Brendan Morrison

NHL is not a perfectly efficient market place.  That’s to be expected, naturally – teams are not perfect evaluators of talent, conditions in various cities cause teams to feel they must overpay to attract unrestricted free agents, and players often see wide swings in performance from one season to the next for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes, good players slip through the cracks and less-good players get rich, multi-year deals.

Even with that backdrop, it can be amazing to see a player like Brendan Morrison slip through the cracks.

Originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the second round of the 1993 Entry Draft, Morrison had a lengthy college apprenticeship and spent a year in the AHL before jumping to the big leagues.  His time in New Jersey was short-lived; after 130 games the Devils sent him to Vancouver in a deal that brought back Alexander Mogilny.  Morrison spent the heart of his career with the Canucks, centering stars Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund, and for six seasons on either side of the lockout he recorded 50+ points each year while playing in all situations (including a key role on the penalty kill).

Despite his small size, Morrison was a picture of health for most of his time in Vancouver; for a time he was the NHL’s reigning iron man, thanks to playing in 542 consecutive games (534 of them in Vancouver).  The 2007-08 season saw the end of that remarkable streak; Morrison hurt his wrist and then tore his ACL.  He ended the season having played just 39 games, and in the summer signed with Anaheim.  Morrison struggled to bounce back from injury, and so the Ducks placed him on the waiver wire, where he was snatched up by Dallas but not retained at the end of the season.  He signed a bargain contract with Washington (one year, $1.5 million), and managed 42 points along with a plus-23 rating before a lacklustre playoff run (a run which wasn’t helped by a late-season leg injury); in the end the Capitals opted not to re-sign him.

The surprise, however, wasn’t that Washington didn’t want to re-sign Morrison; the surprise was that nobody wanted to sign Morrison.  Although a superficial glance at his counting numbers wasn’t especially inspiring, Morrison had posted those without a heavy reliance on power play minutes, as he told the Province’s Tony Gallagher:

“When [Capitals’ general manager] George McPhee told me that they weren’t bringing me back, he said that I had done everything they had asked of me but that they wanted to make some other changes.  I mean I think I had a pretty good year. I only had eight power play points. I was on the second unit but those guys stay out the whole two minutes every penalty anyway. My actual power play time was nothing.”

In fact, Morrison’s even-strength scoring had been exceptional; he had scored 2.08 PTS/60 at five-on-five, although admittedly that was in an offence-first role.  Still, in the end he found himself in training camp with Vancouver, but without a contract: he was playing on a professional try-out deal.  Eventually, the Canucks offered Morrison a two-way deal, and when he declined they released him from his try-out, and instead signed Peter Schaefer, who was released mid-season.

Morrison landed in Calgary just two days before the start of the NHL season.  The Flames were desperate for help up the middle and signed him to a one-year, one-way deal worth $725,000.  Once again, Morrison is racking up the points at even-strength (2.04 PTS/60, a number that puts him in the top-six in Calgary and would have done the same in Vancouver).  He’s playing 2:00 per night on the penalty kill, a little more than that on the power play.

The possession and shot numbers haven’t been overly kind to him, but then again Morrison’s playing top-line minutes against top-line opposition, and doing so without an overly generous allotment of offensive zone starts.  By almost any measure he’s having a successful season, and his recent knee injury is a blow to the Flames, though given how well he’s played relative to his salary they have no right to complain.

In Vancouver, a team that could have used a versatile fourth-line guy with the ability to move up the line-up as needed, the decision not to offer Morrison a one-way deal stands out as a rare mistake for Mike Gillis.  At even $725,000, he’d be the 12th-most expensive forward on the roster.  At least Vancouver isn’t alone in this; I remain surprised that there weren’t other teams in the league willing to offer a player like Morrison fourth-line money.

Comments (5)

  1. Ya we’re really suffering over here in Vancouver without morrison…and what makes you think he would’ve been just as productive with the canucks as he is with the flames? Clearly he didnt fit chemistry-wise in vancouver. Guess they dont pay you writers much over there considering the quality of this write up. Find some real news or better things to report

  2. “Ya we’re really suffering over here in Vancouver without morrison”
    Well, the Canucks effectively gave up a 3rd round pick for Maxim Lapierre at the deadline. So there was clearly a need for some more depth down the middle.

    “and what makes you think he would’ve been just as productive with the canucks as he is with the flames?”
    Um, maybe all the numbers Jon posted? You know, the ones just above that point out that Brendan Morrison is a solid even-strength contributor who also happens to kill penalties?

    “Clearly he didnt fit chemistry-wise in vancouver.”
    Clearly? “what makes you think he would’ve ‘clearly’ not fit in? Maybe because he has no history of playing in Vancouv..oh wait.

    “Find some real news or better things to report”
    Don’t like it, don’t read it.

  3. Although I don’t like his brash response, I have to agree with Nucks11 on this one. Morrison is a good player that served Vancouver well for many years. I was at the Saddledome when he scored his hat-trick vs. the flames and it is one of my favourite Canuck memories.

    That said, I don’t think he was/is/will be what we need from a fourth line center. Depth down the middle is one thing, Grit down the middle is another. Lapierre is bigger and willing to go to the rough places to be a good fourth liner. As for the numbers he’s posting, do we honestly think that he would crack the top 2 lines?(1st line, he’s not what the Sedins need. 2nd line, Kesler’s having what many are saying is an award winning season and the wingers are working out alright) As for the third line, it has been our best line on many nights this year. So do we see Morrison putting up points like this while rotting away on our 4th line? This isn’t the place for BMo.

    He may have fit in chemistry-wise in Vancouver, but we’ll never know. It’s all speculation. I’m happy to see Morrison doing well again, he’s one of my favourite players out there. Sure it hurts me to see him on the Flames whom I hate. But he’s better off there.

  4. The fourth line has been an area of weakness for the Canucks all season. Yes, they’ve got a great team anyway, and yes they addressed it at the deadline, but the point is that they could have had it covered with a superior player for very little money.

    Plus, it’s easy to envision a scenario where one of Malhotra, Sedin or Kesler is injured at some point over a deep playoff run. The Canucks have the luxury of using Cody Hodgson, but with the Stanley Cup on the line I think the choice between Morrison, Hodgson and Lapierre is an obvious one.

    I called this a “rare mistake” because that’s what it was. Gillis has a very, very strong team. All I’m saying is that it could have been a little stronger, and at the same time Gillis could have deprived a divisional opponent of the guy who has been their #1 C for most of the season. Given that VAN/CGY is a potential first-round matchup, that’s not a minor consideration.

  5. And let’s be clear: this wasn’t Morrison vs. Lapierre. The choice was Morrison vs. a combination of Schaefer, Bolduc, Bliznak, Hodgson and Tambellini.

    This wasn’t grit vs. non-grit; this was a legitimate NHL’er vs. an injured Hodgson and some ‘tweeners. I’m not sure how anyone can argue the latter was a better option out of training camp.

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