EDMONTON — Disgruntled Edmonton Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray is now a $4.5-million Hershey Bear.
The Oilers announced Wednesday they have loaned Souray to the Pennsylvania-based American Hockey League team, the top farm team of the Washington Capitals.
Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini said efforts to trade Souray have so far failed, and league rules dictated Souray had to go somewhere when final rosters were set Wednesday.
The standoff has grown acrimonious, and Tambellini said they decided to keep Souray away from the Oilers top farm team in Oklahoma City.
“We think it’s best probably for Sheldon not to put him in a spot,” said Tambellini.
“We didn’t want it to be an uncomfortable position. This is best for the player and Oak City.
“He’s going to a very competitive team (in Hershey).
“They like the opportunity of having him there — at this point.”
Souray will continue to make the $4.5 million due him this year and next (which actually works out to a US$5.4-million cap hit a year).
Tambellini has been trying to trade Souray for months, a process that became poisoned at the end of last season when the Oilers finished dead-last and Souray called out team management.
Souray said there were communication problems between players and management and, more importantly, that Oiler brass, when he signed with the team, pushed him to play before he was fully healed from a shoulder injury.
The latter comment, denied by the Oilers, was likely the deal-breaker given such assertions are not only damning to an organization’s integrity, but also affect its ability to lure top-notch players.
Tambellini, who stated last spring he was committed to improving the team’s esprit de corps, ordered Souray last month to stay away from training camp.
He stressed he won’t give Souray away in a lopsided deal, but Souray’s salary and long history of injuries have made it difficult. He missed well over a third of the games as an Oiler in the last three years due to shoulder woes, a concussion and a broken hand.
Tambellini said he has the full backing of owner Daryl Katz to handle the matter as he sees fit, even if it means paying a minor-leaguer $4.5 million.
Tambellini said while the Capitals were OK having Souray on the Bears roster, they are not angling to get him in a trade.
Souray has already been waived twice through the league with no takers.
If the Oilers call him up from the minors, he would automatically go through waivers a third time, though this time another team could pick him up at half the salary. The Oilers would have to pick up the other half.
Tambellini said that’s an option but added: “I’ll have to wait until some team contacts me and expresses some interest. At this point I don’t have that.
“Sheldon wants to play in the National Hockey League, and I’m sure he’ll get back there.”
While the Oilers said good-bye to one leader Wednesday, they officially recognized another.
Veteran centre Shawn Horcoff, the longest serving current Oiler at 637 games, was named the team’s 13th captain.
The 32-year-old from Trail, B.C., will lead one of the youngest teams in the league — including promising forwards Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi — when the Oilers open the regular season today at home against the Calgary Flames (CBC, 8 p.m.).
“It’s a huge honour, especially now with the changes we’ve made,” said Horcoff, who replaces Ethan Moreau. Moreau was waived in the off-season and signed by Columbus.
“I like to lead by example. I’ve put a lot into my career and done everything I can possible to become the best pro I can be,” said Horcoff as he tried on the No. 10 jersey with the letter C in the locker-room after practice.
“When I first came to the league I was a fourth-line winger. I was able to play pretty much on every line at every position, and that was just through hard work and determination. With a young group, that can go a long way to getting the most out of the players.”
Horcoff had been a longtime assistant captain. Last season he logged first-line minutes, killed penalties, took faceoffs, and played on the power play. He wants to improve on his 13 goals and 36 points.
He is expected to centre Eberle and Hall against Calgary.