This article was written by Art Middleton & Brandon Worley.
The tale of Sheldon Souray and the Edmonton Oilers and how their feel-good story turned into a very ugly situation in the end was nearly a perfect storm for both sides. For the Dallas Stars, that story came with a happy ending as Souray ended up with the team he'd wanted to go to from the very start.
It's amazing how much things can change in just a few years.
In 2009 and even last year, the Stars were in need of a big defenseman on the blue line who could help solidify a group of players still trying to recover from the loss of Sergei Zubov and Mattias Norstrom. Fans and local radio talked about various players that could by signed in free agency but at the time there was a lot of talk about trades, specifically a possible trade for Edmonton Oilers defenseman Sheldon Souray.
At the time, he was one of the most coveted defensemen in the NHL, in the midst of an incredible season with 23 goals and 53 points and appeared to be the answer for what the Stars desperately needed. Now, just a few years later, Souray has become a free agent afterthought -- signing a one-year "prove it to me" contract with the Dallas Stars after playing an entire season in the AHL.
"It couldn't have worked out better, ending up in Dallas with the Stars organization," Souray said last week on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket. "Dallas is a team that's been on my radar for a while now and I came close to signing here a few years ago. Hindsight is always 20/20, but if I had signed with Dallas I wouldn't have gone through what I did the last couple of years in Edmonton."
Souray was extremely close to signing with Dallas in the summer of 2007, but because the Oilers were a bit quicker with the offer -- and the fact that he's from the area -- Souray chose to head to Edmonton instead. At the time, he was coming off an incredible season with the Montreal Canadiens but was also in the midst of a divorce; he's stated he thought taking his game to Edmonton would be the right move for him, both professionally and personally.
In the end, he played just one full season in four years in Edmonton and left the city as a man scorned by the team, the local media and the fans alike. It's a very interesting tale of a hockey player with such incredible potential derailed by injuries and circumstances beyond his control, yet blamed for every misstep along the way. What led to Souray coming to the Stars in this manner, being bought out by the Oilers and signing just a one-year contract with the Stars?
Follow the jump to find out...
Sheldon Souray was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1994 and ended up being a bit of a late bloomer that wasn't helped by trying to crack a very deep defensive lineup in New Jersey. He was traded to Montreal in 2000 and after a couple of sub-par seasons where it didn't look like he would be able to become anything more than a big body that could hit a little but contribute very little else, he broke out in the 2003-04 season and became a premiere NHL defenseman that could punish people physically with his size and put up big offensive numbers.
In his final three seasons with Montreal he posted a total of 53 goals and 85 assists in 219 games played and was the anchor of the Habs power play unit. He became one of the most sought after unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2007 if not the most wanted free agent available.
Meanwhile the Edmonton Oilers were on a swift fall from grace ever since their dramatic 2006 Stanley Cup run and it was accentuated by all the talent and big name players who seemed to be trying to leave Edmonton as fast as possible giving the organization and the city itself a horrible reputation as a place where NHLers just didn't want to play and seemingly would avoid at all costs.
A year earlier in 2006, players were leaving left and right. The club did try to recover by announcing that they had signed Michael Nylander, but it was a premature announcement as Nylander signed with the Washington Capitals a few days later -- leaving the Oilers club with a PR nightmare and more egg on their face. In the summer of 2007 they were overly anxious to prove that Edmonton was still a market that could attract big names.
It was under those circumstances that the Oilers signed Souray to a five year deal worth 27 million dollars in July of 2007. It was a clear over-payment for Souray who was a great defensemen, but still had previous injury issues and faced questions if he could keep up his all-star play after getting a huge raise. It was an over-payment, though the Oilers and even their fans felt it needed to be done to show the rest of the league they were still a factor. It was also a case of a local area boy coming back home as Souray was born in Northern Alberta which only intensified the pressure on Souray.
Souray's time in Edmonton was doomed from the start however as injuries limited the defenseman to 26 games during the 07-08 season. While fans and media in Edmonton were understanding of the bad luck, it didn't take long for whispers to start being heard that the Oilers may have in fact had signed a bust of a contract and player.
Souray rebounded nicely in the 08-09 season and returned to his regular numbers of 23 goals and 30 assists in 81 games played. He was named to the all-star game for a third time in his career and with that things looked like they were going to turn out just fine for both the club and the player who by all accounts was happy in Edmonton and someone the team felt they could build their young defense around going forward. he was by all accounts a great teammate, leader and well liked in the Oilers dressing room.
The warm fuzzy feelings didn't last long though as a few games into the 2009-10 season Souray suffered a concussion that kept him sidelined for most of the season. An attempted return later in the season was hindered further by hand and shoulder injuries and that's where things get murky with this story...
Souray was frustrated with the injuries not to mention the constant losing that took place in Edmonton and requested a trade. His initial reasoning for wanting a trade were because of family issues, he wished to be a little bit closer to the west coast and more importantly he felt that Oilers management didn't take proper care of him while he was injured. He maintained that the Oilers coaching staff tried to rush him back too soon from his shoulder injury - which had been suffered at the same time as his concussion - and that during his hand injury, Oilers GM Steve Tambilini failed to contact him at all while he battled through a serious staph infection.
Souray also felt that the Oilers were failing to do what was needed to built a winning team around him.
