a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Thursday, 26 May 2011

05/26/11 27.0 What To Do With Souray?

What do you do with him? The Sheldon Souray question continues to drag on. And on, and on, and on...

This is a player that once scored an NHL record 19 powerplay goals (by a defeseman) in a season, and finished up that year with a total of 26. He scored a career-high 64 points in that same campaign (2006-07) with Montreal. He's scored 23 goals in a single year for the Oilers, and despite his many injuries he managed to have a respectable 0.53 points per game average in Edmonton. At that pace, Souray would have managed 130 points (roughly 43 per year) over three full, healthy seasons.

But Souray wasn't healthy.

When the Oilers signed souray in the summer of 2007, the biggest question mark surrounding him was his glaring -28 rating from the previous year. Despite those 64 points, Souray's plus/minus was abysmal, which led some to the conclusion that he was a shoddy defensive performer.

However, there was another reason why the big blueliner didn't get a contract until the 12th day of free-agency that summer. There may have been some awareness at the time that he was damaged goods. Kevin Lowe rolled the dice, hoping that Souray would either be healthy enough to play through the following season, or that if surgery was required it wouldn't put him out for too long. With all the things that were going bad for the Oilers at the time, Lowe needed to land at least one big fish in the off season. After all, the money that wasn't spent on Ryan Smyth was intended for a big free agent.

Whatever the smoke and mirrors that have been put up by both sides since the contract was signed, the real reason that Souray signed in Edmonton was lack of market interest. Souray obviously had a number that he wanted to be paid thanks to his fantastic 2006-07 season, and the Oilers were the only team desperate enough (and who had enough cap space) to sign him. It was short-term thinking by Kevin Lowe, who needed to justify the Smyth trade with more immediate dividends than the package that he receieved from the Islanders.

Four years later, even the most critical would never have thought that things would go this sour. Steve Tambellini exiled Souray to the AHL's Hershey Bears, where he managed 4-15-19, 85 penalty minutes and a plus-10 rating in 40 games. Those numbers aren't exactly inspirational for a player that should arguably be lighting up the American Hockey League.

At this point it seems highly unlikely that any team will claim Souray on waivers, and he definitely isn't coming back to Edmonton. So now the Oilers have the choice of loaning him to an AHL team for the 2011-12 season, or buying him out of his contract. The bonus to loaning Souray is that his contract doesn't count against the cap, but the Oilers aren't in a position for that to matter at the moment.

Conversely, if management buys Souray out he will be owed $3 million which will be paid over the next two seasons. Therefore, ownership saves $1.5 million in actual salary, but Souray's cap hit will be on the books next year for $2.4 million and $1.5 million in 2012-13.

It's an ugly situation, and there's no right answer. At this point it's probably better to just save the money and buy Souray out of his contract. The cap hits are unfortunate, but they aren't debilitating, and the hit will be gone by the time the cap becomes an issue again for the Oilers.

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