By Chris Block
As expected, Stan Bowman pulled the trigger on his first deal well-ahead of the February 27th trade deadline, sending defense prospect Brian Connelly to the Calgary Flames in exchange for veteran center Brendan Morrison.
“He’s a centerman and he’s got a long pedigree of being a good offensive performer,” Stan Bowman said speaking about Morrison on the team’s web site. “I think having that experience and that ability gives us a lot of options depending on where Joel wants to use him.”
Morrison, 36, has spent the past season and a half with the Flames. Chicago will be Morrison’s sixth NHL stop in five seasons. The 5-11 center was drafted out of the University of Michigan by the New Jersey Devils but would move on to spend parts of 8 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks (2000-08). Morrison was traded in March of 2000 to the Canucks for Alexander Mogilny.
The Blackhawks get a center who can set the table for skilled wingers while being defensively responsible. While falling down the Flames’ depth chart, Morrison was averaging 13 minutes per night and winning 50.3% of his face offs this season.
From a Flames’ perspective, Morrison was no longer a fit in Calgary.
“As we projected our line-up going forward we felt it was going to be difficult for us to find a spot for Brendan or get him significant ice-time,” Flames GM Jay Feaster said in a press release late Friday.
Feaster also needed to shed bodies and salary and Morrison’s $1.25M cap hit perhaps is just the start of it.
In an interesting bit of the backstory of this deal, Morrison’s 2010-11 season ended last March at the United Center in a one-on-one battle with Niklas Hjalmarsson. Morrison underwent ACL surgery on his left knee weeks later as a result. But Morrison also alleged he was taunted by unnamed Blackhawks players as he was helped off the ice. When speaking to the media on a conference call Friday night, Morrison said that incident is a “dead issue.”
Prior to last season’s injury, Morrison had 9 goals, 34 assists in 66 games with Calgary. He was centering the Flames’ top line with Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay at the time of the injury. This season he’s appeared in 28 games, scoring 4 goals and 7 assists.
–Brian Connelly was a non-drafted signing of the Blackhawks in the spring of 2009 after he spent three years at Colorado College (WCHA). Listed at 5-10, Connelly had the skill but not the stature the Blackhawks were looking for. He never really got much of a look from the Blackhawks and when he re-signed this past off season (Connelly was a restricted free agent) it was pretty much a foregone conclusion he’d be used as trade bait.
Connelly was a last-minute scratch on Friday night as the Rockford IceHogs were about to take the ice for a game in Charlotte. That took place at 7pm eastern and news of the trade did not circulate for another two hours. Shawn Lalonde, who was originally slated to be a healthy scratch, took Connelly’s spot in the lineup.
A Bloomington, Minnesota native – Connelly was added to the AHL All-Star game this past Tuesday. The game will take place in Atlantic City on Monday night. In 44 games with the IceHogs this season, he had posted 5 goals, 31 assists for 36 points. Connelly was on pace to break his own IceHogs’ franchise records for points and assists by a defenseman in a single season.
Connelly will report to the Abbotsford Heat, the Flames affiliate in southern British Columbia, which is just over an hour from Vancouver. Abbotsford does not play again until later next week after the All-Star break. The Heat visit Rockford on Wednesday February 29th. That will be the fourth and final meeting of the regular season between the Heat and IceHogs.
“In Brian Connelly we obtain a 25 year old highly skilled AHL All-Star defenceman who is still a legitimate prospect,” Feaster said in the Flames’ press release. “We are excited to have Brian in the organization.”
Connelly told the Flames official web site he wasn’t surprised when he was told he was traded, saying he “had in the back of my mind that it could happen.”
Connelly will be greeted by one familiar face in Abbotsford. Former IceHog and Blackhawks draft pick Akim Aliu is currently a member of the Heat.
–As for where Brendan Morrison fits with the Blackhawks….
Its clear Morrison will at least begin on the second line, presumably with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp when he returns to action on the early part of the Blackhawks impending 9-game road trip.
The acquisition has the biggest effect on Marcus Kruger, who could wind up centering the fourth line now with Morrison in the fold. Next, would be Ben Smith, who outside of a run of injuries, now figures to be on the outside looking in, from Rockford. At least until he’s moved in a deal before Feb 27.
