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Chris Murphy, Published April 21 2014

Late-season lift gives Cullen optimism for next season

Fargo - Former Moorhead High School hockey player and current Nashville Predators center Matt Cullen has played in 1,218 NHL games in 16 seasons. The last 12 games of the 2013-14 season may have put retirement on hold for the 37-year-old, as he heads into the final year of his contract with Nashville.

Cullen notched 15 of his 39 points of the season in his final 12 games, as the Predators fell three points shy of a playoff spot.

“I think the last part of the season gave me a boost personally,” Cullen said. “I felt like I played some really good hockey down the stretch and we were three points out of a playoff spot. I’m still really enjoying the game. The body still feels good physically, so it’s one of those things where I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it and make the most of the year and see where it takes me.”

Cullen admits he did not think his career would take him to Nashville. Cullen played three seasons with Minnesota before heading to free agency after finding out the Wild would not be

re-signing him last offseason. It took some getting used to.

“Obviously, any year in the NHL is a blessing, but it was a big adjustment,” Cullen said. “We spent a few years in Minnesota and really kind of put down some good roots and felt at home. We weren’t really expecting a big change like that. It was an adjustment. It really was.”

Something Cullen can never adjust to is watching the NHL playoffs at home, especially when his former team is on the ice.

“When you’re my age playing, you’re not playing for points or stats or money. You’re playing to try to win a Stanley Cup,” Cullen said. “When you leave a team and they make it to the playoffs and you don’t, it’s rough. Minnesota has always been a special place for me, so it’s hard to hold any hard feelings.

“The fact I don’t have many years left and I’m getting to the end … you don’t get many opportunities to play in the playoffs, and ultimately that’s what it’s all about.”

As Cullen heads into the final year of his contract with Nashville, the entire Predators organization will have an adjustment of its own. The Predators announced April 14 they would not be extending the contract of head coach Barry Trotz, who has been the only head coach in the Predators’ 15-year history.

“Coach Trotz is the only coach they’ve had,” Cullen said. “I think they just felt like it was time to make a change. I don’t think that it was particularly a result of the way he coached or anything.”

If next season is to be Cullen’s last, the playoffs is the only place he wants to end it.

“It’s always hard (to miss the playoffs), but I do think it gets harder each year you’re in the league, especially after you’ve been there a few times and understand what you’re missing out on,” Cullen said. ‘I hope next year to get another run at the playoffs. That’s what it’s all about near the end of your career.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548