The Chicago Blackhawks finally said goodbye to Jeremy Morin over the weekend, shipping the young winger to the Columbus Blue Jackets for another unrealized project, defenseman Tim Erixon. It was a lateral deal, designed to swap out variables in a equation that apparently demanded new blood.
The writing had been on the wall for Morin, with this move effectively confirming what had become clear weeks ago. The Blackhawks didn't want to consistently play the 23-year-old, and his contract was structured to make an assignment to the AHL nearly impossible. The situation was always going to end in "play Morin or trade Morin," and he didn't give the team a compelling reason to stick with the former.
That didn't make the trade any less disappointing to some, including our own Randy Holt. At times, Morin "showed flashes of being a very effective player," even if that wasn't the case this season, and it's possible the right role would've allowed him to blossom. Other teams wanted this guy for a reason.
Other teams could also offer much different opportunities than the Blackhawks, who simply weren't going to give Morin the chance to hammer out his game with steady playing time. There are a number of reasons for that, but the biggest, frankly, was Morin's terrible performance.
I'm not talking about defensive lapses, or careless penalties, or any of the other stuff that we typically pin on young players who get buried in Joel Quenneville's madness. I'm talking about a winger who's expected to produce offensively and didn't record one point in 15 games.
Here's a list of players to match Morin's ice time this season without scoring:
That group includes (a) a whole bunch of defensemen and (b) all guys older than Morin. Four forwards have played 115-plus minutes in the NHL this season without recording a single point: Morin, Devin Setoguchi, Travis Moen and Zach Sill. I don't think anybody in Chicago would be particularly upset if the team got rid of a Setoguchi or Moen.
Morin is admittedly different, because he's only 23 years old, he's a former second-round pick and he's got a track record of production in the AHL. It's possible that Morin is indeed good enough to stick in the NHL, and he just needs a team willing to give him steady playing time and the chance to work through whatever struggles he might be having.
That's pretty much where the problem with Chicago and Morin comes together, though. The Blackhawks are fighting a delicate balance of focusing on the present while sustaining a bright future, and Morin fell somewhere in the middle of that effort. With each game that saw Morin disappear for minutes at a time before getting buried by the blender, it became increasingly apparent that he wasn't falling on the right side of the timeline.
In other words, Morin got his chance in Chicago, as much as anyone with his talent level will get a chance in Chicago. This is a win-now franchise that's built to compete for championships year in, year out, and that means impatience when it comes to mid-level prospects who might only pan out to be good role players.
Morin, for all the hubbub we stirred over the past couple years, pretty much proved over the past couple months that he's not a future star player. Maybe he becomes a steady top-nine forward, but there are a few players currently in Rockford who could earn similar praise, and they weren't handcuffing the team's roster with waiver restrictions. It came down to a tough decision over keeping Morin, and I don't think it's hard to see why management came down on the side it did.
The Blackhawks will obviously need youthful reinforcements in the coming years, and that makes frustration justified when another young guy makes his way elsewhere. But in the case of Morin, the narrative that he never received an opportunity just isn't true. For a team like Chicago, that's trying to win now with an expensive roster, the opportunities are just different than they're going to be for teams on a different timeline.
Morin got his chance in Chicago, however restricted it might've been, and basically bombed. Nothing happened over the past few months to make you think he deserved more chances than Joakim Nordstrom or Phillip Danault, let alone prospects with greater upside like Teuvo Teravainen and Mark McNeill, other than his contract situation.
And yet, even if he succeeds elsewhere, there's little reason to be disappointed it didn't happen with the Blackhawks, because the circumstances will be different. There's a nasty little secret in sports -- an individual athlete's success is to varying degrees a product of his environment -- and maybe for Morin, somewhere else will serve him better than Chicago. Given how successful the franchise has been over the past few years, that's not really an indictment, it's just a reality of doing business.
So I'm not really disappointed or even frustrated by the developments with Morin, because they've largely resulted from the tweaking of the greatest sports franchise I've ever rooted for. The Blackhawks still have a solid farm system, and a braintrust that's got a pretty stellar track record. The holes that need to get filled next season still have several options. Toews and Kane will still be Toews and Kane.
And maybe Morin will end up succeeding in Columbus, making it easy to second guess the decision to trade him. Hindsight is 20-20, though, and the team made the right move. The winger wasn't working with the Blackhawks, and now we'll get to find out if that steady playing time was all he really needed.