It’s a loaded question.
On the one hand, Moreau is one of the longest serving Oilers, and a leader in off-ice charitable work, as seen above. It’s impossible to question either his passion for the game or his desire to win, and he is the kind of guy who plays through pain and often doesn’t get enough credit for it. Last season, for example, Moreau played with a broken hand from December until the end of the season. Here’s what I had to say about it at the time:
So, while I tend to agree with Shepso at Bringing Back the Glory that it’s incredibly frustrating to watch an injured player put into tough situations night in and night out while useful parts in Dustin Penner, Marc Pouliot, Kyle Brodziak and Robert Nilsson are relegated to lesser roles or the sidelines, there’s a positive upside to all this – namely, that Ethan Moreau’s performance could plausibly improve by a significant margin next season.
And if that improvement can turn the captain into a physical player who holds his own at even strength against tough opposition, he could be a very useful part of this team going forward. If the amount of attention his reckless penalties have gotten this season motivates him to change his ways (and to my eye he did improve in this area down the stretch), he may even be a player that I applaud next season.
Of course, the healing of that broken hand hasn’t fixed the problems. Moreau’s play still isn’t where it was a few years back, to the point where some have wondered if he’s fully recovered from the eye injury he suffered last season. He’s still taking poor penalties – last year he took 1.9 penalties and drew 1.0 penalties per 60 minutes of icetime (-0.9) but this year has been even worse because he hasn’t been drawing penalties. So far on the season, Moreau averages 1.5 penalties taken and 0.1 penalties drawn (-1.4) for every 60 minutes he plays. He’s the only forward on the team (min: 10GP) to have a penalty differential worse than -0.4.
Still, his poor play is only one of the arguments to remove his captaincy. Derek Zona recently highlighted the other reason frequently bandied about – his willingness to criticize everyone other than himself. Most of the readers here will recall the game against Vancouver on Boxing Day; the Oilers were playing a relatively good road game (even carrying the play to some degree) until two power play goals by the Canucks turned the game around. I blamed Moreau; it was his pointless goalie interference call that put the Oilers’ down a man and led to the 5-on-3. Moreau himself saw things a little differently:
"It’s our inability to kill a penalty and our inability to score a goal on the power play when we have the chances that cost us… We have to do a much better job killing penalties and our power play has to be better. We contribute our loss to special teams and that’s about it. That’s why guys get paid a lot of money, is to kill penalties, that’s their job. We’re not executing well enough. We have some of our best players, veteran players on the penalty kill and the power play and we’re not executing like we should. It’s unfortunate because we’re wasting some really good efforts."
The Oilers power play went 0-for-3 on the night, so it wasn’t like they got a ton of chances to score the winning goal; I really don’t know if I’d put the loss on that group.
As for Moreau’s comments about the penalty kill, I’m not sure how to take them. The first power play goal against, Moreau was sitting in the box, and Horcoff was the lone forward out there in the 5-on-3. The second goal however can be somewhat directly attributed to Moreau – the pass to the point went right through him, Edler took it and fired, and Kesler deflected it into the net. So at first glance perhaps he is taking his share of the blame.
On the other hand, obscuring the issue is the comment about guys making money. In order, here are the cap hits for the four players on the ice for the Kesler goal:
- Sheldon Souray: $5.4 million
- Tom Gilbert: $4.0 million
- Patrick O’Sullivan: $2.925 million
- Ethan Moreau: $2.0 million
In other words, the way I take that comment is ‘this team has overpaid guys who aren’t getting the job done.’
Zona looks at it as Moreau deflecting the blame from himself. That’s how I take it too, and it isn’t the first time Moreau’s done it either (Last year, the power play and penalty kill both went 1-for-4, with Moreau on the ice for Anaheim’s power play game-winner, and after the game he laid all the blame on the power play. I was fairly angry about that; 25% is a good power play rate, and 75% is a bad penalty-killing rate, but Moreau never mentioned the PK).
I’ve said many times that I don’t see what happens in the locker room, so it’s entirely possible that Moreau’s a great teammate behind closed doors. But comments like the one he made above really bother me. I’d think a good captain would step up to the plate and deflect blame from his teammates to himself, saying something along the lines of, ‘it was a bad penalty to take and it’s something I have to work on.’ It seems to me that comments like that would unite, whereas deflecting blame divides.
I can’t be sure one way or the other, but based on his on-ice play and public comments, it’s difficult to picture Moreau as an especially good captain.