Matt Cullen appeared in his 1,500th NHL game on March 5, which is quite an accomplishment considering that he is only the 20th player in NHL history to reach that mark. Cullen has been playing in the NHL so long that his rookie season of 1997-98 was the first in the NHL that didn ?t have a helmetless player. Craig MacTavish, the NHL ?s last helmetless player, retired at the end of the 1996-97 season.
Cullen, the oldest player in the NHL, made his debut on October 28, 1997 when his Anaheim Mighty Ducks took on the Toronto Maple Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens. Yes, Matt Cullen has played NHL games at Maple Leaf Gardens. In fact, Cullen ?s NHL career is as old as or predates 18 of the NHL ?s current arenas, as shown below.
Cullen ?s career also predates five NHL teams, Nashville, Columbus, Minnesota, Atlanta/Winnipeg, and Vegas.
|Arena Name||Team||Year Opened||Note|
|American Airlines Arena||Dallas||2001|
|Barclay’s Center||NY Islanders||2012|
|Bell MTS Place||Winnipeg||2004||*Jets franchise didn ?t enter NHL until 1999 (Atlanta) & didn’t begin play in Winnipeg until 2011.|
|Bridgestone Arena||Nashville||1996||*Predators didn’t enter NHL until 1998.|
|Capital One Arena||Washington||1997||*Capital One Arena opened during Cullen’s rookie season.|
|Gila River Arena||Arizona||2003|
|Little Caesars Arena||Detroit||2017|
|Nationwide Arena||Columbus||2000||*Blue Jackets didn ?t enter NHL until 2000.|
|PPG Paints Arena||Pittsburgh||2010|
|Prudential Center||New Jersey||2007|
|Scotia Bank Arena||Toronto||1999|
|Staples Center||Los Angeles||1999|
|T-Mobile Arena||Vegas||2016||*Vegas didn’t enter NHL until 2017.|
|Xcel Energy Center||Minnesota||2000||*Wild didn ?t enter NHL until 2000.|
Perhaps the most amazing stat about Cullen ?s longevity is the number of players he has played with and against. As of March 4, a total of 7,051 skaters, including Cullen, had played in at least one NHL game since the league formed in 1917. Since Cullen ?s debut, a total of 3,461 skaters have played at least one game, not including Cullen. Based off these numbers, it means that Cullen has overlapped 49.1% of all skaters to ever play an NHL game! Further, since Cullen ?s debut, 2,683 other players have made their NHL debut.
Cullen ?s career has also spanned generations; he ?s actually played with and then against two father-son duos. He played with Ted Donato in Anaheim and later against his son Ryan Donato of the Wild. Cullen also played with Michael Nylander while with the Rangers, then recently played against his son William Nylander of the Maple Leafs. He ?s also played against both Keith Tkachuk and his sons Matthew (Calgary) and Brady (Ottawa).
As you can imagine, with a career as long as Cullen ?s, he has played for his fair share of coaches as well — 17 to be exact. With Anaheim alone he had four different coaches, Pierre Page, Craig Hartsburg, Bryan Murray, and Mike Babcock. His next stop was Florida where he played under three different coaches, Mike Keenan, Rick Dudley, and John Torchetti. Next, he moved on to Carolina where he won his first Stanley Cup. During his tenure with the Hurricanes he played under Peter Laviolette and Paul Maurice. During his stops with the Rangers and Senators he only had one coach, Tom Renney and Cory Clouston, respectively. During two different stints with the Wild he had three coaches, Todd Richards, Mike Yeo, and Bruce Boudreau. In Nashville he skated under Barry Trotz and then under Laviolette again. Finally, in Pittsburgh he has skated under Mike Johnston and Mike Sullivan.
Cullen ?s career also spans many rule changes that are now commonplace in the NHL. He played the first seven seasons of his career with the two-line pass rule. It wasn ?t until after the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season that this rule was changed. The removal of this rule allowed teams to pass from their defensive zone to anywhere in the neutral zone. Previously, such passes could only be made to their own half of the neutral zone, which was split by the red line. The first seven seasons of Cullen ?s career also featured games that could end in ties and goalies that were allowed to play the puck outside of the trapezoid behind the net because, well, there was no trapezoid.
We ?ve heard that it might be his last season on several occasions, but we can never be sure. He ?s within several milestones for games played, points, and points by an American-born player. If he played another season he could get as high as 12th on the all-time games played list (Nicklas Lidstrom, 1,564) and 25th on the all-time points list amongst American players (Craig Janney, 751). Cullen currently has 728 career points and 1,503 career games played.
Regardless of whether or not Cullen decides to retire at season ?s end, it has been a remarkable career. While he may not have put up the prolific offensive numbers of some others who played into their 40 ?s like Jaromir Jagr or Teemu Selanne, it ?s hard to deny that Cullen is still an effective player in the role that Penguins have asked him to play, as he ?s still winning 48.9% of his faceoffs. Will Cullen come back for another season? Only he knows that answer, but nobody would be surprised to see him back for a 22nd NHL season in 2019-20.