It was time, Matt Cullen said, after 21 seasons and 1,516 regular-season games, to leave the game.
But just because he formalized his retirement as a player today doesn't mean that Cullen is prepared to give up hockey entirely.
Jim Rutherford said recently that he would seriously consider keeping Cullen in the organization when he decided his playing days were over, and he confirmed today that there have been discussions with him about a job. Cullen, 42, acknowledged that the idea of moving into an off-ice role has genuine appeal.
"I haven't gone down that road too far," he said. "This is the only thing I know. I've done this for my whole life, put myself completely into it since I can remember. It's the only thing I've ever wanted to be part of and it's the only thing that's really interested me. When I think about the future, I can't imagine not having the game of hockey in it, so I would imagine that it won't be too long before we figure something out. But for the time being, I'm just going through this process, taking a step back and then probably have some conversations at some point."
Cullen, who was pretty versatile as a player, said he hasn't settled on precisely what niche -- say, scouting, as opposed to coaching -- he would prefer if he takes an off-ice position in professional hockey.
"Playing in a lot of different roles hopefully will serve me well, if I do end up staying in the game in some capacity," he said. "I'm pretty open-minded. I'm going to give it some time and see what looks like it might be interesting and what I might be good at. We'll see what presents itself, in that regard."
Cullen is spending the summer at his home in Minnesota, where he reached the decision to end his playing career after consulting with his wife and children.
"I had a pretty strong feeling at the end of the season but, like always, it's a pretty big decision for me and my family, at least, and I just wanted to give it some time," he said. "A couple of weeks ago, we sort of made the decision."
Cullen's short-term plans involve a lot of coaching, but have nothing to do with helping an NHL club get ready for the 2019-20 season.
"I'm a part-time baseball coach with the boys, and a part-time hockey coach, and that's it," he said. "We're trying to enjoy a little family time here. We've had a busy summer leading up to now. Making this decision has consumed the first part of our summer, and now we'll try to enjoy the last half and then see what the future holds."
He already knows, of course, all that is in his past. Three Stanley Cups. Those 1,516 regular-season games, and 132 more in the playoffs. Plus 266 goals and 465 assists. To say nothing of the personal connections, which might be the most important thing of all to him.
"The biggest thing you think back on when you look back are the people, the relationships," Cullen said. "There's just no doubt. That stands out above the Cups, even. You just develop some pretty special bonds and friendships when you go through this game, in every capacity, whether it's the players, the management, the media, the fans. You've had so many interactions with people over the years that those are the things that jump out."
That's not to suggest that Cullen doesn't appreciate the Cup he won with Carolina in 2006, or the two he helped the Penguins earn in 2016 and 2017.
"Of course, the three Cups are at the very top of the list," he said. "There's just nothing like that. Those experiences are what I'm going to hang onto forever."
Those aren't his only memories, of course. Fact is, about the only thing Cullen won't have as he heads into retirement are any regrets about how his career played out.
"I leave really content, and really happy with everything," he said. "Honestly, I never would have dreamed that I'd be looking back on a 20-some-year career and three Stanley Cups and getting to play with some of the people that I've played with and, man, all the experiences I've been blessed to have. I could never even imagine asking for anything more. I leave the game really happy and content and excited for the future."
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