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Center depth at heart of Chicago's trade for Morrison

by Brian Hedger
Brendan Morrison came at the right price tag for the Chicago Blackhawks and could potentially add the something the hopeful Stanley Cup contenders believe they are lacking.

Morrison, who was dealt to Chicago by the Calgary Flames on Friday night, is a proven NHL center who's not making a lot of money and could fill a glaring void in the middle of a star-studded second line.  He was acquired for a 25-year old defenseman playing in the American Hockey League.

Proven NHL centers already occupy three of Chicago's four lines. Captain Jonathan Toews centers the first line, Dave Bolland occupies the middle of the checking line and free agent pick-up Jamal Mayers anchors the fourth line.

The second line, though, has been problematic and a number of options -- rookies (Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw), prospects (Brandon Pirri, Mark McNeill, Philip Danault) and top-line right winger Patrick Kane have all had stints in the middle Of the second line.

"We're not a strong team in terms of NHL experience at center," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said during a conference call shortly after the trade was announced. "I like our depth with what's coming. Toews and Bolland are established – and now we have another established, legitimate center."

That's true, but Morrison is also 36 and playing his 15th NHL season.  He's had both knees surgically rebuilt in the past four years – including the left one last spring, after he blew out the anterior cruciate ligament early last March, coincidentally while playing against the Hawks.

That actually became a publicized incident in both Chicago and Calgary because Morrison said several Hawks players were standing and yelling disrespectful things at him as he gingerly left the ice.

Bygones are bygones now, though.

"To me that's a dead issue," Morrison said. "I've turned the page from that. I have no issues with that at all moving forward. It's a done deal."

So is the one that Bowman completed with Flames general manager Jay Feaster on Friday night.

Morrison started the season as one of Calgary's top centers and the Flames hoped his knee would be good enough to play from the start.  Morrison did start the season out in the center role on the top line, but eventually landed on injured reserve to further rehab the knee.

He said the added work to "add some explosiveness" to the knee worked and he's had no issues with it since returning to the lineup on Nov. 11 – exactly one month after going on IR.

Morrison recently reached the 200-goal and 600-point plateaus in his career, but has just four goals and 11 points in 28 games this season – getting bumped down to fourth-line center after his IR stint.

Now he's getting a fresh start with the Hawks, who sent defense prospect Brian Connelly an American Hockey League All-Star player this season, who slipped behind a couple of other prospects in Chicago's organizational depth chart -- to the Flames in return.

"I'm ecstatic," Morrison said. "This is a tremendous opportunity to come to a team that I feel has as good a chance as anybody to compete for the Stanley Cup. I'm going to come in and be a guy who's a leader when I can and be helpful wherever I can … special teams, 5-on-5, any situation.  I'm excited about the core of this team."

Morrison wasn't able to work his way back into a top role with the Flames this season, which is another reason the trade came about.

"As we projected our lineup going forward, we felt it was going to be difficult for us to find a spot for Brendan or get him significant ice time," Flames general manager Jay Feaster told the team's web site.  "Given his pending [unrestricted free agent] status and the fact that we were not going to re-sign him, we felt it important to try to move him for another asset."

That "asset" is Connelly, who's spent parts of the last four seasons with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs and amassed 126 points (21 goals and 105 assists) in 211 regular-season games.

"In Brian Connelly we obtain a 25-year old, highly skilled AHL All-Star defenseman who is still a legitimate prospect," Feaster said.  "We are excited to have Brian in the organization."

Likewise, Bowman and the Hawks are happy to have Morrison in the fold.
He'll most likely start out trying to fill that second-line role upon his arrival following this weekend's All-Star break, but he at least adds center depth if it doesn't work out in the top-six forward group.

Morrison sounds like he'll get a boost from a new situation with a Cup contender – especially with the kind of talent he'll have flanking him.  Marian Hossa is the usual right wing on that second line, while the injured Patrick Sharp (upper body) is on the left side when healthy.

"I have played with some pretty high-end wingers before and found some success," said Morrison, who spent eight seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and centered Jarome Iginla at times in Calgary. "I still like to think I'm a guy who can contribute in that matter and be counted on, on a nightly basis, to help supplement what Chicago has as far as offense goes."

Bowman agrees.

"I still think he's got a lot left to add to our group," said Bowman, who had to wait a while for the Flames to get enough healthy players back in order to pull the trigger on dealing Morrison. "[Morrison] having the experience and the ability to play with skilled players gives us a lot of options. He has been a point producer in the past and he also has shown versatility recently to be able to play different roles on a team. Plus he has a lot of leadership. There's a lot of attributes Brendan brings to the table, which we've been looking for."

Bowman also said this probably wouldn't be the last trade he makes before the Feb. 27 trade deadline. He's still looking to add a defenseman who could play top-five minutes and possibly another forward.

"[The Morrison trade] obviously doesn't impact defense," Bowman said.  "That hasn't changed. We're still a month away from the deadline. I'm not going to rule out anything."

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