The Dallas Stars dealt their captain, veteran winger Brenden Morrow, and a third round pick in the 2013 draft to the Pittsburgh Penguins for defense prospect Joe Morrow and a fifth rounder in 2013. Yes, a Morrow-for-Morrow trade. You won't see that too often!
Dallas Stars receive D Joe Morrow
Joe Morrow was a first round pick by Pittsburgh in 2011, selected 23rd overall. He was a dynamic player in the WHL in 2010-11 and 2011-12, being named a first team All Star in 2011-12. Morrow's strength is his offensive game; he is a high-end skater and puck-mover with a bomb of a shot. He has all the tools to be a top three defenseman, and if he were to truly hit his peak, a top pairing defenseman. At this time last year, I would have said that such a projection would have above-average risk attached to it, and this season is evidence why. Morrow has 15 points in 57 AHL games in his rookie pro season, not exactly typical numbers for a stud offensive defenseman. He has struggled with the physical and defensive aspects of the game to the point where his ice time is not that high. He hasn't received penalty killing time or any tough defensive minutes.
Even with his struggles in mind, he is still a top 100 prospect in hockey, but once the new draft class comes in, it will be in the 60-100 range as opposed to the #35 ranking I gave him this summer. He becomes one of Dallas' best prospects along with winger Brett Ritchie and center Radek Faksa. With how well young defensemen Jamieson Oleksiak and Brenden Dillon have looked in the pro ranks, Dallas can afford to be patient with Morrow and let him work out the kinks in his game.
Pittsburgh Penguins receive LW Brenden Morrow
Pittsburgh's forward core is, not surprisingly, a top-heavy one. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are obviously the spearheads, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, and James Neal the next tier, and Brandon Sutter provides fine defensive value but not much offense. Then you have a talented but still developing Beau Bennett to go along with the likes of Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke. There is clearly a significant a dropoff after the first four or five forwards, an above-average amount relative to other contenders, which is the reality of a cap world when you have multiple superstars on your team. Adding even an average forward could help stabilize the depth and provide insurance in injury scenarios. Brenden Morrow is arguably that average forward.
Morrow's game has taken a steep decline from his peak. I don't think you would find many people who would dispute that. So the question is what kind of value does he have right now, considering his contract expires at the end of this season. Probably due somewhat to a lack of options, Morrow has faced tough competition for Dallas the last two seasons (the third-toughest competition in both 2011-12 and 2012-13 among regular Dallas forwards) and gotten below-average results possession wise. Of course, he gets a lot of value in his game from his above-average shooting. Morrow is a career 15.6% shooter, a player who should be able to finish the many chances created by Crosby or Malkin. In his 13 seasons, he has only shot below 10.0% once. That said, his shooting percentage is over 19.0% though this season, an unsustainable mark in all likelihood. So for a player whose ability to create quantity of shots is already declining, you don't want to be staring regression in the eye in terms of his finishing.
The once top-end skilled power forward can't play at a high enough pace to take on the kind of tough minutes he has faced this season and succeed, but it's a plausible argument he can do fairly well in easier minutes. Unfortunately, he does not provide a whole lot of defensive or penalty killing value, which would have been nice for a contender who has leaned on their goal scoring to win games. Pittsburgh are nearly 30 goals above the league average, while being just three goals against better than average despite getting league-average goaltending (their previously poor goaltending has been on a great run as of late).
Joe Morrow isn't a perfect prospect. He isn't a blue chip youngster you have confidence will become a top-end player in a NHL lineup. He has holes in his game, and is a player Dallas will have to work with. That said, he is still a very good prospect with the kind of potential you can't obtain every day. In terms of total value, Dallas clearly got the edge in this deal. Brenden Morrow can probably only be argued in an optimistic case to be an average NHL forward on a good team when put in the right environment, and I'm probably stretching it there. He is 34 years of age and on an expiring contract.
Pittsburgh has a lot of defensive depth in their system, and prior to the trade were a clear top 10 farm system. They aren't going to be massively scathed by this deal on a prospect level. They have other high quality defense prospects such as amateurs Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, and Scott Harrington and pro players like Brian Dumoulin and Simon Despres. All of these players are arguably as good prospects as Joe Morrow, or even better, depending who you ask.
Pittsburgh paid a premium in terms of young, potential future value, leveraging one of the deepest groups of young defensemen in the league, to try to fill a hole in their lineup in the short term. Dallas is currently a below-average NHL team, on the playoff bubble with no realistic aspirations of a Stanley Cup any time soon. They got the most value of this deal, putting themselves another step forward in the right direction for their franchise.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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