Former Ranger Cullen Rejuvenated in Carolina

by: Eric Faynberg | Special To NY Sports Day | Monday, December 3, 2007

A few months after winning the Stanley Cup as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, Matt Cullen signed a four-year contract worth $11.5 million with the New York Rangers. Despite helping the team to the second round of the playoffs last year, the Rangers traded him back to Carolina this summer after just a season. After somewhat disappointing numbers on Broadway, Cullen is playing excellent hockey during the early portion of the 2007-08 season.

After posting career-highs of 25 goals and 49 points on the Hurricanes' cup-winning squad, Cullen scored just 16 goals in 2006-07, recording 41 points. While he spent much of the year centering Brendan Shanahan, who scored in bunches early in the season, Cullen was rarely involved in Shanahan’s goals. This year, however, Cullen is averaging almost a point per game, with 25 points through his team's first 26 games. With much of the team intact from the 2005-06 season, Cullen has had no trouble reacclimating himself to the 'Canes.

“It's been such a great start to the season because I'm familiar with the system,” said the 31-year-old Cullen. “I don't really need to get used to a different style of play or anything like that. I feel comfortable playing on this team because I have experience with most of these guys and with the coaching staff. We have a talented team and we utilize the right system.”

For a Carolina team that missed the playoffs last season, a year after winning the Stanley Cup, the addition of Cullen has helped the 'Canes look like one of the NHL's elite teams this season. While Cullen has enjoyed being back with his former club, he can't deny being taken a back when he learned of his trade back to Carolina.

“I was surprised,” Cullen said. “I didn't really see it coming. We had a lot of success (in New York) last season, we were this close to making it to the Conference Finals.”

Dealt back to the 'Canes on July 17th in exchange for defenseman Andrew Hutchinson, prospect forward Joe Barnes and a third-round draft pick in the 2008 draft, Cullen's contract became a problem for the Blueshirts after they signed free agent centers Chris Drury and Scott Gomez to lucrative deals several weeks prior. Cullen was criticized at times for not producing enough offensively, despite not being used as the point man on the power play, a role that brought him much success during Carolina's cup run and is producing similar results this year.

“I was a little disappointed,” said Cullen. “I thought a big part of the reason they got me was to play the point, so it was a little strange to not really get that chance. That's a coach’s decision, though. I don't really have a problem with it. Obviously, the way we were doing things wasn't so bad, we were pretty successful.”

Still, despite some philosophical differences, Cullen had nothing negative to say about his time as a Ranger.

“It was an interesting experience,” recalled Cullen. “The fans are amazing, they're so passionate and so excited by the team. Obviously it was nice to have the kind of success that we did, we only wished that we could have gone just a little further. It was really nice to play on the same side as talents like Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan. Those guys are living legends of the game. You learn a lot from playing with people like that.”