His offensive production ranks among the best for those whose primary job description is to patrol the blue line, but veteran Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris isn’t attempting a career makeover at age 35. He’s a hard-nosed, crusty, stay-at-home defenseman, and that isn’t about to change – even if the new twig he’s using is helping him handle the puck better in the offensive zone. “When I was growing up, Paul Coffey was the defenseman I watched and we all tried to emulate him at a young age,” said Morris, who grew up in Oilers country when Coffey was a star blue liner for Edmonton in the ‘80s. “But then you realize, ‘I can’t skate like him. I can’t do what he does offensively at that speed.’ So you find a difference niche for yourself.” That niche has never left Morris thirsting for work. He’s been a member of five NHL organizations and been a regular for each. He was also a coveted piece at the 2009 trade deadline before he was shipped to the New York Rangers, ending his first stint with the Coyotes. But Morris has never been a Norris Trophy candidate and likely never will. The game on the back end is trending in the direction of the offensive upstarts – like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle – and players of that breed are usually recognized as the league’s best at the position. But that hasn’t diminished the value of Morris’ role. In fact, in-house, it’s revered. “The guys who block shots or are good defenders, you have to have them on your team if you’re going to be a successful team,” coach Dave Tippett said. The Norris Trophy is given to “the defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” according to the NHL. And yet, the award seems to be synonymous with points-leaders. Among the past 10 Norris winners, four had the most points among defensemen, three finished second and all had point totals that were in the top 10. “I guess Mo or myself or (Rusty Klesla) will never win the Norris,” defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. “We don’t have the points. But these days, they like the D-man that jumps in the rush, that quarterbacks a power play and skates well. It’s good. “I think hockey evolves, and it’s getting faster and faster and you’re going to have to skate and if you aren’t able to skate, you’re in trouble. It’s hard to generate offense if you just leave it to three forwards up front. It’s always nice to have D-men jump in, make an odd-man rush and join the play, and I think that a lot of goals are scored like that where the D-man comes in late or starts the rush.” But that doesn’t mean the game still won’t need players who can be counted on to be stable in their own end, even if it comes at the expense of creating offense.
Derek Morris continues steady defensive play for Coyotes
Arizona Republic | Nov 8