Moorhead grad agrees to contract
Mark Cullen didn't figure he would sign so soon and certainly not with a perennial playoff club. That the Moorhead High School graduate did both Wednesday made it official: He's a full-time NHL player.
Mark Cullen didn't figure he would sign so soon and certainly not with a perennial playoff club.
That the Moorhead High School graduate did both Wednesday made it official: He's a full-time NHL player. Cullen agreed to a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Flyers worth a league minimum $450,000 on the fifth day of the free agency season.
Because even if the 27-year-old center would get sent back to the American Hockey League, where he spent most of the past four seasons, he'd still get paid NHL wages under the parameters of the one-way deal he signed 30 minutes before the offer would have been taken off the table.
"That's what I've been striving for the last few years is a one-way deal, and it's tough to get, especially when you start in the minors." said the 5-foot-11, 191-pound Cullen, who battled through skin cancer and a broken neck to earn this opportunity. "I've been in the minors for four years now. It's really important to me and for my future, too. Once you get a one-way, you pretty much have to do something bad not to get one the next year. It's a good thing. It's great."
Cullen got a taste of the NHL last season. He played in 29 games, scoring seven goals and 16 points, and finishing second on the Chicago Blackhawks with a plus-7 rating and earning an invitation to play on Team USA in the World Championships.
But he began 2005-06 in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals, putting up 29 goals and 68 points in 54 regular-season games, and was sent there again for the team's playoff run.
In negotiations with agent Neil Sheehy, both before and after July 1, Cullen said Chicago indicated he'd make the parent club and wouldn't be in danger of a minor league assignment, but the organization wouldn't offer a one-way guarantee.
Neither did Washington, Carolina, Colorado or any of the other organizations that expressed interest in acquiring the undrafted former Colorado College standout.
And in all honesty, Cullen was initially "worried" about signing with the Flyers, who finished fifth in the Eastern Conference last season and boast outstanding forwards both young (Jeff Carter, Mike Richards) and old (Peter Forsberg, Petr Nedved).
A call from assistant general manager Paul Holmgren - he said Cullen would play 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill with a chance to work into the power play - eased those concerns.
"They've always had the bigger, tougher players; that's been their M.O. forever," said Cullen, who began negotiations shortly after returning from his honeymoon. "And they're saying they need to increase their skill level, so it was nice to hear they thought of me as one of the guys that could help them there."
After all, the Flyers need to keep up with the Joneses.
Just Saturday, their Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division rival, the New York Rangers, signed another smooth skating playmaker with excellent vision - Mark's older brother, Matt Cullen - to a four-year deal worth $11.2 million.
The siblings will have to play against each other for the first time next season and repeat the process at least five more times.
"There's already been some threats made," Mark joked.
"I'm really proud of him," said Matt Cullen, an eight-year NHL veteran. "He did such a good job when he got called up in Chicago and made the most of the situation he was given. He's worked for everything he's gotten. For him to get that one-way basically is establishing him as an NHLer. It's pretty cool."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Terry Vandrovec at (701) 241-5548