Well, this weekend was pretty eventful, wasn’t it?
While the sheer quantity of games (20 over three days) was actually a little lower than this jam-packed season usually trots out between Friday and Sunday, the quality of storylines more than made up for that.
The two biggest storylines sprouted up on Sunday as the Tampa Bay Lightning canned head coach Guy Boucher and the Dallas Stars sent aging captain Brenden Morrow (plus a third-round pick) to the Pittsburgh Penguins for prospect Joe Morrow (no relation) and a fifth-rounder.
Naturally, it’s purely speculative to guess what happens next for the Penguins/Morrow and the Lightning sans Boucher, but that’s kind of what we do here. So let’s get cracking.
MUST RESIST SHAKESPEARE MORROW PUN
Sifting through the trade reactions on Twitter and via other venues really provided an interesting perspective regarding how people react to all sorts of news. To be more direct: it showed how flippant or out-of-date opinions can really be.
From the latter category, observe an anonymous scout’s quote in CSNNE.com’s story about the Boston Bruins’ attempt to land Morrow:
“He was a warrior during Dallas’ Cup back in 2000, and he carried the Stars during that playoff run in 2008 when was close to a point-per-game in the postseason."
I’m guessing that scout meant the Stars’ 4-2 series defeat to the New Jersey Devils in 2000, but even ignoring more nitpicky quibbles, that quote represents one side of the Morrow coin: nostalgic types who ignore the fact that athletes tend to age in dog years (or like the President of the United States in some cases). Rest assured that Morrow is a different player at 34 than he was at 29 or 21.
ALL ABOUT EXPECTATIONS
Of course, one can also over-correct in the other direction. In judging a trade, people often expect a home run when it’s possible that a team was hitting with accuracy rather than power. The Penguins likely realize that Morrow’s an old 34 - he’s been playing a very physical brand of hockey at the NHL level since age 21 - but they might just want a guy who can score ugly goals for them and occasionally mimic what Bill Guerin (another former Star) did for them in his final NHL run.
Honestly, my feeling is that Morrow is quite close to “done” as a difference-making player.
However, the funny thing about his situation - both before and after the trade - is that he’s presented with a good chance to maximize his potential with outstanding linemates. His most frequent combos with the Stars were Jamie Benn and Jaromir Jagr followed by Derek Roy and Erik Cole.
With those golden opportunities, he still only managed 11 points in 29 games this season. He was also limited to just 26 in 57 games last season.
AN OLD 34
There seem to be two basic scenarios for Morrow once Evgeni Malkin’s healthy enough to return: the gritty winger might get a plum job alongside Geno and James Neal in the top six or he’ll get stuck in the third line (or worse).
In a way, that parallels his experiences with Dallas this season, yet the ceiling has been raised substantially. That’s true especially because he’s in a contract year; it’s easy to forget that - on paper - he’s not that old at 34. Sure, it’s a 34 like Kobe Bryant is 34, but still.
Long story summarized: you could do worse than gambling on Morrow. Just don’t be surprised if he just makes a minimal impact.
Regardless, I’d be delighted if we stop referring to millionaire athletes as “warriors.” Let’s stick with “tough” or “gritty.” The sports-war analogies peaked with the term “blitz.”
THE FALL GUY
Three years ago, it seemed like the Tampa Bay Lightning had the potential to be The Team of the Future. They had Canadian hero Steve Yzerman as their GM on the heels of his apprenticeship in Detroit. Yzerman landed hot AHL coach of the month Guy Boucher (who even has super cool and semi-foreboding facial scars!). Combine those factors with Steve Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier* and a laughably bad division and it seemed as if a new contender was being birthed.
For a year, it looked really good, too. Unfortunately, people always want more - I blame Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” ads,** personally - and that set the deck for failure for Boucher.
Is it really Boucher’s fault? Probably not. While improved, the team’s defense isn’t exactly brimming with the kind of guys you’d build a dynasty around. Goaltending can be a chicken-and-the-egg thing when significantly great or awful defenses are involved, but one way or another, the Lightning’s netminders have been bad for years.
(Actually, it’s probably easier just to chart the spurts of success rather than counting every failure.)
The more important question is: how will this affect the team, fantasy-wise? Personally, on the offensive side, you have to hope that the Lightning’s outstanding power play doesn’t get dinged too badly by Boucher’s departure. Maybe Tampa Bay will benefit from a taskmaster-type on defense, because Boucher’s obvious downfall was not finding a way to plug the team’s many leaks.
I’m not too thrilled about the prospects of a big turnaround. At least this season, that is.
Jump for more from around the NHL.
* - Honestly, I kind of feel obliged to include Vinny even if he’s enormously overpaid.
** - OK, “Manifest Destiny” is the real term to admonish, but hamburgers are more fun to talk about than imperialism. Most of the time.