The Chicago Blackhawks' circus trip provided plenty of evidence to show where the team and certain individuals are trending.
As much good that came out of the six games for most of the Blackhawks, the trip also offered some hard truths to forward Jeremy Morin. Morin played 6:50 in the trip's opening game and didn’t play again. He was made a healthy scratch the final five games.
Morin’s season hasn’t been much different than the trip, but it was the first time he was a healthy scratch in five consecutive games. He’s been a healthy scratch in nine games overall and averaged 7:44 of ice time in the 15 games he’s played this season.
Morin’s situation doesn’t appear to have a sunnier side coming in the near future either. Considering Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville opted for another young forward in Joakim Nordstrom throughout the road trip, and that Patrick Sharp is on the verge of returning from an injury, Morin’s chances of squeezing into the lineup will become even slimmer.
The question is whether the Blackhawks now look to trade Morin and give him an opportunity elsewhere or wait to see if something changes. Morin’s agent Pat Brisson had no comment when asked about Morin’s situation on Monday.
The Blackhawks have moved prospects who didn’t figure into their future plans in the past. Just last season, the Blackhawks traded forwards Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Hayes and defenseman Dylan Olsen after all three players spent multiple years in the organization. Pirri may have been looking for the same route for Morin last spring when Pirri tweeted, "#freemorin" on April 19.
Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman didn’t sound as if this was the plan for Morin prior to the season. Morin had shown to have a high offensive upside in the AHL and displayed some of that last season as he had five goals and six assists in 24 NHL games. Although the sample size was small, Morin led the Blackhawks with a 62.5 Corsi percentage. Morin’s opportunity was limited last season as he was moved between the AHL and NHL numerous times and averaged just 9:24 of ice time with the Blackhawks.
Quenneville and Bowman said in the offseason they hoped to provide Morin more of a chance to contribute. Bowman especially talked about Morin’s progression within the organization and how he deserved that opportunity. Morin, who turned 23 in April, spent most of the last three seasons in the AHL and had 104 points, including 54 goals, in 111 games during the last two seasons for the Rockford IceHogs.
“Jeremy, he’s been patient with us,” Bowman said on June 27. “I know sometimes it’s tough to spend a couple years in the minors when you’re an NHL-ready player. Give him credit. He’s really done everything we’ve asked him to. Now the only thing that was missing was an opportunity. Now we’re giving him that opportunity. He’s going to be on the team.
“I expect him to flourish a lot like Ben Smith did last year. Ben kind of took his time, and when he was given the opportunity he scored 14 goals without playing on really an offensive line. I think Jeremy is capable of the same or even more. We’re excited in bringing some young players like that. He’s hungry. He wants to prove what he can do. He’s going to get a chance.”
Morin became a restricted free agent after last season, so he couldn’t sign just anywhere he wanted in the offseason. Despite those limitations, he and his agent Pat Brisson sought some assurances from Bowman before agreeing to a new contract.
Morin and Brisson were comfortable with what they were told, and Morin signed a two-year deal on June 27. With his offensive ability and low $800,000 cap hit, Morin made sense for the Blackhawks with their cap space tightening after signing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom are also Brisson's clients, to extensions.
Brisson talked about his conversations with Bowman about Morin just before the Blackhawks’ training camp in September.
“By virtue of being a one-way, two-year deal, it’s pretty self-explanatory,” Brisson said on Sept. 18. “We’ve had many, many conversations, Stan and I, the last couple years about Jeremy with his growth. If he wasn’t in Chicago perhaps last year, he might have played a lot more for many other teams.
“But, one, he wanted to continue to be with Chicago. He wanted to be part of a team that has a chance to win. But he also understood it’s not an easy lineup to break, which is very true. However, based on how everything was handled, he paid his dues again last year. He didn’t have to clear waivers, so he went down a few times. I give him a lot of credit for working on his game, getting more mature and better on and off the ice. But he’s ready for a bigger role on the Hawks I would say this year.”
Morin looked headed toward that way, too. Quenneville played him in every preseason game and spoke positively about his game. The regular season came around, and it was the same old story for Morin. He was in the lineup, but he sat most of the time on the bench. He played less than nine minutes in six of seven games in October. November wasn’t any better for him.
Morin has played mostly on the fourth line this season. He again has a high Corsi percentage at 60.4, but he hasn’t had the production. He has zero points in 15 games. He has been on the ice for one goal-for and one goal-against in 5-on-5 situations.
Quenneville has been asked multiple times about Morin, and Quenneville has said it’s come down to consistency.
“With Mo, you know, you play those minutes and it’s almost like you’re looking for energy, you’re looking for purpose and consistency, and I think he’s trying to nail it,” Quenneville said on Nov. 7. “Some games a little bit of everything in all three areas we’re talking about. Just putting it all together is what we’re looking for.”
Quenneville obviously hasn’t seen enough in those areas from Morin, and time is likely running out for that to happen. Morning skates and practices probably aren’t going to change Quenneville’s mind.
The Blackhawks could always continue to healthy scratch Morin, but Bowman has shown to be reasonable in these situations before. Bowman preaches patience with his prospects, but he isn’t out to have them spend their careers in the AHL or on an NHL bench. It’s probably safe to assume Morin will either soon find the ice again for the Blackhawks or, more than likely, get his long-awaited opportunity somewhere else.