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He may be the smallest defenceman on his team, but Josh Morrissey’s ongoing contract dispute is casting a big shadow over Winnipeg Jets training camp and relegating one of the team’s brightest young stars to the sidelines.
Morrissey, 23, remains in limbo as talks between his camp and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have failed to produce a deal. As a result, he’s unable to participate in any official team activities.
It’s a surprising development and potentially a major distraction for a team expected to make plenty of noise on the ice this coming season with Morrissey playing a major role as a top-paring shutdown blue-liner.
“Not really much to update. Again, in constant communication with his representatives and just remain hopeful the situation gets resolved soon,” Cheveldayoff said Friday afternoon.
Morrissey was a full participant earlier this week in unofficial team skates and workouts, but his absence Friday was the subject of plenty of buzz from teammates who gathered at Bell MTS Iceplex for on-ice fitness testing.
“You make a decision and you stand up for what you believe in and I wouldn’t expect him to take anything less than what he feels he’s worth,” said his defence partner, Jacob Trouba. “So I support him whatever way I can and how I can, and I’ve got to take care of what I have to do to get ready for the season here.”
Of course, that could mean learning to play with someone else on his left side for the foreseeable future.
Trouba has experience with this type of stalemate, having missed training camp in 2016 and then the first 13 games of the regular-season while negotiations continued on what eventually turned into a two-year bridge deal.
“You just kind of have to find a way to make your own training camp and stay ready because any day, any moment, you could come back into camp and you know you’re ready to go and pick up with everyone else. You do the best you can to not miss a beat,” Trouba said of what he learned during that experience.
Trouba also couldn’t get an extension done this summer but opted for salary arbitration, which Morrissey couldn’t do based on the fact he has less time in the NHL. Trouba was awarded a one-year, $5.5 million contract.
“It was a little nerve-racking, when someone has that decision in their hands, but besides that it was part of hockey that players go through,” Trouba said Friday.
Morrissey spoke to the Free Press prior to training camp and expected a deal would have been done in time to hit the ice with his teammates. Cheveldayoff echoed those sentiments in an interview last week.
Morrissey’s agent, Gerry Johannson, has not commented all summer about the ongoing process; however, it’s believed his client is seeking a short-term deal, while the Jets would like to sign him to a lengthy extension to help provide some cost certainty for other deals that need to get done in the future.
“I’m not going to get into those type of discussions,” Cheveldayoff said Friday when pressed for specifics. “I guess I just have to go with the realistic expectation that I hope it gets done soon.”
Cheveldayoff had 10 restricted free agents to sign this summer, and Morrissey is the last one to get done.
Centre Mark Scheifele, a close friend of Morrissey’s who trained with him for much of the summer, is hopeful this won’t last long.
“Obviously, we want him here. He’s such a huge part of our team. We wish he was here. Obviously, there’s a lot of other things in effect that we don’t have control of, but we want him here. We know he wants to be with us, too, but that’s the side of the business of this game. Hopefully, they get it done soon,” he said.
Morrissey, a 6-0, 195-pound Calgary native picked in the first round (13th overall) in the 2013 NHL draft, had seven goals and 19 assists in 81 regular-season games last season with the Jets. He averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time a night typically playing against the other team’s top line. He became a restricted free agent when his entry-level contract concluded July 1 and is likely looking at a significant raise in the range of $5 to $6 million annually.
Veteran centre Bryan Little said Morrissey’s situation isn’t ideal for a team that wants to hit the ground running with expectations higher than ever.
“It’s always disappointing when you don’t have the full team here and someone is missing, especially a guy like Morrissey. You’ve seen this quite a few times now over the years around the league. As a player, you just have confidence that something will get done and he’ll be here as soon as he can,” he said.
Goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who signed a six-year, $37 million extension earlier this summer, said this is a reminder the business side of the game can be fraught with difficulties.
“I hope the best for him. Obviously I want him here. He’s a great defenceman and he makes the team better,” he said.
As for missing part of camp, coach Paul Maurice said he’s not concerned about Morrissey’s conditioning.
“It’s situational for every player. He’s an exceptionally fit young man, so he’s here pushing hard, worked hard, trained with Blake (Wheeler) and Mark (Scheifele) this summer at times, so he’s a really fit guy. I don’t think there’s really a curve there. The longer you go, it takes you a little longer to get that timing back, but we really believe we have a special player in Josh and that he’s going to be able to make that transition whenever it happens,” said Maurice.
Training camp continues Saturday with the first official on-ice sessions, with groups at 9 a.m. and noon.
Winnipeg kicks off their seven-game preseason schedule by hosting the division-rival Minnesota Wild on Monday night at Bell MTS Centre.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.