EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) -Sheldon Souray gave the Edmonton Oilers the impact player general manager Kevin Lowe was looking for when the All-Star defenseman agreed to a five-year deal on Thursday.
Spurned in attempts to finalize a deal with forward Michael Nylander, and rebuffed when the Buffalo Sabres matched a lucrative offer sheet to young forward Thomas Vanek, the Oilers locked up Souray, who posted career highs of 26 goals and 64 points last season with Montreal.
"I think that a lot of the speculation recently is a little overblown," Lowe said of the difficulty to lure top free agents to Edmonton. "Yeah, there are some players that don't necessarily want to play in Edmonton, but I think those players have other markets they wouldn't want to play in as well.
"I always knew there was going to players that would choose Edmonton over other markets. Sheldon is an example of that."
Souray's previous single-season bests were 15 goals and 39 points. The Alberta native spent the past six seasons with the Canadiens. He led Montreal with 19 power-play goals and 135 penalty minutes. He was second on the team last season in goals and points, but first among NHL defensemen in goals and game-winners (6).
"More than any other choice I had, I was more comfortable with (going to Edmonton)," Souray said. "My heart was in it. It wasn't about the money, it wasn't about whatever. I had a lot of different factors.
"It's just came down at the very end, it wasn't really a hard decision at all. And one that actually I'm getting more excited about every time I think about putting on the uniform."
Financial terms weren't immediately released.
Souray, the top defenseman left on the unrestricted free-agent market, was selected by New Jersey in the third round of the 1994 draft. He has 66 goals and 120 assists in 506 career NHL games. In 34 playoff games, Souray has three goals and seven assists.
He will turn 31 on Friday.
Souray said the Canadiens made a "serious push" to keep him late in negotiations. That might come as a surprise as it seemed he was priced out of Montreal once the Canadiens signed defenseman Roman Hamrlik to a four-year, $22-million deal at the start of July.
The biggest question surrounding Souray is how he'll play defensively. He was minus-28 last year on a Canadiens team that often struggled while playing at even strength.
"I want to improve not on the numbers, but on my all-around game," he said. "And continue just to try and be a leader and to do the things the organization's going to expect me to do coming in there."
The Oilers struggled at the end of last season and fell 25 points short of a playoff spot one year after reaching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Lowe isn't expecting Souray to step in and single-handedly turn the team around.
"We've added a really nice element," Lowe said. "It helps stabilize the organization in some respect. But we're not going to rely on Sheldon to carry us on his shoulders into the playoffs. It's an important piece of the puzzle."