"They've had success in the past, which has allowed them to feed of their past a little bit," said Souray. "Maybe they haven't, until recently, done what needs to be done to get players to go there. It's a different game now, different personalities, different players.
"I guess it's just not a place that's attractive to go to, for whatever reason; every player has a list of things that's important to them and other cities have to do things and go a bit over the top to make sure players want to go there."
While Souray tried to insist that his demanding of a trade had nothing to do with the city or people of Edmonton itself, all Oiler fans heard was a player demanding a trade away from Edmonton and suddenly scars that had barely closed with the likes of Chris Pronger, Nylander and even Dany Heatley who also publicly shunned the Oilers by turning down a possible trade, were once again opened by Souray and he became the latest #1 public enemy with Oiler fans who didn't even bother to listen to Sheldon's actual and more legitimate reasons.
The Oilers franchise did very little to help Souray out by treating him like a cancer and making sure to gather as much public sympathy to their cause in their suddenly very public feud. While Souray insisted that he would report to Oilers camp the following season on time and do his best to help the team and wait for a trade, the Oilers pulled a jilted lover act by telling Souray to stay home and not that he was no longer wanted on the club.
Says Souray, "Things didn't go how the players or the organization wanted it to, things got a little bit personal and I ended up spending the year in Hershey."
While it was a straight PR move to show their fans and gain support that they were no longer going to be somehow 'bullied' by diva-like players such as Souray was being portrayed to be in the court of public opinion, it dealt a massive blow to the Oilers ability to trade a player who would have otherwise gotten a decent return under better circumstances.
"I bit my tongue, I tried to handle things in a professional manner but everyone has their breaking point and I spoke out," said Souray. "When that happened, things turned personal. Everything just snowballed from there, things got public and messy and I guess they just wanted to send a message by sending me down there."
"I just tried to make the best of a situation that wasn't ideal."
Over the next year the Oilers tried multiple times to ship Souray off but no NHL team was willing to take on the huge contract he was signed for or give up assets for a player that most felt would be bought out in the summer and become a UFA once again.
Which is exactly what has happened and is why Sheldon Souray is a Dallas Star at this moment.
Meanwhile, Souray's accusations of improper treatment by the Oilers medical staff and managment which were scoffed at by local fans and media alike back in 2009 seem to have gained a sort of new relevance with the latest issues surrounding the Oilers dealings with the Los Angeles Kings in an effort to bring Ryan Smyth back to Edmonton.
First it started with the Oilers offering Gilbert Brule which the Kings had accepted, only to find out that the Oilers failed to file the proper paperwork needed in reguards to Brule's concussion suffered late in the season. The Kings agreed instead to take Colin Fraser in the deal, but again it's been found that he too was injured and that the Oilers may or may not have been aware of the injury - either way not good optics for the Oilers in terms of how they handle player injuries.
As for Souray, he comes to the Dallas Stars as a man on a mission. He's played just 37 games in the NHL over the past two years and he knows that there are plenty of questions surrounding his ability to not only stay healthy, but to still play at a high level. Souray says he healthier than he's been in a very long time and he's coming to Dallas a motivated man.
"I'm out in California, training with Chris Chelios. I see him waking me up at 40 years old at 6 a.m. wanting to go on a two hour bike ride and he's still talking about wanting to play. He has such a determination to get out there and play again and for myself, that's rubbed off on me. I know there are a bunch of question marks; I'll be 35 years old in a week."
Many people want to focus on the injuries, that he's prone to getting hurt and missing playing time. It's important to remember that the past two seasons have been derailed because of hand injuries sustained in a fight, something Souray admits wasn't exactly smart on his part but is also an inherent part of the game. He'll also admit that heading into last season, being sent to the AHL, he wasn't in the best shape of his career.
Coming off a severe staph infection following surgery on his injured hand, Souray was weakened by a lengthy antibiotic regimen and suffered from not being able to participate in training camp last summer. Heading immediately to the AHL, he faced players looking to prove themselves by lining up with an NHL veteran and he answered the call, only to get hurt once more. As Souray puts it, he was playing catch up all season long. This season, it's different.
"I'm healthy, which is something I couldn't tell you a year ago or even two years ago."
"I feel like I'm just coming off an injury and have something to prove again, and people have question marks and I love that," says Souray. "People have reasons to be motivated and there's not going to be anyone more motivated than me this year."
The question marks are certainly there, but Souray has the chance to be a short term answer for a problem that has plagued the Stars for too long. Heading into a transition period for the organization, there existed a dire need for a veteran leader on the blue line who could help take the pressure of Stephane Robidas, provide offense on the power play while also being a physical presence in front of the net. Souray is capable of all these, a big body with a monstrous shot who is able to move the puck well in transition.
If Souray can recover just parts of what made him so great just a few short seasons ago, then the Stars likely have one of the most valuable defensemen in the NHL on this one-year contract. Souray is a man motivated to prove that what happened in Edmonton didn't go down as it was portrayed by the team, that he's not a locker room cancer and that he can still play at a high level in the NHL.
He's healthier than he's been in two years and he'll have a full training camp and preseason to get back to the playing level he's used to. He's a few years older now and there are many questions surrounding his abilities, but Souray is still the player that Stars fans were clamoring for just a few years back. Now that he's in Dallas, chances are we'll see a player with even more to prove than before.