Sheldon Souray proved he’s quick with a quip on two occasions at Rexall Place today, breaking up the drool-inducing monotony of watching the first day of the Edmonton Oilers "mini-camp."
The first gem came just before weary, sweat-soaked players filed off the ice after two sessions of skating, early morning off-ice training and video tape sessions — none of which will ever be mistaken for the team golf junket to California coach Pat Quinn pulled the plug on this week.
Smirked Souray: "So, for sure we’re not going to Palm Springs?" Good for a hearty laugh by teammates. And, no, after 11 losses in their last 12 games, the Oilers won’t be getting near Palm Springs, at least not until April 12.
The second came after Souray spent several minutes talking to Dan Barnes of The Journal, Rob Tychkowski of The Sun and yours truly, discussing where he stands on the possibility of being traded — his name has been the subject of trade speculation, much of it far-fetched, since late last season.
After making it clear he hasn’t asked the Oilers for a trade but would be open to waiving his no-trade clause if a deal made sense for the team and for him, the big defenceman joked about what might show up in print: "Souray asks to be traded," he smiled. "That would be me," I responded. "I know," he said.
HE DIDN’T SAY THAT
Souray said no such thing. Neither will I.
There’s a big difference between Souray and his agent making it known he’d be willing to waive his NTC, which runs out July 1, if GM Steve Tambellini can work a deal that benefits the team and works for him and asking for a trade.
The "Souray wants out" talk made the rounds at the end of last season, and it was a bad scoop I framed as a rumour and passed along at the time. Some fans accused me of doing sort of an Eklund imitation. Most readers here appreciated my take on the scuttlebutt.
In any case, Souray’s name remains grist for the rumour mill, and he chatted at considerable length today, offering his take.
“I wouldn’t at this point hold them back from doing anything that makes the team better," he said. "I came here with a goal.
"You hope to try to see it out. With where we are right now, it’s tough to say in the next three years if we’re going to see that. If it does come to the point where they ask me (to waive the NTC) I would not hold the team back.”
Nowhere in there does Souray say he wants out. Nowhere in there does he say the Oilers have indicated they want to move him. Of course, with two more years after this season remaining on a contract that makes Souray a $5.4-million cap hit and the Oilers facing a full-on rebuild, it doesn’t take a vast intellect to see a conversation about the latter might take place.
From where I sit, what makes sense for the Oilers is to move Souray and free up cap space so Tambellini has room to move when it comes to revamping his roster. Of course, that’s more easily said than done.
What makes sense for Souray, if it comes to a request that he waive his NTC, is a team that takes him no farther away from his two daughters, who live in California with his ex-wife.
When the always-available Souray left Rexall Place after team photos last season without talking to reporters, I wondered if there was credence to talk he wanted out. Souray later denied that was the case. Fair enough, after all, last season was frustrating for everybody with the organization. I’m guessing the sacking of Craig MacTavish eased some of that.
As for talk of discontent this season, Souray insisted today any consternation on his part stems from lack of success on the ice, not a desire to leave the Oilers.
"This year, pick any spot you want, it’s been a disaster," Souray said. "It’s hard to look down the road because things change, you know, in this game real quick.
"But, things have to start changing at some point. You have to start seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I think that’s the position we’re in as a team right now. Right now, we’re having trouble grabbing on to that light at the end of the tunnel, you know what I mean?"
Given how his first season here was cut short by injury before the personal success of last season, his time in Edmonton has been something of a roller-coaster ride for Souray, who has two years remaining on his deal.
"We’ve got a good group of guys," he said. "We’re playing absolutely dreadful hockey here at home and fans are still showing up and still showing their support.
"You can play great and be in a place like Phoenix and not have any fans, so the grass isn’t always greener, you know?"
Why not take what Souray says at face value? If he didn’t want to be here, he wouldn’t have signed on for five years, even taking into account that the Oilers were happily willing to overpay to get him. Is he happy now? No, of course not.
"Right now, it’s frustrating," he said. "Am I frustrated and disappointed? Absolutely. I’m one of the guys, that if there’s some finger-pointing to go around, I’ve got to point the finger at myself and say, ‘Hey, look. I can play better.’
"It’s tough. It’s taxing because you take it home with you. You want to be one of those guys who is counted on. You want to be the guy to step up and go, ‘Look, man,’ and put the team on your back and try to carry them a little bit. We haven’t been able to do that."
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.