Although Matt Cullen was brought in late in the season, he might present an answer to the Ottawa Senators longstanding search for some scoring depth and another top-six forward. With all of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Alex Kovalev, and Mike Fisher already under contract, and Peter Regin only a formality RFA-re-signing away (at least hopefully), the top-six wil be competitive--will there be room for Cullen? If so, how much can we offer him, and for how long?
#7 / Center / Ottawa Senators
Nov 02, 1976
|2009 - Matt Cullen||81||16||32||48||-7||34||2||2||2||0||195||8.2|
Contract status: Cullen's just finished the last year of his four-year, $11.5M contract this past season. At 32, he's probably still got two contracts ahead of him before his career really tails off, depending what kind of term he's looking at for his next one.
Season review: Cullen was picked up in exchange for Alexandre Picard and a second-round pick just before the Olympic break. He started fairly slowly in the regular season, putting up only eight points in 21 games (although he contributed to the penalty kill). Come playoff time, though, Cullen showed his real value: 8P in the Sens' 6 playoff games, often looking like the best forward on the team. Cullen was one of only a few players with Stanley Cup rings on Ottawa's roster last year, and that experience would be valuable heading into a season with increased expectations.
Comparable players: In looking for baselines to measure Cullen against, I looked to NHLers with similar point production rates through their careers, and in the same general age group--anywhere from 32 to 37 years old, trying to compare to their contracts signed when they were Cullen's age.
#22 / Center / Calgary Flames
Sep 27, 1976
Cap hit: $4.5M, one more season
|2009 - Daymond Langkow||72||14||23||37||2||30||1||1||2||0||126||11.1|
Langkow has put up better points than Cullen through the NHL, but plays a similar role: He won't be your go-to guy on offence, but he will offer great support to your stars and superstars. And Langkow had signed his contract three years back, and is the same age as Cullen, so his value has come down. Cullen would be reasonable to look for a contract in the three- to four-year range, but won't likely get a salary as high as Langkow's.
#11 / Center / Chicago Blackhawks
May 04, 1973
Cap hit: UFA
|2009 - John Madden||79||10||13||23||-2||12||0||0||0||0||127||7.9|
Contrary to Langkow, Madden's actually got lower career point production than Cullen, but he's a more defensive player who typically shuts down opposing players. In that sense, he's a reasonable comparison to Cullen, who can kill penalties well and is generally defensively responsible. Madden's just finished a one-year, $2.75M deal, and before that he was on a deal worth just under $3M per year.
#16 / Right Wing / Colorado Avalanche
Mar 15, 1975
Cap hit: UFA
|2009 - Darcy Tucker||71||10||14||24||-3||47||3||0||1||0||73||13.7|
Tough to admit, but Tucker does offer some pretty good offence, although he'd slot in as a third-line winger on most teams, while Cullen could easily step up to a second line. Still, Tucker offers about as much value in pestiness as Cullen does in defensive responsibility, to their values work out to a pretty close sum total. Tucker's finishing off a two-year, $4.5M deal (which he signed when he was as old as Cullen is now), but Cullen's number would likely go higher due to his increased offensive potential.
#96 / Left Wing / Detroit Red Wings
Jan 23, 1973
Cap hit: $1.875M, two more seasons
|2009 - Tomas Holmstrom||68||25||20||45||5||60||13||0||5||0||131||19.1|
I found it hard to believe, but Holmstrom's career production is almost identical to Cullen's: Holmstrom's got 469P in 879GP, Cullen's got 461P in 880GP. Holmstrom's played a lot more playoff games, but he's been on better teams over his career. Amazingly, Holmstrom has never made as much in one season as Cullen did last year: He's just finished a three-year deal that paid him $2.25M per season, and then signed a two-year extension just weeks ago for $1.875M per. Ottawa might want to bring him up when negotiating with Cullen.
#22 / Right Wing / Washington Capitals
Jul 04, 1972
Cap hit: $2.8M, one more season
|2009 - Mike Knuble||69||29||24||53||23||59||6||0||5||0||151||19.2|
He had a heck of a season last year with the Capitals (who didn't), but Knuble and Cullen have had similar career production. Knuble is, though, a pretty good comparison to Cullen based on the numbers. Before this season, Knuble signed a two-year deal with Washington worth $2.8M per season.
Conclusion: Cullen would probably like a raise from his salary this past season, but shouldn't count on it being to substantial. The line-of-best-fit drawn by the comparable players above is skewed by Langkow's salary, which Cullen won't approach, but it's also brought down by Holmstrom's. In all likelihood, Cullen will be awarded a contract worth perhaps $8.1M over the next three seasons (perhaps structured as $3.2M, $2.7M, $2.2M in order to give him an immediate raise), or he could take a higher-paying, shorter-term deal (for a player of his age, perhaps not a worthwhile risk).