Is Emery the best NHL signing this offseason?


Is Emery the best NHL signing this offseason?

Ray Emery may be the top offseason acquisition this summer.

No, not just the Flyers' best free-agent find.

The best free-agent signing of any team.

Disregard the organization, the player and the circumstances for a moment. Acquiring a goaltender who posted eye-popping numbers this previous season -- 17-1-0 record, 1.94 goals-against average and .922 save percentage -- and you’ve instantly solidified your goaltending position. Throw in the bargain-bin price tag of $1.65 million and Emery is an absolute steal.

Three years ago, Emery 1.0 was a Flyers experiment on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. Emery had spent the 2008-09 season in the KHL as he attempted to repair his reputation that cost him his job in Ottawa. Excessive tardiness and temperamental behavior forced Senators general manager Bryan Murray to seek a trade, but there were no takers for a hot-headed prima donna goaltender. Emery was eventually waived.

With the Flyers in 2009-10, Emery posted respectable, but not overly impressive numbers in 29 games. However, the team around him was in turmoil. John Stevens was fired in December and replaced with Peter Laviolette. Emery was the one calm in the Flyers' stormy season until he suffered a hip injury that was eventually diagnosed as Avascular Necrosis, the same injury that claimed Bo Jackson’s football career. Many believed Emery would have a tough time walking again and only Emery believed he would play hockey again.

“I'm fortunate to the organization because of the diligence they put into finding the best surgery," Emery said last Friday. "I mean, that's kind of an experimental surgery and every year it just keeps getting better and better. And for them to put that much effort into ... they flew me all over the place to look for doctors and all that. So coming back, especially after how things went, it's real special for me to get a chance to play for them and hopefully do well in the situation just from that effort that they put into saving my hip and allowing me to play.”

A hip doctor saved Emery's career after removing more than five inches of bone in his hip. Not long after Emery’s surgery, the Flyers went on their remarkable playoff run. Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton proved an unlikely tandem could lead a team to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, and because of that, Paul Holmgren felt compelled to re-sign Leighton for two more years. After all, it was as close as the Flyers had come to drinking from Lord Stanley’s Cup since 1987. Holmgren to this day can only wonder what if.

“Everyone remembers our goaltending situation after that -- who didn’t we have playing net after that? And we went to the Finals," Holmgren said. "If we had Ray Emery that year, who knows? It's easy to look back and say ‘who knows,’ I guess.”

Emery was the forgotten man, and not just in and around the Flyers' crease. It wasn’t until February of 2011 Emery had to prove himself all over again, signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Ducks. By the end of the season, he was Anaheim’s best goaltender. Despite starting and losing to Nashville in six games in the first round of the playoffs, it wasn’t good enough and Emery eventually signed a tryout contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, with whom he spent the past two years.

In a league that hands out long-term deals like business cards at a bankers’ convention, Emery has been forced to play on a series of one-year contracts over the past four years. It wouldn’t be too surprising if Emery’s NHL contracts had a condo rental agreement stapled to the back.

Yet, Emery smiles as if he’s cashing Ilya Bryzgalov’s paychecks, and more importantly, Emery wants to be here.

“I kept good relationships within the team,” Emery said. “I have a lot of friends in the organization -- knowing how classy of an organization it was, knowing how passionate Mr. Snider is, knowing how passionate Paul is.”

When he walks into the Flyers' dressing room this fall, Emery will command the respect of his teammates, something Bryzgalov failed to do during his two seasons in Philadelphia. In his battle to return from that career-threatening injury, Emery was a 2011 finalist for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game of hockey. His former teammate, Ian Laperriere, won the Masterton that year after dealing with post-concussion symptoms, the result of taking a slap shot to the face.

“He (Emery) had baggage coming from Ottawa, but when I played with him he was a great teammate, and I don’t see any problem,” Laperriere said during the team’s prospect camp. “I’m pumped he’s back and he’s pumped. He’s just excited to come here and he feels as if there’s unfinished business here.”

It should be a perfect fit. Two goalies working on one-year contracts out to prove they have the ability to be a No. 1 again in this league. Between Emery and Steve Mason, they’re oozing incentive. Goaltending may very well be the Flyers' strength this season.

Perhaps Emery will dig up that mask he wore three years ago with the Flyers -- the one that depicted legendary Philly boxers Bernard Hopkins and Smokin’ Joe Frazier. An avid fan of the sport, Emery is a proven fighter, battling to stay in the league, having picked himself off the canvas when many people had counted him out.

