Sheldon Souray: Is he really the player you think he is?

Jonathan Willis
July 23 2008 04:27PM

Too much emphasis has been placed on Sheldon Souray’s season in 2006-07, both by his detractors and by his supporters.

The detractors point to his play 5-on-5; they look at his -28 rating, and compare his 1.92 GFON/60 to his 3.43 GAON/60, and look at the quality of competition he played against and they say he’s a guy who can’t handle any kind of NHL opposition, a guy who is a liability whenever he’s on the ice.

The supporters look at his 19 powerplay goals and 48 powerplay points, and make the case that Souray is a difference maker 5-on-4, an offensive juggernaut whose shot from the point can single-handedly revitalize a powerplay.

Personally, I think that both points of view are wrong.

Looking at Souray’s play since 2003-04 (the first season where he was relied upon in his current role), we find a physical defender, a player who likely played against lower-tier competition (unfortunately, Desjardins data doesn’t go that far back) but had some success. A +4 and -11 rating are all we have to go on, but it’s handy to remember that both came playing for a team that enjoyed middling success, and both are close enough to break even that we can say Sheldon Souray can be an effective bottom-pairing defender at even strength.

On the other hand, Souray’s offensive production in 2006-07 was far and away his best performance. He’d previously scored 6 and 7 goals on the powerplay, and 21 and 17 points. His shooting percentage (11.6%) was a full 3.5 points above his previous single-season high, and nearly double his career rate. His overall scoring jumped from 35 and 39 points all the way to 64. His goals went from 15 and 12 up to 26. Looking at those numbers, I think that it’s fair to say that Souray was a beneficiary of a rejuvenated Montreal powerplay, rather than the player driving it (Montreal’s continued success 5-on-4 this season supports that theory as well).

So what is Sheldon Souray? I think that he is a legitimate defenseman on the bottom pairing, a guy who by all accounts adds leadership, and a physical force on the backend. He’s not a difference maker, but he can keep his head above water.

On the powerplay, Souray has a great shot from the point, but everything that I’ve seen from him leads me to believe that he really doesn’t add much else. He’s an OK puck-mover, but not especially confident and certainly not a top-tier quarterback. That shot, however, is a potent weapon, and if used on a powerplay with multiple options (such as the Oilers look to ice this season) can be an absolute game-changer.

I haven’t gone into depth on Souray as a penalty-killer (mostly because I firmly believe that Craig MacTavish could take Joffrey Lupul, Petr Sykora, Tom Poti and Alexei Semenov and still have a top-15 penalty-kill) but he really is an excellent option there. MacTavish noted that Souray is a cycle-breaker, and I think it’s an accurate analysis. I’m sure that he’ll be an integral part of the penalty kill this season.

In the final analysis, Sheldon Souray is a good player, a guy who is a positive force on special teams (but not a miracle worker), and someone who can keep his head above water at even strength, while adding a needed physical dimension. His contract would be more reasonable if it was either shorter in duration or smaller in dollars, but it really doesn’t have any bearing on his play. It isn’t accurate to malign a useful player just because he’s overpaid.

—Jonathan Willis is the owner of Copper & Blue, a blog dedicated to all things Oil, and a frequent contributor to OilersNation.com.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 mucho
July 23 2008, 06:18PM
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one word...OVERRATED!

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#2 namflashback
July 23 2008, 06:45PM
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I tend to agree Jonathan. I think if he is being relied upon to be the best in a number of areas (ala Pronger, or Lidstrom) you'd obviously be disappointed.

In this depth chart -- he does not have to be. His foot speed is slow, but in the d-zone and on the boards he has a few skills the rest of the D-corps does not.

As long as he is the guy who stays back so that he can use strong positioning rather than speed to protect in the d-zone, I think he can be effective.

I remember watching a couple of sequences last season where he played against the rush pretty effectively. While the rushing winger managed to gain zone pretty effectively, Souray was able to use position to keep the winger on the perimeter.

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#3 David S
July 23 2008, 08:00PM
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Its funny that you wouldn't be having this discussion if Souray was getting paid $2.0 mil or so a year. You're absolutely right that we seem to equate worth to salary. In most cases that's probably true, but unfortunately the "optics" the Oilers were paying for at the time aren't considered as part of this deal (Staples' series spreads some light here).

