The Hurricanes have parted company with Matt Cullen for the second time, sending the center to Ottawa in exchange for 24-year-old defenseman Alexandre Picard and a second-round pick.
In addition to a solid young player in Picard, who has been an NHL regular for the past two seasons, the Canes now hold three second-round picks in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft – valuable assets whether the team decides to use them or include them in future trades. Picard will be a restricted free agent after this season.
”We thank Matt for everything that he did for us,” said General Manager Jim Rutherford. “He’s a very good player and a great person, and it’s tough to say goodbye to him.”
Rutherford indicated that he was pleased with the return on Cullen, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. He said that receiving a second-round pick for Niclas Wallin last week, combined with yesterday’s trade between between Florida and Montreal that saw the Panthers earn a second-round pick for Dominic Moore, helped determine proper value.
”It is a domino effect in the sense that it shows what the market is going to be, which is pretty high,” said Rutherford, who still hopes to make another deal or two in the small window between today’s Olympic roster freeze, effective at 3 p.m., and the official trade deadline on March 3.
Cullen’s expiring contract means that the Hurricanes could theoretically re-sign him in the summer if Ottawa allows him to hit the open market. Having already re-acquired Cullen via trade once after the player left via free agency in 2006, Rutherford hinted that a third tour of duty was not out of the question.
“This is a hard day for me, for the organization and for Matt, but like I’ve said before, every goodbye doesn’t have to be the last one,” he said.
In Picard, the Hurricanes feel they are getting a solid all-around player who will help move the puck and could also feature on the power play. Rutherford also praised his consistency.
“He’s a pretty consistent player who plays pretty much the same way every game,” said Rutherford. “You know what you’re getting every night.”
Picard hails from Gatineau, Quebec, which is just across the river from Ottawa. Although he’s essentially leaving his hometown team in this trade, he said that he was nonetheless excited after recent cuts to his ice time left him wanting more.
”I just want to play, and I wasn’t really happy with the way things were going in the last couple of weeks,” said Picard, who has been averaging about 15 minutes of ice time of late after routinely hitting the 20-minute mark earlier in the season. “If I had to leave my hometown and that’s what I needed to do, that’s great.”
Picard admitted he isn’t totally familiar with the Hurricanes organization, but knows Joni Pitkanen from their time together in Philadelphia from 2005-2007. Picard was a third-round draft pick of the Flyers out of the Quebec league in 2003.
Since Picard is a foreign citizen coming from a foreign country, it is unclear if he will be able to join the Hurricanes in time for Saturday’s game against New Jersey. Just as Jiri Tlusty did, Picard will have to go through the potentially-complicated immigration process.
That could prevent coach Paul Maurice from having to make a lineup decision, as Picard’s inclusion would make one of the Canes’ defensemen a healthy scratch. After Saturday there will be little rush, as the team will be off until March 2 due to the Olympic break.
Depending on what happens in the trade market, the team may never have to make such a decision. Although he stated belief that he was finished trading ahead of today’s deadline, Rutherford said that there has been significant interest in his other defensemen.
“When you look at our defense, other than the young guy in Carson, I get calls all the time about every one of them,” said Rutherford.
The trade does leave the Hurricanes one forward short for Saturday. Scott Walker, who has taken the last few practices full-contact, could be an option, although Maurice has said the team would have to be 100 percent sure. If the team decides not to go that route, a recall from Albany seems likely.