October 20, 2011
Sheldon Souray(notes) infamously called his time with the Edmonton Oilers "a nightmare," as his $5.4 million cap hit was stashed away in the AHL and Oilers management minimized the opportunities for someone to claim him on reentry waivers by placing him there five months into last season.
As Souray told the Montreal Gazette:
"I felt (a move) would happen when it happened. I started losing faith in the process. Things (the Oilers) were doing didn't make sense. I resigned myself to being just a prisoner at that point, for lack of a better word."
Edmonton finally bit the bullet last summer, agreeing to buy out Souray by paying two-thirds of his $4.5-million salary spread over two years. "It was a huge relief," he said. "Even if I didn't sign in the NHL, I was free to do something. Edmonton didn't control my destiny any more."
Souray's release from the Edmonton Salary Cap Maximum Security Prison took him to the Dallas Stars for one year and $1.65 million last summer. How's it been so far? To paraphrase another prison take: "Sheldon Souray … who crawled through a river of [expletive] and came out clean on the other side."
Simply put, he's quickly become one of the most unlikely comeback stories on one of the most unlikely success stories of the young season.
Can we call it a comeback, L.L.? Not sure. It was a messy divorce from the Oilers for several reasons, chief among them that some of the injuries that made Souray a liability fiscally and from a player personnel standpoint were his own doing. From David Staples back in July:
Souray had been a strong player in 2008-09, but after his concussion early in 2009, he was not the same player, not even close. His wrist injury, obtained in a stupid retribution fight with Calgary's Jarome Iginla(notes), didn't help.
Simply put, for the last two seasons he could no longer keep up with the NHL game. So it was his performance, as much as anything, that had him in the AHL last season.
Plenty of teams had a close look at him in Hershey, but no one traded for him, even if they could have had him at half-price. Sending him to Hershey made him a more desirable package, as he would come much cheaper, yet there were no takers. Now sometimes it takes a lot of time for a player to recover from a concussion, but they are able to do so after a few years.
One can only hope that this is the case with Souray, and he's again the player he was in 2008-09. He was a fan favourite that season.
He's becoming one again in Dallas.
Souray is skating 20:22 on average through six games, paired with Stephane Robidas(notes). He's averaged 3:04 on the power play, where he still has a howitzer of a shot. He's also averaged 2:43 shorthanded.
He doesn't play top-pairing minutes, but his numbers read like a top D-man: Five points in six games, with a goal and four assists. He's also a plus-6.
"My feeling is everyone feels like they are coming in with a fresh start. Me for obvious reasons," said Souray, who spent last season in the American Hockey League. "It seems everyone has come in with a renewed sense of optimism and that's just made it easier for myself and the other guys to blend in."
Souray has done more than just blend in with the Stars team first concept. He's stood out in many ways. His shot, one of the hardest in the game, has made an impact, producing some offense for the Stars. But Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said there's been more to Souray's game than just the offensive side of things.
"I can't say enough about Hammer. He's been real good here. Offensive production we obviously don't want to stop now, but if it did we're fine because his defensive play has been very sound," said Gulutzan. "He's given us some bite back there. He's a very hard to play against guy. He's given us a good voice in the locker room. There's no offensive pressure on him. What he gives us is great, but we like the way he defends and plays D and the presence he brings us."
Again, it's early, and as a 35-year-old defenseman with some miles on him there are no promises Souray keeps up this pace.
But his impact, and his enthusiasm, has been immediate. Whatever you think of his time in Edmonton, Souray believes he's escaped from prison and given a second chance in society. Dallas just hopes he honors his parole.