At long last, another of the Nashville Predators’ cast-offs has caught on with another team.
Forward Matt Cullen agreed to a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, which made him the first Predators free agent to sign with another NHL team since the start of the new league year, July 1.
The 38-year-old who spent the last two seasons in Nashville was one of six players the Predators chose not to re-sign or whose contracts were bought out after last season. Viktor Stalberg signed a one-year deal with the New York Rangers on July 1 and Rich Clune accepted a minor-league deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate.
Defensemen Cody Franson and Anton Volchenkov and forward Mike Santorelli remain unsigned.
Pittsburgh is the eighth different team for which Cullen has been a member in an 18-year NHL career. However, the move reunites him with general manager Jim Rutherford, who was the GM in Carolina during Cullen’s two stints with the Hurricanes (2005-06 and 2007-10).
His new deal represents a significant decrease in pay from what he earned in Nashville. He signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Predators in 2013-14 and had 64 points (17 goals, 47 assists) in 139 appearances.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Nick Spaling probably did not need to get in a fight the franchise that traded for him roughly a month ago.
It made sense, therefore, that the former Nashville Predators forward avoided arbitration Thursday when he agreed to a two-year, $4.4 million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The $2.2 million annual salary is twice what he made with Nashville in 2012-13. He earned $1.5 million last season on a one-year deal.
Oddly, on a team with as much star power as any, he is now the sixth highest paid forward and one of only six signed beyond the coming season.
“To me, it seems like a fair deal,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “We really like Nick. We know he's going to play a good role.
“… He's coming out of a role and a system where it was more of a defensive system. Now, he's going to go into a new system that could give him an opportunity to put more points up.”
Spaling, 25, set career-highs with 13 goals, 19 assists and 32 points last season. Nashville drafted him in second round (58th overall) in 2007 and traded him, along with Patric Hornqvist, to Pittsburgh on June 27 for left wing James Neal.
As far as Plan Bs go the Nashville Predators could have done a lot worse than James Neal.
Their new first-line left wing is a rugged 6-foot-2, 208-pound sniper whose shot is regarded as one of the game’s best. He also is signed through 2017-18 at $5 million per season, an unquestionably reasonable rate for a player who has and – given that he’ll be 27 at the start of the season – might again average a point per game for an entire season.
Of course to get him general manager David Poile traded forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to Pittsburgh. Two days removed from the deal he felt better than he did in the moments that led to it.
“I told [Pittsburgh general manager] Jim Rutherford, ‘I’m getting nervous about this trade,” Poile said Sunday. “I think when you get there you’re at the point where you know it’s good for both teams. It was certainly, in our minds, a trade for a top forward. He’s a natural goal scorer. … He is strong on the power play. He’s got a great release. He’s got a great one-timer. Basically, he provides a dimension we have lacked here with the Predators.”
No team generated more headlines during the National Hockey League’s draft weekend than the Predators, who made news because of who they got in a trade (Neal) and who they did not get (Ottawa center Jason Spezza).
Poile declined to address specific questions, but what he did say on the subject gave the overwhelming impression that Neal and Spezza were an either/or proposition and not a swing for the fences that ended up a ground-rule double.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray wanted to deal Spezza, the second overall pick in 2001, but was unable to do so. He told reporters at the draft in Philadelphia that he had an acceptable offer from Nashville but Spezza, who has a limited no-trade clause in his contract, refused to sign off on the move.
“I don’t want to say what we did or didn’t do,” Poile said. “Bryan Murray said what he said. All I’m going to say publicly is we called and we were told by Ottawa and his agent that he did not want to go to Nashville.”
He refused to offer any details about whether Hornqvist and/or Spaling were included in that offer, although it seems virtually certain that they were. He conceded only that those discussions took place “way before” draft weekend, when the Predators finally settled on and, in a manner of speaking, settled for Neal.
As recently as 2011-12, Neal averaged a point per game when he had 40 goals and 41 assists in 80 games for the Predators. In 413 games with Dallas and Pittsburgh he has 315 points (161 goals, 154 assists) in 413 contests.
“My vision is that at some point we will get a top center,” Poile said. “We’re trying to get top six forwards. I believe that Neal is a top three forward. I’m open-minded to when you have the opportunity to get one of these guys to be able to do it. I was very happy I was able to do it because it didn’t disrupt our defense and it didn’t take away our first pick.
“… I think James Neal dramatically changes the look of our forward roster.”
Even if he is a different guy than the one they initially envisioned doing so.
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS