Philadelphia Flyers

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 GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

VOORHEES, N.J. — With 26 players still competing to make the Flyers' 23-man opening day roster, the competition over the final few spots is heating up.

"We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good for us," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Saturday after practice.

The Flyers already trimmed 18 players from their roster Thursday, but the most difficult decisions lie ahead. The tightest battle appears to be developing at defenseman, where Brandon Manning and rookies Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg are all vying for two spots. Travis Sanheim is still in the mix, but will likely start the season at Lehigh Valley.

So far, there is no clear winner in sight.

"We're going to monitor the situation as we go along here," Hextall said. "We'll see what we have with injuries and whatnot, and we'll make decisions at the appropriate time."

"They've all played well. They're all here for a reason still. We could've sent one of them down if they didn't deserve to be here, but at this point, they all deserve to be here."

Both Morin and Hagg have impressed this training camp and preseason. Manning has experience but is also working his way back from offseason back surgery — though Hextall does not sound concerned.

"There's nothing that tells me or certain information that I have from our staff that he's not ready to go," Hextall said, "so as far I'm concerned, he's 100 percent ready to go."

Some cuts will be easier than others. As expected, Alex Lyon was demoted to Lehigh Valley on Saturday.

Between Lyon and one of the blueliners, the roster will eventually get down to 25. That means two forwards will eventually wind up out of the equation, and the three players on the fringe fighting over that one spot are running out of time.

"We have four (preseason games) left," Hextall said. "Our big guys have to play, so we're getting ready for the season now. There's still players in the mix, but you get down as quick as you can and go from there."

Hextall acknowledged spots are "hard to come by" for prospects such Mike Vecchione, who has only appeared in two preseason games thus far. However, the Flyers are not viewing a demotion as a disappointment for any of their young talent.

"We'll see what Vechs, what he does," Hextall said, "and if he has to start out down below, or a couple other guys have to start out down below, that's the way it is."

In addition to the 18 cuts the Flyers made, two players will wind up on injured reserve to begin the season. Winger Colin McDonald and center Cole Bardreau are finished for the remainder of camp and preseason.

Bardreau is out for three-to-four weeks with an upper-body injury. McDonald is down for an undisclosed number of weeks with a lower-body injury.

Barring any additional major injuries, the Flyers intend to carry a full 23-man roster in the regular season, which is set to open Oct. 4 at San Jose.

"You plan certain things in injuries and performance," Hextall said. "You have to adjust on the fly."

"Right now, I'd say we plan 23, but see who gets injured — if a guy is injured, how long is he gonna be — all that kind of stuff. We'll adjust as we go along here, but right now, I'd say we plan on 23."

Roster cuts
The Flyers on Saturday continued to trim their roster. Forwards Greg Carey, Corban Knight and Phil Varone and defensemen Mark Alt, T.J. Brennan and Will O'Neill were assigned to Lehigh Valley after clearing waivers as well as Lyon.

Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

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Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

If you have witnessed preseason hockey this past week, you are well aware that the NHL is buckling down on its rulebook and even revising it. An excess of penalties and power plays have occurred as a result of these changes. Are they good for the game? I examine each of the five new rules or changes to the existing rulebook. 

Rule 78.7 (b) — A coach's challenge on an offside play — If the result of the challenge is that the play was “onside,” the goal shall count and the team that issued the challenge shall be assessed a minor penalty for delaying the game.

In 2015, the NHL granted each coach a challenge they could utilize in the event of overturning an incorrect call on the ice. If the challenge failed and the original call stood, then the challenging coach would forfeit the team’s timeout. Starting this season, a failed challenge on an onsides call in which there’s a goal will result in a two-minute minor penalty.   

By doing so, the NHL instituted a method to help maintain the game’s integrity in the event of a missed call by a linesman, as many coaches hold onto their challenge at a critical juncture — typically during the third period. Now with a two-minute penalty, it’s a way of reversing course without actually taking away the challenge. It's as if the league is saying we want you to have a challenge, but not really. The league is now discouraging teams from using it. As we’ve seen over the past few years, offsides calls can be measured in millimeters — that’s how arbitrary it’s become. But to penalize an entire team for a coaching staff’s misjudgment is excessive, and as we’ll see this season, it will sway the outcomes of a few games. Forfeiting a timeout for losing a challenge is acceptable, but killing a two-minute power play? Absurd, and for that I give it …

Two thumbs down   

Rule 61.1 — Slashing — Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the referee is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing.