Jamal Mayers has been a solid performer centering the Blackhawks fourth line all season to this point. However, he’s a natural winger and his attributes are better-suited for the wing. He’s statistically the Hawks 2nd best face off guy, but that’s against other fourth liners and he can still take those, or the important ones, even if Kruger slides down to center the fourth line. If Kruger can’t skate in the middle on the fourth line he should be in Rockford.
Bryan Bickell may wind up being used as part of a trade. Until then, Bickell’s going nowhere since he’s waiver eligible and with another year remaining on a deal that pays Bickell near the minimum, he’d be snatched up as quickly as he’d be made available for nothing to the other 29 teams.
Michael Frolik helps the Blackhawks in some ways, just not in any way when it comes to putting the puck in the net. In less than a year, Frolik finds himself in the exact spot (at least when Jimmy Hayes and Dave Bolland are clicking together) on the Blackhawks depth chart as he was in Florida when the Panthers gave up on the former first round pick.
That leaves Andrew Brunette, Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw to round out the forward group. Hayes figures to be heading back to Rockford once Sharp and Toews come off IR. Its probably not deserved, but Hayes will be back soon enough. It’s a business and a numbers game and since Hayes isn’t subject to waivers, it’s a simple decision.
With the Morrison acquisition, the Blackhawks have 24 players on the roster. That doesn’t include Dan Carcillo, who will be on Injured Reserve for the remainder of the season. Right now they are carrying 8 defenseman and 14 forwards.
A healthy Blackhawks’ depth chart looks like this….
Stalberg – Toews – Kane
Sharp – Morrison – Hossa
Brunette – Bolland – Frolik
Shaw – Kruger – Mayers
–Bickell – Hayes
Keith – Seabrook
Hjalmarsson – Leddy
O’Donnell – Montador
–Lepisto – Scott
Since the Blackhawks are looking to upgrade their blue line, Sami Lepisto figures to be waiver-bound at some point, just not until Stan Bowman finds the right deal for a new defenseman.
Until then, it wouldn’t make much sense to risk losing Lepisto since the sole purpose of having him on the roster is because he’s an experienced NHL-hand who can eat a chunk of minutes if one of your top six goes down to injury or suspension. It is not a foregone conclusion Bowman will find the defenseman he wants at an acceptable price.
For whatever anyone will say about John Scott, his skating has improved greatly over a season ago and he’s not nearly the liability he was when he first came to Chicago. Since he’s at the league minimum, and on an expiring contract, there’s a decent chance another team looking for toughness could take him if made available on waivers. Again, until the Hawks find the right trade to boost their blue line, it doesn’t make much sense to get rid of veteran depth comfortable in the system who you don’t mind sitting.
Turco to help Salzburg finish its season
–In other news, Marty Turco, 36, has signed a contract with the Salzburg Red Bulls in Austria for the remainder of this season. Turco will report and begin practicing with Salzburg on Saturday.
TSN’s Darren Dreger reports Turco’s deal with Salzburg includes an opt-out clause until February 27th, which coincidentally is the NHL trading deadline. The Erste Bank league’s playoffs begin on Feb 19.
The Red Bulls are the same team Turco played for in a recent holiday tournament hosted by Salzburg. Turco backstopped the Red Bulls to three victories in the culmination of that annual tournament as Salzburg won in the championship game off goals from other ex-Blackhawks products Danny Bois and Akim Aliu.
In those three games last month, Turco posted a 94.4% save percentage and 1.95 goals against average. From there, Turco played for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup, appearing in two games, having a 1.38 GAA and stopped 95.2% of the shots he faced in Canada’s disappointing showing there. Before and since that brief trip overseas, Turco had been providing analysis on the NHL Network.
Turco rejoins Bois, but Aliu was returned on loan to the Winnipeg Jets organization after last month’s tournament ended. Salzburg rosters other North American products: defenseman Rob Davison, forwards Ramzi Abid, Jeremy Williams and Chicagoan and former Wisconsin Badger Robbie Earl. Salzburg is bringing Turco back, in part, because their number one goalie, Josh Tordjman, a former Coyotes prospect, is out with in an injury.