SUN Hockey Pool

Homecoming King

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 1:03 PM ET

Sheldon Souray wants to be here.

And, stop the presses, so does his wife!

Before this is a hockey story, it's a bigger story on so many levels.

The way it's been in Edmonton since Chris Pronger left, especially following the Michael Nylander fiasco and the failure to find a free agent willing to come here despite the Oilers having around $18 million US in signing money, before this is a hockey story, this is good news even if it's not an especially great signing.

The newest Oiler said everything Edmonton fans wanted to hear yesterday after signing a five-year contract worth a reported $27 million.

According to reports, it's believed the deal is front-loaded and will be worth $6.5M this season, falling to $4.5M at the end of the contract. Reports also indicate the contract comes with a three-year no movement clause.

Souray was not ranked up there with ex-Oiler Ryan Smyth as one of the Big 4 in the free-agent frenzy, but if the Oilers overpaid him, he's worth the price in public perception.

Souray, from Elk Point, matched Smyth's tears on the way out of town with the size of his smile on his way to town.

"If you think nobody wants to be associated with Edmonton anymore, believe me here's the one guy who wants to be associated!

"Coming to Edmonton is a dream come true. To come home and put on that jersey ... I'm getting more excited every time I think about putting on that uniform," he said on a conference call yesterday.

And wife Angelica is good with this?

"She's happy," said Souray.

"She's familiar with the city. It's good.

"Everybody is happy. Everybody is thrilled," he said, including his dad, an Oilers fans even while Souray played for the Canadiens.

He said everybody back home was screaming into the phone when he told them the news.

"In Montreal or Edmonton you are under the microscope. In Edmonton or Montreal there is no such thing as flying under the radar. I have seven years of that lesson from Montreal. I have the experience in that. I'm not going to be overwhelmed. I know that for sure."

It's not all positives.

With Souray, the Oilers just added a minus-28 to go with Joni Pitkanen's minus-25.

That's a minus 53 combined. Maybe not a good idea to make them defence partners.

On the flip side of that, the Oilers had the grand total of 15 goals from their defencemen last year. Souray, by himself, had 26.

The Oilers had 60 points from the point last season. Souray, with 64 in finishing second only to Saku Koivu in scoring for the Canadiens last year, has that covered. Add Pitkanen's 43 and defensive partner points to the total and the Edmonton totals almost triple.

Their offence from the back end is dramatically improved and so is their power play.

The Edmonton power play ranked 27th in the league last year with 53 goals.

Souray, by himself, had 19. That total set an NHL record for defenceman.

But the thing that swings it for me is that they signed somebody - a real live, honest-to-goodness free agent, albeit one who has been out there for a dozen days without a deal.

GMs are always searching for defenceman during the season. The Oilers, in addition to young assets on the farm, now have eight NHL defensemen to use to do a deal down the road.

"We said at the end of last season we're going to strengthen our defence.

"If we've accomplished anything we've done that," said GM Kevin Lowe, who admits he came to this deal late and from a different perspective after he struck out trying to sign forwards.

"We'll let the defence story decide itself as the summer unravels and we get to training camp," added the general manager.

One more thing the Oilers added with this signing. More season-ticket holders.

"I can't tell you how excited my family is - and anybody who knows me, knows how big my family is," said Souray.

"It's almost like a reward for them to see me play on a regular basis. It's just win-win for everybody.

"The native community has always supported me where-ever I've gone. For them, it's as exciting as it is for me. It's going to be fun play in front of them. It'll make me proud."


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