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.”