FRISCO, Texas -- In a lot of ways, the rough going Brenden Morrow experienced last season mirrored exactly how things went for the Dallas Stars as a team. The Dallas captain missed 25 games due to a combination neck and shoulder injury and finished the year with just 26 points (11-15-26) in 57 games, a sharp drop-off from the year before when he led the team with 33 goals.
And once the Stars were eliminated from playoff contention for a fourth straight season, conventional wisdom when it came to No. 10 was that the 33-year-old veteran would definitely benefit from a full off-season to recuperate so that he'd be ready to lead the club again once the puck dropped on the new season.
Of course, with the NHL lockout wiping out the first three months of the campaign, the Saskatchewan native got some extra time to ensure he's ready to roll. In fact, Morrow's been skating at the team's Frisco headquarters for much of the last three months and is itching to play competitive hockey again.
"Yeah, if there's a silver lining to this whole thing, it's given me personally an opportunity to work on myself and keep my body healthy and strong. Kind of get some comfort in knowing that I've been skating here for probably three months now. It's not game-like situations, but I haven't had any setbacks," he said on Tuesday. "So I feel pretty confident in what I've been doing to be healthy."
Throughout the earlier stages of his time in Big D, Morrow, who will turn 34 next Wednesday, had been a fixture on the Stars' top two lines. But after he returned from his injuries last season, Dallas first-year head coach Glen Gulutzan decided to do some tinkering, playing him some on the third line. Naturally, getting dropped down wasn't an ideal situation for one of the faces of the franchise, but being the true professional he is, he took it like a champ. But that doesn't mean he wants to be a third- or fourth-line player this season.
"I know what their expectations of me are and mine might be higher than theirs. But I'm not going to ruffle feathers. I'm going to go out, compete, play hard and make it hard on Gully to not give me top six minutes," Morrow said. "That's my mindset. I know where they have me slated and I'm going to work hard to make it hard on them to keep me there."
In an off-season that saw the Stars trade franchise fixtures like Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro and add players like Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Ray Whitney, Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk is definitely glad to see a familiar sight in the man wearing the "C" for his franchise healthy and raring to go for another year.
"It's so refreshing to see him out here. He looks lean to me. He looks like he's got that smile back on his face because he's gone through some tough times injury-wise," Nieuwendyk said. "He's my captain. He's bled a lot for this organization and I think the way it's set up for him this year in particular and the years I've been here is going to be a big help for him."
Other than Morrow himself, there might not be anyone happier to see No. 10 back at full strength than the man behind the Stars bench. "I'm a big Brendan Morrow believer," Gulutzan said. "I see him now and I see a different guy both physically and the way he carries himself, the way he walks around and the way he moves around. He's put in hard work this summer, has looked after the areas that he needs to look after."
Morrow is definitely glad to have the likes of Jagr, Roy and Whitney join the club over the summer while also lamenting the departure of Ott and Ribeiro, two of his closest friends on the team. However, he's been in the NHL long enough to know that the only thing that's ever guaranteed is that things can change from year to year and even from week to week.
"I had some real good years with Ribs. I think everyone knew about how we performed together. And then Otter, the passion he plays with and the fire and the grit, he was a lot of fun and a great teammate to have. Both those guys were great teammates. Tough to see them go but change always happens, especially when you're not finding success," he said.
Morrow added: "We got three real skilled players. Jagr, his stats speak for themselves and the player he's been over his career. We don't see a lot of Derek Roy, but he's a real skill guy and he's been a point a game player in Buffalo when he's healthy. Ray Whitney, he kind of defies his age. He's zipping around on the ice, great power play guy, great hockey IQ and has been around a long time, great experience, good in the locker room. So I think all three guys should fit in real well."
As is the case for his teammates, the Stars captain who was the 25th overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft saw one of the silver linings of the long lockout as giving him more time to spend with his family, time that wouldn't normally be available during a normal season. However, he and his teammates agree that it's good to get some sense of normalcy back in their lives now that the return of hockey is on the immediate horizon.
"There's one thing in our lives that we can find comfort in. What every guy in this locker room loves is competition. I can't be at home cheating in Monopoly every night. I've got to be out on the ice playing hockey because it's the one thing I can do where I can be aggressive and get away with it, just spend that energy and compete," Morrow said. "That's what we all love to do in this locker room. Anything we've done doesn't compare to it. So we've all just really been chomping at the bit to get back to playing hockey."
His head coach, who has clearly been watching a lot of NFL football recently, even went so far to compare his captain's return to that of a high-profile QB who returned to prominence in 2012 and is a candidate for NFL MVP honors. "I look at it this way, he had some back and neck problems but so did Peyton Manning and you see where that's ended up," Gulutzan said.