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.

NHL Notes: Chris Kreider, Rangers agree on four-year contract

NHL Notes: Chris Kreider, Rangers agree on four-year contract

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers signed forward Chris Kreider to a four-year contract worth $18.5 million in a last-minute deal that helped the sides avoid arbitration.

General manager Jeff Gorton announced the agreement on Friday.

The deal will pay Kreider an average of $4.6 million and keep him with the team through 2020. It also includes a modified no-trade clause that prevents Kreider from being traded to 11 teams.

The 25-year-old Kreider was a restricted free agent.

"What happens in this type of deal is that both sides have stated positions and when the specter of 'arb' comes, it drives both sides closer," Matt Keator, Kreider's agent, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "For us, the term was the right amount and for the team that amount was the right amount, so we were able to come together on both sides. 

"It worked out fine, and Chris loves New York and wants to be there."

Keator said both sides were ready to present their cases Friday morning before reaching an agreement.

Kreider had 21 goals and 22 assists in 79 games for New York and a plus-10 rating. He established career-highs in even-strength goals (16) and hits (177), and he tied his career-high in goals, set the previous season.

Kreider was one of six NHL players who registered at least 20 goals, 40 points, a plus-10 rating and 50 penalty minutes this past season. Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and James Neal were the others.

He ranked third on the team in power play goals (five), fourth in even strength goals, fifth in goals and even strength points (35), and tied for fifth in points. Kreider also led the Rangers in goals (15) and ranked second on the team in points (26) on the road this past season (see full story).

Sabres: Evander Kane charged with harassment at bar
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo police say Sabres forward Evander Kane has been charged with four counts of non-criminal harassment and one count of misdemeanor trespass after an incident at a city bar last month.

Police say the 24-year-old Kane surrendered to authorities Friday and was issued a court appearance ticket. Investigators say two women accused Kane of grabbing them at a bar on June 24.

According to the reports, one woman told police Kane threatened her inside the club and when outside, grabbed her throat. The second woman accused Kane of trying to force her from the bar.

Kane's attorney, Paul Cambria, says his client is innocent of all charges.

In March, prosecutors said there was no evidence to support a sexual assault charge against Kane stemming from a December incident. 

Kane has two years remaining on his contract.

Maple Leafs: No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews signs 3-year deal
TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs signed No. 1 overall draft pick Auston Matthews to a three-year, entry-level contract Thursday with the maximum bonuses allowed.

Matthews had 24 goals and 22 assists in 36 games last season for the Zurich Lions in Switzerland and had nine points for the United States at the world hockey championship.

The 18-year-old from Scottsdale, Arizona, immediately became the face of the Maple Leafs' franchise when they selected him first in last month's draft. General manager Lou Lamoriello typically refuses to give bonuses to rookies, but agent Pat Brisson confirmed that Matthews' deal includes the maximum entry-level salary of $925,000 per year plus potential bonuses that could add up to an average annual value of $3,775,000.

"There were no issues at all getting it done with Lou [Lamoriello] and the Leafs," Brisson said. "Auston is thrilled (see full story)."

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Pascal Laberge brings more than just offense to Flyers’ system

Pascal Laberge brings more than just offense to Flyers’ system

VOORHEES, N.J. — Pascal Laberge has all the tangibles front office officials treasure in a prospect.

A willowy 6-foot-1 frame, slick and smooth skills with the puck and a scoring IQ well beyond his age of 18.

A true dream when it comes to offensive hockey.

It’s a package the Flyers liked and drafted this summer in the second round with the 36th overall pick.

But what the Flyers loved about Laberge was beyond the ice — and it's likely a reason they’ve already signed the Canadian forward to his entry-level contract (see story).

“If you look at Pascal’s story, he’s had a tough year as an individual, especially as a young kid,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at the conclusion of development camp. “He persevered through. We loved his perseverance.”

Laberge and his family have suffered hardships and heartbreak (see story).

The game was his outlet.

“When I was at the rink, I was not thinking about what happened with my family,” Laberge said. “Thank God I play hockey because that would have been a harder year for me.”

It makes his 2015-16 season at the junior level that more impressive. Playing for Victoriaville of the QMHJL, Laberge recorded 23 goals and 45 assists for 68 points in 56 games.

Over a 10-game scoring streak from Jan. 23-Feb. 19, Laberge racked up 21 points on six goals and 15 assists. Earlier in the season, he tallied a point in nine straight games. He also competed in the World Juniors for the Canada U-18 team, posting a pair of goals and assists in seven games.

“It was a great experience,” Laberge said of the World Juniors. “I improved myself, played defensively. I had more defensive responsibilities, so that was fun, just to learn new things.”

