Since entering the league in 1979 the Edmonton Oilers have been one of the most successful franchises. They’ve made seven trips to the Stanley Cup finals, winning five. They were one of the Kings biggest rivals in the late ’80s / early ’90s – partly becuase of the Gretzky trade, but also becuase they played in the same division at the time.
Over the past two years Kings GM Dean Lombardi has signed Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar to long-term extensions – wanting to get his guys under contract before their free agency window opened. Up north in Alberta, the Oilers did the same thing a few years prior. Steve Staios and Ethan Moreau both inked four year extensions in the months following their playoff run in 2006. A symbolic move Lombardi would probably describe as guys showing they have the team logo tatooed on their bodies.
Similar to Brownie and the Kings, following his long-term deal Moreau was later made Captain of the Oilers. A lineage that includes names like Gretzky, Messier and Buchberger.
It’s been 10 years since a big, seven player trade brought Ethan Moreau to Edmonton from Chicago. Now, as captain of the Oilers, he’s still trying to find a way to return the luster to once proud franchise. Prior to the Kings taking on his team in Edmonton Tuesday night I had a chance to talk all things hockey with Ethan. It’s another in our ongoing series – Conversation with a Captain:
Last season you won the King Clancy award. When you look back at the names of guys that have won that award in the past you see some big time, hall of fame type players. To be mentioned in the same breathe as them had to be something special for you.
It was. I do a lot of work in the community and it was nice to be recognized (the picture is of him getting his head shaved for charity). Our community foundation put together a good package and presented it to the NHL. It was nice to be acknowledged, even though a lot of those things we do is just because we want to do them. It makes you feel good as a person. But, to be acknowledged and to be able to go to the awards in Vegas, to bring my kids and to hang out with a lot of elite players, it was definitely a thrill.
This season there’s been a lot of talk about the legality of hits and the number of injuries around the league. You were even involved in some of the discussion a month or so ago when Ryan Wilson of the Avs gave you a hard elbow to the head (video here). Are things getting out of control in the NHL? Do you feel that things are different on the ice this year versus previous years?
I think it’s a result of guys being faster and bigger. You have a bunch of guys that are over 220 pounds and they can skate really fast. It’s a vicious game. We’ve had mentions that the collisions are more violent now because of the strength and speed of the players – through training – there’s really no way to police that. Its a very physical game. There’s going to be guys that get knocked out, there’s going to be guys that get concussions. There’s no way around that.
Back in ’94 you were taken in the first round of the draft. Were you excited to be going to an original six team or was it more about just getting to the NHL?
It was a long time ago, but I remember being rated fairly high. I knew I wouldn’t go past Chicago. There was a chance I might go before that, but I had some good talks with Darryl Sutter, who was the coach at the time. He made it clear he would pick me if I was available to them. So, I was extremely excited to go to Chicago and like you mentioned, an original six team. They had a lot of veteran players at the time, so it was a great place to start.
You were able to sneak into a few games with the ‘Hawks in ’95-96, before joining them full time the following season. Were you intimidated a little when you looked around the dressing room and saw so many superstars – Chelios, Roenick, Amonte, Belfour, Nicholls…
I was a fairly confident 20 year old. So, I fit in well. Having said that, part of it was due to the fact they really accepted me; guys like Cheli and Bob Probert – they were great to me. Really made me feel comfortable, allowed me to excel. I played on a line with Brent Sutter as well. It was a great place to learn how to play and learn from a lot of great veteran players.
The week before you were traded it was reported in Chicago papers that you weren’t going anywhere, even though the team wasn’t playing well. Then, it happened. Do you have different feelings now about being traded from Chicago than you did back then?
At the time Chicago was kinda on the downturn. We were a bad team, we weren’t making the playoffs. So, for me, it was exciting to go to a younger team that had a chance to make the playoffs. Once I got there I saw they had lots of guys my own age. Plus, it really helped in my development as a player because it was a skating team and a forechecking team. It was the perfect fit for me at the time.
After your first full season Craig MacTavish took over as the head coach for the next eight seasons. Much has been made in the media about guys not seeing eye to eye with him. Is that just hype or did you have a different relationship with him?
Whenever you’re with somebody that long you’re going to have differences. But, coaches have a short shelf life and they have to get the most of their teams. I think he did that. He took us to the Finals in ’06. But, it was time for a change. You see that at every level in athletics. Coaches come in, they do their thing and then it usually doesn’t last that long. Sometimes you need a different message or a different voice. He had some success here, but I think it was best for everybody to move on.
Staying in 2006. Although it was a bitter disappointment to not win the Cup, you had to feel pretty good about the team that summer and the direction things were heading. In fact, just a few months later you signed a four year extension, rather than test free agency the following year. What was your thought process about resigning so soon?
Well, yeah, we almost won the Stanley Cup and we thought we had the pieces in place to get back and make another run the next year. I think that’s why a lot of us signed extensions, to remain in Edmonton with a good bunch of guys. And for me, it was also where I raised my family. Now, it didn’t really work out like that, so far we haven’t been able to get back to the playoffs. But, I don’t regret my decision.
You were named captain in ’07. With the Oilers rich history and tradition, is there extra pressure being the captain in a place like Edmonton, where the whole city embraces the team, versus other so-called small markets – like, say Nashville or Tampa Bay?
I think there’s a lot of pressure put on me by people. But, I don’t put extra pressure on myself. I’ve always been a leader, ever since I was 20 years old in Chicago. So, I haven’t really changed anything. That’s just the way I’ve always been. I don’t really do anything differently and I don’t really expect any more of myself. I try to just do the things that have made me successful in my career and that have made me captain. I’ve worn a letter everywhere I’ve played, so the pressure mostly comes from external.
