Senators get Cullen from ‘Canes ahead of playoff race

The Ottawa Senators acquired center Matt Cullen from the Carolina
Hurricanes on Friday in exchange for defenseman Alexandre Picard
and a draft pick.

The trade gives the Northeast Division-leading Senators a
forward with significant postseason experience. Cullen was a
valuable third-line center on the Hurricanes’ team that won the
2006 Stanley Cup and reached the Eastern Conference final last
year.

“It’s a tough day to say goodbye to him,” Carolina general
manager Jim Rutherford said.

The 32-year-old Cullen has 12 goals and 28 assists in 60
games this season. He is making $2.8 million this year and is
scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Picard is a 24-year-old who has four goals and 11 assists in
his fifth NHL season and second with Ottawa, and will be a
restricted free agent after the season. The Hurricanes also
received the Senators’ second-round pick in this year’s draft.

Rutherford said there were “a handful” of teams expressing
interest in Cullen before the NHL was to freeze rosters Friday
afternoon for the Olympic break, and the Senators were the most
persistent pursuers. Carolina was looking for an NHL-ready player
and a second-round draft pick.

Rutherford says Picard “should become a regular part of the
Hurricanes’ blue line.” Picard didn’t dress for eight of the nine
games between Jan. 18-Feb. 4. He had an assist in nearly 16 minutes
of ice time in a 6-5 win against Washington on Thursday night.

“It’s been a rough couple of weeks here in Ottawa for me,
didn’t get to play much, so obviously I was pretty happy to go to a
team where they wanted me and I’ll get a chance to play, too,”
Picard said on a conference call.

Earlier this week, Carolina dealt veteran defenseman Niclas
Wallin to San Jose for a draft pick.

The Hurricanes matched a season high with their fourth
straight win Thursday night — their overtime victory against
Buffalo helped Ottawa vault into first in its division — and have
won eight of 10 to escape the Eastern Conference cellar.

“It’s not probable, but we can still make the playoffs,”
Rutherford said. “We don’t want to quit.”