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Josh Morrissey concedes the last few days weren’t much fun.
The Winnipeg Jets defenceman is the team’s latest multi-millionaire, signing a two-year, US$6.3 million NHL contract Sunday. The deal carries an average annual value of US$3.15 million.
Morrissey skated at 11 a.m. today at the Iceplex with the rest of club’s training camp participants who will not suit up tonight when Winnipeg hosts the Minnesota Wild, 7 p.m. at Bell MTS Place.
Speaking this morning, the 23-year-old from Calgary said missing the start of training camp 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.”
He skated with several Jets at the Iceplex as recently as last Wednesday but then had to cut ties when the team’s official preseason business kicked off, missing Thursday’s physicals and Friday’s on-ice fitness testing, as well as training camp practices Saturday and Sunday.
That was exceedlingly frustrating, he said.
“Tough… really, really tough,” said Morrissey. “There’s nothing more that I want than to be with the guys on the ice, in the room. I talked to Buff (Dustin Byfuglien) a little bit. One silver lining is no fitness testing so far. Who knows, maybe I’ll have to get that done anyway.
“But it was tough. 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.”
The two sides opted for a two-year bridge deal, and Morrissey is still under club control when it ends in 2020.
Morrissey would have made more had he opted for longer term, however, he’s banking on his ability to generate more offence over time while bolstering his already-sound defensive skills.
The Jets, meanwhile, 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.
“The Jets had a lot going on this summer, so for me we maybe got a later start on getting things going. It felt like it was the best move for both sides at this time. I love playing here, I love being a Jet, and I hope I can be here for a long term in the future and going forward,” Morrissey said. “At this time, with everything that’s going on and all things being taken into account, I think it was best for both sides.
“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 (Edmonton-based Gerry Johannson) and myself and Chevy (GM Kevin Cheveldayoff) 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.”
Entering just his third NHL season, Morrissey is already a vital piece to the Central Division squad’s success. He plays the left side, partnered with Jacob Trouba, on the top pairing.
Last season, he played 81 games — missing just the final game of the year in Montreal when head coach Paul Maurice sat several of his key performers prior to the start of the playoffs — scoring seven goals and adding 19 assists.
Morrissey chipped in a goal and a helper during the club’s playoff drive to the Western Conference final.
“For myself, there’s a lot of excitement about our team, excitement about this year, excitement about the future,” said Morrissey. “Last year was a huge year for us and, obviously, there’s a lot of excitement in the room and the city, which we’ll have to match that excitement and those expectations with hard work and getting back to the grind of what got us to be in that position last year.”
Maurice said this morning he’s been pleasantly surprised by Morrissey’s rapid development.
“Really unusual curve. I wouldn’t say I’ve had another player like this, especially a defenceman,” he said. “The things that 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. It was still going to be (that) he’ll come in, turn pro, spend a few years learning how to defend and that will be his Achilles heel, but he’s going to be a pretty good offensive player. Then he just came back one summer (2016) and he was fairly close to our best shutdown guy. He used all of the things, tools he had.
“He’s a real smart player and he skates very, very well and he can move the puck so those are some offensive ideas. Those are things you talk about in offensive players. 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).