About 90 minutes into the free agency period on Sunday, the Penguins announced two signings. One we expected, defenseman Jack Johnson coming over from the Blue Jackets on a five year deal, but the other was a complete surprise to just about everyone.
After spending a season with the Minnesota Wild, center Matt Cullen will be returning to the Penguins on a one year deal. Cullen’s contract carries a $650,000 hit against the salary cap for next season.
Cullen previously spent two seasons in Pittsburgh where he was a key part in the team’s back-to-back Stanley Cup runs in 2016 and 2017. He returned to the Minnesota Wild last offseason as a free agent but it was clear general manager Jim Rutherford wanted Cullen back in the fold. Numerous trade rumors involving the Pens and Cullen surfaced throughout the season but nothing materialized.
The Cullen signing does raise some eyebrows because it appears on paper the Penguins are set down the middle with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Derick Brassard, and Riley Sheahan all under contract for next season. Adding Cullen could mean Brassard moves to left wing but we will have to wait a few more months to find out.
Another questions surrounding the signing is how much does the 41 year old (42 in November) have left in the tank. It’s expected he would slot into a fourth line role in with the Penguins but even on limited ice time father time always wins.
Looking at the contract, it’s hard to see much negative in this for the Penguins. At one year and just $650,000 against the salary cap, there is not much to complain about. Cullen is a fan favorite and clearly well liked by management and coaching staff. Even at 41, he can give you some valuable ice time at even strength and one the penalty kill.