Throughout the 2022-23 season, Josh Morrissey has probably been the most important skater on the Winnipeg Jets. He obliterated his career high in every offensive category, previously 12 goals and 37 points in 2021-22 with 26 assists in 2019-20. In 2022-23, he had 16 goals and 76 points. His average time on ice per game has been creeping up every season, also setting a new career high at 24:14, which was 14th in the league.
Given how much difficulty the Jets experienced at times with their core players in a slump, the presence of Morrissey in the lineup was something reliable that Winnipeg could bank on other than Connor Hellebuyck.
With how much of an offensive driver he had been all season long, being the team’s second leading scorer, the Jets were going to be relying on Morrissey to provide a counter to the offense of the Vegas Golden Knights in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Those plans were thrown out of the window early in Game Three after an innocent hit attempt turned into a suspected knee injury for the Jets’ defender.
Nothing intentional or malicious. It was just an unfortunate outcome of the hit where the players went knee-on-knee and Morrissey took the worst of it.
With how important Morrissey is to the Jets, how will they cope with losing him for at least the rest of the opening round? They were immediately feeling the effects of this as the game went into double overtime with five defenders, pushing everyone else up in the lineup into bigger roles. The game was lost off of a turnover on a clearing attempt.
Who Can Replace Morrissey?
The style of play that Morrissey brings to the Jets’ lineup is something they can’t get from anyone else. He is by far the most offensively minded defender on the team. Neal Pionk, the second highest scoring defender Winnipeg has, put up 33 points in the regular season, less than half of what the former scored.
Knowing this about the defensive depth on the Jets, there is no direct replacement or player who can truly fill in for Morrissey. What this means is that the team’s strategy and offense will have to adjust. This will be incredibly difficult, given that the team was one of the lowest scoring teams to qualify for the playoffs.
Luckily, they do have the talent to do this from the forwards, as they can ice one of the most dangerous top-sixes in the league when healthy. But between the coach’s defensive minded system and a lack of a top puck mover, the Jets may find it difficult to produce.
The early prognosis was good, as after Morrissey’s injury early in Game Three, the Jets were still able to come back from a 4-1 deficit in the game to take it to overtime. Notably within this three goal comeback, Pionk had three assists and showed some creativity and playmaking ability while doing so.
In Morrissey’s absence, Pionk is the most likely to fill in on the top pairing. He is a slightly different type of player who plays a lot more physical than the former. But he has also shown in the past to be able to take on a role higher in the lineup. He has consistently been a 21 minute per game defender, but his first season in Winnipeg he averaged over 23 minutes of ice time per game while setting a career high with 45 points.
Pionk has shown in the past to be able to take on this bigger role, and it will likely include powerplay duties as well. But, he showed some playmaking ability and creativity in the latter part of Game Three that should bode well for the Jets as they find a way to adjust.
How Will Morrissey’s Injury Impact the Jets’ Lineup?
The tricky part of Pionk taking on a bigger role in Morrissey"s absence is that he is a right-side defender. Even though Dylan Demelo appears to be able to play both sides, the two of them on a pairing together had very poor results in the regular season. Meaning there will end up being major shifts to the lineup accommodate the changes.
What may end up happening is the entire second pairing moves up to be the top pairing in the meantime.
Samberg did not get off to a good start as his turnover led to the Golden Knights’ overtime winner. But he was still the only one of the three to have a regular place in the lineup during the regular season, playing in 63 games to Stanley’s 19 and Capobianco’s 14.
Stanley’s presence in the lineup could be one to help the Jets hold onto some momentum. He is a bigger, physical player and this dynamic in the bottom pairing could give Winnipeg a way to wear down the Golden Knights in his likely limited ice time and make them easier to defend against.
Regardless of what happens, it will be a tricky situation to navigate for the Winnipeg Jets as they try to find a way to fill Morrissey’s shoes in a tough playoff matchup.
What do you think the Jets will do? Drop a comment down below!
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