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The Winnipeg Jets likely won’t have to face a ‘Life without Josh Morrissey’ scenario in the fall, the top-pairing defenceman said Tuesday.
The 23-year-old restricted free agent said he’s optimistic he’ll have a new contract in hand before the NHL club opens camp in about three weeks.
That should allay fears of Jets fans who take a doomsday approach to the protracted negotiations between Winnipeg and Morrissey, fearing the talented left-shooting blue-liner could hold out while the rest of his teammates assemble in September.
“Everyone’s going to have their own opinions and that’s fine, but from my standpoint as a player, my agent (Edmonton-based Gerry Johannson) and from our conversations with the team, everything’s been going great. Everyone’s confident it will be handled and done, definitely in time for the season,” Morrissey said.
“Right now, it’s in the works. Every player handles these things differently but I’m just focused on training throughout the summer. Of course, it’s something you think about. You’d be lying if that wasn’t the case. But I think things have really started to progress. For me, I love being here, I love playing here. You look at the playoff run last year that we had and just the support from the fans, I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
The Calgary product said he’s in town to take part in the Bruce Oake Recovery Foundation’s Hockey Night in Canada Gala Dinner fundraiser Wednesday at The Met.
His presence in Winnipeg surely fuels speculation a new deal is close. At the very least, the relationship between the player and the organization doesn’t appear to be strained.
“No (animosity), not at all. None whatsoever,” he said. “At the end of the day, everything’s been going great. That’s the business side of the game that goes on between my agent and Chevy (general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff) and (assistant GM) Larry Simmons. Both sides are working toward the same thing. Obviously, people are speculating, but things have been going great.”
Just about every item on Cheveldayoff’s long list of summer projects is complete, including locking up No.1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck with a six-year, $37-million contract, although he couldn’t come to terms with Morrissey’s playing partner, Jacob Trouba, who was awarded a one-year $5.5-million deal through arbitration.
Meanwhile, centre Adam Lowry agreed to a three-year, $8.75-million contract, while forwards Brandon Tanev, Nic Petan and Marko Dano and blue-liners Tucker Poolman and Joe Morrow also inked new deals.
Morrissey is the lone key contributor who has yet to sign on the dotted line.
But the 13th overall selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, who scored seven goals and contributed 19 assists in 81 games in 2017-18 (his second full season) while averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time every night, said he sees no reason to panic.
“If you have UFA (unrestricted free agent) status then, obviously, July 1 is a pretty big date. If you have arbitration rights, whatever date is determined (for a hearing) becomes a big date. For me, for us, we basically just have to get something done before training camp and so it really doesn’t matter if that’s done in June or July or August,” he said. “It’s all part of the process and I’m just trying to enjoy it.”
Coming off his entry-level deal, Trouba signed a two-year $6-million bridge deal in 2016 after requesting a trade, sitting out training camp and missing the first 13 games of the 2016-17 season.
Morrissey could opt for a similar scenario — somewhere in the range of $3 million annually — or the two sides could carve out a long-term agreement that would guarantee him larger cheques with greater term.
He wouldn’t say whether negotiations are leaning in either direction at this point.
“That’s always up for discussion. One way or the other, I’m just excited to be on the ice and be a Winnipeg Jet going forward,” he said. “That’s where I stand; one way or the other, I’m looking forward to the hockey aspect and the season aspect, and, as a player my focus has always been to become the best player I can be.”
Listed at six-feet and 195 pounds, Morrissey spent a few weeks earlier his summer working out with Scheifele and Jets captain Blake Wheeler in California.
He said he’s in awe of the veteran forwards’ commitment to fitness and preparedness for the upcoming season.
“I felt like it really helped me just being around two players who, in my opinion, are two of the best players in the league and also two guys who are extremely fit,” said Morrissey. “Right now, I feel like I’m in the best shape of my career. I have high goals for myself.
“Obviously, having played two years, I think I’ve made some big improvements and strides over my first year in the NHL. I could easily be happy with that and rest on that. But I want to continue to improve. I feel like if I can make a play eight out of 10 times, I want to make it nine out of 10 times, and just work on my overall game.”
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).