Make no mistake, though, Laberge’s forte is depositing and facilitating the puck.

“Pascal has good size, good speed, he’s got good skills,” Hextall said. “He’s a highly skilled young player.”

He offers exactly what the Flyers needed in their system: forwards with size and playmaking ability. At 175 pounds, he’ll have room and time to become stronger.

“I’m an offensive player, I’ve got a good shot,” Laberge said. “Even if I’m not that heavy, I like to play a physical game. I’m pretty sure in three years, I’ll be bigger and I’ll be able to play that kind of game.”

Laberge said he can play either forward position — he’s opened to both, although wing may be best for both him and the Flyers.

“I think it’s more of both positions,” he said. “I can play center and I can play as a winger. My coach last year thought that I was better as a wing, which I think I did — when I got to wing, I put more points on the board.

“Either position [the Flyers are] going to make me play, I’ll play it.”

Laberge enjoyed his first development camp. He bonded with fellow prospects and saw where he stood among the best before preparing for another junior season.

“It’s pretty fun to play with some older guys and compare yourself to these guys,” he said. “My goal is just to make a good impression and try and go as far as I can.”

His perseverance should only help.

For Brayden Schenn and Flyers, short-term deal could make sense

For Brayden Schenn and Flyers, short-term deal could make sense

The NHL is quickly heading toward its annual August dead period.

Teams have made their draft picks, had their rookie camps, signed free agents and made the most of their important trades.

But as a month of relative inactivity approaches ahead of September’s World Cup of Hockey, the Flyers and general manager Ron Hextall still have one piece of business to attend to: signing restricted free-agent forward Brayden Schenn to a new deal, preferably before an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday (July 25).

Both sides have said there’s no rush and a deal will get done, but both sides surely want to avoid a hearing, which can get messy. For an example, see John LeClair’s hearing with the Flyers in the summer of 2000 when he was eventually awarded a record $7 million deal for one year by the arbitrator. The Flyers offered $5 million and then went on to argue LeClair’s weaknesses as a player during the hearing. That’s the last time a Flyer has gone through with an arbitration hearing.

No one wants to reach that point and these kinds of things often find a conclusion. Remember when Michael Del Zotto came to terms with the Flyers last year before a scheduled hearing? To further that point, the Washington Capitals agreed to a deal with Marcus Johanssen earlier this week just hours before a scheduled hearing.

After a career season, during which he had career highs in goals (26) and points (59) and found a home on Claude Giroux’s wing on the top line, Schenn deserves, and will get, a raise from the $2.75 million he earned last season.

How much of a raise remains to be seen, but it will be a healthy amount the Flyers have to fit in. Somewhere in the $4-5 million per year range makes sense and the Flyers currently have just over $5 million in cap space for this coming season.

But when talking term, it could be beneficial for both the 24-year-old and the Flyers to go for a shorter contract rather than a longer one.

Schenn has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his five seasons in Philadelphia, and last season marked the first time Schenn was able to score at a consistent rate. That was especially true after the All-Star break, when Schenn went off for 14 goals and 19 assists in 35 games to close the regular season.

For that reason, the Flyers should be hesitant to hand out a long-term deal. In reality, five or six years is too long of a deal for a player who has yet to prove he can make last year’s production happen on a season-to-season basis. While last season was a career year for Schenn, it’s also cracked the window open more for the Flyers to see if that’s what he’s truly capable of year by year.

And a short-term deal could be beneficial to Schenn, as well.

It’s understandable when a player is coming off a great season that he would want long-term security in his next deal. A chance at long-term security isn’t something that comes along often in the pro sports world. 

But, coming off last season, this is where Schenn could bet on himself. He could bet on himself for the next two or three seasons that he can duplicate that production, especially with the chemistry he formed with Giroux and Wayne Simmonds on the top line.

Per the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, a player can’t reach unrestricted free-agent status until he’s 27 or has seven accrued seasons (on a roster for 30 games) in the league. The latter reason is why Steven Stamkos, 25, was slated to be UFA before re-signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this summer. Barring a catastrophic injury, Schenn would reach seven accrued seasons in the summer of 2018. He would turn 27 past that summer’s UFA filing deadline, so age wouldn’t work for him until the summer of 2019.

If he continues to consistently produce, he’ll be in position to cash in big time in a few seasons while still in the prime of his career.

Hextall has publicly stated he’s not a fan of long-term deals. And with Schenn’s historic inconsistency, this could be one of those instances in which one of those deals makes Hextall take a deep breath.

But if Schenn bets on himself for the next few seasons and succeeds, any cause for deep breaths will be gone and he’ll have proven he’s worth signing long term. And then he’ll be worth plenty of money, too.