Better know a free agent: Derek Morris

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The longtime Phoenix Coyotes defenseman may be the odd man out in a deep defensive corps. Should he be replaced? Can he be replaced?

Quick trivia question: which active NHLer has played the most games in a Sedona Red sweater after Shane Doan? With 544 games played over the majority of the past 10 NHL seasons (with a 76-game stint in the middle between the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins), the answer is Derek Morris.

But Morris is now 35 years old, and with a youth movement on defense being led by Connor Murphy and Brandon Gormley, it appears that DMo has played his last game for the Coyotes.

Morris is coming off of a four year, $11 million contract that he signed in the 2010 offseason. A longtime NHLer, Morris' playing time in Phoenix started to taper off because of injuries, off-ice issues and even a few healthy scratches at the end of the 2013-14 season. Despite this, he played 238 out of 294 regular season games and 23 of the team's last 27 playoff games.

While the end of his season was a disappointment, his numbers over the whole year are not that bad. He scored five goals and had 12 assists, and was a positive possession player, though just slightly; he had a Corsi% of 50.2%, which means holistically the team attempted more shots on goal than they gave up when he was on the ice. That tends to mean the Coyotes possessed the puck more often than their opponent did in those situation.

But there are some important caveats to his statistics. He had a negative penalty differential of -13, which meant he put the Coyotes abysmal penalty kill on the ice 13 more times than he put the team's excellent power play out there. He also played an overwhelming majority of his minutes with Keith Yandle, who despite his hyper-magnified turnovers, is an offensive machine for the team. So Morris probably benefited on the stat sheet from the presence of Yandle.

Morris' career is likely far from done, however. The Colorado Avalanche could possibly benefit from a veteran puck-moving defenseman in their young locker room and the Edmonton Oilers are never not in need of defense. He could also potentially return to the Rangers after being a trade deadline acquisition for them back in 2009. At this stage in his career his pay will likely go down, but for the right price he shouldn't have trouble finding a new home should he so desire.

What the Coyotes do with his roster position is an intriguing question. As our own Jaime Eisner has already noted, The Coyotes' most pressing needs are on offense, particularly in the top six. Those acquisitions are going to take up the bulk of the team's salary space.

If the Coyotes do decide to go out and find a veteran defenseman, it will likely be a shutdown defenseman in the twilight of his career who knows his own zone and won't cost too much. The ideal candidate, should he be willing to take a pay cut, would be someone like Willie Mitchell of the Los Angeles Kings. However, the team may be better off sticking with the players they have in their system and using their money to upgrade their forwards.

Morris may never have been a really flashy player, but he was a rugged workhorse for the Coyotes in his time in Arizona. However, Morris' best days are clearly behind him, and his time with the Coyotes will likely be behind him as well.

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