By Chris Block
Jeremy Morin agreed to a maximum 14-day conditioning loan with the Rockford IceHogs for the dual purpose of getting the 23-year old left winger some game time and showcase the beleaguered now 5-year pro for a potential trade.
Morin had been designated a healthy scratch for 8 consecutive games leading up to the conditioning loan. He last played on November 20th in Calgary.
Rockford embarks on a 6-game road trip starting in Milwaukee tonight (Dec 10th). Thus it’ll be 19 days between games for Morin. He is expected to be in the IceHogs’ lineup tonight.
Should Morin remain with the Blackhawks’ organization for the duration of this loan, he’d have to be recalled from the loan on December 22nd, the day after Rockford’s road trip concludes. The Blackhawks can also recall him at any time before then.
There’s some interesting aspects to this move.
Morin’s agent, Pat Brisson (who also represents Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews) went to Stan Bowman in the middle of last week essentially requesting a trade on behalf of his client. Mark Lazerus of the Sun-Times reported on Sunday (Dec 7) Morin’s side presented it as a “play me or trade me” type of proposal.
Brisson is refusing to comment publicly on the trade request, as is Morin.
Now, obviously with Patrick Sharp returning and Joel Quenneville playing Joakim Nordstrom and Dan Carcillo ahead of Morin, there’s little chance Morin was going to get back into the lineup unless a series of injuries strike the Blackhawks’ forward positions. So, what Morin’s agent was actually doing was more in fact pushing Blackhawks’ Vice President and general manager Stan Bowman for a quick deal.
Quenneville loves him some Nordstrom at the moment. Morin, not so much. (I should add that Quenneville isn’t alone in this although he gets the ‘blame’ amongst Hawks fans and observers because he’s front and center every day.) And Morin’s position on the depth chart gets much murkier the closer Teuvo Teravainen gets to the NHL roster. Teravainen is still expected to get his shot to stick with the Hawks as a third line center before the playoffs begin, which would push Andrew Shaw to the wing should it happen.
Morin is in the first year of a two-year contract that carries an $800,000 cap hit. It’s a one-way contract, meaning Morin gets paid the full value of his contract whether he plays in the NHL or in the American League. Morin is also, as opposed to previous seasons, not waiver-exempt.
This is where this situation gets busy.
Morin and his agent agreed to the conditioning AHL assignment on Monday. It’s believed Stan Bowman is actively pursuing a trade of assets involving Morin, but wasn’t able to get a deal he wanted by late Monday. Morin traveled with the Blackhawks to New Jersey, as did Joakim Nordstrom.
When no deal was struck, Morin was officially loaned to Rockford first-thing Tuesday morning. But it actually was decided late Monday night.
Basically, Stan Bowman couldn’t make a trade (or didn’t want to) for Morin by late Monday. So, instead of exposing Morin to waivers and potentially losing Morin without a return, he turned to another option – that under the guise of the “conditioning” loan.
The Blackhawks knew all along they were activating Patrick Sharp off injured reserve in time for Tuesday’s game. This is why both Morin and Nordstrom traveled to New Jersey. Had Bowman been able to work a deal for Morin, Nordstrom may not have been sent down to Rockford.
Morin’s contract still counts against the salary cap during his conditioning loan. Morin also continues to count against the NHL roster. Morin earns $700,000 in real dollars this year and $900,000 in 2015-16.
Thus, even though Morin is in the AHL, he still counts against the Hawks’ roster in the 23rd and final ‘active’ spot. Once Sharp was activated, Bowman had no choice but to send Nordstrom down to the NHL because he was at 24 had he not.
The “Conditioning Loan” as it reads in Article 13.8 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement also states that the Commissioner’s office can investigate a conditioning loan to determine if such action by a team “has used the Conditioning Loan to evade Waivers, or otherwise Circumvent any provision of [the CBA], he may take such disciplinary action against the Club, as he deems inappropriate.”
Chicago Tribune reporter Chris Kuc posted to Twitter on Tuesday that the NHL had no plans to investigate Morin’s conditioning loan.
That said the Blackhawks may have been wary of a possibility of scrutiny of this move because Morin’s conditioning loan paperwork was dated December 8th as to separate it from the Sharp transaction the next day.
American Hockey League conditioning assignments are not uncommon but are typically reserved for players coming off an injury, which Morin is not.
In examining the AHL transaction library, there have been 16 players this season to date who have been designated for conditioning assignments. One player, Detroit’s Stephen Weiss, was designated a second time after injuring his groin during the first game of his original conditioning loan, ironically in a game against the IceHogs in Grand Rapids.
Of the 16 players who’ve been sent on conditioning loans, 13 were coming off injury.
Those 13 players were (in order): James Sheppard (SJS), Jonathan Drouin (TBL), Bo Horvat (VAN), Tyler Kennedy (SJS), Viktor Stalberg (NSH), Shea Theodore (ANA), Luke Gazdic (EDM), Bryan Allen (ANA), Kyle Palmieri (ANA), Stephen Weiss (DET), David Booth (TOR), Tom Sestito (VAN) and Cody Goloubef (CBJ).
