NHL: Penguins make second trade to bolster defense
PITTSBURGH — Brenden Morrow needed a compelling reason to waive his no-trade clause and leave the Dallas Stars after 14 years.
Still, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero didn’t want to risk it. His pitch to the veteran forward went something like this: you get a chance to revive your career. You get to play alongside the reigning NHL MVP. Oh, and then there’s the opportunity to make a serious run at your first Stanley Cup.
Morrow joined the Penguins on Monday, leaving behind his wife and three children and the only NHL team he’s ever known for the chance to raise the Cup while playing for one of hockey’s most talented teams.
“I’m looking forward to a new challenge and see if I get a boost from a
new team, which I’m sure I’m going to get with the skill this team has,” Morrow said.
And then, a day after acquiring Morrow in exchange for defensive prospect Joe Morrow, the Penguins traded a pair of draft picks to San Jose for hulking defenseman Doug Murray. Adding Morrow and Murray gives the Penguins depth, size and experience, all key ingredients to a postseason run.
“We have a good mix of young guys, skilled players and grit,” Shero said.
It could be potent for a team that sits atop the Eastern Conference and has ripped off 12 straight wins entering tonight’s game with Montreal. And it hasn’t just all been Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins have suddenly blossomed from irresponsible to confident on defense. Pittsburgh has allowed just nine goals in the last eight games of its run, the fewest allowed in the NHL over that span.
Don’t expect those numbers to go up with Morrow creating havoc on both ends of the ice. Though he’s scored 243 career goals and racked up 528 career points he’s become more of a two-way player late in his career. The 34-year-old had just six goals and five assists in 29 games with Dallas this season, a downturn due in part to his demotion to the fourth line.
That won’t be the case in Pittsburgh, where Morrow will work alongside Malkin and former Stars teammate James Neal.
“He’ll do anything to win,” Neal said of Morrow. “He’s got a good shot, he knows how to work around the net and do a lot of damage on rebounds. He does a lot of little things.”
Morrow admitted it was a little strange to wake up in Dallas on Monday morning, kiss his wife and children goodbye and board a plane bound for Pittsburgh. The Dallas captain knew the rebuilding Stars were looking to move him, but seeing his name on a placard in the Penguins dressing room could take some getting used to.
In a way, Morrow’s decline in ice time in Dallas may have helped. He said he feels fresh heading into the final six weeks of the regular season and is eager to fit in. Morrow understands he’ll no longer be looked to as a leader in the dressing room, and has no problem with the arrangement.
“Sid, this is his team,” Morrow said. “No question there. I’m not taking anything away from him. He’s the best player in the world. I’m going to be a piece of the puzzle, not step on any toes. I think there’s a reason they saw a fit with me here.”
The same goes for Murray. The massive 6-foot-3, 245-pound defenseman gives Pittsburgh’s blue line the physical presence it will need when the playoffs begin. Murray is adept at clearing space in front of his own net and penalty killing. He will arrive in town today and is expected to join the Penguins for practice on Wednesday.
Like Morrow, it will be a bit of an adjustment for Murray. The 33-year-old spent his entire career in San Jose after breaking in during the 2005-06 season. He’s not a scorer — just six goals in 451 career games — and he doesn’t have to be. The Penguins have plenty of guys who can light the lamp. What Murray provides is muscle to keep opponents from doing the same.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said Pittsburgh aggressively pursued Murray and paid full value for the potential unrestricted free agent just over a week before the trade deadline.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Murray has three assists in 29 games for the Sharks this season and has gone 138 regular season games without a goal. He has played the second most short-handed time on a penalty kill unit that has been one of the team’s few bright spots.
A little defense could carry the Penguins a long way, perhaps all the way to the franchise’s fourth Cup. By acting so proactively before the April 3 trading deadline, Shero has given Morrow and Murray time to find themselves and build chemistry with their new teammates.
Morrow, for one, knows this could be his last, best chance to etching his name on hockey’s holy grail. No need to remind him of what’s at stake. It’s why he came here.
“I just don’t want to screw it up,” Morrow said with a laugh. “They’re going pretty good.”