Thursday, September 16, 2010

Morrison as a Fourth-Line Centre?

So the news has spread that Brendan Morrison will be attending Canucks training camp on a PTO (Professional Tryout). He claims it's to actually make the team and earn a contract, rather than simply to showcase his skills throughout the pre-season for the rest of the NHL. The problem is, where does he think he fits into the Canucks lineup?

Morrison is a natural centre who is decent at faceoffs and is still a functional playmaker at this point in his career. He put up 42 points as a third-line centre for the Capitals last season, the majority of them assists. While he's lost a step in his skating stride since the West Coast Express days, he can still skate.

The problem is, the top 3 lines are all set at centre: Henrik, Kesler, and new-arrival Malhotra aren't going to budge (though Malhotra indicated he might move to the wing if someone like Hodgson or Schroeder stepped into the lineup). The only vacant spot at centre is on the fourth-line.

Harrison wrote a post last month detailing the possible fourth-line centres currently in the Canucks system and it's admittedly not the most awe-inspiring list. But, quite frankly, they're all better suited for the job than Brendan Morrison. On a tertiary scoring line, Morrison fits. On a fourth-line that plays under 10 minutes a night, is expected to bang and crash, and might slot into penalty killing duty, Morrison doesn't come even close to fitting. Morrison doesn't hit often enough (he had 33 hits last season), doesn't kill penalties (he averaged a whopping 34 seconds of shorthanded ice-time per game last season), and he obviously doesn't fight. He's a playmaker who would have no one to pass to (a situation Kyle Wellwood faced constantly). His skills would be wasted and his role would require skills that he simply doesn't have.

So Morrison, the natural centre, doesn't fit at centre for the Canucks this season. And while he did some spot duty on the wing in Dallas, it's not an ideal fit. Still, with Burrows out to start the season and Hodgson questionable to be ready for training camp, Morrison has the opportunity to prove that he can fit on the wing for the third line or possibly slot into a top-six spot until Burrows returns from his injury. He will need to out-perform the youngsters, particularly Jordan "The Return of Cliff Ronning" Schroeder and Sergei "Remember Me?" Shirokov, with Cody "Seriously, Stop Asking Me About My Back" Hodgson being the darkhorse if he's cleared to play in the pre-season.

The other hiccup is that the Canucks are currently at their max 50-contract limit, meaning they would need to make a trade or buyout a contract in order to sign Morrison or one of the standout training camp invitees like Matt Fraser or Pierre-Olivier Morin.

Let's face it: I, along with many other Canucks fans, love Brendan Morrison. The West Coast Express brought excitement back to Vancouver after the agony of the Mike Keenan/Mark Messier era, and Morrison was a hometown favorite. He's an amiable guy who plays through injuries and works hard at all aspects of the game. I'd love to see him return to the Canucks and finish off his career in Vancouver, but I don't want him to be the fourth-line centre. It's not a role that fits his skillset.

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