Pens give up big piece in Joseph Morrow
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero said he had trouble sleeping Saturday night after he and Dallas Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk had come close to pulling the trigger on a deal earlier in the day.
Excitement over the prospect of acquiring Stars captain Brenden Morrow? Maybe a little. But Shero also was fretting over the fact he was about to part ways with the player he took at No. 23 overall in the NHL Draft less than two years earlier.
"Joe Morrow is going to play in the League a long time," Shero said of the defense prospect given up to acquire Brenden Morrow (no relation) on Sunday. "As a general manager, it doesn't make you feel great all the time, but that's what we're trying to do -- is to win."
Pittsburgh relented a fifth-round pick with its Morrow and received a third-round selection back from Dallas in addition to Brenden Morrow, who was taken with the 25th pick by the Stars in the 1997 NHL Draft held in Pittsburgh.
Joseph Morrow, a 20-year-old swift-skating and puck-moving defenseman, had four goals and 11 assists in 54 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League this season.
"Joe transitioning to pro hockey this year had his ups and downs but he's a real good prospect, a real good player who will play in the National Hockey League for a long time," Shero said. "But it's a position of strength for our team. In terms of what we're trying to do here, that was an area that we had to trade."
The Penguins were (and still are) loaded with young defensemen. Simon Despres is in his first full season in the NHL (after much speculation he would be traded, Shero said Sunday that he will not), and Pittsburgh drafted Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot in the first round last season. The Penguins also boast Brian Dumoulin (acquired in the Jordan Staal trade last summer), Scott Harrington (a second-round pick in 2011) and Philip Samuelsson (second round of 2009) among other blueliners in the pipeline.
Shero mentioned that, while it pained him to deal Joseph Morrow, the trade will give him a chance he might not have had in the logjam the Penguins have on the blue line. Additionally, Shero said moving Joseph Morrow opens up opportunities for others like Maatta, et al.
"For other defensemen, it clears a little bit of space in terms of competition," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "In terms of Simon, I don't think you can watch Simon play and not see a really strong, contributing NHL player."
Pittsburgh's top defenseman, Kris Letang, is the NHL's leading scorer among blueliners and a viable Norris Trophy candidate. He, however, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in July 2014. The Penguins are hoping to begin negotiating a possible extension with him this summer.
"We'll see how this all shakes out, but we've got a real good, deep pool of prospects on defense," Shero said. "Hence, why you can trade a Joe Morrow – which, again, is not easy -- but that's the nature of the job and the nature of our team right now."
An Alberta native, Joseph Morrow had 64 points (17 goals, 47 assists) in 62 Western Hockey League games last season for the Portland Winter Hawks.
"Unfortunately, at this time of the year when you look to acquire a guy, the price is high," Bylsma said. "Joe Morrow is a first-round pick for us for a good reason. He's a good player and a guy with potential to play in this League.
"But that's the price in this particular case and to get a guy like Brenden Morrow and add him to our team. With the number of defensemen we have on our team and in our system, we're dealing from an area of strength there."-- Chris Adamski
Shero decided it was wise to properly compensate Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk for the 34-year-old Morrow.
"(Brenden Morrow) will add to our forward group, and he has the competitive spirit we're looking for," Shero said. "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."
Shero sees Brenden Morrow's value well beyond that of the 11 points (six goals, five assists) the 2010 Olympic gold medalist with Canada has produced this season. He has 243 goals and 285 assists in 835 games, hitting a career high in goals two seasons ago with 33.
Although Morrow has spent his entire 13-year career with the Stars, Shero identified the familiarity he has with at least four Penguins -- Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury were also on Team Canada at the Olympics in Vancouver, and James Neal and Matt Niskanen were Stars until being traded to Pittsburgh 25 months ago.
"I was just looking to add a forward like a Brenden Morrow, a playoff-veteran guy," Shero said. "The way he plays the game is something we wanted to try to add, something we identified. Certainly, at this time of year we're talking about the demand versus 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."
Neal called Brenden Morrow "a good fit" for the Penguins.
"Great character guy in the locker room," Niskanen said. "He'll bring some veteran leadership, but on the ice, he's a meat-and-potatoes player. Up and down, he'll bang bodies, play on the forecheck. He creates space, he goes to dirty areas, he's good at net-front, and he's got a really good shot; he doesn't need a lot of time to get it off.
"He's a great teammate, does anything it'll take to win. He's a really physical player -- and he's got an offensive touch."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said that although Morrow likely will start out by playing on the left wing on a line with reigning League scoring champion Evgeni Malkin and Neal, Morrow is also capable of playing a third-line role alongside Brandon Sutter and Matt Cooke.
"In the playoffs, big games, it's that physicality, that grit ... Morrow fits that bill," Bylsma said. "It's not unlike a Chris Kunitz in how he plays and what he brings to a table.
"Adding him to our lineup changes our dynamic of options we do have. We're adding a real character guy, a real great guy, a real competitor and he does that on a night-in, night-out basis. We feel real comfortable adding that type of player and that type of person into our team and into our lineup."
The Stars hoisted the Cup less than six months before Morrow made his NHL debut in November 1999. They made the Stanley Cup Final at the end of his rookie season -- but have not been back since.
An unrestricted free agent this summer, Morrow had to agree to waive his no-trade clause for the deal to go through. Shero said he and the Pens’ new forward had a 20-minute phone conversation that "went real well. He's excited. He's a guy looking for his first (Stanley Cup)."
Pittsburgh similarly made deals for older, veteran, character-type players in recent years, including acquiring Bill Guerin and Gary Roberts at or near the deadline. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, four months after acquiring Guerin from the New York Islanders.
Crosby found chemistry as Guerin's center, and he also skated on a line with Roberts at times. Morrow might not end up on his wing, but Crosby called him "a great acquisition."
"He's a great leader who plays well at both ends of the ice," Crosby said. "He's going to be tough.
"We all pride ourselves in playing a certain way, and he fits right into that mold. He's going to add to those things and add to what we have here.
"A great acquisition, and we're pretty excited."