There was but one game on the National Hockey League schedule Friday night, as the NHL wasn't even going to attempt to go head-to-head with nationally televised lacrosse and basketball in Canada on TSN.
The game was notable for more reasons than the Anaheim Ducks somehow being the West's second best team after nine games. It was notable because it marked the return of Sheldon Souray to Dallas.
Souray only played 64 games for the Stars, but they helped jump-star his career after the Edmonton Oilers dumped him in the minors.
Issues arose between Souray and the Oilers, who signed him to a 5-year deal in the summer of 2007. His tenure with the team ended in bitterness after Souray fought off injuries and stretches of unproductive play in Edmonton. He spent a year in the minors, got bought out, and then signed a cheap deal with Dallas to get some time in the NHL.
Souray was dynamite last season with the Stars. Not offensively, where he only had three powerplay goals and was fourth on the team in powerplay minutes. He did, however, have the highest Quality of Competition ranking on the Stars blue line and frequently started shifts in the defensive zone. He finished the season with a positive Relative Corsi, indicating that the Stars had more offensive zone time with Souray on the ice as opposed to when he wasn't. He was effective, playing frequently against the offensive stars of the Pacific Division like Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Thornton. He wasn't all-world, but his play was strong enough that one team thought to sign him to a multi-year deal.
And now Souray is in Anaheim, already with four goals on the campaign. That and his plus-7 rating obviously isn't a pace that is sustainable, but he's proved valuable in the early going. He's the second most used defenceman on the Ducks behind François Beauchemin and is seeing big minutes in both specialty team situations.
The resurgence of Sheldon Souray isn't isolated: as it turns out, even defencemen paid more than they're worth don't lose all value, but with a big contract, expectations are often attached. His time in Edmonton was a disaster, but he's not the first NHL-calibre player deemed not a good fit for Edmonton under their current management regime. He certainly won't be the last.
When a general manager gives any player a contract, he's also giving them an expectation. If the player plays above it, as Souray did last season, the fans love him. If he doesn't, he becomes an easy target for criticism.
Wade Redden, now with the St. Louis Blues, can sympathize. Redden was an excellent defender on Ottawa's blue line for years, playing over 23 minutes a night during his tenure in Canada's capital. Whatever the New York Rangers and Glen Sather thought they saw in a 31-year old Redden after his minutes had dipped in four consecutive seasons, they thought it was worth a 6-year, $39-million deal at the time.
Redden lasted just two seasons with the Rangers before they buried the rest of his deal with their American Hockey League affiliate. Playing with the Connecticut Whale née Hartford Wolfpack, Redden spent two seasons and 139 games in total obscurity, better than many of the defencemen in the NHL but with nothing to show for it.
Now, with minor league contracts counting towards the salary cap, the Rangers had no choice but to find an NHL home for Redden. They bought him out as part of a special arrangement after the league ended its lockout. Redden would sign in St. Louis for a more modest $1-million, a redemption deal similar to Souray's from a year ago.
Redden's not all-world and, unlike Souray, he isn't playing top minutes on special teams, nor does he have positive puck-possession statistics to impress the nerds. He is, however, playing reasonably better than any replacement minor leaguer would as a No. 6 defenceman, and what more can you expect out of a 35-year-old defenceman that's likely in his twilight years? Redden assuredly did not want to go out after four consecutive seasons in the minors, even if he was making millions of dollars. Redden had a career as a very highly-touted prospect, played a rare 82 games at age 19 (that's only happened four times since) and didn't deserve to leave the game the way he would have if the previous collective bargaining agreement continued.
Good defence is a quality that can't be explicitly measured by any statistic and fans and managers want goals and points out of their big money players. Older defencemen who can provide defence but not offence sometimes get lost in the shuffle. When playing for big dollars, a lot is expected. In the case of both Souray and Redden, a failure to meet that dollar expectation is an indication of lofty standard. When the dollar amounts change, teams can get away with wanting a little less and the players become, all of a sudden, productive.
Next up: Jay Bouwmeester.
Follow Cam Charron on Twitter at @CamCharron
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