By Bill Hoppe
When what Shaone Morrisonn called the toughest of his nine professional seasons mercifully ended in April, the defenseman had to get away, clear his head and forget about a lost, injury-filled campaign.
The 28-year-old endured a brutal first year with the Buffalo Sabres in 2010-11. Fresh off signing a two-year, $4.15 million contract, coach Lindy Ruff awarded Morrisonn a prime spot skating beside phenom Tyler Myers, billing the newcomer as a bigger, more physical version of Henrik Tallinder, Myers’ old partner.
The combination didn’t last long, though. Both struggled. Injuries helped derail Morrisonn. He showcased lackluster play when he was healthy, even becoming a scratch. His season ended in the playoff opener, a second concussion shelving him for good.
“It was definitely a season that I don’t want to remember,” Morrisonn told the Gazette on Thursday after an informal scrimmage with some teammates at the Northtown Center.
Following the seven-game loss to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal, Morrisonn and former Sabres defenseman Steve Montador bolted for a much-needed overseas vacation. While still recovering from his concussion, the two visited Portugal, Spain, Italy and Israel.
The trip put Morrisonn’s season in the rearview and the world in a different perspective.
“You hear about what’s going on over there and you don’t really understand it,” Morrisonn said. “But when we went to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, you can really understand what’s going on over there, and it’s pretty wild to see the West Bank and just talk to some of the people there. It was a great experience, great food, great people.”
But shortly after Morrisonn got home to Vancouver, the Sabres went on a wild offseason spending spree, adding Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff, two high-priced defensemen.
The Sabres, a whopping $3,959,357 over the $64.3 million salary cap, now have eight NHL defensemen, with Morrisonn ranking last on most depth charts. Many believe if the Sabres can’t trade Morrisonn, they’ll simply send the veteran and his $2.075 million salary to Rochester to help get under the cap.
If Morrisonn’s angry about the moves, he’s not showing it. With training camp set to open next week, he insisted he hasn’t requested a trade.
“It shows the team’s serious, we want to win now. It’s exciting,” said Morrisonn, who had one goal, five points and a minus-2 rating in 62 games last season. “They picked up some great players. Robyn and Christian, they’re top-notch, top-four defensemen. I think it’s going to make everyone on our team better, especially the defensive corps.
“There’s going to be some competitiveness in training camp, and you’re going to have to earn a spot. I think that’s great.”
Has Morrisonn thought about playing in the AHL for the first time since the 2004-05 lockout?
“Anything can happen — trades, getting moved,” Morrisonn said. “We’re over the cap, obviously. They got to make some moves. But I can’t really focus on that. I got to just focus on playing on the ice and competing and showing them what I got, and that’s all I can control.”
Morrisonn, who arrived in town Wednesday, said he hasn’t spoken to Ruff or general manager Darcy Regier yet. Clearly, though, Morrisonn wasn’t expecting this situation when he signed with the Sabres last August.
“I’m a gritty defenseman,” Morrisonn said. “I’m not afraid get physical and use my body and use my wheels. That’s what they got me in (for) last year. It’s just exciting to be here. (We’ll) see what happens. I want to be a part of this.
Morrisonn added: “You can’t really control what they’re going to do. If they won the Stanley Cup, they probably wouldn’t have made any moves. We didn’t, and they see that we needed to improve in some areas. I think that’s great. I think we got a great owner here (in Terry Pegula), and he’s ready to step up and make things happen.”