Brenden Morrow made it to the Stanley Cup Final with the Dallas Stars as a rookie in 2000. He’s been battling to return ever since. Now, after 15 years, he is back. This time with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who begin their best-of-seven series against Chicago on Wednesday.
“It was a long time coming. It’s been 15 years since the last trip here,” Morrow said at Tuesday’s Stanley Cup Media day. “I was a little naïve at the time about what it all meant. It’s an exciting time. I really want to enjoy this. Grinding it out for 15 years, you never know when you are going to be back.”
That’s a lesson Morrow has learned over the course of his NHL career. A lesson the 36-year-old Morrow – the oldest player on Tampa Bay’s roster –has been passing onto his younger teammates, including at a dinner just prior to the team’s first-round series against Detroit.
“I kind of laid out my career and told them how lucky I was as a rookie. It takes a good team but it takes a lot of luck and a lot of help along the way,” Morrow said. “When you get the opportunity you’ve got to take advantage and don’t have any regrets. You just can’t expect to get back there. When I started in 1999-00, there were six or seven teams that were spending money and maybe favorites every year. Now, in the salary cap era, that is not the case. It’s tough to get here. Chicago may be the exception. You never know when you’ll be back.”
Since that 2000 trip to the Final, which Dallas lost to New Jersey in six games, Morrow has played 927 regular-season games and 91 more in the playoffs to get another crack at hockey’s Holy Grail. There were a couple of good runs including a trip to the Western Conference Final with the Stars in 2008. Morrow waived his no-trade clause to go from Dallas to Pittsburgh in 2013 for a shot at winning a Stanley Cup, but the Penguins lost in the Eastern Conference Final.
He signed with a good St. Louis team for the 2013-14 season, but the Blues got bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
“I didn’t make a decision on anything other than a good chance to win a Stanley Cup,” he said.
And that led him to Tampa Bay for the 2014-15 season. Morrow was a good fit for the Lightning, who were looking to add experience to a young team. As for Morrow, he liked what GM Steve Yzerman was doing in Tampa. He also leaned on some advice from friends in the hockey world.
“Dougie Weight said Tampa Bay is a team on the rise and a little bit underestimated. I think it’s a little bit of a surprise even to him how underestimated they were,” Morrow said. “I didn’t know if it was this year or next year. They were a young group that came off being swept by Montreal (last season), and you don’t know what kind of scar tissue that is going to leave. I knew Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop. I knew some of the guys here. I didn’t know the triplets (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov). I know them now.”
Morrow has accepted a lesser role with the Lightning. He plays on the fourth line and sees fewer than ten minutes per game. He had only eight points (three goals, five assists) in 70 games this season and has no points in 18 playoff games. Back in February, when Tampa Bay was in Dallas to play the Stars, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said there is more to Morrow than points.
“He's everything as advertised,” Cooper said. “Does he play the 20 minutes a night he used to? No, but there was one element that we've needed in my short tenure here is leadership in the room, a player that holds not only your own team accountable, but when he steps on the ice he holds the other team accountable.
“He carries a respect with him that everybody in the league knows, and he plays hard minutes below the dots. He's a hard guy to play against, and he's what we needed. A big part of where we are is because of what Brenden Morrow's brought to our team.”
Morrow brought a lot to the Stars during his 13 seasons with the club. The man who served as captain from 2006 to 2013 ranks fifth all-time in games played (835), seventh in goals (243), eighth in points (528) and tenth in assists (285). There are a lot of people in Dallas rooting for Morrow as he tries to win the Stanley Cup.
“I appreciate it. I had a 13-year stretch there,” Morrow said. “Dallas is my home. My kids were born there and spent the majority of their lives there. It’s not only nice to have that support from Dallas but from my hometown in Saskatchewan. It’s nice. It’s humbling.”
The long road back to the Stanley Cup Final probably has been a little humbling as well at times. But he’s excited at this second chance. A chance to add to an already impressive résumé that includes a Memorial Cup, World Championship, World Cup and Olympic Gold Medal.
“It would be the cherry on top. I was just happy to be able to play in just one NHL game, but I have been very fortunate,” he said. “[The Stanley Cup] is the dream. When you grow up as a kid you are not on the street winning the Olympic gold – or I wasn’t – I was on the street winning the Stanley Cup in Game 7.”
And Morrow has another shot at that dream starting Wednesday night.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.