November 14, 2018

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No need to panic about Morrissey situation, former NHL executives say

There are just over two weeks left until training camp and the Winnipeg Jets still haven't signed top-pairing defenceman Josh Morrissey, one of their most important pieces.

Some fans may be fearing the worst, even if Morrissey himself told the Free Press just last week he expects a deal to get done in relative short order.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff have not offered any public comments, while leaks and rumours about talks with the restricted free agent have been virtually non-existent.

So, what really is happening here?

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There are just over two weeks left until training camp and the Winnipeg Jets still haven't signed top-pairing defenceman Josh Morrissey, one of their most important pieces.

Some fans may be fearing the worst, even if Morrissey himself told the Free Press just last week he expects a deal to get done in relative short order.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff have not offered any public comments, while leaks and rumours about talks with the restricted free agent have been virtually non-existent.

So, what really is happening here?

To help answer that we take you inside the Morrissey contract negotiations through the eyes of a pair of former NHL executives who have plenty of experience dealing with these issues.

A BUSY SUMMER SO FAR:

Here's what Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been up to since his club last took the ice in late May.

June 30: Traded G Steve Mason and F Joel Armia to Montreal in exchange for D Simon Bourque. Traded F Chase De Leo to Anaheim in exchange for F Nic Kerdiles.

July 1: Signed UFA G Laurent Brossoit. Signed UFA F Seth Griffith. Signed UFA F Dennis Everberg. Signed UFA D Cameron Schilling.

Here's what Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been up to since his club last took the ice in late May.

June 30: Traded G Steve Mason and F Joel Armia to Montreal in exchange for D Simon Bourque. Traded F Chase De Leo to Anaheim in exchange for F Nic Kerdiles.

July 1: Signed UFA G Laurent Brossoit. Signed UFA F Seth Griffith. Signed UFA F Dennis Everberg. Signed UFA D Cameron Schilling.

July 3: Signed F Skyler McKenzie to three-year entry-level deal.

July 12: Re-signed RFA G Connor Hellebuyck

July 19: Re-signed RFA F Adam Lowry

July 20: Went to arbitration with RFA D Jacob Trouba.

July 22: Re-signed RFA D Jacob Trouba following arbitrator's award. Re-signed RFA F Brandon Tanev

July 24: Re-signed RFA F Marko Dano and RFA D Tucker Poolman

Aug. 1: Re-signed RFA F Nic Petan

Aug. 21: Re-signed RFA F Nic Kerdiles

Aug. 26: Signed F Kristian Vesalainen to three-year entry-level deal.

AND SOME BUSY DAYS AHEAD:

Still has to sign RFA D Josh Morrissey, RFA F JC Lipon and RFA G Eric Comrie.

Sept. 7: Winnipeg Jets prospects participate in annual Young Stars Classic in Penticton, B.C.

Sept. 14: Full Winnipeg Jets training camp begins.

Sept. 15: Annual training camp Fan Fest at Iceplex.

Sept. 17: First pre-season game in Winnipeg.

Oct. 4: Jets open regular season in St. Louis.

Oct. 9: Jets home-opener vs. Los Angeles.

— Mike McIntyre

Former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button and former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM Bill Watters came to many of the same conclusions Tuesday; both believe there is currently no cause for alarm and that some kind of lengthy, hostile stalemate is not on the horizon.

"I'm not surprised at all," Button said of the fact a deal hasn't been struck yet. He's hearing many of the same things Free Press sources suggested last week, which is that Morrissey and his camp would prefer a short-term bridge deal, while the Jets are pushing for something much bigger.

In fact, Button suggested the terms of a two-year deal have probably already been agreed upon.

"I'm reasonably optimistic that there's a bridge deal that can be consummated right now. But the Jets are trying to find a way to get him long term," said Button.

"Winnipeg has been outstanding at being able to sign their players to long-term contracts coming out of entry-level. I think that's where the challenge becomes, and I think that's where they're at now."

Although Morrissey, 23, would be taking less money for the next couple of years on a bridge deal than he'd made if he signed a long-term contract, he'd potentially cash in down the road if his offensive numbers jump; he could find himself getting some power-play time, which would ratchet up his stats.

Right now, Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and, to a lesser extent, Jacob Trouba, get the bulk of blue-line work with the man advantage. And in the NHL, putting up points helps you get paid.

"Josh Morrissey thinks that, 'well, the security is nice,' but he's going to bet on himself to produce more points in the next two years coming out of a bridge deal," Button said.

"If you look at Josh and what he did in junior hockey, he produced points. Josh has every confidence in his ability to produce points. And he should. But confidence in doing it doesn't always translate into actual numbers."

