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Chris Murphy, Published July 05 2013

Nashville signs Cullen to two-year deal worth $7 million

FARGO – Matt Cullen admitted, although he’s well aware of the business side of professional sports, it hurt when he found out Wednesday night that the Minnesota Wild would not be re-signing him. The Moorhead High School graduate knew his situation for the last three years was something special.

“You don’t often get to play for your home state on a professional level, and I realize how lucky I was to do that,” Cullen said. “It was heart-breaking, but it’s the life in professional sports. It’s been the best three years of my career.

“You get one day to recover and regroup. You have to deal with it, move on and do what’s best for you and your family.”

Cullen didn’t take long, signing a two-year deal worth $7 million with the Nashville Predators on Friday, which was the first day free agents could sign with NHL teams. For Cullen, it is not about the dollar signs, but about the idea of winning.

“Nashville is a pretty consistent performer as far as getting into the playoffs,” Cullen said. “At this point in my career, it isn’t about the money. It’s about finding the best fit and the best opportunity to win a bunch of games and take a shot at the Cup.”

Nashville wasn’t very consistent in the 2012-13 season, finishing 16-23-9 and in 13th place in the Western Conference.

Cullen’s 27 points last season would have topped all forwards on the Predators and only trailed Shea Weber’s 28 points. Although Cullen is turning 37 years old this November, he’s ready to lead the Predators if necessary.

“You want to go somewhere where you’re going to play a big role,” Cullen said. “For me to play a big offensive role on a team is something I look forward to. Hopefully, I can bring some aspect to the team and make them better and get us into the playoffs again.”

According to Cullen, he had a list of teams interested. He was happy his numbers from last season outweighed the inevitable stat of growing a year older.

“You don’t really get to convince people to look away from your age,” Cullen said. “The only way you can convince people is by playing well. I felt really good this year, felt I had a good season and the folks in Nashville felt I did as well. The one thing about our game is guys are getting older and older and taking better care of themselves and are able to play longer. Fortunately, I’m one of those guys.”

As for Minnesota, Cullen has no hard feelings toward his home state.

“It’s a business, but I loved playing here in Minnesota,” Cullen said. “I had a couple of good conversations with (Wild General Manager) Chuck Fletcher, and he was very honest, and it was just a matter that they got caught up too close to the salary cap and they couldn’t proceed. It was an awfully tough day when I found that out for me and my whole family. You have to deal with it and realize it’s not always your choice.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548