We’ll turn our attention to the upcoming playoffs a little later in the day, but the big story this morning is that Edmonton Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray has demanded a trade. While that sort of request is big news in and of itself, the reasons Souray gives are even more interesting.
According to Souray, he likes the city, loves the fans, and would have had no difficulty playing in the fishbowl that is Edmonton. Instead, his anger is the result of one thing: management. A few choice quotes from the article:
“Management has soured on me, and I’ve soured on them. 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."
"I feel now that, when I signed here, I probably was as blinded by their great past as (the Oilers) are.”
“I’ve had the experience of playing in great organizations (in New Jersey and Montreal), and experienced a vastly different approach to things like that. I was a captain in Montreal. I never had my character questioned there, or in New Jersey. I feel that’s all I’ve had since I’ve been here."
Souray claims that while the medical staff in Edmonton were excellent, management repeatedly pressured him to play before he was fully recovered from injury. It’s a complaint that fits in well with the anecdotal evidence from the last few years, although at this point it’s unconfirmed. Souray also complained that he hadn’t even talked to Steve Tambellini since January.
There’s been a lot of backlash against Souray by fans of the Oilers, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest despite the fact that he was one of the most lionized players on the team prior to his latest injury. Certainly Souray must have expected a negative reaction; this sort of incident doesn’t help his reputation in the slightest and it’s easy to spin it off into all sorts of negatives about his character.
That said, Souray’s hardly the only player to leave Edmonton in a huff. The exodus following the 2006 Stanley Cup run is well-known, and there have been persistent rumours that players currently on the team want out or are unlikely to re-sign with the club when their current deals end. The latter are just rumours of course, but Edmonton has done a lot to alienate players, going back to Mike Comrie’s first stint in town.
At some point, the fan-base is going to stop vilifying the individual players and start looking at the team’s management (as a comedian put it: “The only consistent thing in all your screwed up relationships is you”). They’ve driven this squad to the lowest point in the history of the franchise, signed a long series of albatross contracts, and generally made miscalculation after miscalculation.
They’ve also alienated enough players that something like this was bound to happen eventually.