Is Emery the best NHL signing this offseason?

071013-emery-slideshow-ap.jpg

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: Trocheck's last-second goal lifts Panthers past Blues

Best of NHL: Trocheck's last-second goal lifts Panthers past Blues

ST. LOUIS -- Vincent Trocheck scored with just under 5 seconds remaining to lift the Florida Panthers to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Monday night.

Jonathan Marchessault also scored and James Reimer stopped 26 shots to help the Panthers complete a 5-0 road trip -- their first perfect trip of at least that many games in franchise history.

Reimer has won five straight decisions and has not lost in regulation since Jan. 7 against Boston, going 6-0-1 since.

The Panthers moved into a tie with Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division, but have the edge because they have a game in hand on the Bruins.

Kyle Brodziak, playing for the second time after missing 10 games due to a broken foot, scored for the Blues and Jake Allen finished with 31 saves. St. Louis lost its second straight since winning six in a row (see full recap).

Coyotes use three-goal 1st period to beat Ducks
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Radim Vrbata capped Arizona's three-goal first period and the Coyotes held on for 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.

Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun also scored for Arizona, and starting goalie Mike Smith had 27 saves before leaving about 4 1/2 minutes into the third period after a collision in the net. Marek Langhamer helped kill a power play after being pressed into action for his NHL debut and stopped six of the seven shots he faced.

The Coyotes have won four of their last six.

Langhamer gave up Ryan Getzlaf's second goal of the night with 26.8 seconds to play, but thwarted two quality shots in the final seconds.

Jonathan Bernier gave up three goals on six shots in the first period for the Ducks. John Gibson came on to start the second and stopped all 14 shots he faced (see full recap).

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”