The Minnesota Wild are missing Matt Cullen big time. Since the center got injured in a 4-1 loss to St. Louis on April 1, the team has gone 1-4-0, with their only win coming against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
These losses came shortly after the team won seven straight, and while there are multiple factors that come into play here—Dany Heatley is out for the season and the team has lost to four playoff-bound clubs—Cullen is more valuable to this team than you might think.
With Heatley, for example, it’s pretty straightforward. The former San Jose Shark led Minnesota in scoring with 53 points (24 goals, 29 assists) last season and is a phenomenal goal scorer.
In his heyday, back when he was with the Atlanta Thrashers and Ottawa Senators, Heater scored 40 or 50 goals pretty regularly. He had an outstanding season during his first year in the Bay Area, scoring 39 goals in 2009-10, but the 32-year-old has seen his production drop recently. He scored 26 goals in his last year with San Jose and only tallied 24 in his first year in Minnesota.
Granted, at 32, he is probably at the end of his prime, but he’s also played with elite playmakers in Joe Thornton and Mikko Koivu the past few seasons and is still good for around 25 goals in a full season, especially now that he’s on the second line.
Cullen is four years older than Heatley, however, and has never put up the gaudy numbers his teammate has. He had a career-high 25 goals with the Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 and had 22 for a 'Canes club that went to the Eastern Conference Finals three years later. Otherwise, he is about a 15-goals per season player.
The Virginia, Minn., native racks up assists to the tune of 30 per year and is more of a playmaker than a scorer. Even in his advanced age, he’s still a quick skater and sure-handed with the puck.
On a team with plenty of playmaking centers—Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikael Granlund and Koivu, to name a few—he can’t be that missed, right?
To illustrated how much of a void Cullen’s absence creates on the team, just look at how his linemate, Devin Setoguchi, has played without him. Before April 1, Setoguchi had scored seven goals in the past 10 games. After April 1? None.
Zero. Zip. Nada.
In fact, he’s only registered one point, an assist against Columbus, and is minus-4. He was plus-7 (plus-7!) in the previous 10 games before Cullen went down.
Here’s the thing: The Wild are in a major scoring drought. They’ve scored five goals since Cullen went down with injury…and three of those came against Columbus.
Now, the top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville need to score more, that’s for sure, but Parise and Koivu are still building chemistry with the former Buffalo Sabre (without the luxury of practice time), and it’s a lot easier for opposing teams to defend the top line if the second one isn’t as productive.
Secondary scorers like Bouchard, Granlund and Charlie Coyle need to step it up, but the Wild are also missing Heatley and are receiving less production from Setoguchi now that Cullen is gone.
Don’t overlook the importance of Setoguchi: He scored 31 goals in his second season with the Sharks and around 20 per year since. In a full season, he could potentially cross the 30-goal plateau once again with a teammate like Cullen.
In the end, there are no excuses for the Wild. Everyone plays a 48-game season so every team has suffered injury. There is plenty of talent on the roster so they should be able to find the back of the net.
But still, Minnesota has been playing a lot of playoff-bound teams lately and is really, really missing Matt Cullen.