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

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

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.

  • Hippy

    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.