Cullen had a career best year in 2006, finishing seventh on the team with 49(25/24) points in the regular season and 18 (4/14) points in the playoffs. When it was necessary to re-sign Justin Williams, Eric Staal, Rod Brind'Amour and Erik Cole to huge contracts following the Stanley Cup, Cullen became a casualty.
Last season, with the Rags, Cullen played a slightly different role. He played more on the PK, he took more faceoffs, and he thinks his all-around game has improved. The Virginia, Minnesota native totaled 41 (16/25) points in New York, and only missed two games.
Letting Hutchinson go is no surprise here. I thought he would have been dealt last season at the trade deadline. He's a young defenseman with some untapped offensive upside. A very capable point man. However, he spent a lot of time as a healthy scratch, and just didn't fit the system all that well. He's got a couple of young kids and I always feel bad for a situation like that, but it'll probably be good for him. Barnes is probably Carolina's best "in the system" guy. He's a project, but many think that he'll develop into a darn fine forward.
Cullen could see the writing on the wall when the Rangers went berserk in the FA market, picking up Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. It made him and his salary a bit of a burden. Jim Rutherford immediately talked to the Rangers, and apparently it took a lot of legwork to get the particulars right.
Rutherford wasn't happy about letting Cullen go last summer, but the Rangers' offer was too much. The fans didn't like it either. This move exceeds Carolina's budget of $44M, but not by much, and everyone knows that it's worth it to bring Cully back.
Cullen couldn't be happier, which makes this an even better story. In his own words, via the N&O:
“I’m thrilled, honestly. I had an inkling that it may happen but I know how hard it is in this day and age to pull off a trade. I’m absolutely thrilled to be coming home. It’s funny to say that, but it feels like it.”
I love that he played here for one year, and this re-acquisition is a "coming home" for him. On the other hand, it's not so much a surprise. Many NHL players chose to make Raleigh their literal home, even if it isn't their metaphoric one. An article in this morning's N&O was about just that. Aaron Ward, who was another casualty last summer went to the Rangers and was traded to Boston. This summer, after years and years of living in Detroit, he moved his family to Raleigh as a permanent home.
Home. I like that.
Matt Cullen likes the number 5. He couldn't wear it here because of Frantisek Kaberle, so he wore 8. Tim Gleason wears 8 now. I'm guessing that Gleason surrenders the 8, but you never know. Last summer, Andrew Hutchinson gladly gave up his 24 for Scott Walker, but sometimes this kind of thing involves the passing of a few thousand dollars from one hand to the other.
My friend Jenn, of "Jenn and Andy" fame will be thrilled. We're all thrilled, but she bought a Cullen sweater at the end of the '06 season, around the same time I bought my Williams sweater. She never had a chance to wear it. We both rode the Vasicek sweater mojo all the way to the Stanley Cup.
Here's to hoping that we get to see Matty repeat that thing he's doing in the picture above.