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Penguins notebook: Veteran Cullen open to radical rule changes

| Tuesday, March 7, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Matt Cullen fights for the puck with the Flyers' Nick Schultz and Brayden Schenn (right) in the first period Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, at Heinz Field.

As NHL general managers met Tuesday in Boca Raton, Fla., for the second of their three days of idea-generating sessions about how to improve the league, Penguins veteran center Matt Cullen sat at his stall after practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex with a willingness to listen and learn about any of the proposals.

Apparently even a forward with almost two decades of experience in the league welcomes the possibility of evolution.

“I think it's always a really good thing to have those dialogues and talk about those things,” Cullen said.

During the first day of GM meetings, executives reportedly broke up into four groups and proceeded to conjure up reasonable and far-fetched ideas.

Alter or completely eliminate offsides? Cullen hadn't heard much about that idea. But he declined to dismiss it without further consideration.

Tweak the point value of wins and losses to change the team standings? The 40-year-old center considered that one intriguing.

“I think there might be some merit to the three-point game (for a regulation win),” Cullen said. “Personally I always preferred the two points for a win and none for a loss. But I understand the value of the shootout, and I like the idea of coming away with a win, so I don't know that a three-point game would be a terrible idea.”

Find other ways to increase offense? Cullen wonders if the NHL simply needs to revisit its idea from 2005-06, when it vowed to move past the lockout with a high-scoring form of hockey that involved less hooking and holding.

“When they do that, it opens the game up so much,” Cullen said. “It's crept back in a little bit, and part of that is to allow players to protect their defensemen from the forecheck. But that'd be an area where they could probably look to go back and reset on that a bit.”

Ailment updates

Neither goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury nor defenseman Derrick Pouliot practiced Tuesday. Coach Mike Sullivan described both as ill.

Sullivan believes Fleury still could be available when the Penguins begin their trip through Central and Western Canada on Wednesday at Winnipeg.

“He wasn't feeling well, so we just tried to keep him away from the group at this point,” the coach said.

Kris Letang (upper-body injury) again missed practice, and Sullivan indicated the star defenseman will not join the Penguins for their four-game trip.

Pressed for information about Letang's ailment, which initially came with a “day-to-day” status but has since evolved into something more “complicated,” Sullivan stood by the team's policy of not sharing specific details.

“I think our medical staff has a good handle on it,” Sullivan said. “When he's ready to play or when he's getting close and we get him on the ice, we'll let you guys know.”

Minute management

A hit from Buffalo's Cody Franson likely caused Nick Bonino to miss a sizeable chunk of Sunday's game, so the Penguins center finished with a season-low 8 minutes, 55 seconds of ice time. But recent ice-time totals signal a change for Bonino even when he's healthy.

Four of Bonino's six lowest ice-time totals of the season came in the last five games.

Conversely, Matt Cullen's ice time has climbed recently. He cracked 16 minutes for just the 11th time this season Sunday. Five of those 11 times came with Sidney Crosby out of the lineup in October, and the other six happened on Feb. 7 or later.

“I love playing, and I feel good,” Cullen said. “I don't feel like I'm wearing down.”

Cullen said there's no ceiling on the minutes he believes he can handle.

“You always want to have an impact on the game,” he said. “As a player, that's your competitive drive. You want to help your team win. That's kind of been my approach the last two years, I'll do whatever to help my team win.”

Room to roam

The trade that sent Eric Fehr to Toronto gave Carter Rowney a better chance of contending for playing time, but it also opened up prime real estate in the practice facility dressing room for the 27-year-old rookie forward.

Rowney acquired Fehr's stall, which sits between Matt Cullen and Chris Kunitz's spaces at the open end of the horseshoe-shaped room. Previously, Rowney set his belongings in a stall next to Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel's at the closed end of the room, an arrangement that made life difficult for Rowney to move freely when Crosby met media scrums.

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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