“There’s still thoughts that I want to play. That’s the hardest thing to come to terms with – you always think you can do more and still play. But, once I came to the realization that I wouldn’t play or that I shouldn’t play, that’s when I started to think of alternative career paths.”
Those comments are just the beginning of what Ethan Moreau shared during a conversation with MayorsManor a few days ago. About a week prior, word came out that the former Oilers captain had retired and taken a scouting position with the Montreal Canadiens. But any attempt to look forward was intertwined with the events of last season. And, much of our conversation became the first acknowledgement of what had privately been known since December, the gritty forward wouldn’t be returning to the ice.
So, what happened exactly? That’s something many have asked in various forms since he was put on waivers last December. Now, with the Kings regular season and playoff run complete, Ethan sat down with us for an exclusive interview and shared several previously unreleased details of the story.
To properly frame things, he was ecstatic to sign in LA last August for several reasons, including – he knew many of the Kings from training with them over the past few summers, his brother lives in LA, he was being reunited with two players he went to the Stanley Cup Final with in 2006 (Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll) and he thought the Kings provided him an excellent chance to make one last deep run through the NHL playoffs.
Known as much for being a great guy in the room as his leadership on the ice, he instantly went to work – calling out Greene and Dustin Penner before training camp even opened, claiming the only reason either were funny is that they stole all of his material when they left Edmonton.
The banter between the three became common pre-season fodder on MayorsManor.
However, putting jokes aside, Moreau didn’t provide the offensive production he had hoped for once the season got started. Primarily a gritty, sandpaper-type guy, the former number one draft pick wasn’t expecting to have just a single assist though the first 16 games.
On November 28, Moreau scored his first (and only goal) with the Kings.
Just four games later, he received only 6:39 of ice time (his second lowest of the season) in a game vs. Minnesota…and later that night came the news.
“They said they were going to waive me and send me down to Manchester,” Moreau recalled. “Dean (Lombardi) said the team wasn’t doing well and they wanted to make some changes. In order to do that, they needed to make some room. So, they were going to put me on waivers.”
After playing 928 games in the NHL, Moreau suddenly didn’t know what the future held. “I was definitely surprised,” he explained. “I was never a healthy scratch. So, I went from playing every game to not playing at all. Even so, I accepted it and understood it. We weren’t playing well as team and I wasn’t playing well individually.”
Regardless, after clearing waivers, he had a decision to make – go play in the AHL or retire. “I had some health issues that I was playing with. In my mind, I was willing to keep playing with injuries in the NHL, but I wasn’t really thrilled with the idea of doing it at a step down. It’s hard for a player who’s played as long as I have. It’s tough on your ego. It’s tough on everything. So, they gave me some time to contemplate what I wanted to do.
“When I went to Manchester, I didn’t really know what I should do. I was still talking things over with my family and my agent. I went down there and participated in a couple of practices and saw some doctors there. Then, I saw a specialist back here and that’s when I had the advice. So, I had to figure out if it was still a good idea to keep playing.”
The recommendation to retire came after he failed the baseline concussion test twice in Manchester, something that wasn’t reported at the time.
“I had some head related injuries where I’d get hit and I’d have double vision. It would last four to five minutes. It was kind of a scary thing and I was never really able to get to the bottom of it.”
Ever the warrior, the decision wasn’t easy for him. “The reality was I had various health issues and it was time to move on,” Moreau said. “I wasn’t able to play the way that I had years ago. But, sometimes you need people to tell you that. I can be pretty stubborn, as most hockey players are. So, you definitely need some people to tell you that it’s probably in your best interest to move on.”
Adding a layer of complexity to the decision was the fact the Kings replaced coach Terry Murray right as Moreau was receiving some of his key medical opinions. Enter Darryl Sutter – a man Moreau has had tremendous respect for since his days in Chicago. He also played on a line with Darryl’s brother Brent during his rookie season. Thus, the hockey player in Moreau thought there might be an opportunity to return to the Kings once again.
“I spoke with Darryl when he was hired,” revealed Ethan. “But, the truth was, I had been off the ice for too long at that point. I had been having those conversations with doctors and my family. So, at that point, it was probably too late.”
At the end of January Sutter made a scouting trip to Manchester and a few weeks later Dwight King and Jordan Nolan were called up to LA. Both players just won a Stanley Cup with the Kings, something that still stings when Moreau is honest with himself.
