MATT CULLEN | Back in the fold
Matt Cullen is back.
That’s the most important thing to know about the outlook for the Carolina Hurricanes’ wingers and centers for 2007-08.
Cullen scored 25 goals and added 24 assists and was an integral part of a shootout lineup for the Hurricanes during their Stanley Cup-winning season in 2005-06. But during that summer, he signed a rich free-agent contract with the New York Rangers, heading to the Big Apple to be a part of that team’s potent offensive lineup.
A funny thing happened on the way to Madison Square Garden, however. Cullen scored only 16 goals for the Rangers and played primarily a defensive role and didn’t live up to the high expectations set for him by the team. Back in North Carolina, meanwhile, the Hurricanes’ offense also stagnated. After scoring 3.49 goals per game in 2005-06, 3rd best in the NHL, the team’s output dropped to 2.94, 13th best. The team’s goal differential went from a health plus-.35 (3.49 goals scored per game, minus 3.15 goals surrendered) to a dismal minus-.08 (2.94 goals scored, 3.02 goals surrendered). The result, of course, was missing the playoffs.
Perhaps even more telling was the fact that after going 8-2 in shootouts the Cup year, the Hurricanes were 0-5 last season. Cullen sparked the Canes in 05-06 to 17 goals on 34 shots in shootouts; last season, the team scored just one – a single goal – in 17 attempts.
So it made sense to bring Cullen back, even though the Hurricanes had to sacrifice defenseman Andrew Hutchinson in the July trade. Cullen joins most of the same faces amongst forwards from the Cup-winning team, including 30-goal scorers Justin Williams (33 goals, 34 assists, 67 points), Ray Whitney (32g, 51a) and Eric Staal (30g, 40a), who’s looking to rebound after a sharp drop from his 100-point season in 05-06. Erik Cole (29g, 32a), Rod Brind’Amour (26g, 56a) and Scott Walker (21g, 30a) and a healthy Cory Stillman (5g, 22a in just 27 games) will provide the usual veteran presence offensively, while newcomer Jeff Hamilton (18g, 21a with the Chicago Blackhawks) and Andrew Ladd (11g, 10 a) will compete for ice time on the top three forward lines. Hamilton, incidentally, was 5-for-10 with Chicago in shootouts.
Cullen’s presence should also bolster the power-play. More about that in Part 4: Special Teams, coming later this week.