Kevin Lowe finally got the big name UFA he was looking for, and the third new face for next season's blueline. But it comes at a steep cost. Is Sheldon Souray worth a cap hit of $5.4 million per year? Hard to say right now. But for some reason, for the last few hours I’ve been seeing flashes of Jason Spezza and some pylon in a Habs sweater flashing through my mind…
Don’t get me wrong, Sheldon Souray is a quality NHL blueliner, you have to be in order to get paid like he is. But is he really what the Oilers should be spending $5.4 million average per season on? I’m not convinced, at least not yet. One major reason is because the Oilers are still lacking one, if not two top six forwards. But it is not just that. It is just a simple question of whether or not Sheldon Souray is a $5.4 million player. I don’t think so at this point, but I would like to hope that Sheldon will be able to change my mind. He is after all, a two-time NHL All-star, and he did get 64 points last year from the blueline of a non-playoff team (19 of his 26 goals were on the powerplay). But he was also a horrendous –28. If you exclude Petr Nedved, the worst Oilers last year in that department were Shawn Horcoff and Matt Greene at a –22. So I think it is fair to say that he isn’t going to replace a guy like Jason Smith in the defensive zone, he will be making most of his paycheck in other ways. He is going to have to rely on things like his cannon from the point to get on the good side of the Oiler faithful.
Not to say that this won’t end up being a good signing by the Oilers, but at this point I’m sure a lot of people are a little skeptical. As mentioned before Souray is not known for his 1 on 1 play, or his great defensive skills. He is known for his ability to launch rockets into the twine from the point, his leadership, and yes, for his ability to be turned into a pylon (that is if he isn’t in the box having taken a bad penalty). For these reasons I have to hope that the Oilers pair him with Steve Staios. That way he can be that offensive guy and have Steve there to bail him out if need be. But wait a second, isn’t the newly acquired Joni Pitkanen supposed to be that guy? The offensive top-two defenseman that the Oilers so desperately needed? Where does that put him? Add to that the fact that the newly signed Tarnstrom isn’t exactly a defensive stalwart either. He has always been known as a powerplay quarterback and offensive guy. And even Ladislav Smid has shown signs that he may one day be a big-time offensive d-man. He rushes the puck very well and could be the next Lidstrom for all we know. So the Oilers now have potentially 4 offensive defenseman (Smid could make that sort of a three-and-a-half), one stud in Steve Staios, and one stud in training in Matt Greene. Great offensively (we hope), but not exactly the most stellar defensive unit. Sure they may score you 3 goals in a game, but that is no use if they allow 5. The fact is, while Souray does improve the Oilers defense by taking the spot of either Grebeshkov, Gilbert or Roy, the improvement is 75% offensive, 25% defensive. And for a cap hit of $5.4 million, I would think that 25% should be a little higher given the current guys on the Oilers blueline.
So is Sheldon Souray worth the $5.4 million (the contract is actually 6.5 - 6.5 – 5.0 - 4.5 - 4.5), or is he just the only UFA that Kevin Lowe could land with his bags of money. I’m thinking it may be that latter. Lowe knew that his fans wanted somebody big, anybody, and he was the only big name guy left on the open market. So he threw everything he had at him. It does improve the hockey club, but not an improvement like you should get for that kind of money. And that is the reason that Sheldon Souray was still available on July 12th, he wanted more money than most GM’s were willing to pay. But lucky for Sheldon, one GM finally caved because his team needed someone, if for nothing else but to give fans hope for next season.
In the end, I am not thrilled or upset with this signing, the verdict is still out on that. Would I have been happy if it was for $4 million a season, yes I would be. And I really hope that Sheldon can prove to me (and all the GM’s that let him sit around unsigned for almost 2 weeks) that he is worth that extra $1.4 million. Especially considering that the money the Oilers are paying him could have been used to keep fishing for the teams’ true #1 need of a top line forward to compliment Ales Hemsky.
So Sheldon, we are giving you the chance to step up to the plate. You said you were worth the big money, and you got it. Now prove yourself right. Please.