After spending the previous season exiled in the AHL, the 35-year-old blue-liner signed a one-year free agent contract with Dallas last July, and throughout the course of the year, re-established himself as a valuable NHLer, both offensively and defensively.
The first challenge was to prove he could stay healthy following two injury-plagued seasons in which he totaled 77 games combined. While he did miss some time with various ailments, Souray still skated in 64 contests, his second-highest figure since 2007.
He also demonstrated that he could still thrive on the power play and still possessed the devastating slap shot that earned him the nickname ‘Hammer.’ Exhibit ‘A’ was the four goals and 13 points he amassed over the season’s first 14 games, pacing the Stars to a sensational 11-3-0 start.
Souray’s offensive contributions slowed after opponents began to focus more on him, and he finished the year with six goals and 21 points overall. But even so, he showed he could still excel defensively, posting a career-high +11 rating, tied for first among Dallas defensemen - and fourth on the squad overall - with rookie Philip Larsen. Souray also proved to be a key cog on the Stars’ penalty killing unit.
“I think there were some question marks, but I think a few of those things have been answered,” said Souray, who averaged 20:27 of ice time, of his performance this past season. “I just came in here to do what they wanted me to do, and I think I did that without making any noise. Did I want to play in different situations and do some different things? Yeah, for sure, but I think this year was a year to do what was asked of me, be a good teammate, and I think I did that. That’s what I wanted to do. And I got the chance, I’m thankful for the opportunity here.”
PHOTO GALLERY: A look back at Souray's 2011-12 Season
Utilizing his solid 6-foot-4, 237-pound frame, Souray also provided an important physical element, enhanced by a bit of a nasty streak that made opposing forwards think twice about camping in front of the Dallas net.
“Making sure they’re not getting easy routes to the net or standing in front of the net for free tips and setting up a tent around there, you got to make sure they’re not too eager to take that puck to the net,” said Souray, whose 90 blocked shots ranked fifth on the squad, regarding his defensive zone objectives. “As a big body, you just want to be strong, maybe have them take a little longer route to the net.”
Souray was often paired in the second half of the season with gritty veteran Stephane Robidas, as they were counted upon as a shutdown defensive pair that helped minimize the effectiveness of opponents’ top scorers.
“It’s a good responsibility, I think we’re made for that, we take a lot of pride in that,” Souray said. “We want to make sure we’re playing hard against those guys and limiting their opportunities, and just being hard on them. You ask our top (offensive) guys, they play against D pairs that are hard on them and it makes for a long night… so we’re just trying to be responsible and hard on those guys and not give up too much.”
On top of all that, the 13-year NHL veteran, who was originally New Jersey’s third-round selection (71st overall) in the 1994 Entry Draft, also served as a respected leader in the dressing room.
“He has been a force and he’s been a guy in the locker room that took charge and we needed that,” Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan said. “He’s been a real positive guy for our group right from Day One until now.”
Still, his strong individual season couldn’t overshadow the frustration of missing the playoffs again - Souray last played in the NHL post-season back in 2006, when his Montreal club was eliminated in the first round.
“It’s disappointing, for sure,” said Souray, a native of Elk Point, Alberta. “I wasn’t here last year, but I think guys are a lot more disappointed this year. More because we blew it - we had it and then we blew it more than having someone else control our own destiny. All we talked about since I’ve been here is making the playoffs and, getting some new guys and the culture and how good it was, and all that is just kind of noise now. At the end of the season when the dust settles, it’s all just kind of noise. That’s the disappointing thing, because when we said that, we always believed that. Disappointment is an understatement for sure.”
Now that Souray has proven he can still contribute at the NHL level, he made it clear that he’d love to remain in Dallas for at least another year, but with his contract expiring on July 1, acknowledges that the decision isn’t solely his. Recognizing there are several blue-line prospects in the organization’s pipeline, Souray is realistic about his chances of staying.
“I think what I have learned this year with this group is that they have a number of young defensemen they have made long-term commitments to that they’re going to have to play and have take bigger roles,” Souray noted. “So where I fit in that, I’m not sure, but I know what I have left and I know what I want to bring to the table. And I know I can still do that. Hopefully, I can come back.”
While the Stars have exclusive negotiating rights with Souray until July 1, he’s been around the business of professional hockey long enough to know that Dallas may want to wait until then to keep their options open, and possibly pursue other free agents. And if that occurs, Souray admits he’ll have no choice but to consider offers himself from other teams, but he’s made his hopes and intentions clear.
“If it goes to July 1, we’ll see what’s out there,” Souray said. “We’ve talked and they have some time to make their minds up, but come July 1, options open up (for me), too. I’d like to stay here. I know they’re going to make changes, if anyone here thinks they’re not making changes, they’re all a little naïve. Hopefully in the year that I’ve been here, they see me as part of the solution moving forward. I really like it here, I don’t want to leave here. We’ll see.”
No matter where he ends up next season, Souray has re-established himself as an NHL regular and vowed to work hard all summer so he can be ready to deliver another big year in 2012-13.
“I’m going to come into camp and I’m going to have a real good summer of training again, and it’s a way more positive summer training for me this year than last year,” Souray declared. “I’m in a better place, I’ve had a fun year. The hockey, it’s invigorated me somehow and I’m looking forward to training again this summer. It’s a long summer, it sucks, but it’s going to be exciting for me leading up to (next season).”