Josh Morrissey couldn't see himself playing anywhere else. And now the Winnipeg Jets have made sure that won't happen, locking up their top-pairing defenceman with an eight-year, $50-million extension.
The deal, announced Thursday will, beginning next season, pay Morrissey an average of $6.25 million annually through the 2027-28 campaign.
"There is always going to be a right fit for each guy. For me, obviously, I felt like it was a great fit. I love playing here. The term excited me. The fact that I get to have that stability, but to be here and playing in Winnipeg, from Day 1, it’s what I’ve always said that I wanted to do. To have that and the way it worked out, I’m really excited," Morrissey told reporters at Bell MTS Iceplex.
The 24-year-old from Calgary, taken with the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft, would have become a restricted free agent next July at the conclusion of his current two-year bridge deal, worth $3.15 million annually.
Morrissey is coming off a career-best 31 points (six goals, 25 assists) despite only playing 59 regular-season games last year due to a shoulder injury. He averaged a career-high 22:24 minutes per game and was expected to cash in, as he takes on an even bigger role this season after the departures of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot.
Trouba, his former partner on the Jets' top defensive pairing, just signed a long-term deal with the New York Rangers that will pay him $8 million a year.
But Morrissey and the Jets opted not to play the waiting game; the club and his agent began talking about a lengthy extension in June at the NHL Draft in Vancouver. The talks heated up over the past couple of weeks.
"Obviously, when you get into that last year before your deal is up, there is always potential to sign an extension. We had kind of talked through the summer and for both sides, if we were able to do something before camp or before the season started, we would look at that. But during the year, you want to be focusing on playing," Morrissey said.
"So, I’m really happy we were able to get to a point and get the deal done."
Although the annual average value stays the same each year, Morrissey will earn $8 million in the first two years and fourth year of the contract. He gets $5.2 million in the third year, $6.4 million in the fifth and $4.8 million in each of the last three seasons.
At first blush, it seems like a win for both sides. Morrissey gets a sizable, well-deserved pay hike and the long-term security that is clearly important to him with an organization he loves. And the feeling is mutual for the Jets, as they get their No. 1 guy locked up with a cap hit that won't exactly break the budget.
It's quite a change from a year ago, when he missed the first few days of training camp while contract talks continued.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Morrissey's situation was both unique and important.
"Obviously, lots of moving parts this summer with a lot of different things, like any summer. Josh was a big piece," said Cheveldayoff, who still does not have Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor under contract; the Jets open camp Friday.
"For us, this goes back to this time last year. We had, at that point in time, really expressed our desire to want to a long-term deal with Josh, but given our cap situation, he was able to see at that point we were only able to do a bridge to keep the group together and try to take a kick at the can last year with what we had.
"At that time we told him, we said, ‘It is our firm belief that we want to make you a long-term Jet and when we get that opportunity, we’re going to work hard at doing it."
Coach Paul Maurice will likely lean on Morrissey plenty this year, along with returning veteran Dustin Byfuglien. Other blue-liners in the mix include Dmitry Kulikov, newcomer Nathan Pionk, Nathan Beaulieu, Sami Niku, Tucker Poolman and Anthony Bitetto.
At six feet, 195 pounds, Morrissey is above average at everything he does on the ice; he's an excellent defender and penalty-killer, can move the puck effectively and help drive the offence — including on the power play — and is a fearless shot-blocker with a physical edge.
There are also obvious leadership qualities likely to land a letter on his chest before long. Cheveldayoff spent nearly as much time Thursday talking about the person as he did on the player.
"The Josh Morrissey off the ice is just a top-, top-notch person, always willing to give back to the community, always willing to do things for others on his team. We’re really, really excited to be able to announce this and have him as a long-term Jet," said Cheveldayoff.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Thursday, September 12, 2019 at 4:31 PM CDT: Writethru.