To quote what is arguably the greatest opening line in literary history, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times;" the saga of Sheldon Souray has been nothing short of frustrating. Big contracts, injuries, painfully sour attitudes, and heart-breaking demands have littered Souray's Edmonton Oilers career since his arrival in the summer of 2007. The native Albertan was poised to improve a team that somehow managed a Cup Final appearance two years before. Call it bad timing, or call it bad luck, any way you slice it, Souray didn't live up to anyone's expectations including his own.
At the dawn of a new NHL season, Souray has cleared waivers, and to no one's surprise, has not been picked up by a team in need of a defenseman because of his high salary and injury-riddled past. Along comes salvation in the form of the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League. Amidst young talent, an AHL scoring veteran, and a fantastic goaltendeing tandem, Souray may be sent to the minors to slum it with the kids. And much like that great piece of literature, 'The Tale of Two Cities', which depicts the plight of peasants being demoralized by the aristocracy, the vast majority of Oiler fans can't wait to rid themselves of the mishandling by the front office staff and the Souray Saga.
He Was One Of Us
Although only a few short years ago, try to remember a time when Sheldon Souray was a welcome presence in Edmonton. Even for those that thought he was over-hyped and over-paid, Souray probably found a place in their cold hearts that would warm to his reasonable talents. After all, he was one of us. By "one of us" I mean he hailed from northeast Alberta, grew up a fan of the Oilers, had family in the city, and embraced playing in hockey-mad Canadian cities. What's not to love? With a blindingly hard and accurate slap-shot that would go on to earn him an NHL record for single-season power-play goals by a defenseman, he was hard not to love.
Oklahoma City is certainly optimistic about their new AHL team. Great goaltenders, exciting forwards, strong defensemen accent a team with no noticeable name for non-hockey sports fans. Throw in a guy with a respectable NHL past and newspapers, blogs, and radio talk show hosts might have something to talk about. A foreign concept for those north of the border, hockey needs a face to be successful on a larger scale. Sheldon Souray was and can be a great player. He can add an offensive threat to the defensive side of the game. That sounds like a win/win for the Barons. Oklahoma City can learn to love him, just like Edmonton has done before.
Dollars and Cents
As a fan, I sometimes can't handle the thought of sports being about dollars and cents. In reality, that is ALL that it is about. The entertainment dollar is at an all-time high for North American sports. Fans will fork out an incredible amount of money and effort to be entertained. The dollars and cents of Souray's contract were pretty amazing. At 5 years, $27 million, even I gasped at the height and depth of that number. With a cap hit of $5.4 each year, it was either feast or famine, success or failure. Unfortunately, this time around, it was the latter.
The Oilers take one on the chin by sending him to the AHL, but what if it sells more tickets in Oklahoma City? What if the attendance boosts as a result of an "entertaining" player? What if he plays well enough that he garnishes some trade nibbles? That's a lot of what-ifs, and it certainly doesn't even the budgeted bottom-line, but selfishly I'd love to see 10,000 in attendance at the Cox Center instead of 7,000. It's not the best-case-scenario for the Oilers, but there is certainly a potential monetary upside for the Barons.
This summer when Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder mentioned how much he missed Seattle on his twitter feed, fans went nuts. What was a simple tidbit of truth turned into a giant storm of speculation on the intentions of the Thunder superstar. Souray, who is no rising star like Durant, with his blatantly honest comments about management, including this one via a SportsNet interview in April: "It's not a players thing. It's not a fans thing or a city thing. it's a management thing. They've given up on me, and it's a two-way street." If Souray is "banished" to Oklahoma City he can choose to work on his trade value or stick it to the man one more time, and either way, he'll certainly create some wonderful sound-bites. I can see it now: 7:00am. SportsCenter. Sheldon Souray bashes the Oilers from Oklahoma. *Play accompanied angry, frustrated, sulky audio*. NHL blogs talking about Oklahoma City. Sounds fine with me.
In laymen's terms, Sheldon Souray brings three things to the table in Oklahoma City. His play, his name, his excitement. Ironically, these are the three things Oilers' fans loathe about this guy. He can't stay healthy to play, the management spent too much money on him, and he just won't keep his mouth shut. I agree with you. His time in Edmonton has been frustrating, even for an outsider looking in. I've speculated a lot in this article, but that's what makes it so great... I could be completely wrong. I'm something of a champion for the game of pucks and sticks, sometimes to a fault. I'm not naive enough to think that big-time hockey will ever hold a true value to the good people of Oklahoma. There are many that certainly uphold the cause with me, but the naysayers far outweigh them. So this is really a post of self-loathing. I'm anxious for a memorable season for the Barons and I want to drag as many fans into the mix as possible because this encourages the development of hockey in the south. If this means bringing in Sheldon Souray, then so be it.