EDMONTON — Unless Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini has a reversal in his stated game plan — or miraculously finds a trading partner — defenceman Sheldon Souray will be assigned to the Oilers farm team in Oklahoma City Tuesday.
That would be a major development in a hockey drama that began back on Apr. 4 — the final day of the 2009-10 regular season — when Souray laid down his cards to sportsnet.ca: “I want a trade.”
“It’s not a players thing. It’s not a fans thing or a city thing. It’s a management thing,” Souray said in an exclusive interview that day. “They’ve given up on me, and it’s a two-way street.”
That street, a much longer and windier road than anyone may have thought at the time, may lead right down Route 66 and into Oklahoma City.
No one, however, is getting any kicks out of this digression in the career of an elite defenceman, one who represented a major free agent coup by then-GM Kevin Lowe back on July 12, 2007.
“I had said from the first day: it wasn’t going to be all about the money, but about the situation,” Souray said that July day, as an Elk Point, Ata., boy triumphantly returned to play for the team he cheered for as a boy. “Once the Oilers got into the mix … it became an easy decision. By the end of it … my heart was in it.”
Now, his heart is at home in L.A., awaiting assignment.
“Management has soured on me, and I’ve soured on them,” he told sportsnet.ca back in April. “The fans are great, they’ve accepted me here, I see the jerseys in the stands. I couldn’t have pictured a more opposite vision of what my experience here would be like. What the organization here would be like, overall.”
The deadline for teams to name their official 23-man rosters prior to the upcoming season is Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET (1 p.m. MT). Tambellini has said he won’t spend a roster spot on Souray. He has also said over the past week that if Souray cannot be dealt by the roster deadline, the time will have come to get him playing hockey again down on the American Hockey League farm.
The problem, of course, with formally assigning Souray to Oklahoma City is simple: Once assigned, the Oilers cannot gain access to their asset again — either to trade him or play him — until he passes through re-entry waivers.
Any team could lay claim to him, splitting the remaining two years of Souray’s contract ($4.5 million per year) and cap hit ($5.4 million per) with Edmonton. Thus, an assignment to the AHL is a major signpost in the Souray Saga, one that represents a certain admission on the part of the Oilers and Souray that he could not be dealt.
Once Souray is assigned to OKC, any trade Tambellini could dredge up would be predicated on Souray’s passage through waivers. So the Oilers GM would lose a certain amount of control over his asset, something he is loathe to do.
That is why, with increasing voracity, Tambellini has worked his fellow GMs in search of a deal prior to the Wednesday deadline. As of this writing — late Tuesday afternoon — sources indicated no trade was imminent.
Columbus appeared interested at one time, but the Blue Jackets have emerged as the leading candidate to snap up Souray on re-entry waivers, too frugal to take on his entire cap hit in a trade.
Then there is the Calgary Flames? Let’s face it: Tambellini is willing to listen to anyone.
The Oilers and Flames made their first-ever trade when Tambellini sent Steve Staios south at the 2010 trading deadline for Aaron Johnson and a third-round draft pick. Now, it seems both Tambellini and Flames GM Darryl Sutter have the requisite inventory for a made-in-Alberta solution.
Edmonton has Souray, with his $5.4 million cap hit and two years left. Calgary would offer Cory Sarich, who has two years left at $3.6 million per.
Calgary needs speed and centremen. Edmonton would part with speedy centre Andrew Cogliano.
With a rebuild in their not-so-distant future, Calgary needs draft picks. Edmonton, flush with young talent, can afford to part with one of those.
And because Calgary would be taking on too much salary here, we’d suggest Curtis Glencross — a $1.2 million winger, and a loss the Oilers rued back in the summer of ’08. He and Flames coach Brent Sutter have not seen eye to eye this fall.
If that deal has legs, the Oilers have the cap room ($13.6 million) to take on another body from Calgary if need be, to even the salaries in the deal.
If there is a trade to be made, Tambellini has until 1 p.m. Edmonton time to make it. After that, the ropes begin to tighten on his bargaining position.
Mark Spector is the lead columnist for sportsnet.ca