He's been in the news in Calgary, he's been in the news in Boston, he's been in the news in Tampa, he's been mentioned on TSN, and he's likely come up in a lot of locals without the knowledge of the average Calgarian.
Many have uttered the phrase "If Wayne Gretzky can be traded ..." as a defence for putting once thought of untouchables on the market, and to an extent the statement still rings true.
However, Wayne Gretzky was traded in 1988, and if it was 1988 Derek Morris would not be dealt. Teams with emerging young defenceman should hold on to them at all costs, and find other avenues to fill holes in their roster.
It isn't 1988.
The reality of the day puts the Flames behind the eight ball when it comes to offence. They have an unsigned star in Jarome Iginla, two players that set career marks last season in Craig Conroy and Dean McAmmond, and two players that equally horrendous seasons in Rob Niedermayer and Marc Savard.
Will Iginla sign on the dotted line by camp? Will Conroy and McAmmond be able to repeat their astounding seasons? Will Savard and Niedermayer bounce back to what they have shown to be average seasons?
Should everything go the Flames way, which is the exact opposite of how the club usually fares in the fate department, the team has five of six forwards needed to complete two scoring lines.
Anything less than that suggests the Flames are thin up front and will need to acquire additional players to make that push into the playoffs.
Flames 2002-03 Payroll Estimate
Wild Card Players
There are three ways to improve a team's forward ranks.
1. Sign an unrestricted free agent
2. Promote a top prospect
3. Swing a deal
The adjoining table depicting a best effort look at the Flames payroll this season clearly factors into all three scenarios.
The team looks to have a payroll over 31-million this season, a jump of roughly five million from a year ago. The beef in that increase comes from the eventual Iginla contract, a huge bump in Roman Turek's deal, and a sizeable step up in Derek Morris's deal.
At that level it is very unlikely that the Flames will add a piece to the puzzle through free agency, unless of course, some other changes move salary out.
The top prospect idea is a good one providing the player earns his way, but this option too is fraught with salary problems. The team's leading candidate, Chuck Kobasew, isn't signed and is quickly moving toward the peak of his negotiating strength. The runner-up, Oleg Saprykin, is coming off his worst season as a pro, and is touch and go to make the team, let alone make a solid contribution.
With either player, the team would have to cough up roughly a million bucks moving the payroll up 500,000 per player assuming they'd bounce a lesser paid player off the books.
Which brings Craig Button back to scenario three ... swapping Flame assets for scoring help.
Given the amount of leather burned off the bottom of his shoes it looked like Button did everything in his power to use the Flames first pick this year as part of a package to acquire the players needed. He came up empty.
With that chapter closed, it would only make sense to deal from a position of strength, and move an NHL caliber defenceman for an NHL caliber forward.
This is where the conversation returns to Morris.
The Flames will likely lose Igor Kravchuk and his big-ticket contract creating a minor hole on the blueline. A month ago the club signed Jordan Leopold to his first contract, and are likely counting on the young rearguard to step in and make some impact in his first season.
But can they afford to move one of Morris, Robyn Regehr, Toni Lydman or Denis Gauthier creating yet another hole, and a huge step up in ice time for Petr Buzek?
Rumours from the weekend had Morris going to Colorado for a forward, Regehr going to Dallas for Morrow and a swap of first round picks, as well as Gauthier going to Colorado for Stephan Yelle.
It appears Button thinks he can make do with the absence of one of the big four.
Moving Morris would make the most sense in that it would assist the club two ways. His value is much higher than the other three, which would lead to higher end scoring help in the trade return. Plus moving his 2.5 million salary for next year may afford Button the chance to add a seasoned blueliner on the open market to replace some of Morris' minutes. This of course depends on the returning players' salary as well.
A team without Morris, but with a top end talent for the forward ranks would greatly alter the Flames look for next season. Assuming some sort of a bounce back from Marc Savard (if he's not traded himself), the Flames would have two lines for the first time in what seems like a decade. On the blueline they'd be fine save for the powerplay, which could really suffer with the departure of Morris.
Can Toni Lydman play a larger role on the powerplay? Can rookie Leopold step up and be a factor? The Flames may have to role the dice and find out in October.
"If You Build It ..."
Time is of the essence in Calgary, the team needs to take a solid step towards the playoffs this season.
I say a step towards because regardless of what the Flames accomplish this off-season it's a very real possibility that they will come up short anyway in the ultra competitive Western Conference.
A .500 season is a more than reasonable goal - a solid sign that the team is moving ahead and on the cusp of some very good seasons in Calgary. Another 75-point season would do nothing for the patience of Calgary's hockey fan, especially on the doorstep of labour Armageddon in 2004.
Changes will be made to the Flames' roster this summer, and training camp is now less than 12 weeks away. Some of the most significant changes are likely just around the corner.
Where there's smoke there is sure to be a very active Calgary Flames.