Earlier this decade, the Vancouver Canucks trio was one of the NHL’s most feared forward lines.
Now Todd Bertuzzi, Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison have all left Vancouver, Morrison the last to go after signing a US$2.75-million, one-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday.
“Now that we’ve all gone our separate ways, you do kind of think back,” the 32-year-old centre said Tuesday on a conference call. “You think about how things were rolling when we played together and playing well and the feeling you had. It was very fun and exciting.
“But we also look back with some disappointment because we didn’t accomplish anything as far as playoffs go.”
Morrison, who was an unrestricted free agent, is chasing playoff success with the Ducks.
“I think Anaheim has a team that’s going to contend for the Stanley Cup this year,” said Morrison, who left Vancouver less than a week after Naslund signed with the New York Rangers. Bertuzzi was the first to leave in June 2006 in the Roberto Luongo trade and on Monday signed with Calgary.
Vancouver faced another potential loss on Tuesday. Just over a week after fighting off an offer sheet from the Canucks on forward David Backes, the St. Louis Blues returned the favour, signing restricted free-agent forward Steve Bernier to a $2.5-million, one-year offer sheet.
But Canucks GM Mike Gillis moved quickly, announcing later in the day that his club signed Bernier and matched the offer.
“We have a great deal of respect for the St. Louis Blues, John Davidson, Larry Pleau and their management team,” said Gillis in a statement. “The offer sheet to Bernier is a clear indication of how highly Steve is thought of in our League.”
The Canucks just got the 23-year-old Bernier in a trade with Buffalo last Friday.
On July 1, the Canucks made a $7.5-million, three-year offer sheet on Backes which the Blues matched the same day.
The Ottawa Senators, meanwhile, finally found the defenceman they’ve been looking for since July 1.
Veteran Jason Smith, who signed a $5.2-million, two-year contract, not only helps to fill the hole left by the departed Wade Redden but also brings with him oodles of character and experience. Which is something GM Bryan Murray was looking for after a controversy-filled season where departed goalie Ray Emery made headlines for the wrong reasons and team chemistry was constantly called into question.
“This is the ultimate character guy that was out on the free-agent market,” Murray said on a conference call. “He’s been a captain, as we know, but more importantly he’s just a guy that competes every night.
“He blocks shots, hits people, plays the game in a very hard way and he’s very difficult to play against.”
The 14-year NHL veteran was an unrestricted free agent. He was captain of the Philadelphia Flyers last season as well as captain of the Edmonton Oilers the five previous seasons.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Smith said on a conference call. “You look at the quality of the players on the roster and the success this team has had in the past, it’s a great opportunity moving forward to do good things and I’m just lucky to be part of that.”
Smith, 34, led the Flyers with 204 blocked shots and 142 hits in 77 games last year while also posting 10 points (1-9) and 86 penalty minutes. But it was clear Tuesday from the line of questioning from the Ottawa media that the longtime leader is being viewed as a player who will fix whatever ailments there may have been in the Senators dressing room.
“Whatever you can bring to the team to help the team do well is what you need to do, whether that’s yell and scream or sometimes guys just need a pat on the back,” said Smith.
In other notable moves Tuesday:
-The Tampa Bay Lightning were busy again under new ownership, bringing 25-year-old winger Evgeny Artyukhin back from Russia after signing him to a $1.9-million, two-year contract, while also signing unrestricted free-agent wingers Mark Recchi and Brandon Bochenski. Recchi’s one-year contract is worth $1.25 million in base salary plus bonuses. The 40-year-old had 48 points (14-34) with Atlanta and Pittsburgh last season.
-The New York Rangers re-signed veteran defenceman Paul Mara to a US$1.95-million, one-year deal. The 28-year-old was an unrestricted free agent. He had 17 points (1-16) and 52 penalty minutes in 61 games with the Rangers last season.
-The Montreal Canadiens re-signed goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a US$1.55-million, two-year contract. The backup to Carey Price will earn $750,000 next season and $800,000 in 2009-10. Halak, 23, played six games with the Canadiens last season, going 2-1-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage.
In Anaheim, meanwhile, Morrison will be reunited with Brian Burke and Dave Nonis. Burke, the Ducks’ GM, was at the helm in Vancouver during Morrison’s most productive years. Nonis replaced Burke as Canucks GM before being fired at the end of last season.
“Those are the guys that brought me to Vancouver from New Jersey back in 2000 and really gave me a tremendous opportunity to come into a good situation with a young core group of guys and play,” Morrison said. “They just let me play. They put in different kind of roles and helped me become the player that I am. I’m very appreciative of that.
“I talked to those guys right on Day 1 and they said they were looking for a guy for the No. 2 centre spot and help fill that void. I’m ecstatic.”
Morrison had 25 points (9-16) in 39 games with the Canucks last season.
“We have a gaping hole at the No. 2 centre position,” Burke told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. “And we think Brendan is a good fit for our club. The whole management team here is familiar with him.
“He has a high hockey IQ, distributes the puck well, he’s a good penalty killer and he can play on the second power play. We think he’s a good fit.”