It was more than a little stunning to see the news yesterday that the Los Angeles Kings have agreed to a deal with unrestricted free agent Ethan Moreau, pending the results of a physical on Monday.  Moreau’s reputation as a hard worker and a capable defensive player in combination with the injury woes of the recently acquired Colin Fraser are probably what got Moreau this deal, but given the steep decline in his game the last few years this wasn’t expected.

Part of Moreau’s troubles, which we will consider in detail a little further on, undoubtedly stem from injuries.  Nicknamed ‘Captain Glass’ during his time with Edmonton, Moreau has had a five year stretch that has featured injury after injury after injury.

Season Games Missed Injury List
2006-07 75 Shoulder surgery
2007-08 57 Leg injuries
2008-09 5 Eye injury
2009-10 6 Ankle/neck injuries
2010-11 43 Hand, rib and foot injuries

The good news is that Moreau doesn’t seem to have one problem that flares up over and over again, a chronic malady that he’ll never be rid of.  The bad news is that he seems to have been injured in pretty much every possible way over the last five years and it’s hard to imagine those injuries not having a cumulative effect on his game.

Scott Howson, the general manager in Columbus, was familiar with Moreau from his time as the Oilers’ assistant general manager.  When the Oilers put Moreau on waivers, Howson snatched him up with a specific role on mind: checking line winger.  The Blue Jackets last season were one of the relatively few clubs in the league to employ a hard-checking line – a third line that played both the best opponents and the toughest defensive zone situations (most coaches opt for a power-vs.-power approach).  It’s the sort of role that makes hash out of everyone’s numbers, and makes it tough to judge Moreau’s performance.  Fortunately for us, there’s an easy way.

Samuel Pahlsson was Moreau’s regular center in that third-line checking role, and when Moreau was hurt (as he was for roughly half the season) he continued to play the same sort of minutes.  How did Pahlsson fare with and without Moreau?

  • With: 38GP – 3G – 4A – 7PTS, minus-10, 22 PIM, 44 shots
  • Without: 44GP – 4G – 9A – 13PTS, minus-3, 8 PIM, 64 shots

When paired with Ethan Moreau, Pahlsson’s shot totals, point totals and plus-minus all drop; the only thing that goes up are his penalty minutes (which he took three times as fast when playing with Moreau).  It’s circumstantial evidence, but it is suggestive – the plus/minus and penalties in particular.  Plus/minus is obvious: Pahlsson’s on-ice goal differential dropped when he played with Moreau, but the penalties matter too.  For a highly disciplined player like Pahlsson, penalties tend to show when he gets out of position and is forced to take a foul to correct the mistake, and more mistakes get made when he’s trying to cover for an inferior winger.

Shot data is also suggestive.  Last season, Moreau’s Corsi (a plus-minus for shot attempts for and against) was three times as bad as Pahlsson’s (despite playing almsot entirely together) and easily the worst total on the team.  The year before that, he posted the worst numbers on the 30th-place Edmonton Oilers.  The year before that, he was a sub-average player on a bad Oilers team.  The two years before that, he was on the injured list all year.

On a one-year, $600,000 deal, the Kings’ exposure to risk is pretty limited here.  It’s just not clear what exactly they hope to gain by making this particular deal.