Even though the Winnipeg Jets appear no closer to ending contract stalemates with two of their top forwards, they managed to lock down one of their top defensemen long-term, signing Josh Morrissey to an eight-year deal worth an average annual value (AAV) of $6.25 million.
It’s a great deal for the Jets and one they couldn’t afford not to make.
Morrissey Has Blossomed into Elite Defenseman
Morrissey, drafted 13th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, has become one of the NHL’s best blueliners. For the past two seasons, he’s played the left-side on the Jets’ top pairing alongside the now-departed Jacob Trouba and has consistently been tasked with shutting down his opponent’s best players. The dynamic d-man skates well, uses his stick nicely, and has the intelligence to determine when to step up and when to stay back.
Morrissey took his game to new heights in 2018-19, his third full NHL season. His underlying metrics were solid across the board, and despite missing 23 games due to injury, he still set career-highs in points with 31 and time on ice with 22:24. The workhorse has dished out 340 hits and blocked 416 shots in his 223-game NHL career.
Morrissey Hasn’t Reached His Offensive Ceiling Yet
Despite tallying 31 points, there’s “ample reason to believe that Morrissey is only beginning to scratch the surface of his offensive ability in the NHL,” The Hockey News’ Jared Clinton wrote.
Morrissey, who has recorded as many as 73 points in a single campaign (he did that with the Prince Albert Raiders in 2013-14), would have registered 43 points if he’d played all 82 games last season.
If Morrissey’s ice time increases again in 2019-20 — and it should, given Trouba, Ben Chiarot, and Tyler Myers are all gone — there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to register 40-plus, especially if he sees more time on the power play.
A First-Class Player for an Economy Price
Indeed, the $6.25 million AAV is a steal given all Morrissey brings. At first glance, it’s as team-friendly as teammate Mark Schiefele’s contract, which is widely regarded as one of the NHL’s most affordable.
The closest comparable contracts to Morrissey’s new deal, according to Cap Friendly, belong to the Dallas Stars’ Esa Lindell (6 years, 5.8 million AAV), the Carolina Hurricanes’ Jaccob Slavin (7 years, $5.3 million AAV), and the Colorado Avalanche’s Samuel Girard (7 years, $5 million AAV.)
Lindell put up 32 points last season (in 82 games opposed to Morrissey’s 59) and skated 24:40 on average per game. Slavin recorded 31 points and skated 23:02 on average. Girard recorded 27 and skated an average of 19:54.
Jets Need Morrissey in a Big Way
While Morrissey will make more than those three after his new contract kicks in to begin 2020-21, it was important the Jets ensured they’d have his services for years to come.
The Jets will rely on Morrissey more than ever this season. As previously mentioned, they lost Trouba, Chiarot, and Myers in the offseason and failed to add a veteran defenseman despite a desperate need to do so.
With the young Neal Pionk, inexperienced Sami Niku, and the oft-injured Dmitry Kulikov expected to comprise half of the Jets’ d-corp this season, their back-end is, rightly so, a huge question mark.
That makes having Morrissey — both to eat up minutes and to act as a mentor — very important. His average time on ice this season could easily jump to 25 minutes-plus, which would put him among the league leaders in that category with the likes of Ryan Suter, Seth Jones, and Brent Burns.
Winnipeg and Morrissey: A Match Made in Heaven
With Connor, Laine, and RFAs all around the league digging their heels in when it comes to signing new deals, it seems loyalty is a dying breed. In an era where players are willing to drag the teams that drafted them through the muck, it’s refreshing to see a player sign well in advance and without putting his team through the wringer. Just the fact the Jets won’t be dealing with a holdout situation in a year’s time is almost worth $6-plus million by itself.
As obvious as his former d-partner’s derision for Winnipeg is Morrissey’s love for the city.
“I felt like it was a great fit,” Morrissey said. “I love playing here. The term excited me. The fact that I get to have that stability, but to be here and playing in Winnipeg — from day one it’s what I’ve always said that I wanted to do. To have that and the way it worked out, I’m really excited.”
If Morrissey wasn’t already a fan favourite, he certainly will be now. The benefit of having players who love their city such as he and Adam Lowry is hard to quantify but is undoubtedly positive. A leadership role, likely as an alternate, looks firmly in Morrissey’s future.
Morrissey signed a two-year bridge deal last September as the Jets’ cap situation hamstrung their ability to offer a long-term deal. “At that time,” Jets’ general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said, “We told him, ‘It is our firm belief that we want to make you a long-term Jet, and when we get that opportunity, we’re going to work hard at doing it.'”
It turned out Cheveldayoff didn’t have to work nearly as hard to lock up his heady, steady guy on the back-end as he’s worked in his attempts to re-up his two brightest young stars up front.
There’s still some uncertainty of who Morrissey will play with this season, but whether it’s Pionk or Dustin Byfuglien, THW’s own Ryan Goethals believes he’ll be able to excel.
“Expect big things from Morrissey in 2019-20 and beyond as he continues to hold down the Jets’ top defense pairing,” Goethals wrote.
“Beyond” is now the next nine seasons, all the way through 2027-28. Knowing they’ve got a staple and superb player locked down for nearly a decade at a fair price must make the Jets feel pretty good.