The Winnipeg Jets reached into their past for the man they hope will help to shape a substantial part of the future.
On Monday, the NHL club announced it has hired Mark Morrison as the new head coach of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
Morrison, a 58-year-old from Delta, B.C., spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks but was fired by the NHL club on June 15 along with fellow assistant Marty Wilford.
Prior to working for the Ducks, Morrison was an integral part of the Jets organization for six seasons as an assistant coach in the AHL with the Moose and St. John’s IceCaps.
"To be honest I’ve wanted this job probably for about 10 years of my career," said Morrison in a Zoom call with reporters. "It means a lot to me to be able to come back and work with, surprisingly or not surprisingly, pretty much the same staff as when I left. It shows the continuity of the organization and (I’m) pretty happy to come back and work with a lot of good people that I’ve developed good friendships with in the past."
Morrison becomes the ninth head coach in franchise history, replacing Pascal Vincent who joined the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets as an associate coach last month.
Despite his familiarity with the Jets, Morrison said he will still need to get reacclimated to the organization.
"I know I’ve got to spend some time with the NHL staff just to get the systems back down again and get the language that the NHL staff uses," he said. "(I need) to spend some time with them and then of course my own staff... so that we’re all on the same page."
The Moose have retained Marty Johnston and Eric Dubois as assistant coaches, video coach Richard Blue and developmental goaltending coach Rick St. Croix.
The Ducks, whose 17-30-9 mark in 2020-21 was the second worst in the NHL, chose to retain general manager Bob Murray and head coach Dallas Eakins. Morrison and Wilford were replaced by Geoff Ward and Mike Stothers, both former head coaches in the NHL.
"They had a young head coach in Dallas Eakins and they wanted to go with more experienced guys and I think they ended up doing that," said Morrison. "But no, I don’t feel like they were blaming us for anything. They made it clear that they were looking for more (NHL) experience."
Anaheim’s power play, only 8.9 per cent effective during the season, was a major talking point for critics.
"The power play... got brought up a lot and they wanted to fix the power play, but the power play... it was a shared, dual kind of involvement there that maybe got thrown on me a little bit as the face of the power play," said Morrison. "Really, not so true. The power play was everybody (involved) in the organization. (From) Dallas, myself and even Marty would help at times.
"So, yeah... that got brought up a lot but I don’t think it’s the final reason. I think they wanted more experience to help Dallas."
Morrison’s most recent head coaching experience came in 2018-19 when Randy Carlyle was fired as Ducks bench boss and GM Murray oversaw day-to-day operations but had Morrison running the bench.
He said he will be demanding in his approach to coaching at the AHL level.
"It’s a fine line as you know," said Morrison. "You have to develop and you have to win, so I’m going to be relentless on the work ethic, on competing. Everybody — all 23 or however many players we’re going to carry are all going to be competing as hard as they can every night... I don’t care if you make mistakes as long as you’re putting the effort into competing."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.