Capitals Sign C Brendan Morrison, Hope for a Rebound

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Washington Capitals made their second move of the free agent period late Friday, signing veteran center Brendan Morrison to a one-year contract in the hopes he can rebound from a series of injuries to become the second-line center the team lost when Sergei Fedorov departed for Russia last month.

Morrison, who will turn 34 next month, amassed 16 goals and 15 assists in 81 games with Anaheim and Dallas last season. The Capitals, though, signed him to a $1.5 million deal with the expectation that he can regain the form he displayed during his seven-plus seasons in Vancouver -- now that he's believed to be completely healthy.

"It's a team I wanted to be a part of," said Morrison, adding that four other teams had expressed interest in signing him. "I think they are a team that's right on the cusp of having some real good playoff success."

When Fedorov signed with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, the Capitals were left without a center for the second line. That job, it appears now, is Morrison's to lose.

"That was the initial talks we've had and kind of what we've discussed," Morrison said. "Obviously, I know nothing is guaranteed and they don't hand out positions. But if I get my game back in order and play the way I'm capable of playing, then that's the role I want and the role I hope to fill."

Morrison notched at least 51 points from 2000-01 through 2006-07 as a Canuck, topping out at 71 points (25 goals and 46 assists) in 2002-03. But a wrist and torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee -- both required surgery -- cut short his 2007-08 season and, he said, contributed to the decline in his production last season.

In all, Morrison had four surgeries in three years, including procedures on his hip and a sports hernia. The injuries, he said, took away the one asset that has helped him overcome his 5-foot-11, 181-pound frame: speed.

But that burst of speed started to come back to him late last season after the Stars claimed him off waivers from the Ducks.

"When I started [last season], I thought I was healthy but my legs didn't start coming around until probably the three-quarter mark of the season," said Morrison, who didn't miss a game from 2000 through 2007, playing in 542 in a row. "Skating had always been one of my assets, and I was having real difficulty getting to places and challenging guys and beating guys. It was frustrating.

"But I felt the last 20 games of the season my legs started to come back," he added. "I have no doubt that I will be back and be skating well and feeling strong. The last couple of summers, because of the surgeries, I haven't been able to work out the way I had been accustomed to in the past. This summer I'm back on track."

To make sure of that, the Capitals brought Morrison to Washington last week to have him checked out by head athletic trainer Greg Smith and team physician Ben Shaffer.

"He has a clean bill of health and is committed to coming to camp in great shape," General Manager George McPhee said through a team spokesman.

Morrison is already familiar with the second newest Capital, winger Mike Knuble, whom the team signed on July 1. Morrison and Knuble were linemates for two seasons at the University of Michigan and also played together for Linkoping of the Swedish Elite League during the lockout season.

The addition of Morrison and Knuble, who signed a two-year contract worth $2.8 million per season, has all but eaten up the remaining space the Capitals had under the $56.8 million salary cap ceiling, if not put them slightly over it when the salaries of the restricted free agents Shaone Morrisonn, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Jeff Schultz and Milan Jurcina are taken into account. Morrisonn, Fehr, Gordon and Schultz have until July 15 to accept the qualifying offers; Jurcina is scheduled to have his salary arbitration hearing on July 28 in Toronto.

Teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap ceiling by as much as 10 percent in the offseason. Depending on which players make the opening roster, McPhee could be forced to trade someone in order to shoehorn under the cap.

As for Morrison, he said he's excited about getting the chance to reprove himself after a couple of down years in which he never quite got up to speed. All of the offers he received this summer were for one year.

"To be frank with you, the one-year deal is the best option for me, too," added Morrison, who won the Hobey Baker Award as college's top player in 1997. "It's a big year for me personally."

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