So what seems like the longest free agency period ever has finally ended for the Canadiens former Mr Big Shot, Sheldon Souray. After all the "he's not coming back, his wife wants him in LA or Anaheim, he's definitely going to the West Coast, LA is a done deal, the Habs signed Hamrlik, now he's definitely not coming back, buy your Souray Kings jerseys now!" chatter, Sheldon has indeed gone west. To Edmonton.
A guy making that much money couldn't afford a direct flight from Montreal to LA? Oh, he has family there ... so he's just visiting for the summer? Wait, what? He signed there? I see.
So there's a bunch of ways to look at this. One might be tempted to pull the old "see, nobody wants to play in front of those hatchet men in the Montreal media ... they'd rather go to goddamn Edmonton than face that ... Edmonton, the team that threw money at everyone and couldn't get any interest until they tried to pay Tomas Vanek the GDP of Bolivia." One might be tempted to say "look at the friggin' money they gave him ... it's not the GDP of Bolivia, but it's close. Of course he went." You might be a big softy and say "oh, he wants to play near his family like any good Western boy. That's lovely." And you know what? You might all be right.
Playing in Montreal isn't easy. The fans are demanding, the media can be a little too enthusiastic, there's apparently a language thing I keep hearing about. There is talk of ghosts and Stanley Cups as a birthright, and guys like Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur are walking the halls at the Bell Centre. There aren't many more pressure packed sporting environments in North America. That's a fact. And while it must be a fascinating experience there's no doubt it could wear on a man. Sheldon has been here for seven years. Maybe it was time for a break.
That is a lot of money for a 30-something defenseman with some (ahem) "defensive issues" and a reconstructed wrist. By all accounts, the Habs made a solid offer, but Sheldon's looking at his last big payday. He did what most people would do and took the highest-paying offer from a decent employer in his field. Good for him.
Family and home counts for some guys. Sheldon probably grew up an Oilers fan, and he'll probably get a big thrill out of pulling on that jersey and stepping out on the ice that Gretzky, Messier, Kurri and Coffey made famous. Don't forget, the Oil ain't exactly slouches in the "wildly successful dynasty" competition.
Still, you wonder how bad Sheldon wants to win. While the Habs aren't world-beaters at the moment, there are a bunch of promising kids, soon-to-be stars like Higgins and Price, and solid to spectacular talents like Kovy and Saku and Markov for the next five years. And while the Canadiens are going to have to live with Oilers2.1 in Pittsburgh, the Sens, the big spenders in NY and Philly and the like, I don't see the Oilers as having an easier path past the Ducks, Wings, Avalanche, Sharks, and Flames over the next few years. Just throwing it out there.
I for one wish Sheldon all the best. He won me over the first time my dad pointed out he didn't play like he was on peyote (like the big, mega-talent-mega-head-case Russian he got traded for ... God, I loved watching Vlad play when he was on. When he was off ... yeeesh.) He played hard, scored some timely bombs, stuck a dagger in the Leafs with that beauty shootout goal, was immense in the upset of the Bruins a few years back. I hope he gets a huge ovation when the Oilers next visit Montreal (which, judging by the NHL's scheduling genius, will be as an assistant coach in 2017). He didn't leave on bad terms, he didn't go to a hated rival. He just went. That's fine. I just hope the lucky guys blogging for the Oil appreciate Mrs Souray like we did.