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Kessel looks ahead to next season with Penguins, Cullen mulls retirement

Futures of veteran forwards in question following playoff ouster

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Phil Kessel sounds as if he expects to be with the Pittsburgh Penguins next season. Matt Cullen isn't so sure.

After the Penguins were swept in a best-of-7 series by the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round, the futures of the veteran forwards in Pittsburgh have come into question.

Kessel, who is under contract through the 2021-22 season, has been part of trade speculation for this offseason. Cullen will consider retirement after playing his 21st NHL season.

"I think there's a lot of good players in here," Kessel said Thursday. "So there's no reason to say that it can't continue."

 

[RELATED: Penguins need changes to remain Cup competitors]

 

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford did not mention Kessel on Thursday at Pittsburgh's locker cleanout day but said he would be willing to trade a high-profile player if necessary.

Kessel and Cullen each won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017. Kessel has been in Pittsburgh since being acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2015; Cullen signed a one-year contract July 1 to return to the Penguins after playing for the Minnesota Wild last season.

"It's a big decision for me and for my family," Cullen said. "In the whole scheme of things, it's not that big of a deal. For us, it's a big deal. We'll give it its due time, put a little thought and time into it. We'll figure something out here."

Cullen has 731 points (266 goals, 465 assists) in 1,516 NHL games with the Penguins, Wild, Anaheim Ducks, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators. The 42-year-old won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006.

"If anything, I'm really thankful I got to enjoy playing here down the stretch," Cullen said. "I felt as good as I've felt in a long time, which is great. I think as you get older, you just hope that you can feel good enough to allow yourself to play."

After scoring 27 goals in the regular season and two points (one goal, one assist) in the first-round sweep, Kessel said he and the Penguins could return to form next season.

"Who's to say it can't?" the 31-year-old said. "This year was disappointing. The year before, we lost in the second round. ... The two previous years, we won the Cup. There's always a chance to win. I'm sure the team will improve and we'll see what happens over the summer."

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