A young National Hockey League defenseman has played well enough over the course of the first two full seasons of his NHL career that he has left his team with an incredibly tough choice to make.
There are a number of big time restricted free agents still left unsigned this late into the summer including Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander and Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin, but one of the least discussed players still left unsigned is Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey. At just 23 years old and as a restricted free agent you would not expect Morrissey to have any leverage headed into negotiations but the way he has played has left the Jets and their management with a great deal to consider.
It's true that Morrissey has no arbitration rights and as a result the Jets feel absolutely no pressure getting him signed to a deal prior to the start of the 2017 - 2018 NHL regular season outside of their desire to have him in the line up. Normally a player of Morrissey's age under RFA restrictions is looking at a 2 to 3 year contract that would server as a bridge deal, however Jared Clinton of The Hockey News believes that the Jets have to seriously consider the possibility of rewarding Morrissey with a long term deal.
Although not a household name outside of Winnipeg Morrissey has quickly established himself at what feels like a permanent fixture on the Winnipeg Jets blue line. In spite of entering the 2016 - 2017 season with just 1 NHL game of experience under his belt Morrissey would go on to play in all 82 season games for the Jets. He recorded 6 goals and 14 assists for a total of 20 points and finished the season with a plus minus rating of +6, but most impressive of all was the fact that he ate up 19:29 of ice time on average through the season.
Those are the kind of minutes you expect a more established defenseman to tackle and Morrissey's responsibilities would only increase in the 2017 - 2018 season when he was paired up with Jets defenseman Jacoub Trouba. Morrisey recorded 7 goals and 19 assists for a total of 26 points that season and finished with a plus minus rating of +15 on the season. Once again Morrissey commanded an impressive amount of ice time for a young defnseman eating up 20:27 on average each night through 81 games played.
It's because of that high level of contribution that Clinton believes that it may be in Winnipeg's best interest to consider offering Morrissey a long term contract immediately before it costs them in the long term. Clinton envisions a deal that would pay Morrissey somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.5 million to $6 million per season and believes that the Jets could go as far as a six year term. There are obvious reasons that this would be a risk for the Jets but the risk the other way may be even greater.
Although it's only been two seasons Morriseey has shown a quick ability to adapt to the NHL game and has demonstrated improvements season on season. A short term deal of 2 or 3 years could lead to repeat performances from Morrissey and could end up costing the Jets well above that $6 million number, especially if the cap continues to increase.
In spite of his lack of leverage Morrissey is looking at possibly earning upwards of $30 million this summer.