Ducks defenseman Sheldon Souray (44) celebrates with teammate Brad Staubitz… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)
Sheldon Souray was persona non grata as an Edmonton Oiler.
With the Ducks, the veteran defenseman has been exactly what the team needed to help resurrect it from playoff onlooker to Stanley Cup contender.
His 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame boosts his ability to shut down the opposition while facilitating the offense alongside another reborn veteran, Francois Beauchemin. They are the top plus/minus defensive duo in the NHL through Wednesday, Souray ranking first among defensemen and sixth overall at plus-22 and Beauchemin ranking second among defensemen at plus-20. Souray, 36, also has chipped in six goals and five assists.
"He's a big, strong leader whose experience and calmness has come to the front for us," Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's not the speediest, but he knows how to play. He's been through it."
The Ducks are the fifth franchise for the three-time All-Star, who started his big league career with New Jersey in 1997. It's that kind of experience that has helped position the Ducks in second place in the Western Conference behind Chicago, which hosts the Ducks for a 5:30 p.m. PDT game Friday. Despite entering the game on a four-game losing streak, the Ducks are looking to complete a three-game sweep of the Blackhawks.
"What we want is still a long way down the road," Souray said, "but we can be proud of the effort and what we've accomplished up to this adversity."
And Souray knows about dealing with adversity. Two seasons ago, he had such a toxic relationship with Edmonton brass that he was demoted to the minor league Hershey (Pa.) Bears, an affiliate of the Washington Capitals.
As Souray tells it, he had been hospitalized for four days for an injured hand that had become infected in 2010. A doctor told him the hand was in danger of being lost, and no one from the Oilers organization had called him. When the phone rang, it was an Edmonton reporter "telling me the team thought I was milking the injury. That lit the stick of dynamite," Souray said.
"So I shared my opinion of how I was being handled and how the organization was being handled. Right or wrong, I was out of line. I had come from first-class organizations in New Jersey and Montreal and was used to that type of professionalism. When I didn't see those things, I spoke up.
"But in the end, I learned there's a business side to things. And that there's always someone more important than you out there. So I took my medicine."
Edmonton had $4.5 million invested in Souray, known for a more than 106-mph slap shot that contributed to 108 career goals. But Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini said he couldn't trade the defenseman, so Souray was sent to Hershey, where his perceived poisonous tongue couldn't reach the Oilers' prospects.
"I knew that it wasn't my play that dictated me being in the minors, and knew that if I served my sentence things would work out," Souray said. "Everything happens for a reason.…There's eyes and ears everywhere in this game. People know what you're doing."
He bounced back in 2011-12 with Dallas, where his performance led to a three-year deal with the Ducks before this season.
"To move after playing in the NHL for a long time to a group of guys chomping at the bit to get up here," Souray said, "it was refreshing and made me cherish that it is the best league in the world."
When: 5:30 PDT.
Where: United Center.
On the air: TV: FS West, NHL Network; Radio: none.
Record vs. Blackhawks: 2-0.
Etc.: The Ducks can move to within three points of the Western Conference leaders with a victory.... Veteran forward Radek Dvorak made his Ducks debut in Wednesday's 4-0 loss in San Jose, playing just over 11 minutes.