THN: Sweet home Alberta

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Sweet home Alberta


By Ken Campbell


All right, Sheldon Souray didn’t come back home

just for the meat loaf, but that undoubtedly entered into the decision. You see,

his mom makes a ground meat casserole to die for and she just happens to live in

Edmonton. But her real specialty is gourmet breakfasts and that will be a

welcome change for a 31-year-old guy who has survived most mornings the past

seven years on a steady diet of double-doubles and a muffin from Tim Horton’s.


“And I’m going to be able to wear an Oilers

jersey,” Souray said. “So it’s minus-30. Who cares? That was so totally not in

the equation.”


Just so you know, Souray was talking about the

winter temperature in Edmonton and not his plus-minus last season (although, he

was a forgettable minus-28).


Time will tell whether securing Souray to a

five-year deal worth $27 million was a good signing, but it was certainly good

news for a team and a fan base that desperately needed it. After being burned

and spurned by everyone from Chris Pronger to Michael Peca to Michael Nylander,

the Oilers finally found someone who wanted to call Edmonton home and in this

case, the optics of the move were almost as important as the 26 goals and lethal

shot Souray brings with him to Edmonton.


“I see them as incidents more than a pattern, but

unfortunately it looks like a pattern,” said Oilers president and CEO Patrick

LaForge on the team’s recent inability to attract and keep players. “I believe

it will take us a while to prove to the world that everything is all right and

we’re on the right track and we’re winning again.


“The Pronger decision was a huge event and it’s

going to take a while for us to recover. But we’re not making silly decisions

because of that. I think we’re making good decisions.”


Several of Oilers GM Kevin Lowe’s colleagues would

beg to differ on that one. Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier had some pointed words

after Edmonton offered 43-goal sophomore Thomas Vanek a deal that will average

$7.14 million over the next seven seasons, a deal the Sabres were forced to

match in order to retain Vanek. And Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke, who lost

29-goal scorer Dustin Penner to the Oilers when they signed him, another

restricted free agent, to an offer sheet that will pay Penner $4.25 million each

of the next five seasons, blasted Lowe when he announced the Ducks would not

match the offer and instead take the first, second and third round picks next

season as compensation.


“Given Kevin’s recent performance,” Burke said, “I

expect them to be excellent picks.”


Ouch. But the way the Oilers see it, they’re simply

playing by the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement. (Lowe was out

of the country on vacation and unavailable for comment on this story.) Where

other GMs see them needlessly driving up salaries, the Oilers see themselves as



“For these players, we had to make offers that

would be significant enough to acquire them and if you don’t do that, you’re

just kicking the bee’s nest, aren’t you?” LaForge said.


“If you don’t come away with any honey, then what

was the point? We realize with these guys that we’re paying for the future,

unlike with UFAs where you’re paying for history. It’s a different way for the

league to look at assets and I think we’re on the leading edge in that matter.”


With Souray though, the Oilers were looking for a

defenseman who could put up some offensive numbers. Last season, their defense

corps scored 23 goals – and that includes eight by Marc-Andre Bergeron, who was

traded at the deadline. That’s three fewer than Souray scored all by himself.


For his part, Souray wasn’t necessarily looking to

continue his career in Canada, but was intrigued and excited when the Oilers

entered the fray late in the process. And he vows nothing is going to change his

thinking, not a lack of team success or mornings when he’ll be forced to clean

seven inches of snow off his windshield.

To read the rest of this story and other great features from the world of

hockey, you can buy this issue

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