In Defence of Ethan Moreau

As most people here know, I’m not the biggest Ethan Moreau fan in the world.

I have some good reasons for that.

Ethan Moreau takes stupid penalties. He took a lot of them last year, and it hurt the team quite a bit.

On top of that, the lasting image in my mind from last season was Moreau pointing the finger at the power play after a loss to Anaheim, despite the fact that it had gone one-for-four (25%) while Moreau’s penalty-kill had gone three-for-four (75%). The fact that Moreau had been on the ice and at least partially to blame for the power play goal against only served to anger me further. Pointing fingers at teammates while refusing to take responsibility for himself seemed to be a constant in interviews that Moreau gave after losses.

Despite those things, Ethan Moreau is a vital part of the Oilers and a player who shouldered a heavy burden last season.

Consider the quality of the players that Moreau played both with and against. Behindthenet.ca credits Moreau with playing the second-toughest opposition of any Oilers forward. Looking over at hockeyanalysis.com, we see the forwards that Moreau played against the most – in order Jarome Iginla, Andrew Brunette, Ryan Smyth, Henrik Sedin, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, James Sheppard, Mike Cammalleri, Mikko Koivu, Daniel Sedin, Olli Jokinen, etc. I think it’s safe to say that Moreau played a lot against very good opponents.

Contrast that with who Moreau was playing with. Behindthenet.ca ranks him 10th among regular Oilers forwards. Not only does that fit with memory, but also with who hockeyanalysis.com has him playing with: Andrew Cogliano, Kyle Brodziak, Fernando Pisani, and Marc Pouliot. I think it’s also safe to say that Moreau played a lot with guys who were either hurt (Pisani) or in over their heads (Cogliano, Brodziak, Pouliot).

Consider also where Moreau generally started on the ice. I’ve made a lot of fuss over the last few months about Vic Ferrari’s zonestart; a measure of whether players started in the offensive or defensive zones. Courtesy of timeonice.com, here are Oilers wingers from last season ranked by even-strength defensive zone faceoffs minus offensive zone faceoffs (in other words, a positive number means a lot of time starting in the defensive zone):

Those numbers aren’t as drastic as for some of the centres (Brodziak, +112, Horcoff, +89) since MacTavish liked to send out two centres for defensive zone draws, but it’s pretty clear that Ethan Moreau was the de facto left wing for defensive-zone starts.

Moreau’s numbers suffered. His even-strength scoring, as reflected by PTS/60, dropped down near the bottom of the club. He was on the ice for 37 goals for and 39 goals against at even-strength. He was aided to some degree by shooting and save percentage, as was much of team; if not for Dwayne Roloson the Oilers would have been much worse last year.

Shot attempts for and against are measured by Corsi, and Gabriel Desjardins takes things one step further – measuring Corsi relative to team – and Moreau’s -9.4 per 60 minutes of even-strength ice-time was poor. Not as poor as the numbers posted by Pisani, Reddox, and Stortini, but poor all the same.

My colleague Derek Zona, who I suspect suffers from much the same anti-Moreau bias as myself, made the statistical case against Moreau here. I don’t disagree that the numbers are poor, but I’d argue that they’re a reflection of being asked to do too much with too little, and that aside from Moreau’s previously mentioned penchant for stupid penalties, he’s a very important player to this team.

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