Cullen returns to Carolina; Rangers gain Hutchinson, Barnes

Matt Cullen was heading out for an offseason workout with some buddies in Minnesota on Tuesday morning. For some reason, he took his New York Rangers red, white and blue gear out of his hockey bag and replaced it with some old Carolina Hurricanes stuff.

Fate? Kismet? Yahtzee?

Whatever the motivation, before Cullen got out the door, Rangers coach Tom Renney called to tell the slick center he had been traded back to the Carolina Hurricanes, a team with whom he won a Stanley Cup back in 2006.

After earning $3.1 million in 2006-07, he is scheduled to receive $2.8 million in each of the next three seasons for an annual cap hit of $2.88 million. Cullen turns 31 on Nov. 2.

The Hurricanes gave up 27-year-old defenseman Andrew Hutchinson, who has one year left on his contract at $500,000, 21-year-old Joe Barnes, a 6-foot-3, 212-pound center in the second year of his entry-level contract and a third-round draft pick in 2008.

"I'm really excited," Cullen said Tuesday morning. "It was one of those situations where I didn't want to leave anyways."

Not long after hoisting the Cup last offseason, Cullen signed a four-year, $11.5 million deal with the Rangers as an unrestricted free agent. The Hurricanes didn't believe they could afford to spend the money even though Cullen had been a key member of their championship run with 25 regular-season goals and 18 postseason points in 2005-06.

In the end, the move didn't pan out the way anyone had hoped or planned. Cullen had 16 goals for the Rangers, but never really got into an offensive groove. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, missed the playoffs after winning the Cup.

"Matt Cullen was the player that made the biggest void in our lineup and we weren't able to replace him," Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said.

The easiest way to replace Cullen, he said, was to simply reacquire him.

From the Rangers' perspective, the acquisition of high-profile and expensive free-agent centers Chris Drury and Scott Gomez gave them very little room to maneuver under the $50.3 million cap. And while they gave up important depth down the middle, moving Cullen made sense economically.

As for the Hurricanes, it's like the band's getting back together.

With Cullen's return and the signing of former Chicago Blackhawk Jeff Hamilton, the Hurricanes have upped their speed quotient, one of the hallmarks of their Cup-winning team. Cory Stillman, who played in only 43 games last season while recovering from shoulder surgery, will be healthy from the get-go, and Erik Cole, who suffered two broken vertebrae during the 2005-06 season, will be stronger.

"The exciting thing is that, on paper, we probably look better than we did two years ago," Cullen said.

At any rate, Cullen won't have any dilemmas about picking colors when he's working out now.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.