Ghosts Of Oilers Past: Sheldon Souray

It’s nice to sit through the last few weeks of summer, no longer worrying about Evan Bouchard re-signing. A big slapshot that every powerplay craves, right-handed, and making the league’s best man advantage even more lethal. The Edmonton Oilers have a gem in the 23-year-old defenseman. But the last time they had that kind of player, it was not a draft pick or from a trade.

In the summer of 2007, Edmonton entered an offseason where they missed the Playoffs, finishing 25th in the league a year after being just one game away from winning the Stanley Cup. The Alberta capital hasn’t always been an attractive living arrangement for unrestricted free agents. That same summer, they thought they’d signed free agent forward Michael Nylander to a contract when word came about that he was agreeing to a one-year deal. Nylander instead opted to sign with the Washington Capitals. Sheldon Souray was coming off a career year with the Montreal Canadiens, putting up 64 points. He scored 26 goals, with 19 of them being on the PP in large part to his big slap shot from the blue line. It’s an NHL record that still stands nearly two decades later. Only Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber could shoot the puck harder than he did, he was one of the best at it. With Souray being from Alberta and being an Oilers fan when he was younger, that played some role in his signing with Edmonton. He looked to be filling the gap on defense left by Chris Pronger in the 2006 offseason (obviously not to the same degree since Pronger was a Norris and Hart trophy winner). But in the 2007-2008 season, he was just limited to 26 games. In the team’s sixth game of the season against the Vancouver Canucks, he got into a fight with Byron Ritchie midway through the third period and injured his shoulder, which wasn’t feeling great for him even before training camp. He, of course came back for 20 more games, but the Oilers still went three quarters of the season without their top free-agent signing.

The 2008-2009 season was a turnaround for him. Despite Edmonton missing the Playoffs for a third straight season, he put up 23 goals and 30 assists for 53 points and was an NHL All-Star for the second time in his career. But in his third Oilers season, injuries plagued him again and limited him to 37 games. He got checked into the boards by Jerome Iginla in the team’s third game of the season and suffered a concussion. He and Iginla fought in a rematch between the Oilers and Flames, resulting in another hand injury. A couple of weeks ago, Souray was a guest in a recent episode of former NHL enforcer John Scott’s podcast, Dropping The Gloves. His time in Edmonton was discussed, and what he revealed about his tenure as an Oiler is shocking. He had an infection from that hand injury and had to be placed in an Intensive Care Unit for four days, taking painkillers and antibiotics. Not only was there a risk of him having an amputated hand, there were concerns about the infection possibly reaching his heart. But believe it or not, that’s not even what the shocking part is. The people in charge of the Oilers at that time believed Souray was milking this injury to not play for Edmonton anymore. So then, in the following year, he plays for the AHL’s Hershey Bears to stay in contract with the team. Then, The Oilers finally bought out his contract in the 2011 offseason. He played his last two seasons with the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks before retiring in 2013.

You don’t have to remind Oilers fans just how bad that ten-year Playoff drought was. Trust me, we are more than aware. But stories like this show that it wasn’t just the team on paper or on the ice. Management was a complete gong show in the Pre-McDavid/Pre-Draisaitl era. The Oilers management of today are certainly not exempt from criticism; I don’t agree with every move they’ve made, though I don’t vocalize it as strongly as other fans. But this story gives so much more perspective and also makes me thankful that the franchise has been in a better state now compared to those bleak years. Of course, even if management treated Souray fairly, the injuries still took a massive toll on his NHL career. His history with the Oilers is just way worse now with this news. Imagine if the Edmonton Oilers weren’t run with such ineptitude. Imagine if a talented offensive defenseman in his prime years and a big name UFA choosing Edmonton of all teams stayed healthy and weren’t so unlucky with injuries. That’s all Oilers fans can ever do, imagine.

Stephen Vani

Oilers fan in Toronto. Staying up past my bedtime for Western games since the mid 2000s.

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