Looking for a top-nine forward who could add a bit of experience and grit to a unit that is already clicking on offense, the Pittsburgh Penguins made the first big-name move in the lead-up to next month's NHL Trade Deadline, obtaining Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow.
The Penguins announced Sunday night they had acquired the 34-year-old, who waived a no-trade clause, and a 2013 third-round pick for Penguins defense prospect Joseph Morrow (no relation) and a 2013 fifth-round pick.
"The way he plays the game is something we wanted to try to add, something we identified," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said Sunday night during the first intermission of his team's game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Consol Energy Center. "Certainly, at this time of year, we're talking about the demand vs. the supply, and there's a limited number of players available. So, that's where you lead into a good prospect like a Joe Morrow."
Brenden Morrow has six goals and 11 points in 29 games this season, and for a short time was playing on the Stars' fourth line. However, he could be rejuvenated by potentially playing wing on one of the top two lines of the high-scoring Penguins. Those lines are centered by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Shero said there were a number of things he liked about Brenden Morrow when he contemplated making the trade. He believes in Morrow's power-forward tendencies, including a willingness to drive to the net. He also liked his experience and leadership ability. Plus, he really liked the familiarity Morrow has with many of Pittsburgh's key players. Morrow was a teammate of Crosby and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury when all three played and won a gold medal with Canada in at the 2010 Olympics. Morrow also played with forward James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen in Dallas before those players were traded to the Penguins.
"I was just looking to add a forward like a Brendan Morrow, a playoff-veteran guy," Shero said. "He is familiar with a number of the players here. He will add to that forward group, and he has the competitive spirit we're looking for, that physical element to his game, he is a guy that goes to those dirty areas, and when you get to the playoffs that's an important aspect of what we're trying to do."
While Shero craved Brenden Morrow for those reasons, Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk saw the opportunity to get full value for one of the premier assets on the trade market with 10 days remaining before the April 3 deadline. According to Shero, other teams were involved in the Brenden Morrow sweepstakes, and that landscape drove up the price to involve a player Pittsburgh thought highly of, but decided to part with because of impressive blue-line depth throughout the organization.
Despite the haul Nieuwendyk negotiated in return for his captain, it was not an easy deal for the Dallas GM.
"We've had some emotional talks over the years. I have nothing but the utmost respect for him, what he has done for the franchise and the way he plays," Nieuwendyk said of Morrow. "He did that to his last game. He'll always be considered a Dallas Star. He also knows he's got some fight left in him, but it's clear what we are doing here too. We've incorporated some young prospects. We've signed Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, and I think he realizes that his best opportunity to do what he wants to do over the next two or three years is to go play with Pittsburgh in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs."
Pittsburgh is first in the Eastern Conference with 48 points. Dallas sits No. 8 in the Western Conference with 33 points, one point ahead the San Jose Sharks.
Taken by the Stars at No. 25 in 1997 NHL Draft, Brenden Morrow has played all 835 of his NHL games with the Stars, and has been captain since 2006. He's scored at least 20 goals seven times in 12 previous seasons, and has 243 goals and 528 points. He also has 42 points in 78 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He had six points in 21 games to help the Stars reach the 2000 Stanley Cup Final as a rookie.
Nieuwendyk said the deal was about striking a balance between the franchise's long-term health and the short-term needs of Brenden Morrow, who is in the final season of a six-year, $24.6 million contract and can be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
"These are always tough decisions," Nieuwendyk said. "My goal in this has always been to try to keep an eye on the future and, with my respect for Brenden Morrow, to try to find him a situation, if at all, that makes sense for him. I really believe we've accomplished two things here. We've added a young prospect our guys are really excited about, a former first rounder from Pittsburgh. We have good knowledge about him from our ties in the Western Hockey League. So we're excited about that, a 20-year-old, potential top four defenseman. Brenden has an opportunity to play playoff hockey with a good group of players in Pittsburgh. I think it will be real good for him as well."
Joseph Morrow was selected by the Penguins at No. 23 in the 2011 NHL Draft. In his first professional season, he has 15 points in 57 games with the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. An offensively gifted puck-moving blueliner, he had 64 points in 62 games last season with the Portland Winterhawks of Western Hockey League.
"He plays at a real high level. He's a dynamic skater and he has a real shot," Nieuwendyk said. "He ran a power play with Portland (WHL), so he has that capability. I think with a first-year pro there is always an adjustment and a learning curve and he's going through that with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, not putting up the numbers he did in his last year in Portland. He plays a real quick game, he defends well. He's not a punishing guy, but he's a real good puck transporter. He's a solid player, over 200 pounds. He's just an all-around player that can move with the puck."
Nieuwendyk said he is not sure about Joseph Morrow's immediate future. He won't play in the Stars' game Monday against the Minnesota Wild, but will practice with the team Tuesday and Wednesday before the club decides if he stays at the NHL level or is demoted to the AHL.
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