Brenden Morrow: Grit not goals

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When Steve Yzerman wanted to transform his high-flying skill Bolts to add some grit and grind, at some point you’d figure a veteran player nearing his end would sign.

After bringing Ryan Callahan in, he nabbed Brian Boyle to add some sandpaper to the bottom six forwards, still having some players who have some get up and go with a bit of nasty.

Then came Brenden Morrow signing with the Lightning on Friday.

What’s synonymous with a character player who adds veteran leadership really means an aging veteran player in the final years of his career who’s lost a few steps. Folks still praise Morrow while acknowledging he’s slower and older. How much does he have left?

I really wanted to denounce the signing because Morrow’s production has faded. His career high 33 goal season was in 2010-11 and hasn’t potted 20 or more since then. Yet, the more I tried to build a case against him, it just fell apart. Especially because it’s only a one-year, $1.55 million deal and not bounded to something long term and high dollar.

After checking YouTube highlights of Morrow go Canuck punching and throat checking, I realized Lightning aren’t paying for Morrow potting goals anymore. They’re paying for someone to punch somebody in the face after the whistle, to give someone a shove, to protect Ben Bishop, to protect his teammates.

That’s what was really missing out of the Lightning this past season. Morrow will helpfully help lead the charge to push someone around in front of the opposing team’s goal and push back against punks in front of Bishop, who was ran over a few too many times.

Morrow is the type you’d pick up at the trade deadline for the run. With a glut of young NHL-ready players, I’d imagine a couple will be packaged at the deadline for one more veteran winger or third-line center.

I still have some reservations if you will get a second wind out of Morrow or if his age completely hits the wall like that of Jason Arnott, Mike Knuble, Trevor Linden and other gritty forwards in their final stages of their careers. With this type of player, you wonder how the team will treat him once the season goes into those long stretches around January and February. Can he keep up? When he hits a rough patch, will he endlessly end up in the press box or can he minimize his off-nights?

He’s a year older than Ryan Malone–the overpaid, over-injured gritty winger who well, you know by now. Yet, he seems a lifetime older than Malone given the leadership positions he’s been in along with the Olympics experience. When you look at it in those terms this feels more comfortable.

Morrow was the former Dallas Stars captain, taking over the gig after management there unceremoniously yanked it from Mike Modano and kept the team going despite the coverage that situation garnered. In the 2007 playoffs, he mixed it up on one skate with players on the Canucks bench because he’s bad ass.

The following year’s playoffs, Morrow scored a goal in the fourth overtime against his current teammate Evgeni Nabokov.  That goal eliminated the Sharks from the playoffs to get the Stars into the Western Conference Final. He also scored the OT winner in Game 1 against Nabokov. Should be a fun conversation in the locker room about that one.

The 4OT glory would end up being his last playoff game and goal with Dallas as they didn’t make the playoffs after that until this past season. Modano eventually left for Detroit and Morrow felt his time was coming as the Stars went through a rebuild and said OK to being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013.

That’s the same Penguins team that was humming along quite nicely and Fred Shero got too damn greedy and decided to add Morrow, Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen. The Pens looked amiss during the final stretch of the season despite loading up, yet made to to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were swept by the Bruins.

When the Pens made the trade, Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika’s said all the slow and old is OK:

They traded for a player who is 34, an old 34, someone who has racked up the mileage, who has slowed down considerably, who has slipped as low as the fourth line this season. There are legitimate questions about how much this Brenden Morrow has left.

But that’s OK. Even at the price they paid.

Because the Penguins knew what they were getting and what they were giving up, and this is what you do in today’s market to make a run at the Stanley Cup, if you have put yourself in position to do so.

They don’t need a captain or a top scorer; they need a complementary piece to fill a specific role.

Morrow saw an immediate spark coming to Pittsburgh with 14 points in 15 games, seemingly rejuvenated in a highly offensive team. He mustered 4 points during the playoffs that year while Malkin, Crosby and Iginla all put up zeroes against the Bruins. Morrow also missed two games to injury during the playoffs that year, as he also did with St. Louis this past season.

He proved some doubters wrong and proved Cotsonika right. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun in 2013 also balanced the two:

But over the past two years he’s been slowed down by injuries. He’s got six goals and five assists in 23 games this season and while he’s not quite the same player he was before, he remains a quality character player who will bring experience, skill and toughness to the Penguins’ lineup.

After his stint with the Pens, Morrow reunited with his old Stars coach Ken Hitchcock for a one-year deal when St. Louis Game Time wondered where the hell would there be room for him on a team that is full of prospects ready to step in:

The Blues have just signed Morrow for one year, $1.5 million. He will more than likely fit in on the third line somewhere, and it’s a good fit. He’s the kind of player that the Blues covet – and the kind of player that Ken Hitchcock loves. He’s a worker. He’s a good fit for the team and will be productive for them. In Pittsburgh he was nearly a point per game player.

While the Blues closed out their season, Hitchcock didn’t like what he was seeing with his lineup and promoted Morrow to the second line while demoting Derek Roy to the fourth line. The whole team was in a funk by that point, only winning the first two games of that experiment while dropping the final three games of the season. Morrow, for his efforts, picked up a goal, an assist in the final five games along with 15 penalty minutes against the Avalanche for a bad call by the ref on a five minute cross-checking major and a game misconduct. For what it’s worth, that game ended in a brawl.

 

Let’s just hope if Morrow gets ejected this year, it’ll be worth it. And likely, Lighting fans would applaud in approval.

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