Winnipeg Jets' Josh Morrissey has the ability to produce points according to former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button. Putting up points helps you get paid in the NHL.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/DARRYL DYCK

Winnipeg Jets' Josh Morrissey has the ability to produce points according to former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button. Putting up points helps you get paid in the NHL.

It would be a smart bet for Morrissey to make, Watters said, pointing to Myers status as a pending UFA next summer and Trouba's cloudy future in Winnipeg due to his own contract saga.

Morrissey had seven goals and 19 assists in 81 regular-season games last year after putting up six goals and 14 assists in 80 games in his rookie season.

"I have a bias. I love the way he plays. He's a unique talent, Watters said. "I'm not surprised that Josh Morrissey — having seen him play — wants to make big money.

"I would assume (his agent, Gerry Johannson) is fighting long term because it's not high enough to justify giving up that much free agency."

Questions that continue to swirl around Trouba's future only add to the urgency of getting Morrissey committed here for years to come as part of the core going forward, Watters said.

NEW "THIRD JERSEY" TO BE UNVEILED:

Click to Expand

The Jets are expected to unveil their new alternate jersey next month when they host a special event for season-ticket holders on Sept. 14 just as training camp gets underway.

Adidas took over production of all NHL team uniforms last season, which meant existing third jerseys (such as the one Winnipeg wore in the 2016 Heritage Classic) were shelved as clubs were initially limited to just their home and away sweaters.

But starting this year, teams are beginning to roll out alternate looks. More details will be released in the coming days.

— Mike McIntyre

"You better sign him long term," he said. "(Former Leafs GM) Cliff Fletcher used to tell me, 'Don't let the nickels and the dimes get in the way of signing your best players.'"

Watters said he thinks Morrissey could command somewhere north of $7 million per season on the open market. The six-foot, 195-pound left-shooting blue-liner from Calgary who was selected 13th overall in the 2013 NHL draft, is coming off an entry-level deal that paid him a total of $4.275 million, including salary and bonuses.

"If you can be happy with where you live and make the living that they're making, I wouldn't be fighting over the nickels and the dimes," said Watters, who also spoke highly of Morrissey's agent and the impact that may have.

"An agent does have a profound affect on the tone of the negotiations," he said. "I believe Gerry will work out a deal with Kevin Cheveldayoff that will be in the best interests of Josh Morrissey and, most importantly, in the best interest of the Winnipeg Jets hockey club. He's a classy guy and he'll make a deal that makes sense to Josh and makes sense to Kevin."

Based on their own experience in summer contract negotiations, Button and Watters said the talks have likely heated up this week after what was probably a period of relative silence.

"I would say right now, going into Labour Day weekend, you try to renew efforts to see what the potential is for a longer-term deal, knowing that you have a bridge deal to fall back on," Button said.

"You've given everyone a bit of time to breathe and think about things. Now you go back and evaluate where you could move, what makes sense, 'what are we comfortable with.'"

Watters said those discussions could involve other parties as well. For example, Morrissey's agent may be consulting with other agents, just as Cheveldayoff might be speaking with other executives in the league.

Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele signed a team-friendly long-term deal for US$6M per season. Had he held out for a bridge deal, he'd probably be earning closer to US$9M a year figures Button.

(AP PHOTO/MARK HUMPHREY)

Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele signed a team-friendly long-term deal for US$6M per season. Had he held out for a bridge deal, he'd probably be earning closer to US$9M a year figures Button.

There's also been a bit of a waiting game when it comes to a handful of other defenceman in similar circumstances. Edmonton's Darnell Nurse, Calgary's Noah Hanifin and Shea Theodore of the Golden Knights are also RFAs who have yet to sign on the dotted line.

"I think people are waiting for the shoe to drop on Hanifin and see where that ends up being long term," Button said. "The challenge for the player and the team is, the player wants to ensure he's not leaving anything on the table."

Button pointed to the Mark Scheifele long-term extension, which now looks like a steal at $6 million per season. Had the Jets No. 1 centre signed a bridge deal out of his entry-level contract, Button said he'd probably now be looking at $9 million per year.

And that's why players such as Morrissey are always cautious about getting "locked into a spot," he said. It's also why an organization such as the Jets would want to lock up its young talent as quickly as possible.

"I don't think its about backing down," he said. "You're trying to project and say 'we value you and here's where we're at.' You're also trying to get some certainties in your costs with regards to salaries."

And so, the talks will likely continue, at least for a few more hours, a few more days, maybe even a couple more weeks.

"If you look at the history of Kevin Cheveldayoff, for whom I have the utmost respect, this guy doesn't fold," Watters said. "I think Kevin is playing the game he's played all his life. He's pretty calm, cool and collected.

"And patience is another virtue that makes you calm, cool and collected."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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.

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