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Tightly fitting cap could squeeze Cullen
Back in the old days of the NHL, moving players in and out of roster spots was relatively easy. Length of contracts and amounts owed certainly were factors, but not nearly as much as now with the salary cap.
The cap also can serve as a pair of handcuffs on general managers, and Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon may find himself cuffed this summer and in training camp next fall.
Ideally, Hawks coach Trent Yawney would like to have a fourth line next season that includes players such as Mark Cullen and Milan Bartovichigh-energy players who are relatively cheap in terms of salary and can provide some offense.
Cullen scored his sixth goal in just 14 games Sunday in the Hawks' 3-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. Projected over a full NHL season, Cullen's productivity equals 35 goals. In 54 games at Norfolk, he had 29 goals and 68 points.
"In a perfect world, [Cullen] should have been here the whole year," Yawney said. "He deserved to stay."
Cullen, 27, came up from Norfolk in November and scored three goals in nine games. Had he played 10 games, he would have been subjected to clearing waivers before going back to Norfolk.
At the time, the Hawks believed it was better for Cullen to be in Norfolk rather than running the risk of not playing every night in the NHL, so they sent him back before the 10-game deadline.
But even after proving he's at least a quality fourth-line NHL player, Cullen might not have a spot with the Hawks next season because of the salary cap.
The Hawks seldom buy out contracts, which means roster spots are all but assured for Curtis Brown, Matthew Barnaby and Martin Lapointe. The three, at a combined salary of about $6 million, could be the fourth line.
It's becoming more likely that Tuomo Ruutu will go into next season as the No. 1 center, and barring a trade, Mark Bell will be the second or third center.
With just 14 NHL games on his résumé, Cullen has yet to show he can be a consistent enough scorer to be a second-line center or winger in the NHL. The third line traditionally is for more defensive-oriented players.
"You don't want to pigeonhole players, but you can't say [Cullen and Bartovic] are top-six [forwards]," Yawney said. "If you have strong top-six guys, [Cullen and Bartovic] are a nice complement on the fourth line."
Defenseman Jassen Cullimore's disappointing debut season in Chicagoa minus-24appears to be over. Cullimore tore cartilage in his left knee in Friday night's loss to Anaheim.
Hawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin had five rookie defensemen in front of him.