Matt Cullen: Potential Penguin?

USA TODAY Sports

Whispers around the NHL that Pittsburgh brass might be interested in Minnesota center Matt Cullen as a possible trade addition to the Pens. Does it make sense?

In his widely read 30 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman suggests that Matt Cullen of Minnesota could be a trade target for the Pittsburgh Penguins

Last week the Pittsburgh Penguins had a game in Winnipeg, and eyebrows were raised when it was reported Pens general manager Ray Shero showed up at a Minnesota Wild game the night before Pittsburgh was playing. In many ways, it could be innocuous, Minnesota’s practically on the way, and for Shero it may have been nothing more than to get a peek with his own eyes at Western conference teams and see some old friends.

Ah, yes, the last part is intriguing, isn’t it? Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is a long-time friend and past employee of Shero’s, as is Wild head coach Mike Yeo, who broke into the coaching ranks with the Pens. That doesn’t necessarily mean TRADE TRADE TRADE, but it does set the stage quite nicely.

A lot of Penguin fans focused on Devin Setoguchi, a still younger winger with a history of scoring goals in the NHL, but has seemed a little pushed out of Minnesota’s long-term plans with the signing of Zach Parise and young rising stars like Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle crowding top six minutes in the future. Sort of sounds like a James Neal junior, to get a promising but somewhat inconsistent young winger, with a track-record of some success and plug in with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and see what happens.

Problem is, a lot of teams don't like to trade a 26 year old former first round pick who's scored 19+ goals in the last four NHL seasons without a heavy, heavy price. So Friedman suggested veteran Matt Cullen could be a potential target for the Pens:

25. So who was Shero watching last week in Minnesota? He attended Avalanche/Wild game the night before Pittsburgh won in Winnipeg. You know who has Penguin written all over him? Matt Cullen.

Cullen, at age 36, has 1,046 NHL games and counting on his resume. He’s won a Stanley Cup in Carolina in 2006 (where he was teammates with Craig Adams). His game was known for his speed but I haven’t seen him enough lately to say how much that’s eroded. I do know that Cullen’s point totals have fallen from 48 to 39 to 34 points in the past three seasons and this year he’s got just 1 goal to go along with 5 assists in 15 games- which is a 33 point pace in a full 82 game NHL season. Cullen, a center by trade, has won 51% of his faceoffs this season and for years has been a 50%+ type of guy.

Shero also got a good look at Cullen during the 2010 playoffs, when Cullen was a member of the Ottawa Senators. The Penguins played the Sens in the first round of the playoffs and Cullen was arguably the best player for Ottawa in that series leading them in goals (3) and tying for the lead in points (8) in a losing effort. Cullen is also currently in the final year of a contract paying him $3.5 million this season, a figure the Penguins can easily take on, if they so chose.

What’s interesting about Friedman nugget (an insider who’s very in the know with off the record whispers around the league) is what Shero had to say recently about his 3rd and 4th lines. Mike Colligan heard Shero say “he loves the identity of the 4th line right now” so you’d have to think 3rd line for Cullen? With Cullen being a natural center, does this mean the team might toy with shifting Brandon Sutter into a top six winger role and have Cullen and Matt Cooke anchor the third line?

There’s a lot of possibilities and combinations to think about right now, weeks away from the trade deadline so we’ll be covering these and other developing rumors as word trickles out.

What do you guys think about acquiring a 3rd line center and trying Sutter at wing? If the price is too high for a guy like Setoguchi (who I’m sure would be a target, just maybe not one the other team’s interested in moving) then the Penguins may have to get creative. And how ironic would it be for Jordan Staal- who didn’t want to be stuck as a 3rd line center- if his replacement was given as serious chance to play wing on a scoring line?

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