Fans will boo Sheldon Souray when he steps on to the ice with the Dallas Stars Friday in his first appearance back at Rexall Place since his messy split with the Edmonton Oilers.
It’s a tradition at the old rink, after all. Wayne Gretzky got it. So did Paul Coffey and Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr and other players who had a far more significant place in franchise history and in the hearts of fans than did Souray, who spent three mostly miserable seasons in Edmonton.
The difference, of course, is all those players, and many others, left town after winning Stanley Cups here during the dynasty days and parades on Jasper Ave. in the 1980s because owner Peter Pocklington couldn’t afford to keep them with his financial house of slowly cards crumbling.
Souray, on the other hand, was paid to blow town. First, he was banished to the AHL with Hershey on loan. Then, he was bought out of the final year of the bloated contract he signed as a free agent with the Oilers in the summer of 2007 after enjoying a career season with the Montreal Canadiens.
All that came after Souray publicly questioned how quickly he’d been brought back from shoulder surgery by the Oilers to start the first year of his contract here. It came after Souray asked for a trade privately and later went public with the request. It came after GM Steve Tambellini told Souray he wasn’t welcome at training camp and then stuck him in Hershey. After all of that, the buy-out. Get lost. Beat it. Big deposit. No return.
BLACK AND WHITE
It seemed black-and-white to me – to a lot of those of us on the outside of the situation — back then. Handsomely paid by the Oilers without delivering the kind of performance expected – one very good season and two disrupted by injuries – Souray went public with his discontent.
Souray had shown up the organization. He knew what the outcome would be. In essence, he’d turned his back on a city far more publicly than Chris Pronger had by asking out behind closed doors. Souray couldn’t possibly be asked back to poison the dressing room. Tambellini had to stand his ground.
Did it make sense to have Souray play out his contract sitting beside Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle or Sam Gagner talking about what a bungling, inept outfit the Oilers, an organization paying him millions of dollars, was? I didn’t think so, and I wrote that more than once at the time. I still feel that way, at least in principle. Which is something less than wholeheartedly.
At the time, I had a lot more faith in Tambellini’s ability to assess and keep his finger on the pulse of a team than I do now and to read the dressing room and the different personalities within it. Likewise, it follows, I’m not so sure about Tambellini’s ability to assemble the right mix of players in that dressing room. A couple of years down the road since the Souray mess hit the fan and the fans, it’s not so black and white.
HERE AND NOW
Souray, 35, who inked a one-year contract worth $1.65 million with the Stars last summer, has, by every account I’ve heard and read, been a total pro in Big D and a good teammate in Texas. Souray’s popularity with teammates here was never a question. He was well-liked in the dressing room, if not in the front office.
With the Oilers having made a couple of stops in Dallas this season, Souray has resisted the urge to take potshots at the Oilers or at Tambellini, despite being offered plenty of opportunity by media types looking for another story and another headline. He has moved on.
Oiler fans, whether they sided with Souray or team management back then, will have to do likewise. And they will, as they always do. After, of course, they jeer and boo the first time his name is announced and when he handles the puck – especially if he happens to put it into Edmonton’s net.
What if Souray unloads one of those Studley Wonderbomb slappers of his from the point and finds twine? Might Souray get a mixed reaction from the house at Rexall Place? A smattering of cheers from those unhappy with how Tambellini handled the whole mess to go with the obligatory jeers reserved for returning Oilers great, not-so-great and in-between? Might some of that derision be directed upstairs at Tambellini’s perch?
That might be appropriate. It’s not so black and white to me now.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.