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Hayden Goethe, Published July 04 2012

Moorhead's Cullen says expectations for Wild have been raised

FARGO – Matt Cullen was an alternate captain and one of the Minnesota Wild’s leading scorers last season.

But when two of the NHL’s top free agents in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter agreed to contracts with the Wild on Wednesday, Cullen found out just like everyone else.

“I was just waiting to hear the news,” Cullen said a couple hours after the deals were announced. “It was a pretty exciting time just waiting to see what would happen. … I had a really strong idea that we were right in the mix.”

Cullen, 35, said the additions of Parise and Suter – considered by many to be the top two free agents available – changes expectations for the Wild next season and beyond.

Minnesota was among the NHL’s best teams through the first two months of last season. But an eight-game losing streak in mid-December snowballed into a second-half collapse, keeping the Wild out of the postseason.

The Wild have not made the playoffs since the 2007-08 season and have not won a playoff series since 2002-03.

“Expectations have been raised any time you can add two guys like that and instantly transform your team,” said Cullen, a Moorhead High School graduate.

Cullen said he knows Parise very well. Parise has given his time to Cullen’s foundation in past years.

“He’s one of the best forwards in the league,” Cullen said. “He’s very skilled and a great skater. ... He produces every year. He just finds a way to score goals. He’s a guy that makes guys around him a lot better.”

Cullen played with Suter on the United States team in the 2006 IIHF World Championships.

“(Suter) plays 30 minutes a game,” Cullen said. “That’s one of those things that changes the whole balance of your team when you a have a guy like that playing half the game. He’s very strong and physical and a very creative offensive player, which is a unique package for a defenseman.”

Prior to Wednesday’s moves, Cullen was of the highest-profile free agents the Wild had ever signed. He is entering the final year of a three-year, $10.5 million deal he inked with the club in 2010.

Parise and Suter each agreed to 13-year deals for what’s expected to be about $100 million apiece. Cullen believes those long-term commitments could help the Wild in future offseasons.

“I think that it definitely makes a difference,” Cullen said. “It makes it more of a destination because overnight we’re a better team. That makes it an attractive place to come.

“It really comes down to, ‘Can we win? Can we be competitive?’ ”

Readers can reach Forum Assistant Sports Editor Hayden Goethe at (701) 241-5558