Theme: “Success is like reaching an important birthday and finding you're exactly the same.”
Audrey Hepburn wasn’t much of a hockey player, but her quote is a faint hint at this being a contract year for Shaone Morrisonn. This is the second year Morrisonn will have been playing on a one-year contract, last year as a product of an arbitration ruling, this year signing a one-year deal in advance of arbitration. You can interpret how that might play out in a couple of ways. One, Morrisonn could have the sort of year that a lot of guys have leading up to a new contract – the sort of year they’ll look back on and say, “that was a helluva year,” whether he re-signs with the Caps or not. Or, he could mark time, play out the string, and play all year with the intention of moving on in July after this season.
There has been a sort of “sameness” to Morrisonn’s stay with the Caps. Plug him in when the season starts, watch him play 75 or so games, see him get a couple of goals, 10 or so assists, and he provides adequate at times, very good at other times defense. But what Morrisonn saw last year was his average ice time pulled back. In his first three full seasons with Washington, Morrisonn averaged over 20 minutes a game (averaging 20:39 a game). Last year, he averaged 17:57 and was seventh on the team among defensemen (30 games minimum) in even strength ice time (he was third in each of the previous three years).
Allegations of incipient cannibalism aside, Morrisonn has seen his penalty minutes drop in the last couple of years, and he dropped a bit from his high perch atop the Caps minor penalty rolls among defensemen (first or second in his first three full seasons with the Caps), ranking third in minors taken in 2008-2009. Penalties figure oddly in Morrisonn’ year last year in that of the 30 minors he recorded, eight of them were for interference. But it was a slow, or at least something of an indifferent start to the year that found Morrisonn spending more time in the penalty box. He was whistled for at least one penalty in seven of the first nine games of the year (eight minors for 16 minutes), half of the penalties he earned being for interference. His was an undisciplined (some might call it lack of effort ) sort of performance. He was much more disciplined late, earning only seven minor penalties in his last 22 games.
Another somewhat odd part of Morrisonn’s year last year was the difference between his performance against Eastern Conference teams and those in the West. He was 3-9-12, plus-9 in 55 games against the East, but only 0-1-1, minus-5 against the West in 17 games. He had similar disparity in the 2007-2008 season (0-8-8, +7 in 66 games against the East, 1-1-2, -3 in 10 games against the West). That might be viewed as a good thing, as long as such a difference is going to manifest itself. OK, guys…your turn.
Fearless: Morrisonn finished a lot stronger in the second half than his first half performance. Before the All-Star Game, he was 1-3-4, minus-2, with 32 PIMs in 38 games. After the break, he was 2-7-9, +6, with 36 PIMs in 32 games (although 15 of those PIMs came in a single game against Florida on February 7th). One would hope that carries over into this year.
Cheerless: Cuz? What about that playoff finish? 0-1-1, minus-5 in the last six games of the Penguin series. He was on the ice for nine of the 20 even strength goals the Penguins scored in those six games, not what one would expect of a defenseman whose forte is, well, defense (the odd part is that he was on the ice for only one of the nine power play goals the Penguins scored in those last six games).
In the end…
Morrisonn will turn 27 in December; one would think he is now entering his prime playing (not to mention earning) years. He has an opportunity here that can benefit both Morrisonn and the club. If he can put together a season that looks like the second half of last year (with a sprinkling of the sort of penalty killing effectiveness he displayed in the Penguin series last spring), it could only be good news for the Caps, and Morrisonn will be in line for a larger pay day (unfortunately, that could price him out of the Caps’ comfort range). He certainly has that sort of ability – he was the Caps’ shut down defenseman for his first two seasons and was the policeman patrolling the back end as partner Mike Green was developing his offensive side. And on a team as bad as the Caps were in the 2005-2006 season, he was the only defenseman who played more than half the season’s games and has a “plus” rating (plus-7, best among Caps defensemen). But Morrisonn is also prone to taking the odd penalty here and there. His consistent season results cover a bit of inconsistency within seasons. This year, sameness wouldn't be bad, but it would be nice to see some of the potential he showed in his first two years here that he hasn't seemed to quite reach.
78 games, 1-11-12, +8