For the 2014-15 season, Matt Cullen was reunited with the bench boss he won a Stanley Cup with in 2006 when Peter Laviolette was hired as the second head coach in Nashville Predators history. Six years after the pair were both members of the Carolina Hurricanes, Laviolette leaned on Cullen’s veteran leadership in the Preds locker room while he was instituting a new system and philosophy in Nashville this season.
In his second season in Predators Gold, the 38-year-old forward missed 20 games due to injury, and by his own admission, struggled to put up the kind of offensive numbers he’s been accustomed to producing throughout his 17 seasons in the NHL. Still, Cullen often proved to be the voice younger forwards like Calle Jarnkrok, Colin Wilson and Taylor Beck needed to hear when trying to evolve their style of play in 2014-15.
An unrestricted free agent, Cullen’s future in Nashville is currently unclear, with the forward, who became the oldest Preds player in franchise history this past season, stating he will decide this summer if he wants to embark on an 18th campaign. In his address at the Music City Sports Festival, Predators General Manager David Poile said he believes Cullen still has the talent and energy to play in the NHL, but the GM did not specifically comment on the forward’s future with the Preds.
Disclaimer: I’m not the most objective analyst around when it comes to rating Matt Cullen. “Cully” and I were linemates in Anaheim as he was breaking into the League during the late 90s. So maybe I’m a bit biased.
- First off, Cullen is a terrific professional athlete. He brings all kinds of insight and enthusiasm to the rink every day; his teammates thrive on the example he sets.
- The 38-year-old is also exceptionally versatile. At center or wing, he makes the passes and decisions that make the players around him better.
- Finally, this is something I mention constantly about Cullen. Craig Smith has been a solid and consistent contributor over the last two years as a direct result of the time that he and Cullen have spent as linemates. It’s a hard thing to pin down exactly what the veteran does to spark something in Smith’s game, but the results are there nonetheless.
After a point shot from Seth Jones gets deflected past the cage and rebounds off the end wall, Matt Cullen dives and backhands the puck into the net with a mid-air, full-stretch swipe.
According to No. 7:
- The forward calls The Natural is his favorite movie, The Lumineers his favorite band and considers Zach Galifianakis to be his favorite actor.
- Cullen comes from a hockey family with two brothers, Joe and Mark, both of whom played for four years at Colorado College and now play professionally in Europe.
- If the veteran could choose a non-hockey venue to play in, his ideal option would be Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs.
- He and his wife Bridget founded Cullen’s Children’s Foundation in 2003. The organization’s mission is to provide financial resources to other organizations that support children’s health care needs, placing an emphasis on cancer.
By the Numbers:
- 1,212 - The Virginia, Minnesota, native finished the 2014-15 season with over 1,200 regular season games played in the NHL. The total puts Cullen 99th on the League’s all-time games played list.
- 38 - At 38 years and 23 days, Cullen became the oldest Predators player in franchise history, passing former defenseman Hal Gill.
- 7 - Cullen lit the lamp seven times during the 2014-15 campaign, a sum that just happens to match his jersey number. The forward also tallied once in the Predators playoff series with the Blackhawks; the first-period marker put Nashville up 3-1 in Game Six and proved to be the Predators final tally of the season.
A soft-spoken guide in the Predators locker room, Cullen’s NHL resume is usually what causes his teammates to seek out his council on matters pertaining to hockey and life in general:
“I try and take as much as I can from [Cullen] every day off the ice or on the ice,” Preds forward Taylor Beck said. “He’s been in the League a long time for a reason. He knows how to be successful and whether we take away something he does in practice or watching him in the game every shift, it’s great for me being a young guy to look up to him.”
“I try to stay away from those young guys, they bug me,” Cullen joked. “No, you just do what you can as an older guy. Regardless of any situation, you can offer advice or be there for a guy. We’ve all had guys that helped us along the way, so you try to keep that going and help out. We have a lot of young guys playing some very important roles on our team, so it’s important that as older guys, we’re there to help them along any way we can.”
Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette won that Stanley Cup with Cullen with the Hurricanes back in 2006. Almost 10 years later, Nashville’s bench boss believes that everyone benefits from having that presence in the room.
“Matt brings a lot of experience,” Laviolette said. “He’s jumped in, and he’s provided offense for us since coming back into the lineup [from an early-season injury]. I think he’s a guy that we count on because of his experience. We’ve got a lot of young players in that locker room… A guy like Matt, his experience off the ice and his play on the ice, is something [important] for our young players.”
- Cullen shared before the Predators Western Conference Quarterfinals series that the eight players which ultimately made their playoff debuts were in fact an aid to veteran players like himself. Preds’ Youth Not a Hindrance in the Postseason - April 13
- Prior to faceoff between the Preds and New York Islanders, Matt Cullen’s three sons joined him at the blue line for a ceremony honoring the forward passing 1,200 games in the NHL. 1201 for Matt Cullen - March 5
- Anton Volchenkov had quite the prediction to make of Wyatt Cullen, Matt’s son, when the youngster joined the team at Bridgestone Arena for practice. Little Cully - Nov. 28
Veteran forwards Matt Cullen and Mike Fisher teamed up to face off against defensemen Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis in Teammate Trivia (a hockey-themed nod to The Newlywed Game)
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