Sunday, September 27, 2009

2009-2010 Previews -- Forwards: Brendan Morrison

Brendan Morrison

Theme: “Consistency is the foundation of virtue.”

For six consecutive seasons – from 2000-2001 through 2006-2007 – Brendan Morrison played in all 82 games of the NHL season for the Vancouver Canucks. Then he endured a wrist injury that kept him out of 38 games of the 2007-2008 season, then a knee injury that put him on the shelf for the last four games of that regular season.

Morrison resurfaced with the Anaheim Ducks in the 2008-2009 season, signing with the club as a free agent. After 62 games, he was placed on waivers and claimed by Dallas, where he finished the season playing 19 games for the Stars.

Now, he’s in Washington and presumably, hopefully, healthy once more. If he is, those six seasons of 82 games might be instructive. Over those seasons, Morrison averaged 21-39-60, +7 with six power play goals and five game-winners. All other things equal, one might not think he would match those numbers with the Caps, owing to his being older (he is 34), the fact that he is penciled in as the second line center for this team, and the likelihood he will get less power play time as Nicklas Backstrom carries the load at center in that regard. On the other hand, he is likely to have the benefit of a superior offensive talent in Alexander Semin on his left.

Morrison seems to be one of those solid citizens the Caps have accumulated in recent years. If you look at the “second page” of the resume, so to speak, he has been a Central Collegiate Hockey Association (NCAA) player of the year at the University of Michigan (twice), an NCAA tournament most valuable player, and a Hobey Baker Award winner.

Back to those 82-game seasons. They came in the midst of what became for Morrison a 542-games played streak that, when it ended in December 2007, was the 11th longest in NHL history. Until his wrist and knee injuries, this was not a player with durability issues. And even coming back from those injuries, he played in 81 games last year. That would be 29 more than did the Caps’ second line center, Sergei Fedorov. It would be more than Fedorov averaged in a season since the lockout (65). Is Morrison a better player than the man he’s replacing? Well, no. But if Morrison is back to health, then 75 or more games of his production is likely to have better results than 52 (last year’s total) from Fedorov.

Fearless: If you get past the names, Morrison – even with his missing most of the 2007-2008 season – was a more productive player offensively than Sergei Fedorov since the lockout:

What Morrison appears unlikely to bring is the defensive versatility Fedorov possessed.

Cheerless: Does Morrison speak Russian, cuz? What do you call those things players have that doesn’t have on the player stat pages…tangerines? (you talking about “intangibles,” cuz?) Fedorov seemed to do wonders for the Russians on this team. How many wins you think that meant?

In the end:

We’re going to see if the Russians have grown up, but that’s another discussion. As for Morrison, this is a player who has played in 80-plus games in seven of the last eight seasons. If last year was a “rehab” year, one in which he still managed 16 goals, then this year he could return to something approaching his career averages. He’s not going to be the almost-20 minute a game player he was with Vancouver; he won’t get the power play time to approach those minutes. But as a 16-18 minute a game player, he could be fresher come the spring.

Morrison is something of a low-risk, high-reward kind of signing for the Caps. Inked to a one-year, $1.5 million contract, Morrison is skating for his next contract, demonstrating (both he and Caps fans hope) that he is fully recovered from the injuries that cut short his 2007-2008 season. If he is recovered enough to play in 70 or more games, it would seem likely that he will put up numbers superior to those of Sergei Fedorov last year.

However, whether Morrison will be a more important ingredient to Caps success this year is the annual unknown of free agency. In an odd sort of way, Morrison might be considered the third contestant given the opportunity to take on the role of the second line center. Michael Nylander was signed to the job in 2007 (a job he took once his placeholder duties on the first line gave way to Nicklas Backstrom), and he didn’t work out. Sergei Fedorov was brought in via trade, and he provided a shot in the arm for the Caps’ big playoff run a couple of years ago. But last year, he wasn’t in the lineup on a consistent enough basis to be a truly productive player. In fact, Nylander might have been the last productive second line center on a respectable Caps team, and that would have been in 2002-2003, in his first tour with the club (he was 17-39-56, plus-3 in 71 games). Here is an odd stat… Last year, the Caps were the only team in the Southeast Division without two centers having at least 45 points (we do not count either Brooks Laich or Viktor Kozlov as centers for these purposes, despite their being identified as such at Morrison will end that nonsense this year.


76 games, 16-38-54, +6

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