“I never really watched a lot of the playoff games from start to finish. But, I definitely knew what was going on. For game six, I watched part of the first period. I saw Brownie’s power play goal, that was pretty much it. Obviously, it’s tough not being part of it though.”
He went on to say he wasn’t surprised by the Kings success this post-season. “I even told my wife as soon as they made the playoffs that they were going to win the Cup. I know it’s easy to say now. But, I thought they were the best team on paper going into the playoffs, even as an eight seed. I know the guys in that locker room and I had a feeling they were going to win. They were an extremely deep team and I felt they were the best team.”
Rather than lament not getting what he so desperately wanted before having to retire, Moreau has chosen to find the positive in an otherwise dark cloud. “You have to remind yourself of everything you have and not focus on the things you don’t have. I was extremely fortunate to play as long as I did. I played 16 years, over 900 games. You can’t always write your script or go out exactly the way you want. Some guys can. But, more often than not, guys end their career in a way that they didn’t anticipate.”
Among the many things he cherishes these days is a closeness with several former teammates.
“You don’t lose friendships when you leave a team and the relationships aren’t strained over what happens. I was extremely happy for those guys. Stolly checks in every couple of weeks and he’s been a great friend throughout the whole process,” declared Moreau. “I haven’t seen anybody since they won the Cup though. It’s still a little tough emotionally for me. So, I’m not going to be part of any celebrations either. That’s just too difficult.”
True to his word, Moreau wasn’t around when Dustin Brown brought the Stanley Cup by his brother’s office earlier this week (note: Chad Moreau works with several NHL players and was formerly the Oilers’ Strength and Conditioning Coach).
“My kids and some friends went over there to get some pictures though. And it was typical Brownie, he’s such a classy guy. It was really nice of him to take the Cup over to Chad’s office. For me though, as a hockey player, you’re not going to hang around the Stanley Cup if you didn’t win it. That’s just too awkward.”
Even with his time as a King now over, he doesn’t blame the organization for how things were handled.
“I was trying to play through my injuries when I was in LA. It was probably part my fault. I wasn’t totally upfront about how I was feeling at certain points. It’s impossible for them to know certain things if a player doesn’t come forward.”
Moreau says he mainly communicated with Kings VP and Assistant GM Ron Hextall during the second half of the season, as he prepared for this transition. “They were very supportive. Everybody treated me with a lot of respect and they were all professional throughout the whole process. They always made sure I got what I needed. Obviously it wasn’t a great situation. I wasn’t thrilled with what happened. But, everybody treated it the right way. There’s no complaints from my end over how it was handled.”
He also doesn’t have any regrets about signing with the Kings.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to come here. This is still home for us right now. Everybody is happy and nothing’s changed on that side of the equation. Life goes on. We’re still active and involved in things around here and we have friends and family here. That hasn’t changed at all. Sure, it was unfortunate the way it ended, but that’s just the way it is. There’s no animosity or resentment. Things happen in hockey. This day comes in everybody’s career. But, life goes on and I look forward to the next chapter.”
From Huntsville, Ontario – a few hours outside of Toronto -to Orillia, Niagara Falls, Sudbury, Indianapolis, Chicago, Edmonton, Columbus and then LA, it’s been a never ending hockey journey for Moreau and his family. Along the way, he’s picked up many accolades and honors – including receiving the NHL’s King Clancy Award in 2009 (given annually to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities and has made noteworthy contributions in the community) and being named the Oilers’ team MVP in 2004 (coming off his best NHL season, with 20 goals).
Yet, he won’t be needing his stick or skates for this next phase.
Last summer he switched agents, joining Pat Brisson and CAA. The team there, along with his wife Ornella – who’s been by his side for 20 years, since he was playing junior hockey in the OHL – have supported him throughout the process.
“Some guys can just go golfing and relax. That’s not my personality though, I’ve been busy my whole life and I want to stay busy. Knowing that I was interested in the scouting and management side of things, Pat worked hard to find me something and I signed a contract with Montreal a couple of days before the Draft. I went to Pittsburgh, met the staff and started to learn the business right away. It was a pretty cool experience and they immediately made me feel involved.”
Why Montreal? Moreau was blunt, “They were the first team that contacted me.” He also credits some mutual friends for connecting him to Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin.
But, his ties to LA remain strong. He has friends, family and he even received a message from the Kings’ front office recently. “Ron (Hextall) sent me a nice text, congratulating me on being hired by the Canadiens once it was announced.”
It must be true…when one door closes, another opens.
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