the President’s Trophy frontrunners this season, it’s easy to understand how this happened. Arguably the NHL’s best goalie, Pekka Rinne, is healthy. Shea Weber is having a Norris Trophy-type season, Filip Forsberg, stolen from Washington by GM David Poile, is having a Calder-type season.
Poile swung a trade for goal scorer James Neal, hired the up-tempo Laviolette and the Preds are now going for it, recently acquiring Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli from Toronto.
“It’s just a completely different attitude and different way of playing,” Cullen said. “It’s just all come together so far. It’s pretty cool.”
Cullen feels rejuvenated after a tough first year under Barry Trotz, the longtime Predators coach who’s now in Washington.
“Lavi’s style of play suits me and is how I like to play,” Cullen said. “The way we played last year, hey, it’s been effective in Washington, but it’s just a different way of playing for me and didn’t suit my [skating] game. It was a tough adjustment this late in my career. I just wasn’t comfortable. Now I am.”
Cullen, who had two assists in Thursday’s rare home loss to Minnesota, is having a blast. He loves playing at Bridgestone Arena, where the Predators play in front of a rowdy bunch of fans that makes games fun.
“It doesn’t hurt that we’re right off Broadway,” said Cullen, referring to downtown Nashville’s thoroughfare of entertaining bars that allow fans to get lubricated before games. “This is more of a hockey market than I knew coming here.”
In fact, last week, Nashville got hit with snow and freezing temperatures that turned Cullen’s Brentwood neighborhood’s cul-de-sac into a sheet of ice.
“It was hilarious,” Cullen said. “We had an inch and a half of ice, so I put the skates on the kids and we played hockey for three days. My neighbors had to think we were crazy as the boys flew down the driveway.
“It felt like we were home in Minnesota.”
NHL short takes
Gain through pain
As much as it stings for the Chicago Blackhawks and for hockey now that Patrick Kane won't become the first American to lead to the league in scoring, the timing of Kane's broken clavicle could have been worse.
Because the injury occurred before the trade deadline, the Blackhawks were able to put him on long-term injury relief, meaning the Hawks can go over the salary cap ceiling by Kane's salary. So not only did the Hawks acquire Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen on Friday, they acquired Arizona's Antoine Vermette on Saturday night. Kane can return in the playoffs because there's no cap in the playoffs. Also, look for the Boston Bruins to pursue Buffalo's Chris Stewart.
Oh, to be a big-market team with an endless supply of money,
The Toronto Maple Leafs pulled off the impossible by trading David Clarkson’s $36.75 million contract to Columbus. In return, they get Nathan Horton’s $37.1 million contract. Horton may never play again because of a degenerative back. So, the Maple Leafs will have to pay Horton — not a concern because owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment practically prints money — but they will place Horton on LTIR so they can spend over the cap ceiling by his salary.
The deal worked for Blue Jackets because at least now they’re paying a player who can play.
• The best tidbit from last week’s Jaromir Jagr-to-Florida trade is that Jagr, 43, has been playing in the NHL since before the inception of the franchise in 1993.
• The Winnipeg Jets were one of the teams that tried to trade for Florida’s Sean Bergenheim, who was dealt to Minnesota for a 2016 third-round pick. The next day, the Jets acquired Jiri Tlusty from Carolina for a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick.
• Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz on the number of buyers vs. sellers at the trade deadline: “It takes two to dance. We’re going to the dance and there’s 30 guys and only like eight girls.”
Wild’s week ahead
Tuesday: vs. Ottawa, 7 p.m. (FSN)
Thursday: at Washington, 6 p.m. (FSN)
Friday: at Carolina, 6 p.m. (FSN)
Player to watch: Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Three-time Capitals Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) winner is leading the race toward a fifth Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal scorer.
« I GUESS WE WERE DUE [BEATING DEVAN DUBNYK]. THE GODS WERE SAYING, ‘OK, THIS IS YOUR NIGHT.’ »
— Oilers coach Todd Nelson, admitting Edmonton stole a win Tuesday from the Wild and Dubnyk, who had been 5-0 against his old team.