Morris waits to find place among Devils


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Here he is -- and there he goes. Jon Morris has come around more times than a Ferris wheel.

The last time looked like it would be his last to pass this way. He left the New Jersey Devils in 1988 to return to college, and he deserted the team again last season after being sent to Utica.

Prodigal son or bad penny, the center returned again this week for another try. His talent is unquestioned, but it has always been wasted. Both the Devils and the 26-year-old Morris hope this time will be different. The Devils could use some quality depth at center, and Morris could use a job.

Here's how it all happened.

Last season, Morris was upset about being sent to Utica. He didn't like taking the pay cut and he didn't see a chance to break into New Jersey's lineup at center, a position that was strong and deep at the time. So he walked away.

"I went home to Chelmsford [Mass.] and sat around waiting," Morris said. "I skated at a local rink and kept hoping that the Devils would trade me to a team where I could play. I didn't seem to be in the Devils' plans."

The wait finally became unbearable, so Morris asked for another shot. The Devils had changed. They had lost two of the centers ahead of him on the depth chart -- Patrik Sundstrom and Laurie Boschman -- and they had a new coach in Herb Brooks.

"I knew the team needed centers, and I always got along with Herb Brooks when he was at Utica, even though I left," Morris said.

However, before welcoming Morris back, GM Lou Lamoriello wanted some proof that Morris was serious. So Morris went to Cincinnati (IHL) to prove himself. As a show of faith, Morris offered to play without pay. He even picked up the bill for his own expenses.

After 18 games, he apparently satisfied Lamoriello. He had seven goals, 19 assists and 24 penalty minutes, and he obviously was superior to the level of competition. On Christmas Day, Lamoriello told Morris to come to New Jersey.

"It felt strange at the first practice on Sunday," Morris said. "But it felt pretty good, too."

He hoped to be accepted instantly, so he could make the trip to Quebec and Washington with the Devils. But he was asked to report yesterday to Utica for what promises to be a short stay.

Lamoriello has said that Morris' future will be decided by Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, Lamoriello is continuing to investigate other possibilities. Edmonton center Bernie Nicholls has expressed an interest in coming to New Jersey, and Edmonton also has placed Esa Tikkanen and holdout Joe Murphy on the block. Two Edmonton scouts were at Sunday night's game, evaluating the Devils' talent for a possible trade.

Morris is waiting to find out where he fits in.

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