Is Emery the best NHL signing this offseason?

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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.

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

While many people believe the Flyers are in far better shape right now than where they were a year ago, the fact is, they are pretty much the same.
 
After 48 games played, the Flyers have the same number of points now as they did last season – 52.
 
The critical difference – and this is why fans say they’re better off – is that a year ago at this juncture, the Flyers were five points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card chase.
 
Right now, they own the second wild-card spot, but there are five teams behind them within four points or less of catching them, two of which have games in hand.
 
Earlier this week, Toronto was ahead of them and the Maple Leafs have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s showdown against the upstart Leafs at Wells Fargo Center a very critical game.
 
That game represents the back end of the Flyers' 13th back-to-back set, which starts Wednesday with a date at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
 
If ever two games in a short week prior to the All-Star break were of prime significance, these next two seem to qualify.
 
“A hundred percent,” said Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' leading scorer with 42 points. “It’s the same for every game. Practice and come to the rink with a win in your head.”
 
To a man, the Flyers go into the nationally televised showdown with the Rangers feeling great about themselves because of the extraordinary effort they showed in Sunday’s 3-2 comeback victory against the Islanders in OT.
 
“I felt like we won the Stanley Cup with that overtime goal,” Voracek kidded. “That’s how happy we were. There was a lot of relief. Now we have to keep going.”
 
Just five points separate nine teams from the second wild-card position right now. The Eastern Conference is just as tight as it’s always been. Within the Metropolitan Division, just five points separate the Flyers from the three times tied for last in the conference - the Islanders, Sabres and Lightning.  
 
“It’s been that way,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Right from the drop of the puck in October, it was going to be a battle. You can’t get too distracted by it. You worry about the job in hand and that’s tomorrow.”
 
The focus this week is rather narrow: two games left before the All-Star break begins on Friday.
 
“Yeah, both these games have implications directed to us in the standings,” said goalie Steve Mason, who will start against the Rangers. “Both being Eastern Conference teams and they are right with one another.
 
“We have to have a short mindset. We have the Rangers and that’s going to be a tough game going into MSG. Once that game is over, we focus on the Leafs.”
 
The Rangers have beaten the Flyers twice this season already – both in South Philly. While the games were mostly competitive, there remains a huge disparity in one critical area for both teams this season: goal differential.
 
The Rangers have a plus-40 differential while the Flyers check in at minus-18. As poor as Henrik Lundqvist (2.75 goals against average) has been this season – although his recent performances are trending upward – he still owns the Flyers.
 
In his last 15 games against the Flyers, going back to Jan. 1, 2013, Lundqvist is 11-3-0 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
 
“This is huge, especially in MSG,” Voracek said. “We lost two games in a row to them at home. Hopefully, we get points.”
 
In his last three starts this month, Lundqvist is 3-0, with a 1.32 GAA and .952 save percentage. In other words, the “old” King Henrik appears to have regained his throne just in time to face the Flyers.
 
“Their goaltender has been outstanding over this past stretch for them,” Hakstol said. “Their team is playing well.
 
“We have to worry more about our team. We’re not going to control what their side is going to do. We can control what we do.”

By the numbers: Inside the Flyers' maddening inconsistency

By the numbers: Inside the Flyers' maddening inconsistency

VOORHEES, N.J. — As the Flyers go into the final two games of the schedule before the All-Star break Wednesday night at MSG against the New York Rangers and Thursday night at home against the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs, here are some rather stunning numbers to consider.
 
Most glaring is the Flyers' power play, which is 0 for 14 over the last three games. The power play hit its season high in December as No. 1 in the NHL. It has since dropped to 10th.

Tuesday morning at practice, Claude Giroux and power-play coach Joey Mullen worked on some strategy on the chalk board at Skate Zone.
 
“The power play, we’re kind of a streaky team,” Giroux said. “When we start scoring, we begin believing more in what we do. We just hesitate a bit too much.
 
“We have all the tools. The power play has won us some games and lost us some games. It’s important that we stick with it. We know it can help us. We can’t get discouraged.”
 
0: The number of Flyers who are on the plus side of the ledger when it comes to plus/minus
 
3.06: The Flyers' goals-against average
 
3-10: Flyers' record in three-goal games
 
5 for 25: Flyers' power play in January so far
 
5-6-1: Flyers' record vs. Metropolitan Division
 
10-6: Flyers' overtime record
 
-18: Shayne Gostisbehere’s plus/minus this season
 
11: Brayden Schenn’s power-play goals total — first in NHL
 
21: Claude Giroux’s power-play points total — first in NHL
 
42: Jakub Voracek’s point total
 
102: Flyers 5-on-5 goals against total — 29th in NHL