Sheldon Souray's NHL exile lasted one full, challenging season, in which he played 40 admittedly undistinguished AHL games for the Hershey Bears.
Relations were so far gone with his estranged employers, the Edmonton Oilers, that they didn't even want him playing for their own farm team. (Hershey is the Washington Capitals' minor-league affiliate.)
It meant, at 34, Souray pretty well knew his five-year, $27-million (U.S.) contract, his injury history and the Oilers' unhappiness meant he would be in the minors for an entire year (2010-11) – doing penance for speaking frankly about his view of the NHL organization and where it was heading. Irreconcilable differences is a concept Souray wholly understands.
"And I would have hated to go out on that note," he said in an interview.
So here he is, now 35, and back in the NHL, two-thirds of the way through the season, playing with a 27-23-2 Dallas Stars team pushing hard for a Western Conference playoff berth.
Even though Souray wasn't around Dallas last year, he knows the stats: The Stars missed the playoffs by one victory, posting 95 points (tied for the highest total in history by a non-playoff team). Souray is a shutdown defenceman nowadays – playing mostly with another former Montreal Canadiens blueliner, Stéphane Robidas – and, according to Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk, he still gets a lot of space out there.
A strapping 6 foot 4, 233 pounds and someone who regularly challenged Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber at the NHL's all-star skills hardest-shot contest, Souray is known primarily for two qualities: playing a mean, physical style and that heavy shot. (He is tied for the team lead with 130 shots, five of which have found the mark this season.)
Souray is an interesting character – chatty, blunt, honest to a fault. He left Montreal after six seasons and joined the Oilers in 2007. He was a (sort-of) hometown hero, from nearby Elk Point, Alta.
He had one great year in Edmonton, his second (2008-09), which featured 23 goals and 30 assists. But he was hurt most of Years 1 and 3; Year 4 was spent in Hershey and the Oilers ultimately bought out Year 5 of the deal, no one wanting to claim him on re-entry waivers because the cost was too high.
Souray is on a more modest ticket this time around (one-year, $1.65-million), but still having fun and still very much the same gregarious guy.
"I seriously almost don't remember most of [his year in the AHL]because it was such a nightmare. It was an experience. It's the business side of things. I got hurt really early down there, and I never really played that well," he said. "I was never given much hope from the organization … so that took the wind out of my sails a little bit."
After a decade of playing in major Canadian media markets, Dallas, Souray says, is the perfect fit now – and not just because of the warm climate. Souray's off-season home is Malibu, Calif.
"We went to [Minneapolis]the other day, and that was the first cold-weather place we'd gone to this year where it was actually cold – and we were like a bunch of babies there," Souray said with a laugh. "It was hilarious. I can see why guys go to Dallas and want to sign down there. It's beautiful.
"For 10, 11 years, I've been in the media spotlight. Then, you go to Dallas and they're still talking about the [NFL's]Cowboys, so … it's been a welcome change.
"It's worked out well," Souray said of this latest stop in his hockey life. "It's just a great bunch of guys. It feels like we've been together a lot longer than we have. It was an easy situation to go into. I'm grateful for the opportunity we have."