DALLAS -- The wind-up and the shot were unmistakable Thursday morning at practice.
Sheldon Souray is indeed back in the NHL. Just what he brings back with him after a year of exile in the AHL will be intriguing.
“I don’t really expect anything from myself in terms of numbers or anything like that; I expect to be a player who takes a strong leadership role for the team, be a player that can be a good role model on and off the ice,” Souray told ESPN.com Thursday after the morning skate. “And I’ll go whatever the coaches ask me to do. I’m really looking at this as starting with a clean slate, coming back in the NHL and proving myself to be a top-tier player and a player that’s going to contribute nightly. Where that leads, we’ll see.”
At 35 there undoubtedly should be some hockey left. But it’s clear the Stars aren’t fooling themselves in thinking they snatched the Montreal Canadiens, all-star version of Souray when they inked him to a one-year, $1.65-million deal in the offseason. They just want Souray to be what he can.
“For us, I don’t view it as high risk,” Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk told ESPN.com on Thursday while watching Souray on the ice.
“It’s a one-year deal. He gives us a couple of different elements: One is a power-play presence. We really haven’t had that shot from the point for a number of years here. He brings an added element of toughness to our back end, which we can use. He has a presence about him. But we’re not asking Sheldon to come in here and be the guy. I think his last two stops that’s what they asked him to do -- and rightfully so as they gave him a big contract.”
The expectations and the big five-year, $27-million contract in Edmonton eventually made for a sour script after injuries limited his productivity. He asked for a trade; the Oilers couldn’t find a taker because of his $5.4-mllion cap hit. They even waived him a few times, but there were no takers.
So off to AHL Hershey he went last year, waiting and waiting, and hoping and hoping for a way out.
“As a person, I don’t think it changed me that much,” said Souray. “It didn’t kill me anyway. I was more a victim of circumstances more than anything. It was unsettling, and it definitely tested my patience. You certainly have a lot of time down there to think about things. But it didn’t change me. I’ve always tried to be the same guy on and off the ice, in the AHL or the NHL. I’ve always tried to be a stand-up guy.”
He posted four goals and 15 assists in 40 AHL games. Wrist and knee injuries, and some back issues, limited his production.
“It was just one thing after another,” said Souray, who says he’s fully healthy now. “For whatever reason it wasn’t happening last season. But I’ve moved on. I’m focused on getting myself to where I think I can be.”
Once the Oilers bought out the final year of his deal, he scoured the market and chose Dallas.
“I had a few options,” said Souray. “I’m thankful I had to opportunity to come to a place where I wanted to come to. This is a team five years ago that I was close to coming to. I’m thankful they wanted me and I think I have a lot to offer them. Hopefully it works out for everyone.”
Souray is motivated to prove he can still play in this league. But to prove to whom?
“I think he’s motivated not so much to show people he’s still a good player; I think he’s motivated to show himself that,” Nieuwendyk mused.
Said Souray: “There might be a little extra motivation, but other than that, I’m really just looking to turning the page.”
After all, he now has a new perspective on his career.
“You don’t want to take anything for granted,” Souray said. “This is a great league to play in. You’re playing in the best league in the world. I’m definitely thankful to be able to be here now and prove that I still have some game left.”
Thankful. Souray uses that word a lot these days.