It was a forgettable season for oft-injured Dallas Stars Captain Brenden Morrow. With just 26 points in 57 games, it was the lowest points per game pace of his NHL career, and it came at a bad time for a team that lacked scoring depth in the wake of Brad Richards' departure last summer.
"I'll wipe this one clean and start fresh next year," said Morrow Wednesday in Frisco.
With the exception of his torn ACL in 2008, the Stars have had the luxury of a very healthy Captain (82 games, 76 games, 82 games) in recent years, but Morrow missed 25 this season with neck, knee and back problems and was somewhat ineffective in the vast majority of the games he did play. He returned to skate in the final 14 down the stretch but wasn't quite himself yet.
"The back didn't seem to really be a problem," said Morrow of his return the last several weeks of the season. "It was more the disk and the neck that were bothersome. The good news is that every doctor I saw, 3 or 4 of them, all had the same opinion: The neck isn't going to be a problem. It just needs some rest, and [I'll] settle those disks down before I get started for another grind."
In other words, he will not need surgery, and the Stars will be able to factor him with certainty into their off-season plans.
Morrow has one year left on his contract at a $4.1 million cap hit and is optimistic that he can put these struggles behind him as he prepares for his 13th NHL season.
"I'm actually comfortable saying that how much better I felt the last two weeks of the season compared to what I was dealing with before...I don't think health is going to be an issue."
After the jump- The difficulty with trying to evaluate Morrow's fragmented season, his plan for managing his situation going forward, and how much can be counted upon for next year as Joe Nieuwednyk puts his off-season plan into motion?
If you're Joe Nieuwendyk, how do you evaluate Morrow's season? The only time that he spent on the roster feeling fairly healthy he was relegated to fourth line minutes while he got his timing back, with a little bit of power play time thrown in to no avail (his or the team's). Morrow scored 3 goals and 1 assist in those 14 games in March/April, took just 16 shots and finished with a -1 rating in that time.
His ice time before and surrounding numerous mid-season extended absences was marked with pain and injury, and he certainly does not want to be judged by those periods either.
"Right from the start of the year, the first exhibition game in Montreal with that first knee injury, it added up and added up."
Nieuwendyk says the Brenden we knew is recoverable, even if he wasn't all the way back toward the end of the year.
"I think we saw at the end of the season he was a lot closer to the Brenden we know. So I think we work hard, and we get him healthy, and then we move on from there. He's a very valuable part of this organization."
The trick for Morrow, and countless other players who make their mark in this league playing a physical, grinding style, is figuring out how to stay effective when that relentless physicality starts taking a toll on his body as it is now. He makes a living in this league scoring goals within 12 feet of the net, and one must pay to visit those areas. He'll have to maximize the value of his dwindling number of physical confrontations going forward, making sure the ones he must endure are in exchange for quality offensive opportunities. (Which is a round-about way of saying "play smarter, not harder")
"I think I've already kind of been leaning that direction in the last few years," Morrow said of making his game less physical as he moved forward. "I don't think your instincts are ever going to change and you're still going to finish checks where your instincts tell you to. But I don't think I'm as physical or running around with the aggression I did when I was 20."
Morrow told the media Wednesday that he has some options on how to manage things this off-season, and that getting away from the injections he's been getting for years now could make them more effective down the line if he's able to supplement with something else. He mentioned protein injections as a possible alternative.
When asked what he needs to do different going forward, he said "Pretty much everything. Completely different. Rest is probably the first thing, then get a couple of opinions of what's best."
He doesn't need to change the way he trains forever, however, if he can just get his issues settled down over the next three to four weeks before he starts training again, he said.
"I'll take care of the bothersome parts [presumably the disk in his neck] and heal those up and then I'm going to go back to training the way I had in the past and use the same trainer I had in the past. It's what I'm comfortable with."
A 50 point, 25-30 goal Brenden Morrow might have put the Stars where they wanted to be this season. That player was certainly an integral part of Joe Nieuwendyk's plan for the 2011-2012 year and his roster construction last off-season. An 11 goal, in constant-pain, oft-injured Morrow gave rise to some of the lack of scoring balance in this team's top six that plagued them for the duration. It's up to Joe Nieuwendyk now to figure out what he can count on from his captain next year and plan accordingly.
"I'd love to be a part of the solution next year," Morrow said earlier in the week, "and hopefully management agrees."