Ask Ethan Moreau, and he’ll tell you it’s a good thing not too many teams inquired about his services this summer.
“Because it makes me pissed off for the season coming up,” said the 35-year-old forward, who finalized a one-year, $600,000 contract with the Kings on Tuesday.
Most athletes will tell you they play better with something to prove — the proverbial chip on the shoulder — and Moreau definitely has something. While Kings assistant general manager Ron Hextall said they were “thrilled to have him,” he’s well aware why Moreau was still on the free-agent market in late August: Teams were scared off by a lengthy injury history that included a 2010-11 season in which Moreau played just 37 games.
“Last year was a tough year, whenever a player is getting on in years, everyone questions whether he’s capable of doing it anymore,” Hextall said.
Moreau — who passed a physical Monday –insists he can still do it.
“I’m great. That’s the biggest misconception right now, that my health – it has been just unlucky things,” he said. “I’ve been hit by pucks in the wrong spots. It has nothing to do with age, wearing down. I’ve never had hip problems, knee problems, concussions. I feel the same way I did when I was 28.”
A better question is, what can Moreau do?
His next game will be his 901st in the NHL. There is no doubt that he is past the prime of his career, which peaked statistically with a 20-goal, 32-point season with Edmonton in 2003-04. In his last healthy season, 2009-10, Moreau had nine goals, 18 points and 62 penalty minutes for a last-place Oilers squad.
Hextall said that he and the Kings’ management team envisions Moreau filling a leadership role vacated by Michal Handzus, who packed up his 72 career playoff games and left for San Jose as a free agent this summer. Moreau has 46 games of playoff experience, 21 coming during the Edmonton Oilers’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.
A captain in Edmonton from 2007-10, and an alternate captain in Columbus last season, Moreau doesn’t expect to wear a letter with the Kings. Dustin Brown is the captain, Anze Koptiar and Matt Greene figure to return as the alternates, while former Flyers captain Mike Richards might also have to get used to not wearing a letter.
But Moreau is known as a vocal presence in the locker room — something Handzus wasn’t –and his younger teammates might do well to listen up.
“For guys like Kyle Clifford, Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez to learn off a guy like this is invaluable,” Hextall said, perhaps assuming that Doughty will re-sign in time to learn something from Moreau.
On the ice, Moreau will not replace Handzus, who averaged 17 minutes, 20 seconds a game in a checking-line center role. Moreau can kill penalties like Handzus did, Hextall said, but is “not a top penalty killer at this stage of his career.”
“He’s got to come into camp and find a niche and a role for himself,” Hextall said. “We just expect him to be a role player, give us good minutes, good leadership. Whether it’s 6, 7 minutes or 12, 14 minutes, I know Ethan’s not going to complain.”
Said Moreau: “It’s just a perfect scenario. I can’t describe it any better. (The Kings were) number one on any list we had.”
In addition to the Kings’ potential to send him off with a Stanley Cup, Moreau cited his deep ties to the area. His brother, Chad, is a Torrance-based chiropractor. For most of the last decade, Moreau has skated in Southern California with a handful of NHLers. Ex-Oilers Dustin Penner, Jarrett Stoll and Greene are among his former teammates.
On Tuesday, Moreau wasted no time signing up his 11-year-old son to play for the Junior Kings, and his 9-year-old daughter for gymnastics.
“I know what I can do,” Moreau said. “I just want to come to camp and prove to teammates, coaches, myself, that I’m back to where I was a few years ago – a high-end third-line guy that can provide goals, still get 15 goals, play physical, tough, block shots, kill penalties, be aggressive on the PK and lead in the locker room.
“We’ll see where they want me to play, what role.”