From what I saw last year at the games, your assessment is pretty much right on. However, I also saw that whenever we fell back to "getting it back to the point", teams clued in pretty fast (must have spotters upstairs or something). Although as another solid scoring "option", along with guys like Gagner coming on, I have more optimism for this coming year.

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#4 misfit
July 23 2008, 10:06PM
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That's exactly how I've always viewed Souray. A guy you want on your team, and a guy you put out every time you're down a man, but not a guy you want to play on your top pair, or pay over $5M to play for you.

Unfortunately for Souray, Oiler fans, and the team, is that cap space and the ability to come out ahead 5-on-5 (when most of the game is played), are about the most important things there are.

David S is right. We wouldn't be discussing this if he made 2M. Unfortunately he makes almost 3X that amount.

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#5 Dennis
July 23 2008, 10:57PM
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Actually, David. S, I think it's the NHL's salary cap which forces us to to look at a player's salary in accordance to his on-ice value.

And what did Staples piece shed light on besides the fact the Oilers actually believed in Souray?

They were wrong and speaking of that, I've asked Mr. Brownlee this in the past and I don't remember him responding but considering that Bob Stauffer considers himself the main media critic of the Oilers -- and in particular MacT's -- moves, was there a dissenting voice the day the Oilers signed Souray?

Maybe there wasn't and there won't be because it was Lowe and not macT's call.

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#6 Jonathan
July 24 2008, 07:50AM
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They were wrong and speaking of that, I’ve asked Mr. Brownlee this in the past and I don’t remember him responding but considering that Bob Stauffer considers himself the main media critic of the Oilers — and in particular MacT’s — moves, was there a dissenting voice the day the Oilers signed Souray?

I was actually very surprised how little criticsim in the media there was of this acquisition. Somebody should have been able to look at that powerplay in Montreal anc come to the conclusion that Souray wasn't driving it.

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#7 SlipperyPete
July 24 2008, 08:13AM
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Sheldon Souray will have a bounce back year this year. I see him turning into a more Jason Smith type player with better mobility and a better scoring touch. With Visnovsky and Gilbert, and to a lesser degree Grebeshkov, in the fold there should be less pressure on Souray which he will benefit from. I see him scoring 35 - 40 points and re-establishing him self defensively.

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#8 Milli
July 24 2008, 10:06AM
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At the time, I think most people where just happy that someone finally signed here. Remember last summer???? Wow, what a diference a year can make!!!! 80 days, only 80 more days!!!!

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#9 Matt
July 24 2008, 10:18AM
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Based on what I saw last year Souray is a better defender than I expected, and worse offensively. I really like his skill set with this group. The Oil have lots of young, puck moving, less physical defencemen and a veteran, tough player is just what the team needs. His PP production is a bonus. He is a weak decision maker/ puck mover and needs to be paired with someone who can handle that roll.

However, in todays NHL, with the salary cap, the question you should ask about almost every player is "Can they out perform their salary?" With Souray the answer is no, and that is what makes him bad for the team.

There are players out there that can duplicate his defensive skill set for less $$. Leaving some cap room to sign that 3rd line veteran center.

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#10 Jonathan
July 24 2008, 11:30AM
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At the time, I think most people where just happy that someone finally signed here. Remember last summer????

Personally, I've always been the "couldn't care less if we can't attract premium free agents" because I don't think premium free agents particularly help teams win championships.

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#11 Tim S
July 24 2008, 12:42PM
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Until we are up against the cap and we are unable to make a trade or sign a free agent based on our limited cap space I do not see the point on focusing on Souray's salary.

As mentioned before he seems better defensivly then I thought he would be. But he has a presence, whether it is through his toughness or the big shot from the point. I am looking forward to seeing a full year with of Souray.

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#12 David S
July 24 2008, 01:29PM
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Anybody who has had dealings with the Oilers, or even just has his ear to the ground will know that the one of the things that scared the EIG the most was the possible loss of season ticket revenue. I think if you read Staples' series, this becomes clear. Maybe alot of that fear was founded in the early days when they were really trying to hold things together, and they never got over it.

What I'm saying is that the difference between what Souray should have been paid and what he was paid was related to two things:

1) You almost always overpay for guys in July (even Souray said the number came out of left field).

