The trade of Brenden Morrow came somewhat out of nowhere. The rumors have been out there for a little while, and the expectation has been that he wouldn't be coming back next season. Still though, it's weird to see Joe Nieuwendyk pull the trigger on the move.
Morrow has meant a lot to the franchise. He has been a leader on and off the ice. He has participated in some big moments for the franchise. At his best he was a good second liner on a good team. Injuries and age have taken their toll over the past couple of seasons though. The player the Stars dealt yesterday isn't the player most fans think of when they think of Brenden Morrow.
The player the Stars dealt began this season as a fourth liner, briefly played on the top line, and lately has settled in with the third line. This season the Stars have been using Morrow in higher leverage situations than in the recent past due to the acquisitions of Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. He hasn't been excelling in that role, but he hasn't gotten killed either. He's been a third liner.
That fact is why the return is shocking. The Stars were able to trade a present day third liner who is several months away from unrestricted free agency for a high ceiling defensive prospect to help further push the rebuild along. If I had to guess about the return before deal was made my guess would have been a third round pick on the strength of Morrow being a name guy.
The initial reaction to the trade seemed to be one of shock that the Penguins would deal Joe Morrow for Brenden. That quickly changed to questioning Nieuwendyk for including a swap of picks in the deal, and in some cases ridiculing the move. Nieuwendyk is certainly not above reproach, but the addition of a minor pick swap to acquire a player who otherwise seemed out of reach is a coup.
The move immediately impacts the NHL roster even if the Stars do end up sending Morrow to the AHL. When Aaron Rome comes off of the IR the Stars will have nine defenders. The easy fix is to send two of Jordie Benn, Jamie Oleksiak, or Morrow to the AHL, but time will tell how that plays out. Given the time of the year, a trade to open up roster space doesn't seem out of the question either.
Up front the Morrow move theoretically opens up opportunities for more young players to join the lineup. Matt Fraser looked really good skating with Reilly Smith and Cody Eakin in the spot Morrow occupied leading up to the trade. Tomas Vincour could be in line for more time. The move also opens the possibility that some of these same younger players could see more time on the power play.
If you had any doubt about the direction of the franchise going forward it would be safe to let those doubts leave your mind now. The roster is going to continue to churn, and players who aren't going to be here at least next season are going to either be moved or discussed heavily over the next week. Derek Roy, Stephane Robidas, and (to a lesser extent) Jagr are on notice.
Ultimately the move signals yet again that the Stars we have known are gone. On some level it's sad, but on another level they've been so mediocre for so long that I'm barely fazed by the move. The franchise has needed to make these changes for several years, and part of me thinks "it's about time".
The other part of me is happy for Morrow. He gets another chance to play for a Stanley Cup. He has been a warrior, fought through some awful years lately, and been worn down to a fraction of the player he once was. Good for him.
He will unquestionably be missed in the locker room, but the Stars added a piece with a significant ceiling to the rebuilding effort yesterday for a player out of their long term plans. That is nothing short of a coup for the Stars whether it works out long term or not.