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Josh Morrissey has the power to make it look like he ripped himself off — by NHL standards — in accepting a bridge deal with the Winnipeg Jets.
But he can also make them pay the piper at a substantially higher price in just two years time.
The Jets defenceman signed a two-year, US$6.3 million contract Sunday that carries an average annual value of US$3.15 million.
Morrissey would have made more had he opted for a longer term, however, he’s banking on his ability to beef up his points totals while bolstering his already-sound defensive skills. If he continues his trajectory as a talented, two-way blue-liner, a massive payday in 2020 isn’t out of the question.
“It was a tough few days and it felt like an eternity over the weekend.” – Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey
Entering his third NHL season, Morrissey is already a vital piece to the Central Division squad’s success, playing the left side on the top pairing with right-shooting partner, Jacob Trouba.
“One of the first conversations I had with my agent (Edmonton-based Gerry Johannson) at the start of the summer, after last season, was my goal was to try to be the best player I can. At the end of the day, it’s a long road to get to that point and every year you try and improve. I do feel like maybe the offensive side is the side of my game I can continue to improve on and continue to build, but I’m trying to build all aspects of my game and get better at everything,” Morrissey said.
“On the flip side, winning right now and in the next few years is huge on mine — and I know our team’s — radar.”
The Jets get some cost certainty with Morrissey at a time when they still have some hefty contracts looming in high-scoring young wingers Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, as well as defencemen Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers.
Winnipeg now has all its pieces in place for a serious run at the Stanley Cup in 2018-19. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff had already locked up captain Blake Wheeler, goalie Connor Hellebuyck and centre Adam Lowry to multi-year deals, while Brandon Tanev, Marko Dano, Nic Petan and Joe Morrow were also retained.
Morrissey, who averaged more than 20 minutes a game in ’17-18, will be a restricted free agent when the deal concludes on July 1, 2020.
“It’s timing. For both sides, I think timing is the big one. Everything’s coming together quickly to be quite honest, and amicably. We had a great chat the other day with my agent and myself and Chevy and (assistant GM) Larry (Simmons) and Chipper (True North chairman Mark Chipman) and kind of outlined what the future looks like. So, it went great and I’m really happy to be back at the rink again,” he said.
The ink was barely dry on the Morrissey contract when news spread Monday that Edmonton Oilers young blue-liner and RFA Darnell Nurse got just a shade more — US$6.4 million — for the next two seasons.
Like Nurse, Morrissey missed the first four days of camp. He admitted staying away from the rink was difficult on the psyche.
“They’ve been long. It feels like an eternity the last number of days, but just super excited to get back onto the ice today. The business side’s all in the past and I can get back to doing what I do best, you know, playing hockey. I’m excited to be back and be back with my teammates, and I’m ready to go,” Morrissey said.
He skated with several Jets at the Iceplex as recently as last Wednesday but then had to cut ties when the team’s official pre-season business kicked off, missing Thursday’s physicals and Friday’s on-ice fitness testing, as well as training camp practices Saturday and Sunday.
“It was a tough few days and it felt like an eternity over the weekend. It’s just nice, definitely a bit weight off your shoulders when it’s finally done and you can get back to playing hockey and being here with my teammates,” said Morrissey.
He was with teammates Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Andrew Copp watching NFL football when he received word the deal was done.
“They knew right away and gave big hugs and stuff like that. That’s what makes it special and that’s what’s great about team sports, and that’s why I love playing here because we have such a close group of guys and great friends and teammates to play with and compete with,” he said.
Morrissey skated Monday at the Iceplex but won’t suit up in in Winnipeg’s pre-season contest with the Minnesota Wild. He’ll play either Wednesday in Edmonton when the Jets battle the Oilers or Friday night at home against the Calgary Flames.
Last season, he played 81 games, missing just the final road game of the year in Montreal when head coach Paul Maurice rested several of his key performers in anticipation of the start of the playoffs. He scored seven goals and added 19 assists, then chipped in a goal and a helper during the club’s playoff drive to the Western Conference final.
Maurice said Morrissey’s rapid development has been astonishing.
“Really unusual curve. I wouldn’t say I’ve had another player like this, especially a defenceman,” said Maurice, beginning his 21st season as an NHL bench boss. “Josh got drafted as a really smooth, puck-moving defenceman with some offensive skill. The questions for every single defenceman coming in is how will they handle these guys one-on-one? How will they defend?
“For two or three years, we were happy with his progress… he used all of the things, the tools he had. He’s a real smart player and he skates very, very well and he can move the puck. He took those and used those in a defensive manner and used his quickness and his stick and moved the puck well to get us out of trouble and to establish himself very early on as an extremely consistent, reliable defensive player. We also believe there’s the offensive side still there.”
Winnipeg winger Nikolaj Ehlers said now all is right in the locker room.
“I’m happy. It’s a guy who has been huge for us. He’s a young guy, a skilled guy, he’s great defensively, great offensively and an even better guy,” said Ehlers. “Of course, it’s nice to see that they got it done and he’s back. Now we’re full. We’ve got everyone. It’s exciting.”
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).