Early Sunday evening news broke that the Dallas Stars had traded left wing Brenden Morrow, along with a 3rd round pick, to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for prospect defenceman Joe Morrow and a 5th round pick.
The deal ends weeks of trade rumours and speculation that had been closely tied to the 34 year-old Brenden Morrow, for a variety of reasons.
Despite currently sitting 8th in the tight Western Conference, the Stars are very much more of a seller than a buyer at this point in time. Now fully immersed into the early stages of a long-term rebuild, the Stars are looking towards the future, and with the veteran Morrow a free agent at season’s end, he didn’t appear to fit into those future plans.
It’s not often that the captain of a team hits the trade market, yet he wore the “C” in Dallas for seven years, so he will bring plenty of experience and leadership to the Pens roster. That he has an Olympic Gold medal from 2010 and 528 career points certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
But it was Brenden Morrow’s history and style of play that made him such a hot commodity with the trade deadline fast approaching. Gritty, physical and determined, he has the lay-it-all-out-on-the-line mentality that hockey teams need to have in order to find playoff success. His last foray into the postseason in 2008 saw him score 15 points in 18 games, almost single-handedly carrying the Stars to the Western Conference Finals in one of the most herculean NHL postseason efforts in recent memory.
The Brenden Morrow of 2013 is certainly not the same Brenden Morrow from 2008, as the wear and tear from years of crash n’ bang hockey have limited the former 70-point scorer to only 11 points in 29 games this year, but he still has gas left in the tank, and will surely be a key asset for the Pens as they strive for a lengthy playoff run.
His departure is already one that is taking a difficult emotional toll on both the Stars’ franchise and its fans. Drafted by Dallas way back in 1997, Morrow has played all 835 of his career games to this point with the Stars, and was the face of the franchise for the better part of the last decade.
“Brenden Morrow has represented everything we could ever ask for in a Dallas Star over the past 14 years, giving his heart and soul to this franchise,” said Nieuwendyk in the team’s official press release. “On behalf of the entire Dallas Stars organization, we wish Brenden nothing but the best going forward and thank him sincerely for his years of service.”
In return Dallas gets the younger Morrow, Joseph, who comes with a multitude of valuable attributes of his own.
Drafted 23rd overall by the Pens in 2011, the 20 year-old defenceman plays an offensive, up-tempo style of hockey thanks to crisp puck skills, excellent skating, and a hard slapshot. A product of some very dominant seasons with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, where he hit a career high of 64 points in 62 games in 2011-2012, Morrow has spent all of the 2012-2013 season so far with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Despite some difficulties adjusting to the pro game, namely on the defensive side of the puck, he still managed 15 points in 57 games for a team that has been offensively struggling as a whole this season.
As one of the biggest NHL player swaps over the last few months, and adding in the fact that this season’s trade deadline is coming up on April 3rd, the Morrow-for-Morrow deal is sure to garner plenty of league wide talk and analysis.
But even though the success or failure of a trade is never fully known until the parties involved have had the time to affect their new teams, it would be hard to not feel incredibly hopeful about this move right now if you’re the Dallas Stars.
Dallas’ rebuild, despite only being a few years into play and lacking any high-end draft picks, has been going completely according to the plans of Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk. The team’s prospect pool doesn’t have the sheer “wow” factor as other rebuilding teams, such as the Edmonton Oilers, but what it lacks in elite individual talent it makes up for in terms of balance and depth, with promising youngsters of all positions and a variety playing styles coming up through the pipeline.
What Dallas’ future was missing the most, however, was a dangerous offensive defenceman to complement the bigger, stay-at-home blueliners that the Stars already have in their system with Jamie Oleksiak, Brenden Dillon and Patrik Nemeth. Joseph Morrow, as described earlier, seems more than capable of filling this niche and playing big powerplay minutes for the Stars sometime down the road.
Already showing signs of being NHL-ready at the young age of 20, most notably when he was recalled by the Penguins for a short time back in February, Morrow has the potential to become a useful fixture on Dallas’ blueline for many years to come.
Does Dallas suffer in the short-term? Absolutely. The Stars haven’t made the playoffs since 2008, the longest streak in team history, and the fanbase is well past the point of being antsy about it. They have a great chance at ending that streak this season, currently sitting within the boundaries of the playoff picture, but the teams from 9th-11th all only trail by one point, meaning that there is still a long road ahead.
Brenden Morrow would have certainly helped Dallas’ playoff aspirations, but would have only done so from a supporting role. Playing most of this season on the team’s third line and failing to really excel when given time on the top two, his days of leading the Stars on the ice were long gone. Whether the Stars will adequately recover from his loss remains to be seen, but the team currently does have enough depth at the forward position to put up a strong fight the rest of the way.
Most importantly, as a free agent at the end of the season, and with a handful of forward prospects ready to either make the jump to the NHL or to play a bigger role with the team, it was clear that Morrow no longer fit within Dallas’ primary needs, and was very unlikely to be offered a new contract.
In a game of sheer numbers, having Brenden for a potential maximum of 17 games (the remainder of the season and if Dallas were to miss the playoffs) understandably wasn’t worth as much to the team as the potential years of service that they can receive from Joseph. Dallas could have kept Brenden but still missed the playoffs and then lost him for nothing in the offseason, a situation that the Stars suffered through with Brad Richards a mere two seasons ago and have no interest in doing again.
Sometimes you need to take one step backwards before you can take two steps forwards. As painful as it is right now for the Stars and their fans, this was exactly that type of move, and one that was the right one to make for the franchise as it works towards a brighter futre.
Derek Neumeier primarily covers the Dallas Stars, but also other various topics related to the sport of hockey. A Journalism graduate of Mount Royal University, Derek also writes for Defending Big D, and has done previous work with the Edmonton Oilers as a communications intern and Hockey Canada as a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @Derek_N_NHL