Well... I was wrong. The Boston Bruins have signed defenceman Derek Morris to a one year contract worth 3.3M, which is 0.8M more than they were planning on paying Aaron Ward. Realistically, Morris isn't going to be getting big PP time with the Bruins since both of the incumbents on the first unit (Chara and Wideman) will still be there next season. Similarly, Morris will probably be expected to fill in for Ward on the second PK unit. As such, each of them would be contributing to the Bruins primarily at even strength. Here are what the two players have done over the last two seasons:
Now, Ward was playing in a superior team context and that's for sure. Ward's latest year looks particularly good but he played most of the year with the guy that won the Norris trophy so you'd kind of expect his "on-ice" stats to shine. Still, Ward put up two solid seasons in the top four in a row. In both years he led Boston defenders in defensive-offensive zone faceoffs and he wasn't ever getting the easiest competition so I think it's fair to say that Ward was taking on the tough minutes and doing well. The biggest downside is that he missed some time from injury in both seasons and as an older defenceman, his time for a serious decline is probably coming soon.
Morris, meanwhile, had one good season in Phoenix and one poor one. In 2007-08 Morris was taking on the tough minutes both in terms of quality of competition and in terms of defensive zone starts. Although he was mugged territorially (on a team with a ton of young forwards) he did get the puck moving in the right direction for the folks that hopped over the boards after him on many nights. The fact that his role changed so much the next year is a bit baffling. Morris played most of 2008-09 with Ed Jovanovski and, considering where they were starting, they got absolutely thrashed. In spite of starting way more often in the good end of the ice Morris posted terrible Corsi numbers in Phoenix (-164). The team itself was pretty poor (-458 Corsi before the deadline) but when you're on the ice taking the cherry ice time and getting bombed, you're a big part of what's going wrong. Given the offensive context of his ice time, the 0.61 pts/60 is very poor.
In all honesty, this seems like a pretty bad deal for the Bruins. They have moved out a guy that has played two solid seasons on a winning team for the privilege of taking a hit to the cap for three out of the next four years and gaining an extra $40,000 or so bucks for next year. And this was to make room for a guy that's (1) more expensive and (2) possibly not as good as Aaron Ward (also, Aaron Ward is an awesome guy). Now, I'm all for taking advantage of the fact that you can create cap space but if that was the main motivating factor here, it seems like overkill. This series of moves could end up working out for the Bruins, but the fact that they're paying an extra 1M to have Morris over Ward doesn't make sense to me from a cap management perspective. From a PR perspective, this could look pretty bad if Ward plays well in Carolina while Morris struggles in Boston.