There’s another Rocky story in the works here, even if the big, bad Russian has already walked away with all the prize money.

Best of NHL: Shea Weber's PPG gives Canadiens' 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Shea Weber's PPG gives Canadiens' 5th straight win

NEW YORK -- Shea Weber's power-play goal with 2:57 remaining lifted the Montreal Canadiens to their fifth straight victory, 3-2 over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Paul Byron and Phillip Danault also scored to help Montreal improve to 6-0-1 and remain the only team in the NHL without a regulation loss. Al Montoya, who played for the Islanders from 2010-12, stopped 26 shots in his first start since Oct. 18 as the Canadiens beat New York for the seventh straight time.

John Tavares and Dennis Seidenberg scored for New York and Thomas Greiss had 26 saves in his second straight start and third of the season.

With the Islanders' Nick Leddy off for slashing, Weber fired a shot from the point for the tiebreaking goal. It was just the second power-play goal in 23 opportunities given up by New York's league-leading penalty-killing unit (see full recap).

Pirri, Rangers rally to topple Bruins
NEW YORK -- Brandon Pirri scored twice to help the New York Ranger beat the Boston Bruins 5-2 on Wednesday night.

Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey also scored for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots. The Rangers won their third straight game, overcoming a 2-0 deficit to improve to 5-2-0.

David Pastrnak and Austin Czarina scored for Boston. The Bruins have lost three straight to drop to 3-4-0.

Zane McIntyre made 26 saves in his first NHL start. He was called up prior to Boston's 5-0 home loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night to back up Malcolm Subban due to injuries to Tuukka Risk and Anton Khudobin (see full recap).

Pouliot scores twice, Oilers beat Capitals
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Benoit Pouliot scored twice, Cam Talbot made 34 saves and the Edmonton Oilers beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Wednesday night to stretch their winning streak to four games.

Patrick Maroon and Milan Lucic also scored for the Oilers (6-1-0). They have won four of five games at Rogers Place, their new downtown arena.

Alex Ovechkin scored for the Capitals (3-2-1). Braden Holtby made 25 saves (see full recap).

Dave Hakstol did Steve Mason a favor by challenging Sabres' 3rd goal

Dave Hakstol did Steve Mason a favor by challenging Sabres' 3rd goal

Many, though not all hockey games, have a tipping point or pivotal moment that factors into the outcome.
Sometimes it’s obvious what it was and when the moment occurred. Other times, it’s overshadowed by something else on the ice.
Ask the Flyers which moment would define their come-from-behind 4-3 shootout victory over Buffalo on Tuesday and the response will be virtually unanimous: when Dmitry Kulikov leveled Jakub Voracek with a high hit that made contact to the head in the third period.
Voracek was forced off the ice under the NHL’s concussion protocol.
That hit incensed the Flyers, who went on to score two power-play goals and tie the game, 3-3. The comeback was on.
Yet there was a less obvious but significant point that happened late in the second period, and it concerned goalie Steve Mason.
Matt Moulson had given Buffalo a 3-0 lead on Michal Neuvirth at 15:43, when Flyers coach Dave Hakstol elected to make a goalie switch.
Rather than call a simple timeout to buy Mason some warm-up time and allow his team to collect itself on the bench, Hakstol challenged the goal, claiming “goalie interference.”
Replays won’t show any direct interference on the shot itself. Neuvirth was speared several seconds before the play developed.
Hakstol knew the goal would likely not be overturned, but his strategy was to buy time for Mason and his team. By using a challenge, he knew the review process would take a lot longer than the 60-second timeout.
Either way, he was going to use his only timeout.
“You know what, I think we needed a timeout at that time, anyway,” Hakstol said coyly. “Pretty low probability of it being successful. Everything worked out well in the end.”
Mason appreciated what his coach did, too. Buying extra time for you?
“Yeah, probably,” Mason replied. “Regardless of the situation, you’re sitting on the bench, you know? You’re not really gauged as much as when you’re playing, obviously. So, you just try and ramp things up as quickly as possible.”
Mason had two saves in that shortened period, five in the third period and one in the overtime to register his second victory.
“There’s a never-quit attitude in this room,” he said. “We showed in Chicago — we were just talking about that. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to close that one out.
“But guys have a belief that you get one [moment] and it comes. [Travis Konecny] got us going with his first NHL goal, which is great. The guys really pushed to capitalize on their chances.”