Stephen Weiss’ original loan came on October 30th after appearing in just one Red Wings’ game over the first month of the season. Weiss is in the second year of a 5-year deal that carries a $4.9M cap hit per season. He also has a no-move clause, so his agreeing to a conditioning loan certainly couldn’t have been construed as CBA circumvention.
However, on November 25th, Carolina sent 25-year old forward Chris Terry to AHL-Manchester on a maximum 14-day conditioning loan. Terry had appeared in 17 of the Hurricanes games to that point, but had also been a healthy scratch in 3 of 7 Carolina games leading up to the loan. Terry is on a two-way deal that pays $600k in the NHL and half that in the AHL. Terry, like Morin, is also not waiver-exempt. [All contract info, as always, is derived from CapGeek.com]
Terry is a career minor leaguer with minimal experience at the NHL level. There’s probably a very limited market for him on waivers, but it’s not impossible to think he could get claimed.
Los Angeles Kings sent forward Andy Andreoff on a conditioning assignment on December 6th. Andreoff hadn’t played since October 31st. The Kings are avoiding waivers by designating Andreoff as a conditioning loan, but his contract is a two-way deal. According to CapGeek.com, Andreoff’s AHL pay rate is $60,000 as opposed to his $550,000 in the NHL. I don’t know if there’s a market for Andreoff. It’s very likely he’d clear waivers. So LA is probably doing him a great favor by paying him his NHL money to get in game shape in the minors for a week or so.
The Morin situation is obviously different than Andreoff’s or even Terry’s. And it’s certainly different than Weiss’ since Weiss has a NMC. Morin is a known commodity with a legitimate upside that Bowman wants a return for if he is forced to move the player, which seems inevitable now.
No matter how obvious Morin’s conditioning loan looks on the surface, and it’s pretty apparent the Hawks are in a jam roster-wise and are trying what they can to avoid putting Morin on waivers for the time being in hopes of working out a trade to get an asset or two in return, if the Commissioner’s office was blind to Terry’s “conditioning” assignment, they wouldn’t be expected to investigate Morin’s.
Terry was recalled by Carolina after 5 games and 12 days in the AHL.
There are examples of players getting “conditioning” stints only to be traded days later. Brian McGrattan comes to mind. He was with Nashville at the time and moved to Calgary.
The league’s mindset on this is apparently if the player approves it, then they don’t think it’s a big deal, even if it’s circumventing the spirit of the waiver process. Morin, as in the case of Chris Terry, still gets his NHL pay while he skates in the minors and the NHL club can’t use that roster spot over the span of the loan.
The NHL has denied conditioning loans in the past, more notably Buffalo’s attempt to send Mikhail Grigorenko (19 at the time) to Rochester (AHL) in November of 2013, who Buffalo was claiming had a minor injury he was recovering from. The AHL has an agreement with the CHL, the governing body that oversees major junior hockey in Canada, that prohibits CHL players drafted by NHL teams from playing in the AHL before they turn 20, unless they’ve already completed four CHL seasons.
The NHL did approve conditioning assignments of Jonathan Drouin, Bo Horvat and Shea Theodore this season, all 19. But they had legitimate injuries. Theodore was returned to his junior team after 12 days in the AHL, which looks a little fishy. Drouin and Horvat have stuck on their NHL club’s rosters.
As an aside, a technicality allowed Jeremy Morin to play in the NHL at age 19 despite playing for the Kitchener Rangers as an 18-year old and being drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers. Morin was officially drafted from the US Developmental program, though he had committed prior to his draft to forgo college and play for Kitchener the following (2009-10) season. After the Hawks acquired Morin in June of 2010, they petitioned the NHL to rule in their favor and allow Morin to play in Rockford as a 19-year old. If you don’t recall, Morin and Nick Leddy started at the same time with the Hawks. Leddy left college after one year and played as a 19-year old in Rockford. Leddy was called up to the Hawks after a few months and Morin’s season was cut short by a nasty concussion suffered that January 15th in a game at Allstate Arena in Rosemont on a big open ice hip check from Wolves’ defensemen, at the time, Andrey Zubarev.
One of primary teams said to be interested in Morin are the Toronto Maple Leafs. Steve Spott, an assistant hired by Brendan Shanahan this past summer, was Morin’s coach in Kitchener.
ROCKFORD INJURY UPDATE
Mark McNeill got the cast off his foot last week and while still officially being listed by the team as “day-to-day” will not play tonight in Milwaukee tonight. Ted Dent said on Monday that McNeill may practice with the team this week.
This injury has been a weird one. There have been varied stories on McNeill’s status since he was injured blocking a shot on November 15th in Milwaukee.
Internally, the initial word on McNeill’s injury was a two-week healing process for him to get him back into the lineup. Then, after a week, McNeill’s right foot was suddenly in a cast. So, either McNeill injured himself worse, suffered a separate injury after the original injury, or he was misdiagnosed. He just began walking on the foot last week and was to skate on his own at least this week.
