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Published April 18 2012

Moorhead's Cullen shifts into offseason work

Minneapolis - Even with a pin in his right finger, Matt Cullen had a few items to point out.

The Minnesota Wild center and former Moorhead High School star said Wednesday he wants to use the offseason to spend time with family along with getting better for next year.

He hopes the Wild can overcome this season’s mid-year collapse and parlay it into potentially signing big-name free agents-to-be in Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter and New Jersey Devils winger Zach Parise, a former University of North Dakota star.

And he also hopes this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs can continue to be exciting, but lose its dangerous edge with hits to the head.

“I have watched all the series as much as I can, and it has been entertaining,” Cullen said. “But the downside is the hits to the head. It has been such a big talking point and it’s something we are trying to eliminate in our game.”

Some playoff series have been defined by their physical nature.

Other series – such as the Chicago-Phoenix series – have been marred by it instead.

Players from each team have suffered hits to the head, the most recent being Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa.

Hossa left the game in a stretcher after a check to the head by the Coyotes’ Raffi Torres on Tuesday night.

“Everyone wants hits to the head to be removed from the game,” Cullen said. “It is a shame it has become a main talking point. You don’t want your best players sitting out with concussions and putting kids getting into this game at risk.”

It is easy to understand the viewpoint of Cullen, who is a father of three.

He said he uses the offseason to spend time with his family and to also rehab and refocus.

Cullen will have a pin removed from his finger in a week, and he hopes to overcome other small injuries that he picked up this season.

“I’ll also take a step back and look at what I did well and what areas I can improve on,” he said. “At this stage in my career, it is important to look at how you can get better. I will refine my summer training on that.

“If you are not in the playoffs, you may as well try to get better. If you are not trying to get better, you are on your way out the door.”

Cullen said injuries, as a whole, are what did in the Wild this season.

The Wild opened the season with one the NHL’s best records. But injuries to several players –including captain and team leader in assists, Mikko Koivu – resulted in the Wild missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

“You start out so well and better than anyone expected, and you find yourself on top of the league,” Cullen said. “And before long, you get hit by a bunch of injuries. It was a year where I’ve never had anything like it. Funny, you think you play the game and you’ve seen it all and then it’s like, ‘Man, this is unbelievable.’”

Something that wouldn’t be unbelievable to Cullen but welcomed is if the Wild could somehow sign Parise and/or Suter, the two biggest names in free agency this offseason.

Parise, a Minneapolis native, has turned into one of the NHL’s best forwards, scoring 410 points in 502 career games.

Suter has become one of the NHL’s premier defensemen, having won a silver medal in the 2010 Olympics. He was named an All-Star for the first time this season.

Cullen returned to his home state two years ago when he signed with the Wild.

When asked if he’s talked to Parise about coming back home, Cullen laughed and said that’d be against NHL rules.

But he did say this summer could be an interesting one.

“There are a lot of interesting free agents that people are going to have their eyes on,” Cullen said. “I would imagine that we’d be in on the hunt on some of those.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found at slightlychilled.areavoices.com