Tonight the Florida Panthers host the Minnesota Wild who will make a rare trip to the sunny skies and warm weather of South Florida. Features of our fine location that have been a distraction to many a player who has worn a Florida Panther sweater. For some of them, a distraction that was enough to affect their on ice performance, leading to a ticket out of town. While a few of you may not remember Matt Cullen, he was here for from late 2002 till the end of the 2004 campaign. Almost forgot about him myself to tell you the truth.
Cullen was a second round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 1999. The 35th pick overall and projected to have a promising career as a third line center, with enough talent to play with the top six if needed for a stretch. Cullen was acquired by the Florida Panthers on January 30th 2003 (All-Star Weekend) along with Pavel Trnka ( I know your remember him) and a fourth round draft pick in the summer of 2003. Going the other way were defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh, and Lance Ward.
Cullen played 3o games for the Panthers in the remaining part of the 2002 season and accumulated 12 points on six goals and six assists. The 2002-2003 season was an awful one as the Panthers had a record of 24-36-13, and the roster featured players like Kristian Huselius (Krissy), Ivan Novoseltsev, Pierre Dagenais, and of course Peter Worrell. It was also the year that Olli Jokinen’s career took off as coach Mike Keenan made him into a hockey player by giving him the responsibility of team captain, and playing him as much as possible.
As for Cullen, he never materialized into much for the Panthers. If my memory is right, he found himself in Keenan’s doghouse a few times, which for many of the players on the Panthers roster was a common theme. Usually once you were there, you quickly stepped on the trap door that led you to another destination. Quite a few of those players had a lot to learn, and didn’t take to the taskmaster approach of Iron Mike, preferring to sun themselves on the beach, and play golf and tennis. Cullen would play 56 games in 2003-2004 with six goals and 13 assists for 19 points. He also missed 23 games with a pulled groin. He was not offered a contract when the season ended, as as we know that was the season for the NHL was locked out. Cullen played in Italy for that year, and then signed a one year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes and ended up winning a Stanley Cup in 2006. Nice work!
That year in Carolina was Matt’s best as he posted 49 points on 25 goals and 24 assists, playing 78 games. He also had 18 points coming from power play time. He was signed by the New York Rangers that summer playing in 81 games, but was traded to Carolina the following season. Matt lasted three years in Raleigh putting up respectable numbers before a trade sent him to Ottawa in February of 2010. Following the 2010 season Cullen signed a three year deal with the Minnesota Wild.
I don’t remember too much of Matt while he was here, but do remember that he was fairly unimpressive. Keenan may have been right about his evaluation of Cullen at the time, but Matt has found it in himself to have a decent career since he was moved from Florida. Something that has happened to a handful of players. Will he finish out his contract with the Wild? At 35 years old and a $3.5 million dollar price tag for one more season, he may not be too attractive to a team looking to add something for a playoff push. But we have seen stranger things haven’t we?
It’s an important game tonight with two big points on the line. Do your best to come out and watch, but please leave your Ivan Majesky sweater at home.
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