RALEIGH — The transformation of the Carolina Hurricanes continued Friday.
The Canes sent center Matt Cullen to the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Alexandre Picard and a second-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Cullen's trade came five days after Carolina sent defenseman Niclas Wallin and a fifth-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for a second-round draft pick.
Cullen and Wallin both were integral parts of the Canes' run to the 2006 Stanley Cup. Both were popular among their teammates, popular with the fans.
But both were due to become unrestricted free agents after the season. With the Hurricanes now in the position of being "sellers," both were made available for trades and dealt before Friday's 3 p.m. NHL trade freeze for the Winter Olympics.
"It's just the way the business works," Cullen said in an interview Thursday, before his last game with the Canes. "Everyone knows when they're going into the final year of their contract, if they're not in the playoffs or whatever, there's a likely chance [of being traded]."
Cullen took the ice Thursday night and helped the Canes to a 4-3 overtime victory over the Buffalo Sabres. He did all the things that made contending teams covet him: playing well on both ends, killing penalties, winning faceoffs, helping set up the power play. Cullen was on the ice when Sergei Samsonov scored the winner in overtime.
"He was a great teammate and one of those players who fits any role," Canes captain Eric Staal said Friday. "You can put him on the wing, you can put him at center, you can put him on the point on the power play, the penalty kill. He does many things well.
"It's not surprising he was sought after at this time of year, and we're going to miss him, for sure."
The Canes figure to be missing more players after the league's March 3 trade deadline. Veteran forward Ray Whitney has several teams clamoring for him. And Canes general manager Jim Rutherford said Friday other defensemen could be traded - Joe Corvo and Aaron Ward both are in the last year of their contracts - for "assets" or to shed salary from the payroll.
"We're in tough economic times now, and that's part of the reason why we have to make trades like we made today, when we have to say goodbye to a player we really, really like," Rutherford said.
The trades come just as the Canes are putting together their best stretch of hockey this season. Carolina, which faces the New Jersey Devils tonight at the RBC Center, has won four straight and eight of their last 10.
"This whole situation is kind of hard because we're obviously playing a lot better now, playing the type of hockey we should have been playing at the beginning of the year, and we didn't," Staal said. "But this is the spot we're in, and obviously there are plans they're trying to work towards."
Picard, 24, has averaged about 19 minutes a game in ice time for the Senators this season but averaged about 16 minutes the last four games.
Although he grew up in Gatineau, Quebec, just across the river from Ottawa, he said he wasn't upset about being dealt away by his hometown team.
"I was pretty excited," Picard said. "It has 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."
Cullen's absence will leave a void. Canes coach Paul Maurice noted Cullen "morphed" his play to fit the team's needs the last two seasons while gamely playing through injuries.
But Maurice noted Cullen leaving would mean more ice time for center Brandon Sutter, whose development and improvement have been significant this season. Cullen said if it's suitable for both sides, he might re-sign with the Canes after the season.
"We have a home here and love it, and obviously have some great friends and great memories here," he said of himself and his family. "Certainly this is the place where I really like playing, but we'll just have to see how it plays out."
Rutherford doesn't rule it out, either.
"This is a hard day for me, for our organization, for Matt," he said. "But every goodbye doesn't have to be the last one."
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