2) What might have been perceived as potential season ticket revenue loss was worth far more than the overpay.

Don't forget - the team isn't trying to appease a few hardcore, stats lovin' fans. They are making sure Joe Fan who buys season tickets in the thousands of dollars is happy. Seems like mission accomplished.

Don't kid yourself. Lowe probably knew Souray's contract was an overpay. But he also knew why it had to be done - which we never will.

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#13 Jonathan
July 24 2008, 01:35PM
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Until we are up against the cap and we are unable to make a trade or sign a free agent based on our limited cap space I do not see the point on focusing on Souray’s salary.

With Erik Cole, Mathieu Garon, Denis Grebeshkov and Ladislav Smid all needing contract extensions next summer, that moment isn't too far away.

Besides which, in 2010-11, when all the kids come of their entry level deals, Souray's contract will still be on the books.

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#14 Tony Romo
July 24 2008, 01:47PM
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2010-2011 will be the year of reckoning for this Oilers squad. Until then, I think we are going to see pretty much the same team.

Unless they lose 19 of 20 games and Whyte Ave burns to the ground

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#15 DR Huxtable
July 24 2008, 01:47PM
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what you talkn' bout Willis?

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#16 Rick
July 24 2008, 03:03PM
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"Besides which, in 2010-11, when all the kids come of their entry level deals, Souray’s contract will still be on the books."

Souray's no trade clause ends at the end of the '09-'10 season. So there is nothing keeping Lowe from moving him prior to the kids contracts becoming an issue.

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#17 Tim S
July 24 2008, 04:15PM
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If push came to shove I am sure the Oilers could hide Souray in the minors if his contract really became a problem. I just don't know though, how expensive can the young guys really be?? They are not in the relm of Perry/Getzlaf. If the Cap continues to rise, there should not be a problem fitting everyone in. Another play for a Hossa thpe could change that in a hurry however.

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#18 David S
July 24 2008, 06:05PM
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I'm surprised nobody's mentioned it, but that's gotta be the gayest pic of an NHL player I've ever seen. The white belt really sells it.

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#19 Jonathan
July 24 2008, 06:19PM
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what you talkn’ bout Willis?

Never heard that one before.

Souray’s no trade clause ends at the end of the ‘09-’10 season. So there is nothing keeping Lowe from moving him prior to the kids contracts becoming an issue.

Except for his somewhat exorbitant salary...

I just don’t know though, how expensive can the young guys really be?? They are not in the relm of Perry/Getzlaf.

Not right now, but by the end of 2010-11, where would you imaging Gagner and Cogliano's skill levels to be?

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#20 Dennis
July 24 2008, 09:20PM
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Once you go about making all the excuses for Lowe, you can see why I've always said he has one of the easiest jobs in pro sports because he's Never held accountable for anything he does.

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#21 Rick
July 25 2008, 08:28AM
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"Except for his somewhat exorbitant salary…"

I think "exorbitant" is an overstatement.

Yes he is overpaid but it isn't by an amount that would make him unmoveable. There are plenty of examples where I would argue the contracts were more of an overpayment than Souray's and they still ultimately got moved.

It comes down to how many cents on the dollar you're willing to take for him in a trade.

I would argue that the term of the contracts are more of a hinderance but in this case Souray will only have two years left which isn't that big of deal.

Of course the bigger issue could be Souray's health. If he put together a couple realitively healthy seasons he likely gets scooped up quickly. A couple seasons like last year and the Oilers are likely stuck with him for the duration.

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#22 fyvmvv
July 25 2008, 10:18AM
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What he said. Now lets get down to the real issue here. Where the hell was that picture taken? It looks like something out of a bathhouse in San Francisco. And what is with the white belt? Are there white shoes to go with that get-up?

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#23 fyvmvv
July 25 2008, 10:20AM
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Oh I get it. It's a promo for the Village People.

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#24 Rick
July 25 2008, 11:35AM
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"And what is with the white belt? Are there white shoes to go with that get-up?"

Clearly the younger generations can't appreciate how influential Herb Tarleck was.

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#25 fyvmvv
July 25 2008, 11:02PM
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These young whipper-snappers probably don't remember the dulcet tones of Ward Cornell or incisive colour commentary of Bob Goldham either. What a bunch of punks.

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February 03 2009, 05:26PM
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