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For Morris, familiar surroundings, new team in PHX

by Dan Rosen
Derek Morris recognizes the city, his commute to work and everyone who waves hello to him inside Arena, whether he's on his way to the familiar dressing room or the sheet of ice he knows so well.

Most everything for Morris is the same since being dealt back to Phoenix from Boston last week. Well, everything except the Coyotes.

The team in the Valley of the Sun is so vastly different from the one Morris left at last season's trade deadline when he was shipped east to the New York Rangers in a three-player swap. Much to Morris' delight, the Coyotes are so much better, too.

"The attitude around the room and the practices here are so sharp," Morris told "In the past you were a little bit nervous, a little tight, but guys here are confident."

Phoenix has been the feel-good story of this NHL season and it heads into Wednesday night's game against Vancouver as the fourth best team in the Western Conference with 83 points (39-22-5). When Morris left last year, the Coyotes were in a freefall and wound up finishing 13th in the Conference with only 36 wins and 79 points.

What followed was the Coyotes' tumultuous summer when court proceedings dominated the headlines and their future in the desert was murky at best. Morris was training in Phoenix as the proceedings unfolded in Judge Redfield T. Baum's court room.

He worried about the future of the organization, but now he proudly skates around knowing he can be part of the cure for what has ailed the Valley's hockey diehards over six straight dark postseasons with an ownership fiasco as the exclamation point.

"People that have been around through the thick and thin of this, they're really excited," Morris said. "It's not an if, but when we get into the playoffs I think the fans are going to come out and really support us even better. I think it's going to grow the game in Arizona. All it takes is a few wins in the playoffs for people to believe."

Morris was traded away at last year's deadline from a team coached by Wayne Gretzky, who was trying to fast track the development of rookies like Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Viktor Tikhonov and Kevin Porter as well as second-year players like Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal.

Only Hanzal plays for the Coyotes now. Turris and Boedker are in the American Hockey League. Mueller and Porter got traded to Colorado for Wojtek Wolski last week. Tikhonov is playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.

"When I was here last we had a totally different team, a lot of young guys," said Morris, who admits he stopped having fun toward the end of his first tenure in Phoenix. "We were in a playoff spot and it went the other way."

Morris benefitted after leaving Phoenix by playing in a playoff round with the Rangers last season. After signing a one-year contract worth $3.3 million with Boston, an opportunity he said players dream about, he suited up in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park on New Year's Day.

When asked by Boston GM Peter Chiarelli to waive his no-trade clause, Morris said he would, but only to go back home to Phoenix.

Morris had been keeping in touch with defenseman Keith Yandle and was constantly reminded what a masterful job GM Don Maloney has done in carving out a veteran team that can compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Vernon Fiddler, Robert Lang, Adrian Aucoin, Matthew Lombardi, Wolski, Lee Stempniak, Radim Vrbata, Petr Prucha, Taylor Pyatt, Sami Lepisto, Petteri Nokelainen, Lauri Korpikoski and Mathieu Schneider did not play with Morris last season.

Coach Dave Tippett wasn't behind the Coyotes' bench either. Morris knew him because he played against Tippett's teams in Dallas for six years. He's already convinced that Tippett "is the best coach that I have ever had in my life."
"They went through the ownership issues, but I think Don Maloney has done a great job of bringing in the right players, respected players," Morris added. "These are guys that are respected around the League and know how to win. Don is not thinking about just getting in to the playoffs. He's thinking, 'Let's go deep.' Why not go for it?"

That's partly why Maloney went after Morris again, even though the two had their differences last year when it came down to contract negotiations.

Morris has the powerful right-handed shot from the blue line that Maloney was seeking, Tippett coveted and the Coyotes desperately needed. They are currently last in power play efficiency, but Maloney and Tippett hope Morris can supply some help in that area.

It didn't hurt that Morris had parts of five seasons in the organization and more than 850 NHL games under his belt. He was easily worth getting for a fourth-round pick in next year's draft.

"He thinks his game continues to mature as he becomes more of a veteran," Tippett told "He gets smarter and plays a more efficient game than he used to. He does have a very good shot from the point and I think he'll fit in well with our group."

Morris already says he's right at home. This is an easy move. He hadn't even sold his home in Scottsdale; Yandle was renting the house from him instead.

"They want to see a team here that is going to win," Morris said. "Now that we're winning people are coming to games, coming to autograph signings. It's slowly going to grow, but the playoffs are a big thing."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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