Penguins paid dearly for run-down version of Brenden Morrow – and it's the right move

The Pittsburgh Penguins did not trade for Brenden Morrow, at least not the Brenden Morrow we remember. They did not acquire the kid who went to the Stanley Cup final in 2000, the captain who carried his team to the conference final in 2008, the Olympian who won gold in 2010 or the guy who scored 33 goals in 2010-11.

They traded for a player who is 34, an old 34, someone who has racked up the mileage, who has slowed down considerably, who has slipped as low as the fourth line this season. There are legitimate questions about how much this Brenden Morrow has left.

But that’s OK. Even at the price they paid.

Because the Penguins knew what they were getting and what they were giving up, and this is what you do in today’s market to make a run at the Stanley Cup, if you have put yourself in position to do so.

They don’t need a captain or a top scorer; they need a complementary piece to fill a specific role. They could afford to send defense prospect Joe Morrow, a 2011 first-round pick playing in the minors, to the Dallas Stars for Brenden Morrow, a veteran whose contract is expiring, because they’ve stockpiled young defensemen as assets and have even more where he came from. They also traded a fifth-round pick for a third-rounder.

Frankly, they couldn’t afford not to do it. The Penguins have won only one playoff round since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Sidney Crosby is healthy again and the best player in the world again. The team is on a winning streak – 12 games now – and atop the East. When you have a chance to go for it, seize it. This might just be the start.

“As a general manager, it doesn’t make you feel great all the time,” Penguins GM Ray Shero told reporters. “But that’s what we’re trying to do – win.”

Brenden Morrow was done in Dallas. He gave everything he had to the only organization he had ever known, but it was time. It says a lot that the Stars moved their captain while still in a playoff spot.

GM Joe Nieuwendyk, a friend and former teammate, wanted to put Morrow in a good situation while getting a good return. He did that. But it also says a lot that it wasn’t hard to do.

[Related: Brenden Morrow waives no-movement clause to join Penguins]

At least one other Stanley Cup contender thought Morrow had value, too. The Boston Bruins reportedly offered defense prospect Alex Khokhlachev, a 2011 second-round pick, plus a second-rounder. Nieuwendyk had his choice. He asked Morrow to waive the no-trade clause to go to Pittsburgh.

So both Shero and the Bruins’ Peter Chiarelli – two GMs who have built championship teams – thought Morrow could still contribute in the right situation. Both thought he was an attractive option, if only because the trade market is so thin with the standings so stacked.

And how could Morrow say no to the Penguins? What better chance could he have to resurrect his career? If he can’t play for Pittsburgh, then he can’t play. If the chance to win his first Cup doesn’t get him going, when he broke into the league a year after the Stars won in 1999, nothing will.

Morrow made more sense for the Penguins than the Calgary Flames’ Jarome Iginla, another longtime captain on an expiring contract expected to waive his no-trade clause. Iginla is the better player at this point, no question. But he is a right winger, and Morrow is a left winger.

The Penguins don’t need a right winger in their top six. They have Pascal Dupuis playing with Crosby in the middle and Chris Kunitz on the left, and that has been the most productive line in the NHL thanks to its chemistry. They have James Neal playing with Evgeni Malkin.

What they needed was a left winger on the second line and depth in their bottom six, and Morrow can provide one or the other. He can play with Malkin and Neal, winning battles, digging out pucks, feeding the big guys. He doesn’t need to put up points, but he could just by playing his game with those two. If that doesn’t work, he can play on the third line with Brandon Sutter, helping pin teams in their own end. If that doesn’t work, well, he can add character in the room, and at least the Pens didn’t give up someone off their roster.

Joe Morrow seems like a prize. He’s supposed to be able to skate and shoot. Shero said he would play in the NHL for a long time, and maybe he will. But there is a reason the Penguins were willing and able to give him up in this deal.

It is no secret the Penguins draft young defensemen and stockpile them. Some they keep, like Kris Letang, who has blossomed into a Norris Trophy candidate, and Simon Despres, a promising rookie. Others they use as trade currency, like, well, Alex Goligoski, the guy they sent to the Stars two years ago for Neal and Matt Niskanen, a deal that now seems lopsided in the Penguins’ favor.

Joe Morrow has been transitioning from junior to pro hockey this season. He was a healthy scratch eight times in the first half of the season in the American Hockey League as the Penguins tore down his defensive game and built it back up again, according to The Hockey News, which rated him as the Penguins’ fourth-best prospect in its latest “Future Watch” issue. Two other defense prospects were rated higher: Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot.

How Joe Morrow ranks compared to Olli Matta and Derrick Pouliot really isn’t the point. The point is, the Pens still have other young defensemen in the pipeline, and this is a big reason why they have so many young defensemen in the pipeline. To win bidding wars. To win the Cup.

“Every year now, you’re seeing less and less players that are available at the deadline,” Shero said. “Thus, the prices go up. You’ve just got to decide as a team if you’re buying if you’re willing to pay them. If you’re not, then you’re not going to get anybody.”

Even if he isn’t the Brenden Morrow he once was in Dallas, Brenden Morrow, in Pittsburgh, could still be somebody.

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