One source was telling us last week that McNeill was still 2-3 weeks away, so that, paired with this week’s update that backs that up would have McNeill returning to the lineup possibly Dec 16 in Iowa, but more likely Dec 20-21 in Oklahoma City.
Why the team insisted on telling the media McNeill was “day-to-day” when his foot was in a cast and he wouldn’t be able to skate for another two weeks is another reasonable question.
Stephen Johns (upper) is also day-to-day still but is said to be closer to a return than Johns. This is thought to be a head injury but that’s unconfirmed. Johns suffered the injury on a high hit from Stephane Veilleux of Iowa in a game on Nov 26 in Rockford.
There are no other injuries currently to report on the Rockford side, per a team spokesperson today.
ICEHOGS BEGIN 6-GAME ROADIE
Rockford is in Milwaukee tonight to face off with the Admirals at 7pm at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Milwaukee has lost five straight (0-3-0-2) and have dropped 8 points back of the IceHogs in the process. So, tonight’s a nice opportunity for Rockford to increase that distance between them and a Milwaukee team that has given the IceHogs fits this year.
The IceHogs begin a 6-game road trip tonight. Rockford travels to Cleveland tomorrow for a Friday-Saturday set with the Lake Erie Monsters at Quicken Loans Arena. IceHogs then visit Iowa on Dec 16 and Oklahoma City on Dec 20 & 21st ahead of the Christmas break. Rockford next home game comes on Friday December 26th against Iowa.
ROCKFORD BENCH NEWS
–IceHogs assistant coach Mark Osiecki will be taking a leave of absence from the team beginning on December 14. Osiecki is the head coach of this year’s United States World Junior (Under-20) team. The tournament this year will be held from December 26 to January 5, 2015 in Toronto and Montreal, at the Air Canada Centre and Bell Centre respectively.
Barry Smith, the Blackhawks’ head of player development, will fill the assistant’s role in Osiecki’s absence. Yanic Perreault will also have more of a presence as well. Perreault ran the forwards on the IceHogs’ bench on November 28th in Rockford when Ted Dent was serving a one-game suspension he received from his involvement in an incident on November 26th versus Iowa.
The U.S. team opens up against Finland on December 26th at 2pm central in Montreal. Coincidentally, that night is Rockford’s next home game.
Osiecki’s team will then play Germany on Sunday Dec 28 and then Slovakia on Dec 29th. All four of the United States team’s preliminary round games will be held at Bell Centre in Montreal.
The big Canada-United States game comes on New Year’s Eve at 3pm central. That wraps up the preliminary round. January 1st is an off day. January 2nd are the quarter-finals, January 4th the semi-final games and Monday January 5th at 7pm central will be the Gold Medal game. The Bronze Medal game is January 5th at 3pm. All semi-final and medal games will be in Toronto.
Osiecki will then re-join the IceHogs. Rockford’s first game after the World Under-20 tournament concludes is January 8th in Milwaukee. A rematch of those two teams takes place the next night in Rockford.
—Mathieu Brisebois was re-assigned to Rockford by the Blackhawks on Tuesday. The defenseman spent time with Rockford last year after being acquired from Phoenix in the David Rundblad trade.
Brisebois has appeared in all 20 games for the Indy Fuel this season. He leads all defensemen on the team in points (2g 10a) but his minus-18 is also far and away the worst on the team.
In conjunction with the Brisebois move, the Blackhawks reassigned Dillon Fournier to Indy. Rockford also sent Jamie Wise (AHL contract) back to Indy. Both Fournier and Wise each appeared in two games during the two week IceHogs’ call up. Wise tallied his first AHL goal in his first game on November 28th against the Chicago Wolves. Fournier notched his first AHL assist in that game as well.
–Former IceHogs forward, Byron Froese signed a PTO with the Toronto Marlies on Tuesday. This is essentially a loan agreement worked out between the Marlies and Froese’s ECHL team, the Cincinnati Cyclones.
Froese is Cincinnati’s leading scorer with 8 goals and 16 assists in 17 games this season.
Froese does not currently have an affiliation to an NHL team, and was only under contract to Cincinnati, thus leaving him a free agent. The Cyclones have no affiliation agreement with Toronto. Cincinatti’s NHL affiliation is to the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers. They do have an AHL connection to San Antonio (Panthers) but not to Milwaukee (Predators). Instead, Cincinnati has a second AHL affiliation to the Norfolk Admirals (Ducks).
Froese, 23, was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2009 but he was unable to produce much offensively during his time in Rockford.
David Pacan, another former Blackhawks’ draft pick, is playing for Cincinnati (2g 4a, 10gp). And also Shayne Taker, a 6-4 defenseman and Vancouver native, in his first pro season after graduating from Notre Dame where he was teammates with Stephen Johns. Taker has also participated in Blackhawks’ prospect camps in recent years.