An empty locker stall and a farewell message to his teammates on a white board in the locker room were the only signs on Monday that Joe Morrow was traded and gone from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Morrow was traded to the Dallas organization on Sunday, when the team was off, and there wasn’t time for goodbyes. Morrow had to head to Texas to meet his new team, and the Penguins defense corps had to reshuffle at Monday’s practice and move on without one of its key parts.
“We pride ourselves in the fact that we can take a guy out and plug a guy in,” said captain and veteran defenseman Joey Mormina. “If we lose a guy to a call-up or trade, it’s the next guy’s responsibility to make sure he can step in and contribute.”
That falls on Cody Wild, who played in 51 games for the Penguins last season but has been on the ice sparingly this year thanks to defensive depth.
But all of a sudden, that blueline depth has been whittled away. Morrow and Carl Sneep have been traded, Brian Strait was claimed off waivers and Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo are up in Pittsburgh.
Wild, who signed with the team earlier in the season, finds himself in a spot he didn’t think would be there not too long ago.
“Before I signed here, I didn’t think there was any chance of coming back. I was looking at the depth chart and there was like 18 or 19 guys,” Wild said. “But I’m getting another chance at it and I’m ready to go.”
Wild hasn’t played since March 1 but has used his practice time to stay game ready. He could be paired with Alex Grant, his defense partner from last season.
“We had good chemistry together,” Wild said.
“It’s been frustrating not playing, but that’s the business side of it. Now, I get a chance to get back in the lineup and I have to play well when I’m in there.”
Head coach John Hynes isn’t concerned about Wild not fitting in. He performed well last season and in the eight games he has played in this season.
“He’s a phenomenal human being who has an upbeat attitude and understands it’s a privilege to play professional hockey,” Hynes said. “He’s played very well this year and if this (trade) didn’t happen we were thinking of ways to get him a game. He deserves the opportunity.”
In 57 games with the Penguins this season, Morrow tallied four goals and 15 points while the coaching staff worked intensely with the rookie on improving his overall game. Hynes said Morrow’s progress in the development department turned out to help Pittsburgh indirectly.
“If his value increases because he’s getting better down here — as in this situation where someone else saw the value and had a need for him more than Pittsburgh right now — it’s still helping Pittsburgh get better because they can get a great player to fill a void,” Hynes said. “This is also a good opportunity for Joe. He’s going to a situation where they felt a need without a backlog of defensemen.”
• Newly acquired winger Brenden Morrow has spent his entire NHL career with Dallas and will be counted on to help Pittsburgh make a deep run in the postseason. While he won’t be in Wilkes-Barre, there is one Penguin who is very familiar with the leadership qualities Pittsburgh’s new acquisition.
Warren Peters spent the 2009-10 season with the Dallas organization but suffered a serious injury during a preseason fight with B.J. Crombeen of the St. Louis Blues. It was Peters’ first month with his new club and he went on the injury list before being sent down to Texas.
And even though he wasn’t with the Stars for long, Brenden Morrow, who was the captain, called Peters twice during his recovery to see how he was doing.
“He goes above and beyond as a leader,” Peters said of Brenden Morrow. “Pittsburgh has a good group of leaders already and he’s only going to bolster that. He puts personal gratification aside for the benefit of the team. I’ve seen him step up for teammates on the ice and go to bat for them off the ice.”
• The trade of Joe Morrow will clear up some confusion on the Penguins bench during games.
“It means that when Naz (assistant coach Alain Nasreddine) says, ‘Mo, you’re up,’ there’s no more confusion,” Mormina said.