Matt Cullen provided an important veteran presence under Coach Trotz, though not the offensive numbers we expected. Will those numbers improve under former coach Peter Laviolette?
Matt Cullen has all the skills you need for a 3rd line center. He has play-making ability, and he excels on the face-off dot. He isn't a defensive liability, and he doesn't draw dumb penalties. A model journeyman, he is a simple combination of possession based hockey with veteran awareness. And if there was anyone waiting to greet new head coach Peter Laviolette at the airport when he arrived back in May, it was probably Matt Cullen.
After all, it was under Laviolette that Cullen has his shining season in 2005-2006, where he collected 25 goals and 24 assists, helping lead the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup. That season was a special one for Cullen, and he hasn't reached those numbers since. Since winning the cup, he has averaged 17 goals and 27 assists per season (not including the lockout shortened season), and he hasn't hit the 20 goal mark in 6 years. Well, yeah, because he's like 37 years old. After a brief stint in Ottawa, he eventually left for the Wild because he is a native Minnesotan. (Why is this always a thing with Minnesota? Can this not be a thing anymore please?)
But Cullen always plugs away, regardless of whether he's scoring or not. His face-off percentage last year was 56.7%, good for 6th overall in the league (two spots behind teammate Paul Gaustad). His face-off reliability lead to significant time on the PP, as winning face-offs leads to possession and possession with the man advantage usually leads to goals. He ranked 3rd on the team in point % with the man advantage, better than Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, and Colin Wilson.
However, at $3.5 million, we need more than 39 points. He finished with only 10 goals and 29 assists despite logging the 5th most ice time of all forwards. Being a guy that the Predators had hoped would improve the power play, he scored one (yes, one) power play goal. His shooting percentage of 7.5% was downright Stalbergian.
Best Case Scenario
With his old coach Peter Laviolette at the helm, Cullen thrives. His offensive production skyrockets to a level not seen in years, reaching the 45 point mark. He maintains his possession and face-off numbers. He provides a needed leadership role on the 3rd line, helping to bring along younger guys like Gabriel Bourque and Calle Jarnkrok. He provides 14-15 points on the PP, increasing his output from last year. And we see more of this (which was essentially a PP goal):
Worst Case Scenario
In an interview with Tom Callahan in July of 2013, Cullen quipped, "You can't shoot a cannon out of a canoe" when referring to leg strength training having an effect on shooting power and accuracy (you can see the full interview here). So imagine trying to shoot a cannon out of a 37 year old canoe. With age, legs weaken, speed decreases, and reflexes slow down. Cullen's age could play a factor in his play this year. If so, his goal numbers will be in the single digits, his PP time will be reduced, and he will find himself on the 4th line.
After a successful first half of the season, Matt Cullen is traded away to a Stanley Cup hopeful team that needs another veteran presence in their bottom six.
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