Ethan Moreau does not fit the profile of the standard NHL captain.
He’s not a top line superstar expected to lead his team with a clutch goal or assist. Nor is he an elite defensemen expected to shutdown the opposition’s top forwards while logging the bulk of his team’s ice-time. No, Ethan Moreau is a checker, a grinder, a lunch bucket player that the working man can identify with and every player on the team can respect.
Need a guy to kill a key penalty in the last five minutes of the game? Moreau’s your man. Need a guy to block a howitzer from the point? Ethan will take one for the team. Need a guy to drop the gloves against a bigger man to stand up for the honor of the crest? Ethan Moreau will answer the call of duty that NHL captaincy demands, each and every game; each and every shift.
Cut from the same cloth as former Oiler icon Ryan Smyth, Moreau is a throwback to an earlier era of hockey when grizzled third line veterans had every bit the respect if not more than fuzzy cheeked youngsters earning three times their salary to anchor the top line. One of the most beloved Oilers ever, Smyth once drew a standing ovation in Rexall Place when he returned to the ice in the third period following the unexpected extraction of three teeth courtesy of a Chris Pronger slapshot. Smyth never missed a beat and barely a shift, setting up the OT winner in a crucial playoff win for the Oilers in their Cinderalla run to the Cup final in 2006. The performance earned Smyth the undying allegiance of the Oiler faithful and set the bar forevermore for the level of commitment expected from those players chosen to wear the Oilers’ crest on their chest. It’s not a commitment that Moreau takes lightly.
Said Moreau at the time of his appointment to the captaincy, “I’m extremely honoured and consider it a privilege to be named captain of the Edmonton Oilers. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the organization and will continue to strive towards bringing the Stanley Cup back to Edmonton.”
For a club steeped in the tradition of Stanley Cup triumphs, anything less than total victory is a disappointment. But the reality is: it’s now been 19 seasons since the Oilers last brought the Cup home to Edmonton in 1990 and with each passing season, it becomes more difficult for the organization to reinforce a commitment to excellence with a new generation of players, many of whom were still in diapers when an Oiler captain lasted hoisted hockey’s holy grail.
The key to carrying this tradition forward is Moreau, truly the last link to Edmonton’s glory days.
Take a moment to track all of the trades and transactions that spiral outward from the black hole that was the Gretzky trade and you will find that Ethan Moreau is the lone asset remaining in the organization from that infamous day in Oiler history. Certainly no one in the Oiler organization is telling Moreau, “you’re the only guy we have left from the Gretzky trade.” That is a burden too great for any one player to bear and, to be fair, the bulk of the assets received for Gretzky were the $15 million in cash pocketed by then owner, now pariah, Peter Pocklington. No, the expectation from the Oiler brass is not that Ethan Moreau score like the Great One; it is simply that he demonstrate the same commitment to winning. That level of commitment is best expressed in the now oft told tale by Gretzky on what the Oilers learned after losing to the Islanders in their first trip to the final.
“After losing that first final, walking by their locker room, the one thought we had as players was: it was going to be a dreadful sight going by their locker room and watching them celebrate and having a tremendous time. As we found out…it was pretty quiet in there. We sort of walked out healthy and they were beat up. We realized then and there that it takes a lot more than just wanting to win. You were going to have to earn it, and it was going to take a lot to win a Stanley Cup and be a champion. That’s what we learned from the Islanders.”
Considering that Moreau has come back from a broken ankle, a broken leg and a severe eye injury that nearly ended his career, it’s safe to assume that Moreau has already learned that lesson the hard way. What remains to be seen is whether the young players on the Oilers are ready, willing & able to join their throwback captain in doing whatever it takes to win. If they do, Ethan Moreau will prove that the last remaining asset from the Gretzky trade is a most valuable asset indeed.