- Mark Stepneski, ESPNDallas.com
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The past year has been a rough one for new Dallas Stars defenseman Sheldon Souray. The money was good, but the situation wasn’t ideal. The Edmonton Oilers paid Souray $4.5 million last season to play in the AHL, for another team’s affiliate.
Now, Souray who turned 35 last week, is ready to return to the NHL and show that he can still be an effective player in the league. That’s what the Stars are counting on.
“I sense an unbelievable amount of motivation with him,” said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “I realize some people might view this as a gamble, but I believe it’s a gamble worth taking. He’s motivated. He wants to show the NHL he can still be a top defenseman in this league.”
Souray said he is ready to turn the page on a tough chapter in his career, excited that there is a new chapter to be written.
“Getting this done so early in the summer provides me with a real determination to be ready for training camp,” he said. “[I want to] give myself the best opportunity to have a great season and help that organization.”
The last time Souray hit the free agent market, the summer of 2007, the Stars and the defenseman were on each other’s radar. But Souray, who was coming off a career-year with Montreal in 2006-07, when he registered 64 points (26 goals, 38 assists), ended up signing a five-year, $27 million deal with the Edmonton Oilers.
His first season in Edmonton was plagued by injuries. He was limited to just 26 games due to shoulder problems. In 2008-09, he was back on track and at his best. He played 81 games and scored 23 goals, added 30 assists. But the next season there were injury problems again. A concussion sidelined him early in the season and then there was a broken hand, which turned into a bigger problem when an infection set in and he ended up missing the rest of the season.
At the end of the 2009-10 season things got messy in a public way. Souray asked for a trade, saying the Oilers had mishandled his injury issues.
That didn’t sit well with the Oilers, who didn’t invite Souray to training camp for the 2010-11 season. They eventually loaned him to the Hershey Bears, the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals.
“They were paying me and it was their prerogative to do whatever they wanted,” said Souray. “I feel like the situation definitely spiraled out of control. It was tough. The chain of events kind of prevented me and the organization from moving forward.”
The hope was Souray would play well and a team would be willing to trade for him. It didn’t happen. There were more injuries in Hershey. A broken hand and a knee injury limited him to 40 games. Throw in his big contract and some lackluster play, which Souray takes responsibility for, and there were no takers.
But the Souray-Edmonton saga came to an end just prior to free agency this summer when the Oilers bought out his contract and made him a free agent. On the first day he was available to sign with any team he inked a one-year deal worth $1.65 million with the Stars, the team he considered signing with four years earlier.
“I’ve never heard anybody say a bad word about the Stars organization,” Souray said. “The organizations I did play in – excluding Edmonton – New Jersey and Montreal were top shelf. So, I have always had my eye on Dallas”
There will be a lot of eyes on Souray. He knows there are doubters. He wants to prove he can still play and be an effective player in the NHL. He’s been working out with former NHL defenseman Chris Chelios and said everything is good on the health front.
“I feel great,” Souray said. “My first season in Edmonton I was hurt, but I came back and had a great season. That’s how I feel now. I feel healthy.”
Nieuwendyk was asked if he had any concerns about Souray’s injury woes in recent years.
“There’s always a concern, sure. But he feels good, he feels healthy. Some of those things were freak accidents. He got in a fight and broke his hand,” Nieuwendyk said. “But we’re both sharing the risk here. He signed a one-year deal, that’s what we were offering, and we think the reward is a good payoff.”
The Stars believe a healthy, motivated Souray can bring a lot to the Stars – size and experience on the blue line, and a big shot on the power play.
“We haven’t had that point presence on the power play for a few years here, since Sergei Zubov left,” said Nieuwendyk. “That cannon that he has will be a good complement for what we’re trying to do on the power play.”
Souray said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to make an impact.
“I know what I’ve got to do and how I’ve got to play,” Souray said. “I just want to put the past year behind me and move forward.”