The status of defenceman Sheldon Souray has hung over the Edmonton Oilers like a dark cloud, overshadowing what has by and large been a summer of optimism.
The 34-year old went public with his criticism of the team back in April and demanded a trade, stating that he felt as though he had been mistreated by the organization by being forced to play before he had completely recovered from a shoulder injury. When the Oilers found no takers for their disgruntled defenceman either through waivers or a trade, it seemed as though the two sides were headed towards a very nasty and very public divorce.
It appears that time has healed at least some of those wounds as Souray was back on the ice at the Rexall Centre Monday, skating with teammates for the first time since sounding off. His stance also seems to have softened somewhat since making his initial demands.
"Things that I said, that's five months ago," Souray told TSN. "We are in a completely different spot now and there is a lot of optimism."
That optimism comes in the form of a slew of young and talented players trying to crack the Oilers roster including first overall draft pick Taylor Hall. Souray says part of his responsibility at camp is making sure the young players have the right guidance on their paths to the NHL.
"We've got some good young players coming in and they are going to need a healthy environment. It's up to the guys to provide that for them. I've got a little bit of experience and you just try to lend that."
While Souray is saying all the right things, there is likely some residual bitterness on both sides. Former Oilers' head coach Pat Quinn didn't mix words when Souray made his original demands, blasting the blue liner to the press.
"I'm one of those guys that if you don't want to play here, don't screw around, get the hell out," Quinn told reporters at the time.
"We've had a hard time here trying to build a team framework. I've always believed you should be able to look around that room and look into a teammate's eyes and say, ‘I'm giving it my best. I want you to do the same.' That's how you build trust.
"If you have one guy sitting over there who doesn't bloody well want to be here, how do you build trust? Sheldon knows how I feel about that sort of thing."
Since that time Quinn has been moved to a front office position, being replaced by Tom Renney behind the Oilers bench. That move should soften some of the ill will in camp left over from Souray's original demand.
"It's not awkward at all for me," Souray said. "I just stated some of the facts that I was feeling at the time and that's it. To come back and see the guys is actually a positive thing. Once you kind of get around that camaraderie with the guys that I haven't been around since January of last year, it just picks up your spirits."
Souray admitted that part of his frustration was his inability to help the team after missing more than half of last season with a broken hand and concussion issues. He said that he is now completely healed and is ready to get back in action.
"I'm a professional and I'm going to come to camp and try to help the team whatever way I can," said Souray. "I've got to get myself back to the player that I want to be. It's been a frustrating past three years for me because of injuries that I've had to deal with."
Souray still has two years and $9 million remaining on his deal and does not appear to be a part of the Oilers rebuilding plan. The Elk Point, Alberta native says he is ready to move on and make the most of his opportunity with Edmonton.
"I'm here in camp, and I'm here to do the best that I can and I want to keep things positive. I have something to prove to myself first of all and to my teammates and to whoever has doubted me. I'm using that as motivation for this year. I'm focused, I'm ready to go and I'm healthy and those are the main things."
A healthy and motivated Souray could be a very valuable asset to the Oilers in a potential future deal, as for now, Souray is taking it one day at a time and enjoying being part of the team for at least the foreseeable future.
"Everybody is having fun out there, things are going to start to get serious in a few days, but for now it's really good to get back and see the guys and just catch up a little bit and I'm looking forward to catching up more in the future."