Flyers fans can call out Sidney Crosby for emphasizing this rule, which is not a rule change but simply the enforcement of an existing rule. Crosby violated this in the worst way when he performed a machete slice over the hands of Senators defenseman Mark Methot late in the season. The result was a broken finger, nearly severed from the tip and the loss of one of Ottawa’s top defensemen for weeks. Watch the video and you can hear Methot scream in pain as Crosby took his whack.

In the preseason, we have seen more slashing than department store prices during Black Friday. It’s out of control, not the slashing itself, but the slashing calls. As the rule states, it’s a "forceful or powerful chop," which usually requires a two-handed grip. However, the referees have resorted to blowing the whistle for a one-handed love tap. As Shayne Gostisbehere said Wednesday, “When they blow the whistle and everyone’s like, ‘What just happened?’ That’s not a penalty.”  

I suspect come October when the regular season begins, the officials will ease up on their slashing calls, but it definitely creates a gray area, much like the interference call. Over the course of the season, some refs will whistle everything, while others will let stuff go. If it protects the league from injury, especially serious injury in cases like Methot and even Johnny Gaudreau, it can be beneficial, but I see some inconsistency from game-to-game and for that I give it ...

One thumb up ... my good, non-slashed thumb

Rule 76.4 — Faceoff positioning and procedure — The players taking part shall take their position so that they will stand squarely facing their opponent’s end of the rink and clear of the ice markings (where applicable).

Like the slashing penalty previously discussed, this is another enforcement of an existing rule. In other words, the league wants to cut down on cheating during faceoffs. You know when players began cheating on faceoffs? Since the inception of the faceoff. In fact, I can recall producing a three-minute story when I was working at a Nashville TV station on how players gain advantages and bend the rules on faceoffs. Three minutes. On cheating! 

Now, those L-shaped lines are no longer suggestions or recommendations, but strict guidelines of where the players should stand prior to a faceoff. If a team is caught twice during the same faceoff (and it doesn’t have to be the same player), the result is a two-minute minor penalty. The Islanders' Josh Ho-Sang was a guilty offender twice during Wednesday’s game in Allentown and the Flyers benefited with a power play in each instance. The league’s explanation states they want to protect players from banging heads, and more importantly, protect the linesman dropping the puck. 

Like the slashing penalty, I’m curious to see which linesmen strictly enforce this rule and which ones will be a little laxer. This is another one of those penalties (like the challenge call) that you certainly don’t want to impact the outcome of a game. The league has good intentions for enforcing Rule 76.4, but will they have consistent enforcement? And for that I give it …

One thumb up

Rule 87.1 — No timeout shall be granted to the defensive team following an icing.

Once again, here’s another example of a moment when a coach would intervene during a critical point of a hockey game (usually late during the third period). An attacking team is applying pressure in the offensive zone of a close game and the defensive team, obviously gassed, flips the puck out of the zone for an icing. That coach proceeds to call a timeout to allow his team to catch its breath and grab some water before the ensuing faceoff.

My take on the new rule: Love it! This rule should have been implemented years ago. You can penalize a team for icing without actually calling a penalty. Allowing a timeout does exactly the opposite and circumvents any drawbacks of icing. By forcing a tired group of guys to line up and take a faceoff right away is precisely the way it should be handled, and for that, I give this new rule …

Two big thumbs up

Eliminating Rule 80.4 — Numerical advantage on faceoffs — When a team on the power play high sticks the puck, the ensuing faceoff will be conducted at one of the two faceoff spots in their defending zone.

This is the abridged version of the rule that was roughly half a page long. Playing the puck with a high stick is instinctual and when the game is played at warp speed, a player’s natural inclination is to raise their stick in an attempt to knock the puck out of the air. When a player is guilty of a high stick, the whistle is blown and a faceoff occurs. Now that this rule has been eliminated entirely from the rulebook, the ensuing faceoff will take place in the zone in which the infraction was committed.

No team should be given a territorial advantage as a result of a high stick. I’m surprised it’s taken this long to acknowledge the absurdity of Rule 80.4, and for finally acknowledging this, I give the elimination of this rule …

Two thumbs up