“I think it’ll be just like jumping right back in, picking up where I left off,” the veteran centre told The Canadian Press on Tuesday after rejoining the Carolina Hurricanes in a trade from the New York Rangers.
Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford re-acquired Cullen in exchange for defenceman Andrew Hutchinson, forward Joe Barnes and a third-round pick in next year’s NHL entry draft, filling a hole he said he couldn’t replace last year after Cullen left.
When the Rangers signed free-agent centres Chris Drury and Scott Gomez on July 1, Rutherford went right to work.
“Once they made the deal for the two centres, I made the call to see if they would consider doing that and we’ve worked on it since then,” Rutherford said Tuesday.
Cullen knew something might be up after Drury and Gomez arrived on the scene in New York.
“Certainly after they signed Gomez and Drury I thought there might be a chance of me being moved,” said Cullen. “And if I was going to be moved I really wanted it to be back to Carolina. So I’m thrilled.”
Cullen rejoins head coach Peter Laviolette and a bunch of familiar faces from the 2005-06 Stanley Cup-winning squad.
“It seems to be the best fit for me the way that they play,” said Cullen. “I really enjoyed playing for Peter and really enjoy playing with the guys there.”
The 30-year-old Cullen had 41 points (16-25) in 80 games last season, down from the 49 points (25-24) he had in Carolina the season before. He was especially effective in the Cup run in the spring of ’06, putting up 18 points (4-14) in 25 playoff games.
New York’s offer was too good to refuse last summer, US$11.5 million over four years, but things never really worked out in the Big Apple, where he was used mostly as a defensive player. Still, Cullen sees the silver lining in that.
“You know, the positive for me is that I think I really improved a lot as a player in New York,” he said. “I played a completely different role. I think my game is more complete now. I killed penalties in New York and I was a faceoff guy.
“So I think I bring more back to Carolina then before I left. I’m really excited.”
Cullen has 321 career NHL points (118-203) in 671 regular-season games with Anaheim, Florida, Carolina and the Rangers.
Rutherford, meanwhile, had to pay the price, giving up the 27-year-old Hutchinson, who had 14 points (3-11) in 41 games last season.
“It’s not a player that I was excited about letting go,” said Rutherford. “He serves a good purpose for us. But at the same time, he doesn’t play in our top six defence, so with the addition of (Dennis) Seidenberg and as long as we stay healthy, it made him expendable.”