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On Saturday, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli announced the signing of puck-moving defenseman Derek Morris to a one-year, $3.3 million contract. The move comes immediately after the Bruins sent injury-prone Aaron Ward back to the Carolina Hurricanes for a fourth-round pick in the 2010-2011 NHL Entry Draft and Patrick Eaves, whose salary was instantly bought out.
Morris will don the spoked-B for his 13th season in the NHL, having spent his first 12 seasons playing for the Calgary Flames (where he played alongside current Bruins Marc Savard, Andrew Ference, Chuck Kobasew and Steve Begin), the Colorado Avalanche, the Phoenix Coyotes, and, most recently, the New York Rangers. The 30-year-old Edmonton, Alberta native, who averages over 20 minutes per game, has missed just seven games in the last three seasons, during which he scored 19 goals, tallied 51 assists, and compiled 238 PIM.
The former first-round pick of the Flames had his best season in 2002-2003, when he posted 11-37-48 totals. His numbers have decreased since being traded from the Avalanche to the Coyotes in the middle of the 2003-2004 season, but Chiarelli is confident in his most recent signing.
“We feel we’ve added a No. 2 defenseman to our mix,’’ general manager Peter Chiarelli said during a conference call yesterday. “We feel that we’ve improved and upgraded.’’
Going strictly by numbers, the move is indeed an improvement and upgrade. Morris notched 20 points in 75 games last season, compared to Ward, who was only about to play in 65 games, tallying 10 points. Furthermore, Morris brings a first pass puck-moving ability, which Ward was unable to contribute.
Morris, who was contacted by the Bruins on July 1, the first day of the free agency period, about coming to Boston, jumped at Chiarelli’s offer to play for an Original Six team he believes has a great chance to win the Stanley Cup in the next year.
“They showed interest right away,” Morris, who took a $600,000 pay cut, said of the Bruins. “That was kind of the way I was leaning to start with. Once I heard about the opportunity to play there, it was a no-brainer.”
The signing of Morris has unfortunately further complicated the situation with the still-unsigned restricted Phil Kessel, who is currently recovering from surgery. Taking into account Eaves’ buyout, the upgrade on defense will cost the Bruins just over $1.05 million, leaving approximately $1.3 million for Kessel, which is not enough to re-sign. Kessel, who is reportedly requesting $4 million per year, is entitled to 75% of last year’s salary ($2.2 million), which amounts to $1.65 million. As a result, the Bruins will have to make a trade in order to accommodate Kessel’s contract unless another team submits an offer sheet.
In a conference call, Chiarelli said that the defense was all settled up, which means a defenseman will not be traded. This leaves Patrice Bergeron, Chuck Kobasew, Marc Savard, and Marco Sturm, to be traded (for draft picks or minor league prospects), unless Kessel himself is trade (which would have to be done after the Bruins sign him). Since Bergeron, Savard, and Sturm all have no-trade clauses, Kobasew is the most likely option. However, Chiarelli stated that he was done making deals for the moment, meaning that he either has found no interested teams or is keeping quiet until a deal is finalized.
The addition of Morris is certainly an upgrade from Ward, no matter how much Ward was liked on and off the ice. The complications on the Kessel front are an unwelcome necessity. It is plausible that many teams are afraid of signing him after his surgery, meaning that he will be playing with the Bruins this season. As a result, the Bruins will have to trade Kobasew, unless Sturm agrees to waive his no-trade clause. Chiarelli has made some very intelligent moves this summer, but solving the Kessel scenario is still going to be a hurdle. Fortunately, the Bruins will end up with draft picks or prospects no matter how the deal works. Hopefully those prospects will be in addition to No. 81, not in the absence of him.