As a leader, lets talk about how you handle certain things. Recently, Patrick O’Sullivan found himself in a little whirlwind, arguing with some guys in the media and whatnot. Do you call a guy like that to the side and remind them that’s a no-win situation or do just let somebody like Sully work it out on his own?
I don’t even know what happened. What was it? (note: I tell him about Mike Milbury and Kelly Hrudey’s comments mentioned here in a Kings Kool-Aid article…and then Sully’s reaction here)
It’s stuff we don’t really worry about, I guess. We have a task everyday to get accomplished. Sure, as part of being a good teammate you try to help your teammates whenever you can. But, I don’t get caught up in that type of stuff.
What about some of the guys that have left town. Take a guy like Chris Pronger, who basically forced his way out of Edmonton. How disappointed were you when that whole thing went down?
You want to have the best team you can. When you lose quality players its definitely disappointing. We have to do a better job of making this a more desirable place to play.
Along those lines, the team was trying to get Dany Heatley to come there over the summer. Ultimately, he went to San Jose. Because it was the off season and guys are spread out all over the world, was it difficult to coral the issue and keep the guys on the same page?
He was never really part of our team. It was a huge story here, but it just never happened. It was unfortunate that the trade got out though. It was difficult on the players that were involved in the supposed trade. But, it’s not like we had him here for a year and lost him. He was never an Oiler. It’s just too bad the whole thing went public. It was another blow to our organization and our city that he didn’t want to come here.
Talking about stories and how big they can become in a hockey crazed town like Edmonton, last week there were reports that the ownership group might have to think about relocation if they cant get a new building. Is that something you guys try not to worry about or is that another story that ends up in the locker room and the guys end up talking about it?
Well, I think its obvious we need a new building. Any successful organization in the league right now has a new building. So, its a no-brainer. People to oppose it in the city really don’t have the best interest of the city or the organization in mind. It’s crucial to the wellness of the city that we get a new building.
Let’s move on to some more light-hearted issues. Back in September you posed fairly naked in a special edition of ESPN’s magazine (click here for pics). And a few times you’ve been in the finals for online contests like ‘Sexiest Oiler.’ Is that something the guys in the room like to tease you about?
Not really. Once when you’re in the environment of the locker room guys don’t talk about that type of stuff too much. It was a good opportunity to work with the people at ESPN. It was an awkward shoot, but it was a pretty cool issue. It was fun.
Now the Olympics are coming up soon and the coverage is going to be insane throughout Canada. Given that you won’t be playing, what are your plans for the time off?
We’ll be going to Maui. But I’ll be into it, whoever is playing. It’s going to be a huge deal here. I imagine it will be one of the biggest sporting events ever in the history of Canada, especially if we make it to the gold medal game. But, there’s a lot of good teams. Anything can happen in that format when you have a one game elimination. You have the US, Russia, Sweden, etc. Really, on any given night any of those teams can beat each other. It’s a little different than in other sports, when usually the best team wins in the course of four quarters. In hockey you can outplay the other team and still lose. Its a tough sport in that format.
Who is the smartest player you’ve ever played with and what did you learn from him?
I’d have to say Chris Pronger. He’s probably the best player and the smartest player I’ve ever played with. I didn’t learn too much from him on the ice because he plays a different position. But, he has a real professional approach to the game, he’s always prepared to play and he takes a lot of pride in the way he plays. So those are probably things I took from him.
Let’s take a look at the first few months of the NHL season. What have been the highs and lows so far?
1. Parity – nobody is running away with things and nobody is out of it
2. Big Hits – I think that’s entertaining for everybody
3. Dustin Penner
1. Attendance – it’s been tough in certain markets
2. Travel Schedule – things have been compressed because of the Olympics
3. Ice Conditions – we’ve played on some poor ice…some cities can handle the multiple events in the same buildings, others can’t
Let’s try word association with some of the guys you’ve had as teammates throughout your career:
Eddie Belfour – eccentric
Chris Chelios – competitive
Jeremy Roenick – entertaining
Tony Amonte – great release
Chris Pronger – smart (guess I set him up with that one earlier, eh?)
Ryan Smyth – hand-eye
Matt Greene – funny
Jarret Stoll – one timer
Patrick O’Sullivan – toe drag
Lubomir Vishnovsky – quick
Craig MacTavish – gray (note: he was his coach, not a teammate)
Finish this sentence: I’ll be a better player this season if I ____
Obviously your loyalties are to the Oilers, so this isn’t a trick question. But, with so many former teammates now in Los Angeles, do you find yourself cheering for the Kings if you’re catching a game on TV?
Definitely. Stolly and Greene are good friends of mine. My brother trains guys there and I live in LA in the offseason. I’ve known some of the other Kings, I’ll skate with them in the summer – I got to meet guys like Blake and Luc a few times. I know a lot of people in that organization. So, its definitely a team I keep my eye on.
Now you guys just came off a very successful road trip with five straight wins. The Kings are hot too, going 8-1-1 prior to the game in Vancouver. Are they going to be able to find a way to beat you guys at home?
Well, with them playing in Vancouver last night it will be tough. Back to back games are extremely difficult in this league. They won a game from us in our building last time when Greeny scored a late goal. We haven’t forgot that. We need to beat them, especially at home. So, we’ll be at our best.
(Fortunately for LA, the Kings defeated the Oilers 3-2)
For more news, views and interviews – check out the Mayor’s official website, where everything has a Kings related slant to it: www.MayorsManor.com
About the Author: The Mayor of the LA Kings provides news, interviews and inside information at www.MayorsManor.com. His stories have been featured on ESPN, The Fourth Period, Hockey Independent and many other websites. You can also follow along at www.twitter.com/MayorNHL and/or www.facebook.com/MayorsManor.