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Sheldon Souray Isn't Poison After All, But Now What?

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It took ten months, but Steve Tambellini finally did something with Sheldon Souray.  Tambellini recalled Souray, exposing him to re-entry waivers because:

"In speaking to so many mangers over the last few weeks, recognizing how many people are looking for defencemen, this is an opportunity, I think, for some team, and for Sheldon.  I don’t know. I just know that everyone is asking for the same type of things out there and this is the right time."

The timing was curious, considering it came on the heels of Tambellini saying he wouldn't expose Souray to re-entry waivers unless he had a guarantee someone would take him:

Until I get a call from a team saying they're interested in Sheldon, I won't be putting him on re-entry...  If there's interest in Sheldon, I'm sure somebody's going to call.

In two weeks, Tambellini went from needing a guarantee that someone would take him and the Oilers would get an asset in return, to "I don't know".

Tom Renney was taken by surprise when he heard of Souray going unclaimed:  

I think Sheldon's a good player, and I think he can help a lot of teams.... To me, I'd have taken a run at him.... He's got way too much to offer a team that needs that kind of help right now.

As Scott said in his reaction to that statement:  "He's got way too much to offer a team right now? Guess what! You own his rights!"  If Tom Renney thinks he can help other teams, it's a certainty Souray can help the 30th-ranked team.  Renney's got him down as a good player who can help a lot of teams, but Oilers' Captain Shawn Horcoff thinks even more highly of his ex-teammate, saying "I’ve known Shelley for a long time ... he was a great teammate and a good person."  The two unquestioned leaders of the Oilers see a player who can help, not a poison pill or someone intent on ruining developing players.  This solidifies the Souray / Tambellini dispute as one centered solely on management ego versus a player willing to go to the press and nothing more.  During Kevin Lowe's reign as General Manager, the Oilers were involved in several notable disputes, ranging from Mike Comrie's salary dispute to a Zamboni parked behind a CBC production truck and the new man in charge shows no sign of change.  It's likely this dispute will have an amicable resolution.

For just that reason, Jonathan Willis explored the idea of using the buyout clause of the CBA to release Souray from his contractual obligations:

Barring the unlikely possibility that the Oilers can sweet-talk another team into taking Souray this summer for a different bad contract, that would seem to leave a buyout as the most likely option. The Oilers would have to pay two-thirds of the dollars remaining on his deal; $3,000,000 altogether over the next two seasons. According to Cap Geek, that would leave the team with a cap hit of $2.4 million for next season and $1.5 million in 2012-13.

I didn't think it was possible for the Oilers to make this situation any worse than it already is, but buying out the contract of Sheldon Souray is one way to do just that. Leaving Souray in the AHL, presumably on a team not from Oklahoma City costs the Oilers nothing but another $4.5M of Rexall money.  Since owner Daryl Katz has already shown an inclination to bury NHL money in the AHL, there should be no problem with doing the same next season.  Buying Souray out would cost Katz $3M, a savings of $1.5M over paying him to play in the AHL, but would add to the Oilers' cap hit over each of the next two seasons.  If the Oilers are going to be competitive and challenge for a Stanley Cup, it's going to happen in one of the next two years.  The entry-level contracts of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Jeff Petry, and Linus Omark all expire after the 2012-2013 season and that core group of talent will get at least three times more expensive.  Though Kevin Lowe told CBC on Hockey Day that the Oilers will be ready to contend in six seasons, the Oilers' best shot at contention is 2012-2013.  Carrying an extra $1.5M against the cap during the 2012-13 season hinders their ability to fill in all of the gaps and is the difference between signing a key player or carrying an NHL minimum player.

If the Oilers cannot find a taker for Souray in the off-season, they are left with two ways to deal with this - ask him not to come to camp, waive him immediately after the season starts, and find another team willing to take him on loan as the Hershey Bears have done this season; or the Oilers treat him like any other AHL player.  Invite Souray to training camp, allow him to participate in an open competition for a roster spot.  If he can't hack it, waive him and loan him out.  But if he's good enough, keep him on the roster.  If he develops trade value, move him at the first instant.  If he doesn't, he's a "good player" and a "great teammate" and could help a struggling team with a Swiss cheese defense.