We’re getting through the last days of the summer lull in the hockey world. Players will soon start to head to their teams for rookie camps, and the main training camps afterward.
At this point, most teams around the NHL have their prospects and major contract situations settled. The Winnipeg Jets are currently not one of those teams. After a lengthy contract tussle with Jacob Trouba, they now find themselves in a similar spot with Josh Morrissey.
The 2013 first-round draft pick is still unsigned, and as a young, left-shot defender, he should be on the radar of a team like the Montreal Canadiens who are desperately in need of a player of his talents. At just 23 years old, Morrissey has established himself as a quality top-four defenceman in the NHL, playing heavily with Trouba last year.
One of the biggest issues in Montreal has been finding a consistent option to play alongside Shea Weber, and if Marc Bergevin felt so inclined, that player could be Morrissey.
While Victor Mete performed admirably in that role, and could very well take over that spot once again, adding Morrissey to the team gives the Canadiens a more established option, and can let Mete develop in easier minutes.
For a player of Morrissey’s calibre, the cost isn’t going to be low, but for a team looking to sell off some of their veteran assets in a rebuilding measure, the Canadiens could have the pieces to make a trade happen.
Before getting into what it would take to acquire Morrissey, what exactly makes the 23-year-old defender worth trading for? On a loaded Winnipeg club, he managed to work his way into a top-pairing role at even strength, while also featuring heavily as a penalty-killer. He fits that new generation of defenceman: he can move the puck up the ice with ease, but doesn’t sacrifice any defensive acumen to do that, making him a valuable piece at either end.
Defensively, when Morrissey is on the ice, the chances on his goalies are few and far between. His partner plays a role in this at five-on-five, but on the penalty kill it’s extremely easy to see the impact he has on opposing offences.
It’s pretty clear to see Morrissey’s impact when he’s on the ice. The left side of the defensive zone becomes barren in term of high-danger chances, and most of the shots are forced to the point or the half-wall instead.
That of course was with one of the best teams in the league last season, so how does Morrissey stack up compared to the Habs’ left-side options from last year?
The most commonly used players on the left side of Montreal’s defence last year were Mete, Karl Alzner, and Jordie Benn — not exactly a murderer’s row of high end talent. While in his prime Alzner was a steady, defensive option, last year was a nightmare for him as he struggled to find the form that made him a mainstay in Washington for years.
Alzner’s defensive numbers get a solid boost thanks to him being attached almost entirely to Jeff Petry last season. However, his offence isn’t there and his ability to move the puck out of his own end was non-existent at some points. It’s hard to accept that sort of player unless he can truly shut down opposing offences as a top-pairing defender in this modern era of hockey.
Morrissey produced better shot-suppression rates, while contributing more to the offence than Alzner, so chalk this up as a good reason to consider a Morrissey trade.
For Mete, he was thrust into a role with Shea Weber before Weber went down with an injury and Mete left for the World Juniors. While he didn’t have the point production many had hoped for, he still had decent possession metrics, and didn’t look lost in defensive minutes before he suffered a season ending injury as well.
First off, it’s clear that Mete struggled to produce points last year, but looking at his expected goals for, the rookie defender was comically unlucky over the course of the season.
Defensively he needed a bit of help. Once he lost Weber he bounced between pairings, and none of the options could match the defensive-zone play of the Habs’ top defender. Letting Mete take a lesser role behind an established blue-liner like Morrissey would be the smartest play in the long run, as he can develop in those minutes and continue his adjustment to the professional level.
Benn likely never should have had to play big minutes in Montreal, but injuries and a true lack of answers on the left side led to increased usage last season.
If he were playing third-pairing minutes that would be fine, but unfortunately for Benn he was thrust into a bigger role, and quite frankly wasn’t cutting it for Montreal, but with a lack of better options he held onto his spot for the year.
As it stands, adding Morrissey to this lineup immediately improves it, and can offer the chance for other players to slide into more suitable roles. It’s a win-win situation all around for the team if they can pull off a trade, but the price of said trade will likely not be cheap. A defender in his prime, with time left as a restricted free agent, isn’t a common thing on the trade market. But with Montreal looking to rebuild and Winnipeg looking to win now, there could be a meeting point between the clubs.
For Montreal their biggest piece on the table right now is team captain Max Pacioretty who has just this year left on his contract. That’s extreme value for a player capable of scoring 35 goals a year, and in Winnipeg he wouldn’t have to be the top-line star. He’d mesh somewhere on the second or third line depending on the growth of Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers. Having three wingers of that calibre on the same side would be almost unfair, and nearly impossible to defend every night.
Last year at the trade deadline, the Jets were thought to be interested in winger Andrew Shaw as well. For the Jets to take on that deal the Canadiens would more than likely have to take on some of their dead weight in terms of cap space. Given Montreal’s situation that isn’t much of a problem, but the fact that Shaw will be out to begin the season may remove the possibility of adding a player whose contract situation would likely be resolved before the season begins.
Montreal has a host of defensive prospects in the WHL if Winnipeg also wants to get a future replacement for the young player they would be giving up. The Jets would be most interested in either Josh Brook or Cale Fleury. It’s a steep price, but the trade would immediately help solve a current issue with Montreal’s roster, and given Morrissey’s age he’ll be a part of the team once the rebuild has completed.
There’s no guarantee that the Jets are at the point of exploring the option of trading their prized young RFA defencemen, but given their issues in the past with Trouba’s extensions, and the lack of progress here, it’s an avenue worth exploring for a team needing a defender on the left side.