Brenden Morrow, captain of the Dallas Stars and mainstay on this team since 2000, is enduring a turning point in his career. At 33 years old, the power forward is not nearly what he used to be and years of intensely physical play has led to some nagging injuries that now has Morrow sidelined for at least the next few weeks.
Over the past few years, the struggles of the Stars with consistency and confidence has created apathy by fans towards Morrow -- who at one point was the fan favorite on this team. Fans remember how he dragged the Stars to the Western Conference Finals in 2008 and the power he has to influence and inspire his team with big goals and physical play. They remember this, they see Morrow no longer having that same effect on the team, and for some -- it's time for the Dallas Stars to move on.
The trade talk has been prevalent for the past few years, at least, with the Stars struggling to make the playoffs after that magical run in 2008 and much of the blame laid at the feet of the captain. We see the team fighting with consistency and a lack of confidence, and it gets mistaken for a lack of passion or energy (more on this later today). With the apparent drop in overall effectiveness of leadership, we jump to the conclusion that Morrow must be jettisoned and a new captain named -- for the good of the team.
It doesn't help matters that Morrow's name is mentioned time and again in trade rumor discussion, as teams with Cup aspirations would obviously love a player of his ability and character. They remember that playoff run in 2008 and they see what he can do in big games, and Morrow is suddenly the missing link on a team hopeful to win the Cup. Those rumors are even more widespread this season, with Morrow struggling more than ever before the signal to noise ratio is increasing rapidly.
Logic tells us, of course, that Morow won't be traded. Logic also tells us that when attempting to quantify on-ice issues, sometimes we can jump to conclusions much too quickly.
Let's address the possibilities of a trade actually happening first.
Morrow's name has been mentioned several times over the past few weeks, with fuel being added to the fire with a vague article by Bob McKenzie stating that Morrow "could be, possibly, maybe" traded by the Stars for the right price. Ignoring for a second that for the right price any player is available (Benn for Malkin, anyone?), the concept of trading Morrow to a contending team is really not exactly one that is unique or groundbreaking. The problem has been, especially in the past, that Morrow was the captain of this team and the Stars will still contenders for the postseason.
This season, of course, Morrow has been dealing with injuries that have severely limited his effectiveness. With just eight goals and 22 points in 43 games, the offense was lower than expected but it was every other aspect of his game that was concerning. The lack of physical impact on the forecheck, the inability to win puck battles and the incredibly high amount of minor penalties are worried fans that Morrow had completely fallen off a cliff.
Now we know that Morrow has been dealing with some tough injuries for much of this season, something he's been working through for nearly two years. A degenerative back injury has increasingly gotten worse and is responding less and less to treatment and this season it came crashing down, leading to a point where Morrow would struggle just to turn his head. It's no wonder he's appeared slower than normal on the ice and increasingly frustrated and the fact he tried to play through it speaks to just how competitive he really is.
These injury issues, more than anything, will prevent any sort of trade from happening. Morrow is gone for the next few weeks and unfortunately, there's no guarantee he returns this season. So, forgetting for a second that the no-trade clause would be an obstacle as well, the possibilities of a trade at this point are exceptionally low -- if not completely absent.
It's important to remember that Morrow is coming off a season in which he scored 33 gals (a career high) and was rolling right along at his career 15.8 shooting percentage. While the struggles of the team down the stretch were concerning, and the lack of execution in big games by the Stars is something we're seeing again this year at times, blaming all of the issues with this team on Morrow has been the easy way to help explain why the Stars aren't winning.
This has also led to the practice of attempting to quantify "heart" and "will" and "effort", with Morrow being the symbol for how those aspects of a team are now absent from the Stars. To be fair, there's also been talk about how Morrow is just breaking down physically and hence has lost his effectiveness, but there has been an exceptional amount of anger pointed towards Morrow as blame for the Stars struggles is levied.
This is a good example of the slippery slope of trying to analyze on-ice performance by quantifying intangibles such as "heart". Brenden Morrow is a guy who was named Captain because of his "heart" and his lead-by-example ways and with those aspects of his game breaking down this season, some wondered whether it was his "heart" that was now gone and for that reason alone deserved to be traded -- since he was obviously the issue.
Knowing what we do now about his injuries put's a different light on his on-ice issues. While we'd hope that Morrow would have been more forthcoming about how the neck and back injuries were affecting his play, at the same time it's that competitive drive and leadership that was keeping him on the ice -- fighting through the pain. There's also the fact that Morrow is a guy who leads through example and without being to adequately set that example like we're used to seeing, it's easy to say that leadership has gone away.
Jumping to conclusions is never the right path to take, especially in sports. It's easy to blame off ice or "heart" for struggles during the games, but sometimes it's much more than that -- something we can't see. These players are human and while there will always be issues with players losing their drive to play as hard, the way we sometimes jump to that conclusion is unfair to us as fans and unfair to the players. Sometimes it might be justified, but we'll likely never know.
Brenden Morrow won't be traded and if he were healthy, it's likely the Stars wouldn't be in the situation they're in now and we wouldn't want to trade him anyway. The struggles now have a valid reason behind them and the hope is that Morrow is able to heal, perhaps have surgery, and return fully healthy and ready to continue to be the hard working player we all love.